"This is a Trojan Horse with no horse.
It's a guy knocking on the gates of your city saying, 'Yeah. I've got a
present from the King of Greece. It's his army. They're well-armed and
would like to come into your city whilst you sleep. So I'm going to,
uh... need your signature on this.'"
Note that we haven’t changed the actual key
to the adventure: We’ve just restructured the environment in which
those encounters are placed.
I’ve also prepped some detail-light maps to
make the changes a little clearer. You’ll want to cross-reference with
the maps from the original module. (The original Level 2, which is now
Level 3, is unchanged, so I didn’t re-map it.)
I’ll take a moment to note that this isn’t
the only way we could have done this. Other things we could have done:
Put a secret door at the bottom of the pit trap in area 1 (leading to
one of several possibilities on the second level).
• Have the kruthiks tunnel from area 10
down to area 15.
• Put a teleport in Sir Keegan’s tomb
keyed to a matching crypt on the second level.
• One of the prisoners in the torture
chamber dug a hidden escape tunnel leading to area 6 (where he was
killed by zombies, the poor bastard).
• Could there be a connection between the
pool in area 11 and the water-based trap in area 16?
• Could the access to area 15 north of
area 16 be a secret door, with a more obvious entrance leading from
area 17 (allowing meticulous PCs to potentially bypass the trap)?
The particular revisions I’ve made simply
struck me as either the most interesting or the most appropriate or
But the point of performing this revision on
of the Shadowfell is not only to salvage another aspect of
this adventure. My primary goal is to demonstrate how easy it is to
implement these techniques in your own dungeons. If we can take an
existing, linear dungeon and fundamentally transform it in just a
couple of minutes using a handful of jaquaying techniques, then the
effect can be even more dramatic if we were to design a dungeon from
the ground-up using those techniques.
The core inspirations for Caverns
Thracia were threefold. The first
was to ally the various "beast" races of AD&D as a unified
The second was to build encounters that took place in multiple levels
of a cave, where the open upper areas were situated above open lower
areas. The final inspiration (that I remember) was the rather
primitive, but unique plate armor used by Mycenaean soldiers. These
became the human guards of the upper reaches of the Caverns.
Of particular interest here is Jaquay’s
second inspiration: I can
personally testify to the effectiveness of these open caverns in
transforming the typical dungeoncrawling experience. They immediately
force the players to think in three dimensions, while their ubiquity
significantly contributes to the memorable layout of the dungeon.
But the important revelation to be had here,
in my opinion, is the
effectiveness of clearly delineating a small list of concrete creative
goals before beginning your dungeon design.
Building on that point, notice that Jaquays
only specifies a single
non-linear design technique in his list of creative goals. (And it’s
actually a very specific variation of a generalized technique.) And
although that is not the only non-linear technique employed in the
of Thracia, Jaquays’ riffs on that theme are a definitive
aspect of the module.
Here’s my point: Earlier in this series, I
listed a dozen jaquaying
techniques. Next time you’re designing a dungeon, don’t feel like you
need to cram ‘em all in there. Instead, pick one of them and try to
explore it in as many ways as possible while you’re designing the
dungeon. (If you want a more focused experience, follow Jaquays’
example and try to narrow your design theme down a specific variant of
one technique – just like multi-level caverns are a specific form of
unusual level connectors.)
Jaquaying your dungeon is easy. It’s also
fun. And this applies to both
the designing of the dungeon and the playing of the dungeon. Nothing is
more exciting for me as a GM that to sit down at the table and know
that I’m going to be just as surprised by my players as I hope that my
players will be by me.
And when it comes to dungeon design, that’s
the unique and exciting
experience that jaquaying unlocks.
An Oxford comma (or serial comma) refers to
comma placed before a
conjunction (such as or, and, or but) in a list of three or more items.
oranges, and pears" (Oxford comma)
oranges and pears" (no Oxford comma)
When I was in elementary school we were
that you should never
use an Oxford comma. (Although we weren't told that was the term for
it.) At the time I didn't think that made much sense because it's far
too trivial to come up with scenarios in which the lack of an Oxford
comma would render a construction illogical:
oranges, left and right, and up and down"
oranges, left and right and up and down"
taught as the "exception that proves the rule". But here's an example
from Contested Will:
"Louis Benezet, an English professor
College, published the first of many Oxfordian volumes, Shakspere, Shakespeare and de
understood as Shakspere,
Shakespeare, and de Vere? (Implying an equality between
the three names.) Or should it be understood as Shakspere: Shakespeare and de
Vere? (In other words, with the latter clause being a
subtitle.) Or could it be Shakspere;
Shakespeare and de Vere? (With "Shakespeare and de Vere"
being joined as a single unit vs. Shakspere.)
