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When is a Dungeon Crawl a Dungeon Crawl?

Dungeon Magazine General Discussion

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Another consideration is one-shot vs. campaign.

I absolutely loved Maure Castle as a (lengthy) one-shot. If the players know going in that it isn't going to be a long-term campaign, the dirty DM tricks and lethality can be entertaining. On the other hand, I'd NEVER inflict this adventure on players in a long-running campaign, and I think we'd have a lot more frustration and frowns than fun.

Since Dungeon provides such a large number of adventures per year, I think there are room for these types of adventures (even if it eats up an entire issue once per year or two).

James Jacobs wrote:
"Red Hand of Doom" and "Into the Wormcrawl Fissure" more or less show how I think the dungeon crawl needs to be handled in this crazy modern day and age; smaller dungeons with neat areas and no "empty rooms." Want a LOT of dungeon encounters? Make sure they're split up between several different locations, or at the very least, differently themed levels of dungeon. And for the love of Obox-ob put stuff in that isn't straight-up melee fights! Not everyone plays fighters with swords and shields.

Exactly! This is music to my ears James.

Many groups have limited time to meet and removing many empty rooms leaves more time for memorable adventuring. Likewise, splitting up areas between locations breaks up things a bit and helps a DM divide the dungeon into manageable sections when session-planning.

I've read many online reviews of Monte's "Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil" (haven't played it yet myself) and the one criticism that keeps coming up is that the mines are too bloody long. Too much of a good thing, and all that. I love the original Temple, but that too suffers from the same ... DMing it recently I trimmed off a few extra humanoid/bandit rooms and redesigned a few others so my players wouldn't get bored by the endless "stacked" rooms.
I think AoW offers a good variety of interesting locales and themes; I can't wait to begin it with my players when we create PCs anew.

The game wouldn't live up to its name without at least some dungeons and some dragons. I think the very point of the game is that the player characters step into an enclosed realm of monsters in an event that becomes progressively less like the safe world they know, culminating in the greatest challenge they've ever faced together, and all in the name of wealth, fame or justice. It's exciting, interesting and it lets you be a hero, a hero whose heroic potential increases each time he performs an act of heroism. The dungeon is the basis of "where the adventure is" and is a place that is heroic to enter at all, while the dragon is the epitome of a final boss fight, providing a massive challenge and massive reward.

I think that once players get used to the game, which is perhaps a lot of Dungeon's readership, they begin to want some reason to their dungeon - if it has no reason, then the players will find the underlying reason, "It was made up and placed here to give us something to do." If that happens, the dungeon goes from a heroic adventure to a simulacrum of one, a series of randomly generated straw dummies held together by excuses. That's not heroic - it's dull and predetermined.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Snorter wrote:
My whole response to issue 112 was "Wwwwwhhhyyyyyyyyy????????????".

The "why" is partially because Erik and I wanted to see if we could get away with doing an entire issue as one adventrue, a retooling and expansion of one of the original D&D adventrues, and mostly because we thought the readership would react positively to it.

"Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure" (the adventure this issue's "Maure Castle" was based on) was one of my all-time favorite adventures, and it really gave us a chance to do an old-school 1st-edition feel dungeon adventure, but with 3rd edition sensibilities and rules. I'm really proud of how it turned out.

Also as it turned out, issue #112 was one of Dungeon's most popular issues ever, and went on to win the Ennie for best adventure of the year. Reader response to the issue was extreemely positive, and even today it remains a very popular issue. (It's sold out, and still selling PDF copies.) I count issue #112 as one of the great successes of the magazine's run.

It certainly had a great cover, and putting Gygax's name on the cover helped sell some issues I'm sure. But when you get down to it, "Maure Castle" represents a type of adventure that is still quite popular among our readers today. You can certainly expect more adventrues like it now and then as we roll on; old-school dungeon crawls like these are money-makers.

After rereading the thread I found out what really bugs my players (and me as DM) in Dungeoncrawls. I have more then a yard of 3.5 Rulebooks with dozens of characterclasses and there are thousands of prestigeclasses, but if I go on a dungeoncrawl there is just the fighter, the trap detecter, the healer and the use-magic-to-kill-things-quickly characters. It is like showing all the possibilities and then tell to go back to the standard. Frustrating is right word.
I understand that a lot of people like it that way and the majority pays the bill. But maybe like we got in any dungeon 3 adventures for the low, middle and high levels, we may get one of the adventures with a special interest theme, like Challenge of the Champions, Ill made Graves, Honor & Eta etc.

