Impressionistic dungeons

edited April 2015 in Directed Promotion
I wrote an adventure location to go with some art cards I've been making.
I basically tried to record my normal process of prep-by-daydreaming, and ended up with something pretty impressionistic. No story, just sensory info and some prompts.

I have no experience making or using adventure modules, so I'd love to hear from those who use or make them: what's useful for your game?



  • Oh my word, this is fantastic. It's exactly the sort of thing that would make a great Dungeon World module, in my opinion.
  • This is fantastic! I really dig. It's even fun to read.

    Some thoughts:

    * The moves are sometimes a little too forgiving for my tastes. I'd prefer to see a "choose 1" on a 7-9, and "choose 2" on a 10+ for some of those. But that's an easy modification to make, if I want to do that.

    * What is the Monkey Gate? Is it just a name, or is there some meaning to it? I had the most trouble imagining this one.

    * The main thing that I often need from a module is not the sensory details (although yours are amazing) but a general sense of logic for the existence of the thing.

    You hint at this in the Rumors section, but, beyond that, you ask the GM to come up with stuff on the fly and then hope it makes sense later.

    So, for me, I would want to add something about the general state of thing; why is it here, why are WE here, and what's behind it?

    Having a general sense of what the thing IS before starting would allow me to use this whole thing on-the-fly, without even reading it first. Otherwise, it's still possible, but more difficult.

    Anyway, these are minor comments. This is really lovely!
  • Also, the thread title brought to mind something like these pictures:



    (Not guaranteed to be accurate representations of anything...)
  • @Paul_T , I think I agree the player moves could be more brutal, good call

    * The main thing that I often need from a module is not the sensory details (although yours are amazing) but a general sense of logic for the existence of the thing.

    You hint at this in the Rumors section, but, beyond that, you ask the GM to come up with stuff on the fly and then hope it makes sense later.
    I totally get that, but I find for myself that those elements of prescriptive logic are what keep me from being able to use a module at my table.

    I guess I would rather pose the question ("why does this exist?") than answer it. My instinct is that doing it that way makes it easier to integrate with established fiction?

    Oh, and here's a Monkey Gate:
  • Also, the thread title brought to mind something like these pictures:



    (Not guaranteed to be accurate representations of anything...)
    Wow, I really want to know the context that birthed that second one. There's something legit captivating about it to me.
  • Good answers, Dirk. The Monkey Gate illustration really helps!

    I suppose we may have opposite interests in terms of the module's use. When I use a module, I want to know the "why" behind it, so I can come up with a way to situate it in the setting, and then I have a method for answering questions.

    For example, if I know the mansion was built in the forest to establish secrecy, I will know to describe its walls as tall and foreboding, rather than short and ornate. I can have a sense of the rumours about it, and so on.

    To leave it wide open certainly gives the material flexibility, but, for me, makes it harder to improvise.

    I never have trouble coming up with details. I do have trouble coming up with the rationale behind the whole thing, tying it all together. So I look for a good "hook" or simple backstory in a module (like Lady Blackbird's concept of an escape from an arranged marriage), which I can then use to improvise around.

    Consider how Dogs in the Vineyard's premise (a group ride into a Town which harbours trouble, and are expected to fix it) allows everything else to hang off that premise and makes it easy to improvise details.

    Your module is fantastic, but to use it, I would need to come up with that kind of thing first.

    On the other hand, with a simple explanation for what is there and why, I feel like I could "run" this module completely on-the-fly, without even reading it through before playing!

    Great stuff.

    (I have experimented with methods for generating such things on the fly, and as simply as possible, as in The Silver Dragon's Tear. I'll give this some more thought, and let you know if I have anything more constructive to say.)
  • Thanks for the thoughtful replies, @Paul_T

    I really like the Tragedy and Intrusion seeds in The Silver Dragon's Tear. Seems like an abridged version of that could work well at establishing the context here.
  • I don't know if your work is missing that piece. We may just have a different approach, and that's a very healthy thing.

    The work is very good as it is.

