Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Reasonable Facsimile of Reality

I certainly didn’t shy away from a challenge when I decided to return to the game. By setting the goal of creating a megadungeon with an old-school charm, there was no edging back into the pool from the shallow end. It’s a sink-or-swim project.

I’ve mentioned my “bad habits” in a previous post or two and I believe now is the time to elaborate on what I consider to be “bad habits.” The use of the parenthesis is indicative of the fact that I don’t actually consider these habits of mine to be detrimental to running role-playing games. I’m just not sure how conducive they might be painting with old-school colors, so to speak. Role-playing has evolved from the “loot and scoot” dungeon crawl, where dragons dwelled in 20’ x 20’ rooms and a hundred flavors of monsters lived under one roof like contestants in a reality series. There’s an emphasis now a days on realistic dungeon ecologies, inter-tribal politics, and a general need to find a thin shred of plausibility to suspend your disbelief from. On one hand, this is obviously a good thing. We’ve gotten older and more sophisticated, so we hope that our hobby reflects that. On the other, however, this need to justify every last critter you stock a dungeon with can tie your hands on a project.

I’m trying to find the thin line between the gonzo dungeons of yore and the post-modern role-playing mindset that has crept into the referee section of my brain. It’s not always easy. Sometimes I’m forced to tackle the problem by thinking, “what would Dave or Gary do?” More time than not, that allows me to loosen things up a bit and I’m often pleased with the end result.

So the problem facing me from the beginning was how was I going to justify the existence of a massive underground structure filled with monsters and loot and still maintain a shred of credibility? The answer, like it often is if you look hard enough, rests in a real place.

From a very young age, I was fascinated with “real” monsters like Bigfoot and Nessie, ghosts, weird places, etc. Amongst the various books that I read regarding those subjects, I learned of the Winchester Mystery House. The quick synopsis of the Mystery House is that Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune, was told that she was haunted by the spirits of those killed by the “gun that tamed the Wild West.” To confuse and/or appease those specters, she was advised to construct a house and never stop building. Construction occurred until her death, with the end result being a bizarre residence with a convoluted floor plan.

I’m stealing the Winchester Mystery House. Not whole cloth, mind you, but enough to use as a frame work to build the dungeon around. This random construction idea also throw open the doors to allow the entrance of another tool that I had hoped to use in the design of the dungeon, namely the “Random Dungeon Generation” tables from the back of the 1st Edition DMG.

I’ve mapped out the first two levels so far using this process and I’m pleased with the way things are turning out. But that’s for another post.

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