No way to
maintain you should always
use an Oxford comma in order to maximize the clarity of your text.
The Minnesota Fringe
Festival started last night and will be running through
August 15th. I have an UltraPass this year, which means that over the
10 days of the festival I'll be seeing 40+ shows. So things are going
to slow down a bit here at the Alexandrian for the duration.
On the other hand, I'm planning to be an
active Fringe reviewer. You'll be able to check
out my reviews on the Fringe Festival website, and I may play
around with reposting some of them here as well. Here are a few
AT DELPHI - A SQUANDERING OF GOOD MATERIAL
Many of the actors in Alexander at Delphi
spent the majority of the show with their gazes locked on the lone
conductor stationed offstage left. Despite disrupting any real chance
the show had for chemistry, pace, or immersion, I found I couldn't
really blame them: There wasn't anything on the stage worth looking at.
The music itself is intriguingly possessed
of Greekish overtones, but is largely undistinguished. (Literally. You
can't distinguish one song from the next as they blend together into a
kind of sub-symphonic mush.) In addition, the music and the lyrics
appear to be locked in some sort of blood feud from which they both
emerge as losers. (You can't really make up for a lack of syllables in
a lyric by trying to make one syllable do the work of four.)
I have a passing, but not particularly
detailed knowledge of Alexander the Great and the accuracy of the
history depicted is impressive. Unfortunately, it often takes the form
of historical bullet points serving as dialogue and characters
narrating their own biographies.
And although faithful, the script also
manages a fair degree of incoherency. For example, Alexander and
Hephaestion are first introduced to us as they are roleplaying Achilles
and Patroclus during the Trojan War. But this is never actually
explained, leaving the audience at least momentarily confused as to
which characters these actors are actually depicting. The play also has
a habit of jumping backwards and forwards through time, but frequently
doesn't give the audience any meaningful clue where or when they are.
And please stop stabbing the floor with your
bendy, plastic swords.
What should be singled out for praise,
however, are the many actors who struggle mightily to entertain.
Particularly notable is the performance of Brandon Osero, who
frequently brings a breath of fresh energy to the otherwise weary
- INCESSANTLY CLEVER SATIRE
succeeds at being much more than the polemic it could have easily
become in less talented hands: Instead, it presents itself in a series
of complex and multifaceted (and funny!) layers, peeling them back one
at a time for our enjoyment.
show makes the game of Monopoly
comes alive. And it's funny. It's like the movie Clue, except it's Monopoly and it was
written by Monty Python.
puts up a mirror and forces us to really look at the ideological
underpinnings of the game through the lens of communism. And somehow
it's still funny.
they turn the mirror back on themselves for one last bit of
not perfect: It can be a little rough around the edges. But it's
entertaining, clever, and rewarding.
TEAGLE BELIEVES IN GHOSTS
Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts
was like sitting around a campfire listening to ghost stories. Except
instead of your goofy friends, the tales are being told by a talented
and gifted storyteller.
"real" ghost stories with a collection of original tales, Teagle
succeeds brilliantly at exploring the full range of spectral
tale-telling: Haunting. Scary. Nostalgic. Painful. Funny.
the show does occasionally fall down. In particular, the interpretive
dance portions of the evening were complete failures for me. And while
Teagle is to be commended for the innovation of including guest
storytellers at each of her performances, the timing of the guest
performer was mystifying to me: Coming immediately after what was,
arguably, the high point of the performance, the guest performer
(despite his quality) nevertheless seemed to turn the last portion of
the show into an anticlimax.
a perfectly calibrated world, I would probably give this show 3.5 or
3.75 kitties. But since it succeeds far more often than it fails, I'm
quite happy to round that figure up to 4 entertaining kitties.
The Minnesota Fringe
Festival is wrapping up this week. We'll be resuming more
normal operations around these here parts next week, but I wanted to
share with you my reviews for the three best shows I've seen at the
Festival this year. All of them have performances remaining this
weekend, and I heartily encourage you to seek them out if you can.
OF THE PALE FISHERMAN
This show was so profoundly moving; so
ethereally beautiful; so flawlessly perfect that I grabbed a fistful of
postcards as I left the theater and spent the rest of the day
enthusiastically handing them out to anyone who would listen to me.
It's that good.
