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Designer Spotlight: Michael Allen and Twin Crossings!

Twin Crossings cover v1Which Adventureaweek.com modules would work well as a prelude to Twin Crossings?

I wanted to write an adventure that would give the PCs a reason to travel beyond Rybalka. To get out and see some other parts of the Klavek Kingdom. The PCs are 4th level now—this gives them a chance to see some of the eastern Klavek Kingdom. Any of the Rybalkan peninsula adventures work well as prelude to Twin Crossings, and as we establish the fact that there is an east-west caravan between Cherr’s landing and Mokhba (with Rybalka in spitting distance—giant’s spitting distance at least) there is a way for the PCs to reasonably go back and forth.

 

What was your source of inspiration for this adventure?

I loved Raymond Feist’s Rise of a Merchant Prince and the character of Silk in Edding’s Belgariad. I always wanted to explore these themes in an adventure one day. Indeed, my rogue PC in a campaign of War of the Burning Sky set up businesses in the war torn cities of that world. One day I’d like to do an AP on these themes, and this was a great way to test out some of my ideas on a smaller scale.

 

How did Twin Crossings change from your original concept?

The caravan rules changed three times. I originally wanted the players to be able to build their caravan almost like a PC, using all of the information they found along the way to make it as efficient as possible. In the end, the calculations for determining the PCs’ profitability were almost automated. Information and player choices still had an impact, but it became more organic rather than an ongoing math problem.

 

What is your typical process for fleshing out an adventure like this? Did you do anything different this time around?

After settling on a theme, I start with the creatures. Monster descriptions usually inspire encounters for me. If its a classed creature or NPC, I might have an idea of what role I want them to fill in a combat, but I usually wait until designing that combat before building them. Once the encounters are roughed in, I make sure there is a good mix of varied challenges, a spell combat here, a hazard/terrain enhanced combat there, a beefy damage dealer combat over this way.

The challenge here was the flowchart of the adventure. I wanted to give the PCs a way to chart their own course, but I also didn’t want to have them totally bypass any encounters (it is a waste of space—every word is precious).  I think I came up with a good solution in the end—indeed one of the last encounters in the adventure is entitled No Monster Left out.

 

aaw-free-5What tools did you use while writing Twin Crossings?

I’m a big fan of Paizo’s NPC Codex, and the NPCs in the Gamemastery Guide. I can usually mine those for ideas for my classed characters—especially mooks.  I can easily swap out feats, weapons, spell selections, and even change up the races or modify stats on some of the stock builds there to customize opponents. It allows me to save time for the truly important custom builds (or converting to 3.5).  I would rate NPC compendiums like this as high on the priority list of any GM looking to have some ready resources at their fingertips.

 

What is your favorite part of the adventure?

There is a lot of background and rumors for the PCs to discover. The opening scene of the adventure has many opportunities for some in-depth role play as well as some skill based challenges. These opportunities continue throughout—and I enjoyed tying the success or failure of these moments into the PCs overall success.


Tell us about one character, creature, item, or spell which was unique to this adventure. How did you come up with the idea and what went into the design of this part of the adventure?

Confession time—I went over word count on this adventure. It crept up on me. Part of it was the extra background and role play moments, part of it was underestimating the word count on providing stat blocks for both systems (which I did not have to do for the Pathmaster contest).  The unique magical items were included in a detour quest the PCs have an opportunity to go on during their journey. While the PCs still have a chance to discover these magical items (and all of them are still included and have an impact in the adventure) we had to trim back much of that quest to save on word count. Fortunately, we are releasing the full side quest here on the AaWBlog! All of the items in this cache spring from an idea I had around an engineering battalion led by a mage-engineer, and help the PCs make a lasting impact on travel in this new area of the Klavek Kingdom.  I think the most fun I had was beefing up the legend and history for release in the blog posts—I hope you enjoy the tale of the last stand of the Lost Battalion on the blog.

 

diceIs there anything you would change looking back? Any suggestions you could give a DM/GM running this game which could help them through any rough patches?

My play testers were bloodthirsty gits. The adventure contains some suggestions to the GM on how to handle the rivalry between the two competing caravans early on so bloodshed doesn’t break out too early. In the end my group still activated the encounter with their rivals early. Don’t sweat it too much if this happens. It is not a game breaker—and I ended up satisfied that the flowchart still allowed the PCs to get back on track.


Which Adventureaweek.com adventures would work well after the players conclude Twin Crossings?

PCs should be close to leveling to 5th after this adventure and if you beef up the adventure with a few random encounters or side quests will likely do so.

A-6 Bear Trouble could easily be relocated to the mountains of The Knee on the Vladen Peninsula where the new town of Svest is located. There will be a call for mercenary bands with the opening of new overland trade routes to Cherr’s Landing, and the discoveries made in the mountain passes…

B-7 Beauty and Blood could be set in Aventyr in the woods of the Vladen Peninsula with a little bit of renaming of the geography.  

