In the city of Neth, the painter Bashir al-Barati has not been seen for several days. His house is said to be haunted, as is the abandoned market that lies beneath it. Will a party of brave adventurers destroy the nightmare incursions before they spread further, or will the city fall to corruption?
The Ogre Plays Games podcast has posted part 1 of an actual play of Battle Between the Worlds. It clocks in at about 90 minutes, and includes character creation and bonds and stuff at the beginning. Part 2, yet to be released, will include the exciting conclusion to the hijinks on Mars, and a short interview with myself.
Deep inside the Spritewood, hidden from the sight of civilized eyes, there lies a secret market, where monsters meet to trade their ill-gotten gains. Under this canopy, the angry dead return to life and the living change , unwilling, into beasts. But if you can reach the market safely, a brand new world will open to you. What is it you seek? Alchemical wonders, history’s greatest mercenaries, or magic to challenge even gods themselves?
The only question left to ask is: what did you bring to trade?
A Market in the Woods includes 13 monster entries, describing a hidden marketplace, some of the inhuman beings that gather there to buy, sell, and trade, as well as a few schemes that may or may not be unrelated. Each entry is illustrated in full colour and may include different variations of the monster, random tables, adventures, dangers and their grim portents, custom moves, items, locations, plot hooks, secrets, and more.
Like MM1 and MM2, A Market in the Woods contains previously-released Monthly Monsters material that has been revised and expanded, and adds more illustrations and content.
A Market in the Woods is available in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG. The pdfs are halfletter digest size (5.5×8.5″) and 112 pages. One version has full-colour backgrounds behind the text while the other has black text on white pages. The print book is US trade size (6×9″) and 112 pages.
You can also buy the print book on its own from Lulu.
Battle Between the Worlds is a set of rules for running one-shot Dungeon Planet adventures. You get new characters with truncated, personalized rules and a bunch of adventure situations to choose from. The GM still has to know how to run Dungeon World, but you can play using only this document.
The character sheets include illustrations by George Metzger, Juan Ochoa, Mike Jackson, and Nate Marcel.
Because I wrote these quick start rules primarily for the upcoming Space Wurm vs. Moonicorn (still not done!), I am releasing it as Pay What You Want.
The print version is available from Lulu.
Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.
Done well, adventure scenarios are an incredibly valuable tool for people playing rpgs. And yet they are never as popular as core rulebooks or player-oriented expansions. If I break down time spent writing adventures versus the profits they have made so far (over the course of a year and a half in a few cases), the best-case scenario is about minimum wage (which is CAN$10/hour where I live… I think). Obviously, if you have a large customer base, they way Pathfinder and D&D do, adventures can actually make enough money to pay for the people involved. But even in those cases, the rulebooks are still where the real money is.
So, what are adventures good for? Advertising.
1. They help sell other books, especially core rules.
If someone runs Island of Fire Mountain for their friends, and their friends love it, what happens? Do they all rush out and buy Island of Fire Mountain? No, they rush out and buy Dungeon World. Now, I’m all for helping out friends of mine but getting paid minimum wage to advertise someone else’s game (or do anything, really) is still a crap job, any way you cut it.
Take a look at two successful adventure-based business models: Goodman Games and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Both of them have gone from just adventures to also producing their own core rules, which I’m pretty sure sell better than adventures do. Not only are people more likely to buy adventures if they have a proper set of rules to go with it, but people also like to buy core rules. If you’re adventures don’t sell well enough to make a profit on their own, but they keep pointing people toward your other products that do, they’re worth the investment of time and effort (and by “worth it” I of course mean monetarily).
Just like rules expansions and supplements, adventures are a form of support for a game. Lots of people find well-supported games (and game lines) more attractive. Firstly, it (usually) means they will be able to do more things with one game simply by spending money and doing a little reading, instead of having to make everything up themselves (which can be especially time-consuming when it comes to designing rules). But also, if someone is already interested in a core game, good supplements and adventures work to grow and reinforce that interest. Bad supplements don’t tend to have the opposite effect because people can ignore them and concentrate on the ones they do like, or if they reinforce someone’s poor opinion of the game, that person is probably not going to be a customer (or repeat customer) anyway. A bad supplement flops on its own, a good supplement builds the brand.
All that said, making adventures pay off from a business standpoint requires you to use them as advertising for your other work. Using them to push your own core rulebook is a pretty well-established model.
2. They form a body of work.
Another thing that adventures can do is make bundled sales more attractive. A collection of many adventures, or rulebooks that come with a collection of adventures, adds value at the point of sale, as opposed to when people play the game (which is what point 1 was about). Sales are attractive; people like getting a deal. If you have one product out, all you can do is lower the price. If you have a whole bunch of products out, you can also sell a bunch of them for the regular price of just one of them, and not only does it feel like a deal money-wise, but time-wise as well, because they only have to make one purchase to get everything.
In point 1, I’m saying that people who see or play the adventure and think it’s cool get pointed to the core rules. With this point, I’m saying people who are interested in the core rules see that there are adventures for it, and it strengthens their resolve to buy it.
