My involvement with the Shackled City started over two years ago, when Chris
Thomasson asked me if I'd like to write an installment for it. I feel like
I've been living in Cauldron ever since. So when Erik asked me if I'd be willing
to develop the 11 adventures into one huge book, I figured "Sure! No problem!
I've already developed and edited most of these adventures once… how tough
can it be to string them together?"
Turns out? It's pretty tough.
The greatest lesson I've learned while working on Shackled
City is that planning ahead is the key. When I started working on "Flood
Season," there was almost nothing. Adimarchus was known as "some new demon
lord." Cauldron could just as easily have been located in a desert or a temperate
woodland as in a jungle. We didn't even know who the leaders of the Cagewrights
were, aside from the fact that they were bad guys.
And if we didn't know… the DMs reading the adventures certainly
One of the most important features of a campaign is foreshadowing.
Even if you won't be fighting the big bad end guy for over a year, it's nice
to have an idea of where your game's heading. Imagine if Star Wars didn't
reveal Darth Vader until the last 10 minutes of the movie!
Worse… the lack of exact planning caused a lot of strange, tiny
continuity issues to pop up. Hookface was called he and she in different issues.
In "Life's Bazaar," Thifirane casts invisibility, but in "Lords of Oblivion"
we find out that illusion is a prohibited school for her. Vhalantru's disguise
seems to change from human to half-elf to elf randomly.
And then there was all the stuff we had to cut. There's only
a certain amount of room in a magazine, and when those Adventure Path writers
(myself included) kept turning in manuscripts that were 1,000, 5,000, or 20,000
words over the requested amount, we had to make some hard decisions on what
had to go. In some cases, (as in "Lords of Oblivion") we had the author cut
material even before it was written, resulting in some encounter areas with
LOTS of big empty rooms. In other cases, (as in "Life's Bazaar" or "Flood Season")
we cut material and presented it as web enhancements. And in the case of "Foundation
of Flame" and "Thirteen Cages," we had to not only cut stuff but split the
adventure into two parts.
Going back and rebuilding the 11 (now 12) adventures into one
single mega-adventure gave me a chance to fix these errors and compromises.
I knew I'd never be able to catch all of them, so I started posting on our
messageboards. The amount of advice and observations people posted was almost
overwhelming and certainly welcome. In addition, I had to generate about 30,000
new words for the introduction, to fill empty rooms with encounters, and to
round out areas that got glossed over the first time around (such as the Flood
Festival itself, or several of the outlying areas in the Cauldron region).
What was the hardest part to figure out? I'd have to nominate
seven key NPCs: Jenya, the Striders of Fharlanghn, and the Stormblades. The
problem was that these NPCs increase in level along with the PCs. Their stats
changed with each adventure. Generating a stat block for each NPC for each
level would have worked out to about 100 additional stat blocks, so that certainly
wasn't an option. Instead, I took a cue from the sample NPC tables in the Dungeon
Master's Guide, and built
a table for all seven NPCs that summarizes what choices they make as they level
up and what types of magical items and spells they gain. I think I gave Art
Director Sean Glenn a little bit of a nervous breakdown with them (he was the
one who had to figure out how to fit all the information on the tables into
the limitations of a two-page spread), but I think it came out pretty nice.
Check out the sample PDF to see what you can expect for all seven of these
The best part about the whole thing? I was able to sneak a couple
of my characters in there. Turns out to be a pretty cool way to get a cool
character portrait for your game!
July 12th, 2005