Monday, December 29, 2014

Why is there a dungeon entrance in my grandmother's basement?

In the current campaign, we recently relocated from a setting where the dungeon was an hour or so outside of town and we usually could expect to just walk the day's loot out, no major fuss involved. Now we're 160 miles away, with our return rides, some hirelings, and the food for the way back camped a short ride outside of monster town, where their existence might be reasonably deduced by some likely future hostiles we've encountered.

At the moment the adventure balance is sort of Warcraft-like. Town is safe, most encounters are site-based. You really have to pick your loot when you have to carry it back for a week's uncertain caravan back to safety or trade with a troll for crude-but-portable swag.

The distance-from-safety involved in the campaign's move poses some interesting role-playing challenges. And I think it's pretty clear that having an unquestionably safe place a trivial distance away removes food and water tracking as a game element, and lessens the importance of planning ahead for gear. I like obsessing over gear, but living out of a backpack is pretty mundane adventure.

There is a lot of adventure potential in having danger on your doorstep, if the danger occasionally crosses the threshold. Then your safe place may not be so safe. Of course, there might be hostile factions in town that shift the focus of play away from the dungeon, but it's a different sort of thing when an evil thing is tearing up Moe's Tavern and you're listening at the doors of the inn. At that point, the dungeon/town dichotomy breaks down.

But then, so does the stability of the game world, so maybe that's why more DM's don't do that. Not everyone wants to play Warhammer or Cthulhu when they play D&D.


  1. Now that we've experienced both close homebase and far homebase, I'm definitely leaning towards homebase being close. I think the pros (easier to bring in rival adventurers and replacement PCs) outweigh the cons (less emphasis on resource tracking).

    As Mule Abides put it:

    "The location of the megadungeon has a dramatic impact on play. Placing the dungeon in, under or adjacent to a major city doesn’t just allow for easy PC access — which is itself no small thing, as it can save time every session that might otherwise be spent on describing travel or making wilderness encounter checks. It also impacts on magics like floating disk, slow poison or raise dead which have a limited window of utility. (Slow poison is infinitely more useful if you have time to carry the victim upstairs to the surface and just down the street to a temple.) Lastly, it makes random encounters with NPC parties more rational — an important goal if you’re aiming for Gygaxian naturalism — as those NPCs can enter the dungeon as easily as the PCs."

    That said, I agree that there being no cost to returning to the Homebase doesn't feel right.

    One compromise that Gygax used a lot (Keep on the Borderlands and Hommlet being foremost) was to have a small town near the dungeon where the characters could resupply basic equipment easily, but to require the characters to travel further if they needed anything out of the ordinary.

    One potentially interesting compromise is to keep the dungeon close but require the characters to pay to get in and/or out. This is a variation on paying a tax to the local lord, and I suspect this would be evocative at first but quickly come background noise and/or an annoyance.

    Another compromise would be to move away from the megadungeon and populate the area with a number of smaller dungeons that are each further away. This is actually how B/X is laid out: levels 1-3 are about clearing the local dungeon and the PCs have to travel overland to get to adventure sites that are further away. In theory they've explored a large swath by the time they hit Name Level and are ready to start building a domain. To my mind this is an elegant solution, but I would want to have a discussion about setting reinforcement: what does the world look like in which murder hobos can carve kingdoms from the wilderness with sword and spell?

    1. I'm a B/X guy at heart. I think we all love the D&D that first bought us into the hobby best of all. So, naturally, I think Gygax and Moldvay hit the right balance in that first boxed set.

      As to the world-building question, it looks like 18th century Scotland, Spain during the Reconquista, southern Britain in the 11th century. Yesterdays successful bandit chiefs kids are the legitimate lords of today. That shit is how history really happens.

      Charles Martel was a murderhobo who made name level and founded France out of the ruins of Gaul.