Add it to the Key

February 7, 2024

I Cast Light! has become one of my favorite blogs this past year, and Warren’s latest post, Straight Up Villain, is a good example why.

Warren outlines a kind of prep which is what you’d call selling your sawdust” in the business world. Basically if you’re already making lumber and sawdust is spraying everywhere, why not just bag that up and sell it too?

In prep it’s the same thing. Warren recommends beefing up escaped enemies and making them a problem for the party later on.

This is like the three R’s of prep. Reduce (simpler keys), reuse (everything that happens becomes prep for something that might happen later), recycle (reskin modules and content from others).

This is also another argument for more empty rooms. It’s hard to add to a room that has a long description in it. But if a party camps in an empty room the key now reads empty room with signs of an old campsite.”

Or if they win a battle in a room it might say three orc corpses” along with any treasure or weapons the party missed.

This pairs well with another blog I’ve been getting more and more into, Rise Up Comus. In Four tips to drive roleplaying, Josh talks about how you should talk to everything and having recurring NPCs. He gives a good example about how by using reaction rolls even Trolls might not immediately attack, just as they don’t in the Hobbit.

I’ve been reading Delicious in Dungeon recently. I thought it was going to be cheesy and dumb but it really is one of the best D&D pieces of fiction ever made. And partly because it just takes the idea of a dungeon (or megadungeon) so seriously. Adventuring groups leave behind caches. Multiple parties travel through it with their own goals. Even restocking procedures make an appearance as giant monsters devastate the population of medium sized monsters leaving an abundance of small sized monsters. Stuff like this comes up a lot in the book, it’s great!

The one thing this kind of prep depends on is play. It’s hard to steer a docked ship and I think a campaign is no different. One of the challenges for me, and I’m sure many of you, during dungeon23 was prepping into the ether. Into nothingness.

This is a problem when writing modules to publish and where playtesting really makes things come to life.

A dungeon really isn’t anything without a party going through it. It really is just a huge ruined pile” without adventurers. And there’s only so far prep can take you before it becomes meaningless if you don’t play.

I’m the worst at this! I haven’t ran a d&d game regularly since my kids were born. It’s been really hard to carve out that time! But I’m obsessed with the hobby so it’s hard not to want to prep the perfect clockwork dungeon just waiting for players to explore it. But I think this is why Moldvay and OD&D have such light stocking procedures. It’s because the stuff you get out of play is much much better prep than the stuff you get into it: if you use it.

So prep light, play soon, and put the play back into the key.

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