Negadungeons and the thespian wankathon; Idle musings.

First off: I ran Tales of the Scarecrow yesterday and it was awesome. This is the Tales of the Scarecrow entry that won the xp award (and added a nice ticking clock element).

The scarecrow wants to become a living being and for that it needs to have living flesh. It will start moving at night to collect what it needs, sowing flesh and organs into its own being. It has claws to rid its victims of their flesh. It is not known how it moves, but its silent and always [attempts to isolate its prey, preferring single targets]. 
(…) It is practically unkillable unless stabbed in the heart by a blessed silver weapon. Where its heart is, nobody knows. People think it lies somewhere in the grain field.

Flayed ones
Liberal applications of that age-old ally of the PC, fire, in combination with that stalwart companion of the PCs, the Horse, allowed the players to drive a burning wedge through the grain, and charge in its wake before it regrew. Creative use of rope, a matress and mending spells allowed them to take the fucking harpsichord. Richard Fox, victim and adventurer extraordinare, was murdered in cold blood afterward, his artifacts taken by our heroes.  Mad props to Bruno, professional Portugese duelist (left-handed) and Tamal Karfur, exiled Makili tribesman and mercenary,  both survivors of three fucking Lotfp adventures in a row.
Remember children, platemail is your friend (also platemail should not logically be compatible with buffcoats but should just give AC 19 in Lotfp). Seriously.
Helmet+buffcoat+pikeman’s armour+tassets gives AC 17, but Platemail, which cannot be combined with a helmet, gives AC 18 for ten times the cost? Do gay already. Anyway, Tales rocked, and that Scarecrow is coming back. SOMEHOW.

The topic of the Negadungeon has been floating in my mind as of late and I was considering its uses in the context of more roleplay-oriented parties. There is something of a division in the groups I play with, and there are many. The type of game I have come the enjoy, the simple dungeon crawl is mainly viewed as something of an antiquated relic, a primordial antecedent to the more narratively-driven character-centric campaigns that, in many player’s minds, define the ‘true’ roleplaying game. Cue cries of “Prince-is-a-closet-dramafag” and vehement denial of 2.5 years of running a Dark Heresy campaign.

They sort of have a point. A megadungeon is essentially a vast mousetrap, liberally dotted with cheese, luring adventurers to their deaths in nine thousand different ways and bestowing vast riches on those that survive, if only to lure them in for round 2. There is something primal in exploring it. More importantly, a megadungeon does not care who you are. What you did and where you came from and even WHY you wander its endless corridors, navigate its crumbling labyrinthine pathways and battle its legions of belligerent inhabitants is not so important as HOW you do so. A Megadungeon defines your character not by who he was but WHAT HE DOES.  In addition, high lethality and deep immersion are difficult to combine, since players get used to losing Pcs and therefore their loss no longer carries any impact.

I have pondered ways of making a more character-focused megadungeon and there might be a way of going about it. The Negadungeon as a sort-of Silent-hill esque reflection of the Character’s subconscious flaws, hopes and twisted obsessions. For when in doubt, we always go back to Silent Hill. It is known.

For the purpose of this thought experiment, we shall name our Storygame Negadungeon Narrenturm (meaning tower of fools), after the oldest mental-hospital in the world.

I propose, then, what is, in essence, an OSR storygame dungeon. In order for it to be effective player characters must be well-defined and in the possession of the following characteristics, in addition to their stats and class levels.
– An origin.
– A burning desire, driving need or obsession to venture into Narrenturm, always connected to it. While the character can easily leave Narrenturm and its environs, they can only fulfill their impossible desire at its BOTTOM LEVEL. Motives may be altruistic or selfish, but they need to be seemingly impossible or grandiose. Not mere wealth but riches undreamt of by man, the resurrection of a dead lover, the creation of the greatest work of art ever seen, immortality, your memory, and so on and so forth.
– An index of fears, neuroses, dark desires and neuroses (which are to accumulate whilst venturing into the Narrenturm).
– A network (at least 3 for starters) of contacts, allies, family members or aquaintences in the city that surrounds Narrenturm.
– XP progression based not on the conventional treasure and killing of monsters, but instead on fulfilling this obsession
– If you were sane, normal, happy and functional, you would not be here. If you were ambitious you would be a general, aristocrat or merchant prince. This is a place for the damned, the desperate, the delusional and the mad. Join us.

