Monday, September 5, 2016

Mini Module Project

This began as a thread over on The Perilous Dreamer's Ruins of Murkhill forum.

An Idea

My idea of a "mini modules" project is linked to my desires to link the mythic underworld with demon haunted lands in the Perilous Realms. I love how TSR called them "modules," not "adventures." Use of the term "Adventures" seems like what I am getting is going to be self-contained and goal, if not narrative oriented. "Module," sounds, to my ears, well, modular. And here I mean not only something that could be dropped into a sandbox setting (their original implication, I think) but droppable in relationship to each other in terms of a multi-layered dungeon.

When the OSR came on-line, the word "megadungeon" entered our vocabulary. But I feel constricted by mega-dungeons in a different way. The idea that everything that adventurer's would need for an entire campaign is under one castle seems to constricting and too much like I'm playing Q*bert, or Pac-Man rather than exploring a real perilous realm.

Each mini module would be 1 to 3 levels (preferably 1) and the mini module would have stairs up and down, thus making the mini modules compatible with each other. If used as a "one off," the ref would ignore the stairs, teleports, etc., to other levels. If used in conjunction with other mini modules, those connecting points would be used.

But here is my other idea. What if each map was keyed three times: once for normal leveled characters, then for heroic and finally for super heroic and beyond. So, for example, a kobold lair for normals, a hobgoblin for heroic and a troll for super-heroic. Thus many birds are killed with one stone. Or, again, a wight borrow for normals, a mummy's tomb for heroes, a vampire's undercroft for super-heroes.

The mini modules would be fairly "vanilla" so that they could fit in anybody's setting with just minor tweaking. Next, there would be just enough standardization that the modules would be "modular," that is to say, mutually compatible.


Here could be some standard "design" elements, kind of like a template in a wiki:

Note(s) for the Referee
Unique Monster
Unique Magic Item (or Treasure)
*Link to Campaign NPCs 
*Rumor Table
*Start (or Entry) 
*Time Element
*End (or Exist, or Conclusion) 
*Wandering Monster Table

So, again, the name is "Mini-Module," so we are going for minimalism and assuming a referee with familiarity with 0e or similar rules. We are going for the kind of sketch we actually make for ourselves, rather than some poetic full-description plush product. So, some general rules (of thumb?) might be:

  • No more than three sentences per the above headings (excepting the key(s), of course), preferably one.
  • And, as implicit, only one unique monster and one unique magic item or treasure per mini-module. NOTE: word choice is "unique," not "new." The idea being these are one-off freaks, not stuff to gather up in a "Monster Manual."
  • Give basic stats for each monster.
  • No more than a noun phrase description, or, at most, sentence for a room, and then only if truly necessary.
  • Give rest of main treasure and other treasure by level or type only: assume the referee can use the books or a compatible on-line generator -- even at table if necessary.
  • Preferable one map and one key.
General composition rules (of thumb):
  • Focus is on retrieval of main focal treasure.
  • Trick or wonder likely hides/guards/ or directs to this treasure, otherwise guarded by thematic BBEG or trapped.
  • Trick or wonder has at least 3 clues.
  • Main monster and theme of lair linked thematically to main treasure.
  • Half rooms/spaces empty.
  • Of the other half,  rooms/spaces treasure ½ guarded, rest ½ hidden, ½ trapped.
  • Traps have 3 to 5 clues.
  • 1/6 remaining rooms have monster(s).
  • ½ thematically related to theme monster, the rest "random."
  • If presented as print-ready, map and key lay flat side-by-side with one another.
The asterisked items are optional:

  • The "Link to Campaign NPCs" would be a suggestion for how to hook the module not just to other modules or the campaign setting, but to major movers in the campaign world with a quick suggestion as to how the clearing of the lair would affect this NPC and, thereby, the PC party. How to do this generically? And in one sentence? Something like this: "An important Lord/Wizard/Patriarch (does not) want(s) the party to X the lair, if they succeed, NPC will Y."
  • "Rumor Table" is always fun: d6 or at most d10, with T/F marked and at least half F.
  • "Start/End," again, only if truly necessary.
  • "Time element" allows for time pressure to enter. Keep to a one sentence description: "Once PCs do/perform/take/ cross/enter X, NPC NAME / MONSTER will Y in N turns."
  • "Wandering Monster Table," only if both a.) deemed truly necessary and b.) a simple (d6, d10?) table.
Finally, if we go with the idea of keying each mini-module so that it could be compatible with different character level tiers, each mini-module would conclude with two of the following three headings, depending upon the original target level:
Modifications for Normal Characters (Levels 1-3)
Modifications for Heroic Characters (Levels 4-7) 
Modifications for Super-heroic Characters (Levels 8+)

Constraints Aid Creativity

And here is a nice article about how constraints actually aid creativity:

Mini Module Title Ideas

Here is a list of possible "mini-module" titles based upon the monster list and some magic items. Namely, those monsters that clearly constitute the mythic underworld (vs. wilderness) in my loose estimation and the misc. magic items (some, not all of them):