Verminlord wrote:
After rereading the thread I found out what really bugs my players (and me as DM) in Dungeoncrawls.

Hah Ha! The verminlord said bugs!!

ghettowedge wrote:
Verminlord wrote:
After rereading the thread I found out what really bugs my players (and me as DM) in Dungeoncrawls.
Hah Ha! The verminlord said bugs!!

It is not fitting for my handle?

ok, for me, the endless dungeon crawl *with no logical places to stop and rest* is the most annoying thing in existance. take RTTOEE, for example - the crater ridge mines are psychotic, and if your DM is into dynamic adventuring, then the party will be dead REALLY REALLY quickly.

The whispering cairn bypasses this kind of idiocy by allowing the characters to set their own schedule, and doesn't overload the party with too many encounters in a row. the three faces of evil, on the other hand, would play as a party-killer If I had run it right out of the box.

my favorite Adventure i've seen in dungeon, The Styes, is a great compromise between pure dungeon crawl and investigation. both the warehouse/ship encounter and the cultist's temple had just enough in the way of encounters to push the party to just under their limits, and time to rest before taking on the next challenge. plenty of nasty combat, but lots of good roleplay possibilities too. I'd love to see more adventures like the Styes (and considering the reaction i've seen to that particular adventure, it would go over really well) in the next AP.

I think that, in the current AP, there's some really strong adventures: Whispering Cairn, Hall of Harsh Reflections, Gathering of Winds, and Prince of Redhand all stand out as being adventures that will stand out for my players - notice that three out of four are dungeon crawls, but they are broken up in interesting ways. I'm not really sure about Into the Wormcrawl fisure yet, i'm still digesting the content from it, but it's also got some real possibility.

My suggestions, specifically for the next AP, are to try and break up the dungeon encounters early in the game, so that the characters can take them at their own pace. as they gain levels, time cruches and the inability to safely rest are just another part of the challenge, but at low levels they are really difficult to overcome right., that was longer-winded that I had intended.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules Subscriber

My answer to this question is: When there is no rhyme or reason. When D&D first came into being it was acceptable and exciting to just go through a dungeon and have encounters. New players gobbled it up. Role-playing was nice but not so necessary. Professionally developed adventures of the time gave a nod to plot or story sometimes but it wasn't common.

So, 30+ years later..gamers can find 'kill the foozle' games anywhere and they are automated. The basic attitude is: If I want that, I play Diablo II.

What does this Magazine provide? Story, plot, adventure, drama, an interactive adventure that responds to my characters actions. Any adventures that have that video game feel kills the best things about role-playing games. You look back through old issues of Dungeon..and you'll see a few that fit that bill.

So, provide living, breathing, purposeful dungeons (no matter what form they take) and don't succumb to computer game strategies. The computer RPG mantra is to make it as much like gaming at the table as possible. So, Dungeon needs to ensure they never succeed at it. :-)

There's a progression for many players that goes something like this:

  • Non-player: I've heard of "Dungeons & Dragons", it looks interesting, I should play
  • New player: This game is new to me, everything is interesting
  • Regular player: I have played a few games and enjoy dungeon crawling as long as it's still interesting/rewarding
  • Roleplayer: Dungeon crawling is boring and repetetive, I want something more - plot, or character development
  • Ex-player: I'm burned out on dungeoneering, and want to play a different RPG with more emphasis on storytelling and character

    Now, many of these interested "non-players" never make it to being D&D players - the high initial cost of rulebooks, the initial rules complexity and the difficulty of finding players are prohibitive. Every place which sells D&D books should provide methods for prospective players to join groups - in my opinion. Wizards of the Coast ought to see to this.

    Rather, D&D is losing a lot of its potential players - young people who are interested in the fantasy genre and hack-and-slash gamesiness of it - to fantasy MMOs which cost less initially, have an easy learning curve and don't require players to know established gaming groups already. These MMOs provide a lot of the co-operative hack-and-slash of entry-level D&D.

    That's basically what a dungeon crawl is - entry-level D&D. New players enjoy the game enough for what it is and don't care for story or roleplaying - in fact, some players may be too embarrassed to roleplay seriously unless with a regular group. This means that the entry-level, default D&D experience is simple, straightforward dungeoneering. Some regular players don't grow out of phase and will happily crawl dungeons as long as there's always something new and interesting, which is why we still have people playing dungeon crawls after twenty years.

