Thursday, October 11, 2012

Empty Rooms are Full of Talkie-Talkie this Week

Pardon the title, but it seem as if empty rooms are the subject du week in the OSR-verse after Joethelawyer's post about his recent experience with Dwimmermount (link to Grognardia's Dwimmermount tag). There's been a lot of talk about the importance of empty rooms in the megadungeon, mostly around two main ideas - space (for exploration, party camping ability, etc.) and weirdness (or fuck-a-diddle's as Stephan Poag termed it). Both, IMO, are spot on observations about the construction of the Megadungeon environment and play-style and I do think they are both necessary.

However, I think the responses I've seen from the OSR community as a whole seem to be focused more on explaining why Joethelawyer had a bad experience based on the assumption that he isn't aware of the empty room megadungeon framework. Which is fine-and-dandy, but perhaps there's a different reason. As a designer, I see something different in his post than a springboard to explain megadungeon design - I see a player's expectations not being matched to the game environment - and I'm not going to try and provide information regarding the different styles, I'm going to try and provide some help on making the different styles mesh together better.

His posts starts off with something that should key the reader in very quick that the Megadungeon environment is probably not a good fit.

Here's the thing--as a player, I want my character to kick some ass, be awesome, and have a tale to tell back at the tavern so he can get some action with the serving wenches.  You know, Conan, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser style.  That to me is the motivation to play an adventurer.

This, to me, is not the megadungeon style, and certainly not the style of Dwimmermount as I've come to understand it from Grognardia's posts over the years.To me, the root of the issue is in different play style preferences.

Assuming that I've said something of interest, what, as a designer, can be done to try and make Joethelawyer's apparent preference mesh better with a megadungeon environment like Dwimmermount? Below are a few thoughts/responses pulled from comments on his post.

Rooms with stuff that on its surface looks interesting, but in the end is just a needless distraction that doesn't lead to anything cool.  Ever.  Not even once in a while.  There was one room with ghosts around a table.  They gave no clues to greater mysteries,  they provided no combat opportunities, they were nothing but a waste of time

1. Provide a quicker way for players to place fuck-a-diddles into the greater context of the megadungeon. Provide these contexts quicker the closer the room is to the entrance to the dungeon to grab the attention of new players. Leave the majority of context-less fuck-a-diddles for deeper areas, which when encountered are based upon the idea that the player is already "hooked" into the environment and will find contextless aspects less frustrating.

There was a room with half dozen balloons.  No one is stupid enough to go into such a room, so we shot them from outside.  One exploded and caused the others to explode.  Would have done damage had we been in there.  Again, who would be stupid enough to be in there?
2. Provide the opportunity for players to utilize traps against enemies. I don't know if this room could be used in such a manner, but I think the room would be improved were players able to use the trap against lured enemies in some manner.

There was another room where nothing aged.  Why?  Who placed it there?  Why place such a massive investment of magical energy (time stop being a 9th level spell) into a room with not a goddamned thing in it worth anything?  At the end I just wanted to smash everything in the room out of frustration.
3. Another example of contextlessness providing frustration. Perhaps the Dwimmermount notes provide an explanation of the room to the GM, and if it does, providing a way for the *players* to find out the reason would be beneficial. If possible, finding a way for the players to find out that provides a material reward of some sort (treasure, intel) would be even better.

Then, random rooms with stuff in it for no reason.  In one room, in a corner, is a bag with 1000 gp.  Why?  Empty otherwise, except for the orcs we drove off.  Orcs, with 1000 gp.  Exactly 1000 gp.  It's a very exact dungeon.  Another room had debris in it.  After killing the rats in it, we spent 30 minutes looking thru rat shit and found 2000 cp.  Why?  Oh, and there was also some other crap like a pin and a comb worth some money.
4. This touches on one of my design preferences: generally avoid round numbers. Round numbers do not feel organic and the organic feeling is very important during play, IMO. This should be an easy fix and one that, IMO, would benefit even players who prefer the Megadungeon style of play already.

And to finish up this already long post....
Where's the grand tale of adventure in that?  Would it make a good movie?  Would you pay eight bucks to see it on the big screen?  Did we do anything awesome?  Did we encounter weird ass shit and survive by the skin of our teeth, using our wits and courage to overcome the obstacles?  Was there at any point an opportunity or a need to be creative with the stuff in the environment to further our ends?  Was the environment itself creative and mysterious, leaving us a with a sense of awe and wonder?  Did it make us want to explore further?  Did it open up further layers of a mystery?
This highlights where the different play desires don't mesh. Joethelawyer is thinking of the game in terms of a movie. IMO, the Megadungeon environment is not a movie - (at most) megadungeons are thematic tapestries in which various areas can explore different themes and these themes are usually not explored until deeper in the dungeon. Movies are narrative pieces with a purpose - Megadungeons don't have a purpose - they have many different purposes.

Would my suggestions have improved Joethelawyer's experience with Dwimmermount? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Regardless, I think they're useful things to think about when designing for an audience that is not your personal table.

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