B-9 Curse of the Full Moon could likewise be set in the Eastern Klavek Kingdom; Locate the town of Rooknest somewhere between the mountains of The Knee and Cherr’s Landing.

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IRONWALL GAP MUST HOLD – Interview with author Jachob Michael

cover1. Why should I read Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

Because instead of a traditional trip into a dungeon to find treasure, or a mystery to stop a deranged killer in town, the PCs find themselves in charge of an entire fort, which they have to lead to victory against an army that vastly outnumbers them (using the new mass combat rules in Paizo’s Ultimate Campaign sourcebook). Also, orcs shouldn’t be low-level fodder and in this adventure, they’re a deadly, overwhelming force arrayed against the PCs.

2. What makes Ironwall Gap Must Hold unique?

Unlike most adventures, the PCs aren’t primarily going out adventuring or solving a mystery. Instead, they’re playing the role of defenders of the “dungeon,” giving an experience unlike most modules. It gives them the chance to turn the tables on the monsters, setting up traps and defenses and letting the threats fight their way to them.

3. What neat stuff is in Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

Catapults! An orc horde! a 30-foot-tall new monster! A fully fleshed out mountain pass fortress! A new magic item that can turn your enemies against each other (or do the same to the PCs, in the hands of a cruel GM)! Plus, lots of use of the new mass combat rules in Paizo’s “Ultimate Campaign” sourcebook!

4. Which part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold was the most fun to design?

I really enjoyed devising the orcs’ tactics for assaulting the fort, especially with the way they interact with the mass combat rules. The orc horde certainly rushes forward in all-out attempts to take the wall by sheer force, but the enemy is smart enough to use subterfuge too. If the PCs aren’t ready, plenty of dire consequences wait for them, and they could soon find their forces routed and orcs pouring through the gap.

beard bro5. Is there a specific part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold that you identify as your favorite?

I feel like that’s equivalent to asking if a specific part of my dog is my favorite. I love all of her (the dog) and it (the module)! More seriously, I think I’m most pleased with the role-playing aspects. There are a lot of difficulties that can be solved through role-playing and fully fleshed-out NPCs, both as allies and adversaries, to interact with. I like that the NPCs have their own stories going on, which inform and shape their roles in the adventure.

6. What kind of gameplay was the focus for Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

I don’t focus on a specific type of gameplay, as I think a good adventure should have elements of everything. In addition to the previously mentioned role-playing possibilities, there are a couple mysteries to solve, some sandbox-style exploration, a variety of monsters to fight, and mass combats where you must lead your small garrison against the massive horde of orcs.

7. Did you have any inspiration for Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

One of my favorite memories as a younger player was our party having to retreat to a house deep in the woods and set up traps as we prepared for a coming enemy. I no longer recall why we couldn’t keep running, but I had so much fun digging our own spiked pits and getting to play “defense.” Ironwall Gap is intended to do that, albeit on a larger scale. It also takes inspiration from any number of siege stories/seemingly hopeless battles, particularly Jim Butcher’s “Cursor’s Fury” and the battle of Helm’s Deep from Peter Jackson’s movie adaption of “Lord of the Rings.”

8. If any theme dominated Ironwall Gap Must Hold, what would it be?

Holding out against overwhelming odds, with hundreds of lives depending on your actions. This is a fight not for treasure or secrets, but survival.

armydill9. Are there any particularly interesting monsters or NPCs in Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

The PCs get to know several interesting NPCs in the fort. With a hundred soldiers under incredible pressure, not all of them react well to the situation and some are even partly responsible for the chaos in the garrison. PCs also get a chance to meet at least one of the orc leaders, putting a personal face on the enemy. Finally, a throckha — a new, Colossal beast with the ability to smash through stone and metal — will test the very limits of the fort’s defenses and the PCs’ own mettle.

10. What part of Ironwall Gap Must Hold did your playtesters enjoy most?

They really enjoyed the basic setup itself of the module, with themselves being put in charge of this border fortress and having to lead a garrison against a vastly larger force.

11. Is there a specific scenario in Ironwall Gap Must Hold that is going to stick with me?

I think the climactic battle should be a good challenge, with several different enemies harrying the PCs. Another scene, sort of a “charge of the light brigade” action — which ironically only happens if the PCs fail in their attempts to avert it — really grew on me through development of the module. I’m excited to hear about players’ experiences as they’re forced to abandon the protection of the fort’s walls to rescue some of their soldiers from disaster.

12. In one sentence, what can I expect from Ironwall Gap Must Hold?

A thrilling, non-traditional adventure pitting the PCs into a desperate, last stand against the forces of evil, chaos and destruction.

