Friday, July 11, 2014

Back To The Basic

Moving along with dungeon design, I have been looking at the structure of the megadungeon. I have been playing in megadungeons since my first game where e explored the East Tower of the Haunted Keep back in 1982. In those early years though dungeon design was random and weird—just the way we liked it. Classic dungeon design was tiered so that the "easier" encounters were on the upper levels and progressively got harder as you descended into the depths of the unknown. I am exploring a similar principle in my overall design for the Serial Adventure Project, but slightly modified. In an interview with +Greg Gillespie on the Save Or Die Podcast, Greg talks about his design of the classic megadungeon Barrowmaze. There were two ideas that stood out in this interview that work well with the goals of the serial adventure project; first, the players always returned to the town that they started in and second Barrowmaze is a "flat" dungeon that sprawls out on a single plane.

By having the players always return to town he avoided the challenge of what to do if a party member was absent from one week to the next and how to add new players or "write out" a player who leaves the group. This may be a little "railroady" to do outside of the traditional dungeon where it would be deadly to camp out over-night, but I may have a good way to deal with that. Always returning to an "A" point in the story is a common device used in Televison and Film serials. I will try hard to use the mission or mystery of the week format, but I will need a unique starting point or starting points that would be the "A" position for the party.

Pretty straightforward:
1. Draw a map of the dungeon
2. Stock the dungeon
Greg also didn't use a typical dungeon level structure where as you go down the difficulty went up. Barrowmaze is essentially a single plane dungeon and the difficulty varies from room to room. I think this is a good good idea when creating a node based dungeon, but in the case of the serial adventure project each node could potentially be located several miles from another which could make for a disastrous couple of hours of game play if a low level party decides to explore a node that is far too high for them and meets with an instant TPK. To help keep some structure of level appropriateness (is that a word?)  I plan to pick a couple of central ground zero points and as the players move up, down or away from them the difficulty of the encounters will rise. Since it will always be the player's choice of where to go, each situation will have a point of invitation, the hook, and at least one point of quick egress.

The megadungeon is perhaps the oldest style of dungeon in RPGs so why not look back to the original works for some inspirational how-to?