Saturday, December 15, 2012

How Many Notes Do You Need?

The answer to the question posed in the title is, obviously, "however many works for you;" however, a recent post by Ian Burns on G+ has me wonder how many notes I need.  Ian posted a "confession" that he had spent three days making the entirety of his infamous Vats of Mazarin dungeon.  In total, he spent about 12 hours on the thing - which is more than I've spent on the first level of Nightwick Abbey at any one time, but the fact that he has multiple levels with roughly the same number of rooms has me wishing to improve my stocking efficiency.

When I first started running Nightwick Abbey  I used a hyper-minimalist map key.  I had even sparser notes than James used for his Dwimmermount game.  I typically only marked rooms that had monsters, traps or specials, and all the others didn't even have numbers placed on them.  I might write a sentence or two to explain a "special," but monsters and traps rarely got more than the number there were, the amount of HP they had, and how much damage they dealt.  I winged most of the other details on the fly, which usually worked out but eventually I would start to contradict myself.  In fact, part of the reason Nightwick Abbey might be sentient is that I wanted to explain why shit I had previously described was different.

I ended up changing my note-taking method when I started to run my version of Castle Greyhawk.  Since there were about 150 rooms on the first level, I needed to try harder to make them seem different from one another.  I also needed to be reminded more often of what those differences are, and so my keys started to get much longer and every room got its own entry.

When I started running Nightwick Abbey on G+, I adopted the same method I had used to note rooms in Castle Greyhawk.  I keep the key on a google doc and update the room descriptions every time the party changes something - assuming I remember to do so.  I also used this method when I stocked my Uz dungeons.  Here is an example of what it looks like:


A.2 Shrine of Manugal of the Setting Sun

1. Antechamber: This room is made of plain mud brick in the typical Uzite style and is not decorated in any way.  Along the north and south walls are several cages that once held human sacrifices.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

2. Outer Hall: The walls and columns of this chamber depict scenes of everyday life.  The city depicted, while Uzite, is actually Old Jerah.  The southernmost column depicts people being born while the northernmost depicts people being slaughtered.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

3. Inner Hall: Unlike the last chambers, this one is painted completely black, and it strangely appears to even dim light sources brought inside.  The columns and walls are completely smooth.  The only carved decoration is the massive statue of Manugal, made from a polished black stone of unknown origin.
Monster: None
Treasure: Nil

4. Sacrificial Chamber: Like area 3, this room is painted with a strange, black paint that seems to dim light.  Pillars are lined with strange, pale green stones.  If anyone is slain in this chamber the stones will light up.  Bones and dessicated corpses litter the floor.
Monster: 5 Vortlups (HP 7, 6, 8, 8, 10)
Treasure: 40gp, 4 pale-green gems (200gp each)
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The problem with this method is that it takes me way too long to stock something. This is why I've become interested in Ian's Mazarin key. It seems to be a good middle ground between the two extremes that I've tried. It has just enough to allow me to remember what's supposed to be in there without having to design so much in advance that it takes me a month to work on a level.

8 comments:

  1. Excellent post, and certainly a subject worth considering - the actual procedure of dungeon design is a great topic.

    Once you settle on something that works for you, I'd love to hear about it.

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  2. Maybe the answer is to start with the minimalist key, stock until you have a whole level, then go back and expand the entries at your leisure.

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    1. Cole, that sounds about right.

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    2. I was thinking of making a sparse key and then taking notes on how I describe it during the session and adding them after that.

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    3. @ Evan yes, good point; I think it's important to keep your improvs permanent.

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    4. One other good thing about the technique of stocking a whole level in a minimal way and then going back is that you can more easily build connections between the different areas.

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    5. @ Brendan - yeah ; Zak had a post specifically about that maybe a year back or so

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  3. One sentences including monster (if present) stats. UNLESS it contains important components (but these are less than 10% of total). Also the format is important. Using a good room title and not writing in complete sentences helps.

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