Monday, April 15, 2019

The Second Room Finalized

Calling a stop to the voting (although only six ballots were cast), the final count is statues, scars and urns.  I'll adjust a little of the description to remove anachronisms.
Inside the room we find 5 more orc statues, shorter than the initial one. One of the statue's head has been smashed; the pieces lie on the floor. These are statues of Bashag's most loyal servants.
In the southern wall is carved a series of stone shelves, upon which once stood a series of clay urns. These now lie on the floor in front of the shelves, smashed, revealing the funerary ashes inside.
The stone floor around them appears scarred and eroded, as do the walls around the right-hand door. The scarring seems to reach out from the door towards the urns.

I've let this last week sort itself out, and I have encouraged the participants.  I meant what I said about creativity and tightening your descriptions, which is important.  But now I'm going to have to be a little rough.

Here I am as a player.  Hm, statues.  I look at the shelves and the urns.  I don't have detect magic or malevolence, but the funerary ashes suggest some sort of undead or curse may be up.  I would ask if something animated created the scars, but I expect the answer would be that a tool made them.

How interactive is this?  I don't mean to disparage.  But as DMs, I do want the reader to be considering the fundamental purpose of these descriptions.  The room seems to be junked.  So, no one is maintaining it.  These doors, logically, should go somewhere.  I can't imagine that there are active humanoids about, else some of this would be cleaned.  The ashes of the dead would be attended to.  But they're not.  I'm not going to touch them, nor anything in the room.

I would guess there is some single entity in this dungeon; something that has torn through this space and removed the inhabitants.  That would suggest going to the right door, to follow the scars and see if it lends a clue as to why this is empty.  I would expect to find non-intelligent creatures, until I reached some maintained part of the dungeon, suggesting I was closing on the top entity's lair.

Now, deconstruct my interpretation.  Does this seem like a rational interpretation on my part?  Would you change your dungeon design if I said so at the table?  And would that change be ethical?  I don't ask you to say what you would make the design, I am only asking if my statements would sway you to alter that design [assuming, of course, this wasn't your exact intention].

Let me see if I get any response for this post, before I apply myself to expanding the dungeon further and continuing the workshop into a 3rd week.


Shelby said...

To me, the dungeon as described so far is less interactive and more...contemplative? I personally would not touch anything in either room until I had delved deeper. These rooms give plenty of information without the need for interaction (not that interaction wouldn't yield additional clues).

Alexis Smolensk said...

Making it clear that I'm not judging one way or the other ...

Shelby, can you explain the value of a contemplative dungeon?

Danielle Osterman said...

Your interpretation is fair, Alexis.

If I wanted to convey the presence of active humanoids, we'd want to clean the place up: floor clean, fresh offerings left at the urns, and some effort made to file down or repair the scars.

Shelby said...

I'm not totally sure contemplative is the right word, but I'll stick with it for now.

A contemplative dungeon is one that requires me to consider its use from a distance. Without the ability (or desire) to poke every button, I have to logically consider the passive evidence before me in order to make a choice. But it is not obvious - the dungeon is not telling me how to interpret it. This heightens the mystery and puts the impetus on me to put the pieces together using my own brain before I put my foot in something too dangerous. Or, alternatively, to accurately access the risk of the dungeon and determine if the promised or conjectured reward is worth the suspected risk.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Sounds good, Shelby. Keeping this in mind, then, the next piece ought to reflect some part of that contemplation, in that whatever might be past this room is either affected by their own contemplation of the same space, or ignorant of it being that they're not able to consciously interpret the space as the party would.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, also Shelby, I've expanded my thoughts on spell research. FYI.

The Rubberduck said...

I would not alter my design based on player interpretation of the place. The dungeon, as part of the game world, needs to solid, independent place. It can't change due to the whim of myself, or the players. Otherwise that interpretation, whether true or false, has no value. If the world is independent, and the interpretation is true, that is a well-earned victory for the players. If the world is fluid, and allows the interpretation to be true, the victory is a gift, and thus not well-earned.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I'm not suggesting that at all Rubberduck. The dungeon isn't "contemplative" because the players think it is, but because we've already noted the dungeon thus far is plainly not interactive. This creates a mood or impression that is divorced from the players.

I'm speaking of the theme here. But as you've brought it up, the dungeon IS communicative. It may not change to suit the players, but it is designed to create an effect UPON the players. Therefore, whether a dungeon is contemplative or not is worthy of discussion.

Discord said...

Yes, that seems like a rational conclusion to make from the given evidence.

If a player brings that up while exploring the room, and I know that the dungeon isn't designed that way, I won't change it on the fly to match that interpretation. I'll file it away in my mind as something to think of the next time I'm creating a dungeon.

As a thought experiment, if we were somehow creating this dungeon randomly while the players are exploring it in a live table session, I would certainly let that player's interpretation influence the future rooms.

I'm going to be on the fence about whether changing a dungeon that you've already built on the fly is ethical. I think that some changes, like realizing you missed something when creating your notes, or you can foreshadow a later room, or continue your there, are just fine. Other changes, like deciding to make the monsters in the dungeon suddenly immune to fire, are not ethical.

I want to say that making changes on the fly to improve game play is ethical, but that's a slippery slope. One could argue that the game play is improved if, upon realizing that the party is defeating my encounters without any real challenge, I suddenly double the number of monsters in the next room. That feels like a cheat to me, but it could improve the game.