Monday, October 11, 2010

Into the Myst


I'd like to talk a little bit about my Dead Orcs Society campaign, but before I do that; let me lay out the following  alert:

WARNING:  If you are a member of the Dead Orcs Society and are reading my blog, please be aware that there are spoilers below.  I'm happy you're reading the blog, but don't ruin the game experience for yourself. Take a look at another article instead!

You.  You're one of them!  Your time is not at hand.  Go.  Go now before it's too late.

Okay, thank you for that indulgence.  On with the post.

Well over a year ago, I mentioned a couple of times that I'm a HUGE fan of the Myst series of games.  By today's video game standards, they seem pretty basic.  The game consisted of a linear plot with slide-show like presentations of graphics, augmented by a little animation here and there.  At the time, the game was amazingly innovative, as it was the first game released on CD-ROM.  Also (for its time), the game had beautifully rendered 3-D graphics.    Each image was like a photograph.  In addition, the images, combined with the curious puzzles and haunting music, made for an entertaining experience.

The creative story line behind the Myst (and later Uru) series of games seems tailor-made for a Dungeons & Dragons type of game.  Haunting locales, devious puzzles, interesting artifacts all combine to create an intriguing experience.  However, using the Myst universe as a basis for a campaign had some challenges.  This post is how I plan to hurdle these challenges and create a rewarding experience.

Challenge #1:  Technology

Atrus (the main protagonist in the early Myst games) was a writer capable of describing some amazing worlds.  As a result, some of the things that he "wrote" into these worlds were technological devices.  Thus, I had to figure out how to deal with these in a campaign that previously had little technology.  Fortunately, this was pretty easy to do.  Most of the technology described in the Myst series of games is of an organic nature.  That is, the tech is so incorporated into the world, it looks like it belongs there.  Most of it is naturally powered, or uses strange energies.  The nice thing about this fact, is that it's so well integrated, anything unusual can be chalked up by the character as "magic".  In my own campaign, that will be the default explanation as well.  I won't prevent my characters from finding out about how the technology works (and in some cases they'll need to, in order to solve a puzzle), but for the most part, it just does.

Challenge #2: Transportation

One of the main features of the Myst campaign setting, is the fact that certain D'ni (the race from which Atrus sprang) individuals were trained at an early age to be special writers.  These writers could write books describing just about any fantastic place.  The writer could then pen a "linking book" that would take you straight there.  From a campaign perspective, that's a pretty powerful magic.  For my campaign, writing books like this would require a VERY high leveled ritual, extremely special materials, and a great deal of time. While I won't make this magic impossible to acquire, most of my heroes will be far too busy to deal with it.  At the same time, I couldn't allow this kind of magic within the heroes' home setting.  Since using linking books takes you to a different world, that's exactly what will happen.  The Myst portions of the campaign take place on different worlds, effectively isolated from the home world.  Hence, no dangerous magical contamination.

Challenge #3: Linear Plot

Although the game of Myst encourages exploration in many different directions, the main plot is pretty linear.  You can count on one hand the number of possible outcomes of the game.  Fortunately, this isn't too much of a problem with my own campaign.  The Dead Orcs are used to a linear campaign & wide sweeping story arcs.  Thus, the Myst universe portion of the campaign, shouldn't be too difficult to sell. 

Challenge #4:  Monsters & Other Dangers

This challenge is the biggest one to hurdle.  Myst was created as a pretty relaxing game.  While there are some endings where you can "lose", at no point in the game can you really be killed or injured.  The slide-show type of presentation means you cannot travel to those places the game won't let you.  You can't accidentally fall into a pit or impale yourself on a machine, etc.  In addition, no monsters are going to come out of the woodwork to try and kill you.  Obviously, these game conceits simply won't do for a Myst-based D&D game.  The challenge means incorporating creatures and dangerous terrain that could be found in the setting.  Fortunately, the haunted & abandoned feel of the original game lends itself to using undead.  Also, the existence of strange devices using unusual energy sources, means that elementals of various types could be used prominently.  These kinds of monsters are best, because you can "drop" them into the plot.  You don't have to write huge back stories to explain why such things exist, as you would if you dropped in humanoid tribes, for example.  For my own campaign, there will be plenty of opportunities for the heroes to fight creatures.  In addition, terrain features are can be deadly, and so will be dealt with accordingly in the campaign.  You don't do a cannonball off of Stoneship, unless you're prepared to swim several hundred miles through open ocean.

The nice advantage to Dungeons & Dragons over the original Myst is that the heroes actually have a chance to change the plot.  They can choose whether or not to help Atrus, or do anything at all about his sons.  In addition, (at least for my own campaign) the heroes will be able to actually claim one or more of the worlds for their own use (if they so choose).  Of course, the heroes will have to be able to find their way home...

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.


  1. MYST & Riven were two of my favorite games.

    Like you, I used elements of the games & novels for D&D. One of the games' antagonists was actually searching for the "Great Book of Worlds" which could (allegedly) allow the rewriting and/or control over all realms! There was even a trapped, lone Githyanki running around, "Predator-style".

    In the World of Greyhawk, I had placed the "Forgotten City" of D'ni in the vast Sea of Dust and made them a secretive element of the Suel Empire.

    I appreciate your article, as I was trying to come up with ideas for some "thinking" adventures. I'll be revisiting MYST again. Thanks!

  2. Just a little note here, because I'm a huge pedant:

    Myst (1993) was far from "the first game released on CD-ROM", as a few short minutes of research on Google should show.

    Heck, Sega released a CD-ROM based expansion for their Mega Drive/Genesis system in 1991.

  3. @Stormcrow: Thanks! From time to time, I'll post several other Myst related campaign notes. Glad it's inspired you!

    @Will Mistretta: I stand corrected. I should have been more specific. I was going off this quote from Wikipedia: "Myst was commercially successful on release. Along with The 7th Guest, it was widely regarded as a killer application that accelerated the sales of CD-ROM drives." I should not have said it was the first.