CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Keeping the Dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons

Crypts, cave systems, sewers, abandoned castles. The traditional dungeon crawl seems to be getting a bad rap recently. But why is it okay to continue having the exploration of these contained spaces, usually full of monsters, remain a central part of the modern RPG?

Many people think that most players view killing creatures as the quickest way to gaining power. They see these dungeons, full of adversaries, as just another method for these murderhobos to get their monster-slaying jollies. The truth is, you can make it through a dungeon without killing a large portion of its inhabitants—if you, as the DM, give your players creatures to negotiate with.

I've been running one of Paizo's adventure paths for my group for the past two years. Like most canned adventures, it has a lot of RP possibilities built into the towns, cities, and villages that the players start and end in; which ends up bookending dungeon runs. In the second book of this AP there was one giant multi-level dungeon in which players had to delve. Although there were combats, the players also found instances where they were able to negotiate past a few battles. Because they were good aligned, they ended up dealing mostly non-lethal damage to and taking prisoner most sentient humanoid creatures instead of killing them.

One of the other major problems people have with dungeon crawls is not that they tend to be rooms strung together with combat situations, but these combats can take an inordinate amount of time to run. It bothers some gamers that a week’s worth of in-game RP, investigation, and character development may take one gaming session. Meanwhile the combats in a dungeon delve that takes in-game one or two days can take real-time up to two or three sessions.

This isn't an easy problem to solve. The system inherently has more rules for combat because RP doesn't actually require that many rules. I don't need rules to know how to speak in character or affect an accent.  Combat, however, has so many nuances and rules were designed so it doesn't devolve into childhood sessions of "I hit you." "Oh no you didn't." The rules intended to keep combat fair and balanced also make combat more time consuming.

There are ways to streamline D&D and Pathfinder combat. Pathfinder Unchained outlines a number of ways to reduce the actions people get during combat, although some of it comes down to GM and player preparedness. Having your action ready for your turn and the GM knowing all of the monsters’ abilities can help move combat along pretty quickly.

That said, Dungeons and Dragons and by extension Pathfinder has always been a game of dungeon crawls with combats. Looking back at modules from first and second edition you can see that modern modules follow the same formula these old modules had, of large RP sessions in a town punctuated by long dungeon crawls. This is nothing new. Claims that this wasn't the way gaming was back then and that video game culture has somehow made it this way is denying gaming's true past and looking back at it through rose-colored glasses.

That doesn't mean that there aren't ways to game that are less punctuated with these large dungeons. There are many other systems that make social interaction and role playing their central or only focus.  Pathfinder and D&D are not those games, however and to think they should be is disingenuous to their history. Pathfinder's system works as intended. Claims that it is broken because it doesn't do something as well as games that are geared to do that specific thing is like whining a wrench is broken because it can't remove a Phillips head screw. There are many different ways to game and you need the right tool for the right job.

All in all, I enjoy the dungeon crawl, which is why I enjoy Pathfinder as a system. It has begun to incorporate more and more avenues for in-game social interaction. The new book, Ultimate Intrigue, attempts to deal with the idea of social combat as well as outlining ways to write adventures that are more roleplay oriented than your standard dungeon delve. Although it will probably never be the best system for this job, it can still get the job done to some degree.

How have you explored social interaction in Pathfinder or D&D? What systems do you prefer, if others, for less combat oriented games? Are you a fan of the traditional dungeon crawl?

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