|Art: Tan Ho Sim|
There’s a rising discussion of “Dungeons as a Toy,” to create an adventure environment where the terrain is more than just ground, floors and walls. It perhaps starts with a bit of irony.
In the vastly underused 5e DMG, there’s a great but underdeveloped bit called Tricks (p 297.) In two paragraphs and two charts, it offers the idea that things can be tugged, pulled and experimented to find surprises or mystical effects; perhaps to remind players that their avatars are in a magical land. But mostly the effects are random and there’s no guide on how to clue players in on potential interactivity. (Though knowing players, just having a DM mention a thing in a room is going to provoke curiosity.)
M.T. Black, 5e freelancer and Guild Adept extraordinaire, delves into this a bit on Twitter and comes up with the next level of D&D appropriate effects, such as those that heal or summon critters to add high fantasy verisimilitude and theme.
It’s a level of verisimilitude and interactivity that Numenera players already know pretty well. Monte Cook Game’s fantasy game hiding as a science fantasy game often has strange non-puzzles to play with and offer a bit entertainment. As I brought that along into my Solar Sails campaign, my players would call them “cool mind f%^&s.” In both worlds, these Tricks reminded players that civilizations have risen and fallen where they stood and some magics (or technologies) were beyond their current understanding.
Which is a thing in many D&D settings, the often overused and misunderstood golden age, a time when Elves/Giant/Dragons/All of the Above ruled and used powers beyond human understanding until some hubris or another brought them low and began an Age of Humanity. For many world builders, this is simply the excuse for why dungeons abound. But these ruins from a forgotten age are mostly thought in a historical context, as crumbling infrastructure that houses not artifacts, but mostly artifacts – like a +1 gladius.
But if a more extravagant and power civilizations perished before the current times, it would make high fantasy more like a green post-apocalypse. There would often be bits of things PCs would find that would stymie them and daydream about the wonders of another age. In other words, perhaps the best RPG to do this was Gamma World, which tried in essence to put a SF spin on the D&D dungeon and constantly had players trying to figure out what the World Before was really like without having an artifact blow off a limb.
As a fan of visual themes, I imagine that’s one way to put that Gamma World post-apoc vibe into your high fantasy game. Populate your world’s former golden age with the faux-Carthaginians clockwork engineers or pseudoByzantine bio-tech masters. Then tie in your Tricks or oddities with themes of clockwork or bio-tech to send a clear message to the players, that they are playing with powers unknown and sailing in uncharted waters.
Soon enough, they’ll equate your visual theme with a big red button right in the middle of the oddly shaped chamber. And then you can just sit back and let them entertain you.
As a very cool side note, I'm now an unlocked Stretch Goal on the Diamond Throne Kickstarter!
Go, Ganza! Go!