Last month we started work on a map of the PCs' base of operations for the early phases of the campaign. This month, we continue to look at the essential features of such a base and provide some tips on drawing the map itself.
The Rumor Mill
Adventures are the cornerstone of any AD&D game campaign, and it's difficult for the PCs to undertake adventures if they can't locate them. This might seem like a trivial problem, but inventing fresh and interesting ways to involve the players in your adventures is one of the most challenging tasks you'll face as Dungeon Master. To aid yourself in this endeavor, plan to include a fairly obvious "rumor mill" in your base of operations, a place where adventurers gather to swap boasts, rumors, and legends. Once the campaign begins, you can take steps to inform the players that a few hours spent in the rumor mill are likely to turn up an interesting story, patron, or legend capable of steering them toward a fresh adventure. This isn't the only means you should use to guide your players into new adventures (at least, it shouldn't be), but it doesn't hurt to have a safe backup for those times when you just can't think of anything better. Also, a solid rumor mill prevents the players from getting the uncomfortable idea that there's just nothing left to do.
Typically, the local rumor mill is an inn or tavern with one of those quaint names like "The Laughing Unicorn" or "The Wistful Wyvern," though there are plenty of other opportunities. The mill could just as easily be a marketplace, an "adventurers' guild," or even a library. Any place where adventurers, veterans, "mysterious strangers," or storytellers gather will do. Whatever locale you select to serve as your rumor mill should be a location that obviously draws a lot of travelers and out-of-towners. The more people who pass through the mill, the greater the ease with which you can introduce new information, rumors, and legends.
Of course, nothing says that you must confine your rumor mill to a single location. If you can come up with multiple sources for gossip and legends that seem to fit into your plan, so much the better. In our developing campaign world of Aris, for instance, the forest stronghold features two separate rumor mills. Somewhere inside the marketplace introduced last issue is a storyteller's square that has acquired a degree of notoriety throughout the lands under the aegis of Richard. Bards, adventurers, and others with a tale to tell come to this square to speak their piece to the public, hoping for a few silvers in return.
A youngster, for instance, might come to the square to relate the story of how he and his father were recently waylaid by a huge furry beast (actually an owlbear) on one of the trails outside Ironoak. Fortunately, the youngster managed to escape the beast's clutches, though his father wasn't so lucky. Hearing this tale, an outraged local merchant offers five hundred gold pieces for the beast's hide. This should be all that any adventurer worth his salt needs to hear before setting off to hunt the beast, and another adventure is underway.
In addition to the storyteller's square, one of Ironoak's inns, The Queen of Cups, is a notorious hangout for out-of-towners and adventurers passing through to the Black Wood. Ernst, the owner of the Queen of Cups, is a retired adventurer himself. Part of what attracts newcomers to The Queen is Ernst's huge collection of curiosities. He's known to pay top dollar for any souvenir of a daring exploit. He then exhibits these items to attract new patrons to the inn. For the price of a few drinks, he'll happily relate the story behind any piece in his collection. At present, the collection includes a black dragon's tooth, an inert ioun stone, the pickled eyes of a medusa, and several lesser items, though Ernst is constantly acquiring new objects. This collection should be doubly effective in setting the players off on new adventures. Not only can they overhear gossip and rumors from Ernst's patrons but also Ernst himself and his items might easily serve to interest the players in a potential feat of derring-do.
Part of what makes the AD&D game fun for your players is the opportunity to interact with the interesting nonplayer characters you create. It's hard to imagine your base of operations taking root in the players' imaginations unless it's populated with interesting NPCs. At this stage, you should try to create at least two such personalities. If you can easily come up with more than two good ideas, so much the better, but don't feel obligated to stretch yourself. It's much better to develop two really good ideas than four or five mediocre ideas. You'll also have plenty of opportunities to introduce new NPCs into the base later.
There are a number of characteristics that might make a nonplayer character particularly interesting. NPCs with obvious secrets, for instance, are always interesting; they encourage the players to get to the bottom of those secrets, possibly touching off an adventure or two. NPCs who can teach something of value to one or more of the players (like a master wizard, a high-ranking cleric, or a retired master strategist) tend to be interesting, as do NPCs the characters can obviously help or assist in some fashion (an orphaned boy, perhaps, or a kindly merchant deep in debt to an evil moneylender). Other viable strategies include NPCs who are not what they appear to be (a vaunted warrior who is secretly a coward), NPCs with distinctive physical features, NPCs who make mysterious prophecies ("One day, you will earn the right to command this stronghold."), and NPCs who are particularly good at involving the PCs in new adventures (perhaps an absent-minded wizard who continuously makes serious mistakes in his magical research, unleashing catastrophes the PCs must struggle to clean up). Note that at this stage you need only a couple of simple ideas for key characters so you can account for their needs when you draw your map. For now, don't worry about developing game statistics, personalities, or backgrounds for the NPCs. We'll address those chores in a future installment.
