Best laid out non-dungeon module?

The1True

Should be playing D&D instead
If the DM wants to “play” a city they need the equivalent of a newspaper no one else ever gets to read, updated about as regularly.
Ptolus has a newspaper with current events you can throw at the players. Truth to be told, other than when the barbarian army invaded, our party has always been to busy to really do anything about the stories we read. It hurts to see the DM shaking his head behind the screen as we let another excellent hook wiz right over our heads :p

Cities are fly fishing the players. Maybe they never bite. But they feel the river flowing.
Nice metaphor!
 

The1True

Should be playing D&D instead
In case anyone's interested, last night I played out that messed up spaghetti I presented earlier and here's the play report. Two players; Slasher McGirk and Jagatai were MIA. Heading into the mini-game Grayson the Duskblade decided he was a baseline Pensive Drunk and Decklan the Wand Specialist, a Social Drunk:


Drinking began at the Bloated Halfling. The bartender recommended (not subtly) that Ironguard Motte is known for its Baths which are a great spot to meet NPC's and socialize. He also mentioned an Axe-Throwing competition going on. Decklan bought a Round for the House and a Mysterious Stranger heartened by the free booze sidled over to find out the PC's story. He said he could hook them up with Drugs or a Card Game, they chose to drink up and go find the card game. That drink on the way out the door bumped Grayson to Stage 2 Pensive Inebriation: "Feeling No Pain".
They came out ahead at the card tables with Deklan impressing the cute waitress and alarming the security staff with some cunning sleight of hand. Grayson made a spectacle of himself trying to talk to the Security Staff over at the bar and the two were escorted from the premises. That was fun; time to head to the Baths!

On the way Deklan noticed they'd picked up a tail and the two ducked into an alley where Grayson gave their hiding spot away coughing on some dust. Three thieves moved to encircle them, but Deklan emerged from hiding to nail one with a throwing knife. Grayson dispatched a second; savagely severing his leg at the thigh, spattering himself and the alley with gore and putting to rest any hopes for a peaceful or silent resolution. Deklan picked off the third thief and then they fled into the night. In a moment of drunken clarity, Deklan asked "What would Slasher do?" and promptly got Grayson out of his gore-spattered shirt and cleaned up in a scummy horse-trough. They hightailed it through back alleys to the baths.

At the baths, they sank into the soothing, green-tinted thermal waters where they met a distinguished businessman and regaled him with stories of the Barrowmaze. He invited them to a Private Function. They clumsily stole a shirt for Grayson (getting it right on the second try) and followed the Jeweler to the Guild Club where they sipped very expensive liquor and were introduced to a number of the community's more influential members. Deklan bought a drink for a Special Guest, the Master at Arms and talked him up, trying to get to what he called 'the secret handshake'. Meanwhile, Grayson Performed a Song about their adventures, catching the eye of an Inappropriate Attractive Person. The Master at Arms leaned in to Deklan and mentioned that his friend was getting WAY too close to the Duke's Niece. Deklan had another drink, finally bopping over to Grayson's level of inebriation becoming "The King of the World" as he grabbed Grayson by the ear, paid their eye-watering tab and headed out the door.

Up the street, loud music and a boisterous crowd could be heard at the Leaky Barrel, but before the two could reach their destination they stopped in the middle of the street to figure out the perfect Secret Handshake! A 20 and a 19 respectively assured the most awesome secret handshake of all time and fuck the Master at Arms if he didn't want in on it! A familiar, female voice cried out for help back up the street and the two ran back somewhat unsteadily to find the Master of Tailors and Chief Banker trying to drag the Duke's Niece up the street, telling her she had had quite enough and was making a scandal of herself. Neither Deklan nor Grayson could Diplomacy worth a damn, but while Grayson attempted to reason with the worthy gentlemen, Deklan succeeded at a combined Sleight of Hand/Hide and snuck off a Sleep Spell, putting the two guild masters in a lover's embrace in the dark shadow of a building.

In the company of the lovely niece, the two adventurers turned towards the beckoning music wondering how things were going with their companions elsewhere in the town. And, that's where we left it til next week!


