So, I spent most of the walk to the train stop this morning humming music from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and thinking about Escape From White Cliff. Mostly, I was doing comparisons in my head between successful (and unsuccessful) D&D games I’ve run before, and classic video/arcade games like ZAMN.

I remember having a lot of trouble early on as a Dungeon Master with getting the players to go where I wanted them. Getting the characters to be in the right place at the right time. This seldom happens on purpose (see: Real Life), and is really hard to do in a game, except by “railroading” the players. Accidents are hard to produce reliably, and railroading isn’t very fun, so as DM, you have to aim for something in the middle, with improvisation as your primary tool.

I’d plan a huge thing for the characters to save the day just in time, but given the scale and/or scope of the adventure, if they decided to retreat (which I was usually careful to allow) I was left holding a pot ‘o evil that was boiling over. Since I wanted to create a dynamic setting, a situation with an impossible horde of evil creatures meant that when the heroes returned from licking their wounds, the odds would be, well, impossible.

To say I had difficulty managing the scale of a threat would be a gross understatement. I like to think that I’ve gotten better since then, but I know I still hit pitfalls in adventure design and implementation. With White Cliff, I hope to avoid certain areas where I have a tendency to design encounters that easily get out of control. I want the players to be able to retreat, but it’s tough to figure out how retreating works when running away is the name of the game (see: Escape from White Cliff).