Adventure Design: Robber’s Bridge

Pont Valentré

Let’s make an adventure together. We’re going to take this bit by bit and I hope it will be an interactive process.

We’ll start with the process from the Adventure Design chapter in Torchbearer. I’ll provide my answers, but I’m looking to you to jump in with your own ideas. Nothing is set in stone yet. I’m giving this adventure the working title Robber’s Bridge. We’ll consider final titles later in the process.

Feel free to add your suggestions in this handy form. I’ll choose the best ones (or maybe even do a poll) to build out our adventure.

Imagine an adventure location

The first step is to imagine an adventure location. The image above is the Pont Valentré1There’s an amusing legend about the construction of the bridge in the Wikipedia entry. Check it out! It may inspire some of your suggestions for the adventure., a six-span fortified stone arch bridge across the Lot River to the west of Cahors, France. The bridge has three square towers (one at each end and one in the middle).

Let’s use this as inspiration. Our adventure location will be a ruined bridge castle. It’s fallen into disrepair and is no longer used for its intended purpose. Perhaps one or more spans have collapsed and no one today has the knowledge and/or the will to repair it? Our location doesn’t have to look exactly like this, though it could. We’re just using the image as a jumping-off point. Let your imagination lead the way.

What was the original purpose of the location?

The bridge was built to fortify the river crossing and enable the collection of tolls. While built with an eye to military purposes, toll collection was the primary purpose. The bridge is just wide enough for two wagons to pass abreast with a little room to spare. The fortified towers ensured that only those who paid the toll could enter the bridge, while the central tower allowed the defenders to close off each side of the bridge independently and rain missile fire down on attackers.

Who inhabited the adventure location originally?

I want to set this adventure in the Middarmark, in which stone fortifications of this sort are very rare. Dwarves could make something like this, of course. The Grælings were once quite close to the dwarves and may have been taught the secrets behind such engineering, though they would have been lost long ago. And we know the legendary Jarl Mærg the Mighty of Lost Mærgdal was enamored of stone fortifications. Or maybe it was a place of ancient, advanced humans like the Ylfarings? Perhaps the elves? Or giants?

My initial inclination is that it was a place of humans from a time when their knowledge was greater, but what do you think? Who made this place? Where was it? What happened to it?

What do the characters want to recover at the adventure location?

What would make the players interested in exploring this forlorn place? My first thought is that a bandit-lord has made the bridge his or her base and is using it to collect and protect treasure and other ill-gotten goods. Perhaps they’ve taken prisoners? Or some other precious object? Maybe a spell book or important relic?

But you tell me what you think is there. Why would the PCs go there?

Why has the adventure location not been plundered already?

If the bandits are using the broken bridge as a base, then whatever ancient treasures that were there have been plundered. But there’s lots of new treasure there due to the bandits’ activities. No one has plundered the plunderers. Yet. Or maybe there’s a secret treasury or vault in the structure that no one has discovered yet? If so, what has kept it hidden?

Who or what inhabits the adventure location now?

My first thought is that human and goblin bandits are using it as their lair these days. Perhaps pirates from the Brotherhood of Plunder, though they tend to confine their activities to Jeilirdal. Maybe a similar group? Something else entirely? I’m imagining this as a low-level adventure, but maybe you want more potent adversaries?

Let’s stop there. Once I’ve gathered your input on the above questions we can start to think about how the new inhabitants have altered the ruin and the types of traps and terrain the PCs might encounter.

Evolving the Dread Crypt: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Skogenby Barrow by Rebekah Bennington

Last week, I wrote about NPCs I’ve added to the village of Skogenby to help bring it to life. This week we’ll use those NPCs and some material already in The Dread Crypt of Skogenby to update the adventure as Haathor-Vash’s plans take shape.

Note: The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the adventure.

The idea here is to create the feeling of a dynamic world that changes around the PCs. Some of those changes will be in reaction to the players’ actions, but the rest will be the result of antagonists and other NPCs advancing their agendas.

As a GM, this should be a relatively straightforward process: Between adventures, take stock of what your various important characters are up to (including PCs’ family, friends, mentors and enemies) and determine whether they’ve advanced their agendas or not. If they have advanced their agendas, note the consequences. That’s it. Simple, right? Let’s take a look at Skogenby.

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Evolving the Dread Crypt: Bringing Skogenby to (un)life

Over the past several weeks I’ve alluded several times to my ‘evolution’ of The Dread Crypt of Skogenby. For the next several posts I plan to take a deeper dive into the details of that evolution to give you an example of how you might evolve your own adventures.

To set the stage, I need to first tell you about how I updated the adventure. I wanted my players to invest in Skogenby as a place, maybe even choose to come from the village, so I fleshed it out a little bit.

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Prepackaged and Individually Portioned

The Light of Civilization Flickers by Russ Nicholson

One of the biggest challenges Torchbearer GMs face is creating dungeons or choosing published dungeons (especially if they weren’t specifically written with Torchbearer in mind).

I highly recommend crafting your own dungeons if you have the time. It’s fun! The Adventure Design chapter can help make it a snap, too! But you don’t need to shy away from published adventures, even from other games. They’ll make your life easier.

Whether you choose to make your own or use a prepackaged adventure, you’ll get the best results if you play to Torchbearer’s strengths.

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Way Down in the Hole

Castle Erobring by Kurt Komoda

As a Torchbearer GM, your job is to create opportunities for players to make choices.

The communities you’ve placed on your map have problems! Not only do they face the possibility of real-world horrors like natural disasters, war and plague, the lands surrounding them are filled with goblins, dragons and evil enchanters. The dungeons and hazardous locations on your map won’t just exist in isolation (for the most part), they’ll create direct and indirect threats to the settlements on your map, and the people in those places will notice!

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Starting Fresh Pt. 2

Last week I wrote about creating the map for my new campaign. Finishing the map (for now) wasn’t the end of my prep for this campaign, of course. Before I could even think about prepping the dungeons, I had to get down some details important to character creation.

The first thing I did was give each of the settlements on the map their own skills and traits so the players could choose for their characters to come from those places. In a pinch, I could have just used the templates from the core book. Asktoft could just be a Busy Crossroads. But this is an opportunity to give the place its own character and feel.

For instance, here’s Asktoft:

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Starting Fresh

Hello friends!

As I noted in my last post, I started a new Torchbearer game a few weeks ago. I’ve subjected this particular group to a number of playtests of new adventures recently, all of which have ended in TPKs. They’ve been good sports, but they were ready to commit to something longer term (with the hopes of actually surviving a dungeon or two).

For my part, I wanted to get back to Torchbearer’s roots. One of the key ideas in my head when I first started working on the game was the idea of a map that would start with just a few locations and then grow over time as the group explored it and new details were added. That’s the core idea behind the Prepare Thyself chapter in the book.

I decided that we would start the game in the Middarmark, specifically in the Gottmark of the far north because it’s been unexplored territory in our games so far. I went to my Middarmark map and selected the boxed part of the map below. Specifically, I think it’s the little saddle between the mountain in the southwest portion of the map and the hills above it.

For me, the hardest part of making any map is where to start. I often find that picking an anchor geography point or points helps get me going. Part of what drew me to the section of the Middarmark map I chose is that big mountain at the top of the box. I chose that as my anchor point. I also know that I want to include Highwater (the port city from The Secret Vault of the Queen of Thieves). We’ll put it somewhere on the coast, though probably not on the initial map. That’s my second anchor point.

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