Thursday, 28 July 2016

Can Anything Fill the Portable Hole In Your Heart?

Here's a random idea I had the other day that I will probably never use, but maybe you can get some mileage out of it.

Not a big fan of dungeon adventures at this stage of my life. Why? Because dungeon adventures tend to spend a lot of time on the things I like least about the hobby. Long combats. Managing supplies. Traps. Players trying to make accurate maps. Players spending all their spells then calling the action to a halt until they get them back. Keeping track of arrows and how far you can see with torchlight and how much treasure you can carry and...

It's just exhausting. And it seldom has any emphasis on character development and drama, the things that I come back to the table week after week to enjoy and explore.

If you like those things too, you can mitigate some of the dullness of the dungeon crawl by making your dungeons short and flavourful. I'd rather play through a few rooms, whomp a few monsters, and move on rather than grind my way through level after level. Get in, get out; short and sweet.

But what if you wanted to make the dungeon and the drama interdependent? Let's imagine a game that is about exploring the characters as they explore the dungeon. You might be able to play this game using DUNGEON WORLD, but it would work for any of the many children that the World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game has sent into the world over the decades. Pick your favourite.

This would probably work for a longer single-session experience or for a short campaign of a few sessions. It might be harder to sustain the tension over a longer game. This idea probably owes something to the Flashback mechanics in Gregor Hutton's 3:16 - CARNAGE AMONGST THE STARS.

Start in media res, with the characters entering the dungeon. The players do not get to develop a backstory before play begins. They start with their character stats and equipment, and that's it. They don't know what their relationships to each other are, beyond the fact that they're a team exploring a dungeon together and they depend on each other for safety and success.

As they begin to explore, ask the players a few questions about their characters, APOCALYPSE WORLD style. Establish what it is that they are looking for in this dungeon. Is there a great treasure hidden here? A monster that needs to be banished? A lost piece of knowledge that must be found?

Each level that the characters explore, the GM asks more questions, and as they go deeper, the questions grow more probing, more demanding, more intimate. Why don't they trust the dwarf? What do you think the elf did to get that shiny magic sword he carries? Does the thief plan to use that phial of poison on his teammates, once they've got what they came for? What was the real reason that the cleric asked the ranger to come along on this little adventure? The barbarian doesn't remember you at all from that day his tribe burned your village to the ground, does he?

The GM teases out details of story from the group, but especially from the characters. Their personal motivations for the adventure and what they hope to get at the end of it. The lies they've told to the others about how they're going to share the treasure equally, or the noble cause they're serving, or what the strange bronze key they carry with them will open.

As the dungeon goes deeper, the darkness gathers.

What terrible truths are waiting for them when they reach the bottom?

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