As a kid back in the day, the classic dungeon environment as presented in OD&D (specifically the LBB’s plus Greyhawk and Blackmoor in my case) was just enticing and drool inducing in it’s morbidity and weirdness to a young boy. All that stuff designated modernly by Philotomy as part and parcel of “The Mythic Underworld” was attractive to somebody who grew up with at least a sprinkling of Tolkien and RE Howard in their lives. Playing characters going down into those bafflingly magical and active deathtrap monster lairs just seemed to hit a fanboy nerve, and especially early on these eerie locations gave a genuine thrill of the possibilities of mystery. Non-TSR takes on dungeons, like those by Judges Guild, added to that simplistic yet inspiring concept. Just the thought of these things existing in the game world seemed so cool.
The mystery unwove fairly quickly as the teen years moved on, and the new real life mysteries of older social interaction, with girls or sports involvement or whatever, became what was exciting. Sure, D&D stayed in my life as I headed into adulthood, but the unreality of classic underworld gameplay gave way to a more romanticized notion of high fantasy. I had no idea newer editions of the game were doing this as well; I attribute it in my case to mid teens when we started having girls in our games, and our female players seemed to only have so much acclimation to weird and brutal underworlds. They weren’t as down with “fantasy underground Vietnam” gameplay as the guys.
NPC interactions and more epic gameplay seemed to be the evolution in all the genres I ran, and I sure went along with that. Characters in my games became more involved with the NPC’s of the big cities, such as royalty and the military and their intrigues, and when they went into a dungeon it was usually the catacombs beneath the city. My love of locations (city or ruin) set in the midst of howling wildernesses, Judges Guild style, was fading. My love of comic books and movies sort of took over, and the interactions of characters and other thinking beings became more dynamic. Slaying slimes and oozes in the lonely and dark corners of the world would become more infrequent.
When I started the current group (almost exactly 4 years ago), my intention was to eventually get them to a classic dungeon I was working on (I had yet to hear the term “megadungeon”), but eventually I aimed the campaign at The Night Below module, which is not exactly classic. Yeah, I forced things in an epic direction. But with the group, and a couple of times outside it, I did some classic dungeon runs with the LBB’s for some players, and they went really well. Though my regular group seemed to find it quaint and fun, I think they really wanted meatier game play, such as my 1st edition games, provided.
At this point, though it seems to still have rabid admirers, I have more or less fallen out of love with that weird, gonzo classic dungeon concept. I perk up when I read about somebody liking the modern OSR influenced dungeons such as Anomolous Subsurface Environment or Barrowmaze, but when I actually see snippets of these megadungeons (not necessarily those two mentioned, but in general) I am usually less than impressed. Minimalistic descriptions (6 orcs; 200 GP) for rooms, and dungeon dressing that does not inspire seem to be the order of the day. But hey, that is what a classic dungeon is all about, right?
As anybody reading this probably knows, Grognardia James’ Dwimmermount dungeon, a recent surprise hit on Kickstarter (close to 50 grand in profit), has been getting some gameplay and a few early reviews (the entire dungeon has yet to be finished). A lot of reviews from fairly moderate sources have not been good. A lot of the dislike seems to be in the presentation of those classic old dungeon tropes that James has been so enamored of and blogging about for years. Empty, dusty rooms with no real function having to be explored and searched. Minimalist room occupant description such as the orcs n’ gold combo mentioned above. Dungeon dressing with no interaction or function. Not exactly inspiring.
See, none of that gives me those kiddy thrills anymore, and apparently others who actually paid for that dungeon agree. I read Grognardia for a couple of years faithfully, and the recounting of Dwimmermount game sessions was probably part of why I was no longer reading every day. No knock at James; I only started this blog, my first and only, when I heard him on some podcast I listened to through dumb luck, and checked out his blog and saw old modules I loved being talked about. But man, the later old school gameplay presented in session reports did not exactly draw me in like I guess it has some others. The Gygaxian mandates and strict adherence to them became a turn off. I actually had a chance to briefly explore the early Dwimmermount in the ill fated thread sessions James started on OD&D Discussion, but that didn’t get far. James dropped that like a hot potato around week two, with no explanation or apology. But hey, those forum play by post sessions tend to be kind of a clusterfuck anyway. Maybe that’s why James jumped out the bathroom window and never looked back.
So am I the only one who has tired (again) of this classic D&D dungeon play? Is the whole mythic maze-underworld something that has popped up as some sort of delayed nostalgia? On forums such as Dragonsfoot, the humanoids are still constantly bleeping and durping about this or that aspect of classic dungeons with childlike glee. Minimalist description dungeon locations the size of Disneyland still seems to be the wheelhouse of the so called “OSR.”
But I got bored of it twice in my life. I doubt there is going to be a third. When I get back on 1st Ed AD&D (been focusing on other genres for years now), probably next year, it’ll be back to epic adventure and high fantasy, not counting up copper pieces found in rat nests and searching every square foot of the walls in empty rooms.