Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Getting to the Dungeon

Finding the way through the forest is not a simple matter, but for gaming purposes we general gloss over the ability of an adventuring party finding the dungeon. After all we want them to get there. That is the adventure. The place you wrote for hours developing and creating devious things to happen and incredible things to find. What if part of the adventure was finding the place? Instead of finding it by a vague rumor in a tavern spoken by a drunken one handed wizard, "there is a great cave in the mountains to the north. Unspeakable horrors guard a fallen weapon of the gods."

North, eh?

How many times have the players grabbed their backpacks, headed north, and found the dungeon entrance in the vast mountain range? I know I've done it and will do it again. Sometimes it's just best to get them to the adventure, but I do like the trip and even before the trip eventful and challenging in some way. Let's go back to the tavern and that one handed wizard, I shall name him Vern. Vern is drunk and now he's said something that perks the ears up of the party. They want to know more. But that's all Vern knows. He was killed in the cave (and that's when he acquired his drinking problem) and was resurrected later in town. He says his friend, Henry the Bold might know.

Henry lives in a farming village not too far out of town, but he has recently lost his wife to a sickness. He is no mood to speaking to idiots who want to kill themselves. If the party can convince Henry, maybe the GM leaves a few clues on how to penetrate Henry's personality. Maybe after discussing the player's own experience of loss Henry finally gives in, "I remember being a strong headed adventurer like you. Did it with a lot less back then. But I suppose you're going up either way so I'll warn you. There are creatures that living in the walls. They wait till you pass and grab the last one in line. I never did see what they were. Even when I shined my torch on one I killed I still couldn't figure out what I was looking at. Anyway, you'll want to talk to George, he was the rogue in our group. He knew where to find it. Even had a map if I recall. He's still in the city. He runs a used weapon shop or something. Greedy son of a bitch. So bring coin or you'll never hear where that cave is at let alone get that map."

In this example these two encounters can happen quickly enough to give the players a sense of accomplishing something. Even though it is drawn out at least they are picking up the trail. On to George in the city. George is more difficult to locate. He works with the thieves guild and if the players ask questions to his location some local thugs may attempt to thump the party to tell them to stay away from George. Of course the party will usually turn that thumping around onto the thugs and find out the location of the elusive George.

George knows the players are coming and greets them warmly. "Friends. I apologize for my overzealous companions. They only do what they are told and so the fault lies with me. Tell me what you need so I can amend my mistake." When the party asks about the cave George will pace and shake his head. "I remember that place. It was a horrible place. But that was many years ago and after our party was slaughtered we ran leaving much of our supplies and equipment behind." Threats don't work against George. He deflects them with compliments and good cheer. But if the party scrounges up enough coin he will begin to remember, but ask for a favor. "Since you seem to be favored by the gods in ambition and strength I ask a humble request that when you return from your conquest that you allow me to buy some of the trivial baubles you find." If the party agrees and provides the coin he will give the players the map.

This is where a nice wilderness map is perfect. The GM knows which way the players are headed and can develop area maps. There can even be clues on the map that was given to them. Maybe a note about wyverns live here, crumbling tower over there and strange carving on this rock. This gives the players landmarks to check their progress on the map and provides the GM several opportunities to test the players and also to provide hints of what to expect in the adventure and maybe a clue or two about what they will need to be successful.

I know sometimes just getting to the dungeon what is needed, but I think a build up to an adventure provides role playing opportunities and development of character outside their spells and chances to hit.


  1. Good thought... I'm going to have to remember this for the future.

  2. Hey, I rather like that.

    Usually I start them out knowing what they're going for, and then having them find it, but just as often the adventure starts with them getting to the scene, all the travel and exposition happening "off-scene".

    After all, some players don't want to talk to random villagers or what-have-you when they really just want to crack some skulls and muck about in some gloomy catacombs.