Sunday, April 26, 2020

Incredible Sandbox Modules Pt. 1

Having mentioned The Gardens of Ynn and The Stygian Library in a (not-so)recent post. I would like to give a mini-review of each. However, I'll be reviewing them one-at-a-time!

I'm going to start with The Stygian Library since I feel that it is a bit more "mentally compact" and "easier to grok" than The Gardens of Ynn (even though I very slightly prefer the garden to the library).

I've done my best to not spoil anything, but you've been warned!

The Stygian Library - DTRPG (opens in new window).

First quick note/impression:
I love the art and type for this, it fits and helps establish the "mood" of the library. As a GM I find this very helpful. I'm not looking for "expensive" art, but art that fits the tone/mood of the game/setting.

What is it?
The module is a wonderful example of a randomly generated mini-megadungeon. It is self-coherent within the "walls" of the world, and encourages more than just a "smash and grab" approach to problem solving.

I say "randomly generated" because while the "end goal" is defined, and will always be reachable (in theory), the path will most likely be very different every time, as the mechanics provided to accomplish this are both "sound" and "easy to use." In fact, 5 pages are dedicated to how to handle different common adventuring situations such as "Adventurers sitting around with their thumbs up their arses" or "fleeing" and how this effects their path through the Library.

The tables themselves are only 5 pages (we're at a grand total of 15 pages so far, including 5 describing the settings, and common reasons for adventurers to end up there), leaving the rest of the 71 pages to flesh out those tables. This is exactly what I want from a module. Details and nuances for the locations, what makes this room memorable/unique, the author includes a lot of sensory cues besides just visual/tactile, which really help a lot in creating immersion at the table (one of the reasons I like Veins of the Earth so much is because the bestiary includes what each monster smells like (which makes sense in an underdark where darkvision isn't "cheap/free" (a rant for another time...)).

What it is:
The Stygian Library is described as a "pocket realm" connecting libraries that have achieved a certain "critical mass" of books. The pocket realm itself is a labyrinth of constantly-rearranging rooms ("laid-out much like a traditional dungeon"). The vibe is very "OSR"/"Steampunk/Gaslight" (so, awesome) inside the library (and since it is a pocket realm, one isn't beholden to having that same vibe outside the library). I'm going to cut this part short so as not to provide spoilers, but trust me, it really is an awesome place!

Why use it?
The Stygian Library is a masterful module, not only for presenting a unique area, which can be re-used (even with the same players/same campaign) many time, a great value/dollar ratio. It also offers a lot of opportunities for player interaction in more ways than just smash/kill/loot their way through the dungeon. In the same vein, it offers GMs a great way to sprinkle lore knowledge/development on the players (after all, it is a library (in which "any" book can be found with enough time/patience)). Not only this, it makes it incredibly easy to do all of this, and track things GM-side without having to be putting a lot of mental effort into it.

One key thing is that the players are encouraged to make a map, but that they should never see the GM's map, since certain actions can lead to their "official" path being broken.

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