It occurs to me that I have a blog about DMing and only rarely talk about what’s happening in the campaigns I run. Mostly this is because I think the day-to-day minutia of somebody else’s campaign is somewhat boring; there’s only so much I can say about “the players explored the second third of the dungeon and got the Hookshot*”. But there are some interesting bits in this campaign, especially the pseudo-video-game nature of it, and I’m no stranger to self-aggrandizement.
The biggest thing in terms of time and effort is the dungeon mapping. My current campaign is based on the Legend of Zelda and I’m trying very hard to make it feel like a video game (running it in 4E helps this a lot). In Zelda games, dungeons have a map, which shows most if not all of the rooms of the dungeon, and a compass, which flags important things like treasure chests and the boss. The map and compass represent important landmarks in exploring the dungeon because they give the player agency to go from “just wander about” to “solving the necessary tasks”. I couldn’t very well skip them, and taking five to ten minutes to sketch the dungeon map on our game board (and doing it again every subsequent week) would break the game flow.
Instead I went with my favorite tactic, giving the players feelies. For each dungeon I made a map on a piece of paper. Then I put the map inside a transparent sleeve and drew icons with a Sharpie. When the players find the map they get the paper, and when they find the compass they get the sleeve.
Astute readers will notice a few things:
- Yes, I have gotten better over time, thank you for saying so. But the dungeons have also gotten more elaborate, and longer.
- A skull marked the boss room in the first dungeon and nowhere afterward. By the time I did the second map I’d forgotten I’d labelled the boss room like that. I wish I’d kept it up. It would have made things much more interesting when the sixth dungeon had no such label.
- The fourth dungeon was, in fact, a town. Not a ruined town overrun by monsters, but an active, thriving town (…overrun by monsters). One of the specific requests from the players was unusual dungeons, so the progression so far has been cave -> open-air forest -> maze of rotating rooms, all alike -> town -> giant pool of poison -> jail. The seventh dungeon was tame by comparison. Dungeons eight, nine, and ten are not.
Unusually for me, I haven’t slipped any foreshadowing for a campaign-wide mystery into the maps so the players look back at the end and say “it was there all along!”. Something like that doesn’t feel very Zelda. But I do let myself have a little fun, like using a different font for every map or making sure the background color on the map label is the same color I use in LiveGameScreen for the dungeon boss.
We’re maybe halfway through the campaign now, so I expect it to wrap up in a year, attendance permitted. At that point I’ll post the remaining maps.
* — Technically there’s nothing in-character telling the player what an item is called. The player may pick up an item and say “this is a bow” but not “this is the Fairy Bow” unless there’s a text box that explains it. It stands to reason that a player may give an item a totally different name without this guidance from the developers. So in this campaign, while the item description for the Hookshot clearly calls it the Hookshot, the players generally call it the Graspyshoot.