Thursday, June 11, 2009

Greyhawk Castle Levels (Poll)

As many are aware I am about ordering he Six levels out of the many I have for publication through PPP. A design question has come up in lieu of maintaining the flavor of the originals: How detailed would DMs want these to be in relation to what they actually were? I have polarized here between fully re-fleshing each and every encounter area as opposed to lightly expanding on the notes/ideas as originally presented. I favor the latter, as my skills are generally excellent in separating the wheat from the chaff, anyway.

The very first level will set the tone for the rest; and, oppositely, the more detail that is added, the longer these will take to get to publication and the lengthier the work.

So, what do fans favor: A light approach that details salient parts? Or fully fleshed portrayals, which would be more than was actually there to begin with (i.e., expanding content beyond the original conceptual range)?

39 comments:

grodog said...

Rob, can you provide an example here of what you mean, perhaps using Bottle City or Living Room as an example? I think that would help folks to steer you better, with a better understanding of what you mean by light-touch vs. fully-fleshed-out.

Allan.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

The best example is in comparing the earliest TSR adventures (G series for example) which IMO were lightly-fleshed leaving tactics, nuances of description and minutiae to DMs as opposed to fully detailed encounter examples which occur in most adventures today. The core description of each level will be there and how to fit it into a campaign, but other than that I am seeing these as lighter versions of Bottle City, which was reworked greatly and expanded from notes to bring it to a level commensurate with "perceived" adventure crafting standards. There are several lines of thought on this, including those EGG and I bantered about to bring a bare bones treatment to Castle Greyhawk over the years we were considering the project. My way would be the middle road, much like the G-Series was. Sparse details except where needed to highlight, but nothing which detracts or burdens the encounter action. This might include entries like (6 Trolls with HD/HP AC and Dmg) but no more). In keeping with the original ideas/notes, this makes the DM rely on and refer to the MM in this case, and doesn't include redundant information already known or accessible. In turn, major set-piece areas would include shorter descriptive text to highlight their area/room features--thus cutting down on adjectival phrases and longish descriptions which could occur. There are several areas where I see several paragraphs being expended in this manner and I want to avoid that. Plus I want to maintain the tone. The G-Series tone was in keeping with action and was not bogged down in details (the best adventures IMO). But I do not want to misrepresent here. Bottle City was a very special level in Castle Greyhawk, and although the Machine Level is almost as special and will require more detail than the others due to its overall uniqueness, some others can be summarized easier and with less words, which I prefer. Depends on how much a DM perceives as needed, and that varied widely in the Castle.

moonlapse vertigo said...

In my own case, I'm interested in this almost more as a historical document, or something like those art books of concepts and production sketches you see for movies like LotR. With that in mind, it's all about the extra little bits of commentary and "in the original campaign..." you choose to add.

This is pure fantasy on my part, but I wish there could have been a Castle Greyhawk book done in that fashion...the original, untouched maps and notes, accompanied by commentary and anecdotes from the DM(s) about the particular levels and what had happened there, maybe even interviews with former players, etc... I would have bought that in a heartbeat.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Moonlapse:

Yes. A mixed bag, there, and definitely a split camp (EGG and I argued that one in the CZ project to no avail on my part). In all honesty, Bottle City strikes the medium I would like to have seen the Castle released under whatever publisher. Some levels of course were not adventured upon by as many as others were. Many players took to the Outdoor after attaining their holdings around 9th-11th levels, and the campaign emphasis shifted away from the Castle because of that. I kept up, arranging new challenges here and there, but the Castle thereafter was really the playground for newbies, veterans seeking pieces of legends here and there within its confines, or for those players wanting to work up their henchmen.