As a theatrical event, Ballad of the Pale Fisherman
takes a page from the minimalist staging of Our Town and the
lyrical majesty of Dylan Thomas' Under
Milkwood. But within that broad form it creates its own
uniquely beautiful visual vocabulary and transcendent audio landscape.
From the first moments of the show you are subtly and powerfully
immersed into the richly detailed and mythic world of the play while
the cast simultaneously creates a panoply of characters, each
intimately drawn and immensely memorable.
The tale itself is like a soap bubble jewel:
So infinitely faceted; so delicate; and so ephemeral. And the telling
of the tale is masterfully woven, with sudden, almost imperceptible
transitions from tragedy to comedy and back again, with each flip of
the switch tying you ever tighter to the characters and drawing you
ever deeper into the narrative.
It brought tears to my eyes and hope to my
And in the end I was propelled from my seat
into a standing ovation, possessed by the kind of raw theatrical energy
and passion that is so rarely achieved, but so utterly transforming
when it's experienced.
Shows like this are what make theater worth
The script is nuanced and complex. It
refuses to hold your hand or package up a preconceived message. It
defies simplistic analysis.
Which makes it infinitely rewarding.
Each character is a completely realized and
fully-rounded human being. It means that you can't just tag them as
"The Nice Guy" or "The Bad Girl". And there's no one you can point to
and say, "That's the guy I'm supposed to like!" (Particularly since the
two main characters are locked in a completely caustic and
The ridiculously talented cast latches onto
this rich dramatic fodder and turns it into a theatrical feast.
First you have the script. It starts off
endearing, transitions rapidly to clever, turns suddenly enthralling,
and then transforms itself into something transcendentally operating
simultaneously on multiple levels.
Second you have the actor. Heading in a
one-man Fringe show the default assumption is that you're going to see
someone portraying themselves (or someone much like themselves). But
O'Brien is a gifted and talented actor who transforms seamlessly into
the giddy excesses of the Librarian, helping to carry you along on the
Librarian's kaleidoscopic journey of discovery.
All of it simply WORKS on a deep, profoundly
was originally written as part of the main sequence for the "Jaquaying
the Dungeon" essay, but it rapidly grew to a size which proved
disruptive to the essay as a whole. Nevertheless, I think it remains a
useful resource and so I present it here as a separate addendum.
Many of the Jaquays Techniques deal with
elaborating, enumerating, or complicating the transitions between
levels. So let’s take a moment to consider the many different ways in
which levels can be connected to each other.
The very first level connector mentioned in all of D&D. They
feature prominently on the “Sample Cross Section of Levels” dungeon map
provided on page 3 of Volume
3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures in the
original 1974 ruleset. (A map which also featured sub-levels, divided
levels, multiple entrances, and elevation shifts.)
Similar to stairs, but without the stairs. Sounds simple enough, but in
the absence of stairs long, gentle slopes can transition PCs between
levels without them realizing that they’ve shifted elevation.
Vertical passages that cannot be traversed on foot. They require either
climbing or flight.
Like a chute, but with a climbing aid already onsite. Variants of the
ladder include ropes, poles, pre-driven pitons, and antigravity fields.
Trapdoors may lead to stairs, slopes, chutes, or ladders, but they may
also taunt PCs from the middle of a ceiling. Or drop down directly into
a lower chamber.
In Dark Tower,
Jaquays gives us a window looking down into a lower level of the
dungeon (with something looking back up at the PCs). One could also
imagine a vertical dungeon in which PCs could fly up to a higher level
and find an alternative entrance by smashing through a more traditional
Teleportation effects allow for rapid transit through larger dungeon
complexes, but also have the potential to leave PCs disoriented until
they can re-orient themselves at the other end. Teleports can be either
one-way or two-way.
Pit traps that drop PCs into an underground river three levels below.
One-way teleportation traps that leave them unexpectedly stranded in a
far corner of the dungeon (or staring at a familiar entrance). Greased
slides that send them shooting down to lower levels. Moving walls that
shove them off subterranean cliffs.
force the PCs to enter a new level are usually designed to be one-way
trips. But sometimes resourceful characters will find a way to reverse
the journey nonetheless.
CHAMBERS: Large, vertical chambers can contain entrances
leading to different levels within the dungeon. For example, one might
imagine subterranean gorges and cliffs. Or an obsidian pyramid
squatting in a massive cavern, its steps leading to a burial chamber
connecting to an upper level.
