Saturday, May 11, 2024

More Thoughts on Megadungeon Design and Pandering

I almost went on a little bit of an old man get off my lawn rant about the re-envisioning of the classic red box warrior - she's been a woman the whole time! I was going to do a very snarky re-imagining of the image I've been using from the inside cover of the BX 81 red book that says the dwarf is really a girl... and everyone else has had gender re-assignment. But I decided it was not worth it. 

For the record, I teach middle school. I have a LOT of students struggling with their identity and gender, and this is a genuine thing that people do go through - it is real, and it is important. Furthermore, I have cast girls in boy parts because the text supported it - I think that the character of Mercutio is CLEARLY in love with Romeo, and Romeo doesn't get it. I think this is more powerful for an audience if a girl is in the role; it also makes Tybalt more villainous later on. It's aligned with Shakespeare's initial intention for the role; it honors the original work in a modern context. 

However, saying that the classic warrior of 40 years ago was really a girl THE WHOLE TIME is not being inclusive - it is pandering. There is NO way that Larry Elmore was thinking "I want to make this character just barely vague enough that it could be a girl". No. Mr. Elmore was envisioning a man, and crafted a man. There's nothing to interpretation here. It's just making a change to get some clicks and maybe some street credit with a specific community of gamers. It in no way honors the history of the game or the intention of its forebears. It makes me want to play games from Hasbro less, because it's not about the game anymore.

Okay. I guess I did my old man rant anyway.


I have been going through other games I've designed and been reviewing for ideas I can take and adapt to Hack'D. One of the things I came across was my introductory dungeon for Tales of the Splintered Realm. It is my 'best' dungeon design to this point; it has several keyed areas that are interesting encounters (along with 'how to' descriptions for the ways to use these things in play), along with suggestions for stocking the rest of the dungeon and the unexplored rooms. It's both a starter dungeon and a tutorial to running dungeons - but the way in which it is structured dramatically increases its replay value. It's suggested to be the starter level to a larger dungeon complex - you always start here, but can go a lot of other places.

I really, really liked reading through it, and I saw the many benefits that came from this design approach. It is not the approach I have taken with the Halls of Moridis; as I have played through, I've made sure that each room is fleshed out in some way, and I have left very few empty rooms along the way. I'm toying with the idea of going back and re-imagining this complex from that perspective. I haven't published anything yet, and it's all my notes, but I think as I conceptualize this dungeon going forward, I might scale back the number of keyed entries to fewer than half of the total areas, and let GMs have a go of what's everywhere else, giving a lot of suggestions for how to conceptualize things. This would also increase the replay value, since each area gets a lot more opportunity for 'resets' between delves.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I can articulate this but here goes... I think the more rooms you fill the more you prescribe the pace at which they are explored, which isn't a problem, but in my experience empty rooms, restocking and the possibility of random encounters naturally varies the pace between and within dungeon delves. This lets the dungeon breathe, and as you say gives it more replay value and gets the GM more involved. I also use rosters for monsters e,g, there's a total of 20 giant rats, they may only meet 1d6 on a delve, but if they've killed the whole 20 over a number of delves, there are no more and I change the 'giant rats' entry on the encounter table to something else when restocking, which can alter the tone of the dungeon completely.