3. They disseminate a style of play.
Aside from the business aspects of points 1 and 2, there is also the community-building aspect to consider. Adventures help teach and promote a specific style of play, which can help lay the groundwork for other games of that style. If you run Apocalypse World and Dungeon World in a specific way, both games really sing. If you run them the same way you run Pathfinder, though? You’re going to have a terrible game. Even the people who hate Pathfinder won’t like it. But not everyone is able to learn how to play AW or DW really effectively from just the core rulebooks (because people learn in different ways). The more examples there are of that style of play out in the world, the easier it is for the people who like it to discuss it and find other people who want to play games in that style. It means subsequent games built in the AW style have an easier time gaining exposure. And this is just a recent example, which I use because right now I mostly write stuff for Dungeon World. Other examples of people promoting a specific style of play in opposition to more dominant styles include the OSR, the Fate community, and the various Gumshoe games.
4. Another reason why people write adventures.
Adventure-writing is also a natural by-product of play, since most rpgs require at least some form of prep. If you’re writing that stuff anyway, you’ve got a head start on a saleable product, although there’s still some work involved (most people I know don’t make professional-looking books just in order to play an adventure once with a few friends). Still, there’s something to be said for turning your hobby into something you can release in public with a little extra effort, and many more reasons than just making money why someone would do that.
Of course, I don’t follow the whole rpg industry, just parts of it. People with more experience selling games than me might have different perspectives. I published a bunch of adventures mainly because I wanted to, but overall, that time might have been better spent (business-wise) on something else. Adventures on Dungeon Planet has consistently outperformed all of those adventures since the very beginning, and Class Warfare is already more profitable after only a couple of months. So, even though I have notes for plenty more adventures, they’re not exactly racing to the top of the priorities list.
I made a Youtube video of me looking through the print version of Terrors of the Ancient World, so all y’all could see it and know what it looks like. Hopefully it makes you want to buy a copy!
The Caves of Moreau County is an adventure module for Labyrinth Lord (i.e. B/X). The various sections of this dungeon are random and modular — there is no mandated way for them to fit together. You can generate the actual structure of the dungeon before you play, or do it during the game, partly in response to the players’ decisions.
The dungeon consists primarily of beastmen in caves with a few twists and buried secrets. It is a fairly dark adventure, written from the perspective of murderhobo PCs. It’s gritty, horror-saturated old school fantasy, in case that is or isn’t your bag. Or just check it out for yourself, since you can get it for free if you want to.
This module was created to be a proof-of-concept prototype, to see how well this format works, and what needs to be done to make it work better. As such, the text is released under a Creative Commons license and the PDF is offered here as Pay What You Want. Monetary support goes towards creating more role-playing game materials. If you enjoy this module, you might also consider purchasing some of my other books, if you haven’t already.
Some Design Notes:
Because this is a prototype made in preparation for a larger project (related to my Monthly Monsters project on Patreon), I don’t mind critiquing it or offering my thoughts on how it could be done better.
The sections in The Caves of Moreau County are fairly small, mostly limited to one room each. I think this would work better with larger sections, maybe small collections of rooms, or several rooms that comprise the lair of a particular monster, or a type of monsters. So, probably something more akin to a series of modular one-page dungeons, though many sections would be smaller than your typical OPD, I would think.
There’s only a few connections between rooms—the ritual room leads directly to the tomb of saints, for example—and only a few rooms lead back to rooms that are already on the map. I’d like to insert more connections of that sort, including secret passageways, and links between different dungeon levels.
In general, this is also a fairly small dungeon, with twenty rooms and only a few different types of monsters. More variance in the wandering monster tables would definitely be a plus.
Lots of people have made adventures and scenarios for Dungeon World other than me. Joe Banner, John Aegard, Josh Mannon, Marshall Miller, just to name a few. There’s adventures in both the Grim Portents and Mondo Sotteraneo magazines, and then there’s fronts and dangers and stuff in Grim World, Inverse World, and Pirate World.
But I have published the most adventures so far. So probably I’ve learned a few things?
Maybe. Here’s what I can think of right now. Or maybe these are, like, my “opinions, maaaaan.” Whichever, you decide.
FRONTS AND DANGERS
A front is just an organizational tool. The real meat is the stuff in a danger: type, impulse, impending doom, and especially the grim portents. Description, cast, custom moves, and stakes are cool and everything but you will do that stuff anyway if you want to and you won’t if you don’t. How you lay out the dangers and their grim portents—the way the DW book shows or some other way—doesn’t really matter, as long as the GM can understand.
I like to include suggested scenes with my grim portents. It is one thing to say “the bandits attack the sheriff” on the grim portents list, and it’s another, more useful thing to suggest how and when they might go about doing that. Give the GM ideas, that’s what your adventure is there to do.
There is a right way to do this and a wrong way. Don’t leave something blank if you’re just going to have to invent it later. If you leave a blank spot on your dungeon map and then when the PCs get there you still don’t know what’s there, that’s a sub-optimal use of your prep time.
