Talking Tabletop RPGs

So You Want to Crawl a Dungeon?

I’m gearing up for a new campaign, and I don’t mean my campaign that’s currently funding on Inkshares for my novel, A Beast Requires. Which of course you should all totally check out. The campaign I’m gearing up for is a brand spanking new fantasy epic set in Ancient Rome, which has doubled as an excuse for me to reexamine the world of of dungeon crawling, and finding a system that that fits with my particular style of GMing.

 

Pathfinder

We’ve all come up with those amazing character concepts that blow our minds, but sometimes the system doesn’t quite fit our needs. This is where, as a system, Pathfinder shines. Have an amazing idea for a high fantasy orc swashbuckler? Pathfinder has you covered. What something more gothic horror? Pathfinder has a campaign setting for that. For every possible fantasy setting, Pathfinder has options, and it is those options that make the system shine.

Built on the open sourcing of D&D 3.5, Pathfinder has grown into its own gargantuan beast. All of the familiarities of Dungeons & Dragons and the d20 mechanics are there, and you’ll recognize all the traditional races and classes, but that is where their commonality ends. For there are sourcebooks, you see. Sourcebooks upon sourcebooks full of uncommon races and class customization, giving you a near limitless range of possibilities.

Pathfinder has its own massive setting, which can quickly become overwhelming to new GM’s. And that’s the thing about Pathfinder in general; sometimes too many options isn’t necessarily a good thing. A game with too many possibilities can, without warning, become a jumbled, everything and the kitchen sink campaign. Gaming without limitations is something we all crave, but it rarely ever works out the way we intended. That’s why the things that make Pathfinder amazing, can also be it’s downfall. Too much really can be too much, and unless the GM plans ahead, and enacts certain limitations, a campaign of Pathfinder can spiral out of control.

Dungeons & Dragons: 5th Edition

I have a rocky relationship with D&D. I wax nostalgic for First edition, spent most of my teens playing Second Edition, and hopped on the Third Edition train the moment it rolled into the station. Then came 3.5. By all means, 3.5 was great, but I get a little salty every time I remember how much money I spent on 3rd Edition books, and how much more I had to spend updating to 3.5. Soured as I was, I went into Fourth Edition with an open mind, but there was nothing in it that I wanted. So when 5th Edition came out, I pretty much ignored it, and if it weren’t for Critical Role and the discovery of a six month old gift card, I wouldn’t even own a copy.

It’s D&D. Actual Dungeons & Dragons, without the library of sourcebooks and a plastic tub full of miniatures. And while it is still a d20 system, and there will be math, it runs more fluidly than its previous incarnations. They’ve simplified a lot of the modifiers, added a mechanic for advantages and disadvantages, and revamped the classes. Pouring over the core books as I prepare my campaign, I’m genuinely excited to run this game with one caveat: it’s still D&D.

I’m not big on d20 systems, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I’m preparing a campaign in one. I’m a fistfull of dicepools guy, so I don’t like relying on a single die to determine my fate. D&D 5th Edition is a little more flexible than previous incarnations, but it’s still relying on one die. I’m hopeful my apprehensions are unwarranted, but we will have to see how it goes. Still, I am excited, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide is making this one of the fastest games I’ve ever put together.

 

Dungeon World

How did I not know this game was a thing? I’m actually kicking myself that I’m just finding out about Dungeon World, as it totally falls within the sweet spot of everything I love about gaming. Using the Powered By Apocalypse engine, everything you love about fantasy tabletop RPGs is there; the six ability scores and eight familiar classes. Where the game differs from Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder is the dice, as instead of rolling a d20, rolls are contested over 2d6’s. Anything over a 10 succeeds. On a roll of 7 – 9, you succeed but there is a problem, allowing the GM to cause a little trouble. On anything under a 6, there is certifiable trouble, but it does not mean that the attempt is an all out failure.

Dungeon World is all about collaborative storytelling from the moment the GM starts working on the campaign. At the start of world building, every game master is instructed to “draw maps and leave blanks,” allowing the players to fill in these gaps as the campaign progresses. Creating an environment where the setting develops through actual game play feels so right, and it amazes me how long it’s taken for me to see it written in a game manual. It makes sense; everyone gathers around to roll dice and tell stories, so why wouldn’t everyone have a greater say in the setting that they’re playing in.