Friday, August 29, 2008

Start Digging

After I made the decision to return to my gaming roots and attempt to recapture the feeling and style of classic D&D, I needed to determine what the setting was going to be. Unlike the decision to go back to AD&D, this part was easy. It was going to be a dungeon-crawl.

This would serve multiple purposes. First, and most important, you can’t get more original flavor Dungeons & Dragons than the dungeon-crawl. My experiences with the game, just like 99.6% of every other gamer my age or older, began in the dungeon. Ten-foot poles, bundles of torches, 200’ of rope, iron spikes, large sacks, and “what’s the marching order?” baby. If I was going to try and go home again, there simply isn’t any other choice for me. I never did the hex-crawl adventure thing, at least not in a classic sense, so now would be the wrong time to start.

Secondly, it would allow me to fixate on a single locale and let my world-building grow organically. I’ll talk about my world-building plans in another post, but for now, using the dungeon as a controlled laboratory seems to be best for what I have planned. At least until my creative DM muscles get back into shape. By not having to worry overmuch about what exists outside of the dungeon besides a town to resupply and recuperate at, I’d limit myself to how much extraneous work I’d be doing. I know myself pretty well. If I didn’t establish my boundaries early, I’d be worrying about political networks, trade routes, and base economies before I even finished stocking the first level.

Which brings me to the third purpose – levels. I wanted a lot of them.

It used to be the unwritten rule that you hadn’t earned your spurs as a DM until you’d created a massive dungeon for your players to hurl themselves into weekend after weekend. The concept of the “super dungeon” or “megadungeon” goes all the way back to Gygax’s and Arneson’s early games. The megadungeon is as old-school as you can get. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, the journey from player to DM was more like a guild apprenticeship, where you’d learn the ropes from an older player before setting out on your own journey behind the screen. The megadungeon was your apprentice masterpiece; the proof you were ready to fly solo. I’d like to make my confession now. I never finished my apprenticeship.

I tried enough times, but my style of game-mastering usually entailed a lot of smaller dungeons, which the players would clear (or not) before moving along to the next adventure. I had pages and pages of graph paper and loose-leaf notebook paper filled with these early creations. Most of them are gone now, or at least packed up in some forgotten box in a dark, damp location. There were plenty of dungeons amongst those pages, but no single giant one, filled with riches and danger. So not only am I going to return to my roots, I’m going to finish my education.

I have the tools, I have the experience, but do I have the patience? And what about the “bad habits” that I picked up from running games other than D&D? There’s only one way to find out for sure. Dwarven work-crew, let’s start digging.


Sham aka Dave said...

I'm catching up on your excellent blog, Mike. This post also caught my eye. Just like you, while I indeed considered myself an excellent dungeon designer, somewhere along the way I bought into the 'realism' approach to dungeon design. My longest running campaigns involved a never ending chain of seperate two or three level dungeons wrapped around a mission of some sort. Now I simply accept the fact that dungeons are weird, illogical, nonsensical, mysterious and inexplicable, and that is part of their charm and allure. Sure, I indeed have a light 'why of it all' for my megadungeon, along with defined regions with themes, but the whole thing just cannot make sense. The harder you try to explain it, the more you restrict your creative potential.

I think I'll have to lift this theme for an upcoming post, Mike!


Amityville Mike said...

I just saw your post in regards to this one. I'm glad that inspired you to share your thoughts on the subject.

I've noticed that my slavish need to adhere to some sort of ecology or reason has been dimminishing more and more as I go along in the design. I still pay lip service to it a bit, but just for the slightist bit of versimilitude. I'm not longer constrained the way I was.

I've been thinking about exploring this some more, but you've done a wonderful job doing so in your own post. You hit a lot of same things I've been thinking about in it.