Dungeons Rove the Land
Posted by Doug on January 31, 2009
“…dungeons were things that roved about the land destroying settlements. The only way to stop them was to delve into them and defeat the guardians…”
I have been interested in traditional roleplaying games since forever, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing and even more time just tinkering around with the 3.0/3.5 version of Dungeons & Dragons. As I was DM more often than not, 3.0/3.5 worked for me, but I spent more time feeling as if I was being held back by the rules, rather than having the rules work for me. Custom-building a monster was a huge amount of work, which was insanely disproportionate to the amount of time that monster would be in the fight (and even then, the resulting monster would either be a TPK or a cakewalk. It was so damn hard to get it right the first time). The alignments were both worked into the fabric of the gameplay system so deeply it was all but impossible to remove them, and so poorly defined as to be meaningless. Low-level characters were piteously fragile, and high-level characters were either gods or they were not wizards.
Needless to say, when the 4th Edition was announced, I paid close attention to what they had to say about (what I perceived to be) the faults of the previous editions, and I liked what I heard. I bought the core rulebooks, and I liked what I saw even better. Custom-building a monster has been streamlined. Alignments, while still subscribing to a childish black-or-white sense of good and evil, were no longer so obtrusive. First-level characters don’t have to be treated like a fine glass sculpture, and the wizard is no longer a god (and the fighters, clerics, and rogues are just as powerful and cool).
And there were minions. Minions are awesome precisely because they’re not awesome.
Everything was different now, and while still not perfect, it made a lot more sense to me. It compelled me to try something different, to kick reason to the curb and do the impossible. In the days of 3.0/3.5, I swore I would never play an elf (too sissified), I would never play a cleric (I will not be a walking wand of cure light wounds), and I would never play a female character (I’m a guy, if you couldn’t guess). Guess what my first 4th Edition character was?
Still, for Dungeons & Dragons, two elements rarely appeared in the campaigns me and my friends ran: there was a conspicuous absence of dungeons, and precious few dragons. With that thought in mind, as well as the desire to take 4th Edition to its upper limits, I started browsing the vast and infinite Internet, looking for inspiration, and I found an article (or a blog entry, or a forum comment, or something) by one of the people who had worked on 4th Edition: a description of a campaign he was running, where dungeons meandered around the countryside. I forget who he was, but the concept stuck with me.
So I’ve started building a one-shot adventure based on that premise, designed for a solitary player (Yamane Ishi) playing a single character. Originally, the PC was going to be 21st level, but I have since decided to go all-out and make him level 30, with his stats generated completely by-the-book, and equipped with whatever equipment he wanted, and I resolved to not say no without a truly important reason.
Yamane asked if he could have an airship, and so his character got an airship and a crew of warforged sky-sailors to go along with it. I asked if he wanted an ally character, and he stated a preference for an intelligent animal, so I spent a little time designing him an intelligent animal pal—the feyblessed wolf (well, he originally wanted a silver dragon, but I had to reject that idea because it would radically shift the penultimate encounter of the adventure. The addition of the airship shifted that same encounter, but in a different—and more intriguing—way).
The adventure still needs a lot of work: virtually ever monster in it will be custom-made (for one thing, I need better minions. His character chewed through seventy-five of them in a single encounter during a playtest), his airship needs to be something more than just the generic airship out of the Adventurer’s Vault, and I need to heavily format an Excel spreadsheet in order for it to serve as my dungeon map (this works surprisingly well if you can hook your laptop up to a reasonably large TV). I’m hoping for it to be six to eight encounters, spread out over two good gaming days. There won’t be any reason to give out XP, but the encounters should be challenging. Treasure is irrelevent, for he already possesses top-notch gear.
Hopefully, it’ll just be a complex, deadly dungeon with a big, murderous dragon at the end of it, just like Gary Gygax would have wanted.