December 18, 2006

The Speaker In Dreams

Nicholas, who's up visiting from Florida, wanted to finish this module that he asked me to run the last time he was here. We had a good time, but I've got to get my feelings off my chest.

There was a time, back in the dawn of the role-playing era, when almost every module was good. Okay, occasionally TSR would put out something like Village Of Hommlet (a pointless bit of tease that went nowhere, for about 6 years, until it was finally followed up by Temple Of Elemental Evil). But these duds were few and far between; even then, they were still playable, just a bit on the lame side.

Truly classic modules came out in these years. Who can forget Tomb of Horrors? What character hasn't left White Plume Mountain with Wave, Whelm, or whatever-the-hell that third weapon was called? Who hasn't played through the giant saga, followed by the Drow trilogy, ultimately culminating in Queen of the Demonweb Pits? The hits just kept coming in those days.

Now we have third edition D&D, which has actually been out for a few years now, and one of their first modules, The Speaker In Dreams.

When Nick was trying to convince Jim to run this, oh, something like 6 months ago, I volunteered for DM duty. Hell, it's been too long and running a game is something I really enjoy (even if we don't do it anymore). I thought, "This module can't be that hard." Lo, was I terribly, terribly wrong!

Whoever wrote this module intended it as a starting point for a series of adventures, but there is no campaign setting or whatnot attached. The map to the city is lame, like something you'd see on Google Earth, minus all the coolness and zooming ability. There is a major fair happening in this city, which is why the characters have come, but no details on the fair are given. So are we talking fantasy Easter, a D&D version of Circe du Sole, or a Wookie Life Celebration? It seems that this minor detail is left entirely up to the DM, who should by now be jumping at the chance to get this campaign, I meant to say designed.

Now you don't have to run through all the encounters, as in most modules the players can (and will) skip around. To help the DM there's a flow chart...yes, a fucking flow chart! I haven't seen anything like this since the artifact (mal)function flow chart in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Add to this the poor writing quality, which reminds me of nothing as much as an Army technical manual. So for each encounter I must first consult the flow chart, then read the encounter and try to decypher what the author had in mind, then consult the back where all the monsters and NPCs the party fights are listed.

Now here's where I have a real problem with this module: It's designed for a 5th level party, yet by the end the group is facing Devils and a Mind Flayer. Did I mention the Ogre Magi that I neglected to include when we played? I'm sure a 5th level party of munchkins would have no problem, even if the DM had decided to spice things up with a flock of huge, ancient red dragons, but our little party of 2 players and 1 NPC just couldn't stand up to this kind of pounding. Hell, I gave Nick's character a handy item that protected him from the Mind Flayer's innate mind blast, so the group at least stood some chance.

All this, in a roughly 25 page module with only 26-28 encounters. Needless to say, I failed my check vs insanity and just winged it as best I could. I hope Nick had a good time.


Blogger mithglin said...

Holy Cow! Sorry about that. Next time I'll preveiw the modual before I send it up. Just to let you know, you really made Nick's day. He had been looking forward to gaming for months. It was all he talked about when he talked about this trip. You exceeded every expectation he had. He really enjoyed gaming with you and Jim. Thank you so much for doing that for him.


5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's why I usually only use the books as a suggestion or in some cases, a bit of a cautionary tale. Taking what I like and ignoring the rest so that it fits my campaign.

I've always found that I work better without a net. The fact that they have DMs relying on a flowchart is a sad state of affairs. I have to take better notes though, to make sure, in a bit of ad libbing, that I don't lose a detail that will come back and haunt me later.

I've have a few of the 3.5 books and can say, after reading them, that I have developed a deep seated dislike for them. I suppose it could be in large part due to the horrible page layout and fonts that they've chosen and the road warrior, anime art style that they use.

However, it sounds like you made your player's day, and in the end, that's what it's all about, the players enjoyment and sense of accomplishment.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Rothar said...

It's a shame, I actually like the 3.5 rules (or at least think I do), but have never really put them through a proper run.

I actually had a good time, almost in spite of the module. Now Nick is fixated on the Eberon campaign setting, which I just can't seem to wrap my noodle around.

12:28 AM  

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