Dungeons that tell a story

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Havard
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Dungeons that tell a story

Post by Havard » Sat Mar 10, 2018 11:50 pm

I have a few players in my group who are, how should I say it, rather jaded. They are great players, but traditional D&D elements do not really do much for them anymore, at least not without adding a bit more depth. My group as a whole is probably also more story focused than tactical minded. They really like interracting with NPCs and also "political" aspects of the game. Dungeon crawls typically get a little boring to them.

So I have been thinking about Dungeons that tell a story. This is nothing new of course, but I am trying to find some way to generate more ideas for this type of dungeon design.

1) Story of current inhabitants: This type of dungeon has an interesting race, culture or NPCs inhabiting it. They should be more than just things you can kill. Perhaps there are things in the dungeon (carvings, furniture, archtecture, traps etc) that tells us something about the inhabitants. There could also be multiple groups within the dungeon with different goals. This is something that could allow the PCs to interract with the inhabitants in different ways rather than just killing everyone.

2) Exploring the Past: This type of dungeon carries some connections to the past. Perhaps it was constructed by a now lost race or culture. Or perhaps it holds items or lore from centuries earlier in the campaign setting.

3) Religious or arcane secrets: This is the classic dungeon that holds some religious or magical significance. Perhaps a demon is trapped within the dungeon, or it was once a holy temple that was defiled? Or perhaps it was the tower of a long dead magic user.

4) Connections to the Present: Perhaps the most interesting thing about the dungeon is the role it currently plays. Perhaps it is the stronghold of a race or villain currently waging war against a nearby kingdom? Or perhaps someone in the dungeon has kidnapped the daughter of a nearby nobleman?

Of course any combination of the above is also possible!

What are other ways to use the dungeon itself to tell a story that might intrigue the players?

-Havard

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RobJN
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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by RobJN » Sun Mar 11, 2018 11:30 am

Tim Beach's Hail the Heroes takes this approach. (Well, okay, the dungeon doesn't tell the story. But it does ask an awful lot of questions... :) )*

A lot of your ideas look like they take quite a bit of player investment in the setting. This can be a good thing if your table has access to campaign reading material -- either they all own, say, the Gazetteer, or the group or game world has some kind of wiki for reference. Sitting through too much of the DM's history/sociology lesson would be cause for my eyes to glaze over.

Of course, some DMs might take this opportunity for the players to generate the details. One of the actual play podcasts I listen to has the GM doing this all the time ("You have a contact? What is their name, how does your character know them?"). Sometimes, (and I love it when) the players will tie that in with things that've already happened, such as recycling a GM's throwaway/walk-on NPC. :twisted:

How do you handle the detail wrangling, Havard? E-mails? Narration at the beginning/middle/end of the session? Tease out the info over the course of the game and hope your players remember it/take notes?


*Handmaidens vs. the Cult of Halav, Church of Traladara, and the Order of the Griffon? I know where I'm putting my money on that bet.....
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Havard
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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by Havard » Sun Mar 11, 2018 7:16 pm

RobJN wrote:A lot of your ideas look like they take quite a bit of player investment in the setting. This can be a good thing if your table has access to campaign reading material -- either they all own, say, the Gazetteer, or the group or game world has some kind of wiki for reference. Sitting through too much of the DM's history/sociology lesson would be cause for my eyes to glaze over.
Excellent points. Different players want different things. I think an important trick for us DM's is to figure out who wants what and try to give different players different things.

I am also not sure you would need alot of details in order to tell a story. Subtle hints here and there can be much more efficient. I would not describe a statue in detail unless the PCs actively investigate it. Give them a little first, and then more if they show interest.

Of course, some DMs might take this opportunity for the players to generate the details. One of the actual play podcasts I listen to has the GM doing this all the time ("You have a contact? What is their name, how does your character know them?"). Sometimes, (and I love it when) the players will tie that in with things that've already happened, such as recycling a GM's throwaway/walk-on NPC. :twisted:
I think that is a great idea. I like to do that sometimes. A few of my players aren't too creative, but for most of them it will work real well.
How do you handle the detail wrangling, Havard? E-mails? Narration at the beginning/middle/end of the session? Tease out the info over the course of the game and hope your players remember it/take notes?
Another great question. I have some players who will chat with me via messenger and we can play out tons of ideas back and forth. Other players are more of the casual kind. They don't like to talk much about the game outside of the session, but they will show up and have fun when the game is on.

