Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Things that I have learned, Dungeon Crawl Northcoast

This last weekend, Bill and I and one of our friends named Ryan ran a multi level, unscaled, hard core, dungeon crawl for the lovely larpers of NERO Northcoast. We basically took a few weeks and designed a very large(For NERO), relatively complex, story based set of puzzles and fights and traps and then opened it up to allcomers on Saturday of the Northcoast Mod day. All in all it was fairly well recieved. We had three groups enter the dungeon, one of them made it all the way down to level 3(The dungeon gets progressively harder as you get deeper), the other two stayed on the earlier levels. I am going to look at some of the things that went very well, and some of the things that could have gone better.

NERO is a bit of an odd rules system for a dungeon crawl, to many effects result in immediate incapacitation if they are not stopped in some way. We made the decision before we ran this dungeon to limit the number of these takeout effects to specific rooms, thus allowing most of the fighting to play itself out based on skill rather than statistics on a monster card. This was an excellent decision, the players who fought their way down to the lower levels were forced to deal with a higher and higher density of takedowns which amped up the volume nicely. NERO also requires a certain amount of setup for each portion of a module, costumes must be changed, monster stats gone over and weapons prepared, our pre organization of all of those things made for fast change overs, we were able to get most rooms set up in less than 5 minutes. We as a group also decided that most NERO dungeon crawls just end up being a grind through a constant flood of monsters, we got around this by interspersing puzzle and flavor rooms into all levels of the dungeon, this paced the fighting out, and let people catch their breath in between combats. All in all i was very pleased with this module and we will be running it again, players seemed to enjoy it and I enjoyed the variety of encounters that we were able to run within the context.

There are of course things that we can do better. One of the concepts behind this module was that players could map out the dungeon, all of the rooms are static, if you enter the dungeon a second or even a third time you should be able to find things in the same spot that they were before. We need to do more to emphasize this, detailed mapping can be a mainstay for fantasy RPGs, the idea of a party getting lost in a deep dark cave is frightening and interesting, and I think that we can better represent this through our NPC interactions. Going along with this first thing, we did have a number of non combat encounters, but I and the others on the team would like to see a higher percentage of actual roleplay encounters. It is far easier to advance a story with a roleplay encounter, environment encounters are wonderful for feeling but require to much interpretation to be relied upon for story continuity. To cap off our areas of improvement I am going to touch on one that was also a strength, organization, we did very well with this, but we can do better. My goal is to create monster boxes for all commonly occuring monsters in the dungeon, containing costuming, statistic cards and props. Doing this will aloow us to cut down on the turn around time in between rooms and insure that all monsters are properly costumed in all iterations of the dungeon. Continuity in a module like this is paramount, since players know what to expect in each room after the first run through, giving them what they expect allows you to surprise them in later, new rooms.

A lot of thought goes into creating and perfecting a module like this, I hope people that read this gain something from looking at our strengths and weaknesses. Anyone who has been in our dungeon, feel free to comment on what I have said. Anyone who hasn't, come check it out at WARs Lumberton event in July or August or September. It is only going to get better from here.


  1. I agree with everything that you mentioned. I also think we could stand to have a better building for this. The rooms we used were too small, and the building was so large, that we needed extensive tarping to make those rooms work.

    I think a smaller, more managable buildling would work better.

  2. That sounds like a lot of fun! Have you read my "Choose your own dungeon crawl" adventure? It sounds very similar. If so, I'm glad my posts have been making the rounds. :D

  3. I'm fairly sure both Tim and I have read the entirety of Nerology, possibly several times. And after reading it again, I must say that we've taken tips from a number of things in that article.

    Hell, we ran a version of the dungeon as the maze of convolutions when we played "The Dreaming".