Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dungeon Soap Operas are the Best Kind of Soap Operas

It's been three sessions since I rolled any dice in the solo game, and before that it'd been at least five or six sessions since they came up at all. (At least on my side of the screen.) It's not quite free form -- a few spells have been cast, and ability scores referenced -- but, as Trollsmyth mentioned about the time that the new style started, it's definitely shifted more towards relationships and social maneuvering, with the occasional desperate rescue attempt thrown in for good measure.

That's the key word, though: "shifted." The game started out solidly D&D. Lots of mucking about in dungeons, figuring out traps, and getting chased around by spiders. A lot of times my character ended up talking to the various dungeon residents rather than fighting them, and there was a brief detour to the plane of Fairey, but it was still mostly a game about treasure, the nasty things between me and the treasure, and the odd world-threatening artifact. A good game, but nothing too unusual.

Now, yes, it's very different. It's mostly talking, often about other people, and reacting to all the weird social situations my character's gotten herself into. Treasure's no longer an issue, and even saving the world has receded in importance. Now, I spend more time thinking about relationships, between my character and various NPCs, and between those NPCs themselves. An unusual amount of time, for me; while friendship, romance, loyalty, enmity, and other such bonds have always played a part in my games, we've been spending much more time than I'm used to dealing with them, sometimes to the point of simply playing them out. While I liked the game before, I'm greatly enjoying the change.

But it all grew out of that dungeoneering. Mucking about in dungeons gave my character something to do that didn't require complex relationships with several NPCs, or fifty e-mail's worth of setting knowledge. It was fun to do on it's own (particularly the kind of dungeons Trollsmyth runs, where you learn all kinds of things about elven history when you're not busy running for your life), but it also lent itself to developing the kinds of relationships that now support the game. The dungeon, after all, is how my character met those people in the first place, and the danger was part of why she started to care so much. It provided a backdrop, and a backbone, for the development of the friendships we're now exploring.

To take the most obvious example: The big turning point in the campaign, the moment when it became clear even to me that something different was going on, was when my character and one of the clerics she'd hired back at the beginning of the game got themselves involved in an awkward budding romance, and we spent most of several sessions just playing it out. But things had been developing in that direction for a while, all in the context of their adventures. He delayed an expedition half a day looking for her when she disappeared into Fairey; she opened the potentially deadly door into the Tower of the Stars partly so he wouldn't. When they finally acknowledged, and acted on, those feelings, it was with that history. Dungeoneering created situations where those moments could happen.


  1. Marvelous. That's one of the things I miss most about my '90s gaming group, particularly once it entered an "experimental" phase as our regular GM started playing with gaming ideas, and all of us benefited. One instance most reminiscent of that in your post was the evening we called "In the Zone" roleplaying, where statistics and die rolling fell to the wayside and we simply took on the parts of teens with superpowers. It was a bit of a rush.

  2. Sounds fantastic, and yeah, the best part about how the game's been lately is that I often forget I'm even playing a game. I'm just *there.*

    And funny you should mention "teens with superpowers;" I almost titled this post "Exploring Dungeons the Marvel Way" or somesuch, because there are some deep similarities between this style of play and the teen superhero genre. They both have the same interplay of danger that creates interpersonal drama that then complicates danger.

  3. It is great when a game reaches that point and you are thinking more as your character than about them. Immersion, when it happens, is wonderful thing.

  4. Yep, welcome to the wider world of role-playing.

    This is where my long-running campaigns of the past would end up...the dungeoneering and treasure-hunting falls away as the developed character (developed over Actual Play experience, NOT simply character creation) takes the foreground.

    Is this a 4th edition game you're playing?

  5. Labyrinth Lord, actually. Probably should have made that clear in the post itself, but it's the only thing I'm playing these days so sometimes I neglect that detail.

    I should also clarify that this isn't the first time I've been in, or run, a game that was about "more than dungeons and treasure." This is actually the first time I've been in a game that had any serious dungeoneering in it. But though my games do tend to be more concerned with quests and character motivation and so on, this one's unusual for being so focused on relationships in and of themselves. Among other things.

  6. I think what I find interesting is that some people seem to think that dungeoneering and character interaction are somehow at opposite ends of a spectrum, when the character interaction came about because of dungeoneering.

  7. JB: And her DM is very interested in adding your Companion book to the game, so get back to work! ;)

  8. I find solo games tend to be far more social and political rather than combat-focused. I guess because you have more 'time' and there's less pressure to rush forward into more party-friendly strategies and events.