How to Prep for running Deep Carbon Observatory

how i prepped for deep carbon observatory


Deep Carbon Observatory is a great module, but it’s missing an important component. The content is fresh and interesting and not the same “there’s a cult and you have to stop it” thing you always see in WotC’s stuff. It’s got it’s own thing going. It treats you like an adult.

20170711 Update: added pictures of minimaps and annotations. Linked to Claytonian’s version of the dungeon map.


The UX needs work. (But, really, that’s unremarkable. Most modules suffer from the same flaw and require the same work to deal with.)

I’m going to talk about how I prepped for running DCO, but this should be applicable to running pretty much any other module that’s not engineered to be run on the first read.

So here’s how I did my prep, or, as I like to call it,


While a lot of this prep is the same kind of stuff you’d do for any module, if you follow this post, you’ll have the DCO-specific stuff covered.

This is my gift to you.


Print out the maps.

The ones with the module, and Gus L’s maps of the observatory. However, the maps still confused me—especially the ones of the dungeon—no matter which I used. I’d advise reading closely with the maps at hand and trying to make sense of the place in your head before it’s gametime.

Annotate the maps.


Write all over these things. Draw Xs on them to indicate monster locations, write out their stats tersely, put one-line summaries of rooms in the map margins.

BIG NOTE: the dungeon map is not the clearest. You should use Claytonian’s version, which I unfortunately didn’t have access to at the time:

Make monster & NPC cards.


Mayyyybe this was too labor intensive, but I really loved printing out all the monster writeups, cutting out the pictures and text, and taping them onto index cards.

Then I kept the stack of them on the floor beside me and grabbed them as needed. Track hp, etc., on the margins or on the back.

Plus, having these makes it easy to flash to the players when they want to know what the thing looks like.

Annotate the text, minimaps in the margins.


Minimaps in the margins are great! I’ve never done it before, but I found it incredibly useful, even though I had the actual map present.

There are plenty of benefits to doing this, but a

one is being able to simply copy your minimap for the players to see. Put it on an index card, or scribble it on the dry erase mat or whatever.

Figure out how to do chapter 1.


If I had a do-over, here’s how I’d run it.

  1. “Alright, a bunch of stuff is all going to be happening at once, and you’re not even supposed to be able to deal with it all.”
  2. “All at once,  you see this: [read the bolded text of the first three encounters].”
  3. Draw three columns on the gaming surface to represent the three columsn of actions
  4. “Roll for initiative.”
  5. Start with the winner of the init roll
  6. Ask what they do
  7. Place a mini representing that PC in the appropriate column on the table
  8. Allow for a minute or two real time, much less actual game time
  9. Then ask the next person in the init order
  10. With all the stuff happening simultaneously
  11. And when a total of maybe five minutes real time have passed, start the next row
  12. Draw the arrows on the table like they are in the text
  13. And make it clear, when reading the next series of bolded text, that PCs can only move to deal with stuff in the spaces indicated by the arrows.
  14. Repeat.

Figure out how to pointcrawl.


I made what I think was the mistake of presenting too many options.

Having run the overland portions of the game now, I think presenting the locations one at a time, with little to no advance knowledge about what’s coming up, would really help the mood.

The players can choose which way to go at forks in the river, but, man, these aren’t combat encounters, really. They’re experiences.

I think you want to get the players out of the mindset of gaming the voyage and instead have them deal with it.

Print out the tactics of the Crows.

When I first read this part of Chapter 2, I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of running the Crows optimally and remembering all the stuff they could do to destroy the party. But Pat numbered their tactics. That means it can be

a random table

And that means comfort.

When the party rests, or as often as seems fit to you, roll on the table to see what the Crows are going to pull (or have pulled already).

And that’s it.

7 thoughts on “How to Prep for running Deep Carbon Observatory

  1. Thanks for the great writeup. Super useful.

    Question: Could we, the Faithful [Reader|Listener]Ship, get a look at your minimaps?


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