Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Simplest Dungeoncrawl

You know, I didn't follow all the way through on the whole "simple option and complex option" notion from last post.  I missed a very important sacred cow which came up in conversation with a friend yesterday.

Maybe painstakingly exploring dungeons square by square is great fun for your group.

But maybe it isn't.  Then what?

Option 1: Don't play low-level OSR D&D.
Option 2: Simplify.

What we have observed with most ACKS dungeoncrawls is this: you go into the dungeon, and go deeper, and fight some stuff, and hopefully find some treasure.  At some point you decide you're done (low on resources or party members) and decide to come back out, at which point you might still get got by wandering monsters.

So what this looks like, stripped down to its essentials, is a linear structure.  Every turn of exploration time, you go deeper into the dungeon or back towards the entrance.  If you go deeper, the DM rolls on his table of "stuff on this dungeon level", slings some flavor text, and maybe you find a thing which you then interact with (wandering or laired monsters, unguarded treasure, traps, stairs down to next level).  If you go back towards the surface, you're passing through territory you've already been in, and the only encounters possible are with wandering monsters, who have no treasure.  Depending on the nature of the dungeon, features may or may not remain consistent between expeditions - the stairs down to level 2 might always be 7 turns of movement from the entrance, for example.

And that's how you run a game which captures the absolute minimal game structure and core strategic risk/reward decisions of the OSR megadungeoncrawl without the details of the structure of the dungeon.  Dungeoncrawling in the theater of the mind's eye.  Admittedly you could expand this to do more general nodecrawl style dungeons - they'd probably arise in play naturally from the linear model, as abilities like sensing evil and sensing treasure might grant advance warning of next zone contents, and permit you to choose a different path forward (towards a desirable outcome) through the implicit high-outdegree dungeon graph.  That would probably be a reasonable and fun compromise position, but this is simpler, and that's the point.


  1. Well, dungeons need not be linear. Teleports, chutes, underground rivers, and so on can move the party to a place from which they can't simple backtrack. For low-level parties those might be a bit too advanced, but they can lead to areas where the party can rest up, etc.

    1. Being lost just shifts you to a new line, where the beginning isn't an exit.