Not bad for a first run at it. I can see a couple of allies, enemies and hooks coming from this. I neglected to generate rumours in all the excitement as the two players were pretty animatedly hitting me with questions and instructions and also because I hadn't hard-coded rumours into any of the nodes (like if you roll for People, you should roll for Rumours as well). That was about 2 hrs of play, we dicked around chatting at the start of the night, so we're stretching into next week which everyone seems happy with. I'm hoping to run the other two guys' side of the story quickly and then weave them all together at the Leaky Barrel where the night will go into overdrive!
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Pretty cool how you strung that all together from your flowchart. Lot's of great on-the-fly detail.

How'd it feel? Would it work if you were having a slightly "off night"?

Is your flowchart used up now? Do you have to regenerate it to prevent repetition?
 

The1True

Should be playing D&D instead
Would it work if you were having a slightly "off night"?
I wake up at 2 AM to play with my buddies back in Canada, so every night is an off night and I always have to prep with that in mind. My prep has to be air-tight and daze-proof lol. When I'm operating on 4 hrs of sleep, it is definitely harder to improvise when the PC's wander off the reservation. Also running the game on a VTT does not lend itself to wild extemporizing. I try to take copious notes and put them where I can easily find them as well as keeping maps for every eventuality I can imagine loaded up on Roll20. Strangely it is easier to DM then play under these conditions. I tend to nod off while waiting for my turn to come back around...

We made it to that pinch point. The only break from the path-tree was when they chose to double back to the Baths after the Card Game. The wizard was still Stage 1 Inebriated, so I rolled with it. I used capitalization to highlight the places where I referred to the chart if that helps to follow it?
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
@EOTB: For me, you are once again on target in a very helpful way. I agree with T1T, "Cities are fly fishing the players. Maybe they never bite. But they feel the river flowing." might be the best description of what I am looking for---how do I generate that flow? A newspaper (or really just a timeline/table-of-events) might be enough. All the rest I can pull out of my setting prep material.

Also, when you says "IDK, there is no system other than making shit up continuously in a narrative players mostly ignore even if they enjoy it.", gives me comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

@Beoric :
First. The Explore-the-city stuff: I think when you first arrive there's two things that need to happen --- get through the gate, and find lodging. The exploratory part is the just the party's first impressions as they navigate those 2 tasks. A third thing is "why did you come to this city"/"what do you need from it". They really need to meet a few helpful NPCs and find the main-drag. It doesn't have to a long drawn-out affair.

That said, by mentally switching in the Palace from a hand-waive "royal court" to an actaul "explore the map" mode was very rewarding and unlocked the whole business for me---opened the mental dam.

Second, the Hommlet stuff. This seems very disingenuous of you --- a very modern way of arguing, where a person such as yourself, intentionally ignores those things that don't support your point and drills down on the few cases that do.

The twin statements you made:
"I don't think Hommlet is a good example though, because most of the NPC content isn't really gameable. "
and
"I love Hommlet and keep coming back to it."

don't play well together. Let just admit we ALL keep coming back to Hommlet, and have used it successfully in our games---and that's because it works. It does have those punchy NPCs that stick in a DM's brain like Bryce's beloved Old Bay the Ogre. Why then downplay (as in your first statement, and Potter example above) it's quality? Why discount it as an exemplar of good design? I'll tell you why I think---you've gotten into the habit of knee-jerk shooting down 1e content FOR NO REASON! You admit your own love of it too. It's nonsensical.

Something, which we BOTH agree is on balance good, can't be "not a good example though, because most...[is bad]".

Hommlet has "come alive" at so many D&D tables, and in a very repeatable way. What's more, there are no better examples of a small village in the published sector. Ergo, despite the fact that it could be improved by modern sensibilities, honed by an additional 40 years of play, it is still a good (and may be the Best) example we can collective point to. In contrast ToEE was a massive disappointment. Compare it's spartan Nulb to Hommlet if you need any further proof of the value of Gygax's AD&D starter-town and why most latter products fall short.

When Hommlet first drops in a DM's lap he thinks WTF? Stealing from farmers? The temptation is to just focus on the Moathouse---that's standard dungeon play. But just as in B2, the temptation is to ignore the Keep and all of it's "non-gamable content". Heck even Lareth, as the "dark hope of Chaos", is all non-gamable verbal fluff. He's just another evil Cleric, why waste words beyond that?

