Five for Friday 16: Loving the Dungeon

The original plan was for me to GM a one-shot on a Monday that Rob (Bat in the Attic) was unable to GM our current Majestic Wilderlands GURPS campaign. I just threw some orcs with human prisoners into a previously created very large dungeon level and turned the players loose. Now, lo and behold, we have an actual dungeon delving campaign going on Monday nights (scheduled around our MW GURPS sessions).

The last time I ran a dungeon-based campaign was in the late 1970s. I had a blast back then and I am having a blast now. Here is five things making the Montporte Dungeon work so far:
  • The Guys at the Table: Our Monday Night gaming group is awesome and they are bringing it all to the virtual table top.
  • Don't Ask Why: If you start thinking about rational or realism, you are done for. Of course, the existence of a multi-level complex in a medieval setting is absurd. I acknowledge the absurdity of it before I start and my worries about realism go away. I am not anti-realism and I like the idea of simulation in play, but I have to let that go to run a dungeon.
  • The Encounter Is King: Nothing is as important as running an encounter. Not the dungeon design. Not the backstory. Not the planning of rumors, hooks, and secrets. 
  • Go With It: There is a lot of improvisation in our sessions. Good improvisation in music requires a structure (melody/harmony/rhythm) as the base. The dungeon has the physical structure of, well, the dungeon. It makes it for all of us to improvise. When you have a solid structure, it is easy to wing it and still have it work for everyone.
  • It Is About Fun: A few years ago, there were a lot of blog posts about megadungeons...What is a megadungeon? What are the keys to designing a good one? What is the old school philosophy behind the megadungeon? All good stuff. But in the end, it isn't about the philosophy or the design or being old school. It is about playing and having fun. The dungeon is a great reminder that good play by the DM and the players trumps philosophy, design, school, and rules.
I do not have any grand plans for our dungeon campaign. I am finding that just staying a little ahead of the players is working best for all of us, so while I have been jotting ideas down in my Red Notebook, I have been intentional about not doing too much details prep work.


  1. Five good gaming "rules" to live by.

  2. Nice. Yes to all of them.

    Even #2, it's okay to ask why about stuff in the dungeon, but you can't go asking why dungeons are there in the first place. You need to accept the basis of the game or you're going to wreck the fun for everyone.

  3. "Of course, the existence of a multi-level complex in a medieval setting is absurd."

    What a crazy thing to believe! Look at any major city in Europe founded more than 500 years ago, and you'll find catacombs, ancient sewer systems, cisterns, store-rooms, etc. You certainly don't need 20th century technology to expand a discovered cave into habitable space. Now add any of the races of FRPGS that tend to dig and delve. Then realize that in many settings, humans are the late-comers, and oft-times shorter lived that some of the elder races, and you have more than enough reason for massive underground complexes. If you're willing to accept orcs, why do you have a problem with dungeons?

  4. @Peter D: I agree completely.

    @Dave: (1) As an example of what you are talking about...http://therustybattleaxe.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-dungeon-1-cisterns.html; (2) I always figure that I am using dice to pretend to be a dwarf. That pretty much takes care of existential and ontological questions for me.

  5. "When you have a solid structure, it is easy to wing it and still have it work for everyone."

    What's impressed me playing in Montporte is that it never feels like you're winging it (by which I mean it never feels slapdash). It always runs very smoothly (kudos!)