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Old 06-29-2019, 10:53 AM   #1
Michael Thayne
 
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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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Old 06-29-2019, 12:52 PM   #2
EltonRobb
 
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

I had a hack'n' slash component in a recent game. The group descended on an ogre encampment and slew all the adults. Some of the ogres put in their licks however, because they almost killed a party member.

That episode was hack and slash, no one wanted to negotiate with the ogres. Instead, they killed them all. Of course it helped when they were buffed, but I got one of the player characters down to 3 hp. Oh, and we were playing Pathfinder.
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Old 06-29-2019, 01:43 PM   #3
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

A plus side to dungeons is that it removes questions in the PC's minds about what to do next.

As a contrast, in our last couple of city adventures we've apparently "missed" pretty much all of the "real opportunities". The DM explained post-session that if we had dived into that portal the city mortuary was using to dispose of corpses through it wouldn't have taken us to some random location in the Plane of Elemental Fire as we supposed but rather it would have taken us right to the City of Brass where large treasures and much xp awaited.

If you are confident in both your ability to present all the information the PCs need and in your player's ability to pick up those important clues then you can let plausability and logic rule.

If not, you need to show your PCs a railroad train _and_ make it truly obvious that it is going the way they want to go. Players only complain about railroading when riding the train makes no sense.
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Old 06-29-2019, 10:06 PM   #4
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

It largely depends upon the game.

If I"m throwing a hack-and-slash bit in an otherwise realistic game, I usually go more wilderness-based. Or I come up with a bit of dungeon-centric plot and let the dungeon kinda build itself from that.

On the other hand, if I'm playing a hack-and-slash campaign from the get-go... Sometimes it's nice to embrace the ridiculousness of the genre. Dragons and wizards are color-coded for your convenience. Diverse monsters are in dungeons with no food or bathrooms. Money is found in economically improbable amounts. The goblins don't use the magic weapons in the poorly locked treasure chest. Hang a lampshade on it and make fun of it both in-game and out. It can be a fun romp if everybody is in on the fun.
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Old 06-30-2019, 01:36 AM   #5
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
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"?
Depends on the type of hack and slash you want to engage in. The big virtue of dungeons is that it constrains where the players can go; you can build a list of encounters and know that (a) you'll probably actually use most of them, and (b) you probably won't have to design additional encounters on the fly. By comparison, open world sandbox games either require you to detail a lot of stuff that will never actually get used, or detail stuff on the fly as the PCs go there. Both will tend towards encounters that are somewhat more generic than you get out of prepared set piece fights.

If you and your players don't care about the sandbox aspect, you can just direct people into the encounters you have prepared.
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Old 06-30-2019, 05:57 AM   #6
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

A small coherent dungeon can have a group allied monsters that will gang up on the PCs, if they see them coming and get the word out to their pals, requiring more stealth and cunning to take out guards and small groups quickly and quietly, and avoid large concentrations. A mega dungeon, can have more physical separation between the monsters, and a variety of faction competing against each other in an uneasy balance, more or less like a city, or a somewhat geographically compressed above ground situation with rival Ďstatesí and factions.

The stereotypical medium-sized dungeon, with a variety of unconnected monsters packed on top of each other needs a more unique explanation. One group might be in the middle of invading and taking the dungeon from another. In that case traps the adventurers fall into are there security against each other. Some of the non-sapient monsters might be kept as a food source (or some other resource) of a group of more intelligent monsters, or it might be a wild beast that they donít want to lose members of their tribe fighting, but they have a secure place it canít reach. In any case, I think this kind of situation is probably unstable, and in the game world, the PCs just happen to come along at the right time. If they retreat to the surface and come back later, things may have changed, and they could find themselves facing more unified opposition.
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Old 06-30-2019, 12:10 PM   #7
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

I've used three dungeon-types for hack-n-slash.

In the first, the area is known for producing "adventurers", and the local equivalent to the Chamber of Commerce keeps a dungeon stocked with minor treasures and non-intelligent monsters. They're all in there because they were put there, and a party has to wait their turn to go in. (Also, it's understood that a certain percentage of apprentice adventurers who go in aren't coming out...) This, of course, is clearly intended for beginning adventurers - no self-respecting 6th-level Fighter is going to be caught dead (or undead) in the place.

