The KOBOLD Guide to Game Design
Volume I: Adventures
A Compilation of Essays from OPEN DESIGN
By Wolfgang Baurwith Keith Baker, Ed Greenwood, and Nicolas Logue
ii Volume 1: Adventures
AcknowledgmentsIts impossible to thank everyone when several hundred patrons have contributed their thoughts over two years of blogging, posting, brainstorming, and discussion, but one tries. When you have a mind that works better with fi ctional names than real ones, it is more of a challenge still.
First of all, let me thank all the patrons who have supported Open Design, from Andrew Shiel, the very fi rst patron of the very fi rst project, to the most recent arrival to the community. Everyone who commissions a project makes a contribution. It may be a matter of answering the polls and funding the writing, art, maps, and publication of this work; thats important for every project. In fact, without it, Open Design wouldnt exist, and wouldnt attract the rich commentary and the talented contributors it does.
Beyond that crucial support, there are a few people who consistently keep things positive and illuminate. Others have provided support in steering discussions, in providing alternate solutions, careful proofreading, or the little known art of monster wrangling. Patrons have stepped forward for a hundred small pushes in the right direction.
In that vein, and for their generous insight, criticism, and imagination, Id like to thank Keith Baker, Randy Dorman, Clay Fleischer, Gary Francisco, Jeff Grubb, Richard Green, Ed Greenwood, Mark Gedak, Lucas Haley, Benjamin Hayward, Ed Healy, Lutz Hofmann, Christian Johnson, Ken Marable, Ari Marmell, Ben McFarland, Robert Moore, Daniel Perez, Chris Pramas, Kevin Reynolds, Jaye Sonia, Jim Stenberg, Joshua Stevens, Brian Summers, Keith Unger, and Stephen Wark. Open Design would be a poorer community without you.
Thanks also to Aaron Acevedo, Johnathan Bingham, Darren Calvert, Lucas Haley, and Jeff McFarland for their art, and Andreas Reimer and Lucas Haley for their cartography.
Id also like to thank my editor, Bill Collins, for his tireless efforts to make this compilation a reality. Any remaining errors are, naturally, my own.
Th e Kobold Guide to Game Design iii
ForewordI expected that Open Design would be a learning experience. I didnt expect that I would be the one doing so much of the learning.
I was not a novice in adventure design two years ago, but I had never been asked to explain myself before. I knew that I preferred story-driven adventures to purely combat-driven ones, and that I liked giving Dungeon Masters sandboxes rather than railroads. I have a deep and abiding faith in the ability of good DMs to take a solid outline and bring it to life for their players. My job, I thought, was to inspire DMs with adventures they wanted to run, NPCs they enjoyed roleplaying, and combats that would be amusing or terrifying.
Great. Fine. Wonderful. Now explain how to do that. Thats the part that I promised, but wasnt at fi rst sure that I could deliver. The early days of Open Design were panic-stricken behind the scenes. What if the commission funds couldnt be raised? What if everyone just wanted to argue? How would I keep everyone entertained until the project either launched or (shudder) belly-fl opped in a big and public way? (None of this came to pass by the way.)
I wrote a couple of essays about adventure design to tide people over; private posts and musings that I didnt think of as part of the project. These essays proved to be immensely popular (with the very small audience of the time), and were later published by Wizards of the Coast as their Adventure Builder series. Others followed, some of them becoming Dungeoncraft entries in Dungeon magazine. They started people talking.
Born out of desperation, the design essays became a delight, a way to get out of the small, tactical discussions to take on larger issues of DMing and design, to look at the panorama rather than the cameo or the miniature. Since the end of Dungeon, the essays jumped to Kobold Quarterly, with entries in the Dungeon Design series by Keith Baker and Ed Greenwood. People keep asking for more.
I think we might be onto something here. They helped me start a conversation about the issues all designers face. I
hope these discussions make you think about what you love best in gaming. I like to think that they may strengthen your designs.
Even if you disagree, the conversation about why is the fi rst step to a deeper awareness of what drives your design, whether it is a love of action, setting, character, or plot. Everyones approach may be different. But these essays are the children of almost 20 years of design. Theyre all grown up, and ready to go out into the world.
