Nov 7, 2021

Burrow of the Ratman, or My Feeble Attempt At Doing A 1E Rat-Themed Adventure (part 1)

At the time of me writing this, there's a adventure design contest going on over at B/X BLACKRAZOR called "Out of the Sewer".

(By the time you're reading this, it's probably over!)

I'm not participating - I don't have the time or the skills - but I will make a shot at it here in this post, describing my thought process along the way, since the contest touches on some things I've been thinking about lately. And sometimes it's more interesting to read about choices than the end result.

So, JB (the author of the blog) had some rules for the contest:

  • Rat-themed
  • Written for a particular D&D system
  • Written for a particular level range
  • Include a mapped dungeon of no less than 12 keyed areas

As a side-note - and this may only be because of some filter bubble on my part - I feel like during the last 1-2 years or so, there's been more writing about 1E/AD&D, and/or stuff about the importance of weight of coins and what that entails, exploration, etc etc., with blog posts such as Classic Vs. Treasure.

(Ok, that was only one, and that post isn't awfully old, but anyway!)

For me, with no experience with AD&D at all (even though I own all the "core" books from DMG to that Wilderness-book), it just feels interesting to dig into this almost scientifically. I'll try to explain!

A warning

This post will be unfocused as hell. This is like you and me listening to my brain reasoning about stuff it doesn't know anything about.
I'll try and break it up with the occasional rat doodle here and there.

How to start, or How not to start

Well, I've entered the One Page Dungeon Contest a couple of times (even won once!), but those were system agnostic (or very much "just a map and an idea, hope you have a good DM"). I figure if I were to design a 1E adventure, I needed to do it more "system focused", which meant digging into the books.

So in my head, there's currently these things spinning around, gathered from various places:

  • Rats
  • Gold for XP
  • Coins have weight
  • Things in a dungeon are weighted in gold
  • Weight/gold ratio

I presume that each one of these items will give birth to additional stuff to consider - stuff that seasonal adventure designers do by heart without thinking - so like a rat I just started burrowing myself into the first one: rats.

Rats, or Everything Really

So I know that in a rat-themed adventure there needs to be some sort of connection to rats, obviously. But since I at this point didn't have any clear motif to my adventure, I just looked up "Rat" in the Monster Manual (pg. 81), because:

  • If I was going to do this systematically, I must assume that "monsters" are more than something to 1) encounter, and 2) hit, and I can't assume anything about a 1E rat

Even though I've never played a 1E game before, I've flipped through these books enough times to know that the stat block is packed with information - all of which must mean something. So I couldn't just throw in a bunch of rats in a dungeon doodle because:

  • How strong is one rat?
  • What can a rat in 1E do?
  • Or rather: what does a 1E DM expect of a 1E rat?

If you've done any programming, let me tell you that this adventure design project started to feel like recursive parsing; for every item discovered, two more were discovered and queued up for reading.

Anyway, reading the entry for "Rat, Giant (Sumatran)" gave me the following:

  • 1-4 HP (I guess 2 HP in average), 5-50 appearing
    •  This is were my lack of 1E knowledge starts to show: would this mean that if I put in 5 rats in my little dungeon, I should on one very basic level think of that as a 5*2=10 HP monster? Naturally, 5 rats will spread out etc. etc., but in terms of strength vis-à-vis a player? Meaning I should count backwards from this:
      • What kind of player can defeat a 10 HP monster without much trouble?
      • What about AC? Assume a tiny single rat with 1 HP but in plate mail with a shield? Or a enormous rat with 50 HP and basically no AC?
  • They keep close to graveyards, so that they may feed on newly buried bodies
    • ("Their burrows honeycomb many graveyards, ..." - I'm certainly not an expert on the English language, but that's how I interpret that archaic sentence at least)
  • Hates fire!
    • That I knew! Thank you, George Lucas
  • Likes to swim!
    • That I knew! Thank you, duck pond close to my home
  • Avoids attacking strong parties, unless commanded by creatures such as wererats or vampires

That last bullet item gave me some ideas; should the adventure revolve around vampires? Or wererats? And what about character levels, should I fire up Google Sheets and start doing graphs so that everything is calculated correctly, like doing taxes?

The math made my head hurt, but I actually had an adventure idea now. But before we go into that, another rat doodle:

Stop thinking about rats, or The first puzzle

Since I'm a bear with a very small brain, I needed to stop thinking about AC/HP and their friends (sounds like a AC/DC tribute band). So I took my trusty notepad and pen, sat down and started thinking: treasures and their placement are vital, so maybe start there? Design the adventure bottom-up? Start with a single atom and build layers around it?

Start with a single simple treasure.

Well, I started thinking about the weight/gold ratio; coins found in a dungeon are easy to carry but don't give much of experience, so turning that around should give the premise for my basic puzzle: small item, worth a lot, weighs a lot:

  • Small means it's easy to carry (not bulky)
  • Worth a lot means the players wants it (e.g. they will pursue it, even if it's hard to reach)
  • Weighs a lot means...well, this is just part of the puzzle, if used right

Maybe if I placed a tiny figurine, heavy as hell, worth a lot, on the other side of some bottomless body of water - it's easy for the players to get over the water, but harder to leave with the figurine since they may drop it on the way over.


Here's a initial sketch in Swedish I made (point 1 being the heavy figurine):

So maybe there once was a crude rope bridge across a deep shaft, and on the other side, a extremely valuable figurine on a pedestal. But then something flooded the halls, and the bridge collapsed.


Wrapping it up, or Ending a post just because it's late

I think I'll stop here for now. In part 2 I'll explain what point 2 in the sketch above means, and maybe list some keywords that popped up in this post ("collapsed bridge" etc.) and build something around them.

Until next time!

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