Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sanctum, and Building a Better Adventure

Fresh from not watching "Birdsong", I instead watched the film "Sanctum" on Tuesday (and "Star Wars" yesterday, but that's not important right now). It was a good film, far better than I had expected, although not as good as "The Descent".

What particularly interested me about the film, though, was its application to D&D, and in particular to dungeon adventures.

The basic concept of a D&D adventure is pretty simple: a group of adventurers head down into a dungeon (or cave system, or ruined castle, or whatever), kill a bunch of monsters, and take their stuff. (There's more to it than that, of course, or I wouldn't still be playing after nearly 23 years, but that's the basic form.)

And, as far as the location is concerned, that's about it - it's a 'dungeon', or 'some caves', or 'a ruined castle', or 'whatever'. Basically, it's just a place, just as 'a school' is a place, 'Tesco' is a place, or 'a football stadium' is a place. That is, it's entirely mundane, a necessary setting for more important things, but largely trivial itself.

But in both "The Descent" and "Sanctum" (also the generally-poor "Vertical Limit", and indeed much of "Lord of the Rings"), there's a lot more to it than that. It's not just a location, it's an alien and hostile location, full of many dangers and snares, and that is utterly unforgiving to those who aren't prepared and/or skilled. If you mess around down there, you are going to die.

That's something I've been musing on quite a lot recently, and something I think the game is lacking in it's most recent incarnations (and perhaps all incarnations).

Several years ago, I went to visit CJ in the States, and while there I took the opportunity to head over to Arkansas to visit an old friend. While I was there, said friend's father-in-law took us out to a cave system. (Where I bought my t-shirt with frogs on.)

The experience was something of an eye-opener. It was incredibly dark. What light there was played tricks on us, such that perspectives were useless. The colours were amazing, and bizarre, and alien. It was oddly warm, and there was very little movement in the air. And there were bats.

And that was a safe dungeon-crawl. Throw in some tight tunnels, flooding water, sheer climbs, and the like, and you've already got an adventure. Heck, you don't even really need monsters!

I don't really have a fix for this. Except perhaps to note that I'm becoming increasingly convinced that D&D adventures, by default, should be set in actively hostile environments. This ties into the "Mythic Underworld" that I discussed some days ago - the characters haven't just ventured into 'some caves' - they've stepped into a realm possessed of a malign spirit that will do them harm if it can.

And all that from an okay-but-not-great film.

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