Wolfgang BaurFebruary 11, 2008
iv Volume 1: Adventures
Open Design Projects to Date
Copyright 2008 Open Design LLC. All rights reserved. Most product names are trademarks owned by the companies that publish those products. Use of the name of any product without mention of trademark status should not be construed as a challenge to such status. Open Design, Free City of Zobeck, Kobold Quarterly, and the KQ logo are trademarks of Open Design LLC.
Originally conceived for the Open Design patrons, the essays in this volume also showcase these ongoing projects. For the new reader, the projects to date are:
Steam and Brass, a clockwork adventure scaled for 6th, 8th, or 12th level characters and set in the Free City of Zobeck. The most exclusive and fi rst Open Design creation.
Castle Shadowcrag, an adventure for characters of levels 10 to 11 that takes place in a shadow-haunted castle near Zobeck.
Empire of the Ghouls, a sourcebook and adventure full of hungry undead beneath the surface of the world. This mini-campaign covers levels 9 to 12.
Six Arabian Nights, an anthology of short tales for levels 5 through 10, taking place in and around Siwal, City of Gardens.
Forthcoming: Blood of the Gorgon, a murder-mystery and intrigue adventure in Zobeck, for levels 8 to 10. Written by Nicolas Logue, and developed by Wolfgang Baur.
Th e Kobold Guide to Game Design v
Contents1. Th e Th ree Audiences 12. Shorter, Faster, Harder, Less 3
Small Beats Big 3Small Writers Starve, Compact
Writers Thrive 4The Art of the Pitch 4Long But Short 5Six Secrets of Text Compression 5What You Gain 7
3. Why Writers Get Paid 84. Fantasy Realism 12
Serious Fantasy 12Respect for Players and
Setting 13Coherent and Plausible 14
5. Worldbuilding 16Point 1: Gaming Aint Fiction 16Point 2: Genres, Action, and
Big Ideas 17Point 3: Hide Your Work.
Bury It Deep 18Point 4: Logic of the Setting 19Point 5: Empire of the Ghouls 20At Last! Pond-Oriented
Worldbuilding 21Conclusion 23
6. Pacing 24Pacing 24Defi nition 24Combat and Pacing 24Events and Pacing 26The Secret of Castle Shadowcrags
Pacing Structure 27Cliffhangers as a Resting Place 28Increasing Speed by Raising
Stakes 28Setting Up the Finale 29Conclusion 30
7. Using and Abusing Misdirection 31
Players Making Bad Choices 31Misdirection in Read-Alouds 32Fey as a Misdirection-Based
Subtype 32Misdirection and Fairness 33Treasure Misdirection and
Appraise 33Conclusion 34
8. Monster Hordes: Epic Heroism vs. Smooth Skirmishing 35
Page 49 Says No Way 35How to Handle Hordes 36How NOT to Handle Hordes 38Conclusion 39
9. Stagecraft: Th e Play is the Th ing 41
Structure of the Story 42Conclusion 45
10. On the Street Where Heroes Live: Bringing Towns to Life in a Fantasy Campaign 46
The Basics 46The Locals 47Answering the Questions 48The Trick of Subplots 48A Cornerstone Character 48The Law and the Lively 49My PCs Fought the Law 50Getting It Right 50
11. City Adventures 52City Types and Party Types 52Contained Violence 53City Law and Order 55Use the Innocent 55City Characters 56XP for City Adventures 57Conclusion 57
vi Volume 1: Adventures
12. What Makes a Night Arabian? 58Its Not Mechanical 58Clear Heroes and Villains 58Nested Stories 60Conclusion 60
13. Hardboiled Adventures: Make Your Noir Campaigns Work 61
Everyone Has A Past 62Big Risks, Trivial Rewards 63The Ugly World 64The Role of Alignment 65Hit the Books 66
14. Th e Underdark 67The Mythic Underdark 67Underdark as Wilderness 68Heroes as Permanent Outsiders 69Conclusion 70
15. Fire and Sword: Inspiration and Discipline in Design 71
Two Kinds of Fire 71Working With Fire 72When the Fire Goes Out