As for anecdotes, if only we knew that back in 1972-1974 that these would be in demand in the future, we would have kept a record. EGG described me as having a great memory on many occasions and this holds true for the most part today, so there is much still up there for the re-telling; but as far as old players, many have perished--EGG, Tom Champeny, Don Kaye, Dave Arneson, and many cannot be found--Joe Fischer, Joe Goodfellow, Jim Goodfellow, etc. Mike Mornard & Ernie Gygax are still beating around for possible anecdotes, and I have prodded them on occasion, but alas, age has assailed even the most stalwart from those days who were the most venerable players.

Joseph said...

I definitely vote for the G-series style.

Ragnorakk said...

The treatment as you describe for Bottle City sounds most appealing - providing relevant detail and explanations where important/necessary.

philotomy said...

I would prefer to see a lighter approach like the early TSR modules, or the approach you took in Bottle City.

When I prep my own dungeons, my key looks like an outline. There's rarely more than a few lines for any given area. That's enough to jog my memory or spur my imagination. I like the 'less is more' approach. However, for a dungeon or adventure someone else designed, I like a few more details, so your 'middle ground' sounds just right, in my opinion.

Rae7910819 said...

I'd stand about in the middle ground myself.

Adam Thornton said...

If the choice is G-series detail or 3E-style detail, G-series all the way.

The stuff Joseph Bloch is doing in his WG13 module, honestly, is just about perfect for my tastes.

JoetheLawyer said...

I broke out some modules just to make sure I have points of comparison right in my head.

Bloch's WG13: not enough detail room by room. I want more than just the monsters in the room and the treasure.

G1-2-3: good in terms of room detail for me. A bit on each room other than monster and treasure, and more detail if the room is significant. Plus barebones strategy where needed. No detailed combat grid layout maps like most adventures have these day, taking up multiple pages for a single encounter. I loathe that style. No DM text boxes to read to players, however.

Castle Zagyg Upper Works Boxed Set: too much detail. I don't really care about ecology that much.

Dungeonland: Too much detail in some places, too sparse in others. Needs to be a more balanced detail level throughout. I like the DM description boxes, but the module itself only truly makes sense when you're smoking something illegal.

Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure: A bit too much detail for each room, no DM description boxes.

TOEE: Overall the best one for me. I like the DM description boxes to read to players, and the detail level for each room is not so great that you can't read it quickly to refresh your memory of all the pertinent features of the room, while the players decide what to do. I'll read the adventure over before playing, but for a fast moving adventure where the players cover a lot of rooms, more than the 4 encounters per night you gwet in 3.x games, you can't read and memorize the whole thing, especially fine details.

I'd like to have more than barebones details, and I like the box descriptions to read to players, and appreciate it if the room detail is light enough that I can quickly refresh my memory at a glance.

So my vote: fashion it after TOEE. Alternatively, do it G1-2-3 style, but with each room having a box description to read to the players, which is what TOEE is, essentially.

Joe

Geoffrey said...

I strongly favor "lightly expanding on the notes/ideas as originally presented".

Ideally, Rob, you would expand your notes only in the sense of making sure people can understand them. I wouldn't add or change anything.

JoetheLawyer said...

One thing to add that I think is cool as hell are sidebar boxes wherein you tell stories of how various encounters turned out for the original players. I'd love to read how Gary/Mordenkainen or the others either screwed up or totally kicked ass in an encounter, if the story is worth telling.

Another cool thing is an appendix with actual photocopied pages of your original notes and sketches for various rooms and encounters.

JoetheLawyer said...

Sorry for yet another post, but I'm excited about this finally coming to fruition. Rob, how about posting 3 examples of the same room in various levels of detail, and have us vote a,b, or c?

Joe

JediOre said...

I'd suggest the Giant series approach but with historical aspects.

By that I mean where you remember a good gaming moment from the past. Then you could mention how someone died or overcame this encounter from the original campaigning days after describing the room and its contents

Gabriel said...

I agree with JoetheLawyer about the TOEE style with the DM boxes and room detail. I also share moonlapse view of it as a "historical document".

DuBeers said...

70% light, 30% middle road.

Jorge said...

