15 June 2024

Actual Test: Oldskull Adventure Generator

tl;dr: a great big adventure generator that gives you enough for even wild player side-tracks.

This came into my hands through a bundle of tons of Oldskull stuff from Kent David Kelly. They sure are prolific, full marks for that - 30 odd files came in the bundle and it was just a selection. I found myself running out of published adventures for my Friday night Brancalonia one-shots so I thought I would take the Adventure Generator for a spin and see if it served.

First, this thing is a beast - 702 pages - and a self-declared 'mega-supplement' to serve as the 'Rosetta stone of the Castle Oldskull system' - a 'massive unified imagination engine' with a workflow of 16 steps spread over 10 chapters. There is a fair bit of background and philosophy of adventure creation in there but I focused on just generating adventure seeds for now.

This 'imagination engine' comprises many, many random tables within a 16 step workflow:
[1] Adventure Title Creation
[2] The Framing Event
[3] The Benefactor
[4] The Promised Reward
[5] The Adventure Journey
[6] The Adventure Destination
[7] The Chaotic Descriptor Tool
[8] The Quest Designer
[9] The Secondary Quest Designer
[10] The Complication Generator
[11] The Ally Creator
[12] Tasks Before Departure
[13] The Abstract Weather Tool
[14] The Villain Generator
[15] The Unexpected Adversary Tool
[16] The Monster Selection Tool

The first block of steps are pretty quick - varying between d1000 and d100 you roll up the adventure title for inspiration then the situation, person providing the hook and the reward for getting involved. Nice and neat. I cam up with 'Tomb of the Screaming Skull' as our title where the Elder Sign is our inciting vent, the benefactor is a Reborn Marchioness (a famed one) and the prize at the end is an illusionist henchman. Interesting! I can work with this, let us proceed.

The next block of things addresses the journey required to resolve things - we roll up that our overall environment is Temperate Forest, that the destination itself comprises echo chambers and wind tunnels and then things get a bit more complex. We roll up a number of locations cross referencing the Temperate Forest table then a number of 'descriptors' on the Chaotic Descriptor Table to get a spin on each of these locations. These should all then be dropped into a 3x3 grid around the target. I ended up with about an equal three way split between Redwoods, other 'normal' forests and 'weird' forests.

After this I got a quest of 'poison a [person/critter/faction] at [place]' and some further rolls got me a fighter in a corrupted forest - a location that fit well. The fighter was qualified as a 'battler/skull-crusher' which was a really helpful little detail to make them pop.

The Secondary Quest designer was another four rolls getting me a 'compete in a tournament/game of honor', 'repair a bridge/door', 'decipher an inscription' and 'find a hidden locale/dungeon level'. I patched these into the locations where they seemed to fit - bridge repair at the 'Terrifying Brushwood Fall', tournament at the 'thundering copse'.

The Complication Generator gave me three more twists - abduction of a PC, fog getting people lost and a race against time. Given this was for a one shot I was hesitant to further complicate the session with these but held the fog in reserve as something to do if things were moving too rapidly.

Next the Ally Creator turned out to be some Lower level Illustionists - which harmonised nicely with the illusionist henchman reward - perhaps they came along on the quest too?

Next Tasks Before Departure gave me five elements - waiting for an astral event, listening to a survivors account, researching the locale, researching the journey and acquiring a sidequest to slay a monster. This was another element I was wary off given the one-shot nature of the session I was planning - however it turned out to be really handy because when the table derailed and struck out for the distant horizons of side-tangents. All these secondary activities provided ample landing zone for all sorts of shenanigans to reconnect back to the main adventure.

The Abstract Weather Tool came up with a nice 'clear, wind in their favour' which was a minor boon. Other weather conditions could definitely change the tone and it is often something I forget to properly bring into play on my own.

The Villain Generator rolled up a Thief, Lock-breaker, motivated by vengeance for a slain sibling, suffering from memory gaps and fond of working through blights and plagues. This came a little late in the process for me - I already had a decent view of what was going on with the skull-crusher fighter in his forest lair needing to get poisoned - so this villain became more of a background villain not an active player. It was good to have them though, as knowing them and thus the flavour of their minions became handy during the Great Derailing.

The Unexpected Adversary rolled up a 'Benefactors Envious Disciple' - obviously another illusionist which plugged in nicely to what we had already.

Finally the Monster Selection Tool got me some Goblins and Beastmen so I split them up into a relatively hapless bunch of goblin foresters working the Redwoods, territorial beastmen in the rest of the forests. A bunch of the location qualifiers from the Chaotic Descriptor tool implied the presence of celestials so I added them as a third group.

Once all this was rolled up I shoved the pieces around a bit and re-wrote it into
* A renowned bard, the Marchioness - killed by Skullcrusher, now reborn
* They want you to go to a corrupted forest and poison the screaming skull with holy water
* They have a troupe of illusionists who can support you now, and one might stay with you after as a reward
* Skullcrusher lairs in echoing wind tunnels, trust nothing you hear there
* Skullcrusher is the primary minion of the Gatebreaker - a deranged thief, driven mad by grief for their slain sibling, now they spread blights in vengeance and kill by breaking in with plague-ridden knives
* One of the Marchioness disciples, an illusionist, is envious the party has been sought for assistance and seeks to see them fail
* The woods are full of goblins and beastmen

Lots of the elements of preparation for the journey and secondary quests were initially set aside and only came into play when the party set off for the horizons. The whole illusionist ally and then potential rival thing never came off because the players left them at home when they set out on the quest. The Gatebreaker was never seen but his minion network was stumbled over then sought out and I was able to ad-lib them effectively knowing who they were working for.

All told, what initially seemed like way too much stuff with multiple independent threads actually turned out to be handy at an open table session where they took an age before engaging with the wilderness part of the journey. A chunky system to work through but gives you a wealth of stuff - even if not all of it will come into play, it was good to have it to hand.

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