Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Roar of the Megadungeon Grognards

Two blogs that I highly respect, Grognardia and Greyhawk Grognard have very interesting posts on Megadungeons here and here.

The basic problem is that we never had a published version of any classic Megadungeons we heard about Blackmoor, Greyhawk, El Raja Key in the original rules they used. We had various later version but they all suffered from the "We made shit up for this release" problem.

Much like the beautiful Darlene Map was made for the Greyhawk Folio and doesn't not represent the map Gygax actually used for his campaign. Although it was said later he adopted it as his own.

In the last couple of years, because of the Internet, a lot of people wound up comparing notes with help of commentary from the folks that ran stuff back then (Gygax, Arneson, etc). The general consensus is that the problem is the original dungeon don't exist in the format that we think they exist in. The original dungeons are mostly a map with notes and few detailed rooms. Often coupled with some method of random generating room contents and inhabitants. It explains all the examples we currently have (Blackmoor from FFC, Tegal, etc)

However what dominated the publishing market was not those early example but the fully fleshed out Tournament Dungeon like the G series, Tomb of Horrors, the Ghost Tower, the A series, etc. This became THE format in which to present an adventure module.

Suddenly those old notes looked unpublishable much to the detriment of our hobby.

While both James and Joesph make good points they both miss the mark.

See the greatest enemy of a DM is time. Time to prepare for a upcoming session. It is only natural that the early (and current) DM try to only write down the minimum needed to run the session or campaign.

This press for time create a market for publishers to provide GMs with products that save time. Adventure module, aides, settings, etc. The first thought of a publisher is "Hey! I can spend the time fleshing out everything for the GM. Everybody will find that valuable." It logical and easily understandable. But it is also probably the worse thing one can do for these old dungeons.

One of the initial appeals of the RPGs, as Greyhawk Grognard points out, is their dynamic nature. Now you need some base level of detail but beyond that you need to make shit up in response to what the player are doing.

I think the notes found with the few examples of the old Megadungeon are sufficient with one important caveat. The GM needs to be taught how to use them. And that what lacking from the old days.

The way to tackle this for a mega dungeon not just be a map and a collection of sparse notes. But also have chapters on teaching somebody that has never run this type of dungeon before how to run it. They need to be written not as a series of detailed room description but how make up detailed room descriptions ON THE FLY. How to keep thing consistent (if that a goal) and all the other issues.

Then suddenly the sparse notes format of the old megadungeons become publishable in a affordable format. New Megadungeons can be made within a reasonable time. They become a springboard for the GM and player's creativity rather than the straight jacket of the tournament style dungeon.


Aaron E. Steele said...

I would love to get my hands on the tables and notes, and some commentary on the "set-of-your-pants" approach to DMing.

But I don't need more maps.

I picked up a copy of Ultimate Toolbox, and intend to buy the Dungeon Alphabet. Those, along with the original DMs Guide, are the sort of things I find useful.

But not more maps.

I have the greatest resect for Gygax, Arneson and the other giants of role-playing.

But I can make up my own maps and derivative adventures.

And I don't say 'derivative' in a disparaging way, I am a big proponent of archetype and trope.

Talysman said...

Your post has got me thinking about how you would teach someone to improvise a dungeon. I've started posting some suggestions, but I think this is going to have to be a group effort.

nextautumn said...

All right, I'm an idiot - but here's my 2 cents on the whole topic: The reason you never saw - and will never see - a megadungeon the way Gygax and Arneson did it, is because Gygax and Arneson WERE the game - at least, in one important way. They MADE the rules; they could damn well change them and anything else about it or a dungeon or anything else whenever they felt like it. It was their game. But then it wasn't. Suddenly it was my game too - and yours and everybody else's. Only MY players didn't look at me the way Gary's looked at him. I wasn't the game; I was just the same dufus they'd always known, only now I was in charge of monsters that were trying to kill their characters. Naturally, they wanted an even playing field. That meant rules - and more rules. They didn't want me just deciding on the fly to close off a passage that had been open before. That wasn't *@#&ing fair. Gary could get away with stuff like that because he was INVENTING the game - I was only playing it. So I'm with James over at Grognardia - short of actually playing with Gygax or Arneson or Kuntz (playing with them in the early seventies, really), you'll never get at the absolute true root of what they were doing. But more importantly - that's o.k. The act of commercializing the game changed it - but that was both inevitable and, to a certain extent, desirable. It's a great game - it's just not as shapeless (for lack of a better word) as it was in the beginning. It is the way of all things.

Aaron E. Steele said...

@nextautumn: two thumbs up.