Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Underwater Plans

As I climb out of my cloud of recent illness, taking note that I haven't done any real work on my world in about eight days ~ a horribly long time, enough for me to feel parched for completion like a man struggling to get the top of a canteen in the desert ~ I'm looking at things I need to be doing.

Some readers may notice that I have not talked about my book in a long time.  Allow me to reassure the readers: I am still working on it.  Just now it has been difficult, as the job I'm working has been physically trying (I have lost nearly 25 lbs. of weight in just 55 days), leaving me with little strength at the end of the day for digging in and getting good work done.  At least I am earning an income.  Losing weight, however, has meant less stress on my feet, less pain at the end of the day and ~ thankfully ~ an overall better fitness that I am rather enjoying (when I'm not deathly ill).  These last two months have shown how physically fit I am, since I am feeling none of the ill effects of dropping a lot of weight, while actually looking younger for having done so.  This comes from a lifetime of never smoking, never doing drugs, drinking but not to the point of drunkedness and being blessed with having a lot of natural energy.

Steadily, the words per week on the book have been climbing, so good news there.  In time, this thing will be finished and off my back; I have no desire to rush it.  I thought I would have it done four months ago but, well, these things will be done when they are.  I apologize to anyone who feels they are waiting overlong for the results of the Spring 2016 fundraiser.

I expect to spend my less cerebral moments working on the thieves' sage abilities that got interrupted last week when I found myself laying in bed when not dragging my half-dead carcass three times to work before finally giving in and calling in sick.  I wouldn't hesitate to call in sick with a proper office job, but just now I am working among the morlocks and on this level, daring to admit the limitations of humanity is generally seen as weak and therefore disposable.  I started working on the sage abilities because of beginning my world again (cancelled this last Saturday), interrupting the creation of my British Isles map to do so.  I thought I might try a little mapmaking tonight or tomorrow.

And my thoughts are moving towards the adventure I described last week, which is expected to eventually become an underwater adventure.  Here and there for a few days I've been reading boards and blog posts about people running underwater adventures and I must say the prognosis for finding practical rules that I can steal for my campaign are not good.

See, I have never ~ in 37 years of running as a DM ~ run any underwater campaign.  This has been the result of two principle causes.  The first cause has been that there are no systematic or complete rules in existence for running underwater adventures that I have ever been able to find in all the years I've been searching.  Every single system I've encountered is woefully short on practical boundaries on movement or combat, made worse by the fact that water is a 3-D environment.  I have seen some very silly things on the net of late claiming that "water combat is just like aerial combat!" ~ a ridiculous claim, since water doesn't function like air in the least way imaginable.  Weapons in water do not work like weapons in the air, water currents are much stronger than air currents while gravity acts very differently as humanoid bags of meat tend to float, not fall.  Air movement is necessarily performed with animal mounts or magical aids to movement, leaving both hands free, whereas water movement is performed by swimming, which necessarily makes both hands useless for anything else.

It is clear that the game universe wants to pretend that water simply does not function like water does, which mystifies me.  In an underwater adventure, water is THE obstacle.  All other obstacles are made more deadly and difficult because the players are forced to function in a watery environment for which their limbs are not designed.  They can alter themselves in a number of ways, but all of these ways change the nature of their hands, meaning they must think differently where it comes to combat and the basic function of their bodies.  And this is the big point where it comes to DMing this sort of adventure.

I know that most DMs will simply hand out buckets of waterbreathing and polymorph potions, whatever it takes to make the players feel like an underwater adventure is doable and basically like any other adventure.  I abhor this sort of thinking: "Gee, everyone gets to be a shark for this adventure, won't it be fun!"  I'm all for magical solutions, even party-comprehensive solutions, but free access to magical super-powers just because we are all going underwater are strictly off the menu.  Magic isn't there to be handed out free; if there is magic, it must have a price and I'm not talking about coin.  If the party wants the ability to go under the surface without counting rounds before dying, the deal they make is going to have to be with the Devil ~ or some D&D equivalent.  Otherwise, they're going to have to fight the all-consuming water obstacle as best they can without free samples from magic-dump-R-us.

This brings us to the OTHER reason why I've never run an underwater adventure in all this time.  I run games where the players pick their agenda.  As it happens, my players have never said, "Hey, you know what?  We'd like to go underwater and fight sea-going creatures with our land-humanoid limitations!"  I've had parties talk about the possibility of doing that ~ someday.  I've encouraged parties by reminding them that ships with gold sink to the bottom and collect there, in bigger piles than are found at the bottoms of dungeons, receiving answers like "I guess that's true" and "meh."  Apathy has, so far, kept parties from testing such theories.

So why has this party now decided to give it a try?  In truth, one of the members has been wanting to try an underwater campaign since she was a little girl.  She has only just begun to feel that the party is a high enough level to give it a try.  The rest of the party feels that they, too, are ready for this degree of novelty and so, in truth, I'm on the hook for giving it to them.

I have a strong adventure in mind, one that I might be able to produce and sell as a module, like I did with Ternketh.  I'm glad I'm giving this a try now, after this much experience as a DM, rather than 25 years ago.  I see this being a steep, steep learning curve.

Movement in combat, combat weapons, hitting and damage, adjustments to magic, adjustments to house rules such as wounding and binding of wounds, vertical movement, momentum, water currents, breathing, swimming rules ~ all of these are going to have to be considered, along with other things.  On the whole, I think the adventure as I envision it will be awful for the players.  Awful.  They will grow weary of not being able to employ half their spells because those are designed for land-based combat, they will grow weary of the movement structure, they will grow weary of fighting their way through water, they will grow weary of fighting creatures that move faster than they do, they will feel that the whole long adventure is just dragging out forever, no matter how much experience they're getting ~ and trust me, I intend to dump a lot of experience and treasure on the party to make it all worth it to them.

I will work to keep the momentum as high as possible, to keep the party feeling like they're enabled and rewarded, but the sheer change in the environment is going to test them.  It isn't that the game will be worse or slower, but it will be different in ways they don't expect and to which they won't be adapted.  Novelty is wonderful but it is also trying when experienced in abundance.  Anyone who has taken a month-long energetic vacation knows how tired it is possible to become of novelty.

Yet, hopefully, they'll survive, they'll manage the challenges, they'll climb a level or two (the lower level characters/henchmen are going to climb a lot of levels) and they'll kiss the dry ground afterwards with a sense of triumph that they will remember all their lives.  So that's worth the trouble.

I don't think, however, that they'll ever want to go back underwater again.  At least, not for more than a single combat in an otherwise dry dungeon.  So all the work I'll do for underwater action will probably not be used for my world again.  Oh well.  Writing rules is fun!

Heh, heh.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Really glad to hear you're feeling better. I'm looking forward to everything you've mentioned.

It's marvelous how even after decades there will always be so many more places a D&D adventure can turn, just as how after decades our lives can take us to incredible new places, even those that have always seemed just out of reach.

Thank you for never shying away from that.