Let's consider a couple of the most interesting local NPCs in Ironoak. The captain of Richard's guard, Tarrin, is both "not what he seems" and a "man with an interesting physical characteristic." Tarrin has no left hand. He has told everyone that he lost the hand many years ago while fighting in a war, but the real story is much more interesting. About twelve years ago, Tarrin led a special detachment of the king's troops to destroy a stronghold built deep in the forest by an evil cult. In retaliation, the cult leader cast a horrible curse on Tarrin that gave his left hand a mind of its own. Soon, Tarrin was waking up to discover bloody weapons in his hand; the next day he'd learn that one of his neighbors was killed in the night. Eventually, the situation became so unbearable that Tarrin went deep into the woods and cut off the hand himself to escape the curse. He doesn't know that the hand "survived" and is slowly crawling its way across the continent, wreaking subtle havoc and trying to find its erstwhile owner. Naturally, the hand is eventually going to show up in the campaign to provide a strange adversary (and surprise) for the PCs. As captain of the guard, Tarrin needs a special offic or barracks somewhere on the Ironoak map.
Another local NPC is an old, retired wizard named Jarrak who lives somewhere in the woods outside of Ironoak, though he frequently visits the stronghold to replenish his supplies. Jarrak has the uncanny ability to come and go unseen. You might suddenly hear his voice from the corner of the inn and turn to find him comfortably seated and sipping his broth, even though no one saw him enter. A few moments later, you might turn to speak with him, only to find that he is gone, though no one saw him leave. Jarrak is famous for having discovered a potent, unique spell that he used to save Ironoak from a band of marauders almost thirty years ago. It's said that Jarrak is the only wizard on all Aris who knows this spell; he's never found an apprentice worthy enough to learn it. Naturally, this is meant to serve as a challenge to any PC wizards. I'm hoping (and assuming) that they'll eventually attempt to convince Jarrak that they are worthy recipients of his secret knowledge. Since he's an out-of-towner, Jarrak won't need any special accommodations on the Ironoak map.
Something Related to a Secret
If you've been following this column and obeying the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft, you've already created a number of interesting secrets pertaining to your campaign world. Two installments ago (Dragon Magazine #259), you might have written each of these secrets on a separate index card. It's now time to pull out your "deck of secrets" for the first time.
The idea behind these secrets, of course, is that the players will eventually uncover them and come to realize the depth and richness of the campaign world you've created. But the players can't possibly uncover any of the secrets without the appropriate clues and hints. Carefully shuffle the index cards you have prepared and draw one at random. Your task is to think up a clue related to that secret so you can place it somewhere within your base of operations.
I've drawn a secret I created in Dragon Magazine #258. If you recall, the campaign planet itself is a living entity known as Aris and worshiped as a goddess by its inhabitants. Most inhabitants believe that the planet's single moon, Selene, is also a living entity and the daughter of Aris. Legend has it that Aris gave birth to Selene so that her daughter could one day take her place in the cosmos. Eventually, Aris (and all life upon her) will die out, opening the way for Selene and new life the moon goddess will create. Unknown to almost everyone on the campaign world, however, Selene turned evil, prompting Aris to revoke her birthright. Selene has already given birth to the race that she hoped would replace the races birthed by Aris: hideous mind flayers! At present, there are probably some ten thousand mind flayers and other assorted beasts living on Selene. They and their goddess plan to destroy Aris and claim their birthright by force.
Now it's time to invent a clue to this secret that I can place inside Ironoak. Before I proceed, I note that I've drawn a particularly big secret: It affects the entirety of the campaign world and has the potential to pit the players against some pretty tough monsters. Ideally, the players won't get to the bottom of this particular secret until far in the future, when they have gained enough experience levels to deal with the mind flayers. As a consequence, I'm not looking for a hint that gives away the farm; I need only raise the players' interest and allow them to uncover something suggesting the mere existence of the secret. As a general rule, the more time that elapses between the point at which the possible existence of a secret is first suggested and the moment the players finally uncover that secret, the more satisfying their experience. Since I hope to give the players a whiff of this secret long before they finally get to its bottom, the saga of the mind flayers and the evil moon goddess has the potential to form one of the most satisfying episodes of the entire campaign.
So what's the clue? Ernst provides an obvious opportunity. Somewhere among the items in his collection is a mysterious stone idol in the shape of a mind flayer perched atop an orb. The orb is inscribed with a strange rune. Ernst acquired the idol from a passing adventurer but has no idea where the adventurer found it. In fact, the seller was too afraid to talk about how he came to possess the idol and was obviously happy to get rid of it. (He sold the piece for a mere five gold pieces.) This gives me all sorts of possibilities for the future.
