Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Using Dungeons Differently

Been pondering on how to get more/different styles of play out of fantasy dungeon RPGs.  The default model is go in to this unknown place, kick open some doors, fight some monsters  and leave with loot.  The experience point system of old-school play (except the oldest model) supports avoiding fights and sneaking off with loot but that style of play is seldom adhered to and often falls into the smash and grab dungeoncrawl. We know there's other types of adventure how to get players to go along is the trick.

Sneak Thieves: In this model it's all about not getting noticed and getting the loot. For this to work there has to be a few elements to keep it from devolving into smash and grab. The elements should include:
* a known goal such as a big gem, piece of art, or a coins in a treasure vault that can be stolen. This one is easy but knowing where the goodies are should be explained through contact with the rest of the campaign, a patron, or a treasure map.
* some knowledge of the location; conveyed by map or accomplice. The accomplice may or may not be a patron, could be an inside-man, or might be a lowly mug needing help from the PCs.
* a covert means of entry such as a backdoor, a window, a sewer-pipe, a chimney an accomplice has purposefully left cold.
* a defensive force that the players are not keen on fighting because the defenders are either overwhelming or the defenders are not entities the PCs really shouldn't be fighting. The defenders the PCs should be avoiding could include the forces of law, a faction that the PCs are noy ready to go to war with, or a traditionally neutral force such as plain old gnomes. This force can be made overwhelming by organization, numbers, or force. Force is easy but heavy handed, 400 gnomes can be troublesome and give the PCs a bad rep if they were to go in swinging. Maybe the patron is part of the group holding the loot or allied with them and would rather not be discovered or harm them beyond the theft. There are lot's of ways to swing this but the trick is keeping the players from going murder-hobo and that's is going to require them to care about not going berserk and killing everyone between themselves and the loot.
* sneaking drama: there has to be some game-able tension about sneaking. If it's just surprise rolls and stumbling down halls it's not working right.

Confidence Men: This model is very much like sneak thieves and can be coupled with it of course but the big difference here is the PCs (some of them at least) will make themselves known to the victims, interact with them peacefully, and trick them into giving the PCs access to the loot. For this to work elements may involve:
* a would-be victim that doesn't always shoot first and ask question later
* characters for players to interact with in a non-violent manner. These can be foils, minions of the victim that can be bribed or turned to aid the PCs, and interesting "villain" that shouldn't be or can't be directly challenged.
* variable pacing: while a sneak thieves scenario could all be going after the big score on a round per round basis the the confidence game could paly itself out over a period of days or weeks of game-world time.

Miners: This model has the PCs involved in mining itself. The goal is to extract the riches from the earth and depending on the status of the PCs this there are various challenges including having the right tools and surviving underground.  A mining scenario needs:
* something to mine that is interesting to the players
* some variation in tools that will improve mining as things go along.
* hazards of mining such as bad air, cave-ins, temperature, and all thsoe pesky dungeon dwellers hiding under the earth.

Hunting: PCs are purposefully going into a  hazardous environment to hunt specific quarry or a class of quarry. This hunting can be collecting sticky bird nests, rare bat guano, or slime collecting not just more straight up hunting.  This scenario requires:
* known quarry, either a type of game (or goal) or a specific creature.
* stalking about so as to not cause the quarry to run away
* a reason to care about quarry over other creatures, maybe the quarry ran into a catacomb occupied by ghouls and th ePCs want to get the quarry before it is munched on.

Hunting and Mining can both take places in the territory of allies, this really changes up the kick in the door an kill everything while squeezing out the last 3 cp model of dungeon-crawling.

Just a few ideas but all of the above could take place in a seemingly standard dungeon environment and it would allow players a wider experience in familiar settings with rules they are familiar with.


  1. All these sounds like good options to try.

    1. Just realized the Mining and hunting options can happen on genuinely neutral or friendly territory and this really changes up the standard murder-hobo dungeon-crawling setup. I also saw someone with an outline for dungeon fishing in the past few weeks.