I would like to see the same as Joethelawyer and Gabriel mentioned above, similar to TOEE, with dm descriptions.

The Acrobatic Flea said...

I will add my voice to the chorus supporting G-module style brevity (plus historical/anecdotal notes).

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

All interesting commentaries. The boxed text is not always a favorite of everyone, however. I prefer highlights through italics, instead.

JoetheLawyer said...

Highlights are fine as well. Just some sort of room description section, even if only a sentence or two, which can be read to the players.

In my experience, there is no greater way for the original DM to lend his distinctive voice to the module than the descriptive text read by the DM to the players. It's the next best thing to having it DM'd by you or Gary, Rob, which in large part is what we are looking for in the module. every one of us wishes we could have been there and played it in 1974 with you guys. To the extent you can give us that experience, through lending your own voice to the descriptive text, as well as anything ORIGINAL, like the photocopies of your original notes and maps, stories and anecdotes, we will love it even more.

joe

grodog said...

I find ToEE to be more words, in general, than I'd prefer to see in a module. And although I'm much closer to the G-series modules in preference, I liked the format and approach in Bottle City even though many of its encounter descriptions dwarf the G series encounters (and I'm not just talking about the Hall of the Gods either).

I would hope that each of the editions would include a reproduction of the original manuscript(s) that survive, as well as a transcription if that's warranted. From comments I've heard from folks about BC, those were well-received features of the product all-around.

Allan.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Well, the BC was, in essence, a whole lot of special encounters, strange set-pieces and on the average cannot be compared to the G-Series at all because of that. It is a special level, in fact one of the most non-standard and unique levels in the Castle, outside of the Dirdir Hunting Grounds, Horsing Around, and Isle of the Ape. The 6 levels I am pushing to publish compare more favorably to
"normal" levels, as in the G-Series, though not all are as homogeneous as others.

The Machine level had more participants on it in its day, so there are anecdotes from when EGG (who play-tested first with his crew) and James Ward's experiences on it, etc. Others did not get as much play (and for reasons as noted earlier in my commentary). Some have historical precedence (the Orb (re: "gem") of Brightness was created for one, etc).

In all, I favor a light descriptive approach, but am weighing towards combining the notes and historical commentary in some way, which at times seemed to challenge the flow of BC, though we carried it off well as a first pass.

Philotomy said...

FWIW, I tend to dislike 'read to the player' text. Highlighting 'player safe' info within the normal flow of the description is okay, though.

Brian said...

T1-4: The Temple of Elemental Evil is a good format to pattern it off of. Just the right amount of descriptive information without an overload of it. Same with the later background info- just enough info to set the tone of the tale in conjunction with the obligatory background information bit given in the adventure introduction.

Sham aka Dave said...

Just the essentials. For example, I understood your post without having to read the text of all the comments which were five times more information than what was needed.

Yesmar said...

I'm all for brevity. The G1/G2/G3 format would be optimal.

Raymond said...

I think that most people that are interested in getting any version of the original Castle Greyhawk aren't going to want it re-fleshed into a version that never was before. Does that help answer the question? I'm thinking that if there are notes from "back in the day" and we wouldn't understand the shorthand, that the notes would be translated for us somehow. I think it's hard for someone who hasn't seen the notes to know if a note in a side bar or a parenthetical note or a translated version of the text would be best.

In short, to answer "between fully re-fleshing each and every encounter area as opposed to lightly expanding on the notes/ideas as originally presented," my vote is for to what they actually were and save the expanding content beyond the original conceptual range for a later release. :)

