Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Today, Owlbear Run was published in Dungeon Magazine #213.
Chris Perkins commissioned the adventure last fall. I sketched out some ideas, and Chris gave me some specifics in regard to what he wanted. I drew some rough maps, and Chris sent me back refined and clean versions of those ideas. I wrote the adventure over the month of December 2012 (which seems like something of a miracle now, considering all the holiday travel).
Owlbear Run isn't typical of most of the published adventures I've read. That's not to say it's ehrmagawd awezomezz or in any way spectacular. Rather, it probably runs more like one of my own home games, the type I used to run in college when I was in my late teens and early twenties. It's lighthearted and random instead of moody and dramatic. There's a lot of role-play, puzzle solving, plotting, and strategy. It's in no way straightforward, and its success is largely reliant on what the DM and players bring to the table. When I ran it for my group, I told them not to worry much about their stats, but encouraged them to come to the table with characters who had interesting personalities. We ended up with:
- a paranoid, once-mighty wizard, who had forgotten more spells than most mortals ever know
- a dwarven union boss striving to bring equality to the tunnelers of the Phantom 309 union
- an eladrin orphaned in the world: beautiful, elegant, cusses like a sailor
- a kobold prince setting out to forge his legend
- an heir to the dung-shoveling business with deep mafia connections
Before I ran the adventure, I reminded myself that an adventure is mostly what the characters say and do when they encounter the plot. It's not a stage where the DM has to dance-monkey-dance for the players' entertainment, with the success or failure of the session hinging on the DM's brilliant plot. This is a good way to approach Owlbear Run. The adventure's there as a guideline, a structure for play. The rest of it is playing pretend, playing make-believe with the weird ideas you and your friends come up with.
Using Owlbear Run with Other Fantasy RPGs
Before I close, I feel like I should address a comment I made on Twitter about how I felt that Owlbear Run could easily be adapted for another fantasy game like Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classics, 13th Age, Dungeon World, etc. Here's how that works...
In Owlbear Run, the characters have to choose an owlbear and sponsor pairing. They do this by interviewing sponsors and investigating the owlbears to make their best choice. They can converse with the competing teams, or challenge them. During the race, they'll have to force or charm their owlbears into cooperating. They'll encounter a number of puzzles, NPCs, and some fights. When the PCs fail a challenge or fail to get their owlbear to cooperate, the NPC teams have a better chance of moving ahead in the race. None of these things, with the possible exception of 4e monster stat blocks, necessitates heavy, edition-specific mechanics. The monsters in Owlbear Run have parallels in all the other popular fantasy RPGs. And since the race's mechanics are specific to the adventure itself--and not intrinsic to 4e--the adventure's form, outline, and encounters can be applied anywhere else. Just swap any 4e stat blocks or skill check equivalents to what they would be in the system you're running.
There will be some variation, since every system plays differently. In Dungeon World, for example, you'll be rolling 2d6 to charm your owlbear, succeeding on a 10+, succeeding with consequences on 7-9, and getting the adventure's failure results on 6 or less. In 13th Age, minion monsters turn into "mooks," which behave in a slightly different way, and the escalation die will keep fights brief (you could probably even come up with a way to use the escalation die mechanic in the race as a bonus, propelling certain teams forward). The crazy number of options in Pathfinder or in more free form games like AD&D or (by extension) Dungeon Crawl Classics or Barebones Fantasy will likely have players plotting and experimenting to gain an edge in the race--which the adventure encourages the characters to do.
Sure, you can do this for any number of adventures. It's just that, comparatively, Owlbear Run's encounters don't rely on a specific system in order to translate well.
In my opinion, anyway.