|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!