raging_swan (raging_swan) wrote,

Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands: Design Thoughts II

Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands

So last week, I started to talk a little bit about the design project that has consumed much of my last six months or so. This week I’m going to talk a little about my pre-design work.

I’m one of these people that like to plan something before I get started; I find it very hard just to dive in and get cracking (as previous experience has taught me doing that inevitably wastes time and the result is normally inferior). Once I’d decided to write a homage to the Moathouse, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about why I liked the Moathouse so much and how I could emulate that experience in Pathfinder. To me the Moathouse had several essential elements:

  • The Moathouse made sense – it reeked of a decent amount of realism without sacrificing game play.
  • It had different zones: some parts of the upper ruins were inhabited by various monstrous inhabitants while bandits lived in another part. Below ground, the evil cleric Lareth held sway. Different zones required different skill sets and tactics which kept play fresh.
  • There was minor grade conflict between some of these groups. This could be exploited through clever play.
  • There were loads of detail in the Moathouse that, if you paid attention, could give you clues about its past. In this way you got rewarded for poking about and investigating stuff instead of just blindly whacking everything in your path.
  • While the original module didn’t go into great detail, the Moathouse was part of a larger adventure – you could go on from there to explore other locales that led directly from what was discovered therein.

I knew that Shadowed Keep on the Borderland had to have these elements. Along with Raging Swan’s basic design principles that underpin every product we put out, I added these additional criteria:

  • The module locale should be richly detailed so the players can immerse themselves in the ruins.
  • There had to be a good story behind the ruins (and PCs should be able to discover that story; the best story in the world is pointless if the players don’t learn it.)
  • The module had to be generic enough that almost any GM could add it to their campaign with minimal effort.
  • Like T1, the Shadowed Keep had to be a “starter dungeon” in that it would be suitable for 1st-level characters.
  • Players should be rewarded for being clever and paying attention.
  • No railroading. Players should have meaningful choices about the order in which they explore the ruin and about how they dealt with those challenges.
  • Provide areas for different classes to shine. So for example, I needed to include undead for clerics to blow up, physical challenges and traps for rogues to disarm (and so on).

Once I’d decided what I wanted to achieve with the module, I started to flesh out the basic details of the site. I’ll discuss that more, next time.

Tags: game design, raging swan press, shadowed keep on the borderlands
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