We might introduce a strange cult of moon worshipers (the mind flayers' agents on Aris) who track their idol back to Ernst and attempt to reclaim it, possibly dragging the players into an adventure. Eventually, we could also allow the players to discover that the strange rune on the orb was a symbol for Selene in one of the planet's ancient tongues, providing them with a clue to the mind flayers' origin. In any case, the fact that the appearance of the flayers will be foreshadowed many months before they actually show up in the campaign should make their eventual arrival exceptionally dramatic. Since this hint is delivered in the form of Ernst, it won't require adding additional buildings or locations on the Ironoak map.
Drawing the Map
Now that we have surveyed all of its most important features, you can draw the map for your base of operations. Before you get started, you should review the five quick tips below. To recap, the following features must figure into the design of Ironoak:
Barracks for Richard's troops
A centrally located "fire alarm" gong
Between twenty and thirty dwellings for townsfolk
Three inns, one of which is The Queen of Cups
A large, open marketplace that features a storyteller's square
A temple of the Children
An elevator that allows visitors and their goods to be hauled up to the treetops
Tip 1: Use Graph Paper
A sense of scale and all that it implies are very important to the AD&D game. Although you won't need to keep track of such things during the bulk of the time the players spend in town, someday you'll need to know how many buildings are affected by a fireball dropped in the middle of your village, or exactly how many rounds it takes a wizard to run from the town gate to the local inn. If you get in the habit of drawing all your maps to scale on graph paper, you'll find it much easier to calculate the appropriate distances during play. Graph paper also helps you track the characters' movements in those instances when it is important.
As a general rule, you should draw all your town and dungeon maps on regular square graph paper and all your wilderness maps on hex paper. (Regular graph paper is widely available at office supply stores; you can usually purchase hex paper at your local hobby shop.) In general, hex paper makes it easier to quickly assess the distance between any two points on your map, but it's not well suited for towns and dungeons since the right angles so common in dungeon corridors and city streets don't match the hexgrain well. I prefer graph paper with five squares to the inch, but you should feel free to use the size that works best for you. If you can't find graph paper, you can draw your maps on blank paper and use the cellophane overlays from the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set to quickly drop a grid over the map when necessary. In any case, you should carefully craft your map to exact scale.
A scale of approximately 25 feet to the square works best for maps of small towns and villages. This means that the long side of a sheet of standard paper covers approximately one quarter mile (if you're using paper with five squares to the inch), giving you an opportunity to comfortably fit all the town's buildings and a bit of the surrounding terrain on a single sheet. If, for some reason, your base of operations spans a larger area, increase the scale as necessary.
Tip 2: Get as Fancy as You Can
Unlike some of the dungeon and adventure maps you'll draw later, you're going to allow the players to look at this particular map during play. The more fancy and interesting you can make it, the more likely it is to spur on the players' imaginations and improve your game. At a minimum, you should draw the map carefully and neatly. You should also consider adding color (colored pencils work best) and any other artistic flair you're capable of providing. If you have the means, there is a wide variety of computer software available that can help you spice up your maps, most notably the Campaign Cartographer product from Pro-Fantasy software or the AD&D Core Rules v. 2.0.
Tip 3: Make the Map Useful
When drawing maps for your campaign, you should always try to anticipate exactly how you'll use the map in play and tailor it to suit those needs. Anything that you can add to the map that might ultimately save you or your players some time is probably a good idea. On the map of your base of operations, for instance, you might include a legend indicating how far the average character can move in both one turn and one round. You might also place symbols on the map indicating where key characters are often found, diagrams showing the routes patrolled by guards, borders indicating areas frequented by local thieves, and other legends explaining the purposes of your buildings and areas. In this particular instance, though, don't place anything on your map that wouldn't be known to the average resident of the base. Remember, you're ultimately going to show this map to the players.
Tip 4: Don't Be So Predictable
Try to include at least one or two distinctive features on every map you draw. If every one of your towns uses the same basic layout, your players are likely to grow bored and confused. If there's something distinctive in each town, the players are more likely to remember each town individually and to bring each location alive in their imaginations. Sometimes, basic geography is enough to make each location distinctive. Try experimenting with angled streets, hills and other geographical features in the midst of town, and unusual building layouts. If you're struggling with basic layouts, look to maps of real world cities and towns for inspiration. You can also give each village map its own unique identity by resorting to fantastic elements (see last issue), special monuments, or unusual features (maybe a circus, a library, a mint, or an arena).
Tip 5: Be Logical
Finally, when drawing a village or town map, try to put yourself in the shoes of one of the town's fictional residents. Is water readily available to each of the residences? Are the town's inns easily noticed and accessible to out-of-towners? Are there places for merchants and visitors to stable their mounts? This sort of consistency will help lend your campaign an air of plausibility that will pay big dividends down the road.
Next month, we'll look at more of your questions before moving on to our first area map.