Tuesday, April 8, 2014

About OA6 "Ronin's Challenge" (1990)

The victory of Beatriss and Tetsukichi in Tempat Larang marked the end of my use of OA6 Ronin's Challengeover a three-year span!  It’s not a great module, but it’s very useful in some ways, and given that I may have spent more time with it than anyone, I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to make it useful to you.  After all, it’s a freedownload.

Background, specific to my campaign:  My use of the module began when Gwinch received the mission from the Emperor to track down the rogue General who he’d sent to deal with a rogue Governor.  After about a year-- and no word from Gwinch-- the Emperor decided he needed a cat to catch the birds he sent to catch the spider sent to catch the fly . . . and he called on Tetsukichi.  Both Gwinch and Tetsukichi were supported by other PCs and NPCs.

 The geographic area of the adventure is enormous, comprising a series of valleys based on real world cultures across Southeast Asia from Yunnan Province China to Indochina (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam) to Indonesia.  The physical scale of the adventure might not be quite as large as its real-world model, but it is close.  These valleys are roughly 100 miles wide and choked with jungles and swamp.  In dealing with the question of how adventurers could have any practical hope of crossing such a wilderness in pursuit of their goal, the adventure relies rather heavily on plot coupons—there’s a chance encounter with a sultan who tells them a story about a pirate trapped in a tomb, and if the pirate is released he tells them about such-in-such . . . .  It’s a sandbox that assumes DMs will build a railroad.  There are other ways to give the adventurers a way to pursue their quest without waiting for things to fall into their lap. I made the following decisions:

Many of the people the PCs encountered had a stake in their quest, because the mini-war between the General and the Governor was something that affected their lives.  The adventure includes a good way of stitching everything together, but doesn’t develop it properly.  There are some allusions in the random encounter tables to the fact that the rogue general and the rogue governor, each with his own army played a cat-and-mouse game across this area, and that the adventurers should encounter ruined villages and burned fields.  But this is treated as just background material.  As I ran it, when the PCs arrive at a large town (Pasar), there were able to find people there who encountered these armies, and can give some insight into what they were trying to do and what they might have been looking for. 
The devastation caused by the Governor and General created lots of potential adversaries for anyone else passing through.  The adventure also has a weird sub-plot about one of the Emperor’s advisers sending her own men to spy on the PCs (following them over hundreds of miles!).  Instead, I reasoned that deserters from the armies had set up shop as slavers and marauders throughout the region.  So rather than simple encounters, I had good material for developing side adventurers.  This also broke up the slog of “the longest backpacking trip ever,” but without taking away from the feeling that it was a grueling, dangerous journey.  Plus they were another, more natural source of information that propelled the PCs forward in their quest.

Underground shortcuts are at least half of what makes D&D great.  The adventure includes one labyrinthine mini-dungeon.  It had a cool atmosphere, being flooded with slightly acidic water that the adventurers had to navigate with miniature canoes.  But the individual encounters, beyond the swimming zombies, started to pall after a while.  Later groups of PCs found other ways to pass through the same mountains.  Some of the tournament modules, with their gauntlet-style series of challenging puzzles and encounters were very useful to me here. 

The various ancient buildings with cool powers and useful information are all located in Tempat Larang.   As written, the adventurers should discover a library, and observatory, and a shrine before they arrive at the climatic encounter in Tempat Larang.  There are a couple reasons why this wroks better in a movie or video game better than in an RPG.  First, in passive media, the protagonists' progress from one far-flung location to another just happens.  There might be obstacles along the way, but the audience doesn't notice that the protagonists rarely have to stop and ask for directions.  In an RPG, the automatic scene-shifting feels more jarring and contrived.  Forcing PCs to figure out where they want to go and how to get there adds depth, but can become tedious, so it's good to have just one final destination rather than several.  Second in movies/graphics-based games, the visual element comes cheap and can compensate for deficiencies in other areas.  In RPGs, the big challenge is helping everyone visualize the surroundings.   I wanted this ancient ruled capital to feel like an ancient ruined capital and to do that I needed buildings.  I used some other modules, including Faster Monkey’s Mor, to develop the layout of the larger city.

Run the climatic encounter as it’s written.  It feels a lot like a video game—the PCs take turns controlling a spirit dragon, with a dizzying selection of magic powers, while their enemy— after each “defeat”— takes on a new, more fearsome form, until it’s finally destroyed.  It was really fun for everyone.

(As a side point, the martial arts tournament has no meaningful connection to the rest of the adventure.  It's just a way for  the Emperor to take notice of the PCs.  Their main rival in the tournament has a shadowy backstory and he pops up throughout the rest of the adventure, giving one the sense that he has some interest in the tournament beyond the obvious.  But it seems that he just really wanted to win that martial arts tournament and that's it.) 

No comments:

Post a Comment