Ah! But rather than be an ignorant cuss and disparage the including of things that don't make sense to us at first blush---instead we should wonder: "Why the heck does Gygax keep putting stuff like this in his How-To-Play-D&D examples?". Like learning physics or math...it's not stupid and dumb just because it's hard to understand. It speaks to how he thinks the game is played. It's a puzzle that takes some serious skill to unravel. I am telling you from personal experience that all that superfluous details HELPS ME RUN THE CITY. (click. A light bulb goes on in my head.)

Now, Bryce ostensibly agrees with you. From a recent review:
Bryce said:
The chancel has been redecorated in a more lavish style as part of the Laudian campaign of beautification.” Or, as an NPC, we get things like: “ Christopher Brown, age 39, is the village baker. His father was the village baker before him. His younger brother, Luke, left the village nearly twenty years ago with the intention to join the navy, and never returned – Christopher has never heard from him since.”

How either of those enhance the adventure, during actual play, is beyond me. Well, they don’t, of course. Because the designer doesn’t know the difference between “this is what all adventures do” and “this is what makes a good adventure.”
And you are both right. We now understand there's a difference between content that helps the PCs "do stuff" and useless fluff. But what I am saying is that there is "another thing", less tangible, that helps the DM improvise and builds the setting. It has a place too. In the case of Hommlet, even in the example you quoted, it's not so obtrusive that it gets in the way (very much). Like the little LORE paragraphs I got Bryce to says wouldn't offend him---it's just a little bit more...and it can help if you are the kind of DM who, with a small nudge, can pick up the ball and run with it. Like spices in your meal, Too Much ambiance is definitely bad...but None-at-All can be just as egregious!

So, again, WHY disparage and discount Hommlet? Why act like it's so flawed as to be worthless? You know better!
I think your mental axe against the past, that lets no compliment go unredacted, make you appear more argumentative than you really intend to be. We are really very nearly on the same page, or I am seriously misjudging you.
 

EOTB

Should be playing D&D instead
Yeah, there's no way around doing the work (or buying it). You don't have to do it to any depth, but breadth is essential.

To dip back into metaphor, remember the weeping angels, or whatever they were called in Dr Who? (I'm only a very casual, sporadic watcher of the series.) The reason they work as horror is because they do what a statue isn't supposed to do. We don't want our statues to move and just thinking about apparent movement but only when we blink makes us look at statues differently.

To twist this - we expect our surroundings to move when we're not looking at them. If, unlike weeping statues, they only move when we're looking at them, it's the same revulsion.

Some DMs don't have the time; some don't want to work on stuff that doesn't get played; some aren't very creative even if they're good arbiters. But every DM has to answer the question of how they will make the setting move when people blink.
 

Beoric

So ... slow work day? Every day?
A thing can be both good and flawed. It can be good on balance, and have elements that are not good. I don't think Hommlet does the social elements well. It can be hard to see became many of us have spent a lifetime playing in it or running it, and learned to ignore the superfluous bits and fill in the gaps so long ago that we may have forgotten that we had to do it. But in terms of its design, devoid of everything we have bolted onto it over the years, it has flaws. Recognizing and discussing design elements is what this forum is about. I don't know why this is a bad thing.

I suspect this is part of the reason Bryce doesn't review classic modules.
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Sure flaws. Given. But why lead with "mostly bad"?

My experience running T1 was singular, recent, and good. I didn't have to work very hard to "fix it", and I had no preconceived "childhood notions" and it checked all the boxes (teaching me a few things too).

No point beating this to death (any further!). :p More productively, who/what does the social elements well? Where to look?
 
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Beoric

So ... slow work day? Every day?
I didn't say Hommlet is "mostly bad", I said that Hommlet's design was not a great example of how to design a center for the sort of urban adventuring we had hitherto been discussing because "most of the NPC content isn't really gameable". I would make the same assertion of B2. For all its other flaws, I think Nulb is a better example in this particular instance.

To expand on what I was saying above, modules like T1 and B2 are touchstones I think we all have. Because of the broad familiarity with them, I think they are excellent reference points in discussing design, good and bad, and that we should be deliberately trying to find the flaws and talk about how to make them better, because that's how things get better. You honour the good in previous works by building on them, not by treating them as sacrosanct artifacts incapable of improvement, like they are some sort of scripture.
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I don't think Hommlet is a good example though, because most of the NPC content isn't really gameable.
I give you this doesn't directly lead to "mostly bad", but I think you could see how one might interpret it that way.

