Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dungeoncraft #7: Detailing the home base, part II

Today we'll return to where we left off on creating the details of the homebase and putting together the map. Before we actually start the map itself, there's a few more items Ray Winninger lists as important to include, so we'll continue that list first and then start talking about the map itself.

Rumor Mill. Although it probably shouldn't be your main source of adventures and plot hooks for the PCs to follow, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a rumor mill in the homebase area. You know, the kind of place the PCs can go hang out if they don't know what to do next, and they can expect plot hooks to start coming their way. In many campaigns, this is one of those colorful inns, like the infamous "Prancing Pony." Here the PCs can expect to hear stories from travellers, potentially find patrons looking for someone to do a job for them, find someone in trouble who needs help, or whatever you need.

Again, you probably don't want to rely on the rumor mill overmuch, or the campaign will have a strange forced feel to it, as well as miring in clichés, but as a backup plan, especially when the PCs are feeling stuck and don't know where else to go to progress the game, a rumor mill can be very useful. In fact, more than one rumor mill might be helpful. Some other standard ideas include "adventurer's guilds", a busy marketplace with a penchant for illicit deals, or a public bath-house. Depending on the campaign style, you could have different rumor mills for different kinds of rumors--a public bath house run by a local organized crime group and is infamous as a meetingplace for those who wish their business to remain secret will obviously give very different kinds of plot hooks than a rowdy inn where off duty soldiers, caravan guards and other mercenaries gather to drink cheap ale and boast of the latest amazing sight they saw on the way into town.

In fact, for Iclezza, I'm going to depend on just those two ideas. Far into the city itself, up near the roads and gates that lead to the Ridge, as a matter of fact, is a tavern called The Curious Nun. The clientele tends to be a rough lot, although friendly enough at most times--not surprising, since the curiousity that the tavern's sign seems to imply is wildly inappropriate for a woman of the cloth. Off duty soldiers, constables, sailors and mercenaries in particular like to gather here. In addition, the tavern employs three musicians of uncommon skill and taste. At any given time, one or even two of them might be travelling, looking for tales or songs to bring back to the clientele. When they sing and play, the tavern gets noticably quieter as most people there want to listen. "The Nun" also features a number of private booths where, for a fee, a reasonable amount of privacy can be established. Many mercenary contracts, or hiring of guards for a caravan or other job, are conducted in these booths. In addition, the inn is always good for a very unusual story or piece of gossip--from near Iclezza or beyond. By it's nature, "The Nun" gets a fairly cosmopolitan common room.

Deep in Mudtown is "The Steams"--a unisex bath house funded by local criminal elements. "The Steams" has two or three cold pools, two or three hot pools and several small, private saunas. Not only do rumormongers frequent the area--and they can sell their rumors for a price--but at least half a dozen organized crime scenesters are on hand at any given time. "The Steams" is the kind of place to go if you need mob help, or some other hook or clue that is a bit more "illicit" in nature.

Interesting NPCs. Now, next time we're going to talk more specifically about NPCs, but at this stage of the setting development process, you should give some thought to a couple of NPCs that are "fixtures" if you will of the homebase area. Don't push yourself to go too far--a few good ideas at this stage are better than many mediocre ones. What are some elements of good NPCs? Here's a small list:

1) Obvious secrets. An NPC with an obvious secret is begging to have his secret uncovered. Always a good plot hook.

2) Something to offer. An NPC that can teach or give the PCs something of value tends to be interesting.

3) Obvious need. An NPC that is just asking for the PCs to help him is also good.

4) Not what they appear. An NPC who seems to be one thing, but actually is something else is interesting. This doesn't have to be as sinister as disguised dopplegangers, you could simply have a famous warrior who actually can't fight, or is a coward, or some such.

5) Distinctive physical features. Speaks for itself. Also helps players to remember them ("You see a familiar pox-scarred face enter the room..."), etc.

6) Mysterious prophets. An NPC that makes mysterious pronouncements or prophecies is bound to be interesting and get the game moving.

7) Involve the PCs in adventures. An NPC that causes trouble, either on purpose or inadvertently, is interesting. Ray uses the example of a bumbling wizard that always needs the PCs help in cleaning up his latest failed magical experiment, for instance. Don't go too far with these NPCs--you really just need a concept and an idea of what they'll be and how they relate to what you've already gotten for your map.

For instance, in #6, I came up with the idea of a rivalry between the Inquisition and the constables, in large part, based on their position relative to magic and witchcraft. A few obvious NPCs that could interact to some degree with the PCs are suggested by this. First, an Inquisitor officer named Gauvain. Although an Inquisitor, he's a bit more tolerant of magic than others of his ilk, in deference to local laws. However, he's the kind of person who needs help in rooting out the truly dangerous sorcerers; the kinds that the Inquisition should be looking to eliminate. He's also a person who has something to offer the PCs--if they work on any of his assignments, they might have access to Inquisitorial equipment, which is of high quality.

