Schroedinger’s Room and fuck-a-diddlesPosted: October 10, 2012
|If memory serves, this is level 1a from Khunmar.|
Yesterday I posted about megadungeons, then I read the Mule Abides “Defense of the Megadungeon” and followed that up with Bliss Infinite’s post about “empty rooms” and all of this makes me want to get into the game of talking about empty rooms on my blog, too. I can neither confirm nor deny Joe the Lawyer’s negative experience with dungeoneering in Dwimmermount; I haven’t read or played it. I’m looking forward to reading it because I like a lot of the things that James writes on Grognardia; based on what he has already written about D&D, I want to read Dwimmermount.
In my own megadungeon, Mines of Khunmar, (which people are probably sick of hearing me go on about), there are a lot of empty rooms (I’ll get to those later). There are also a lot of the ‘fuck-a-diddle’ type rooms that are probably the equivalent of the room with the ghost chess players in Dwimmermount that Joe the Lawyer didn’t like. For clarification, in my lexicon, a ‘fuck-a-diddle’ room/encounter is one in which the author says, “Here is an X,” but probably doesn’t provide enough or any explanation for that thing being there (whether it be a ghost, a mysterious magical effect, an illusion, a pile of old shoes, etc.). If you like ‘fuck-a-diddles’ you can see it as an opportunity to improvise or even just toss a red herring in the mix and see if the players chase it. If you hate ‘fuck-a-diddles,’ you will roll your eyes in annoyance and shout “LAME!”
One example of a fuck-a-diddle: I remember there is a room in Khunmar where the ghosts of dwarves drink beer and sing songs on level 4 or 5 — if I recall my intentions correctly, I thought that if the players sat down and drank beer they would eventually fade away and become ghosts themselves. No one ever entered that room, so I can’t say that I ever had the chance to ‘test drive’ it. One of my favorite published ‘megadungeons’ (Tegel Manor by Judge’s Guild) is pretty much one fuck-a-diddle after another. I’d love to play that thing. There used to be a few pages on the Wizards.com site where one of the authors from the book division talked about using Tegel Manor to teach a group of non gamers how to play D&D on their lunch break, and, as I recall, the campaign sounded like a hoot (edit: still there…link). It’s been years since I poked my nose inside my copy of Tegel, but as I recall, the descriptions were pretty short on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of all of the different weirdo and unexplained encounters in the manor. I don’t know if that would irritate people who don’t like vague descriptions or hate the ‘feel free to improvise here’ style of dungeon keying.
Speaking of empty rooms, I always hated the whole ‘Schroedinger’s Cat’ thing. I know I’m probably missing the point because it is the equivalent of the physics student’s Zen koan to declare that the cat in the box is simultaneously alive and dead because we don’t know, but I always get stuck on thinking, “What kind of sick fucker puts a cat in a box with poison?” Free associating from Schroedinger’s cat to trees falling in the woods to whether or not empty rooms can truly be empty if there are a bunch of adventurers walking through them, I have to declare that I don’t find empty rooms a ‘dealbreaker.’ I suppose that an adventure buyer/reader might think he was getting more value for money if the author and publisher used a lot of words and ink to describe each and every room whether or not anything of any substance was in it, but I’d probably be just as happy at this point in my life with less to read when and if I ever actually use the adventure behind the GM screen. One of the things I liked about Barrowmaze and Stonehell (2 different published megadungeons) is that the descriptions were not overly long and adjective filled. My feeling is that if I want a novel, I’ll read one. My own ideal is that a dungeon location description be pretty short so I can scan and find the info that I need at a glance rather than hunting through massive paragraphs of prose to find out whether the kobold chief wearing the headress made of human ears has seven or eight hit points. Similarly, I’d be prefectly happy if a dungeon author said a chest contained ‘clothes’ instead of detailing exactly how many socks or shirts or jockstraps are in there. If I need specifics, I’m confident that I can invent them on the spot (and I would actually prefer that). Another big dungeon I liked, Rappan Athuk, has a lot of empty rooms with tables to let you decide if there were bones, rusted chains, discarded torch stumps, etc., in the room. And I thought that was fine.
I suppose the other alternative is just not to have any empty rooms — each and every chamber can be jam packed with monsters, monsters, monsters, but that makes even the vaguest sort of dungeon ecology seem improbable. Assuming the ‘dungeon’ is a series of tunnels, rooms, etc., that are the former lair of a mad wizard or whatever which has been abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin and then various groups of bandits, kobolds, orcs, etc., have moved in, then a certain amount of ‘buffer zone’ between different factions makes some sense. One of the more interesting levels of Khunmar has a harpies and gargoyles fighting over the territory… one end of the level is claimed by the harpies, the other part is claimed by the gargoyles and in between are some empty caves and tunnels (some with dead harpies and gargoyles).
An alternative is to have your dungeon ‘not be abandoned,’ but that makes it less likely that the players will get anywhere since if it were MY castle, I’d have guards and traps and pits full of poisoned spikes at every fucking entrance and archers and trained maticores and boiling oil and hobgoblins with AK47s… need I go on?
I won’t assume that everyone should love megadungeons — that’s as unreasonable as automatically hating them. Sometimes, though, I think some of the people complaining about them miss the point. Reading about the NYC megadungeon campaign in ‘The Mule Abides,’ (see link above) makes me envious, however. I wish I could live in NYC for at least some of the week so I could take part (and get decent pizza).