    A downside to online MMOs, of course, is that you don't get to be "the heroes" - when everyone's a hero, you're just a regular citizen in a land where magic is boringly common. People who take up MMOs could be enjoying D&D instead, or as well as. People who leave MMOs after getting bored with the lack of creativity, freedom and heroism involved, could be taking up D&D. Again, this is an area that Wizards really isn't marketing to properly, instead it's trying to compete with WoW with an MMO - a dungeon crawl set in Eberron, of all things!

    In my estimation, the main groups of demand go something like this:

  • New players want anything that's not going to be overly complex. Especially so with younger players, they will enjoy looting a monster-ridden tomb without demanding logic.
  • Old players who still enjoy dungeon crawls will enjoy the revisiting of the old classics. Even if they now prefer story-based events, they may enjoy the novelty of a one-shot in the old style.
  • More experienced players, including roleplayers, who will enjoy some level of combat and dungeoneering but will only be satisfied if that goes hand in hand with a storyline, events that let them feel like they're the heroes of the show rather than monster-whomping tomb-looters. They aren't entirely bound to dungeon crawling, and may be interested in alternate playing styles as long as it's interesting and fun.
  • Eberron/Greyhawk/Faerun fans, who will find it of the utmost importance that the adventure feels at home in their chosen setting. Eberron DMs in particular will want to be able to mould the adventure path to fit the style of the setting as explained in Chapter 9 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. Greyhawk DMs will want the game solidly placed in their setting using names and characters of yore, and Forgotten Realms fans will want that epic feel wherein gods are watching the party and occasionally tipping their hands to influence events.
  • Hardcore roleplayers, who eschew combat almost entirely and only enjoy freeform adventure, ought to hate dungeon crawls and will probably avoid adventure paths entirely.
  • DMs, who depending on their players and their own preferences may be looking for a creative outlet of their own that lets them shape the adventure path, or they may just be looking for something to run by-the-book for their players.

  • Contributor

    I just find it interesting that so many people dislike Maure Castle. I thought I was the only one.

    *sniff* I'm not alone! We should form a support group. ;D

    I currently have 5 players with a WIDE range of ages - 37, 21, 18, 12, and 5. The younger they get, the more interested they are in "killing the monsters and looting the bodies" as the sole reason for gaming. When the group had more older/experienced gamers, that dynamic was a good deal different.

    Let me just throw in my own humble request for stats to all be gathered into one place like in Red Hand and RttToEE. That makes it SO MUCH EASIER on me as a DM to prepare an adventure!

    My lead player agrees with the idea that "a dungeon-crawl is a dungeon-crawl when it isn't interesting anymore." She *loved* Jzadirune! In fact, even tho I only ran the first adventure for our group, one of my players has bought the HC and is running it for his own group. Two years after we played, and he told me "I could almost run that adventure from memory!"
    ("never laugh at short guys with daggers!")

    I guess to boil it all down, to prevent the "negative dungeon-crawl," make the adventure & encounters logical, make the settings interesting - the more fantastical the better, use several locations (or one *really awesome* one!), and make set-up/prep easy on us DMs!


    Doc_Outlands wrote:
    Let me just throw in my own humble request for stats to all be gathered into one place like in Red Hand and RttToEE. That makes it SO MUCH EASIER on me as a DM to prepare an adventure!

    That's interesting. I guess this is another thing I'm in a minority group for. When I ran RttToEE, I found it a big pain in the ass to have the stat blocks in the back of the book. Now, I will say that was the old format, which I loathe. I could never find information I needed in the old stat block. It was so bad with RttToEE that I put all the NPCs into PCGen and printed out character sheets for them.

    Legendary Games, Necromancer Games

    This thread is so interesting, I called James up on the phone and he and I talked about it for about an hour and a half!!!

    Seriously, I love the idea of adventure design. And that is what James is asking about, I think. "When designing an adventure, how much should the dungeon be involved? How much is too much?"

    I'm not going to weigh in on this and take a side. But I will say this (and it may shock some people), I think the more limited dungeons in AoW (and the "encounter areas" design idea) were better for an evolving story driven, tight campaign arc like SCAP and AoW. Yes, that is right, I just said "less dungeon crawling." :) Dont quote me, I'll deny it!

    But that begs James' question: when does a dungeon as a setting for adventure become a "dungeon crawl" with the negative connotations that brings? A great question!


    PS: What an amazing thing it is to see design studs like James (I firmly believe the guys at Dungeon right now are in the stratosphere in terms of experience with adventure design) in here in the forums asking all of us for our input! That is awesome! And he listens too!

