Thursday, 20 August 2015

Aloittelevan Luolamestarin Opas, a Finnish guide for beginner Dungeon Masters


Guys from the blog "Limun Ropellukset" have compiled their blog post articles into a free pdf targeted for beginner Dungeon Masters. The cover is very oldschool in feel and the content is very well written.

The guide is targeted for those Game Masters with some experience with Dungeons & Dragons giving tips how to run OSR games. It's not about great stories of great heroes, but what they do and what the world is like. The antagonist might, and most likely will, die. The story is not about you, the story is about what happens around you, and to you.

The default game for this guide is Mentzer's Red Box DnD, but other editions and retro-clones do the trick too.

ALSO there's three pieces from me for illustration. How cool is that?! Also there's +Wille Ruotsalainen's art included, he's pretty awesome, too.

TABLES ARE YOUR FRIENDS

First suggestion is to write down all the important tables in the game you most likely use often. This is a great tip, if you don't own a Dungeon Master's screen. Then random (generator) tables are discussed and recommended not only to use during the game but also to plan the adventure/dungeon/session. Random tables are truly a great resource for any Dungeon Master, new or experienced.

Random tables can give also depth for encounters. How different monsters react to each other, for an example (if lizardmen play music, how nearby orcs react to them). Reaction table is also important. Not all monsters want to attack you, some might even be friendly. More interesting monsters are those who actually interact with adventurer party instead just rolling initiative to attack!

They mention that it could feel a bit weird at first to determine different situations randomly, but the surprising results of this method are powerful tools to create interesting situations and stories.

LET'S DRAW A DUNGEON

Everything starts with a theme. They suggest you might use aforementioned random tables to help get inspiration for the dungeon. Next step is to start to draw the draft of the dungeon. They suggest many entrances and different routes to make player options and the dungeon feel interesting. Unbalanced dangers of dungeon should not be a problem, as players can choose where to go - or not to go. Also a great suggestion is to observe map symbols (from Mentzer book for example) to give additional inspiration about things you can put in there.

DUNGEON LODGERS

Second phase in creating a dungeon is to occupy it. This includes placing monsters and NPCs and also room contents. It is also suggested to think the ecology of the dungeon. Where they take trash? Where they eat? Where they sleep? And so on. Also monster relationships are discussed. Even though different monsters live in a same dungeon, they necessarily aren't working together. What are the treasures and where they are located?

There is a good step-by-step order to draw and to fill a dungeon.

SPICES AND RELISHES

When the dungeon is generally done, they suggest you take a break. In a break you might get some new ideas for your freshly created dungeon. Better thoughts why something is like it is, or new ideas. Not everything must be explained, as some new ideas might come up while running the game.

Great suggestion is also to think what previous dwellers have left behind in the dungeon. Marks of fights, or did someone try to build a dwelling inside? There is a history in the dungeon and players aren't the first guys and gals to enter it!

But a dungeon should not be crammed full, as sometimes empty rooms might be also interesting. Why is it empty, is there something after all? They give a rule that 1/3 or 1/4 of the rooms should be empty.

This is also the phase to add room descriptions. They remind that you should not write descriptions and content that force players in situations. Players should also have a change to decide what they do. For example traps should be found, if searched. A trap that automatically springs without any warning takes the fun out of the game.

Now you need a random encounter table for the dungeon, and you're done!

SURROUNDINGS

The surroundings of the dungeon are also important, but it is suggested that beginner Dungeon Masters keep the outside relatively safe. The reason is, that outside exploration and adventuring might be overwhelming for new DMs. A town close to the dungeon is important for new adventurers and some details should be written of it. Basically what beginner adventurers need. Also a rumor table is good to be there, for adventure hooks.

Now you are done. The dungeon and everything created at this point really comes to life when players start to explore it! Also DM's work load is eased now, as the players are the force who push things forward. It's now DM's job to interpret dice and take notes when players are more active part with their actions.

