Two more thoughts on beauty in Ynn

I’ve been re-reading The Gardens of Ynn, to understand how it achieves beauty and simple pleasantness. I put most of my thoughts in a previous post, but here are a couple more:

  1. Even the killer spores (p17) produce delicate flowers.
  2. A “brilliant rainbow of colours” in the silk garden (p18) — explicitly “brilliant”, rather than “garish”, or “clashing” or just flat “rainbow” leaving you to make your own assumptions.
  3. The interior of the ruined tower is decayed, yes, but that decay is understated, mundane, more nostalgic than unpleasant:

The interior is dusty, cobwebby and falling apart. Wallpaper peels from the walls, the carpet is mouldy, and water pools by the shutters.”


How beauty is achieved in the Gardens of Ynn — initial thoughts

I’ve written some OSR modules, and I think I’m pretty good at invoking ruin, horror, and threat in text. As far as I can tell I’m doing that in a way that would let anyone running those modules invoke that in their descriptions, too. This seems to be a common skill, at least amongst OSR module writers.

What I’m not so good at is beauty — the attractive, the desirable, the sublime. And that’s a skill that I’d like to develop more. It’s very easy for OSR-type modules to become relentless dark and grim, and therefore monotonous, and I want to contrast that with more positive emotions.

So… I’m looking for examples of beauty in adventure module text, to read and learn from.

I started a thread on /r/osr, and one recommendation was Emmy Allen’s The Gardens of Ynn. I’ve read it before, run two sessions in it, but hadn’t thought about it as an example of this. I’ve started to re-read it, and have some initial observations:

1. Allen is explicit from the start that beauty is her aim, even tho it’s a squarely OSR module:

I wrote this to get out of a creative rut, liked what I’d produced, and made it pretty. I think it’s easy for games to push in darker directions, and to match the unpredictable lethality of old-school games with a particular grim and gritty aesthetic. I wanted to move away from that, into something that, while not blandly pleasant, had a lightness of tone to it. A setting where sunshine is the default weather.


2. Its main tactic seems to be simply describing pleasant things — manicured lawns, herbs in raised beds, a trellis of vines that produces dappled shade (those are all from p14).

3. To complement that, there isn’t much horrible here, at least in the first few locations. I.e. some of the effect is achieved by the absence of unpleasant things. IIRC there is an low (though nonzero) proportion of gore and horror throughout.

4. The writing isn’t particularly fancy — it’s quite prosaic and economical. At no point does it push to be evocative and overshoot into verbiage or cringe. It presses a few buttons in the reader and then the reader does most of the work.

5. The tone is lighthearted, not serious, not ominous. For example:


A jolly little wooden pavilion. Bright paint faded and peeling. Within, a few wicker chairs and manky cushions. Cobwebs, perhaps. Knickknacks such as teasets, decks of cards, opium pipes, worth d10+depth gold, plus roll for treasure.


6. As an enabling tactic, it does seem to assume sunny daylight at all times. Though it doesn’t quite follow through with that — there is a day and night cycle described on p9 and weather-change event on p12.

Calibrating my BX treasure spreadsheet – desired hours per level

In a previous post, I described a method for placing treasure in BX games. It has several input parameters where the best value to use are not obvious.

First, we have desired-hours-per-level. This is a very subjective value, since it represents individual GM’s desires, but to publish adventures I need something that represents a typical desire.

I’ve trawled over sources in blogs and comments about my article, and I’ve come up with a default value of 14 hours per level. That’s derived from “four sessions of 3-4 hours each”.

(A related question is “how should this vary, if at all, across the levels”? I’ve ignored this for now, assuming that people want all levels to be of the same length.)

Now, I didn’t actually find many BX (or even clearly-OSR) sources. Not many people think in terms of hours-per-level, and when people say “sessions” they often don’t even hint at the length. So I’ve branched out a bit, into modern D&D sources too. And when session length is unspecified, I’ve assumed 3-4 hours of real playing time.

OSR sources:

Modern (or mixed) sources:

Question for readers – what do you think of this value? Would you like a published BX adventure to come calibrated to this?

A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX

There doesn’t seem to be clear agreement on how fast BX/Moldvay PCs should advance, but it’s clear that many people are unhappy with the rate of advancement that results. It tends to be far too slow, at least for busy adults who manage a three-hour session maybe twice a month. (See e.g. Becker’s general critique here and here, and a recent Reddit post on the meagre spoils of In Search of the Unknown).

I’m working on some adventures that I plan to publish, and I plan to stat them for BX because (as Patrick Stuart recently argued) BX seems to be the most-used system in the parts of the OSR I care about. There are often complaints about adventures supposedly statted for BX that they are far too light on treasure (see many of Bryce Lynch’s reviews).

I don’t want to use the standard treasure tables because (a) I’m using mostly custom creatures, (b) there’s controversy about how good they are, and in any case (c) I want to make a tool that we can all use to tune the rate of PC advancement without giving up on xp-for-gold as an incentive.

So, I have made a spreadsheet (Google Sheets version, Excel version), and explained how it works below. Unless noted, I’m getting any specific numbers from the Old School Essentials Rules Tome.

Continue reading “A tuneable method for placing treasure in BX”

Collected advice on adventure design

I am writing some OSR-type D&D adventures that I intend to publish, so I have gone looking for advice on doing that. Below, I have collected links. I have also included some summaries, but honestly in the eyes of posterity they are more for my benefit in writing them than for you in reading them.

How I Write an Adventure, by Arnold K

That’s prosaic, principled, but realistic — I can believe he actually works like that. My summary:

  • Write ten adventures at once, gathering and filing ideas as they come to you
  • Run them early — that will give you ideas and show you problems
  • Have a (short) list of themes, be strict about cutting stuff that doesn’t fit
  • Don’t commit to anything until late on, especially not to a specific map
  • Focus on making interesting snippets – you can integrate them later
  • Iterate your design, culling weak (or unthematic) bits ruthlessly

How I Make an Adventure by Patrick Stuart

Continue reading “Collected advice on adventure design”