Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 22: Diamond Staff

Apologies for the delay! My schedule since GenCon has been pretty crazy, and finding the time to continue my once-a-week retrospective on adventures is harder than I thought. Over the last few weeks I’ve been scrambling to finish the update of the Primeval Thule Campaign Setting to 5e, and start work on various supporting adventures and companion books Sasquatch Game Studio promised in the Kickstarter campaign. It’s good to be busy, but sometimes it seems like there just isn’t enough time in the day.

The good news is that we have the PTCS 5e off to the printer, we’ve made the PDF available to our backers, and we’ve got design drafts in hand for two of the adventures we promised: Steve Winter’s Red Chains, and Robert Schwalb’s Watchers of Meng. Primeval Thule is turning into a small product line—within another 5 or 6 weeks we should have 5 PDF adventures available, along with the Gamemaster’s Companion, the Player’s Companion, and maybe a secret bonus or two. We’ll see how it goes!

If you follow me on Facebook, you might have noticed that I’ve been doing some hiking lately. I’m fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country—Washington state is a hiker’s paradise. Two weeks ago I got out to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park and hiked Hurricane Hill. Last week I went up to Chinook Pass (just outside Mount Rainier National Park) and hiked the Naches Peak loop, one of my favorites. Fall hiking is the best. We have too many pine trees to get much in the way of really spectacular fall colors, but I love the cool air, the lack of bugs, and the absence of big crowds. Check out my pictures on Facebook if you haven’t seen them yet, they’re great!

Speaking of hikes, I guess it’s time to dive into the next in my blog series: Search for the Diamond Staff, which of course presents the heroes with the opportunity to hike all over the Dalelands.

#27: Search for the Diamond Staff
As you may or may not know, in December of 2011 Wizards of the Coast decided they could no longer afford to retain my services. Thanks to Washington state law about laying off folks and then hiring them back as contractors, I couldn’t do any work for WotC for almost a year (not that I’m sure I would have wanted to right after our parting of the ways). But in the fall of 2012, my “blackout” period ended, and WotC reached out to ask if I’d be interested in doing some freelance work for them. I decided that I had the time available, and it couldn’t hurt to foster good relations with my former employer just in case opportunity led me back in that direction. The game biz is just too small to make burning bridges a good idea.

Anyway, the job WotC had in mind was a new Encounters Season adventure. I’d already knocked out one of these a couple of years previously (my Dark Legacy of Evard adventure), so I was reasonably familiar with the expectations and the challenges of the format. As before, Wizards knew a lot about what they wanted the adventure to be before I even started an outline: It needed to be set in the Dalelands, and they wanted it to tie in to a previous Game Day one-shot adventure in which the PCs raid a dracolich lair and steal the mystical artifact known as the Diamond Staff.

I put on my thinking cap, and came up with several ideas for how different power groups in and around the Dalelands might be up to no good, and how the PCs might interact with those plots. That brainstorming led to the idea of an action-adventure chase across the Dalelands involving several factions all out for the same thing (the Diamond Staff, of course). WotC also asked me to make sure that each session of the Encounter Season included not just a fight, but also opportunities for roleplaying and some small amount of exploration. That last bit was a little tricky, because the map budget was effectively zero; everything I came up with needed to be something that could easily be pieced together with Dungeon Tiles or with repurposed poster maps from previous products.

I’m not sure how well I pulled off creating small areas worth exploring, but I’m pretty happy with the roleplaying and interaction opportunities I worked into the adventure. The adventure opens with a job interview: The sage Imani wants to hire reliable adventurers to escort him into a dangerous ruin, so he posts a flyer reading, “WANTED: Experienced and reliable adventurers to participate in a potentially hazardous expedition. Must be skilled with blade or spell, stout of heart, steady in danger, loyal, trustworthy, and of generally agreeable disposition.” I also worked in a fun three-way fight at the end of the adventure in which the PCs get to decide which group of bad guys they temporarily cooperate with; I expect that opportunity engendered some great group discussions when players stumbled into it in the last session!

Search for the Diamond Staff was also used as something of a playtest or demo of 5e rules, although that work was done after I wrote the adventure with 4e mechanics. Checking around on session reports online, it seems that most people played it with 5e, not 4e. If the 5e elements were good, bad, or indifferent, I can’t say I had much to do with them.

One final thought: The title was a real chore. Chris Perkins and Greg Bilsland at WotC kept asking me for title suggestions, and I just didn’t have anything good. So finally I threw out Search for the Diamond Staff as a lowest-common-denominator “call it what it is” suggestion. Some days the inspiration is there, and some days it isn’t.

Next Week: My only Savage Worlds adventure, The Banshee of Loch Finnere.