    But you asked for feedback and what kinds of things people look for, so I gave you my thoughts!
  • Very interesting and well put-together. It's like a hook made of hooks, perfect for an improvisational game like Dungeon World, but you might need to wear gloves while handling it. I like the idea and the next time I'm moved to run a session of Dungeon World I may well use this. Your lack of experience does not show.

    As for what's useful in general? I could take this for most games and build on it, as I said, it's a hook made of hooks, which is enough for DW, but for any other game, you have to use it like it's a hook and create something based upon it. If this were advertised as anything other than a PbtA module, I wouldn't buy it. For other games which need more certainties, it wouldn't be as useful.

    I'm currently working out the most efficient and intuitive way to build scenarios for my game and this has made me think. It's a game about information. This is pretty anathema to that. But I could see myself building it into a scenario that fit, as mentioned before.
  • This kind of stuff is quite exciting to me, and I think will be useful - even if I just shred the dungeon-as-such as use them as individual pieces.
  • In fact, this might see some action tomorrow night in my West Marches -esque game. It's been very effective framework for turning my initial "there is a mouldy old house in the mouldy woods which has some treasures and some mould" into something much more interesting.

    Paul_T's questions ("why is it here, why are WE here, and what's behind it?") are easy to answer in context. The "why are WE here" question, in particular, will have fallen naturally out of the players' choices. They might never see the place (they don't know it exists, and it's not on their most natural path), and they might never go in (they know that they need to pick their battles).
  • I should clarify:

    The characters' actions may be relatively easy to answer, as you point out. What is more difficult (at least for me) is figuring out why there is a monster in the pond, what the guards are doing here, and that kind of thing.

    If I know that the locale is an abandoned laboratory which has been taken over by brigands, I can improvise consistent details much more easily. Or if it's a rich noble's manor which has been invaded by extra-planar horrors. But those two abandoned manor houses will look very different.
  • Paul_T, all,

    Hmmm... at least in this context (10-sessions-established West Marches -style game) I don't have much trouble coming up with those things, and then riffing of them to create more. Indeed, by coming up with the lower-level details (who's in the pool?) I came up with a better picture of what the house was and why it was here.

    NB I'm doing this ahead of time, as prep, and taking non-trivial time over it. Are you talking about using this directly in play i.e. reading it once or twice then snatching it up in play when a weird old house is suddenly needed?
  • A set of first-session questions in a similar style. Put these together for a game I ran this past week, got some interesting story leads out of them.


  • That's pretty cool. How did the game go? (Were you using a specific game system along with that?)
  • edited May 2015
    (As an aside, thinking further about Bleakwood House: have you seen Perilous Journeys, and how it has a short generator for a dungeon - who created it and what for? A list of some options for Bleakwood House would be tremendously helpful, I feel.)

    (The "rumours" section almost does this. Unfortunately, knowing that there have been some disappearances lately doesn't tell you whether a gang of bandits has taken over the Mansion, or whether the Lady is having a tea party - e.g. "sounds of conversation and music" in the Foyer.)

    (My feeling on reading it is that it could be an abandoned mansion, complete with bizarre experiments gone wrong... or maybe it's a bandit's hideout! Or maybe a gentle but eccentric family lives there, a la Addams Family. It's hard to figure out which it actually is, though, as some of the details point to many different possibilities. Having chosen some theme to tie it all together, though, I feel like I could run a decent adventure/location on the fly, without even reading ahead, which would be pretty cool.)
  • I ran this in Dungeon World, which has been my pretty exclusive jam over the past few months.

    The game went well. It was a short session. We spent about an hour playing out the first scene, interspersed with these questions (sometimes played out in flashback.) We had one PC from a previous adventure with the same play group (the fighter), one PC who had been an NPC in that same adventure (the warmage), and two new characters.

    There was our Mage, pursued by a shadowy noble who fears the source of the Mage's power. Our Cleric was a friend and abettor of the Mage, giving hospitality in the temple when the noble's mercenaries arrived. Our Fighter was a childhood friend of the Mage, and present as well for the mercenaries' arrival. Lastly, our Warmage was one of the dispatched mercenaries, but abandoned his mission when he saw the fighter (she had saved his life in a previous adventure.)

    This was all established by asking the mage, "what sent you fleeing..." and then pushing for details based on the answer ("how did that happen?" "what were you doing there?" "how did the two of you end up together that night?")