Instead, when you are the GM, you should leave blanks so you can incorporate suggestions and ideas that the other players contribute. If they tell you they are exploring this dungeon because the Sword of Matrivhor is supposed to be there, don’t just ignore that and plow ahead with your Shrine of Klogh dungeon that has nothing to do with swords or Matrivhors. Put the sword in there somewhere, instead of, or in addition to, the stuff you thought up beforehand. Or change it to the Shrine of Matrivhor and have the PCs find it already looted, with the sword missing—and a clue that will help them find out who took it. Then continue adventuring.
Or, leave the treasure blank in your prep and make sure to ask the players why their characters are raiding this dungeon—what great treasure do they believe is located here?
In short: When you ask them for stuff, use that stuff later.
If you’re writing an adventure, though, how do you encourage this?
KEEP EVERYTHING CONNECTED
The point is that it’s not just a collection of random, disparate things. You have a collection of people, places, things, and situations that actually work together, play off each other, and interact in ways that you have already decided on (and hopefully some unexpected ways, too).
So: try to leave blanks in later parts of your adventure, but put questions in the beginning that will generate the information you need to fill in those blanks.
For example, there is a scrying pool in Island of Fire Mountain that shows the PCs what life is like for the people they left behind to come to this tropical island. This is one reason why you are told to ask the players where their characters come from and what things are like back home—so you can show them what has changed.
Another example: PCs go into a dungeon. Ask them what they fear might be down here, or what they expect, or how they feel vulnerable. Ask them what they think the creatures down here are like, from the worms in the earth to the trolls they are trying to rob. Later on, when they fall into the mutagenic pools in the abandoned alchemical laboratory, use their earlier answers to describe how their bodies mutate. They become the things they feared would be down here.
Give the GM questions to ask, things to wonder about. Make them somewhat connected to the stuff that you are presenting in the dungeon. This can be a hard thing for many GMs to come up with, so if you give them stuff they can do right away, those questions can become the seeds of inspiration.
WHAT TO DESCRIBE
In general, I make the assumption that the PCs are unfamiliar with what is being described in the adventure—the people, places, and things—so I try to describe all the stuff that I think is important. The world around the adventure is what I leave up to the GM to either invent or to ask the players about. I also try to include options for the PCs being familiar with the people, places, and things in the adventure, but this is not my default, mainly because this is a fantasy game, so dungeoncrawling and monster fighting and chasing after fleeing thieves are going to be more common than family infighting and small-town romantic shenanigans.
A few other tips:
The goons at the Something Awful forums decided to add tactics to the monster stat blocks, and this is a good idea. One instinct and some moves alone don’t always tell you what lengths a monster is willing to go to, when they might decide to turn and flee, or what would motivate them to attack the PCs in the first place. Listing tactics beneath their moves is a succinct way to communicate this info. Also, if you put NPCs in your adventure (monsters or people) you should probably give them a motivation of some kind, so the GM doesn’t have to invent one. The GM’s job should be to role-play the how, and spend less time inventing the what, which is why she bought your adventure, after all.
SPOUT LORE RESULTS
Joe Banner puts little sidebars in his adventures, with interesting and useful pieces of information that might be the results of the PCs spouting lore about the things they encounter. This is a good idea! I didn’t do this in any of my adventures, but I should have.
This works better for spout lore than it does for discern realities, I should add. Discern realities results should be right there in a description of the location or situation, but spout lore results can come from sources far afield. Also, if you have answers ready and don’t have to do too much thinking, it encourages players to use spout lore more often, because they know they can count on it actually being useful.
KNOW WHERE TO CUT CORNERS
I’ve written this mostly of these assuming you want to write adventures for other people to use, but these are also tips you can use for your own adventures. If you’ve run even just a few of your own adventures or DW campaigns, you probably have a good idea of what you find easy to improvise during a game and what you probably need to prep for. So skip the tips that don’t help you do that prep. Most of these things don’t really rely on each other.
At long last, both the DW and the River Knife series of adventure modules are complete trilogies.
A small island in the South Seas. A lone fort plagued by cannibal hordes and a race of monsters. A ship, wrecked on the rocks of the far shore, missing all its crew and passengers. An ancient city that stands in ruins, guarded by the very elements themselves, and rumoured to be full of ghosts. All this and more lie waiting for a band of intrepid adventurers. Will they bring peace and prosperity to the island, or merely line their pockets? Will they discover the secret of the lost city of Kuna Lii, or will they leave the entire world in ruins in the attempt? Come ashore, and find out for yourself!
What size is this book?
It’s 102 pages, black and white, 6×9 in print, 5.5×8.5 in pdf.
What do you get with this book?
- Inside this adventure module, you will find:
- A complete island, with numerous warring factions and a ruined city.
- New monsters, characters, and magical items to vex or aid the PCs.
- Customized starting procedures and advice about asking the players questions that contribute to the setting, while keeping the island a mysterious place for them to explore.
- A new base class: the Elementalist.
- Cover art by Robert Scott, from the Prismatic Art Collection.
- Fantastic interior art by Nate Marcel and Tony Dowler.
Where do you get this book?
You can buy Island of Fire Mountain in print and pdf from DriveThruRPG, for
$15. Or $7 if you only want the pdf.
You can also buy the print version by itself from Lulu for