Monday, October 3, 2011

Two Cents on Making Sense

In a recent EN World thread, Kaodi asked if architecturally sensible locations helped make tabletop roleplaying games better grounded for the players.  I responded as follows.

As much as I hate to generalize about types of gamers (and gaming styles), allow me to do just that even though I will specify that these types of gamers (and styles) can become one another over time, sometimes can even become one another from one session to the next, so heed that advice while thinking over the following . . .

In my experience dungeons that make sense are easier for logic-minded players to handle and overcome.  I also know that in such situations a little bit of surprise goes a long way.  Non-logic-minded players seem to be more surprised by even things I tend to think logical, but also seem to need more depth in the encounters individually.  But dungeons that make sense are not always a matter of architecture.

To give some quick examples to the point, I was recently revisisting Eric Noah's RPG pages and saw some maps that will help illustrate what I am posting.  Eric Noah, for some newer EN Worlders who might not realize, ran a site that was the progenitor for this website, hence the E. N. in EN World (and the E. N. in ENnies, which I am proud to say I first suggested).  Since the Mid-Nineties he has kept a journal of his campaigns online here including maps that people can grab and use for their own campaigns if they like.  Hopefully, he will not mind my using his efforts for my examples to follow.
Notice, for instance, the dungeon maps for the Multilevel Tomb.  Most of the twelve levels utilize but a single map -

Most Levels of the Tomb

These levels don't vary in architecture at all though adventurers might find very different inhabitants within the various chambers on each level, many that might or might not make sense.  However one level, though originally the same, has been added to by "The Wolf Tribe" who has carved out grottos to suit their purpose -

Level Six

Adventurers that first discover these changes when exploring the levels one by one will definitely feel a thrill at the differences but that's as much because of the otherwise sameness of the whole.
Alternately, though for similar reasons, the Caves of The Red Tooth Tribe seem chaotic in comparison.  However, if one were to see the write up for the following map, I'd imagine that it is divided into sections where different activities and purposes are at hand and adventurers would discover a rhyme and reason to the hodgepodge of tunnels and chambers.  There would be chambers to raise the young, sleeping chambes, an armory and weapon storage, training areas, places to prepare and cook food, etc.  When the adventurers begin to see the places and patterns, it will all make good sense.

Red Tooth Tribe Caves

So, while the architectual design can make sense, as in the first maps, their usage at the time when adventurers explore tham can be quite chaotic, and the reverse can also be true of rambling dungeons where the inhabitants are primarily all working toward a single purpose.  I see a lot of the same adventure design in Eric as I have had myself over the years.  I tend to err toward the end of making things "Pretty of Purpose," when appropriate, but to honor the history of a location with appropriate architecture as necessitated by the earliest inhabitants, if they were so skilled.
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