ADVENTURING IN DUNGEON

Short chapter with basic tips to start an adventure of dungeon delving.

GAME MASTER'S OBLIGATIONS

Game Master has two tasks. To describe the dungeon for players, to think how monsters and other creatures react to player characters, and to record passing time. It is suggested that Game Masters use all senses when describing the dungeon. Very good advice what really makes dungeons feel real places.

You don't have to describe all the little details at once, the idea is that players ask questions. Do they discover things immediately if they check them out, or do investigation involve dice rolling? Not only to describe the space Game Master is also responsible for monsters and their behavior. Aforementioned random tables and reaction table can be a great help for this.

Time is important thing for random encounters. More time players use, more often random encounters happen. Also if characters are noisy you might roll random encounter just for that reason immediately. You might even decide that no rolling is needed, but wandering monsters immediately go after characters. It is stated that especially humanoids act intelligently. Again, reaction rolls are great way to determine how the rendezvous goes. Game Masters must remember, that intelligent creatures don't want to make suicide strikes, they calculate the situation and even might flee or be friendly towards characters. Recording passing time is not only important for random encounters but also for resting, rations, torches etc. It's directly affects the resources.

Also they tell, that you don't have to stress about rules at the beginning. Everything is learning the game. If some mistakes are made, next time do it right. Also if Dungeon Master makes a mistake, he should tell players he did. It is suggested that all the players make a conclusion together, how the mistake should be fixed (I might disagree a bit. I'd call my mistake, tell how I fix it, and next time do it differently and hopefully right. I am a Game Master after all and it's less fuss if one person makes decisions).

PLAYERS' OBLIGATIONS

Very old-school suggestions. Who should draw a map, who should be a caller, who should make notes. Good suggestions, because these simple game management decisions make things easier for everyone. It's easier if different players have different meta-game duties so things stay clear. Also caller is not a bad idea at all. Naturally all players make their own decisions for their characters, but it is easier for Game Master to listen to one person who tells what everyone does than try to decrypt simultaneous yelling. I, actually thought caller is a stupid thing, before I understood it.

Some suggestions for mapping for players and describing maps for players. Fun part is that it's suggested that Game Master makes funny monster noises. Many do it, many don't. It's not a bad thing to mention and encourage it. It is also mentioned that Game Masters can improvise and change dungeons as they see fit.

COMBAT AND APPLYING RULES

Combats and monster descriptions are not topics of this guide, and they tell that every Game Master will find their own style with them. Like describing the dungeon itself they remind that all senses can be used to described monsters, too. Miniatyres are mentioned as handy tools for marching order and more complicated combat, but you can easily replace them with small bits. It is also suggested, that Game Master revises the combat situation after every round so everyone is up to date with what's going on. You can also draw more detailed maps of rooms where combat happens for more tactical approach but you should not stick to your original plans as players might do something creative or different you have prepared for.

As D&D combat rules are quite abstract they give plenty of space to improvise and make combats fast. There are suggestions how to deal with this.

MY THOUGHTS

I think this is a very good free guide for beginner Dungeon Masters. It gives all the necessary details to run Dungeons & Dragons basic style game, where the focus is in dungeon exploring (Expert rules expanded to outside of dungeons). These don't tell how to be old-school gamer, or don't explain how old-school games differ from more modern games. But "Aloittelevan Luolamestarin Opas" does give great tools and suggestions how to run create and run a game.

I would suggest this for not only beginners, but intermediates also. You might always learn something new, or understand why something works well or even bring to mind something you surely know but just haven't used lately or at all.

Also I give 10 points because Finland surely needs more old-school love from Finnish gamers in Finnish language. Thanks to Google Plus group [LINK] we have began nice Finnish DIY OSR thing now.

+Ilmari K. +Niklas Nylund and +Seppo Raudaskoski are behind this. Art from me, +Wille Ruotsalainen, and +Joni Heinonen


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Want to check it out? Download it HERE. It's in Finnish, but worth a look.