Narrenturm in turn needs certain characteristics if it is to follow the format of the Negadungeon and satisfy the roleplaying tastes of Dramafags.
– Narrenturm’s origins are murky and subjective. It is not an independent, coherent structure, it is a twisted mirror-image of the player’s subconscious hopes and fears. It’s inhabitants and very substance are shaped not only by the PCs, but by all the hundreds of adventurers that came before them. While it is possible to learn, study and do research, this merely covers the identity of previous adventurers to have travelled into Narrenturm and provides hints to the perils left in their wake.
– Narrenturm is mutable. It is never safe. Never familiar. Survival depends on identifying pockets of stability and then pressing on while the stability lasts. For the next time, it will be different, changing as it changes you. Survival depends as much on finding new entries into the lower levels and shortcuts as it does on careful planning and preparation. It cannot ever truly be cleared, only temporarily made safe.
– Narrenturm is a slow and patient killer. Narrenturm is not a pit trap followed by poisoned spikes, and if it is, then it is merciful. Narrenturm is the death by inches, the slow erosion of spirit and memory, the grinding down of body and soul, the seeping corruption oozing from cursed wounds that no longer heal properly.
– Advancement in Narrentum can always be accelerated at hideous cost to body and soul. Friends, confedants and fellow party members or the poor inhabitants of its town environs, often the only source of respite against the darkness, can be betrayed. Oaths forsaken. Ideals abandoned. All to fulfill a single, burning need. Every betrayed ideal and horrendous decision is manifested somewhere in Narrentum.
– Narrentum is passively and actively hostile to you, and it grows stronger with each death, each betrayal, each forsaken oath. Every PC that dies in Narrentum returns in some way, twisted and chimerical, to bolster the accursed half-beings and shadows that form Narrentum’s legions.
– Narrentum’s inhabitants are grotesque and oddly half-formed. Shadowy, murky, mutable, dream-like things. Not all of them are immediately hostile, though all are malicious and twisted. The most dangerous opponents are always former adventurers, twisted and tormented by Narrentum, mocked with “rewards” that in some cruel way allude to the obsession that led them into Narrentum in the first place. Monsters are grotesque abominations that bear no resemblence to any product of evolution nor creation from a loving deity. Fellow adventurers, madmen and prisoners cast into the tower are encountered as often as any monster.
– Narrentum has almost no treasure in and of itself, most treasure is left by former adventurers or has been cast into its labyrinthine depths by a superstitious population hoping to placate whatever nameless evil makes up its substance. Sorcerous artifacts, sinister and unnerving, offering power at a hideous price, are its only bounty.
– Narrentum’s shape is as much based on dungeons, asylums and prisons as it is on scenes from the character’s past, all connected with this burning obsession. Mirrors, moons and distortion grapple with grand ballrooms and escher-esque mazes.
– Narrentum is of course, not a tower but an inverted tower. One must descend. Always.

Inspiration
(novels/short stories): I have no Mouth and I must Scream, While the Gods Laugh, Diamond Dogs, various writings by H.P Lovecraft (Robert Chambers’s Hastur stuff is probably a better match).
Games: Darkest Dungeon, Silent Hill, Dark Souls, Bloodborn

Musical inspiration (too much metal but what are you going to do):
Apolcalyptica – Coma
Chelsea Wolfe – After the Fall
Lamb of God – Descending
Hocico – Oracion Nocturna
Samael – Angel’s Decay

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8 thoughts on “Negadungeons and the thespian wankathon; Idle musings.

  1. An interesting approach and one to which I (obviously!) award bennies.

    Curiously enough, one of the most storygamer storygamers I know is currently prepping something like an actual dungeon experience for her crew. Much more “planned environment to be refereed” than her usual interaction-driven summer-movie affair. To lure in her narrativium-crazed crew she’s simply presented the original headquarters of the organisation to which their PCs all belong and said “bound to be something useful in here”. I look forward to ascertaining if it works.

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    1. [reeeeeeeeeee]

      It’s like you could just set up the the component parts and let the players interact with them like a wonderful imaginary sandbox of death but you just HAVE…TO…HAVE…THINGS…HAPPEN…IN…THE…CORRECT…NARRATIVE…ORDER…ACCORDING…TO…THE…NARRATIVE…THEMES

      [Narrentum praise]

      Thanks bud.

      Like

  2. Why though?

    I enjoy some Thespian faggotry as much as the next dramaqueen but why would you even try to unify these two extremes? You correctly identify that megadungeons and storygaming are polar opposites, integrating them will most likely leave fans of either style unsatisfied. I know good chefs can make appetizing placenta paté and menstrual blood pancakes but why though? Are they really doing the world a service or are they just trying to make a point?

