... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dungeons and Magic I

I wanted to revisit a passage I mentioned before from Mike Mornard's reply to questions about the early days of D&D.
Remember… the world was created first, THEN the characters were created to explore it. The way Gary, Dave, and the rest of us did it, we would set up our dungeons such that you would need a selection of both combat and utility spells. Choosing how to allocate your limited spell slots was part of the fun, as was dealing with not having a certain spell where it would be useful.
Last time, I focused on the philosophy of fairness in the passage. But this time, I want to talk about the dungeon/adventure design philosophy, specifically with regards to spells. "The way Gary, Dave, and the rest of us did it, we would set up our dungeons such that you would need a selection of both combat and utility spells." What I'm thinking here is that the dungeon designer can pick a couple spells for each appropriate spell level and design encounters that could be resolved by those spells, although not exclusively those spells.

Example: You're building a 1st level dungeon. You want to make Light and Read Magic potentially useful, so that if a 1st level M-U opts to prep one of those, instead of the more "optimal" choices like Sleep or Charm.

You don't want to make success in the dungeon contingent upon those spells. Rather, you want those spells to provide a shortcut or extra benefit. Not having either spell prepared means the PCs do standard search and retrieval.

First, Light. What a Light spell will do that a torch won't is illuminate an underwater area. So, have a short submerged passageway, nothing that really taxes anyone's ability to hold their breath... but in the murky blackness, there's a side passage that is easy to miss. The range is short enough that Light cast from the edge of the entry pool down into the water will illuminate the entire passage, making the side passage obvious. Other non-magical means of finding it would include:
  • Several exploratory dives to feel along the walls;
  • A lit candle in a clear glass flask (burns out quickly, but gives a short period of illumination;)
  • Phosphorescent moss or fungi, if you can find some.
The passage leads to a hidden room with no other obvious entrances and a nice treasure trove.

Next, Read Magic. This is fairly easy: include an obvious but impassable portal, such as a sealed brass door with an unreadable inscription on it. The door radiates magic. Read Magic reveals a secret password which, when spoken aloud, causes the door to open, giving access to a shortcut.

I have some more ideas related to this, which I will reserve for future posts.

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