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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180911


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Dungeoning, the MoonHunter Way

Someone recently told me, "This whole plot line and scene thing works for roleplaying, but it never works for a dungeon crawl."

"Do you play out every turn, moving a few spaces and making checks for every moment you are in the dungeon?"

"No, of course not. "

"Then it can. Let me explain...."

It is all about dramatic resolution The question I have always ask is, "Why can’t we resolve the crawl the way they do it in books and movies?" I mean even dungeon crawls in Tomb Raider or the Indiana Jones Movies are centered around key events, not the all the time of crawling, climbing, mapping, checking for trap, spiking doors, etc. Some people live for such details of the crawl. Such is their choice. Historically, this approach comes from the fantasy game trained gamers, who inherited it from wargamers. This is the way that many gamers think you need to resolve such things. You break it down into a total tactical crawl, sucking up hours of play time doing very little but carefully moving miniatures (or moving on the map). If you are lucky, you talk through parts instead of actually moving the figures, restarting when it gets interesting. (This is better and more modern way.) Either way, it is so not like the source materials. You go from a few moments of narrations to a complex situation.

The Dramatic Way is the way I do a crawl, be it a traditional dungeon or a vertical dungeon/ corp building in a cyberpunk game.

Each “Crawl” will be made up of a number of “Events” that need to be resolved. The gamer traditional is five event/ rooms. The larger, more important Crawl, the more Events that will be involved. A little narration links the events. Characters move to events... have some drama... then decide how they want to proceed... usually towards some goal which will have another Event. Continue on until exiting (and going through any events on the way out).

This is an over, oversimplification, so let me explain. Let me start with a quick overview of the MoonHunter Way.

A Data Map/ flow chart is roughly how I plan out scenes (and events) in my campaign. I choose which boxes in which plotlines are going to be used in a given session. I then sort them out and make them fit.. often changing some tiny things to make the session work.

Each box (important scene) is connected by a line (and sometimes with one to three transitional scene to get them between the important scenes). Sometimes I want to stick more between the important scenes for some reason (so I put a couple of boxes along that transitional line). This could spread out the action some or allow me to have another subplot resolved "on their way" to the next big plot point.

Each box has a scene title and purpose (the thing that is supposed to come out of the players going through the scene). Possible exits are listed. Each exit often leads to a line, but you would be surprised on how many exits from a scene lead to the same place (for different reasons).

On a given night, I pick the scenes the boxes I want to use from all the active and appropriate plot lines. I create rough data maps for the night showing when the events of the session might occur. These events occur over time or space, when someone reaches a location.
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What does this mean for a fantasy player? Well, a dungeon (or another place of adventure) is just a scenario with lots of drama in a given area. Why not figure out the dramatic events for each dungeon (or section of the dungeon)? Those become "the important scenes". Use the party's/ characters' basic operating plan (standing orders of what we do every time we encounter X) and their skills… then just narrate through most of the boring moving, moving, mapping, etc… and cut right to the interesting parts.

"The group has been moving at a caution speed mapping through the area need the cave mouth. You have skirmished with some R.O.U.S and found little reward. Inside you have reached an area of worked stone and signs of design. You reach a set of great wooden doors, reinforced with iron. "

Action is best picked up In Media Res… in the middle of the action… “You are just about to open the door when….”, or “you come upon the largest chamber you have discovered. In it, on a pedestal, is something that could be the object of your quest…” This process is faster, easier, and more interesting. It will keep the game moving at all time.

Note: In media res cases stress and disappointment for heavily tactical players or planning players. Don't ever start in media res with them, but backup a few story steps and let them work into it.

When the game goes into tactical time, you will use your prepared maps and/ or your battleboards. You set up the markers and proceed as you would. (If you want, you could stay abstract and use zones and rough marker locations... but whatever feels comfortable for the troupe.)

This all takes less time to do a detailed GM map, as you only have to map out the specific “event” locations, rather than whenever the players stop and go into detail. It is faster, easier, more interesting, AND less work, the dramatic way is the best way.

Another advantage of this process is you can throw a little event at them whenever their attention lags or you need to spice up a session. Add a small box to the data map, put down the map, and have fun slaying some monsters/ dealing with the floor puzzle. This way you can tailor the events to the amount of time you have for the session.
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Planning a Crawl
You don't have to plan a crawl, but the results are always better when you give it some planning ahead of time.

The Points of the MoonHunter Way

Start with the conception - what should this "dungeon" be? This gives you an idea of how to describe it, what might be found in it, and what could be dramatic in it.

I like to determine the "Big Final Dramatic Moment" for the Dungeon. Everything then leads to that dungeon moment.

I like having a few cool moments inside the dungeon, a trap that they have to outthink, a strong encounter, something that takes a good few moments to describe, a weak encounter that forces them to make a choice about advancing at a price or taking another path. These form the Events they might encounter.

I need an entrance. There may be an event or small utility event attached to it. However, this is the point you need to reach to begin the dungeon.

Determine if clues and items are required to solve the BFDM or Cool Moments. These must be part of earlier cool events or smaller dramatic utility moments.