    Jonathan Drain wrote:

    That's basically what a dungeon crawl is - entry-level D&D. New players enjoy the game enough for what it is and don't care for story or roleplaying - in fact, some players may be too embarrassed to roleplay seriously unless with a regular group.

    My experience is that especially young players enjoy role-playing. But I got more girls then boys at the table, so maybe it is a gender thing.


    Orcus wrote:
    PS: What an amazing thing it is to see design studs like James (I firmly believe the guys at Dungeon right now are in the stratosphere in terms of experience with adventure design) in here in the forums asking all of us for our input! That is awesome! And he listens too!

    I agree Clark. I think it's really awesome the way the staff (of both magzines!) interacts with the readership on these message boards.

    So I guess I'll actually attempt to make a useful post on this thread now. Amazing, I know. ;)

    It's probably easier to list the things I don't like. A lot of this stuff assumes a campaign rather than a "one off" adventure.

    I don't like a static environment. When the adventurers kick in the front door, the inhabitants should all react accordingly; instead, lots of "dungeon crawls" have the denizens just hang out in their room, waiting for the PCs to come kick their ass. Intelligent foes are going to either prepare (cast spells, use potions, etc) or flee. Animal-intelligent type foes are going to defend their home. If you don't believe me, wander into the woods and go into a bear's den. :D They're not going to lounge around waiting for the PCs to get there.

    I don't like unused useful treasure. Some things in treasure piles of intelligent creatures always bug me. Why does that necromancer have a ring of protection +4 in his chest instead of on his finger? Sure, if he's wearing two other really cool rings it might make sense - but that's not always the case.

    I don't like nonsensical ecologies. A dungeon is somebody's (or something's) home. It needs to take into account movement, eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, oxygen circulation, and so on. In addition, somebody mentioned earlier the example of a rust monster in one room with an iron golem in the next. That's something else in this category.

    I don't like traps that serve no purpose. A trap is going to be there for one of two reasons. Either it's in place to keep something out, or it's in place to keep something in. If the trap is there to keep the adventurers out, the denizens need a way to bypass it. That might mean another (more hidden) way in; that might mean a "key" to get around the trap. Whatever. If the trap exists to keep something in, it should be designed that way. If the purpose of your trap is to keep the mummy from escaping the tomb, don't use a death effect.

    I don't like adventures without a goal. A half-baked goal is better than no goal. If the best hook my character has for going into the Dungeon of Doom is a chance to get some loot, then I'm not sure he's going in. This one, though, isn't always the dungeon writer's fault; the DM really needs to figure this one out. I'm generally OK with, "My friend Bob the Wizard needs something in that dungeon; I'm a big strong fighter and Bob needs protection. And he's always helped me in the past, so I guess I'll help him with this." That's an OK "hook" for my PC - as long as Bob really does have a good reason to want to go in.

    I don't (generally) like dungeons that are of the "kill, loot, repeat" design. It goes back to the first point, I suppose. But it's more than that. I want interaction. Have a monster/NPC surender; or have somebody attempt to get away. Have somebody bargain with the PCs - "If I give you X, will you leave?" Give my PC something to do other than bringing stabbity death upon some monsters.

    So there's things I don't like. Most adventures seem to have one of those - and that's OK. It's really only a problem when an adventure has all those elements. That's when it's seems to go from "cool adventure" to "dungeon crawl" (in the negative context) for me.

    Er... that's a long post. I hope it made sense...

    The Exchange

    As others have said, logical behavior of the inhabitants, logical layout of the dungeon (including the purposes of its rooms), and a slid reason for the party to be working its way through said dungeon are the key. In my mind, as long as you continue to have all three of these elements, even a 200+ room dungeon can work, it just needs to keep evolving.

    That being said, I do prefer the smaller dungeons because they are easier to manipulate and "evolve"- If a githyanki outpost suffers two hit and run attacks from the party, losing two or three patrols or guardrooms, they would rightfully pull back, reinforce their defenses, and group up for greater security.

    Such a scenario isn't impossible with a band of 20 giths in a ~10 room outpost, but what if it was one of the outer fortresses of a monolithic city, filled with over 300 highly trained giths, including powerful arcanists and draconic allies? At some point, the human brain is unable to track the almost limitless possiblities and tactics available to such a large organization, at least on the fly, which means more time spent in the pre-game developing all the possible scenarios and countertactics available to the GM.

