Televised Dungeon Crawling: Excess and Advertisements

Last time I discussed a very dark version of televised dungeon crawling. This time I’m going to discuss the opposite. I got a lot of comments last time talking about how my setting reminded them of certain works by Stephen King. This interpretation is more…Stephen Colbert. If the last game was Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Dark Heresy this game will be Paranoia. Paranoia is actually one of the main inspirations of this setting. Its funny as heck, but it’ a dark funny. Your still going into a artificial dungeon to appease a bloodthirsty audience, just now your doing it with a giant Nike logo on your butt and witty commentary in the background. If you think of a spectrum this is at the lightest end, with my last post at the darkest end and XCrawl sitting confusedly in the middle trying to be both at once. Now the one problem I’m having while writing this is: I don’t watch sports unless the Olympics are on or the Leafs are playing for the cup (So, unless the Olympics are on). I also don’t watch reality TV or professional wrestling which are the other sources of this post. Therefore I may be misinterpreting things I see or emphasizing the wrong things. I strongly invite you to comment on this and give me your opinion.

You are professional gladiators, risking it all for the roar of the crowd, the thrill of the fight of the clink of the coinpurse. Highly trained professionals you are almost as concerned with how they look delving as surviving. Almost. Because everyone knows the real money isn’t in delving; it’ in the endorsements popular Delvers get and the most popular delver isn’ the best delver: It’ the one who knows how to work the audience.

To get the attention of the audience (and the sponsors) armour is heavily stylized: Modern material and alloys let you make just about anything into a practical suit of armour, so warriors wear suits ranging from knock offs of Sauron’s armour in the Lord of the Rings movies to ultramodern ballistic fibers and plastics such as SWAT style armours. Weapons are also often stylized and always named (It increases the amount you can market things such as versions and action figures). Rouges leather armour is always form fitting, with sculpted torsos tight bottoms. While I normally strongly disapprove of cleavage windows if there is a setting where they fit this is it. Armour shaped like bondage gear or something out of Mad Max is also popular. Wizards and others who go unarmoured (of both genders) on the other hand have been known to wear rather smallish amounts of clothing in pursuit of higher ratings. For example a male wizard may go around in tight leather pants…and nothing else. Other costumes I could see happening in a delve: Gothic armour (as in based off modern ‘goth’ clothing with makeup, studs and such), armour based off Boris Vallajo paintings, anime or the famous Chainmail bikini. Exotic weapons are common. If your game does not have stats for a cool weapon I encourage DMs to use the functionally equivalent rule. A cat-of-nine-tails is functionally equivalent to a whip. A flamburge is functionally equivalent to a greatsword. I’d be very tempted to allow modern weapons into a delve in a light hearted game using functionally equivalents: A chainsaw is functionally equivalent to a greataxe, a revolver is functionally equivalent to a longbow. This nicely solves gunporn: SURE you can have a <gobblygook here> it functions as a longbow. I know its better then a <gun> the system is no fine grained enough to notice however. Alternatively firearms could be banned so that you don’t damage the set too much, or injure the audience. Even the dungeon itself can get in on the advertising with MasterChope brand scythes in the traps and Defender brand Iron Golems.

Some delvers agree to only use a specified brand of weapon or armour and publicly endorse that brand in exchange for large sums of cash. Others sell spots on their armour or even skin, using magical tattoos to bear corporate logos. Depending on how silly you want to make this players could have a giant corporate logo on their backs or be decked out like a Formula 1 race car. XCrawl actually did a half decent job of this so if you have a copy look it up, just make sure to skip the massive amount of world information lest your brain crawl out of your head. XCrawl gives the suggestion that only treasure found within the dungeon to be used in the dungeon: Money from sponsorships can be used to buy large homes or cars but not spent in the dungeon. This is a crude but simple solution that lets the GM give the PCs as much money as he wants outside of the dungeon and let them run merchant empires or squander it as they wish without unbalancing the game. Another idea is players are only allowed to bring X amount of money into a delve. The downside is players must track the value of each item and do a bunch of math: Anyone who played Living Greyhawk in year two knows this is a bloody pain in the arse. If your playing D&D4e then you could limit the players to brining in X items of each level. For example one item for each character level they have or such. XCrawl’s system is indeed the simplest however it can lead to imbalance if you then take the PCs out of the delve. On the other hand, I get the feeling this would probably be a short game where treasure balance won’t be that important. Also outside of the delves is where your roleplaying is going to happen. There should be enough combat inside the delves to keep even the most blood thirsty players sated, so if you do want to turn this into a serious game outside the ring should be all roleplay. This will be the topic of the next post in the series. I generally don’t like the idea of players purchasing magic items, but it does fit a bit better in this setting then most.