In their most basic configuration elevators are chutes with a
self-propelling means of passage, but taking a page from Star Trek’s
turbolifts and Wonka’s Chocolate Factory suggests that elevators don’t
always have to be limited to the vertical plane. Others may require the
PCs to provide the means of propulsion. (A grinding wheel? Magical
fuel? Blood sacrifices? Mystic keys?)
Arneson also refer us to “sinking rooms”, reminding us that fantasy
elevators don’t need to feel at home in the Empire State Building. And
may not exist to serve the interests or comforts of their passengers.
AND PULLEY: These are similar to elevators in their
operation, but have the distinction of allowing their passengers to
directly observe their surroundings for the duration of their trip.
(The small size of a “basket” might also serve to suggest that entire
adventuring parties may not be able to take the journey at the same
TRAVEL: Sections of the dungeon in which normally solid
obstacles (like the floor) can be moved through by way of the Ethereal
Plane (or similarly transdimensional/non-Euclidian egress).
A natural variant of the slope. If the river runs flush with the walls,
however, getting back upstream may require some tricky swimming. (And
if it runs flush with the ceiling, navigating the river may require
some deep breaths.)
In the real world, the fluid level in any connected system has
to be the same, which means that underwater journeys will be
most useful in moving PCs across divided levels, nested levels, or to
sub-levels on the same horizontal plane of the duneon.
magic, alchemy, and steampunk technology can provide any number of
airlocks and semi-permeable barriers allowing for underwater dives to
the depths of an otherwise dry dungeon.
the PCs will be responsible for flooding those lower levels. (In a
minor way if they just swum down a stagnant, submerged shaft. Or in a
major way if they dump an entire subterranean lake into the 8th level
of the dungeon.)
PASSAGES: A variant on any chute, stair, shaft, slope, or
passage. Or, rather, where there used to be a chute, stair, shaft,
slope, or passage. Its former existence may be obvious or it may be
obfuscated, but it’s going to require some excavation before the
passage will be usable again.
variant on this theme is the doorway which has been deliberately
bricked up or plastered over. It’s not unusual for such passages to be
obvious from one side but not from the other.
Think Charon on the River Styx. Harpies willing to carry women (or men
disguised as women, their eyesight is very poor) up a shaft. A PC being
sucked bodily into a fist-sized ruby which is then carried aloft by a
silver raven. The form has an essentially limitless variety, but the
basic idea is that the PCs are being transported through the agency of
an NPC or monster.
SWALLOWED: “The cave is collapsing.” “This is no cave.”
Esophageal jaunts to the lower reaches of the dungeon should probably
be used sparingly, but will certainly be memorable when they are
employed. (The vomitous method of ascension is less pleasant, but no
FORCE: Tunneling through walls using a stone shape spell.
Levitating or flying through “unreachable” vertical passages. Using
gaseous form to traverse “impassable” air vents. Blind or scry-prepped
teleports. Casting ethereal
jaunt to phase through solid stone. Basically this is a
catch-all for PCs finding paths where no paths were meant to be. This
isn’t really something you can plan for (although you might be able to
encourage it by giving the PCs maps as part of their treasure), but you
should try to keep in mind that they’re not cheating when they do it.
(An attitude which may be easier to hold onto if the dungeon already
has multiple paths to success designed into its non-linear structure.)
isn't because they aren't worthy technology: The Kinect is potentially
revolutionary and slagging the Move because it's dupiing the Wii's
controller is like slagging the Sega Genesis because it duped the NES
controller. It's obviously true. It's also irrelevant.
But they will fail. Because add-on
controllers for video games will always
There have been 40 million X-Box
360s sold worldwide. The cut-off point for the Top
10 games sold for the X-Box 360 is Fable II
with 2.6 million copies. Which means that if you can sell your X-Box
360 game to just 6.5% of your potential customers, you can break into
the Top 10 list (which would obviously qualify your game as a huge
Now, let's assume that the Kinect is a huge
a technology platform and sells to 25% of X-Box 360 owners. This would
mean 10 million Kinects sold with somewhere between $1 and $1.5 billion
in total sales. Huge success for Microsoft.
Despite this massive
success for the Kinect, however, the developer of a Kinect game is
still going to be struggling: In order to sell the same 2.6 million
copies of a Kinect game, they now need to achieve a 26% market
In other words, under this incredibly rosy
for Kinect, a developer has a choice: If they develop a non-Kinect
game, their potential audience is 40 million customers. If they develop
a Kinect game, on the other hand, their potential audience is 10
million and they'll have to literally quadruple their
performance in order to achieve the exact same success.
decision is practically a no-brainer. Which is why game developers
rarely develop games for add-on controllers and virtually never bother
developing AAA titles for them.
