Rob Schwalb Reexamines the Dungeon

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Design, Fantasy, RPGs | No Comments

Did you see this blog post that designer and writer Rob Schwalb made last week? He’s taking a new look at the way we spend the XP budget to build encounters for D&D. The problem he’s out to combat is a repetitive rhythm of play that puts exploration and RPing into “the lulls between encounters” rather than into the midst of ongoing engagement with the game mechanisms.

The solution, as I see it, is to deconstruct the artificial boundaries in game play. We must move beyond the concrete game mode and return to a more narrative structure. I think this can happen without sacrificing the core elements that make fourth edition play so well. And I think we can achieve this by reexamining the dungeon as adventuring location.

This struck me as not dissimilar to the way that I built play zones in my dungeons in my last D&D campaign, but with a little more (and better) structure behind it. For sure, it’s a close match to the environments I was after in my Orbita project (which is probably dead, by the way), so you know it’s close to my heart.

Schwalb’s approach here may not be right for every campaign or every dungeon, but I think it’s a wonderful potential building block for dynamic dungeons. I dig the in-game restraints it puts on short rests and the way it highlights collections of encounter-like spaces rather than individual encounters. This is a great fit for the one-or-two-encounters-per-night pace that D&D 4E tends to come down to, in my experience.

What do you think?

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