So, I sat down behind the screen once again and began working on my 4th Core module called “The Terrible Tower”. I harken back to some earlier days of D&D where words like Sinister, Terrible, Horror, and other less grisly terms struck fear in the hearts of PC’s everywhere. So with this old-fashioned spirit in mind, I decided to down play the name (by today’s standards) and go retro!
I did pull out my Campaign Cartographer program and ordered the Dungeon pack upgrade, which is really cool by the way, and I must say, my maps are looking posh. It’s a shame the PC’s will never see all the traps in their killer glory, but yet they will be able to see the battle maps once I get those cleaned up! So all is not lost, and they will most likely encounter a few trap personally.
I’ve decided to start this series at level 1 of course, and now that my maps are laid out, I’m currently going through the process of fleshing out all the meaty DM and PC text. I found a pretty cool online template for MS Word and I’ve thus far modified to suit my needs. I did pull out some of my old modules and check them for traps and riddles for a bit of inspiration, and I must say I’ve created one of my new favorite rooms of all time (which is saying something since I’ve been doing this for well over 20+ years), and what I believe is probably one of the best climactic dungeon exits I’ve ever seen. It took a bit of movie inspiration (not naming the movie so I won’t tip my hat) but it should prove equally funny, fun, and perhaps fatal. Which of course is half the point!
One of the tough parts of such a design is always the puzzles. Especially riddles, so for this opener I’ve decided to forego riddles as a central, or rather an essential clue giving technique. The riddles I’m going to use are more hint based. Meaning they provide great hints, but are not essential to survival. It’s a balancing technique so as not to try to expect my players to “think like me or die”. Which is a pitfall many DM’s can fall into.
Thus far I have a good core group of players for play testing, but I’m definitely going to be looking for more, so if you are interested please contact me, and let me know. The module itself is designed as a one-shot campaign, it puts the party right at the point of entry, with an opening scene for inquiry, rumors and questions, and then it drops them right into the action.
The back story is flexible enough to be used in any campaign, if you are so cruel, or you could easily up the level requirements and run it as is. From my perspective, 4th Core modules need to have a game play balance ratio between absurd beat-down and a mathematical bitch-slap, and a regular 4E module. How to do that is always the trick in this arena, and here are some of my thoughts on that balancing act.
1) Monsters don’t have to be 5 levels higher to kick yer ass. In fact monsters don’t need to be the “difficulty” in a 4th Core module. The math behind 4E would probably ensure as ass-whipping and that’s not really fun for anyone. Big mobs can be deterrents as long as they are deterrents and not executioners.
2) Traps are there to punish, and challenge. Well designed traps should be discoverable; if the player thinks to look for it that is. Disarming a trap should likewise be doable, but not always simply from a roll. Sometimes disarming traps could require something else to be performed; like a puzzle perhaps.
3) Passing the buck chains are fair game. To do X they have to do Y. To do Y they have to do Z. To do Z they have to do A. So if they need to do X, they should start with A, or else…. Literally. That’s all fair game in 4th Core.
4) Challenge resources. Players only carry so much rope. They only have so many backpacks, torches, bed rolls, etc. Challenge those resources! Make players think about sacrificing them now, or trying to get by and use them later. Resource management is a long missing element in modern module design.
5) Listen to the players. If a player dies, and they say “I should have known better” THAT’s AWESOME! That’s what you’re looking for. You want a player who get killed to be thinking “dangit, I should have done X”. If instead they are saying “that sucked I had no chance”, the design is in questionable territory.
So with that in mind, I’ve really tried to manage my Terrible Tower keep that perspective squarely in focus. From my predictions I think each room is beatable, based on feedback during the course of the module. That is to say I don’t write any “single trap kills the entire party” type scenarios. Not at level 1, you have to keep the competition in mind. These are level 1 adventurers. Tossing a level 9 dragon at them and calling it 4th Core isn’t the point. It has to be winnable, or else what’s the point. That sort of design is simply called “lame”.
So, back I go into my game room to plan and plot and get the rest of this module typed up… Just talking about it has given me another idea. /evil grin