But in practice things are even worse for
The second best-selling game on the X-Box
360 is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,
which sold 7.5 million copies on the platform. But total sales for that
game are almost twice that (at least 14 million, possibly more than 15
million). If it had been a Kinect game (and thus exclusive to the X-Box
360 platform) none of those additional sales would have happened. One
of the most successful video games in history would suddenly only be
half as successful.
Which means that a game developer doesn't
have to just quadruple their performance with a Kinect game, they
actually have to increase it by seven- or eight-fold in order to match
their potential success with a non-Kinect game.
(NOT SO) BIG PREDICTION
the two technologies (Move and Kinect), I trivially predict that Kinect
will be more successful. Not because it's cooler or more innovative
(although that may attract a few developers in its own right), but
because I believe it will be easier for designers to incorporate
Kinect-enhancements into games which will not require the Kinect
(and can therefore still be marketed to the total X-Box 360 market and
ported to other platforms).
For example, in Assassin's Creed 2
there's a section where one of the NPCs suddenly stops talking to the
protagonist and instead turns to the camera and begins directly
addressing the player. (Which, in itself, was a pretty nifty bit of
meta-narrative since you're actually playing as the guy who's playing
the Assassin's Creed 2
simulation.) The effect is pretty cool. But it would have been even cooler
if the game had a Kinect-enhancement which allowed the NPC to look
directly at me no matter where I was sitting in the room (or even
follow me around if I chose to get up and move around).
I was Microsoft, I'd be doing everything in my power to convince AAA
developers to include these kinds of subtle "Kinect Enhancements" to
their games. If they could pull it off, they might even find the magic
bullet to disprove my prediction: Making the X-Box 360 version of every
AAA title into the "best" version of that game would not only help to
sell the Kinect hardware (since every game you buy would make the
Kinect more valuable to you), it could also prove to be a potentially
devastating blow for Microsoft's competitors (turning even
cross-platform AAA releases into something akin to a "semi-exclusive"
for the X-Box 360).
PLATTER: Elevators that lead to underground rivers.
Ladders that take
you through imperceptible teleportation effects. Stairs that end in a
combinations of multiple level
connector types can be as complicated as you’d like: For example, an
elevator shaft that has been blocked by the adamantine webs of a
lavarach. This requires the PCs to climb down the shaft (like a chute),
clear the webs (like a collapsed tunnel), and then reactivate the
elevator mechanism (allowing it to be used as such in the future).
CONNECTOR, MULTIPLE LEVELS: An elevator can stop at
several floors. A
flight of stairs can provide exits to many different levels. A single
room might contain multiple teleportation devices, or a single
teleportation device might lead to different locations at different
times of the day.
TRANSITIONS: The PCs swap levels
without realizing that it’s happened. These can be the result of
mundane effects (like a gently sloping passage), but are perhaps more
frequently magical in nature (imperceptible teleportation effects). In
dungeons rich with minor elevation shifts, the PCs may even baffle
themselves by mistaking an obvious level connector (like a staircase)
for a minor adjustment in the elevation on the same level.
STAIRS: In their section on “Tricks and Traps”, Arneson
and Gygax refer
to “false stairs” without any real explanation of what they mean. I’m
going to use the phrase to mean the opposite of invisible transitions:
False stairs are features of the dungeon which lead the players to
believe they have moved to a new level of the dungeon when they haven’t
actually done so. Minor elevation shifts frequently fall into this
category, but so can more deliberate deceptions. (For example, an
elevator wrapped in illusions to make the PCs believe they’re
descending, but which actually releases them back onto the same level
they started on.)
STAIRS: Connectors which
initially look as if they’ll take you in one direction before actually
heading in the opposite direction. For example, a flight of stairs that
go up one level to a sloping passage that goes back down two levels.
PATHS: Teleportation devices are perhaps the most common
one-way paths, but more mundane traps and hazards can also have the
same result. For example, a flight of stairs that turns into a slide.
Or an underground river that sweeps PCs away in a torrential current.
ACTIVATION: A path that only becomes available once it has
activated from some remote location. For example, a lever which opens a
stone panel and provides access to a staircase. Or a teleportation
system which must be properly aligned.
implies the possibility for remote deactivation, either stranding the
PCs with no possibility of retreat or removing familiar paths that were
taken in the past.