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Old 06-29-2019, 10:53 AM   #1
Michael Thayne
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Join Date: May 2010
Default Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

Here's something I've been puzzling over lately: if you want to have some fun running a simple hack and slash roleplaying game, should it take place in a "dungeon"? A big downside of dungeons is plausibility. The stereotypical dungeon has bunch of monsters in confined living quarters, who for some reason don't try to eat each other but also fail to work together in any meaningful way, allowing a small group of four to six PCs to overcome a much larger number of monsters via defeat in detail. This can be okay if the dungeon is a haunted castle (or mine or whatever), since maybe each ghost and demon that haunt it is each magically bound to haunt a different area. Beyond that, it can get a bit hard to justify why assaulting a dungeon isn't simply a matter of "rocks fall (through the murder holes above you), everyone dies, what did you expect assaulting a well-defended fortress with only four dudes?"

In some ways the wilderness adventure seems better-suited for a straightforward hack and slash experience. The monsters neither try to eat each other nor are capable of ganging up on the PCs because vast tracts of wilderness separate them. And on some level, the experience of clearing a small dungeon of a half-dozen rooms one room at a time isn't that different from a two-and-a-half week wilderness trek where you roll once per day to encounter a random monster with roughly 1 in 3 odds. The downside of such wilderness treks in my experience is that players sometimes complain, "so we're just wandering through the wilderness fighting random monsters?" Being told you've gotten through the first week of the trek can be less satisfying than getting to see how many rooms you've cleared on the dungeon trek.

In published adventure modules, I've seen numerous very creative solutions to the "how to let PCs win" problem in the dungeon, from apparent allies secretly hating each other to a giant monster in the basement making so much noise it's impossible to hear what's going on in the next room. I've seen less on making wilderness adventures work, though I wonder if adding more landmarks to your wilderness could help with players' sense that they're making progress.

So thoughts? When running games with a large hack and slash component, do you prefer dungeons, wilderness adventures, or something else?
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