To Combat or Not to Combat

Alright, I will confess it: I have a strange and returning urge to run a dungeon crawl. I’m tired of running Call of Cthuhlhu’s free for adventures and trying to remember a large cast of NPCs motivations and personalities, scare my players. More and more I just want to draw a big map, place a bunch of loot and monsters on it and tell them ‘go’.

I find this really odd: I’m only about as old as 2nd edition, and started gaming heavily in 2002 with Living Greyhawk, so I’ve not got any rose-coloured memories of early D&D.

Additionally I was often frustrated in my Living Greyhawk days with pure-combat adventures. Adventures where one went to point A, killed monster B and got treasure C. Isn’t that the definition of a dungeon crawl? 4e combat is more fun, but I still find that it gets boring if more then 1 hour out of 4 is spent on it. Older edition combats went much faster, but I found them more crufty and arbitrary, and rather boring in the options available.

So this leaves me wondering why on earth I want to run or play in a dungeon crawl? Is it some buried desire in all gamers? Or something I picked up from reading old editions & Dragon magazines and hearing my father’s stories growing up?

Or is me desire to organize things just manifesting in an excuse to make meticulous notes? To play in such a game so I have an excuse to make a map and keep track of every copper and such? To play in a really freeform game where I can make money by looting a dungeon down to it’s bare stone walls, using some of my treasure to set up a furniture warehouse where I can sell doors and tables and whatnot? (All of which I could keep track of in meticulous detail)?

I don’t know: If  you look through my blog several of my settings basically attempt to ‘explain’ dungeons, possibly because this itch stays in my head and gets more and more romanticized. Possibly because since I have so few readers I never get comments on the settings and keep moving on without fleshing them out since I don’t get any feedback to urge me to write more. I do think I might like this more as a PBF/PBP game, since it wouldn’t be as concentrated, letting me sit down and dungeon crawl a bit each day instead of for days on end.

So…Am I crazy? Does anyone have any advice or suggestions?

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  1. Perhaps you ought to consider old side-scroller computer games for inspiration.

    Many foes were simply moving obstacles/traps that had to be avoided or killed/negated through environmental factors (blocks pried loose from the ceiling, pits, etc.), instead of direct combat.

    If you took a page from that school of ‘Loot & Scoot’ philosophy, you could allow characters to perform all the usual features of a treasure-hunt in a dungeon (etc.) environment, while stocking it with truly deadly (read: unbeatable by direct combat) opponents, while adding a sort of mental ‘verticality’, as it were, of finding means within their arsenal of gear and tricks, as well as the locale’s contraptions (semi-functional traps now long rusted and only sensitive to heavy monsters, etc.) to deal with the critters the party cannot avoid, or must confront to reach the really great treasures, and the entrances/exits of the level/complex/forest, etc.

    Thoughts?

    • That is fine for some encounters, but I think most players want to kill things and take their stuff. Sure, having a couple monsters that are two powerful to kill is an idea, but in my opinion having most monsters that powerful would grow frustrating very quickly.

  2. You might want to find a local group running an old-school D&D dungeon-crawl campaign. By sitting in for a session or two, you should quickly discover whether that style is appealing.

    • That might be an idea that I will consider in the fall as I am moving to rural Canada for a job until the end of the summer.

  3. There is nothing worse than an itch you can’t scratch.

    From time to time, a palate-cleansing dose of an a-typical night of gaming is absolutely required. YOu can do it by leaving your normal game system and genre, or you can turn the norm on its head – even if your mainstay is CoC. If you think about it, trying to plot or play in a Call of Cthulhu game built around the format of a dungeon crawl could allow for a lot of interestingly unsettling situations. A lot of the classic printed adventures went this route for some sections (Masks of Nyarlathotep for example) and the presence of map and tunnel based adventuring allowed for both a respite from the cosmic horror in some cases, and a sanity-crushing focus on the cosmic horror in others.

    If you’ve had your fill of those options and still feel the need for ‘an old-fashioned dungeon crawl’ there are still unexplained magics from any number of tomes, not to mention the dreamlands, and inumerable worlds among the rotting stars.

    If that is still too close to home, then an out of genre experience is definitely called for.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with dungeoneering, although a solid case can be made for it being very introductory as a form of play. While it can be as freeform and creative as any other setting, from a character and motivational aspect, it really can’t get much more basic. Due to its familiarity, relative ease, comfort, and the great degree of intricacy and cleverness that can be brought to bear on the setting, nights spent playing or running one can be incredibly fun and challenging… and this is what I think you are sensing. This setting enhances the real game-like elements of the hobby, without necessarily diminishing the role-playing elements – unless you choose to let them diminish them.

    So… why not?

    • It isn’t anything against the genere, I just find endless attack rolls boring. I’ve played one dungeon crawl I quite enjoyed, but it was quite short, only a couple of combats and then a bunch of rooms with clues as to the history of the dungeon, and more importantly the organization behind it.

      • That sounds like a reasonable dungeon and a reasonable response to unreasonable dungeons. One would hope that the days of immortal monsters inexplicably lurking behind doors for eternity without so much as a chamber pot are long, long past.

        It sounds, though, like that is what you are pretty certain will be the sort of environment which would be wrought for you. I suppose – that is not an unreasonable reaction, either. I think, however, that if you communicate to the people who run games for you the sort of games, settings, one-shots, etc that interest you, before play starts, and they in turn communicate the sort of thing they are interested in running, that there is a much higher chance for satisfactory collaboration, or an easier signpost to read saying, ‘Run to the Hills.’

        • Most of this is academic as there are only 2 DMs in my group currently. I’m one of them and the other prefers more story & character based games, and is a big fan of Changling and such.

          I don’t think it is the monsters behind doors thing actually: I can turn off my disbelif or joke about it. It is more that in 3.X and 4e combats take what, 30 – 45min once you get a couple of levels? I find myself getting bored of combat well before that much of the time, even moreso when it takes over the session. I did enjoy early LG mods with a 15-30 min fight right at the start and a longer combat at the end of the adventure, but that is the max of combat I like. I’ve looked at other game systems but found retroclones and old D&D editions to be a bit to straightjackety for me, and BRP doesn’t seem to be a good fit. I’ve had tunnels and trolls recommended to me and I might give that a look sometime. –Canageek

  4. It sounds as if you would like to be the player in this dungeon crawl. I could run a one-day session by IRC if you want, and if you like it I could probably run a PBF game of it.

    • Thanks love, but I don’t think that would be what I’m looking for…. Besides you’ve told me your tapped out gaming wise.

  5. “At the Mountains of Madness.” Make that your dungeon crawl.

    • I really need to read that one, but another story from Robert E. However might get made into a dungeon crawl once I get around to finishing the adventure I’m 90% done.

  6. Sounds like you have a lot of misconceptions about dungeon crawls.

    • Can you give me some examples? I’ve only played short 4-8 hour ones recently during Living Greyhawk. I’ve read a number of bits and bobs about them in old Dragon magazines and such, but would love to hear what I’ve got wrong.


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