Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dungeons in new games

Zak wrote something interesting about dungeons the other day. He notes that newer RPG are often a bit more cinematic and also they usually don't feature dungeons. This made me think.

I have a few friends who have been playing role playing games since way back. They also have one thing in common in that they look and sound a lot less enthusiastic when you mention the word "dungeon".

For some people the fun part, and even the whole point of, playing a RPG is to interact with NPCs - to roleplay. What is interesting with dungeons though, is that like Zak writes anything, however mundane, is potentially interesting. Exploring the environment is what the game is about. Your role is not method acting, it's interacting with the other party members and acting out your role in the party. This doesn't necessarily mean you don't do roleplaying!

I still wonder how to make my friends more enthusiastic about this kind of roleplaying. We might like slightly different kinds of gaming, but you play with the gamers you've got and like to hang out with. Also, I like to think roleplaying can be a lot of different things, maybe even at the same time, for different people.

Maybe there is a way to make NPC interactions more common in a dungeon environment? Maybe there is a way to make the virtues of explorative play more common in the NPC crowded city based game? I'm not sure how, but I like to think it can be done.

If James Joyce does that in his exploration of Dublin, maybe I need to read it? I think that sometimes cityscapes have been less used as a canvas of the fantastic than they deserve. While going down a hole in the ground to dig out treasure have a certain resonance of the Hero's Journey, I guess the urban jungle can be just as wild and feel just as much like a game of exploration. How would it be to do a hexcrawl of a fantasy city?

It would be interesting if Zak Sabbath was the one who finally made me read James Joyce, because I wanted to read the dungeon crawl novel, Ulysses.


  1. I frequently use "dungeon NPCs," whether I've designed them that way ahead of time or not. Giving some dumb humanoid a name and a quirk or two - something as short as "hates the Goblins," and even if it's on the fly after the PCs evince some interest - goes a long way, and may allow clever players to roleplay to their advantage.

  2. There's plenty of room for roleplay in th e dungeon. When your PC's want to negotiate safe passage, send for the hobgoblin cheiftains son, vizier or wizard to do the negotiating. Intelligent dungeon features -such as a door or statue holding a magic-jarred soul can provide useful tips and advice regarding the creatures that pass bye. The crazy old wizard that created the dungeon in the first place might still be around, either in the senile flesh or a ghost.
    You get back what you put in.

  3. Personally, I crave for explore dungeons. I like how anything in there can potentially kill you, of course that was under the writing of my last GM. Screw the majestic cities, give me a hole in the ground with some potential loot and I'll be more than happy.

  4. Personally I crave for explore dungeons, too.

    I'm afraid I need a stronger tonic than some dungeon NPCs. It has to be a centre piece of the whole dungeon.

    Maybe just use those intelligent dungeon features and crank it up to eleven.

  5. Have you considered putting a small town or "homestead" in your dungeon? You could use it as a base of operations (it's at the base of stairs leading into the dungeon, or maybe the party gets teleported there early on). Alternately, it could become a destination, from a map, a quest, or simply graffiti painted on corridor walls with an arrow pointing in the direction of town.

    "Dungeon Town" shouldn't be your only interesting site or location. I'd come up with at least five major known or rumored locales, such as the Temple of Gold, the Mushroom Jungles, the Tomb of the Gods and other evocative titles. The dungeon then becomes the wilderness the party has to traverse to get from Point A to Point B, and it might help the players a bit by giving them a sense of a goal or destination, something to focus on and even encourage RP with the "natives" to locate effective passage that leads to such sites.

    It's a thought, anyway.

    With Regards,

  6. Great ideas, Flynn!

    In the Dungeon of Voorand, there is an inn, but since it's only there at certain phases of the moon, it confused my players no end and they never really tried to look for it. Also, I had a whole ruined city at level three, but we never played much there.


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