The Monsters:
The Bandit’s Lair
The Brigand’s Redoubt
Berserker’s Mountain
Revenge of the Mad Dervishes
Nomads of Wasteland
Pirate’s Cove
Buccaneer’s Bounty
Cavern’s of the Lost Cavemen
Mermen’s Hidden Mere
Tucker’s Kobolds
Night at Goblin Mound
The Minions of Orcus
The Gnoll Knoll
The Ogre’s Horrid Banquet
Cairn of the Troll Lord
Rebirth of the Nephalim
Jotunheim’s Anvil
Cloud Castle of the Giant King
Temple of the Titans
Cave of the Cyclopes
Skeletons in the Closet
Escape from Zombie Plantation
Graveyard of Ghouls
Barrow of Wights
Tomb of Wraiths
Curse of the Mummy King
The Spectre’s Haunted Mansion
The Vampire’s Undercroft
Lair of the White Wyrm
Black Dragon Swamp
Glade of the Green Dragon
Blue Dragon Dunes
The Red Dragon’s Deepest Delves
The Search for the Golden Dragon
The Halls of Hell (Demon / Balrog)
The Werewolf’s Dire Den
The Hidden Weretiger of the Mountain Monastery
The Ratcatcher’s Nightmare (Wererat)
Feast of the Boar’s Head (Wereboar)
The Skin-changer’s Longhouse (Werebear)
The Minotaur’s Labyrinth
Search for the Unicorn Maiden
The Nixies Netherkingdom
The Craggy Peaks of The Roc Eyrie
The Gate to the City of Brass
The Salamander’s Sea of Lava
Ruins of the Living Idol
The Golem’s Gold
The Android’s Secret Program
The Treasures: 
The Search/Quest/Hunt for:
The Scrying Ball
The Medallion that Makes Minds Known
The Amulet of Mental Protection
The Scarab that Spells the Pagan Priests’ Repulsion
The Bottomless Bag
The Censer of Elemental Air
The Stone of Elemental Earth
The Brazier of Elemental Fire
The Bowl of Elemental Water
The Efreeti’s Bottle Chamber
The Djinni’s Lamp
The Elven Cloak of Old
The Boots of Speed / Levitation / Leaping
The Witch’s Flying Broom
The Flying Carpet of Old Araby
The Beating Drums of Panic
The Horn of Blasting
The Ogre’s Mighty Gauntlets
The Giant’s Strong Girdle
The Mirror that Traps Souls
The Teleportation Machine
The Crown, Orb and Scepter of the Ancient Kings / Priests / Magi
The Stone Crystallization Projector

I just went through the lists and tried to give a fun, youthful, pulpy adventurous title based upon each. So, a mini module on each classic monster. Or each classic treasure. And, come to think of it, starting with the treasures (the real "goal" of the game in 0e) may actually be best, linking the key treasures to key monster-types.

So, e.g., if orcs subsume elven ruins, then the elven cloak and boots may be hidden away in the lair of the Minions of Orcus! Then we would get: the Search for the Elven Cloak and Boots in the Lair of the Minions of Orcus! Now that sounds fun to me!


I love B1 and B2, but I kind of just wish they had made a module for each major monster. Likewise I love the Judges' Guild Wilderlands, but, for me in our current one session a month gaming style, I need something that fits a bit more nicely into a single session. Hence my "mini module" idea.

I think another thing that I love about 0e is that it is prior to the feed-back loop of D&D world-generation separate from the main western tradition. I play 0e because I want a set of simple rules in order to walk into (pre 1974) the fantasy land of our classical, western legendaria. Beholders and Liches are fine, I suppose, but, for me, as one-off unique monsters. I still want my plane jane vanilla standby monsters.

Here is another way to put it. If I were a Napoleonic war gamer, I would want my knowledge of actual Napoleonic warfare to contribute to my success at a given scenario.

Likewise, as a player of 0e, I want, for myself and for my players, to find reward in knowing the classical and romantic legends of our heritage.

Here is an example: I was thinking the other day of a high-level NPC vampire in one of my campaigns. I had decided he was going to surprise attack a PC at night in his own castle -- I mean, he has gaseous form and can be a bat and all that. But then I remembered: vampires cannot enter where they have not been invited. My knowledge of the monster, as our collective inheritance, guided my decision -- regardless of the fact that this is not in the description of vampires in the rules. Instead, I had the good count meet a high lvl CL just outside his camp pavilion one night. "Are you going to be rude, or are you going to invite me in?" The player knew to say "no"! So he was rewarded. His tent was a safety zone.

So, for example, the description of Ogres in 0e is pretty scant. You need to know that they are small giants who delight in eating human infants! Thus I named that mini-module "The Ogres Horrid Banquet." In it, I would try to imagine some way in which knowledge of the classic archetype of an ogre would be rewarding to the player's exploration and discovery. Etc.
Possibly a Shared Project

Now let's make it even crazier: What if we made a free, "share-ware" on-line resource for people by building a "setting" through multiple "mini-" modules. Perhaps a "wiki" would be better for this, I don't know. But I would love to hear ideas from folks who find this interesting or inspiring.

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