Also, in the post you were quoting, I was stating that the Hommlet-like NPC content was exactly what helped me "move the world".

You honour the good in previous works by building on them, not by treating them as sacrosanct artifacts incapable of improvement, like they are some sort of scripture.
If you think I am treating 1e content this way, then I have miscommunicated.

In a sea of rubbish (and as you say, Nulb is more linearly/blatantly game-able in a "modern sense" but is also utter and total rubbish), you point out the small glimmers of hope. You ask yourself, "Why did/does this work?...when so much else doesn't?". You learn from the past---not worship it. That's how progress is made. If every generation started from scratch, as is their natural wont, we just roll around in the dirt like filthy monkeys. Every dime-a-dozen arrogant young smart-ass thinks the crap he just effortless pulled out of his arse is as good or better than everything else produced in history---Bryce's lexicon of reviews exposes the truth to that lie. Instead we amateur fools might randomly strike gold once in a blue moon, but 99% is sophomoric mistakes. The trick is being self-critical AND very carefully looking at what has worked in the past---and dissecting why. It's stupid to think they only worked because we are familiar with them. We all know (and would like to forget) a lot of garbage too (e.g. Nulb).

You study and emulate the Masters. It's how humans learn.

Beyond that it's just practice, practice, practice honing your craft.
 
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Guy Fullerton

*eyeroll*
Drive-by posting, sorry: Early Judges Guild cities are not terribly different from Hommlet in what they cover, and predated T1 by a couple years or more. Might be educational to do a side-by-side comparison of Hommlet and one of the early JG cities:

Thunderhold (1976 Dec)
Haghill (1977 Feb)
CSIO (full thing published around 1977 Mar)
Tegel (1977 Apr)
Modron (1977 Jun)

Some of those are more minimal than others. CSIO and Modron might be most comparable in amount of detail per place/person.
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
I've looked at CISO (for me it was after Hommlet, around 2014-ish) and I agree the style is quite similar. In fact, CISO was in the forefront of my mind when I wrote the city for my home campaign--but smaller, less fantastic. Ben L's post about it hits home to me.

All told, I think there could be something better in the hobby's future for cities, but haven't seen GREAT yet. In fact I just finished flipping through the recent 5e product "Icewind Dale - Rime of the Frostmaiden". It has a very detailed Mike Schley map in it which an overview of 10 towns, and then individual maps of each town. They maps are a bit busy for my tastes, but certainty don't lack for polish.

The only layout sin in my book is the overview is in the back so you have to flip through 300+ pages before your finally get to a picture of what the heck the designers has been going one about. Even Tolkien knew the map goes up front!

What's more, the towns are mostly a departure from the style of Hommlet in the sense that (despite wonderfully detailed maps) nothing is keyed, there are no interiors of major establishments and it plot-heavy with little meat on the bones and tons of dumb NPC head-shots I'd try my best to un-see if I were running it. More a movie plot than a game-able sandbox. Although, to be fair, there are a few sprinkles of usable NPC flavor here and there. To me, this shows we haven't really learned much new when it comes to town/cities. Lots of nice art though---very pretty!

The shift to abstraction in cities reminds me of the lyrics from Neil Young's Cortex the Killer,

I can't seem to remember, when
Or how I lost my way.
 
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Beoric

So ... slow work day? Every day?
In a sea of rubbish (and as you say, Nulb is more linearly/blatantly game-able in a "modern sense" but is also utter and total rubbish), you point out the small glimmers of hope. You ask yourself, "Why did/does this work?...when so much else doesn't?".
Okay, but you can do that with any crappy module if your mission is to fix it. I think it is a reasonable design goal to make something that requires less fixing. And I think Hommlet's treatment of the social game requires a lot of DM work to make it useable. Like, inventing names and basic personalities and relevant motivations - which are pretty important elements to running an NPC. For most of the entries there isn't enough to even inspire you to improvise, they just take up space.

Moathouse and dungeon? Great. Major NPCs, and NPCs who will join the party? Hit and miss, but some are pretty good and could be used as a model for how the others should have been done. Pretty much the rest of the village? Wasted ink.
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Disagree on the "wasted ink"...but that's fine---it does help a bit for me, e.g. when I look for an NPC to fill a particular role in the unfolding drama.