Jacob W. Michaels’ earliest memories of gaming are from 30 years ago, when he was introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in the third grade, filling in blue dice with a marking crayon before looking for laser guns in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Since then, he’s played and run countless games, enjoying Champions, Shadowrun, Toon, Gamma World, Battletech, TMNT, Torg, Talislanta, Marvel Super Heroes, Vampire: The Masquerade and even several home-made games, but always coming back to the sword and sorcery genre: Dungeons & Dragons for many years and more recently Pathfinder.

His beginning steps in designing games for a wider audience than the friends in his gaming group came at the end of 2011, when he decided to throw his hat in the ring for Paizo’s RPG Superstar 2012 contest. His haunting glass was a popular choice among the judges and his second-round entry, the Unfettered, garnered popular acclaim during public voting. (His Round 3 monster won’t be mentioned here, as he’s still trying to live it down.) He’s incredibly excited to have his first module, Ironwall Gap Must Hold, published with Adventureaweek.com.

When he’s not gaming, Jacob’s a newspaper copy editor in eastern Pennsylvania. He lives with his faithful hound, Holiday, who hasn’t inherited his interest in gaming, but enjoys when her dog friends come over during games. His parents and younger sister have always been supportive of his hobby since his earliest days playing in New Hampshire, and he appreciates his girlfriend’s encouragement, even if her reaction to watching her first (and only) gaming session was “there are some things you can never unsee.”

 

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TO WALK THE DARK ROAD – Interview with author Michael Allen

cover1. Why should I read To Walk the Dark Road?

Who doesn’t want to feast on the history of lost armies and empires, seasoned with torture, curses and dark magic?

 

2. What makes To Walk the Dark Road unique?

I set out to design an adventure without a single stat block – all challenges straight out of the bestiaries. I usually enjoy adding class levels to monsters to beef them up and make them unique, so sifting through the monster books for just the right critter that fit the story was a lot of fun – and something different for me.

 

3. What neat stuff is in To Walk the Dark Road?

The adventure is fairly straightforward to run, but there are a number of twists and secrets for the players to discover. As well as surprising the players with these, there are some cool magic items and a good chunk of environmental challenges that will keep the adventurers on their toes.

 

bat4. Which part of To Walk the Dark Road was the most fun to design?

I enjoyed the magic items. Working their background into the tale made these items breathe a little bit more to me. I also like the fact that power also comes with a price, and any opportunity to provide players with trade-offs for power is one that should not be missed.

 

5. Is there a specific part of To Walk the Dark Road that you identify as your favorite?

My kids’ favorite is the part where a party member has to drive a steel stylus into their eyeball to access the magic therein. I think my favorite part is how many times they described that scene to their mom and grossed her out.

 

6. What kind of gameplay was the focus for To Walk the Dark Road

It is a wilderness trek that has the feel of a dungeon crawl. Not so much from an exploration standpoint but from the set up and pacing of the encounters. There are role-playing opportunities in some interesting places, but for the most part, you are trying to survive and accomplish your mission in a hostile land.

 

hag7. Did you have any inspiration for To Walk the Dark Road?

Two really. The first was the sack of Anglesey and destruction of the druid’s stronghold there by the Romans. The second is Celtic cauldron myths. The artifact in the adventure, The Tear of the Mother, is really a mythic cauldron in a different skin.

 

8. If any theme dominated To Walk the Dark Road, what would it be?

The subtitle says it all…A waking nightmare! Dreams, visions, and horrific events plague the PCs every step of the way. The monsters fit into this theme quite elegantly.

 

9. Are there any particularly interesting monsters or NPCs in To Walk the Dark Road?

I like them all of course – I really had a great time crafting the encounters around the monsters, and then the story line around the monsters. Each monster is there for a reason that backs up the history or environment of the tale. But if I had to pick a few, I like the set up of the very first encounter, the boss fight in the icy moors, and the encounter in the deep woods as the PCs approach their final destination. Your scrying spells will get no more information out of me on what those monsters are…you will have to walk the dark road yourself.

 

aquamonster10. What part of To Walk the Dark Road did your playtesters enjoy most?

They liked the ramping up of the intensity as the adventure progressed. My group is a pretty savvy Pathfinder rules group, and I was hoping they would not figure out the main boss until the end. They got bits and pieces of the mystery – identifying some of the abilities in play, but not the creature itself, so I think the way the adventure is written, it is possible for other judges to draw out the mystery like we were able to do in the playtest.

 

11. Is there a specific scenario in To Walk the Dark Road that is going to stick with me?

One of the magic items is very unique, and gives the judge a tool to reveal much of the back story of the adventure, which I think the players don’t always get to discover 100% in the course of play. Combined with other role-playing opportunities written into the adventure to reveal some background, a canny judge can satisfy both the combat oriented player and the story oriented player.

 

12. In one sentence, what can I expect from To Walk the Dark Road?

Expect an intensifying ride of combat and horror as the PCs wrestle with what risks they take, and moral choices they make for power and success.