From the archives: Immersing players in the fictional world I’ve created
Please forgive the lateness! Work related road trip hasn’t afforded me too much free time. That being said, here is a little something from my personal blog from February about the trials and tribulations of me becoming a DM.
Normally I don’t post about D&D here, but I thought I’d throw out stuff I have been working through as I DM my first campaign in a long time, and my first 4E game that has not been a one-shot.
Though I have a fair amount of time on my hands, I usually find it challenging to devote a large amount of it to designing adventures for my group. The problem is that we are playing in a world of my own making, and when I create new things I am compelled to have some sort of backstory behind them. I also try to see any potential story threads that I can grab on to in the future to pull the campaign forward as my players continue to become sure of their footing in the realm of 4E’s rules.
Initially, when I sat down to present the world to my players before the campaign started, I decided to use a language not present in any of the D&D references as a sort of ancient common tongue, from which many locations are named and the common tongue came from. I had developed a fair amount of the language on my own a long while ago, but determined that I would not be able to build enough of it to flesh out my world sufficiently without a much greater effort. So I turned to other sources.
Elvish? Too overdone. Esperanto? No thanks. Old Norse? Not the feeling that I wanted to channel. I ended up settling on D’ni, a crafted language initially created for use in the universe of the Myst games. It was uncommon enough that most of my players would not have seen it, and it would save me quite a bit of time world building. Another reason why I chose it was the size of ‘known’ vocabulary. There is a good amount of words to draw from when crafting names and such, but there is also a lot that I can get away with in terms of invention.
With that complete, we kicked off the campaign, which until now has consisted of a lot of standard combat with very little player choice. We are all learning, but it has become quite a bit stale at this point, and with us having our first session in nearly a month, I thought something different might be a worthy challenge. So I set about building an evening’s session with a focus on exploration and puzzle solving in a ruin. I won’t go into the details of the session at large, just the puzzle which I was particularly proud of.
The party is given a simple riddle in the course of their exploration, and solving it reveals the true puzzle. The riddle itself is printed in the (badly butchered) D’ni which I have appropriated from a few sources. The player characters, at least the more knowledgeable ones, know the script used, as it is a common form of writing, though the language depicted is different from their modern tongue. Some can puzzle out a few words using their years of study in the form of skill checks. With the knowledge, the players are presented with letters and sounds that correspond to a fair amount of the printed words in the riddle.
Eventually, via skill checks and deduction, they solve the riddle of the riddle, revealing the text of the puzzle to the party. After solving the riddle, another question is revealed, as well as the key to solving it in six more pieces of of text. Using the bits they have uncovered, they piece together the meaning of the new text. Once they recite it correctly after using their out of game brains, with occasional clues provided by skill checks, an almost Indiana Jones like sequence begins and more about their current location is revealed.
At the conclusion of this puzzle and of the session, it seems like my players had become invigorated, looking forward to next week as an adventure, and not as a combat sim. To me, as a long out of practice DM, it was extremely satisfying. With the use of a couple of red herrings to keep the puzzle a but trickier than it really was, as well as trying to enforce a steady tempo in their exploration, the tension increased and drew everyone into the world I had created.
Now, with the secret of the ruin they were exploring revealed, next week has potential to be even better. That is a different challenge though, to be dealt with in due time. I suppose the moral here is that building puzzles steeped in the lore of the world, which also inform players more about the history of things rather than just being a means to an end are a satisfying and fun way of getting players engaged in a world they might not have fully jumped in to yet.