XCrawl gives the idea of Dungeon Jockeys (DJs) running each dungeon, each having a theme or style and silly name, an idea I think is highly appropriate for this setting. For example DJ Crush is a ogre who values brute force in his crawls and as such uses other Ogres, Minotaurs and Giants heavily, backed by goblins, orcs and bugbears. DJ Death is the oldest DJ in the league, being a lich. He sends (surprise) undead at the PCs and once a year faces them himself of course returning to his phylactery (and a new body) when slain. DJ Sweet And Sour likes sending unusual mixed teams of monsters at the PCs. Now I like DJs picking their names based on their theme but this doesn’t have to be the case. For example DJ Yo-Yo, DJ Butcher, DJ Cool or DJ Shinedown.

Treasure is more then just gold and weapons in this game. Cars, magazine subscriptions, furniture. Watch a random game show and sprinkle everything it gives out throughout the dungeon (Of course, as it would be bad press for the PCs to be seen selling such things the standard contract specifies they can’t reject or sell any prize). Dungeons could include showrooms that show off the prizes players will get, for example a car on a rotating pedestal with spotlights on it or a room set up like Ikea to show off a living room set the players will win. Magic prizes should be named and interesting. Never give out a +2 short sword. Give ‘Nightwish’ a short sword that despite its mirror finish reflects nothing.

Unlike in the darker version monsters should dominate. Traps should certainly be a part of it, but nothing makes a crowd roar like seeing a giant stomp onto the field or watching a gladiator dragged down by a horde of goblins. Your standard ‘you take 4 damage’ is not going to do it in this setting: massive spell effects, huge mechanical levers dropping PCs into pits of spikes…that is also filled with angry rattlesnakes. Blood and gore makes the crowd roar. However the gladiators should always have a chance: They are not mooks to die, they are athletes who should have a fighting chance. Monsters should be as fantastic as possible. Try using the video game concept of boss fights: its used because it is highly dramatic. You should also do a video game style introductions for the monster, complete with a title and cutscene. Camera men should visibly follow the PCs around, perhaps occasionally getting the axe from an overzealous monster. While I don’t use theme music in my games many DMs do: if so you can justify it by having that music being piped through the dungeon or playing in the background on the televised feed.

Players should be encouraged to develop catch lines and special moves for their gladiator. Each player should be have a chance to give and introductory sequence at the start of each delve. While players should be allowed to work skills like intimidate & bluff into their routine the player should have to role-play this out. Additionally you should have periodic press conferences and both group and solo interviews. If you think your group is mature enough I recommend secret ballot voting on MVP awards, though this only works if all players are roughly equal power wise (Roughly the same level in D&D terms).

I think D&D4e would be ideal for this type of game, lots of flashy powers and items, powerful characters and monsters and loads of magic. 3.X would not be a bad choice if you crank the magic to 11. I don’t play many other fantasy games, but I think Alternity or GURPs might work. I think this would work for a short term game, or with a light hearted buch of hack & slashers. If you want a longterm game I’d want more roleplaying which is what I’ll talk about next time. If you think I missed something or have any questions please drop me a line in the comments below!

Until next time Stay Geeky!

Edit: I’m very sorry, but I somehow missed spelling checking and a bunch of paragraph breaks disappeared, so a bunch of people saw what was essentially an unfinished blog entry. I’m very sorry about this and hope I didn’t send to many people away in disgust, especially after @geekgirls was kind enough to tweet she was reading it. Well, I think I got them all, but I did edit it in a rush, so please point out any errors you see. *sigh* I’m very embarrassed about this. Anyway, Good night all, and Stay Geeky. –Canageek


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