I also think about utility scenes inside the dungeon. Some of these scenes should be descriptive. What are the general paths like... what bits of description are used. You need narration to link the events and these utility bits provide that. Some of these utility scenes are minorly dramatic. This could be discovering water. Incidental events like small encounters or wobbly bridges. These utility scenes are filler. They occur between events. They help the GM to dramatically manage the player's attention, the time in the game session, or some incidental xp/ ep/ skill checks.

The last bit you have to think about is what will be "in the way" on the way out? Some might be new challenges that occur on the way out. Some might be challenges that will be/ might be left over from other events. The players might have to encounter "leftover events" on their way out.

Now you have a number of ideas, bits if you will, that form the nuclei of your scenes. Sort them into appropriate categories and build up a few. My target number is five major events/ scenes and five utility scenes which may or may not be used. The ideal number for your chronicle is based on the chronicles, the needed amount of drama, and the players.

Creating a rough data map/ flowchart of the crawl is the basis of everything. Each scene of note is going to be a box. (This includes the planned "complications", ala any Mission Impossible episode, of some dramatic utility scenes). Each event scene leads is linked another event scene by some form of passage/ path or time. These events scenes are connected in some way, which is shown by a line (and possibly arrows if the path is only one way). If a scene could lead to a couple of scenes, use branches. (The Central Worship Hall of the Lost Temple, leads to three events and one utility scene.) Also, an event scene could lead "around" others so the players have multiple paths to get to different events.

You can put ovals on some of those lines. The ovals are filled with flavor text, and things you will need to narrate - information like "There are some smaller sewer pipes that outlet into this tunnel along here" that the players might want to use or need later. These are like utility scenes.

This data map allows you to keep track of things easily. By doing this bit of preplanning, you will also note any "flags" for the crawl. Flags would be things that you will need to run the crawl.
  • Logical Connections/ paths in and out to every event.
  • There there is a path out? (Something sometimes forgotten)
  • Antagonist/ monster's stats
  • Do the characters have any required skills (swimming let's say)? Either change the characters or change the event.
  • Special rules/ spot rules (such as the rules for running on ice, fighting in darkness, the effects of certain gases.)
  • Reminder that events need to occur earlier in the crawl or chronicle (Introducing a certain NPC or organization, able to find the crystal keys before the climactic event, and so on.)
  • Run through the various paths and see if they make sense in terms of place and dramatic events.

After making any changes to ensure that all flags are addressed, a GM is ready to run the crawl without an issue.

One last step of prep. Each "area"/ scene for an event can be mapped out ahead of time. This includes all the passages (or potentially hidden passages), dangers, and obstacles. Thus they can be revealed on the Battle Board quickly. Zone maps can be predetermined and laid out quickly. Or if the GM wants, notes can be transcribed into a space and it can be drawn out.

These are the basics of a dramatic crawl. These can be used for dungeons, certain castle assaults, raiding tombs, rummaging through lost cities, tackling a megacorp's security to get certain data, invading the alien base, and so on. They can be done with planning, but much less prep than conventional approaches. This is the advantage of flowcharting and dramatic crawls is that things can be deleted or added as needed. If the night will end early or unsatisfyingly, add dramatic utility encounters or whole events. If the play has been slow, skip a non-required event and get to the main one/ interesting one. If there is an upcoming plotline that needs something ancient to solve it, as a box with said item in it (surrounded by something appropriately dangerous). Thus The Crawl is the tool of the Chronicle story and player fun rather than a time sink of preparation and detailed rules.

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Additional Points to Ponder

Ensure that the events are interesting and that the challenges are worthy of the characters and most players should enjoy the crawl.

A location might have multiple scenes in it. The place where the giant snake was killed is where the small monster humanoids will be encounter right after (or on the way back) - if not killed on an alternate adventure path.

Some events are based in time or have requirements (like the giant snake is dead). Thus the path to that event might have an arrow and a note (of using a diamond for a decision point).

Of course, players will often go off the flowchart. It is in their nature, and usually for only a little bit. If the players (and characters) are actually motivated to complete the goal, they should not stray too much or very often. Usually, it is to complete some cool little goal they have created for themselves. If they do stray, don't panic and cuddle your towel. A GM can easily draw new boxes as they go. If the GM understands what their new mini goal is, they can build new boxes that work with it. These can easily be linked around to the existing flow of boxes. After all, many of those boxes have to do with "the setting/ environment" and they are still there.

Various skills and resources (maps and stories about the crawl’s location for instance) will allow the players to foresee possible required events and they can prepare for them. They will then proceed through the crawl with their prepared things, until unforeseen events occur (What? That wall was not on the map!)

In Play, fairness is important. If you are handwaving most of the mapping, do not force the party to produce a map or be lost. (If you lose the mapping when your packs go over the edge with the minion/ porter, maybe an easy wisdom/ knowledge check to remember the way.)

A GM might want to quickly narrate through some incidental combat, much like a utility scene. If a character is involved in some narrative combat, they earn a few XPs, make some kind of save or take some trivial damage (1d8 or 1d6), maybe burn a spell or special ability. There might be treasure or salvage. You don't have much risk, but there is little to no reward.

If you have a detailed accounting of gold, silver, and copper, then you might want to keep up with that. I have always preferred abstract wealth levels, YMMV.
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