I love the idea of Dungeonaday.com. I use a laptop at the game table, Personal Brain software to organize my campaign, email to organize my group, and an iPad to generate content. I’m all about digital. Yet, I still have book cases filled with beloved RPG books, box sets, modules and maps. I have a large pile of books I use for my Riddleport campaign, in fact, so I like to think I enjoy the best of both worlds.
But a dungeon as a website? Awesome. Love it. Links, graphics, resources, blog, community – finally we can celebrate a dungeon together and tap into using the bennies of being digital to make it more than a series of maps and keyed encounters. Dungeonaday.com moves the progress bar towards maximum potential for dungeons and gaming. I think the idea is so good that I did a case study of it for my Gamer Lifestyle RPG publishing program.
I am thrilled that Monte and his Dungeonaday.com are sponsoring Campaign Mastery. I’m proud that he feels our content, including your comments and Ask the GM requests dear readers, is good enough to put his name beside it. Recently we celebrated 100,000 visitors, and now let’s celebrate this new friendship with the internet’s biggest dungeon.
As an active GM, I’m always looking to hone my craft. So while I had Monte’s ear about the sponsorship, I weaseled in some GM advice questions in an email interview format. Here is a polished up version of the email conversation we had:
Campaign Mastery: Dungeonaday.com releases a new room every weekday. And none are crummy empty rooms – each has extensive details and some are actually multi-room areas. What is your advice on how GMs can flesh out their dungeon designs so they do not have boring, empty areas?
Monte: I think part of the trick is defining empty. Just because a room doesn’t have a monster or trap doesn’t mean it’s empty. A big part of dungeon adventures is exploring, and all kinds of cool things can be found while exploring a dungeon that don’t involve fighting or making saves.
You might find some old inscription on a stone that contains some interesting or maybe even valuable information. You might find the skeletal remains of another adventurer. You might find the source of a stream imbued with natural magical energies. Or whatever.
Campaign Mastery: Roleplaying Tips readers recently read about creating encounter backstories so players can peel things back to discover a villain, plot or world behind a seemingly one-off encounter. Does Dungeonaday.com and its encounters have backstories? Do you have a couple tips on how to create interesting backstories?
Monte: Absolutely. Fighting a bunch of orcs can be kinda fun, but it gets old pretty fast if the orcs don’t have motives for doing what they’re doing. Likewise, it’s easier for PCs to make informed decisions if they can try to learn why there’s a bunch of rooms with weird magical effects all clustered together. Weird is good, but weird with a (weird) backstory tying it together is better.
Backstories are as simple as human nature. Don’t just think about adventure-related ideas when it comes to backstories. Romantic love, honor, family, entertainment, creativity, depression…these are the seeds of all kinds of interesting backstories.
Campaign Mastery: I am a member of Dungeonaday.com and was surprised by the variety of locations. Old schoolers will be delighted with the tesseract. There is also a mysterious island to explore and a link to another dimension. As a planes geek myself, I love dungeons that take players out of Kansas. Can you give us a few details about the dimensional link and what kind of encounters await in it? Also, got a tip or two on how to hook dungeons to other planes in interesting ways?
Monte: In the oldest of the old school dungeons, dungeons linked to and included all sorts of locations, many of which were not underground at all. I’m trying to capture that with Dungeonaday.com. In Level 7, we have a portion of the dungeon that’s slowly slipping into the Abyss because of a long-open gate. But later on in the campaign, there is an as-yet-unrevealed other gate that will send the PCs to a sort of demi-plane (I call it a half-world) where the laws of physics work a little differently.
Campaign Mastery: I could not imagine being a dungeon dweller. No internet (wi-fi must be a bitch down there), enemies on all sides, a struggle for food each day, and no good books to read. Tell us about your favourite NPC that you’ve created in Dragon’s Delve, and why they are your fave.
Monte: That’s probably going to be Erralak. He’s a new monster, an “ocular tyrant” that’s pretty similar to an old monster. The cool thing about Erralak is that he has access to this shaft that allows him to fly up and spy on many different levels of the dungeon, but there’s a magical glass that keeps him from being able to affect (or be affected by) what’s going on in the locations he spies on.
So starting with Level 1, the PCs run into this big floating orb with a lot of eyes, and they’re of course terrified. But slowly they get used to seeing him. Finally, on Level 10, they get to encounter him face to face, and he’s really tough. It’s an encounter that’s foreshadowed over and over in this strange way for 10 levels, which I think is pretty fun.
Campaign Mastery: Realism vs. imagination. I feel many Roleplaying Tips readers get writer’s block for their dungeons because they set expectations too high for realism. They aim for accurate simulation. On the other end of the spectrum, you have pure fantasy where things get unbelievable and even trite. Players disengage because it’s too weird and unbelievable. There seems to be a sweet spot where you can have fun unleashing your creativity while serving up an adventure the players can lean into and suspend belief for.
When I read Dungeonaday.com I don’t get jarred back to reality. I do not experience any walk-out-the-threatre moments. That’s awesome, especially for a megadungeon. How do you handle this balance between realism and imagination? Do you feel much pressure trying to get dungeon design right, in the simulation sense? What advice do you give to a GM staring at a blank sheet of graph paper, afraid to draw a room because of the need to make the design realistic?
Monte: I think there’s some pressure to walk that fine line between fun and realism. But for me, the simulation is part of the fun. I like to put crazy encounters into the dungeon and then figure out a halfway plausible idea for why that area of the dungeon works that way. It’s a fun, two-step creative exercise for me, actually.
So I guess my advice would be to create something that’s going to be a fun, exciting encounter first and then worry about the verisimilitude later. Players, in my experience, will give you a lot of leeway with reality if you throw them a bone now and again that seems like an explanation AND if they’re having a good time.
I think in one of my blogs on this topic found at the site I describe it this way: as long as you don’t FORCE your players into a corner where they simply can’t find your adventure plausible, giving them something that simply makes no sense or can’t possibly work the way you’ve set it up, most will go along with whatever you give them.
That’s the summary of our conversation. Some interesting nuggets in there. Thanks to Monte again, for the tips and the sponsorship.