The second is an abandoned wizard's keep, dating from the Chaos Wars. Creatures are lured in by the fact that as long as you live within those walls, you are provided with food and shelter (the wizard didn't want to maintain a staff, but also didn't want to be bothered with cooking or cleaning, so the place maintains itself magically). Then you show up, looking for the wizard's old Macguffin of Plot-Propelling, and on we go.

The third was actually a wizard's college before the Chaos Wars. In recent centuries, however, part have been co-opted by a blue dragon and its minions, while another part has been claimed by a tribe of orcs. There's an uneasy truce between the two sides; the orcs have the numbers, while the dragon has the power, and neither one has the ability to both access and use some of the old stuff lying around. (And since much of it was made by students, it's not all useful; I was inspired by the chart of Useless Magical Items in Murphy's Rules.) It also happens to be located in a mountain pass that the party needs to cross...

None of them are plot-dependent, and can be dropped in just anywhere - they don't even need a plot, if all you're looking for is quick hack-n-slash with minimal worldbuilding.
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Old 06-30-2019, 09:45 PM   #8
Michael Thayne
 
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fred Brackin View Post
A plus side to dungeons is that it removes questions in the PC's minds about what to do next.

As a contrast, in our last couple of city adventures we've apparently "missed" pretty much all of the "real opportunities". The DM explained post-session that if we had dived into that portal the city mortuary was using to dispose of corpses through it wouldn't have taken us to some random location in the Plane of Elemental Fire as we supposed but rather it would have taken us right to the City of Brass where large treasures and much xp awaited.

If you are confident in both your ability to present all the information the PCs need and in your player's ability to pick up those important clues then you can let plausability and logic rule.

If not, you need to show your PCs a railroad train _and_ make it truly obvious that it is going the way they want to go. Players only complain about railroading when riding the train makes no sense.
I'm not sure if this is really true. "Get from point A to point B through the monster-filled wilderness" is a pretty straightforward task. The portal thing seems like a problem that could've come up in a dungeon, if you'd put the portal in a dungeon.

For people who like running dungeons with a veneer of plausibility, I'm curious what justifications you come up with for making sure the dungeon functions as a series of discrete encounters, rather than a few big ones. I just tried to write a simple dungeon adventure by making a list of monsters I thought would "play well" together (basically constructs / demons / undead plus some good old dungeon mold), but I couldn't resist the urge to group most of them into two main groups of monsters, while deciding the rest had been confined by their masters in ways that would make it easy for smart PCs to bypass them.

One option, I guess, is just to grab your RPG's system for stealth, hearing stuff, or whatever and let the dice determine whether any given group of monsters hear what's going on in the next room or not. If they do, the PCs can only take the monsters on "one group at a time" if they can kill the baddies very quickly...
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Old 07-01-2019, 08:46 AM   #9
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

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Originally Posted by Michael Thayne View Post
I'm not sure if this is really true. "Get from point A to point B through the monster-filled wilderness" is a pretty straightforward task. .
It'd have versions of that "portal" problem if some of the encounters are detected in advance but assessed only as threats and not opportunities.
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Old 07-01-2019, 09:49 AM   #10
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Default Re: Pros and cons of dungeons for hack and slash roleplaying

As far as I can tell dungeons are only really gameable if they are heavily factionalised and lightly occupied (and some of Gygax's original dungeon generators give you a lot of empty rooms...).
Dungeons also don't work at the middle to upper levels of the power curve where PCs are apt to disintegrate, earthglide and otherwise bypass their way through the dungeon in a way that removes its utility as a streaming device. Yes, there are ways of countering this but it tends to make the players feel trolled.
Always wondered about a Dungeonpunk setting where dungeon crawling is, essentially, a bloodsport - somewhere between gladiatorial combat and a gameshow and PCs are going room to room on not-TV. Would justify any manner of zoo-stocking and weird Gygaxian puzzle rooms.
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