Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hurts So Good!

Adventure modules these days tend to get poked with the ugly end of the ugly stick.

That was me writing about adventure modules somewhere online this morning, and it's sad but true. Out there in the gaming community not only are adventure modules despised but it's seen as cool to despise them. As if real GM's not only refuse to eat quiche but they also go it alone when it comes to running their adventures, often making it up as they go along. I don't have a problem with this, but as someone who grew up loving adventure modules, often far more than the books which ran the games themselves, it does sadden me somewhat.

I think that people forget just how monumental these titles were. How just the mere mention of Tomb of Horrors or Hall of the Fire Giant King could leave a player quaking in ones Keds. The monsters were ancillary to the adventures themselves and if you survived an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks then bragging rights were yours. If you could find my old Star Frontiers Volturnus modules you would find the phrase "Solved and Conquered" written on the inside cover, presumably as a reminder to myself that they had been played and were not to be played again, but more likely just as a flat out brag to whoever happened to find them. Like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters - "We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!" - it was just a very 80's thing to do.

And I don't think I was alone in this. It may explain the fun-house-like nature of early gaming modules. White Plume Mountain and Ghost Tower of Inverness are two of the goofiest most non-sensical adventures ever written, but man were they fun to run on a snowy afternoon. It wasn't about character. It wasn't about story arcs. It wasn't about scrabbling together experience points and leveling up. It was about getting together with your friends and accomplishing mighty feats of valor. It was the same mentality which during the summertime would send us swarming towards theme parks, looking to ride the worst roller coasters we could find, seeing who could take the hyperbollic twists and turns and drops and still keep three corn dogs stuffed in ones gullet. Even when you did puke you still felt strangely better about yourself for doing so.

Another aspect often overlooked with modules is the matter of antagonism. Don't get me wrong. There were fights. We're talking Junior High, Dungeons & Dragons, and the early 80's. You'd have to remove all three of these aspects to not have a fight break out. With a few notable exceptions aside we were pretty good about it. Not too many fights happened, and when they did they were usually about the rules and not the adventures themselves. Although the GM or DM was often there as an antagonistic force, when things went seriously sour the module was to blame. Don't hate the DM. Hate Gary Gygax. He's the one who wrote most of this stuff. And it worked! Some of the time.

Boxed text designed to be read aloud when the players enter a room is another boon from the past which is about as sexy these days as a pair of over-sized granny panties. People seem to think that if you have half a brain you should be able to pull something as good or better out of it. Granted, a lot of bad writing went into those text boxes, yet at the same time I think they gave us a certain liberty which you don't get with ad-libbing. Freedom from self-consciousness as well as words which are there but taking their sweet time getting around to ones mouth.

Now I'm so much older. I haven't played an adventure module since the 21st century began. And the adventures have gotten better, more intelligent, less gamey, and with fewer characters who are simply pack-mules for magic items named "Bob1" and "Bob2" and "Bob4" (there was no Bob3 because we were cool like that).

Still, like John Cougar Mellencamp I do long for those young boy days with a module like I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, or X4 Master of the Desert Nomads. Talk about hurting so good!