Thursday, September 30, 2010


A few sessions ago, something happened to me that's never happened in 30 years of on-again, off-again game mastering: the players decided to completely bypass a dungeon I created for them.

The characters have this 3' long, rainbow colored feather belonging to a Couatl: a giant, intelligent, winged serpent. Couatl are typically good in nature (though not necessarily "friendly") and may be mistaken by primitive cultures as benevolent deities, but I digress. By looking at the feather through the Eye of Ilgerish, the characters noticed a pattern in the barbs. The feather was marked with the name of the Couatl from whom it came: Cualli Amoxti* , whose name is Nahuatl for "Good Book." The significance of this, or where they might find this Cualli Amoxti, remains a mystery. They made this discovery on the same day that a thief named Rixi attempted to steal the feather from them. They also learned that the person who hired her for the job was willing to pay 5,000 gold pieces for the feather, and had some goblins tracking it down for him too. They knew that this being was waiting for the feather a few miles away in an abandoned quarry. At long last they had a lead to help them understand the purpose of the feather which they had won in one of their first adventures, and which the voice of the ancient protector Duranys had called his "token" that would assist them in the discovery of his seven caches.

So I drew up the quarry and the dungeon carved from it, and I infested it with all kinds of goodies, including the bad guy (a hobgoblin, but there's more to him than that), his gang of goblins, a few assorted aberrations, some undead, a few nifty tricks and traps, and assorted clues and red herrings. It took a week to finish. It's not a big dungeon: it is intentionally small. But I customized it for these adventurers. It seemed like a really good fit for them.

But they didn't bite.

Instead they talked to Fibon's Skull, who is a fan of big city libraries and places of learning, and decided to travel to Port Manteau to seek the answers. Sure, I figured the party would eventually get there anyway. In fact, as readers of this blog may recall, I'd planned on it. It seemed like a better base of operations for deep exploration than the small villages we were using, and maybe even a good location for a proper megadungeon. It also fits in with Elerisa's aspirations to get back into "high society." But I wasn't in a rush to get them there because I find cities difficult. So they made the journey and on the way narrowly avoided a big confrontation while camping out in the rain. Now they're inside the city walls, and they suspect the hobgoblin and his crew may be there as well.

I'm left with a dungeon that will in all likelihood never be used, since it has little significance for the adventurers and is now fairly out of the way. In the old days, if such a thing had happened, I would have salvaged the parts. Although players never skipped entire dungeons on me, they did occasionally bypass whole sections of them. In these cases I simply reused the parts they missed in subsequent dungeons. Now, though, I find myself unwilling to do that. I've been sucked into this idea of the true sandbox, in which the game master creates his world, fills its places, and lets come what may. It is like a huge sandbox that the characters can play in, and they get to decide where they go and what they do. If I just move everything around so that they experience a planned series of events in a specific, predetermined order, then it renders their decisions meaningless. Just as you wouldn't want to go through life without self-determination, so would you disdain playing a character whose destiny is preordained. There's no pride of accomplishment in that kind of game. Therefore it's the players' decisions that must drive the story.

And so I'm left to risk all and create the megadungeon beneath the Port City of Manteau, regardless of whether they choose to descend into it or not. Hopefully this time I can make it sufficiently tempting, but just in case I can't, I'm only building a little bit at a time.

* Pronounced cu-ALL- ee ah-MOSH-tee.

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