Friday, February 26, 2010

The Dungeon is Fundamentally Different

Tuesday, Zak at Playing D&D with Porn Stars, in a post called Some More Nice Things About Dungeons says this:
This makes adventures based around the classic dungeon (and any interior space you use in a game which resembles a classic dungeon--a stripped-down Death Star, a Tron-like computery world, etc.) fundamentally unlike all other kinds of adventure.

I think Zak's nailing it in this post about what makes the dungeon gaming different from any other kind of gaming. It's a fascinating insight.

Every role-playing game uses some kind of constraints to manage what the player (and the GM) can and can't do. There are realism constraints (your regular-guy character can't lift a bus), setting constraints (can't harm the werewolf with regular weapons), fictional constraints (the local priest won't heal you because you called his god a two-bit faith healer last session), social constraints (the GM doesn't want you to leave town because that derails the adventure), and probably way more I can't think of right now.

The dungeon neatly rolls a bunch of the constraints of the game up into the simple fact that it has walls and corridors that you can't circumvent without a great deal of effort, and probably not even then. Notice that the structure of the dungeon acts, at different times, as a constraint of ever sort I listed above. It boils the adventure down to a small set of options so that those options can be highlighted.

And that's a big part of what's awesome about it.

I'm trying to keep this in mind as I prepare my dungeon mastery posts.

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OpenID muleabides said...

Agreed. That's a hell of a post. Dave Arneson said the dungeon came about for exactly that reason of constraining the action, but Zak did a great job of articulating all the reasons that's true and why it works.
- Tavis

February 27, 2010 at 6:36 AM

Blogger jaerdaph said...

To be successful (i.e. everyone has fun and doesn't feel railroaded), you need two things - suspension of disbelief from the players and verisimilitude from the GM. Players need to willingly accept these constraints (the payoff for doing so being the potential for entertainment). To get this player buy-in, the GM must therefore create a sense of believability (or at least possibility) in the context of his campaign, carefully balanced with a sense of wonder, as surprises and discoveries are a key ingredient for fun.

February 27, 2010 at 9:02 AM

Blogger Tony said...

Yes and yes! The dungeon is just a great shorthand to buy in.

The town is full of options. The GM has to basically decide which options are valid, and do so on the fly as the PC's invent new ones out of thin air.

There's this bit in Zak's post where he talks about a GM trying to discourage a PC from breaking into a gun shop to steal a gun.

In the dungeon, the walls of the dungeon constrain the options in a way that doesn't require a lot of GM effort to reinforce and make beleivable.

Mind you, there are games that thrive on a multitude of options and little constraint. In a Wicked Age comes to mind. I reckon some people run D&D that way happily too. But when you're talking dungeon games, you're talking constraint.

I can't beleive it took me this long to figure that out.

February 27, 2010 at 1:04 PM

Blogger jaerdaph said...

There always has to be some level of constraint in any tabletop RPG, even if that is just the amount of time the GM has to invest in prep. And if the dungeon model is the shorthand, then the sandbox is the longhand.

But even a sandbox has some constraint, i.e. the 'box'. To get a bigger 'box', you need GM buy-in, such as the sense of accomplishment and pleasure derived from world building.

On a related note, I recently looked at the Wushu system. It really is well-named in that you have to drop some of your preconceived notions of what a tabletop RPG is to understand it, much like you do when you compare Eastern medicine or philosophy to their Western counterparts. In Wushu, your characters can do anything you want them to, but the constraints on this freedom are all social - there are pre-agreed upon limits of the defined genre of the campaign, and other players and the GM can veto your action to further the story. It really is an interesting concept.

Anyhow, there's great food for thought in your post. Looking forward to reading more.

And you though we just came here for the great maps. :D

February 28, 2010 at 12:15 PM


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