Monday, January 4, 2021

Deep Rock Galactic and the Random Lair

I've been playing Deep Rock Galactic recently.  It is a game about exploring dangerous environments as a team to recover valuables.  Since D&D is also a game about exploring dangerous environments as a team in order to recover valuables, Deep Rock Galactic is therefore D&D.  Q.E.D.

While Deep Rock Galactic is not actually D&D (although you do play dwarves, and the biggest baddest bug in the asteroid does breathe fire and have a certain draconic facial structure), some things have stuck out to me as relevant to the D&D experience.

1) Their cave generation is very strong, and dear god trying to communicate directions in a cave with your teammates, or trying to hold a cave layout in your head, are way, way harder than dealing with rooms, even when you aren't trying to construct a map of it.  This ties to observations about legibility in the wilderness; just like we (me and my players) don't have a shared language of wilderness navigation in D&D, we (me and my DRG teammates) don't have a shared language of cave navigation.  This is especially noticeable in the mission types that do offer easy hooks for shared language - escorting a drilling machine, it's easy to refer to things by their direction relative to the machine, and when doing oil refining, you can reference the pipeline numbers.  Realizing these hooks for shared language was sort of an "aha!" moment.  I think the real conclusion here isn't that wilderness navigation is some sort of blind spot in our shared language; it's more that our shared language is only any good for navigating/describing human-organized spaces.  Wilderness isn't the exception; it's the rule, and there's a whole gamut of types of wildernesses that each need their own ways of speaking about them.

2) Lairs and random encounters are sort of swapped, I think.  When you're exploring area in DRG, you tend to run into small groups of not-very-dangerous enemies who do chip damage.  For several mission types (including the most fundamental / basic one), large waves of enemies (the sort that have a decent chance of taking out a player) are triggered by time.  So "random encounters" in DRG happen due to player actions in space, while "lairs" happen due to player actions in / management of time, whereas in old-school D&D, lairs are mostly by space and random encounters are mostly by time.  This flip seems like it could be fertile ground for a challenge dungeon level; if you really want to encourage players to be fast, to do scouting, to make good plans, then make the static opposition weak, the treasure mostly unguarded or lightly-guarded, and the dynamic opposition dangerously strong.  This also encourages players to make notes on good places to take a big fight, and then hustle back to them (whereas when a lair is in a fixed location, you fight at the time of your choice but not in the place of your choice).

(Yes, I am keeping a document of challenge dungeon level ideas.  Maybe someday I will make something of it.)

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