Dungeon Crawling or Role Playing.

Really we were just looking for another dungeon to pillage. These dungeons were filled with deadly traps, epic monster smackdowns and sweet, sweet loot.

What’s the difference?

There was a time, maybe back in the 1970’s -80’s when RPGs were new enough that there wasn’t necessarily a huge difference between running amok in a dungeon and “role playing.” Now I think gaming has spread out into a wide continuum of play styles. On one end, there are the straight dungeon romp for almost no reason whatsoever and on the other end it’s pretty much all character drama. (What combat? Monsters?)

That’s not to dis on either playstyle. I think both have their respective merits. The middle ground is more what most people maybe expect when they start playing D&D.

“Back in my day…”

Photo by Estudio Polaroid on Pexels.com

It drives my kids nuts when I start a sentence like that because they know they have roused the Old Grognard from whatever I was doing. I grew up in very much the dungeon crawl era of doing things right up through 2nd Ed AD&D. There was some character banter, but most of it was superficial. Really we were just looking for another dungeon to pillage.

These dungeons were filled with deadly traps, epic monster smackdowns and sweet, sweet loot. Any random system of dungeon generation we have now, such as decks of cards with hallways and rooms on them would have worked just fine. Random room, random obstacles, and random loot were the order of the day. Feelings? I’m here to smack some random monsters with a mace.

New editions, new mindsets.

Roundabout the 3rd Ed D&D days, I found more mature players who actually did spend time in character. Soon we were spending more time outside of carefully constructed underground complexes than in them. Soon interactions extended beyond finding the next catacomb to pillage or the next dragon to slay. There was still a fair share of that, but we had tons more character interactions with both the world and with one another at the table.

It was something I had experienced with other games, certainly. Ninjas & Superspies from Palladium was some intense drama at times. Most of the supers games I had run in the past had lots of character stuff and not a heap of combat. Star Wars, well, that still had some beefy combats, but was still character driven.

Werewolf and Cyberpunk 2020 were all character and very little smackdown games. But D&D? That was sort of different having lots of talky and not as much smashy. The spectrum in my D&D games began to widen considerably. Maybe it was the players, or maybe it was the game itself. By the time 3rd Ed came around, there were considerably more character options thanks to something called “Kits” in 2nd Ed. It only grew from there.

I feel like heavy, in-character RP is the “new normal.”

Old Orc by Michael Robson is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

Maybe it was the pandemic. Maybe it’s that players are more mature or have more refined tastes in RPGs now. Or perhaps everyone is trying to emulate a certain popular show on the internet. Virtual TableTop platforms like Roll 20 have been a game changer, too. I also feel like the massive number of actual play podcasts might be changing up how we do things.

Let’s face it. Virtual or podcasts are way more about dialogue. Who wants to watch a bunch of players sitting around rolling dice for four hours? Where’s the drama in that? I feel like the trend is starting to lean toward heavier and heavier roleplay and not so much pillaging ancient tombs regardless. At least that’s what I’m seeing.

We went from the DM saying, “You see an orc.”
And the players saying, “Oooh! I kill it!” (Rolling of dice.) “Huzzah!”
DM replies, “Okay, 7 points of damage kills it. That’s 5XP and 3GP on the body.”

Now it’s more common to find an orc player character or a goblin. The newest batch of rules coming down the pipe is going to pretty much do away with “Monster Races” entirely and just focus on different aspects of races that are unique. How long will it be before they just eliminate the “Dungeons” from the name entirely?

5E changed the game and the way we look at it.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Character options in 5E, if fully expanded, not considering homebrew, are still staggering. We’re way beyond ability score jokes and class tropes nowadays. (Gone are the days of the Level 1 Wizard tripping down two stairs and returning to character creation. Or the Barbarian who is easily confused by door knobs.) Now if we see an orc wandering down the road in the middle of nowhere, we’re likely to end up in a lengthy discussion of her tragic backstory and cool hairstyle.

I know my age is showing a lot here, but why do we need dice for that? Or even really any kind of RPG rules? Why do we want to slay dragons when we can just have a lovely conversation and the dragon has a light meal. If we’re all going to get along all the time, why even carry weapons or wear armor? We can just send the bard in to “hug” it out with the dragon.

Perhaps I’m being too broad and overly facetious.

I guess it depends on who you ask. There is no one correct play style and it’s always best to talk to the DM before starting a campaign. There’s no sense making a barbarian with tons of combat ability if the group is leaning toward royal tea parties and delicate interactions with Fae folk.

Personally, I like both. Sometimes I’m really just wanting to blow off steam with my players and crush skulls while looting things. Other days, a good royal court drama where almost no dice are rolled can be kind of fun. I know I say it a lot on my blog, but it’s just best to find what will bring the most fun to the group.

Thanks for stopping by. Have fun, regardless. I appreciate you! Have a good one!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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