So point me to the ones that get it right for you.
 
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Beoric

So ... slow work day? Every day?
Disagree on the "wasted ink"...but that's fine---it does help a bit for me, e.g. when I look for an NPC to fill a particular role in the unfolding drama.

So point me to the ones that get it right for you.
Decent but looooong:

2. MODEST FARMHOUSE AND BARN: Clean but slightly rundown
buildings indicate that this farm is not too prosperous. However,
the stock around looks quite healthy and plump. An
elderly couple are master and mistress, while an active lad of
12 or so, a servant, does chores. There is nothing of particular
interest to be seen, and these folks have nothing to trade.
They say that their son Elmo would be interested in talking with
strangers - he’s at the inn having a jack of ale. Their other
son, Otis, they go on sadly shaking their heads, took service
with some gentlemen and is away seeking his fortune. Elmo is
strong, but not too quick, and he is overfond of brew... The
elderly farmer is a retired fighter (SI 5, I1 2, Wl6, D12, C16,
Chll) still equal to 4th level; HP 16. He has a suit of scale
mail and shield, sword and crossbow in a chest in the front
mom. He is captain of the militia, but he will say nothing of
it. Underneath some rusty nails in a keg in the back shed
are 20 p.p., 51 g.p., and 172 e.p. A cupboard in the house
holds a silver sewice worth 1,300 g.p.

Elmo is a 4thlevelranger (S18/43,115,W16,D16,C17,Ch
11 ); 5HD, 41 hit points. He has the following items hidden in
a leadlined oaken chest buried in the dirt floor of the barn:
+chain mail, +2 shield, +BATTLEAXE 6 100 g.p. gems, 10
p.p., 50 g.p. and 100 s.p. He carries a +2 dagger at all times.
(“My brudder Otis gave it to me!” he will proclaim proudly if
asked.) Elmo’s speech is slow and halting. He often
appears tipsy and jovial, but he is not. Elmo is an an agent of
the Viscount of Verbobonc, and he frequents the Welcome
Wench Inn in order to observe all newcomers and insinuate
himself in their expeditions; thus Elmo will be interested in
getting MONEY!? (to be used for later ale purchases
obviously) for being a man-at-arms, and he will gladly go
with any who ask providing they will furnish him with armor
and a “BIG axe”. If so employed, he will wear his own mail in
place of, or under, that purchased and use his magic axe
as well. If anything untoward befalls Elmo, his brother Otis
will eventually hear of it and seek redress. Otis is a 10th level
ranger away on a quest with Y’dey, the Canoness of the
local church, and an elven accomplice named Murfles, a
fighter/thief of Ist/2nd level
.
I mean, the captain of the militia is a major character who could have benefitted from a name, and it would be hard to parse out a personality if you were running this on the fly, but there is decent stuff to work with there if you have a fair amount of time to preview the module and make notes.

7. [describing Oslter the Innkeep] ... The host talks freely but says little. He has a sharp eye and a good sense for judging character. He serves all comers, and will rent a room to anyone who is not causing trouble.
That one is short, evocative, and gives you a lot to work with. And is separated from the detailed entries of the Inn.

13. ... Both traders claim disinterest in all alignments, proclaiming that they happily deal with anyone who is a paying customer. Rannos Davl is chaotic evil and highly suspicious. Gremag is as evil and even more chaotic. Both are servants of the Temple of Elemental Evil, report activity in
Hommlet to a brigand courier, and aid any and all other evil creatures who come in Temple service.
Meh. Barely a personality there. I note the agent they try to send with the party, who would be spending time with the party, has no name or personality other than "chaotic evil".

5. ... Melubb is truly neutral. He has no interest in what happens, although the rise of evil is not desired by him, for it would hurt business.
Short, and all you need for a moneychanger.