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Yeah. Raymond hits the nail on the old medusa head. EGG and I made short-hand notes which are very bare bones and we filled in as competent DMs. When considering expanding upon these, or upon actual ideas and concepts which were not even written down in some cases, just memorized, perhaps with a name reference to jog the thought appended right to the map (I did the latter a lot, in fact), it becomes a matter of degree when considering expanding same. What was it then? As opposed to what would it be now? So a middle grounnd is optimal with this course so as to not lose the flavor. But in pursuing it, I am always reminded that EGG and I were very creative story tellers and very capable "on-the-fly" DMs, being able to spirit up adventures, items, situations at the drop of a hat, so to speak. There is no way one can translate US into the now, one only sees part and not the whole, as it should be, because it could be no other way. Thus fleshing is needed on a case by case basis, and even then the filter is a weak one which relies on the anecdotes and histories where present to help distill those moments in time which are now way in the past. Best foot forward, always; but there is no true resummoning of those unadulterated moments for any of us, unfortunately.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Sham AKA Dave.

Yeah. Kinda ironic, heh?

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Yesmar.

Hey buddy. Folks, meet Yesmar the Royal Wizard, who is about recrafting many maps, including my 6 GH levels as referenced in this topic.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Philotomy:

Hmm. What type of cigar is that in your picture? I didn't see you with any at NTRPGCon.... :)

Creative Coquette said...

YAY for Yesmars!!!!!

:)

Sham aka Dave said...

Rob: Chiming in a few days late now. The dilemma you are faced with is not unfamiliar: Running your own adventure via scant memory jogging notes vs. Writing the same in such a way that other DMs can run it as intended.

I was always of the opinion that Castle Greyhawk never made the transition from EGG/Kuntz notes to proper TSR module form was due to the fact that you two ran it from bare-bones notes (as you have already confirmed) just like most of us DMs do with our own dungeons.

I agree that Raymond nailed it. I also think that you answered the question in your original post. Especially with the separating the wheat from the chaff observation.

I favor the light approach that details salient parts provided you think prospective DMs can run it properly.

Providing more than was actually there to begin with is fine if it is limited to providing details that would enable customers to run it as intended.

There I go adding to the wall of text. These are my opinions only, of course!

I'm looking forward to what you and Allan put together in the future.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Sham aka Dave:

Yeah. That is a strong reason why I championed the release of Castle Zagyg
as a combined form: both old levels and notes scanned, and with softboud books accompanying this that would translate the notes with a little added explanation, to C&C, LA and d20 (at the time) systems. I figured that was the best of all worlds. Voted down by the EGG-master, however, so that, with another reason, is why I withdrew from the project.

In all truth, it is a strange position, for as DMs we made up.crafted lots if things on the fly. That means that we could have a sketchy idea and then take 15 minutes out of game time when that idea was encountered in play (or set in motion, so to speak)and actually sculpt it; then too,we sometimes had a firm idea of what it did even though there was only a note: kinda like, "mow lawn today," as one doesn't have to think of what certain processes involve when they are used to same. I still do this today and make up the most creative stuff while doing so, so there are slight variations involved to just "winging it: and thus more solid matter involved than what at might at first appear to be. Creative processes can be quite unique.

The bottom line, I guess, is will each level retain that original flavor? Do the levels stay true to the original maps as adventured upon back then?

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Gads. Sorry for all the typos in the above, just woke up and having my first cup and against my better judgment responded to the post... heh

Sham aka Dave said...

No problem at all, I appreciate the insightful response. Your "mow lawn today" analogy is fitting.

Philotomy said...

Philotomy: Hmm. What type of cigar is that in your picture? I didn't see you with any at NTRPGCon....

I did bring some to the con, but never had the opportunity to smoke one. If I remember correctly, the cigar in the picture is a Montecristo -- probably a #3. Coronas are my preferred size, and lately I've been gravitating towards claros rather than maduros (although I like 'em all, really).

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

Philotomy:

What's a good mild but tasty cigarillo
these days? Any recommendations?

Philotomy said...

I've stuck to cigars, and haven't smoked any cigarillos, but I'm increasingly interested in them. They'd solve the 'no time for a cigar' problem (like the situation at the con), and are cheaper, too (a bigger consideration with the recent tax increases).

I believe some tobacconists sell samplers that include several different brands of cigarillos. I may have to pick some up.