Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dwimmermount, 3x5 Geomorphs, The Tome of Adventure Design & Boring Adventure Design

There has been a confluence of events and ideas lately that are all peripherally related and I wanted to chew on them all in hopes of putting them all together in a way that will give every one a means of meditating upon the megadungeon/dungeon adventure if not a tool with which to make one.

Let me first break my silence about the Dwimmermount project by Mr. Maliszewski. There has been a great deal of disappointment when it comes to this project, not the least of which is the dead lock the project is in due to personal circumstances. I have four things to say:

  1. In my line of work, I deal with disease and death on a regular, if not daily, basis. It can be emotionally debilitating and (especially in a culture that does its best to avoid the issue at almost all cost) the grieving process is a long and difficult road. And I am not even talking about what happens to the people I council and help through this process. When it happens to one of your own (as it has with me on more than one occasion) it is devastating. As such I am more than willing to give James as much room as he needs to get through this time of his life. Speculating about if and when the project will be done is not helpful and may very well make the process of grieving that much more difficult.
  2. I am a backer of the project. I took a capital risk in order to get a glimpse into a world and campaign that I have been following for years. Even if the rest of the project never sees the light of day, I have gotten my money’s worth with what has been released to backers. It is easily one of the most comprehensive and well crafted megadungeons ever to be shared with this community and I am very much looking forward to playing it one day. The material I have in hand is, frankly, exactly what I was expecting and what I paid for.
  3. I consider Dwimmermount, even in its current state, to be a major success. As an experiment with OD&D as written with the basic assumption that it is not wrong, we have all had to seriously wrestle with the concept of the dungeon and the megadungeon. One meme that is making the rounds is that the first levels are “boring.” The most insightful of these meditations is by Roger of Roles, Rules & Rolls
  4. Patience is a virtue everyone desperately needs to reacquaint themselves with.

Personally, I have only recently started to read all the material available to Dwimmermount backers, and in context of what is available I do not see the first level boring at all, but (again) I got what I was looking for. However, I do appreciate the conundrum, especially since my own attempts at a megadungeon in my Lost Colonies campaign met with mixed results.

To that end, let me call attention to a number of my older posts and bring them into the context of the long shadow of Dwimmermount:

  • I did a review of Matt Finch’s Demonspore. I highly praised its modularity — it was specifically designed to be placed into an extant dungeon and not a complete dungeon in and of itself. This modularity made it possible for it to be utilized as part of my megadungeon and ended up being a highly entertaining episode in my long-running campaign. My challenge to adventure writers and publishers to duplicate this modularity has thus far fell on deaf ears.
  • In my own forays into improving my craft as an adventure designer and maker of megadungeons, I came up with the idea of the 3x5 geomorph. As a concept, it duplicated the modularity found in Demonspore on a smaller scale. Each 3x5 card has more room and flexibility than a normal geomorph and each can contain its own function and backstory. The dungeon maps that I made for The Slave Pits of Abhoth used this method. I challenged folks to start working on 3x5 geomorphs, but that, too, has thus far fallen on deaf ears.
  • I recently purchased another of Matt Finch’s publications, The Tome of Adventure Design. In it, with the use of dozens of tables and a lot of sound advice, Matt lays out a formalized way to utilize the very modularity that I found in his adventure Demonspore and I tried to create with my 3x5 geomorphs. You can roll on a series of tables to determine the characteristics and size of a particular section of a dungeon, including what it looks like, how many rooms, what size those rooms are and how they are arranged. There are also tables for coming up with various kinds of landmarks that differentiate this particular section of dungeon from every other part of a dungeon. In essence, the results of each of these series of die rolls is something that could theoretically fit on a 3x5 geomorph. String a bunch of these together in various patterns and one can come up with several fantastic-looking dungeons that have a suggested history and use because of all the various landmarks that dot each section of the map. Not only is it a gratifying way to build a dungeon, I believe that the end result is much better than some of the more traditional ways of putting together a dungeon.

This brings me to my current project, my re-imagined version of The Caves of Chaos from B2: The Keep on the Borderland. I used The Tome of Adventure Design heavily as I constructed my vision of the caves and the result was a series of small dungeon sections which I pieced together to come up with what I feel is and rather exciting 1st level adventure with the potential to become a megadungeon should anyone want to take it that far. No boring here.

A huge reason that I feel this way about the dungeon is the fact that simply looking at a section of the map, with a title taken from a landmark derived from a random table is truly evocative. I could run this adventure on the fly simply from looking at these maps. For example:

This map is just brimming with possibilities and could be used in all kinds of different contexts. Indeed, it is specifically designed to do exactly that.

Thus, I challenge everyone, instead of whinging about how your latest Kickstarter is behind schedule get out a pack of 3x5’s, draw some maps, label them with evocative landmarks and titles, put them out there for people to use and let us see the fruit of this re-examination of the megadungeon that Dwimmermount has so successfully and beautifully done. I pray this challenge does not fall on deaf ears.

Finally, I need to acknowledge that both James and Matt have made me a better player and a better dungeon designer. I’d like to take the time to thank them both.


lars_alexander said...

This is probably the best post about the whole Dwimmermount debate that I read so far.

I might pick up the challenge, though I have unfinished adventure design business to do elsewhere.

Anthony said...

Although I'm not much of a fan of megadungeons, I'm a backer of Dwimmermount and, as far as I'm concerned, James can take all the time he needs. No one who hasn't been through the death beloved relatives has a clue of how debilitating to one's spirit and energy that can be.

Very nice map, btw. Is this from the dungeon you helped your daughter begin?

Nathan Irving said...

I haven't got a horse in the Dwimmermount race, but I love the ideas you've put out here about dungeons. I haven't read your blog extensively enough to have come across them before.

Roger G-S said...

About a year ago there was a call from Talysman and me for modular megadungeon sections that fizzled out. Maybe a revival is in order. The Blasphemous Bridge, though apparently on a large scale, is about the right scope envisioned - a 3-6 room area.

Gordon Cooper said...

I agree completely with your sentiments regarding both Dwimmermount and James' situation, and I appreciate the way you expressed them. Well said.

I regret not accepting your challenges. In the first instance, I hadn't seen your post on modularity in adventure design,although I have just read it and shall endeavor to do what I can in the way of advancing your idea, which I share. There may be a delay before I can implement it, however, as I have overcommitted myself to a number of writing projects.

In the second instance, I had seen your posts regarding 3x5 geomorphs and I intended to take you up on the challenge, but I forgot. I apologize for that. I intend to correct the oversight, especially since my own Web log has had an absence of anything other than text for too long.

As for the third instance, I fully intend to accept your challenge and post the results within the next seven days. As I see it, this would be the perfect diversion for my breaks at work. I thank you for both the inspiration and the prodding!

Black Vulmea said...

James Maliszewski taking additional time to complete his project isn't really the issue. Under the circumstances I think only a handful of truly hard-hearted gamers would begrudge him that.

Retreating to the point of providing no communications with business partners and backers isn't, and shouldn't be, acceptable, however. His most recent communication, made behind the firewall of his G+ circle, makes zero mention of his responsibility to anyone for the money he accepted.

My father's passing was terribly difficult, in no small part because we were estranged for so long. Nonetheless, I didn't hide from my responsiblities, and if I'd felt the impulse to do so, I would've sought help.

Gordon Cooper said...

FrDave, I'm still working on the landmark-and-title 3x5 maps, but here are some non-labelled geomorphs I made:

Gordon Cooper said...

Sorry. I forgot the HTML.

Generic 3x5 Geomorphs 1-4

Generic 3x5 Geomorphs 5-8