Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dungeon Bash

In fantasy role-playing games a "dungeon bash", also known as a Dungeon crawl, represents a style of play that is action heavy and is akin to a first person shooter in that you follow a set path around a complex.

Tonight we dungeon bashed.

I used a random Dungeon Generator for the base then added some Mikey touches and nixed some of the more ludicrous elements that can crop up thanks to lady luck and her dice of random wonder.

The dungeon was also slightly different in that instead of the player characters going to it ... it came to them, appearing like a Borg cube* high in the sky then dropped down to essentially mystically hook its force towbar up to the player's own floating cube fortress in the city of Stormreach then with nary a beep beep beep started towing it through the air towards the south.

The lads eventually caught up with it, and through various means, made the top of the giant cube. When one of the player characters blinked out of sight, the others correctly assumed he'd been teleported away and ran to where he'd been so they'd follow him.

Fantasy role-playing characters differ from characters from other fantasy mediums in that, especially at higher levels, the personas played by the players can become arcane cyborgs - a fusion of "man" and magic.

Characters from books and film tend not to have a lot of magic on them. If there is magic then it's either a MacGuffin that's driving the plot, the mysterious suitcase whose unknown contents glow, or it's an item of power that is wielded by a protagonist in furtherance of the quest; Bilbo's ring, Aragorn's sword,
Tomas' golden mail and tabard etc.

In FRPGs however as the characters progress in power then the kit and treasure and mystic doodads can and do become an integral part of both their abilities and even their persona. At higher levels chances are a D&D character will have magic clothes / armour, a magic weapon (and if a magic-user then rods, staffs, and wands**), many potions, rings, and scads of useful magic items like bags of holding, cloaks of resistance, boots of the elvenkind and so forth. Indeed, in later editions of D&D they even put a limit on the amount of magic that a character could access at the one time based on the part of the body where it sat.

Case example.
Here's a screen shot of my Baldur's Gate II character, Marcus Klenshier's inventory screen. He's a Fighter Magic-User Thief (levels 10/11/12) using 2nd edition AD&D rules adapted for the Computer RPG medium.

Baldur's Gate used the paper-doll method to manage character possessions. The ones down the bottom of the screen are those that he has in his possession, but not to hand. Those that ring his various body locations are the ones he can use in combat. He has a +2 Bow; a +4 Longsword (The "Daystar"); wands of lightning, wonder and fire; the ring of gaxx (various powers); a ring of wizardry (doubles 1st level spells); boots of speed; a cloak of non-detection; an endless quiver for +1 arrows (and a set of 40 +2 arrows and 40 fire arrows just in case); a robe of the arch-magi; a belt of hill giant strength; bracers of defence (which gives him the equivalent protection of plate-mail, which means he can cast spells as wearing armour stops him from doing that); a magic helm; and an amulet that gives him an extra spell slot. He also has various scroll cases, a wolf-skin bag that has its own internal possession slots, a wand of cloudkill and a bunch of other stuff.

He is Mr Magic Stuff 2010.

So at higher levels of play, where even choosing monsters factors in the fact player characters have uber stuff, plot elements that separate the player character's from their magic tat are typically regarded badly. Poorly even.

Indeed the Slaver's series of modules, re-released as a combined set, even suggested starting the players out minus their stuff and in the all together as galley slaves ("Naked, straining at the oars...") ... after they'd already started the adventure and at some point been captured.

When the lads ported in they arrived at the bottom of a 30' wide, 20' deep fighting pit which was rimmed with metallic crystallized iron spikes. Staggered around the pit's edge above were five
mind flayers.

The lads also arrived without their stuff. If it wasn't a part of them physically then "poof", it was
keyser soze'd. A trap that was loaded with a Greater Dispel Magic triggered and most of their already cast spells that boosted their abilities, known as "buffs", were dispelled.

So ... how did they go?

Well they didn't bitch - and being 10th level plus characters they had every right to bitch about losing all their stuff and "buffs". They just got on with it and took them on. It helped that I run a cinematic campaign in that I let them regenerate their action points - a pool of points that when a point is spent from it they can retroactively add dice to boost their results - each session. But, in short order, they were out of the pit and, mostly naked, took on the tentacle heads.

Within a minute of game time - which took about three hours to play - they'd cleared through the fighting pit "welcome" chamber, a room where five other mind flayers were seated in comfortable chairs hooked up to bags of nutrients - so a kind of chemotherapy chair set up, and another room lined with empty stone sarcophagi that was currently occupied by a pair of Green Slaad Guardians.

By the time we ended play they still had not found their stuff and were armed with some daggers and dungeon furnishings employed as improvised weapons. The latter included a half flagstone, a small cushion (that was used at a big penalty to do lethal damage), and finally a door with a hole in the middle where it had been punched free from its fixtures and bashed into the room, then picked up and used as a combo bull-roarer and improvised great-club.

Yes, that's right ... the players ... used my actual dungeon to beat up the monsters within it.

Now that's dungeon bashing.

*PS Here's a wikfin for you, in relation to the model for the Borg Cube. The look of the cube was achieved ... by a technique known as "greebling".

** In Rogues' Gallery, a1980 AD&D Supplement that had a randomly generated stats for 100 or so of each class for use by DMs in a pinch, the TSR lads had thoughtfully also included write-ups of powerful long-played player characters from their own campaigns. One of them was a female wizard played by Jean Wells, an editor at TSR. Her character had so many rods, staffs and wands she actually stored them in a golf-bag slung over her back.


  1. I'm impressed there was no bitching. The "naked, straining at the oars" thing is a rough blow to make on a D&D character.

  2. I think their sheer delight at 'turn the tables' soon inured them from the sads at their presumed temporary loss of tat.

  3. Anonymous7:50 AM

    +1 Masterwork compfy cushion of death. Whats not to like? I've already decided I'm keeping it as a weapon of choice...
    "Why do you carry a cushion?"
    *evil smile*
    "Never mind..."

  4. Anonymous8:43 AM

    Twas a hoot. I was impressed that we could do so much damage with the most basic of weapons.

  5. That sound awesome, and your little BGII screenshot fills me with joy. My BGII character's name: Baron Ovaries.

  6. Hey I was a weapon...

  7. Pat, that name is gold.