Monday, 4 August 2014

Dragons & Dungeons

I wonder how different the world would look today if 'D&D' actually stood for 'Dragons & Dungeons'?

Maybe no different. The typical module might be creature-focused rather than site-based. But the cascading consequences of even that fine change, in minds across the lands and down the years, could have done odd things.

In computing for example - bound up with the speculative genres and game playing - it might have encouraged the development of more semantic interfaces, oral over tactile say. Then when Scotty picked up that mouse in The Voyage Home the computer might really have understood. Assuming that Trek wasn't already old hat in this new new world.

Maybe whales would be travelling back for humans, long since transcended to paradise?

As the D&D generation grew up, the potential for greater insights into the nature of living beings could have deepened human interaction, revolutionised social structure. Gamers might be the great communicators, more so than now - at the heart of every community.

Or maybe none of that could ever happen. Could it be our residual or conditioned nature to put the thing before the person: rule before play, ownership over use, having for being?


Trey said...

I don't think the name change alone would have made a difference, but if it had also been reflect in the original games emphasis, I think you might have gotten the "encounter based" structure of 4e much earlier and they game might not be as concerned with resource management.

Porky said...

I think you're right about the encounter, and I think we might see those encounters be about more than direct contact, or rather what's often a background assumption of it. Resource management could still play a fairly major role, in the sense that space and time would still underpin the conception of the world and the exploration. I'm guessing that rather than a relatively well-defined adventure site, or site concept, and maybe a more random stocking or encounter generation, we'd see a relatively well-defined set of beings, or being concept, and a more random generation of the adventure site, possibly based off features of the beings.

Red Orc said...

'Design a dungeon, stock it with creatures from this random list' (as per the Basic set, for example) would become 'design a menagerie, create the environment from this random list'.

The 'Monster Manual' would be a 'Cave Codex' and the 'Fiend Folio' would be the 'Locations List'. Instead of a plethora of player-defined monsters (to kill, mostly), we'd all have been spending our time working on clever adventure locations to loot (a bit like Grimtooth's Traps, maybe?).

I don't know. But if we're inverting the creature/location structure inherent in D&D, it seems to me we might have spent more time thinking about 'place', and less about what inhabits it, than we already did.

But I'd probably be better at designing settings, which would be nice.

Von said...

Let's start with the superficial and game-focused commentary: I wonder how different Ravenloft would be? That's always struck me as being encounter-first location-second - you have your Darklord and then you have their personal hell, the area of the plane that's warped in their own image, reinforcing and punishing their own character. Then again, Ravenloft as it's presented in the world as is seems to be "let's do Gothic Transylvania for D&D", in the classic 'location, then encounter' model.

I'll be back with some more elaborate notions when I've thought of some.

Porky said...

I have very little to add to all of that. I'll only wonder whether or not the combat subsystem could be switched with the reaction table so that interactions other than combat become more rigorous and the swift brutality of combat is given the initial depth of current contact, with moves thereafter being more freeform, for being less significant.

Physical space in the current game could in this new game become a wider planar landscape. Think about the decision Obi-Wan made in the duel in Star Wars (yep, the first one) and the role he played afterwards.

It could be then the aim of the game wouldn't be to survive bodily to progress, but to survive more conceptually, influencing the world, sowing the seeds of a reputation or wider movements and marshalling the forces, shifting paradigms and even degrees of freedom down the ages, and becoming legend then myth.

Red Orc said...

Because I couldn't let this go, and because a couple of days ago I found some notes for a small lair I was going to design (but didn't get round to) I decided to have a go at creating the 'dragons' before the 'dungeon', and see if I could elaborate an ecosystem and let that define the space it inhabits.

A few caveats:

1 - I actually rolled these randomly some time ago, so I didn't truly start with the monsters and work towards the dungeon from there, but I am treating what I rolled up, forgot about and found again as 'fixed' so the point is to try to get this backwards-design to work;

2 - I'm using a 'modern' version of the wandering monster table for the dungeon (it works on a percentage system: 01-40 gets you one of 5 encounters and 41+ is no encounter; you have 5 'wandering' encounters, 3 of monsters already 'fixed' in the dungeon, 2 of true 'wanderers' who have no base; it's based on location not turn - if you're in an empty room roll for a wandering monster, cross them off the list when they appear when they're all gone then that's it – I think this is reasonable enough for a small dungeon).

My 'ecosystem' consists of about 60 Kobolds (including a chief and bodyguard; some are ‘fixed’ to the lair, and some are wandering); 15 Killer Bees (including Queen and some attendants which are slightly harder than the normal bees; 3 of these are wandering); 8 Robber Flies (4 fixed, 4 wandering); 5 Dwarves (all wandering); 3 Green Slime (all wandering); 5 Geckos; and a Bugbear.

