Friday, December 28, 2012

Empty dungeons - all except the fun parts?

 As some of you might know, there's work going on to produce a 8th edition of Tunnels & Trolls. Naturally, it makes me ponder the qualities T&T have, it's quirks and sparkling facets. I remember how the Trollgod, Ken St Andre, wrote in the former editions about how to approach the game, and how it came to be. One thing I remember from older editions of the game is the suggestion, when designing dungeons, to put a lot of stuff in there. Nobody wants to mess around in a boring dungeon, was the thinking. It ties in to the great debate earlier this autumn about the empty dungeon and the pile of "worthless" treasure.I have talked about it before, and might do it again. Now I have some observations to share of what's boring or fun.

Writing a tent pole dungeon, or a megadungeon, it might make a lot of sense to have sections of the dungeon be quite empty, some to be the highways and some to be Saturday Night Specials. Looking at the Wilderlands, the setting published by Judges Guild, it makes sense. It is basically a big empty dungeon, is it not? Now imagine it all being a vast castle, or a big underground mine and it will look kind of the same. I mean, it's a world in of itself. But, let's for a moment limit the vision to something smaller, which is just one adventure, and not a whole world.

You know what Adventure is, right? Adventure is like real world, except the boring parts are cut out. At least that is a way to describe it I find funny. Approaching it a bit more serious, I find the dungeon design advice which suggest you cram in more stuff there, since nobody want to fool around in an empty dungeon probably belong to that school.

So, then the problem is to identify the "boring parts". I know that for many of us playing these games of adventure, we like to be something bigger and greater than we usually are. But, for some others it's not so focused on the bigger, better and greater part. I have found that for those people it's often a question of exploring a secondary world, that is interesting in itself, as a living real place. Personally I like that aspect. Once I played in a game with a very tantalizing setting, with lot of mysteries and it failed for me. I knew at once when my interest started to wane, because we focused on interpersonal conflicts, and I was more interested in the world we never got to explore.

My hypothesis is that this is related to some sense of "realism". Not in the meaning working like the real world, but working in a consistent way within that world. You hear of a mystery, and you know it's not just some random "oddballness", but there's a rhyme and reason for the thing to exist, and you can find it out.

Then, the boring parts are when you explore a fully realized secondary world, and there's nothing there! You expect there to be rich cultures which behave like they do because of their history. You expect to find artifacts which can be better understood by exploring the ancient history of the fallen empire in the world you are exploring. Empty dungeon rooms can then be something of a let down.

Now imagine someone who does not care much for the secondary world, but cares a lot about for a Saturday night feeling great as the greatest ranger of the North, or the mighty slayer of dragons. Empty dungeon rooms can be something of a let down, reminding you a little bit too much of the cubicle or office space you sat in hours before.

I know, of course, of the argument that proper old school play is as much about resource management as anything else. That being said, I don't think it's the only lesson to be learned from the "old ways" of doing things, and if my "boring parts" are your "fun parts" I actually think that aspect of roleplaying games can be brought forth in other areas, not necessarily related to moving about in space. But, that's a subject for some other day. Today I focused on the psychology of empty rooms, which I don't think was covered during the big brouhaha earlier this year.


  1. As I argued during the 2000 cp flap, I think if everything is exciting, then exciting becomes boring. It's like a movie that is one series of fights after another, or something by Michael Bay.

  2. I don't think I have ever considered anything by Michael Bay exciting. :)

  3. You can have interesting rooms be miles apart, as long as you're willing to let the players traverse those miles without playing out each 10' square in between. Tell them how long it takes and the resources consumed, and dial it back in when it's time for the next important decision.

  4. That's one interesting take on it. I'll stash that one for later, combining it with a tips from Robin Laws.

  5. "Your party has entered a 30' by 40' room. It's walls sparsely decorated with stone carvings, but is otherwise empty.". I don't mind empty rooms. It certainly makes more sense than every room packed with random monsters & treasures.

  6. anem kram, it has little to do with making sense. Making it fun is a totally different beast.

    Unless making sense is what makes it fun...




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