Thursday, October 16, 2014

Writing for OSR

As a apparent "writer" I sometimes find it hard to stop the darn railroad!   Looking back at AD&D Dragonlance modules, there are very specific goals in mind, and in some cases there are "what to do/trouble shooting" sections within modules to make sure you continue on ye old railroad.

Looking further back at older modules like Keep On The Borderlands, I realize that the entire module was left completely, or atleast fairly open ended.  It takes until the end of the module to realize that there is a evil cult that is not only controlling things in the cave, but also in the keep as well. Obviously some players may never realize this, some players might even team up with the cult and help with any degenerate behavior that they have planned.

From a GMing stand point, I grew up with and wrote adventures for AFF (advanced fighting fantasy), which was all based around a slight railroad and "scenes" within each module, the gist of which was you ended up rooting for the PC's to finish the adventure, and the campaign grew from there (pathfinder anyone?).

I am starting to believe that in order to write really good material for the OSR and GM's you need to give plenty of options, and possibilities and basically let the dice fall where they may, to coin a phrase.  The problem is the conundrum of "this is how I see it and how it would be fairly epic, ie RAILROAD" vs "well here is a bunch of dungeons stocked with monsters, I won't give you any more details on why they are there and what they are doing".

Within the writing I am currently doing on the enormity project, I have created factions , various hints along the way, and I have started to consider, although it may not happen a section entitled "well its not necessarily a railroad, but here's the plot just in case".

I do believe however that tying the GM and or players hands is a bad idea, so I am trying to figure out the best way to walk the line of "here is what is going on" and "here's your free will, do with it what you may".


  1. I think perhaps what might work and what you may try to implement is to provide multiple open ended plotlines in a dungeon. I find this works well in my Castle Triskelion. For example, there are the paintings that come to life, the bird headed men and the mystery behind them, the paladin and his evil twin, the strange dwarves and their deal, the ghoul cult, the giant grey worm cult, etc.

    That way players can choose which clues they want to follow - or not.

    1. Thanks, I have been considering that as well. I have a detailed section so far of the current factions within the dungeon. Some of which are warring against each other, so there is an option of the PC's helping either side, or just disregarding it. That and the fact that there's going to be about 10 to 12 maps, I think it should hopefully feel less like a railroad.

  2. You can also just have mysteries. Two good ideas are long-haul puzzles and follow-the-leader. In a long haul puzzle you are trying to assemble or figure out a mystery scattered over a dungeon. For example: the PCs find a chess piece knight, then in another totally different area, a bishop, etc. Pretty soon they want to put the set together to find out what happens if they do.

    In follow-the-leader the PCs find clues left behind by a previous master delver. Grodog mentions this at his site. The clues pop up in the strangest of places "Kilroy was here". Pretty soon the PCs want to find out who this guy or girl was and meet them.

  3. The beauty is that they are not railroads. The PCs are free to ignore the master delver's writings or to sell off the valuable chess pieces piecemeal without caring about assembling the whole thing. The PCs are given choice and the megadungeon has more flavor and depth.

  4. Those are great ideas! I'll keep them in mind. I did have an idea about some keys that are located thruout the dungeon. The one thing I need to keep in mind with the maps, is to make sure there are more options than one. On every map there needs to be more than one way to leave, so that it doesn't railroad the players to go to specific locations.