His little sister, Alainna, on the other hand, is an accomplished mage. She also could be a person in need, if the Inquisition gets the wrong idea about her and she needs protecting. She does a lot of "freelance" work for the constables, though, and generally makes herself useful. However, she's also a "not what she seems" NPC--a few years ago, she made sacrifices to increase her power. I don't know exactly what yet, but suffice it to say that both occult forces and the Mob have a death wish for her; she's on the run and in disguise from bounty hunters and demons alike. Although fairly capable of taking care of herself, she could easily involve the PCs in cleaning up the inevitable mess when someone discovers her.

Something related to a Secret. Ray prefers to pick your secrets at random at this stage, but for now, I want something related to "the big secret": the overarching secret of the campaign setting. I'll also need to incorporate clues relative to other secrets at some point, but my mantra here is "one thing at a time." Just as a reminder: the big secret in my setting is twofold. First of all, the race that preceded humans on this world are not really entirely gone. Secondly, the local Empire, the Terassan, was formed when its Emperor made a pact with demons for the power needed to defeat his enemies. Now, I've got to be a little bit careful. Giving clues to such a massive secret that could be the focus of an entire campaign can be tricky to avoid giving away too much too soon. For that reason, I'm not going to incorporate right away a clue for the second half of the secret, but I'll put one up for the first half.

Actually, I'll make it a two part clue. At "The Curious Nun" is an old fighter, that if pressed or drunk, might occasionally start to tell stories of the strange alien beings he onceencountered deep in the canyonlands up north. Although the PCs shouldn't realize it right away, the descriptions of these should match those of statues found in ruins predating the rise of humanity. If, for whatever reason, it turns out that the PCs don't look like they'll ever make it to any such ruins, then I can have someone come through "The Nun" that has a miniature version of one of the statues from a visit to the ruins for some reason.

I like this clue because it forces the PCs to be a little bit proactive, find the two halves of the clues and put them together to reach the conclusion that these guys are still out there somewhere.

Now that we're done listing out all the things needed in the setting, we're ready to start drawing the map! For Iclezza, let me make a quick list of the elements I need to be sure to include:

1) The Ridge, Mudtown and a more generic urban ward as three major sections of the city.

2) A constabulary headquarters, complete with clank repair areas. Possibly also substations of the headquarters at various parts throughout the city.

3) Market areas for each ward.

4) The Inquisition HQ.

5) Roads that lead to the various factories, mines, etc. that occupy the townsfolk.

6) "The Curious Nun" and "The Steams."

7) A "mage guild" of some kind, under the protection of the constabulary, where Alainna lives and works.

Tip #1: Use Graph Paper

Although not a requirement per se it can't hurt to draw your map on graph paper. Why? To make sure you have the proper sense of scale as you draw it, and to make sure you have the proper sense of scale as you use it. You might not ever need to know how long it takes to run from one end of town to another, but if you've got the map on graph paper, you do know if you ever need it. Be sure and adjust the scale so that you can fit the entire town on one sheet. A map is much more useful if it's all in one place, so you don't want one that spills over multiple pages.

Tip #2: Get as Fancy as You Can

The map of your homebase, unlike other maps you'll later make for the setting, is one that you'll want to show to your players. After all, this is their homebase, and presumably an area with which they are familiar. If you can use color, computer software, or anything else to help make the map more "worthy" as a player handout, feel free to do so. Personally, I like the hand drawn look, but I'll draw it on parchment (or resume paper that looks like parchment, more likely) and use my colored pencils to do so. In addition, I'll add little decorative items and labels here and there to make the map look more like an "authentic" map that one might have of the area.

Tip #3: Make the Map Useful

Within the confines of what the PCs should know, you can include all kinds of useful information on the map. A legend of the scale is essential, as are labels of important point of note. Notes that show where important NPCs can usually be found are nice, guard patrol routes, black markets, thieves' hang-outs, or anything else that the characters concieveably should know can all make an appearance and will help the utility of the map immensely.

Tip #4: Don't Be Too Predictable

Don't have every small town in the setting have the same layout. Make each place feel unique in some way. Local geography is one way of doing this: in the case of Iclezza, the Ridge and Mudtown are both unique features due to the geography and the politics of the area. But whatever you use, try to breathe some life and uniqueness to all your maps.

Tip #5: Be Logical

Keep an eye out for obvious things like access to water for residents, access to inns for travellers and visitors, and those types of things. Giving this just a little bit of forethought will go a long way towards improving your map design.

Next time, we'll talk a little more about NPCs and what you do with them in a custom campaign setting.

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