Sunday, August 30, 2020

A story from an empty shelf


By Christopher Robin Negelein

One of these days, I'm going to learn to stop wasting my talent on social media when I have a perfectly good Patreon right here.  On twitter, I saw a comment asking why the writer, the editor and the reader wasted their time to read this map entry:

While in the current light of adventure design, this seem odd. But it's an oddity with context for two reasons. 

First , it's an adventure writer's version of bringing in the wrong kind of verisimilitude into a story.   Many beginning novelist will follow the protag for pages as they eat breakfast, get in the car, and drive to work. They hope this brings a "slice of life" to the character. But if it doesn't somehow add real depth to the character or plot, it's a waste of everyone's time. 

For fiction, it doesn't matter how many rivets are in the startship's hallway unless those rivets, and their number, become important later. Was the protagonist or antagonist former ship yard construction workers, or come from blue collar space families and that now colors their way they approach leadership? 

For gaming or plot, those rivets only become important if they are disguised bombs, evidence of subpar materials (and kickbacks), or contain a material the bad aliens are allergic too. You get the drift. 

Second, there's a history for empty rooms, especially from the simulationist era of the '80s and '90s where things had to be "realistic" in a world of dragons as a reaction to the previous Gygaxian era where every room was essentially a puzzle - especially the monsters.

Game companies decided that scads of empty rooms could either  be filled out by DMs, add verisimilitude because it's unrealistic to have something dangerous or interesting in every room, or it was a justification to avoid making content.

But since then we've had two generations of adventure creators who see these empty rooms and empty compartments, knew they had to be there for a reason but didn't really suss out the *why* of it. 

Can you have an empty secret compartment that add to the experience? Sure. Here's some ideas off the top of my head.

  • The lich who is now on their second body had their  phylactery in there and now there's a ring lighter dust where the bottle was. And of course the bottle has a unique shape to its ring
  • It was a secret drop point for a spy. The next secret compartment will have a forgotten code in it. Or a map to the tunnels the spy used to get in and out of the castle unseen
  • It's the mouth of a column mimic. 

I feel confident you can leap to your conclusion springboard I provided. 

Before I go, do me a fav, if you would. If you liked this little public post and its insights, don't be shy and share it around. Would you? Please? 

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