Building Kobold Hall in Minecraft, part three
In contrast to the first Encounter in Kobold Hall, the second one is just a Nice Big Room. Well, when I say nice, I mean “scary tomb chamber”, but you get the idea. There’s no anteroom, no long corrodor and no Pool of Doom this time around. Instead, there’s four stone coffins in the centre (every single group I’ve played through this with were convinced they will open any minute), eight alcoves (two of which contain traps) and mere handful of Kobolds. Oh, and an altar dedicated to Tiamat.
Building this in Minecraft was just a simple matter of carving out a shedload of stone. I was more than halfway done with the excavation already after completing Encounter One – I needed that stone for the floor and walls.
For this room I went for an all-stone design, and raised the ceiling to give it more of a sepulchral feel. Unlike the first cramped section I felt this should be a tomb first and foremost, albeit one that the Kobolds have taken over and desecrated. Here’s another lesson from Minecraft: think about what the room was as well as what it currently is. Even a room populated by Vampiric Ogres may well have been something different in the past. Describe the evidence and you’re immersing the players in the history of the place, which in turn helps the game come alive. Every location has a story to tell.
I’ve been tempted every time we have run through this adventure to have those coffins open, but I’ve resisted and thought “Not yet.”. It’s all too easy to throw all your cards onto the table at once when DMing, but sometimes it’s worth holding back. Those coffins will open eventually (Return to Kobold Hall!) and their occupants rise once more, but not while ratty little Kobolds are scurrying about. Best to give them their own airtime when the PCs are higher level, eh?
While I was building this room a few curious chickens and pigs wandered in to see what all the noise was about. Well, the chickens were hunting for grain, but that pig was very inquisitive – enough to keep pushing me into an alcove until I turned him into bacon steaks. Heh. That’ll teach him.
Yes, Minecraft contains bacon. Further proof that there is no better game on the planet.
So, what other lessons have I learned? Glad you asked.
Timekeeping Is Important
This was the first time I lost track of the hours. Nightfall came while I was still beavering away, and with it came the low moan of Zombies echoing through the chambers. It wouldn’t be long before they would find me, and that would likely mean the Curse of Frustrating Death. Even worse, a Creeper could descend into the Dungeon and explode, meaning a day spent patching up walls and making repairs.
I did the only sensible thing and walled myself up for the night. Blocking the stairwell meant I could continue without the threat of Sudden Creeper Syndrome (damn those suckers are quiet when they want to be), and no more pesky Pigs visiting all hours of the day.
In Minecraft, time is an important variable. I’ve already covered this once, but it bears repeating and implementing in your game. Locations that may well be safe during the day might become deathtraps come nightfall, or have a fixed time-limit before they are closed off altogether. Consider a Dungeon Entrance that is only open once every century for a single day. If the adventurers don’t complete their quest and return before those 24 hours are up, they’re trapped there for 100 years. Ouch.
All Dwarves Have OCD
Damn, Dwarves must have some serious problems. All that mining can make anyone crazy. So deep underground, the incessant clanging of metal striking stone, the lonely nights, the attractive pigs. Ahem.
Mining is the ultimate battle between civilization and the planet where you are shaping the very world itself into your vision. It becomes an obsession, a quest to dig ever deeper in the hunt for coal, iron, diamonds and more. I’m beginning to understand it though – it’s not the finding of the valuables that is the reward, but the quest itself. Digging and shaping the underdark is an attempt to bring order where there is… nothing. Solid rock is neither order nor chaos. It is Void, a blank wall of neither order nor chaos until that first pickaxe blow makes it take shape. It is creation through destruction.
Dwarves aren’t the peaceful people we imagine them to be. They are the most destructive force on the planet.
Sound Is Scarier Than Vision
As much for a break in texture as anything, I used some patches of Gravel on the floor and walls rather than regulation worked Stone blocks. This helps to show the age of this place – it looks like an Ancient Tomb with well worn surfaces rather than one built last Thursday.
In Minecraft, walking on Gravel has a different sound to walking on Stone. There’s a deep “Scrunch” to your footsteps instead of a reassuring “Thud”. The first time I walked on the gravel (forgetting I’d put it down in the first place) I almost pooped my pants.
“Thud Thud Thud Thud Scruuuuunch. Oh shit.”
I’ll admit I felt pretty silly afterward (and even sillier now I’ve admitted it), but I still get a visceral shiver down my spine when my little Minecraft avatar steps on that Gravel. It’s a primal thing, I guess.
Sound effects are so vastly under-used in role-playing games, don’t you think?
The Number Of Foes Is Inversely Proportional To The Quality Of Role-Playing
Encounter Two in Kobold Hall contains just 3 Kobold Skirmishers. Along with the Traps they qualify as a level-appropriate challenge for your Heroes, and they also give the GM chance to flex his role-playing muscles a little more. These are cunning little Kobolds who want to lure the PCs into the path of the Traps, teasing and taunting the Heroes to come close while merrily skipping out of the way.
It’s not exactly a dynamic Encounter (stay tuned for Encounter Three for that), but it’s a fun little encounter with plenty of role-playing potential. With just three foes to handle, it’s easy for even a beginner GM to give them personalities. You could have one of the Skirmishers who stays close to the altar to Tiamat, ever protective of his deity and muttering prayers under his breath all the time. Another could be little more than a Kobold Whelp, dancing and taunting and skipping across the room then shifting back at the last moment out of harm’s reach. That third Kobold could be an elder with an eye patch and a Dwarf’s ear on a chain around his neck. He singles out any Dwarves in the party because he knows them for the mixed up evil buggers that they are.