Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mini-Campaign Told in Sketches

Remember the days before Facebook and Flickr when your Aunt Gladys would drag out the photo album and plop it on your lap, pinning you firmly to the sofa?  It was part of the ritual of recounting her trip to Albuquerque -- the pictures were grainy, celluloid vestments.

So hopefully this isn't that ... then again, maybe there was something to be said for Aunt Gladys and her efforts to become, if only for an afternoon, a raconteur par excellence ... discovering the frame of a narrative out of so many collected, disparate moments.  Come to think of it, Aunt Gladys had the makings of a heck of a GM ...

Anyway, I'm a sucker for artifacts of actual play.  Nothing thrills me quite like some of those old issues of (The) Dragon Magazine in which you can catch the occasional hint about the shenanigans of Sir Robilar and friends in Castle Greyhawk back in that great-granddaddy of all D&D campaigns.  An actual map like this one is practically the Holy Grail:

One of Gary's own maps; read about it here among other places
I still keep old character sheets from my past campaigns and even some tactical maps too -- I have stats for Bluewater, Zoltan, Utusi, Wolf, Blam!, and Arnold squirreled away and ready against the day that all my old high school buddies suddenly reappear at my doorstep, ready to game after a 25 year hiatus.

Maybe my penchant for hanging onto old campaign artifacts is what caused me to pause as I was cleaning up after my two-week Adventure Games Summer Enrichment Camp.  Flipping back through the tactical maps and sketches that our 40-odd hours of play had generated over the days just prior, I saw something evocative on those sheets of lined chart paper ... this wasn't the adventure itself, but was certainly an echo of the excitement that we'd discovered together down in the dungeon.

Pieced together chronologically, these images, all generated during actual play, form a record of the adventures and misadventures of 16 players, brand new to this most peculiar hobby:

The mouth of The Black Canyon
with the edge of the old croc pool just to the north.
It looked like a good place to start.
In the secret tunnel west of the canyon,
a new friend: a knight left behind
when he was infected by a horrible fungus.

Ernie the Elf tried to help the lost knight
by cutting the slabs of fungal growth off,
but he had lost some things along the way
(not least of all his mind).

The quicksand grotto still held
the moldering carcass of the ankheg. 

Ernie dragged his new friend along with him
as he explored northward
and found the garden of the Yellow Musk Creepers

Ernie took something extra with him
when he left.

Meanwhile white apes tangled
with another part of the expedition.
Look! A tooth!

Beyond the apes, ants.
Notice Vance the Wizard in the lower left.
Hang on tight, Vance!

Badly bitten and shoved into a larder,
Vance and Sir Matthew crawled through
the ant tunnels, seeking an escape.
Instead they found the queen.

Elsewhere, masked pygmies added excitement
and quaint, local flavor to the morning constitutional. 

Once provided with full bellies, however,
the pygmies soon became acquiescent.
Dwarf barbecue, complete with pineapple, shown lower left

Down in the crater floor,
a quick-eyed elf noticed the cone-shape mounds of debris move.
They were carefully avoided thereafter,
but their mystery was never revealed.

The ancient houses and courtyards of the merchants quarter
formed the sprawling maze that explorers dubbed "The Labyrinth."

The gold on the bottom of the pool caught the eye,
until the serpent-woman rose from the water.
Beware her gaze!

Ernie the Elf met his end, not under the talons of monsters,
but by the blade of an ensorcelled comrade.
Of course, the Yellow Musk spores in his blood
meant that Ernie would continue on in a sort of shadow-life.

The Skull Gate gave access to the Temple Plaza and a chance for treasure,
but what's this?  Twist the right skull and a secret door opens!

Why was there a barrel in the mouth
of the secret tunnel?
And what was the acrid liquid inside?
And why was there a sponge on a stick?
Perhaps we should just go a different direction.
The image on the ancient,
bronze portals
hinted that this
may not be such a nice place
to visit after all. 

It was a cheat! Beneath their robes,
the acolytes were not women at all.

Better to use magic and bring the ceiling crashing down,
than see the thing that the acolytes had called up out of the sacrificial well!

What ancient deities were these,
so boldly displayed along the Avenue of the Gods?

Inside the foot of
The Fallen Colossus,
the hermit gave no guidance
as to which box was the right choice.
Hale the Elf decided to trust his luck.

The crystalline spider from the right box.
Was it worth the cost? 

Can you believe the luck?
The explorers returned to the exact same ruined hovel
where Victoria had hid all that treasure a year before.
Another couple yards and they would have found it too!

The sphinx conceals the entrance to a dungeon.
Mind that the counterweight doesn't hit you
when the door is triggered.

The chamber rotates, so how to deduce
which tunnels have already been explored?

Three enigmatic faces,
protruding from the stone wall,
 uttered phrases in an unknown language.
Were they warnings?  A curse?  A trick?

And there you have it -- our first week of adventure, as seen through the sketches and notes generated during actual play.

If you play (you really should play, you know) what kind of artifacts does your group generate during their role-playing sessions?

Do you keep these notes, sketches, or what-have-you, or just have a quick chuckle over them and then send them off to the recycling bin for reincarnation?

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