I am not a normal fantasy GM. If a player is delving through a dark tomb searching for loot in my campaign, he is probably on a fruitless quest. I dislike the dungeon crawl. I have since the earliest years of DnD. I mean where in Tolkein did they really crawl through a dungeon or other tomb/ place of mystery?
It is amusing that I ended up running “dungeons” in another genre. In Cyberpunkish games, you are constantly breaking into corporate buildings to get information or help employees escape. The Corporate Building is the cyberpunk equivalent of a dungeon. You use your skills to look at the outside (or make a run against someone who has the plans), try to ferret out what is there, then throw yourself at the place in an attempt to achieve your goal (information or person removal, i.e. get your treasure).
In the fiction (book or movie), most of these events are resolved in narration. Only certain key/ dramatic events of the creeping and crawling ever get any “air time”. You never get the boring play by play, of creeping down the given corridor. Pausing. Creeping down the corridor. Pausing. Checking for lasers. Checking for IR sensors. Creeping down the corridor. ... Repeat until your hands bleed from rolling all those check dice.
In cyberpunkish games, gamers often resort to the SquadLeader/ Dungeon approach. This is where you move your characters about on the chess board of the building… doing every tactical action. (Creeping down the corridor. Pausing. Checking for lasers. Checking for IR sensors. Creeping down the corridor. Repeat until….) You map the building (limitedly), take out all the monsters/ guards, get your treasure (data or person) and get out.
This is not how the source material does it. Why should we game it out this way? Yet this is how it is done most of the time. This approach comes from the fantasy game trained gamers and the way they 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 minatures.
How SO NOT the source material! However, this is how fantasy trained gamers think you need to resolve it. It is the traditional gamer way of doing it. However, to quote an number Indian Chiefs(*1), “Sometimes the Old Traditional Ways are Symbolic and Traditional (i.e. Important), and somtimes they are just Old.”
So how about dramatic resolution? So 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 Indiana Jones Movies are centered around key events, not the all the time of crawling, climbing, maping, etc. So sometimes the way is important and sometimes it is old. So lets do it the Dramatic Way.
The Dramatic Way takes some explaining. Each “Crawl” will be made up of a number of “Events” that need to be resolved. The larger, more important Crawl the more Events that will be involved. A little narration links the events.
Some of these are required, they must be met before you can advance to the next one or take any other option. Players will anticipate some of the required events (breaking through the fence, stopping the patrol drones). While others will flow logically from the previous events. Some will be unforseen, which are the plot complications, much like the unforseen turn of events found in EVERY Mission Impossible episode. Usually these scenes are associated with a required scene. Some will be improv. These are the scenes that occur when the players “do something not associated with the mission”, like search a computer for information related to a seemingly unrelated occurance three game sessions ago, or stopping at the pharmacy lab for a quick score, or tagging the men’s room. Other Improv events occur when the players exhibit that extreme cunning that always suprises the GM and they find ways to circumvent required events or have such an odd plan that things need to be reworked.
It should be noted that Dramatic Resolution requires the GM to have a reasonable good understanding of the setting/ location and some ability to adapt and improvise. So when the players decide to zig again instead of zagging, you will know what new events will need to be performed.
So various skills and resources (maps and stories about the crawl’s location for instance) will allow the players to forsee possible required events and they can prepare for them. They will then proceed through the crawl with their prepared things, until unforseen events occur (What? That wall was not on the map!)
So they will do the 1) Negate the Fence scene, a touch of narration “you run across the parking lot avoiding the spot lights”, 2) do the negate the door scene, 3) the unforseen guard in the hallway scene, then some narration as you creep down halls, down the stairs (though making a roll to avoid the cameras there and avoiding the improv “guards rolling out scene”) to the negate the palm lock/ door scene… you get the drift…
Security of buildings is based upon dramatic events to be resolved. There will be interesting scenes for you to put together. The characters will use their skills and their cunning to resolve those events. Of course the unexpected (for the players hopefully) will occur… that is what makes it intersting. Thus you get a game that is a lot closer to the source material… and game time is not sucked up with a ton of “you move forward five feet to the next cubicle. ”
So what does this mean for a fantasy player? Well, the dungeon is just the fantasy equivalent of a corporate building. Why not figure out the dramatic events for each dungeon (or section of the dungeon). Use the character’s 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. Action is just 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 pedistal, is something that could be the object of your quest…”
This process is faster easier, and more interesting. It will keep you game moving at all time. (The process will disappoint any tactical hard asses, so your milage may very). And it takes less time to do a detailed GM map, as you only have to map out the specific “event” locations. Faster, easier, more interesting, AND less work, the dramatic way is a best way.
(*1) This quote has been attributed to sooo many Indian chiefs that I don’t know who to attribute it any more.