I sometimes write prologues. Short texts describing a situation or something happening before the players enter the stage. I'm not sure how closely everyone reads them, but again I think it depends on the type of player.

I don't like to read out long descriptive texts during the game. It usually feels awkward. I can do introductions for the game or recaps of the last game. That's usually how we get started.

I have started creating more handouts again lately. I find that handouts work quite well. Even better if they are directed at a single player instead of the whole group. I have found it to be a great way to involve players who are having trouble getting into the game or feel like their characters don't quite fit. Maybe have an NPC write letters to them, or have a book in a strange language that they can translate a few passages from each setting.


How would you adress these things? :)

-Havard

Aliases: Håvard Frosta, Havard Blackmoor, Blackmoorian, Dragon Turtle etc
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Dalillama
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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by Dalillama » Mon Mar 12, 2018 8:01 am

Havard wrote:I have a few players in my group who are, how should I say it, rather jaded. They are great players, but traditional D&D elements do not really do much for them anymore, at least not without adding a bit more depth. My group as a whole is probably also more story focused than tactical minded. They really like interracting with NPCs and also "political" aspects of the game. Dungeon crawls typically get a little boring to them.
Then why crawl dungeons? There's loads of other campaign themes you could use.
Havard wrote: So I have been thinking about Dungeons that tell a story. This is nothing new of course, but I am trying to find some way to generate more ideas for this type of dungeon design.
The first question is what the 'dungeon' is, which leads to how it got there, and why. Is it a dwarven mine, abandoned when they waked some evil force? A complex of bunkers and trenches from a war where dragons and magic required air defences? An abandoned castle with new inhabitants? A non-abandoned castle whose inhabitants the PCs disapprove of? A natural cave complex of some sort? A labyrinth devoted to a dead god? That's going to inform everything else about the place.
Havard wrote: 4) Connections to the Present: Perhaps the most interesting thing about the dungeon is the role it currently plays. Perhaps it is the stronghold of a race or villain currently waging war against a nearby kingdom? Or perhaps someone in the dungeon has kidnapped the daughter of a nearby nobleman?

This is the easiest to tie into a larger story with intrigue and politics and all that juicy stuff. The local aristocrat's heir has been kidnapped; a note from the kidnappers has demanded secrecy and a stand-down of the local militia patrols. Any sign of military action and the hostage dies. Her Ladyship is concerned for her daughter, and further worried that the kingdom's enemies might take advantage of the military stand down. She hires or conscripts the PCs to do something about it. They find the kidnappers holed up in the remnants of a disused border fort, now replaced by the castle of their employer. Should they succeed in penetrating the castle, they will find that the victim is not there, and signs that a force left towards the border before they arrived. Investigation reveals indications that far from being bandits, they were undercover soldiers, and an invasion is imminent. The PCs can try to rouse the defences, try to rescue the hostage, or do something else entirely.

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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by RobJN » Mon Mar 12, 2018 9:43 am

Dalillama wrote: Should they succeed in penetrating the castle, they will find that the victim is not there, and signs that a force left towards the border before they arrived. Investigation reveals indications that far from being bandits, they were undercover soldiers, and an invasion is imminent. The PCs can try to rouse the defences, try to rescue the hostage, or do something else entirely.
Image
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Angel Tarragon
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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by Angel Tarragon » Mon Mar 12, 2018 11:49 am

RobJN wrote:Image
:P :lol:

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Re: Dungeons that tell a story

Post by willpell » Mon Mar 12, 2018 5:45 pm

Havard wrote:Dungeon crawls typically get a little boring to them.
What is it that bores them? Is it the typical sense of isolation? Make an inhabited dungeon with a thriving, multifaceted community. Is it the linearity of their choices where to go? Make a dizzying labyrinth in multiple dimensions where every room has eight exits. Is it the stupid randomness of the monster encounter tables? Create a carefully themed dungeon with a variety of related but interestingly different creatures. Is it the simple mercenarism of grabbing XP and loot? Then make the game a race against time where some creatures will simply stall you before fleeing, and you need to decide when it's not worth your time to search for traps, or open containers which might have either loot or more time-wasting monsters.

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