Sunday, March 6, 2011

Ogrim's Eleven: Or Bugbears and Bankvaults

I've been thinking about this post since Society of Torch, Pole and Rope talked about something similar with the Tomb of Horrors, so here goes...

In recent weeks, I've been trying to understand why the idea of the old-school dungeon crawl or megadungeon hasn't really inspired me that much. I seem to be able to comprehend the idea of the picaresque hero and the simple interpretable rules that seem so important to old-school games, but I really want to understand more of what's appealing about these places. I'm not really a big fantasy literature buff and the novels I do read tend to have very modern genre attitudes, like the Dresden Files and the Discworld series. The Tomb of Horrors post over at Society of Torch, Pole and Rope got me thinking hard on the subject. I love movies like The Sting, Ocean's Eleven and Snatch and television like Leverage and White Collar, which share a whole lot of elements with the dungeon crawl: assembling a crew, loading up on the requisite equipment, edging down corridors and disabling traps. So why couldn't I apply this love of a plan coming together to dungeons?

I think it's because they're not active enough for me.

Now before the entire D&D blogosphere jumps down my throat about their dungeons and experiences and whatever, note that I'm not saying that the megadungeon mode is a bad thing: it just may not be for me. Something about looting long abandoned temples just doesn't excite me that much. Sure, you may have just found the Eye of Hrumesh and taken it from its rightful temple, but where's the fallout from that? Who have you pissed off? Where are you going to lay low?

I think that I need to run old-school D&D like a Dortmunder novel: putting together a crew of quirky characters to do a job, whether it's trying to steal a magical artifact from a prominent guild leader or being hired by a scholar looking to retrieve significant findings in the field. A Magic-user casting Charm Person on the janitor to smuggle a pair of Thieves into the building while the Fighter looks on with a crossbow, ready to intervene if things get nasty (which they most likely will). Magical university buildings set up with Explosive Runes traps for nosy lockpicks or wizards trying to Knock their way into a fortune.

Stuff like that gets me fired up.


  1. Rob Donaghue (at Some Space to Think:, had a post about using the Leverage RPG to do dungeon crawls but I can't seem to find it. Anyway, I think this a great way to approach dungeons and it is totally appropriate to some the Appendix N source material (specifically Fafhrd & Grey Mouser).

  2. Not all retro-D&D is about mega dungeons. I'm like you in that to me its not all about mega dungeons. Try to dig up 5 coins for a kingdom or read a good sandbox campaign and you can see what I mean point in case is Ben Robins' West Marches campaign which was not a mega dungeon at all and Griffin Mountain which was also not a mega dungeon. There is a lot to like about a sandbox campaign design and it fosters emergent stories as opposed to pre plotted arcs YMMV tho'