Friday, March 6, 2009


Did I ever mention that I like dungeons? No? Well, I do. I'd even say that I love dungeons. Just to put that into perspective, I don't really care one way or another about dragons. When I think of Dungeons & Dragons, it is images of the former and not the latter that spring to mind. I cannot rightly fathom playing the game without dungeons. I suppose admitting that might make me appear to be some awkward, old fashioned stick in the mud with a retarded sense of the game. But there it is. D&D, to me, means dungeons.

A game of D&D without dungeons is a truly sad state of affairs. I'm sure I could potentially enjoy a game without them. I like playing Traveller and Call of Cthulhu. It's just that they are different games, which bring other expectations. I could play Traveller without space travel, or Call of Cthulhu without Lovecraft's creations, but I don't want to. There's something about the feel of a dungeon crawl that just equates to D&D. Entering the dark confines beneath the surface, trying to avoid pits, listening at doors, making maps, tossing molotov cocktails, drinking from strange fountains, parleying with mysterious underworld denizens, wondering what that disturbing clanging sound down the hall was, delving deeper, farther and farther from the light of day, hopefully becoming so encumbered with sacks, bags, pouches, packs and chests full of gold that movement is reduced to 3".

There's a primal edginess to the entire undertaking. The claustrophobic setting, the stifling air, the enveloping darkness, the otherworldly monsters all mesh together to create the perfect combination of action, adventure, mystery, exploration, tension and challenge. It is the ultimate test of a player's abilities, in my opinion. An environment with little margin for error which places the greatest demand on the players. I'd surmise that anyone disagreeing with that sentiment is either illogical or has not played in enough dungeons.

"But Sham, I can replicate the dungeon experience in different settings, ones which include other types of challenges!" I'd counter by saying that the only way to replicate the dungeon experience is by creating a close physical facsimile which for all intents is simply a dungeon with another name. In regard to other types of challenges, who cares when you're dead. That's the punishment for failing in the underworld.

I know full well that there are enjoyable, viable alternatives to dungeon crawling. I am aware of this fact. I can even revel in wilderness or city adventuring as a dungeon alternative, as long as these escapades are leading to future dungeon sessions. They can make for nice breaks here and there, but in no way can the alternatives ever replace the real thing.

I know my opinion is extreme, even amongst fellow players from the early days. I'm a self-diagnosed utter dungeon geek. In no way am I advocating that dungeons are the only way to play. Nor am I telling anyone how to play their own games of D&D. It's simply that when I decide to play D&D, I am specifically pursuing my desire to do some dungeon crawling.

These days that seems downright archaic. Until recently, that is. It appears that there are many others that are trying to put the Dungeons back into Dungeons & Dragons. I'm probably the last blogger to point this out, and provide links, but it's time for me to do my part.

Start here at Grognardia, read the comments, and check out Trollsmyth's and Amityville Mike's follow-up posts as well. These three are able to talk about dungeons without getting all fired up like I do. MegaMarch might be upon us, the month when the gamers decided to return D&D to its rightful home. If there is ever an online community dungeon project as hinted at in the above links, I'll be signing up, and detailing the progress here at Ye Auld Grog & Blog.

~Sham, Utter Dungeon Geek


Mr Baron said...

Hey Dungeon Geek,

Give me another day or two, and I will be posting on this topic as well.


Sham aka Dave said...

Looking forward to it, Mr. Baron!

Michael Curtis said...

In case you haven't guessed, I share the same madness.

My attracting to RPGs is that, for me, they're all about solving problems. Whether it's the simple application of tactics to help turn a combat in your favor or the unraveling of some murder mystery plot, problem solving is what gets me amped and keeps me coming back for more.

Dungeons are giant problems that beg resolution. What happens if I pull this lever? Drink from this well? Is there a hidden door here? What is making that sound? Dear Lord! What is THAT?!

Give a bag of iron spikes, a 10' pole and some blank mapping paper and I'm a happy man.

Sham aka Dave said...

Well said, Mike. Make Mine Dungeon.

Scott said...

I can live without dungeons, but I can't look at that old Holmes cross-section without wanting to design and stock my own version of the Stone Mountain dungeon.

Sham aka Dave said...

I've often thought I would shake the dungeon bug, but it's been thirty years. I still haven't grown tired of them. Now I just embrace them without apologies.

That cross-section was the very first example of a dungeon that I saw. I've been sold since.

Welcome to Dungeon! said...

I love dungeons. Mike's

"Dungeons are giant problems that beg resolution. What happens if I pull this lever? Drink from this well? Is there a hidden door here? What is making that sound? Dear Lord! What is THAT?!"

Gets close to the heart of why.

However, while I do enjoy the Megadungeon, and would most always be up for running one, as a GM I tend to prefer the "wilderness to explore, full of smaller dungeons."

I did have a great time running one a few years ago, and of course, I make an exception for the Dismal Depths, which is too psychedelic for me to resist, when the level 2 release is out.

Sham aka Dave said...

My campaign have always been dungeon based. That is the heart and soul. Along the way I include city, wilderness and other world excursions. The dungeon is the hub around which the rest revolves.

I like the idea of a hexcrawl type campaign, with dozens of smaller dungeons as well. Ultimately I'd enjoy a setting with a couple megadungeons, scores of other adventure sites (be it dungeons, lairs, ruins, towers, caves, etc) and detailed hexes and towns in between.

That's more design work than I've been able to invest in a single game, but a goal worth pursuing.

Matthew James Stanham said...

Aye, the "wilderness/city/dungeon" combination remains my favourite sort of game. I like to have plenty of dungeons, but I more often have a settlement as the central hub of the game.

Sham aka Dave said...

I think that's how most DMs do it. Rather than the dungeon-hub, use a settlement-hub. It leads to more open ended, sandbox style play. As it stands right now if my players decided they want to adventure outside of the dungeon I'd be doing more ad-lib than normal. BUT, the game world would grow from game play and player action. That's exactly how the oldest campaigns grew.