Friday, March 16, 2012

The Start of Something Big

I've started creating a huge dungeon for the kids, and I thought I'd share my process in this space.  It's a fairly ambitious project.  I'm shooting for the stars, and there's no way to describe it all in a single post.  Today I'll cover what my goals are, but first I'll provide a little bit of the dungeon's context within the overall adventure path.

Long time survivors of this blog may recall that I also run a Pathfinder game for my adult friends, and that my homebrew world they run in is pretty much the same one my kids run in.  Sort of.  They can't affect each other's version of the world, and they can't interact with one another.  This means that I'm effectively running the same adventure path twice, first with the adults who started as level 5 adventurers, and then with the kids who started at level 1.   So even if the adult party kills a major villain in, say, the Temple of Klethnu, that villain will still be there waiting for the kids when they arrive at the same temple.  Unless he's busy elsewhere, that is.

First, a definition for the uninitiated.  An "adventure path," in the sense that I'm using the term, is the set of adventures that the characters will engage in over the full span of their career, from whatever level they start at to whenever the characters are retired.  Adventure paths don't necessarily cover the entire PC career, but they do at least encompass a set of adventures that are connected to each other to form some narrative.  This particular adventure path I'm making will be it for these characters.  Once it's over, the kids retire these characters and we play something else.

The overarching structure of the adventure path that I've created/am still creating for my players consists of four parts.  The adults started with part two, the kids with part one.  I started running the setting well before I had an adventure path in mind, though; the adventure path has grown organically from the initial adventures that I created, specifically the "part two" that the adults just finished up after a year of playing in the elven city of Nimoriél.*  But the overall adventure path is a subject for another day.  I mention it today just to give some context for the dungeon I'm making.

Which brings me to my goals for this dungeon:

  1. Advance the characters from level 3 to level 6;
  2. Incorporate the dungeon seamlessly into the adventure path;
  3. Challenge the players mentally;
  4. Teach the kids about a wide range of subjects without them realizing it.

The first goal is to advance the characters from level 3 (their current level), to level 6, which is the level they will need to achieve in order to be ready to survive the horrors waiting for them in the Nimoriél greater metropolitan area.  Three levels worth of experience points represents many encounters, so the dungeon has to be fairly big.

My second goal is for the dungeon to feel like part of the overall adventure path.  That won't matter until much later, of course, long after they have advanced to Nimoriél and points beyond.  Right now the kids have no clue that this adventure path even exists, but years later I want them to look back on all our sessions with a sense of wonder and realize how they all fit so seamlessly together into one cohesive unit.   That's my pride talking, I admit.  I want them to look back on the adventure path as a whole, and each adventure and dungeon along the way, and reach the inevitable conclusion that their dad was a total bad*ss game master.  And I want them to see how I did it and inspire them to reach for similarly lofty creative goals.

An adjunct to this second goal is that I want the dungeon to tie together with what they've done up until this point.  I want to foster the illusion that I had the whole thing planned before we even began.  Eventually they'll know the truth because I'll share my techniques, but let them wonder for awhile.

My third goal is to make this a mentally challenging dungeon, mainly from a problem-solving perspective.  My kids compete in Future Problem Solvers, and I've noticed that since starting FPS, their problem-solving skills have really sharpened.  I've got to come up with something challenging enough to keep them interested.  So this dungeon will have lots of puzzles, none of which will be solvable by mere skill rolls.  And though it will have no shortage of nasty creepy-crawlies, several of the enemies they face will not be beatable by combat.

I'm feeling even more ambitious than that, though.  What I've done is created a structure for this dungeon such that the whole thing is one big puzzle, with subsections which are also puzzles which themselves contain puzzles.  You'll see how this works when I describe the dungeon structure next time.

(Also, the adventure path itself is a giant puzzle of sorts.  Tiny little seeds will be planted in this dungeon that will be clues for unraveling the biggest of mysteries when the characters have advanced to become legendary heroes and everything they hold dear is on the line.)

My final goal (aside from simply having fun), is to sneak in some educational elements.  As always, I'll take a stealth approach to this:  if the kids are having a blast and don't even realize they're learning, then the mission will be a success.  The following are a few subject areas that I know I'll be addressing:

  • Music theory
  • Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations
  • Astronomy
  • Geometry 
  • Logic
  • Anatomy
  • How to kill vampires

This last skill is of particular importance.  Not all vampires sparkle.

* Spanning just three weeks of in-game time.  In other words, we met once per week and played the setting for one year, but the characters were only in and around the elven city for three weeks.

I mention this to give scale to the adventure path.  Parts two and three are the biggest, and part four is the smallest.  I estimate the whole effort could take three to four years.  This assumes we actually get chances to play.  If you've read this blog at all, you know that's a long shot.


  1. I'd very much like to see some examples of challenges that contain an educational element. My kids are a little young for ongoing RPG play but it is something I am very eager to try with them in a few years.

    1. We'll see some examples a few posts from now as I get down to the nitty gritty of this dungeon.

  2. The posts here are always a good read. I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award.

    1. ...but I'm afraid that I can't accept the award. I am unwilling to meet its requirements.

      I'm honored that you enjoy my blog but I'm going to pass on this.