Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nightwick Abbey in Hindsight Part 1

Due to the approach of Halloween, which I spend much of my waking time anticipating, and due to the beginning of my co-DMed Greyhawk campaign I've been thinking a lot about Nightwick Abbey.  Despite the fact that my campaign, for the foreseeable future will not deal with that demon haunted church, it's still the epitome of what I do when I do D&D.  As such, I'll be continuing my work on it's several levels and environs in anticipation either future campaigns, G+ one offs, or some other as yet unforeseen medium for the dungeon and its setting.

I've largely created my version of Castle Greyhawk (built by Vennax the Mauve instead of Zagyg) as a reaction to Nightwick Abbey.  Greyhawk is actively designed to be different from its predecessor.  It's a great deal sillier in tone and relies a great deal more on "traditional" D&D monsters such as kobolds.  I've also placed a great deal more emphasis on different factions within the dungeon.  The ultimate adversary of the Nightwick campaign was the abbey itself.  The monsters inside were expressions of the Abbey's sinister will, and as such it was quite difficult to reason with them.  In Greyhawk, the monsters and dungeon NPCs are motivated by the same things that motivate the PCs: greed and survival.  This is a function of the events that created the two dungeons.  Nightwick Abbey's walls are soaked with the evil of its previous tenants while Greyhawk is instead a funhouse created by a mad wizard for his own amusement.

The twenty-five sessions the Nightwick Campaign ran exposed some weaknesses in my preparation and presentation.  The primary one was that I was under-equipped to deal with adventuring outside of the abbey. While I'm sure no one would fault me for still struggling with the Dark Country map, I still have have only a faint idea what Lichegate is like, despite the fact that the PCs visited it numerous times.  One can obviously point out that such things should be decided through play, but I failed to have enough of a skeleton on which to hang such information.

I also think I failed to correctly convey some of the atmosphere I wanted.  While many commentors have noted that my write ups for various Dark Country things are evocative, this largely failed to come across at the table.  This is at least partially the result of things beyond my control.  Our play time is very limited (only about  two and a half hours) and theres also a lot of bullshitting at the table.  Since gaming is a social activity I see this bullshitting as part of the point, but it does demand that I cut down some of my descriptions and leave out certain bits of town descriptions in order to cut to the dungeon.

This necessity especially became noticeable by sessions 23 and 24 about half of which took place in the village, to the disappointment of some of my players.    I emphasize the word "some" because at least one of my players was more at home outside the dungeon, even if the majority seemed to prefer skulking down its benighted halls.

The other problem lies partially with my inability to accurately describe things.  Part of this was (initially) nerves, since I was uncomfortable doing my terrible English accents in front of people I barely knew at the time, and part of it was general incompetence on my part.  The first problem has more or less been rectified, while the second persists.  I believe I shall have less difficulty with Greyhawk, which is a bit easier to wrap one's head around.

The final problem was the lack of treasure available in the dungeon.  While there were certain points when I felt random generation had given the players magical items beyond their level, the lack of monetary treasure was a major hindrance to advancement.  I used the Labyrinth Lord/AD&D treasure tables by the book, including treasure per individuals vs. hoards.  My change away from that is due to the fact that the players were still hovering around level 2 and 3 after 25 sessions.  I tend not to pull punches, to paraphrase my current co-DM, and the increased treasure created by the new method should help to mitigate that fact.

Thus ends part 1.  In Part 2 I'll discuss what I think I did right, the future of the Abbey and its dungeons, and the original inspiration for the project.


  1. "Mauve?"

    Description is difficult. It's hard finding the right balance of description so you can convey a certain tone without blurring key details (and player attention.) Of course, it varies from player group to player group.

  2. "Mauve" is a joke that goes to the Nightwick Abbey campaign. I mentioned that Devil Weed glows a color outside of our spectrum, which one of the players asserted was mauve, and so I decided to make a reference to that.

  3. Thanks for posting the 'lessons learned' - it's a good chance to reflect, but also let us folks that followed the campaign from the outside get a chance to see what worked/didn't at the table. (No need to repeat the same mistakes).