Monday, October 26, 2009

The Legacy of White Plume Mountain

(urgh... a nightmare halloween involving a car accident that I have a nasty feeling is going to cost me a lot of money... just in time for christmas, great...)

So, probably around about a year ago now, just over, DA2 had been released and I was working on the first segment of DA3. The party were fleeing the massacre at the militia's fortress and looking to sneak into the city of Marsember. Then, real life got very busy as work took off in all sorts of crazy poorly thought out directions and the staff struggled to keep up with it. And in the spare time I did have, all I could do was feel awestruck by what lay ahead of me to finish the DA series. I still laugh when I dig out my old notes right back from the begining (2006-7) to see that the whole DA series was going to be 5 chapters and each chapter cover 5 maybe 6 areas. Heh. piece of cake, huh? 2 Years, 2 chapters and 20 areas later (OK they were areas made by *me*, but still I mean c'mon), it weren't looking so simple. I had the biggest chapter facing me - a trek through the Vast Swamp, meeting *another* companion (who I might come back to at some point), sneaking into Marsember to find a paranoid Elder, lots of city sidequests involving attemtping a coup in the town, and winning round the Purple Dragons and the fleet, being shadowed by an assassin from the lower hells, culiminating in a showdown with the paranoid hedonist Elder Hasturn in a masquerade ball (natch...). Then, there was the other two chapters, Chapter 4 in a race across the Stonelands to find Elder Porphyrrion's lair, and the final chapter piece de resistance as the players soul is dragged down into Hades and he has to fight against the very devil who gave him/her a chance for revenge - to either redeem the PC him/herself and all the other vengeful souls, or to usurp the Keeper and replace him as the might power on the Planes. Aye, it was all mapped out. Even finally meeting Gork's dead Brother Spirit... (Gork was going to die, but his spirit find rest, so when the PC arrived in Hades, Brother Spirit was there waiting to help him/her).

There wasn't time. As much as I wanted to, this was too unwieldy a beast, and my free time was sapped. So I left the toolset alone. But it never leaves you alone, I find. Anything can be a trigger for a "I wonder if I could do/mimic/use that in a module...?" moment. But I needed a way of working that would allow me to still build with the toolset, and indulge this drug-like habit that modding can be.

So, I took to picking up bits an pieces of old areas, resusing them, dabbling in the prefabs on the vault. Picking mini-projects like the Cormyr Overland Map to try and get more content out there. And slowly, picking the odd hour's time on the toolset here and there, things began to piece together. And the germ of a simple idea took hold. The biggest time sinks in the toolset are area building and writing. So, let's not do either...

Doesn't sound like much of a prospect huh? Not quite from the Azenn school of self-deprecation but getting there. But it underpinned what I thought I wanted to do with the toolset. Something that harks back to pen-and-paper D&D sessions. Exploration and player interaction. I wanted to create a multiplayer (or single player party creation) sandbox game.

So, I started piecing things together. I'd learnt the basics of an overland map, I had a broad array of prefabs to exploit, there was some custom content itching to be used. Now I needed a framework to hang it on.

The Legacy of White Plume Mountain

White Plume Mountain was a classic D&D module (9th all time greatest according to some list that was probably made up), and brought some key archetypes to the game - the legendary sword Blackrazor, some devious traps and tricks in the dungeon that were soon aped in other products and became staple DM challenges. That said, for me it's also a bit pants. The set up is fine, with some crazed wizard clearly up to no good and puling the strings behind the scenes. But you never meet him. You never get to have that showdown, the evil monologue and exposition to explain everything, then, most importantly, stick him with a sword. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and as was the way with classic D&D modules, there wasn't always this detail included (supposedly to allow DMs to be creative, and fit the module into their own campaigns, but I've always a had a more cynical view that it was just never thought out like that).

What fewer people know is that there are two sequels to White Plume Mountain. The imaginatively named Return to White Plume Mountain, a real mind-fark of a module in terms of what, by-the-book, it does to the PCs, published as a D&D 25th anniversary product, and the staple let's-screw-over-the-players PC killer dungeon Ex Kerpatis Cum Amore published in Dragon magazine (issue 77, folks). Again, the arch villain behind the scenes is still so behind the scenes he's barely noticable.

So, desperate to know more after that dissection of the modules, I bet? Is this his module announcement I hear my one reader (Hello Mum!) cry? Well, it boils down to what makes WPM so fondly remembered - the exploration and the interaction of the players. And what I had time to build - modular dungeons, each room a self-contained puzzle/encounter. I had a lot of WPM crafted already from dabbling in the toolset. And as I picked my way along in my spare moments, it began to take shape into something more concrete.

So, what is the Legacy of White Plume Mountain that I'm working on? It's a retelling/reimagining of the three White Plume Mountain products into one campaign, the campaign I would have run as DM to string these modules together, to be played single player with party creation, or multiplayer, with a main plot the player can choose to ignore whilst they explore the region using an Overland Map looking for trouble. Multiplayer, sandbox. I've relocated the mountain from Greyhawk to Faerun, placing it on the border of the Serpent Hills and High Moor, which fits quite nicely given the geography of the WPM map included in the original module. No companions, although the Dark Avenger companions will make a reappearance in some form; as much as I enjoyed writing for the companions in the DA series, in this format, it's very time consuming and a cutscene every few paces to discuss how bizarre old-school D&D dungeons are would get a bit repetitive. And companion driven story wasn't what I'm looking to achieve here - another time sink I can't afford. But there is party skill use in- and out of dialogue - I've tried to make this quite important and to add flavour to skilled (but dialogue-impaired) party members. Search and Search mode will actually be important. Something in the region of 15 sidequests, all a little more elaborate than the 1 area distractions of the SoZ overland map. Heavy use/adaption/modification of prefabs and inclusion of custom content. Crafting included. Aiming to be in testing around Christmas/early next year, assuming playing Dragon Age doesn't distract me too much.
I'd been wary about mentioning this knowing how things can go despite the best of intentions, but I'd given myself to the end of October to get thigns in shape, and all main plot areas are done and 70% scripted, so it feels like a home stretch now. Sidequests are a different matter, and area basics are there but need more work. I've been fortunate enough to have Amraphael's help on some areas for these, and some screenies of his contributions are below.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Looking back there seem to be a lot of mushrooms

As I've hinted at, I've been dabbling with an idea, which if things progress as they have been, I'll announce soon (ie if last area finished by end of month...). Something that fits in with a building pattern based on only having limited toolset time, and reusing areas/ideas from other (abortive) projects. Work/wedding planning got pretty hectic, so a plan based on occasional 30 minutes toolset time here and there was needed. Had a quick run through areas over the weekend using the DM Client, which is a handy way of quickly seeing how things look in game, and quite happy with the result. And yes, an efreeti model has come in handy... Some screenies below. More mushrooms than I remembered, but there is a reason...