Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To craft the Dungeon of Voorand, Part I

In my last post I talked about the Dave Arneson memorial adventure we played. I also alluded to my megadungeon The Dungeon of Voorand, which is the place where my players take their character hunting for riches and glory. What I will write about in a short series of posts, is the reasons I have for starting that dungeon, and how and why it's designed the way it is. Fasten your seat belts. Here we go.

Actually, the idea of me running a dungeon based game seemed more than a little far fetched not that many years ago. I started gaming ages ago, with the attitiude that dungeon crawling was just a hack & slash puerile phase wich was beneth me. I was better, more sophisticated, than that! The heights of arrogance that so marks a teenager. Oh well. Much later I had become jaded with the “sophisticated” games I ha d been playing, and after reading some play reports I finally started my own dungeon delve. How that went, and how I did it, is a tale for a later date. Now I'll focus on this specific way of delving, namely megadungeons.

Those of you who keep up with the discussions at Dragonsfoot, or the Knights & Knaves Alehouse or read some of the many old school blogs, might have heard it all before. But since I'm running a T&T game I'll repeat some of the discussions some since the T&T tradition is a bit different from the D&D one. T&T have long been supported more by solo adventuring than the classic GM led way of gaming. Make no mistake though, one of the first megadungeons was for T&T!

A megadungeon is a dungeon that's big. It's supposed to feel vast, multilevelled and encompas the whole of the playing experience. It's a setting of it's own. You don't “clear out” a megadungeon, it breeds new creatures and wonders to explore. The way I see it, the focus is on the exploring. For more really interesting discussions about the care of and feeding of megadungeons I refer to the links above.

So, how have I then tried to accomplish this feel in the Dungeon of Voorand? Well, I started with the idea of a big mountain, a volcano, under which the ancient and powerful goblin god Voorand lair. He is my persona in the game, and the source of mischief and entertainment. I decided to imagine an insanely powerful goblin wizard bored with age and with all the traits of goblins magnified by his power and unstable mind. So, the dunegon would be what have been called a “fun house” dungeon, as fitting with the insane patron. I had some cool ideas and I started to put them to paper.

Pretty soon it became clear that I draw maps with very boring and straight lines, and with plain doors and square rooms, unless I force myself to be adventurous. I knew that on level one I wanted to have a tribe of hyenakin, and a tribe of scalykin and that they were enemies. I also included a bunch of uruks, and a big hulking troll obsessed with cleanliness. Having drawn their lairs and some utility rooms around them, I connected them with fairly straight lines. Now for my first warning. If your dungeon looks like a very sparse tree with a main trunk and some branches you have done the same error I did. Don't do that.

After a session it was clear that this was way to linear, and also way to small! I had put down a few entrances to lower levels on the first map, and now I drew a few rooms on a new paper and then lined up the papers so I could see how the entrance exited in a specific square of my graph paper. From that square I now had to line it up with my new rooms, which naturally made it less linear! I also put in a few stairs from the other parts of level two I had detailed, which now went up to other parts of level one! Of course they sometimes showed up in fairly cramped places when I lined graph paper, which forced me to be creative.

Now you might ask why I did this? What's the point? The point is that in this more convoluted environment, mapping became more involved. It made my players look at their map and wonder “how does that fit together? Shouldn't there be a room beyond there as well, where there's a blank spot?” Wonder indeed, when they suddenly start to see the tunnels themselves as something worth exploring, just like that thread of twine they used to follow through more story and storytelling based games. They were seeking adventure, and not me spoon feeding it to them.

So, the attitude I started with was to make the dungeon the story, the mystery. Thus the exploration became the main theme! After a few months of play I think this way of playing is something very refreshing and cool for me. Naturally the game system I'm using also helps in shaping the game. In the next part of this series I'm going to talk about that, and how Tunnels & Troll made my dungeon suck less.
May you always roll doubles!

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