20. ... Calmert is known for his zeal in obtaining contributions. (This honest man is anxious to give a sum to the builders of the fortress under construction, and although it should seem otherwise, most of the miscellaneous money he collects for “the church” from characters will go towards building the castle!) ... The villagers say that Terjon is not particularly friendly and his sternness is a cause of some speculation. Actually, this cleric is not a bad fellow at all, but he is rather displeased at being called to care for the church while Y’dey is on a quest, for Terjon is desirous of being off adventuring himself, and ONLY the request of the Archcleric of Veluna keeps him on station.
Calmert is one-dimensional, but at least he has a motivation. Terjon appears one dimensional, but has layers (well, a layer), but the layer is not likely to come up during play, being just an explanation as to why he can't join the party.

From the Inn of the Welcome Wench:

Zert: "a chaotic evil fighter... He is ostensibly waiting for the return of a caravan from the south, but he is actually a spy for the Temple. He can drink
great quantities without becoming drunk ... He will happily go with adventurers for an equal share of treasure, and he will as readily betray them, help to slay them, and then take their goods."

Supgnoir: "This chap came into the village with a merchant wagon, and he is staying in hopes of gathering spells, for he knows only detect magic, read magic, and sleep. ... His dress is nondescript as he does not wish to attract attention or be recognized as a magic-user. Spugnoir is a chaotic neutral. ... If approached and offered all scrolls found, he will go with a party. Otherwise, he will attempt to shadow the group and get what he can."

Furnok the thief: "This fellow loves to gamble, and he has loaded knucklebones and knows how to nick cards ... He is careful to play so as
to not be caught cheating, and he makes a modest living thus, mostly skinning passing merchants. If offered a chance to adventure, Furnok will be willing to go along for an equal share-plus all he can surreptitiously lift (particularly magic items which he covets). To show his good faith, however, he will put up his scroll, hoping to parlay it into far more."

Kobort and Turuko: "a strange pair, a hulking fighter ... Kobort by name; and his associate, a small and thin monk ... called Turuko, a Bakluni from unknown parts. Kobort was passing through and fell in with the monk, and Turuko convinced the huge fellow that he could make them wealthy
and famous. The fighter is neutral (for he isn’t bright enough to be any alignment), while Turuko is lawful evil. The monk believes himself to be highly clever, and his plan is to waylay and rob adventurers returning from a successful expedition to the ruined moat house, for he knows that there are monsters and treasure there. The pair will accompany a small patty, hang back in fights, and then slay the expedition when it is weak. Otherwise, they will spy on a large group, and attack only if it is reduced by death and wounds. They currently have only 12 g.p., 5 s.P., and 40 c.p. between them, and something must be done soon, says Turuko..."

These two I have always found the best of the bunch, although Turuko seems awfully deluded and undisciplined for a monk with a 15 Wisdom.

And then there is Lareth,

Lareth the Beautiful is the dark hope of chaotic evil: young, handsome, well endowed in abilities and aptitudes, thoroughly wicked, depraved, and capricious. ... Evil to the core, Lareth is cunning, and if the situation appears in doubt, he will use bribery and honeyed words to sway the balance to his favor. He is not at all adverse to gaining new recruits of any sort, and will gladly accept adventurers into the ranks, but he will test and try them continually. Those who arouse suspicion will be quietly murdered in their sleep; those with too much promise will be likewise dealt with, for Lareth wants no potential usurpers or threats to his domination.
All that and he is given nothing to do but off-screen robbery and sit in his dungeon room waiting to be killed. Actually, there is a fair amount there to build on if you are an experienced DM with players who like to colour ourside the lines, but otherwise he's just dungeon fodder.
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Well, thanks for that. As you know me players have been coloring outside the LAreth lines now for about 7 years. :)

BUT...actually...err...I meant...

Which other modules/adventures [outside of T1] do you think do a better job and should be held up as a gold standard to emulate?

Sorry to make you go through the exercise above---I still enjoyed it. :)
 

Beoric

So ... slow work day? Every day?
Which other modules/adventures [outside of T1] do you think do a better job and should be held up as a gold standard to emulate?
I don't think there is a gold standard, that's part of the problem. I think Nulb did a better job of giving NPCs hooks relevant to the PCs, but I should probably look at it for examples to make that's not just stuff I added in my head when I was reading it. Like I have said before, I run a very character driven game, and I make up pretty much all of the NPCs from scratch, because I've never found a supplement that did it for me.

The last time I ran Hommlet I made a spreadsheet that procedurally generated suggestions for personalities, motivations and personal connections for all the major NPCs, just so I could have something to work with, and I've now repurposed that spreadsheet several times. The procedurally generated suggestions aren't usually all that evocative, but they are a starting point that is usually more than I get in an existing module.