    If you are ever going to try and make this work I suggest you start by running a pretty standard megadungeon but with regular Darkest Dungeon style campfire scenes. Add in some flashbacks, in-character personal history exposition and sprinkle some Apocalypse World and Burning Wheel mechanics on top of those but keep those two kinds of sections fairly seperated. Perhaps that is enough to keep both types of children entertained without the opposite styles contaminating each other. I volunteer for playtesting.

    I think this idea belongs on the pile of other thoroughly enjoyable things that are great on their own but should not be mixed. Like coffee & milk, SciFi & fantasy, icecream & steak so it goes with megadungeons & dramafagging.

    The negadungeon concept is new to me and I think it’s best use in a campaign is probably as a place that PCs avoid going at all costs. Until they don’t of course.

    Idle musings indeed. But then again, I think Silent Hill is boring, Call of Ctulhu is gay and winning is more fun than losing so what do I know.

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    1. [Why]

      Thought experiments combining two natural opposites sometimes yields interesting results and keeps the mind fresh. But to delve further into your criticism.

      “I enjoy some Thespian faggotry as much as the next dramaqueen but why would you even try to unify these two extremes? You correctly identify that megadungeons and storygaming are polar opposites, integrating them will most likely leave fans of either style unsatisfied. I know good chefs can make appetizing placenta paté and menstrual blood pancakes but why though? Are they really doing the world a service or are they just trying to make a point?”

      To clarify. I don’t mean actual storygamers because those are indeed the worst. I mean dramafags, people, arguably like you and me, who gain more enjoyment from the portrayal of interesting characters and their unfolding career/personal tale of heroism then they gain from navigating an imaginary labyrinth and overcoming the challenges therein. Why you would want to synthesize both styles is because the number of players that enjoy both styles (again, arguably like you and me) to ludicrous extremes are really rare. And ideally a good dnd group has both people that can roleplay worth a damn and an autist that draws all the maps with uncanny accuracy that keeps track of all the torches and rations religiousy and has already worked out the optimum build. A balance of playstyles. Following this philosophical approach, a game that seeks to satisfy as many holes as possible is not only desirable, but even noble.

      If you are ever going to try and make this work I suggest you start by running a pretty standard megadungeon but with regular Darkest Dungeon style campfire scenes. Add in some flashbacks, in-character personal history exposition and sprinkle some Apocalypse World and Burning Wheel mechanics on top of those but keep those two kinds of sections fairly seperated. Perhaps that is enough to keep both types of children entertained without the opposite styles contaminating each other. I volunteer for playtesting.”

      A nice stopgap measure, and all of those methods are good and should be done anyway (ah Dark heresy), but one must affect the other, otherwise you are really playing two seperate games with only a modicum of interaction with eachother. And my point is that Megadungeons are huge impersonal monsters that eat player characters like eggs and do not care where your daddy is from. This natural antithesis is what I strove boldly to fix, by proposing a dungeon that is in fact hugely altered by who the players are and what they do and experience personally.

      “I think this idea belongs on the pile of other thoroughly enjoyable things that are great on their own but should not be mixed. Like coffee & milk, SciFi & fantasy, icecream & steak so it goes with megadungeons & dramafagging.”

      It’s okay to have stylistic incongruity, it’s fine, in fact, in a sandbox it is inevitable. You will always have a certain serious dynast to a wealthy merchant house cruelly slain by his vicious older brother whilst a man wearing only boots and a trenchcoat goes around disabling lamps and ripping off bartenders. It’s fucking DnD son.

      [Sci-fi and fantasy]

      Tell this to Lord of Light and Book of the New Sun.

      [Silent Hill/Call of Cthulhu]

      Philistine.

      [Winning v losing]

      Which is why winning should take effort and good play. No sweeter victory then that which is hard-earned.

      Like

  3. “Narrenturm is mutable. It is never safe. Never familiar. Survival depends on identifying pockets of stability and then pressing on while the stability lasts.”

    Are you thinking point crawl? Or a hybrid system that similarly abstracts the majority of the dungeon, like Castle Gargantua?

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    1. My current solution is something that would require you reroll your dungeon every fucking session so it is unpractical. Rooms can either have a fixed level and position, a mutable level but a fixed connection (i.e the Stairway into Nothingness always leads to the Hallway of Moribund Reflection five levels lower, but where they are is different every time, or are entirely mutable. A few islands of stability, circled by regular features, and the rest is randomly generated lunacy.

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