    The mage also got the "What priceless thing..." question, and, choosing the liability of a will to escape. It was described a headless black worm, found in the depths of the cleric's temple. Followed up with some detail prodding, "why are you so sure this thing is important?" (clue to the source of magic?) "does the cleric know you've looted this artifact?" (no))

    For "who offers safe haven...", "who pursues you...", I just directly asked them to pick a name from their sheets for these people, to save the agony of decision-making, then asked for a couple tags to describe the reputation of those newly-named characters.

    We left the identity and specific agenda of the shadowy noble un-detailed, which suits me fine; a little left unsaid makes the world seem bigger somehow.

    In the end, the ship sank, and the party and handful of sailors weathered the storm on a rocky outcropping.
  • Sounds great. What happened in the actual scene - or was most of the session devoted to building background details and flashbacks? Did you play out the flashbacks as actual scenes, or just narrate/brainstorm their details?

    As for "it's small and easily lost", that's my least favourite option on your list. I would probably replace it with something like, "It's easily recognizable by anyone laying eyes on it". This also implies there might be people looking for it or offering money for it, which could cause trouble for the character in a way similar to how "a will to escape" and "large and heavy" might.
  • Oh, that's an awesome suggestion, Paul. That substitution is definitely more interesting.

    During the shipwreck scene, the fighter was first to rush abovedecks, although dizzy and hampered by seasickness. The ship had become lodged on a jut of rock and she raced to help a group of sailors dislodge it with poles. In the attempt, she slipped overboard.

    The cleric threw her a rope, but was himself dragged in. Now the two of them were being tossed around rather roughly in the water, on opposite ends of a long rope. The Warmage used a spell to snap the slack middle of the rope to his hand and then charmed one of the sailors to pull them in.

    Meanwhile, the Mage came above and wove a spell to make the two in the water more bouyant. A 7-9 result on the casting, so the effect worked in an unexpected way and drew some attention. The flailing swimmers witnessed the fat under their skin swell, and their hair become denser and more oily until they resembled something like sea lions. They soon had sharks circling beneath them.

    The cleric, investigating the dark shapes in the water below, cast a light spell on his holy symbol, illuminating a shark closing in on him. He quickly wove a spell to cause fear in the animal, who reared back with a shudder, striking the cleric's holy symbol to the depths before retreating.

    By this time, the ship was half-submerged, prow up. Those of the crew who hadn't fallen overboard were evacuating onto the jutting rocks. The cleric and fighter were pulled safely to the rocks as well. They managed to rescue the dinghy, and used it to shelter themselves while the storm passed. In the morning, they ferried themselves to shore, a few hundred miles north of their destination.

    Also, RE: Perilous Journeys: I haven't read it, thanks for the recommendation!
  • I like this a lot. It reminds me of a Fiasco playset, which is the part of Fiasco that I'm most interested in adapting for other games: more than a one-sentence adventure seed, less than a fully-described adventure.
  • Bleakwood House is very close to a sound example of the way I'd like to prep a dungeon/adventure/sandbox. I've been working on a game design for years now to get me to this point but I'm still not there yet.
  • image
    Just put out another set of images and adventuring paraphernalia via patreon.
  • image

    Another set of first-session questions. Playing around with more pick-from-list questions.
  • edited October 2015
    Trying a new method for mapping dungeons:
  • Oh, that looks terrible!

    Actually, I love it. Your artwork? It's beautiful.
  • I'm almost always up for anything that adds more visual art to a game, so those pics are really very interesting to me.
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    Another illustrated dungeon map. This one's now up on drivethrurpg:
  • A lot of the conversation above makes me think there could be a really interesting story game in providing a set of details as the basis of a session, and then gameplay is about creating the backstory, context, and characters that make all those details make sense. Or maybe it's in two phases: one in which players create the details, and another in which they resolve them by creating backstory, etc. There might be some constraints of time and place necessary during detail creation, but no more than are present in Microscope, for instance. Could be fun. Or maybe there's something like this already out there?

    @Dirk I love your art. And your questions / set-ups. Great idea all around.
  • Messing around with Discern realities as a template for world building:
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