Thinking about it, I seem to recall that the random encounter descriptions in Fever Dreaming Marlinko are pretty good for being social encounter oriented. Same with the ones in Gone Fishin'. The NPCs in Cowpie Mushrooms are pretty good (even the dogs are good). But maybe not precisely what you need for a more complicated "haven" environment, which also needs to feel like it has a life of its own. I haven't actually run any of them though.
 

The1True

Should be playing D&D instead
The descriptions and NPC's in Barrowmaze's Helix are pretty decent. Possibly redundant in that he often describes the business owner under the location and then again (but differently) under the character description... An example:

4. Mercenary Guild

This building serves as the home of the mercenary guild in Helix. Osen, the Guildmaster, created a business for himself recruiting men-at-arms, classed henchmen, porters, torch-bearers, and guides to serve adventurers and expeditions into the Barrowmoor and the surrounding region. In the spring and summer months, when the population of Helix swells with the influx of lowly adventurers, scoundrels, and rogues, Osen and his guild manage to bring order to the village. The locals jokingly refer to the mercenary guild as “The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.” The roster of men and women available for hire should be randomly determined by the Referee. I suggest you use Meatshields: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchmen Generator available at

Osen.png

Guildmaster Osen

(Level 3 Fighter/Retired) AL: L, AC: 8 (Leather), HP: 22, AT: 1, DMG: Shortsword (1d6),

S 14, I 13, W 13, D 13, C 10, Ch 13.

Guildmaster Osen, a retired former adventurer with grey receding hair, came to Helix last summer when he heard of the discovery of a great field of Barrow Mounds in the Barrowmoor. Although his adventuring days are now behind him, Osen created a mercenary guild to represent and organize local labour. The recent rumours of gold and treasure in Barrowmaze ensure Osen has a steady stream of desperate (and greedy) ne’er-do-wells hoping to make a quick gold piece. Osen and Turgen the merchant are friends. Osen often has dealings with Turgen and the Silver Standard Merchant Caravan Company who require armed escort of their wagons to neighboring villages.

Those are culled from two different descriptions as I said. Maybe on the wordy side, but not too bad. Notes important connections and offers a rough idea of personality and motivations.
 

DangerousPuhson

Should be playing D&D instead
Notes important connections and offers a rough idea of personality and motivations.
I'm not chiming in to nay-say or be deliberately contradictory, but after reading through the NPC description and then this comment, I realized that, no, it doesn't look like the adventure actually does a good job of conveying this guy's personality and motivations. There seems the be mostly a rehashing of guild history and operations, more than a NPC description.

All we are given through two paragraphs of texts seems to be:
  • grey hair
  • retired
  • has dealings with people
Unless I missed something?

I mean, we don't know how he will react to the party (friendly? Busy? Will he try to recruit them? It suggests that only greedy "ne'er do wells" are applying to his guild - does that mean he automatically brands the party as such?), we don't know how the town feels about him (we know they belittle his guild but he also protects them, and he has dealings with two groups, but that's it), we have a DM picture to see what he looks like but no written description beyond "grey receding hair" (another issue: is it an easy thing to turn this image over to the party, or is it stuck in the middle of paragraphs of DM-eyes-only text? If the picture is meant for the DM only, then how is the DM expected to describe this person to the party when they see him? It's not like there's a bunch of distinguishing characteristics).

If I were running this, and the party finally meets this guy, all I have to work with is "he's got grey receding hair" and a picture (which I could only describe as "older guy who kind of looks like Vork from The Guild, I guess...")

On the surface it looks like much is there, but at the table you have less helpful information to work with than is given, it seems. The DM needs narrative (descriptive) and roleplaying (interactive) information about NPCs first and foremost; this entry looks like it contains very little of that.

Again, not trying to be contradictory or shit all over Barrowmaze or anything, but do other people not find this description lacking in critical information, or is it just me?
 

squeen

My my my, we just loooove to hear ourselves don't we?
Well how about it! Our benevolent dictator, Mr. Bryce Lynch, just posted a glowing review of The Pit in the Forest --- a non-dungeon adventure with a village!

You might even suspect he reads his own forum! :)
 
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