Dungeons & Newbie DM’s

Posted on September 29, 2010 by

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There’s been a lot of chatter in the online D&D community about dungeons.  Some present the argument that dungeons are a very important part of the game, while others make the argument that Dungeons are so far removed from a players real world experience that they cripple role-playing.  As always, I look at this from a very practical side, and from the point of view of a newbie DM, and I think that dungeons are a tremendously important part of the game and a wonderful place to get a group of newbies started on their journey.  I’ll tell you newbie DM’s out there why that is.

First, the point must be stated that the game is called Dungeons and Dragons and not Beaches and Dragons or Prairies and Dragons.  There, I said it.  I know that the game can take place in whatever scenario you want, but arguing about a place as iconic as a dungeon, in a game that carries the word dungeon in its name seems like heresy to me.  Okay, so why do I think that dungeons are so great for new DM’s?  Well, they keep your players grounded in a contained setting, while providing the ever important illusion of choice you so desperately need to make your game successful.

This has been written about countless number of times, in countless books and blog posts.  There is nothing original in stating that all a dungeon does is provide a flowchart of adventure choices for your party.  That’s really it, that’s their function.

“You come to a stop, you can go left or right.” As a new DM, this type of simplicity is invaluable.

When you are starting out as a DM, there are several things you would most likely want to avoid happening in your game, including:

  • Players going off your planned storyline
  • Encounter areas becoming to large and unwieldy  for practical use at a table
  • Players exploring places you haven’t detailed just yet

All these things can be avoided by setting your starting adventures in a dungeon.  Think of the dungeon as a newbie tutorial in a video game, where you learn to control all the powers and abilities that your character in the game has.

The dungeon is the same thing, but for a DM.

  • In the dungeon you can can craft a simple storyline for your players (find the talisman of Garen the Mage)
  • In the dungeon you can have encounter areas that are easy to map and run at the table without much stress
  • In the dungeons players will explore only what you’ve detailed (assuming the entire dungeon is detailed)

And again, all this is done with players never realizing that their choice are in fact limited, but by the nature of where they are and not by their DM.  And you can then worry about honing in on the skills you need, while providing an iconic D&D experience for your players.

And what about role-playing being crippled by the setting?  Well, my dear Sarah Darkmagic, I call shenanigans. :)  A couple of good descriptions, and speaking to all 5 senses will give players enough of a cue to understand where they are and how to interact with that environment. “The dungeon smells musky, you can hear the slow drip of water  just behind this door.  If it wasn’t for the fluttering fire from your torches, you’d be in the dark.  Suddenly, you feel rats quickly passing over your feet.  They’re coming from the south, perhaps running away from something?”

And what of an experienced DM?  Well, at that point you’ve realized that dungeons are a word only, and the concept of  “the dungeon” in context of play can be applied to any setting.  But that’s an article for another time. :)

The dungeon.  Use it.

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