Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gaming style alternatives- the Living Dungeon (vs the Powergamer)

The trope is so deeply buried in our gaming DNA, it takes a real challenge to overcome it: "the well-balanced party" of appropriate level strength. Powergaming!

Powergaming: the stuff of the "standard marching order"... two files deep, shields up front, polearms in the second file, archers in back... magic users waiting with magic missiles and fireballs already prepared...

In short: a blitzkrieg tank plowing through a dungeon structure, mowing down the waiting opposition, one room at a time. It's cool, I get it, it's fun bashing stuff down, and sometimes it is entirely appropriate.

Want to thrown your players for a loop? Assign your players to conquer the dungeon with a "non well-balanced party", or even, gasp... a party with deficient level strength! Have them delve with three gnomes, or two halflings. [That will give you a real FEEL for how Frodo must have felt...]

If they are underpowered, they will quickly get a feel for "the living dungeon". Rather than just plowing in and smashing through, they will have to probe and observe, sneak and peak, hide, and of course, run, run, run! They will see that the dungeon has a life of its own, a schedule, a regular set of characters, an order, an agenda. In order to succeed, they will have to negotiate that living dungeon, not just kill it, pillaging its corpse.

Even if you have a "well-balanced party"... complete with plate-covered human and dwarf fighters, elf archer, halfling thief, human magic user, etc... it is an awesome idea to nonetheless OVERPOWER THEM. Think of Lord of the Rings. The entire character of the drama was based on being constantly harried and hunted by SUPERIOR forces.

What kind of dramatic intrigue is there if they know the game is structured to allow them to hammer through all obstacles? Screw that. Make them FEAR the dungeon! Perversely, that will allow them to appreciate and savor your "living dungeon" creation... rather than just stomp all over it.

Nothing sharpens the senses and focuses the mind like the threat of immediate extermination! This holiday season, give your players the gift of that heightened sense of life that only comes from the harried desperation of being hunted by superior forces. There really is nothing like it...


A Paladin In Citadel said...

Its hard to communicate this to modern gamers, since every encounter is supposed be level-appropriate.

Justin said...

It was definitely there in the original versions too. I think playing superior monsters takes a good DM. One who will play the monster with a little bit of leeway, as a tool to advance a story, not just another throw-away hacknslash encounter.