Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dungeons and Dissenters

A couple days ago, Eldrad Wolfsbane over at Back to the Dungeon blogged about those gamers who think dungeons suck.  Not the troll who thinks YOUR dungeon sucks, just gamers, like my buddy Alex in the Board Game Group, who dislike the dungeon as a setting for adventures and dismiss the genre as simple and lacking in RP elements.

Bear with me, folks.  His post is a couple days old, but it's been on my mind since I read it the other day.  It's been a busy 3-day weekend (so no post since last Saturday's rundown of the Gamma World Game).  We were busy taking our son to the beach, a picnic, the beach again...  Thanks, Japan, for surrendering to the U.S. on what was a Monday this year, instead of a Sunday!  Not so good for blogging, good for the family.  But I digress.  Majorly.  Back to dungeons.

So Eldrad gives some good advice for spicing up dungeons and making them feel like living places, where you can roleplay to your heart's content.  Still, though, I get the feeling that those gamers he decries, who sniff at the very thought of entering a dungeon, wouldn't give it a chance.  Or they'd be pretty hard to convince, at least.  I've blogged about the phenomenon before.

I really don't see a dungeon adventure, let alone an entire dungeon campaign set in a megadungeon, as any less worthy of providing role play opportunities than a city campaign, or a grand save the world quest (cue Tolkien/Brooks/Eddings/Jordan/Goodkind reference here).  It's got the same opportunities for RP as an urban cyberpunk game.  As a space opera.  As a stone age survival game.  As a 20's/30's gangster game.  As any other genre.

Because that's the point.  It's its own distinct genre, but it's not that different from the games the 'dungeon haters' want to play.  A dungeon game supposes certain forces will motivate the PCs.  Exploration, treasure finding, and monster slaying. 

What does a grand quest to recover the McGuffin of Pelor, in order to slay the evil overlord Drolrevo suppose?  Exploration, treasure finding, monster slaying.

What does a city campaign of rival factions and backhanded politics involve?  Exploration (social often more than geographical, but exploration no less), treasure finding (maybe not gold, but secrets or alliances are a form of treasure), and monster slaying (come on, this is an RPG...are you really gonna let the evil mastermind behind the grand plot to steal the city's chamber pots walk?).

Yeah, a lot of us, when we were young and inexperienced, just drew rooms, populated them randomly with monsters and treasure, then let our friends wander aimlessly until they had filled their bags or exhausted their spells and hit points, fighting any old monsters they came across.  But most of us, especially those of us in the OSR who've been doing it for a long time (or are newer but have the wealth of knowledge provided by the OSR blogs/forums/wikis) aren't doing it like that any more.

We're also not creating dungeons the way the old TSR modules were created, for the most part.  I know I'm spending a lot of time working on special treasures that would be worthy of searching for, special monsters that would make one legendary to slay, and also populating the dungeon with factions that aren't always hostile to the PCs.  They can be bargained with, fooled, allied with, double crossed before they double cross you, ignored, or even helped.  I'm trying to come up with trap and "special" encounters that will lead to role playing, not just problem solving.  I'm trying to make my megadungeon a cool place where fun things can happen, and players don't just need to kick in doors and roll initiative.

Too bad those anti-dungeon players will probably never give it a chance.  Oh well, their loss.


  1. You have raised here some very valid points. A bad dungeons is bad, but so is a bad wilderness of a bad city. What makes an adventure great is its ability to stimulate imagination and generate emotions and a thoughtful dungeon can do this as well as any epic saga.

    Furthermore, dungeon =/= combat. You can have various factions, friendlies in some rooms, clues and visions in others. Combat is but one of the many challenges PCs should face.

    When I run a dungeon crawl, I always try to make the dungeon a living environment, not just an FPS without the graphics.


  2. Dungeons are fine with me. I'm more interested in playing a game than doing improv all night. Some people take the "role playing" part way too seriously for my taste.

    If a group enjoys heavy role play, more power to them, but I'd much rather explore a dungeon full of oddities than a city full of politics.

  3. The problem with the dungeon isn't the dungeon--it's the players. That doesn't make them wrong, though. It's just a question of "what do you want out of your game?" If I'm interested in roleplaying a thief who wants to start his own organized crime syndicate in Greyhawk city, I'm not going to be all that interested in spending 90% of my time delving beneath Castle Greyhawk. I'm going to want to roleplay deals, contacts, heists, etc. A few forays into the dungeon might fuel my aspirations, but once I've got enough money and clout to start building a guild, I'm going to be more interested in being in the city, not the dungeon.

    And therein is my problem. I made a character that won't work in this campaign. Whose fault is it?

    Well, partially mine. Partially the DMs for not being clear that this game was primarily dungeon-oriented. If the DM was clear, then the fault is 100% my own.

  4. Dave, I fully agree. DMs need to be up front about their expectations for play before a game begins, and so do players.

    If I want to run a space marine game of heavy combat against implacable masses of alien foes, then one of the players making a suave sophisticate PC who can talk his way into any woman's bed, but can't shoot his way out of a paper bag, it's my fault as the DM if I didn't make it clear what sort of game I was going to run. If I did make it clear and the player still makes that PC, then its up to the player to make that PC work, and not complain that there aren't enough hot Andorian women to seduce among all the H.R. Giger xenomorphs.

  5. What about crazy marines with chain guns who want to stop the scientists from downloading the genecodes for said xenomorphs?

  6. Those sorts of characters fit right in to a T, H-Town! Come on, you know that. ;)