Of dungeons and crawling therein

20 September, 2008 at 11:21 am (actual play, dungeon crawling, game mastering) (, , , , , )

Previous Wednesday, me, ksym and wgaztari did some old-fashioned dungeoncrawling. I was the GM. A dungeon was one I had designed some years ago after having read about megadungeon mapping and map design. I had basically designed enough of it to keep running the game for several sessions. There is no map except the one drawn in play, partially be me, partially by the players.

The rules can be found in a wiki: http://dungeonsurvival.pbwiki.com/.

Style of play

A sandbox world; surface destroyed, players play a bunch of survivors trying to survive within a vast network of caves, or more precisely a small portion thereof. There are a total of 26 survivors (25 originally, one more joined in game), 5+1 of them somewhere around 1 or 2nd level in power if converted to D&D3rd, 10 1st level NPC or PC class, 10 first level commoners. Players can play any number of these at once, as suits the situation and their preferences.

The philosophy of play is adapted from a document called quick primer for old school gaming. Another influence is an old forum thread called megadungeon mapping.


This gaming is all about exploration. There were only two combats total in the first session, which was something of an introduction.

The shape of the dungeon and terrain it has are of great importance; they are the arena of play. Large rocks to hide behind as a small kobold warband chases after hooded and cloaked creatures, rocky terrain where centipedes have easy time moving and hiding, while people less so, a deep pond for a crocodile to wait in. And the player characters must divide their forces to watch all entrances they want to hold secure, which means that the activity level of different entrances is an interesting factor.

Random encounters are paramount, not only to keep the PCs threatened, but further to create cause and effect. Kobolds discovered the band of humans, so I will adjust the random encounter tables to reflect that; a much greater chance of kobold warband appearing, particularly. Not all random encounters are threats; rarely there will be a lone survivor who is only glad to find more people (the previous such survivor was mute, though).

It is all about resource management; right now, hit points, people, spells, alchemical ingrdients and torches are all pretty big deal. There is sufficient water, but food may become a problem.

Play summary

I started the game when scouts discover a place that looks promising; there is life and water. So, basically no option to choose another starting location. It is a large cavern with water, bugs, moss and mushrooms. There’s four exits plus the one they came from. Careful investigation, less careful investigation, a crocodile performing a surprise attack, soon dispatched (armoured monsters can take a few hits). One entrance is explored, some centipedes are fought, one character is reduced to 0 hp by poison, none killed. Main group arrives. An alchemist starts brewing poison, the wounded are resting.

The alchemist has completed the venom, which is fed to the centipedes using part of the dead crocodile as a bait. While the poison is (hopefully) taking effect another cave is explored; there are two skulls on wooden poles on the entrance. The maze-like location is explored a little, sounds of marching foodsteps heard, retreat made, whispers heard, kobolds shooting at small escaping hooded figures noticed, kobold party avoided.

Things to improve

Measuring time is difficult due to no sun. I’ll need to make random encounters less frequent and build the time economy more heavily around them. A chance of encounter per four hours, maybe.

Better random encounter tables. Just adding an option for wandering monster, which will include such fabulous beasts as minotaurs, rust monsters, orcish rampagers, giant scorpions, elementals, cave-dwelling versions of boars and big cats and wolves and bears and so on might do the trick. The cave is far too tame as of yet, and it is a place where there is water, so encounters ought to be varied and frequent.

Tools of the trade

Simple googling reveals any number of random dungeon generators, which are fun enough as toys. There’s How to host a dungeon by Tony Dowler, including a free version, which is basically a toy for generating dungeons.

Resources that give random room descriptions would be useful. Not that I would use them as such, but they would be good for inspiration. Do any suitable generators exist?

Another useful thing would be wandering/random monster/encounter tables. I can’t be the only one using them, and creating a wiki or something for them would be of little effort. Are there any such tables online?

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Not a design blog.

21 December, 2007 at 12:11 pm (meta) (, )

You know all those blogs where random indie designers post about their own projects? I find them utterly boring. Even if the projects are interesting. I won’t be doing that, hopefully, by starting a small design project here. If I ever get it done, it will be available for free under creative commons. I do it mostly as an exercise and because the damn thing has implanted itself in my head.

Design goals

The core idea: Dungeoncrawling and generic adventuring. Genre: Somewhere between D&D and sword and sorcery. Core story: One or multiple characters select a goal and succeed at it, give up, or perish trying to achieve it. This works best with a self-balancing game.

The game will be full of exact rules. Every skill shall have a clear and explicit use. In addition to that, and to avoid the problems inherent in exact rules, adventure/dungeon designers are encouraged to expand the use of skills for specific situations. The game will be very much a game; players take on goals (GM can design quests or players can decide to do something else within the offered setting) and receive rewards for completing them. If they try too hard, their character may get killed or permanently maimed, or get other trouble. The game will work with only one player and one GM. If I manage it, the might work with only a single player, but it will have a different nature when played that way.

Structure of the game

Characters start at a safe place (a point of light, if you will). They gather information and set an objective for themselves. They equip themselves for the quest. They travel to adventure location (by default, a dungeon). Quick or stealthy travel means no or few random encounters, which potentially deplete the resources of the characters. Once they arrive at the adventure location, the characters must navigate it to their final destination. This is essentially navigating a flowchart. Moving too slowly or carelessly will cause random encounters. Rushing in too quickly will cause missing useful shortcuts and other secrets. Once the objective is reached (or characters too exhausted to effectively go on), a way back to safety must be discovered and the journey survived. Once back, characters will face the consequences of the quest they took and those they didn’t (though some will only manifest given a longer period of time and some won’t be urgent at all). They will have time to recuperate from their wounds and weariness, will usually spend all their hard-won loot on booze and whores and other entertainment, take on new quests, and the process begins anew.

On actual crunch

Core mechanic is stolen from Ville Vuorela‘s Praedor (a Finnish rpg) and a forum  thread by Jim Bob (Kyle). That is: Roll nd6, try to get below relevant skill. Sometimes the number of dice/difficulty is fixed, but usually the player gets to decide it, with greater number of dice giving greater benefits. Also, most rolls are player-initiated. Also, players roll all the dice (as a default assumption). Opponents have fixed results.

Why not just play D&D or Rune

D&D has too much cruft and extra bits. Rune is too competitive, has at least one significant balance problem and has far too much point-counting to be enjoyable to me. Besides, I’m doing this as a design exercise and as an excuse for playtesting and fun dungeonbashing every now and then.

Why not make it electronic

I don’t have the skills for that, nor do I find it equally interesting. One or both of these may follow from the other.

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