Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 20: Thornkeep

Welcome back! My apologies for the interruption in my regular blog postings over the last few months. Between July and August, I took a vacation, ran a Kickstarter, went to GenCon, rewrote a novel, and chased down a hundred small details pertinent to our upcoming edition of Primeval Thule 5e. For most of the summer, I’ve been frankly swamped, and I had to focus on some other things. But today I think I can spare an hour to continue my retrospective on adventures I’ve created, so I’m back—this week, at least.

Before I get to Thornkeep, let me tell you our Glacier story. This year for the family road trip, we decided to go to Glacier National Park, someplace we’d never been. I carefully plotted out our route, picked out a week when the wife and kids could get away from their summer activities, and made a reservation to stay at a condo in downtown Whitefish, Montana. We started out on Monday, July 20th. On the first day we drove to Palouse Falls (fascinating terrain, it’s in the heart of the Washington scablands) and then stayed in Colfax. On Tuesday the 21st, we drove from Colfax to Whitefish—quite a haul, but the scenery in Idaho and Montana is really just breathtaking.

After driving all day, when we were just 15 miles from Whitefish, Glacier National Park burst into flames. A huge wildfire broke out in the eastern half of the park, closing most of the Going to the Sun Road—which, as I had previously determined from my research and prep on GNP, is THE THING YOU DO when you go to Glacier. The park burned for like two weeks; we were in Whitefish for three days. As it turned out, we did get to see the western half of the Going to the Sun Road, but we missed Logan Pass, and a bunch of neat stuff around St. Mary’s Lake. Instead, we took a very long drive around the southern border of the park and saw the Two Medicine area. That was quite spectacular too . . . but I have unfinished business with Glacier National Park now, damn it.

Okay, on to Thornkeep and the Accursed Halls.

#25: The Accursed Halls
In December of 2011 my long association with TSR/Wizards of the Coast came to an end, and for the first time in a very long time I found myself a free agent. At WotC we had a draconian non-compete policy which meant that I couldn’t even consider writing for any other companies on the side, but that of course came to an end when they decided they could no longer afford to retain my services. A couple of months later, in the winter of 2012, I received a call from Ryan Dancey, a former colleague of mine at WotC who is perhaps best known as the D&D brand manager who led the effort to create the Open Game License back in 2000. Ryan was laying the groundwork for Pathfinder Online, and he needed a writer/designer to help deliver on the initial tech demo Kickstarter—specifically, a sourcebook on the town of Thornkeep in Golarion’s River Kingdoms. I was only passing familiar with Golarion, but Pathfinder I certainly knew pretty well, and I had some free time, so I was in.

I joined Ryan and some other Goblinworks principals at Lisa Stevens’ house on a snowy day in early spring to learn everything I could about Thornkeep and Pathfinder Online. My mission was pretty straightforward: Create a well-rounded town that could serve as “a hive of scum and villainy” and perhaps grow into a “starter zone” for the MMO that would be moving ahead. That sort of source material is second nature for me, so no problem there. I also was asked to create a short dungeon representing an old set of ruined chambers hidden below the town, and thus the Accursed Halls came into being.

The most unusual design challenge of the Accursed Halls was that we had some ambition of matching the tabletop map and adventure to the dungeon map you’d actually experience if you visited Thornkeep in the MMO and went exploring. That was a tough order, because in the spring of 2012 the MMO only existed as a set of design documents and possibilities. One of those was a game engine and sample dungeon that looked like a potential fit for Pathfinder Online, so I actually had a map to work from. The problem: a reasonable tabletop map and a reasonable MMO dungeon experience are two very different things. The map of the Accursed Halls therefore represents my best interpretation of an asset that, at the time, looked like it might very well be incorporated into the MMO.

Naturally, the creation of a MMO involves many, many false starts and design explorations that end up leading nowhere. The initial opportunity on which I based my map of the Accursed Halls didn’t pan out (although it made for a perfectly fine dungeon map for the Thornkeep sourcebook, and a fun little adventure). As it turns out, I wound up signing on with Ryan and Goblinworks at the end of 2012, and stayed there until October of 2013 working on Pathfinder Online (and Emerald Spire, which I’ll get to in another post or two). Perhaps the most interesting part of the project is the fact that some of the source material I created for Thornkeep—the town map, the key personalities and factions, and nearby features—is, of course, featured in the MMO. Over the next few years, a lot of players will brush up against some names and places I made up, and that’s kind of cool.

Next Time: My second D&D Encounters adventure, The Search for the Diamond Staff!

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