    I am currently heavily involved with updating RttToEE for 3.5 and in an Eberron setting, and have found that the GM must insert subplots and focused missions (i.e. liberate captive from X garrison, assist a cult dissdent in escaping from his suspicious comrades, recover X key from X Temple) to truly enable the non-hack and slash party to work their way through the majority of the mines. After all, the "find a temple/garrison, kill the inhabitants, move on" gets old pretty quick.

    I will credit Monte Cook's concepts, including separating each major outpost (i.e. Temple or Bridge garrison) with non-aligned beasties, in order to keep the enemies somewhat separate, but I will agree with the earlier poster that the number of forces at each base, when run dynamically, can transform into a true "fire ant's nest" if the party just kicks in the door and charges in "swords blazing."

    To conclude, I think, James, that you guys at Dungeon could make AP3 work with ~20 room dungeons or ~50 room dungeons, because I know your plotlines and penchant for well-designed mid-session events (ala the brilliant Red Hand of Doom) would let you pull the whole enterprise off- it's all about variety.

    My .02cp in quick easy to read powerpoint style

    1) I perfer more realistic conflicts. I would much rather run a fantasy setting "Saving Private Ryan" or "A Midnight Clear" then home invade goblins and take their coppers.

    2)A non-dungeoneer PC would usually have a wildly different series of feats then a dungeoneer, as a person who usually gears his character to city or rural settings my character is usually regulated to "door opener".

    3) with the wealth of places to adventure over the various settings, why are all the heavy hitters underground? agoraphobia? Evil needs kingdoms too, with their own agenda and adventurers. I'm also a fan of "reverse dungeons" where evil is trying to sack a stronghold of good, and the heroes are part of the defending force.



    James, I own the "Red Hand of Doom," and while I think it well-executed and intelligently presented, it feels too much like a retread of Dragonlance. I also think the dungeons are too small. By "small," I don't mean that they have two few rooms, but lack the scope and grandeur I want in my heroic adventuring. They just felt a bit mundane to me. (The lich's lair being an exception. And the temple at the climax. Well, okay, maybe it's a beter adventure than I give it credit for...)

    The Tabernacle of Worms, the cave complex from "The Hateful Legacy," and the Tomb of Everflowing Blood from "The Mad God's Key" are recent examples of dungeons that feel expansize and even cinematic to me despite their relatively modest size. (The best example I can think of in utilizing a small room count to maximum effect is the the Moria sequence in "Fellowship of the Ring"--one room, a big hall,and a bridge.) I think "Kings of the Rift" neatly sidestepped this issue by placing the "dungeons" in a city under assault by dozens of dragons--with such a backdrop, you don't need a massive room count to convey an epic sense of scope.

    So, as you can see, I like adventures that no matter how small they might be, still feel big.

    Scarab Sages

    I'm the guy who hates dungeon crawls. Most of the people who have posted either love dungeon crawling or would, but for one reason or another get frustrated with how they play, how long they are, or what kinds of traps or adversaries they're up against in them.

    Not me.

    I just hate 'em.

    So what is a dungeon crawl to me? The number one thing is the expectation that I arrive on the scene and am to open every door and search every room and kill every monster. If I have a goal, like sneaking into a manor house to steal a specific thing, or if I'm on a hijacked pirate ship and am looking to take out pirates one at a time real quiet...that's just good old fashioned roleplaying. Now if I'm on a boat and there's a secret hold under a rug in the aft cannonball storeroom that contains a magically trapped safe which contains a +2 scimitar that I'm supposed to get because I'm a greedy adventurer out for riches--and every room is like that, that's a dungeon crawl. Yuck.

    The second characteristic of a dungeon crawl is that the place doesn't make any logical sense. It's some forlorn ruin out in the middle of nowhere, but unlike real forlorn ruins it has got riches and dangers galore and secret doors to bridges over acid pits and whole scads of monsters who have decided to live there just to watch over all the treasure and to eat passing adventurers. This as opposed to the real ruin which probably has some water damaged furnature, maybe a tattered drapery or two, some putrified dead guys who probably died defending the place. You see where I'm going?

    So yeah, basically to make me happy just 1) give me places I can interact with without having to drop into Diablo style metagaming--places my character would actually want to be and 2) make those places make rational sense so I don't end up having to quelsh my own rising sense of frustration and ire every time I run into another pristine (and trapped) treasure chest in a place so old that all the rest of the furnishings have decayed to termite eaten driftwood guarded by a throng of trolls with +2 greatswords with apparently nothing better to do.

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