Instead of designing a dungeon and then dropping these monsters into it, I instead took the list of monsters and tried to relate them to each other ‘ecologically’. I drew a kind of flow-chart to show how the different groups relate to each other. In essence, my ecosystem is one of bees, flies and geckos, with the kobolds ‘farming’ the bees. The robber flies prey on the bees, but the geckos prey on the robber flies. The fact that every so often the geckos might prey on a bee, or a kobold, doesn’t bother the kobolds too much, as they mainly take out the flies which are a pest on the kobolds’ bee-farm.

The bugbear works for the kobolds as a bouncer – it provides protection, and the kobolds provide it with healing potions and allow it to snack on the occasional gecko. Thus the relationship is somewhat symbiotic – both sides are getting something out of it.

The green slimes are opportunistic predators – they don’t really care what they eat, bees, kobolds, flies and geckos are all much of a muchness to them.

The Dwarves are a raiding party. I had thought of making them evil mercenaries in the kobolds' employ but the rival adventuring party is a bit of a classic and as long as I don’t allow the party to use them as ‘free muscle’ I’m happy with the possibility of a temporary alliance, but will assume the Dwarves will naturally have a -1 to their reactions (stacking with -2 if the party has Elves but no Dwarves, +2 if there are Dwarves).

What I need now is a ‘random location’ table, with some kind of range for size, to replace the monster tables, something like the following:

1 - rough-hewn chamber; two exits, size d4+1x10’, lit by strange glowing veins of rock, water trickling down walls
2 - stone-flagged room, one exit, size 2d6x10’, unlit torches in sconces on walls, sound of wind moaning
3 - natural cave with stalactites, two open and one secret exit, size d12x20’, no illumination, sandy floor with 2:6 chance of random small treasure per turn searching (d6 treasures in total)
4 - roughly-built stone room, two exits, size d4+2x10’, brazier burning in centre of room, signs of recent occupation (remains of meal)
5 - ?

Perhaps I should start creating one…

Porky said...

Using the ecosystem for the map seems a very good solution and makes it instantly more approachable. I'd definitely be interested if you did go further with it, specifically for any problems that turned up, or looked like they could turn up.

Red Orc said...

I posted over on my own blog about this, and included a (fairly shoddy if I'm honest) scan of the notes I'd made. They include the 'ecology flowchart' though, which is fairly clear. - don't know if that's going to work, it's generating some strange code in that link.

There is one question I put on the chart - 'what do the bees eat?' which has inspired me to think about a location for underground nectar-gathering. More details will be forthcoming at some point about flowers which grow 'down', that have leaves above-ground to catch sunlight but flower underground, which I imagine will be quite unusual for the party.

The obvious answer under the old paradigm would be 'put the bees somewhere where they've got access to the outside and therefore flowers', but thinking about the monsters before the space gave me the opportunity to think about a different way of doing things. That alone, I think, means that the 'thought experiment' that you suggested has produced something that I think will be surprising and unusual - it surprised me anyway!

The other outstanding question, not noted on the sheet, is 'why don't the kobolds just kill the Robber Flies?' but I'm going to have to think about that one a bit more.

Porky said...

Here's a direct link across.

The flowers are a weird but naturalistic solution. The problem suggests that the reversed game - Dragons & Dungeons - would need a level of improvisation similar to that for any given approach to the usual.

For the kobolds tolerating the robber flies, maybe there's a secondary benefit in the existence of the flies, or the geckoes that feed on them, like the fly eggs or possibly pupal casings having value. Or maybe they're hoping to train them for defence, hunting or some other role. Maybe there's a cultural aspect.

Red Orc said...

It's fun thinking of alternative exlanations rather than 'it's in an inconvenient place'. I was wondering if the flies' or possibly geckos' droppings are fertilizer for the flowers. Perhaps the flies are a necessary past of the flower's reproductive cycle - they fertilise the flower, transport the new seeds or something - then the flies, bees (possibly geckoes too) and flowers are all part of an ecosystem that the kobolds are exploting. They know if they drive off all the flies, the flower will die and then there's no bee farm.

If the kobolds have a secondary reason, that's even better. Perhaps I can think of something that the flies produce that they could use to pay the bugbear... maybe it likes to eat fly's eggs, I don't know; but it's a great way to generate new questions about what monsters actually 'do' all day, and why they might exist in proximity to each other. The 'ecosystem' approach is definitely making me think about aspects beyond the purely spatial.

Red Orc said...

Hi Porky, you haven't been around much lately, I hope that's just because you're busy doing interestiung things.

Anyway, I've been having another think about the whole 'Dragons & Dungeons' idea. I've posted something over at my blog - - looking at a specific possibility for a random room generator (to take the place of random monster tables).