Friday, September 25, 2015

Extra Life - Thoughts on Not Running D&D 5e - Exquisite Corpse Megadungeon Pt. 1

James and the Ginger Giant have decided to organize an Extra Life event, where players game in support of a worthy cause. They're going to try and get enough DMs to run 24 hours of games and do some live streaming and other media. I'll share more information on how to support them as I get it and it looks like I'm probably going to be a player (hopefully for as much of the event as I can). I was invited to GM but decided to pass as they're going to try to run a single epic storyline set in Ben's homebrew D&D campaign the Known World. Since I'm not in any of the 5th edition groups playing in the setting I don't feel comfortable running the setting and since my own D&D 5th edition game is largely not a 5th edition game (more on that below) and Ben's is also not quite "by the book" I'm not up on what house rules his groups are using. Plus, I don't get to be a player as much anymore outside of AD&D Church and the odd Wonder Plunder Dungeon World game.

So, expect more information when I know more on how to support our adventuring for charity. I'd love to allow people to donate certain amounts to make me play wacky/against type characters like a Horserer , a series of Jameses (obvi Fighters with the Champion archetype who don't use weapons but instead just throw themselves on enemies attempting to grapple them (For those playing the Antagonist Relations Drinking Game at home take a shot for "Zack does a bad LSP impression"), or something else, but since it's in an established campaign, I'm not sure how wacky/goofy I'll be allowed to be, so folk might just have to be content with forcing me to suffer the indignity of playing a Bard or a Fighter with the Eldritch Knight martial archetype. All in all, I'm hoping I can play 12+ hours of D&D and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it.

But the offer to DM did get me thinking about how my "5th edition D&D" Shattered World game is nearly not and also what I would propose if I were organizing a 24 hour D&D event.
An Exquisite Corpse

I have a confession. I have a "5th edition D&D" game, and my players are playing 5th edition D&D characters, but it's really monstrous conglomeration of Dungeon World, 13th Age, Apocalypse World and a dash of Numenera/Cypher System all stitched together and wearing the tattered and bloody skin of 5th edition D&D.

Just off the top of my head, (I'm sure I'm missing something) I eliminated the following

  • Disallowed several core subraces, like High Elf, Hill Dwarf and Lightfoot Halfling, severely limited access to 5 of the 12 core classes from the PHB and outright forbade access to subclasses to two other core classes (if you're playing the Antagonist Relations drinking game, you can take a drink for each of the two subclasses I forbade that you guess correctly, and if you know me, you know what they are.)
  • Decided not to use the Alignment system (though I know some of my players just thought I forgot to put it on the custom character sheet I created).
  • Ditched the troublesome and entirely not as optional as previously promised default 5e Backgrounds.
  • Axed the 5e Skill system.
  • Changed the default gold standard to a modified silver standard as silver is important in the setting.
  • Mucked with the default Short Rest rules, so that using a Hit Die requires a use of a Healer's Kit or magical healing.
  • Dropped standard XP advancement so that leveling is entirely at my whim.
  • Since the backgrounds were gone, the accompanying Inspiration mechanic was also left behind.
Then to the skeletal carcass that remained I added
So my players are mostly running D&D 5e characters with some 13th Age story stuff tossed on, but I'm running a lot less of the game as D&D 5e, dropping 5e bits like flesh off a leper when it suits me and basically keeping just the bones of the flat math, roll a d20 and you want it to be high and the player side of stuff while running my own stuff wild and woolly, building monsters mid combat and (trying at least) to think as more of an Apocalypse World MC (with all that entails) than a D&D DM.

For now it's puttering along, and I'm always trying to tune it up, but I don't know that it would work to try and drop it into the middle of another well established setting, with players used to an entirely different, (and I suspect) much more by the book 5e D&D experience.

At long last, now that you've suffered through nearly nine hundred words of nothing you really didn't already know (for those of you playing the Antagonist Relations blogpost drinking game, take a drink for "Zack uses alliteration as though impersonating an Anglo-Saxon poet.") here is my thought experiment proposal for how I'd run a 24 hour RPG event...

Exquisite Corpse Megadungeon Pt. 1

So you've got four or six or eight GMs running a "single" game in 3, 4 or 6 hour chunks. It's a one-off event, so there's room for a little play, a little gonzo-ness, a little wackiness, or goofiness perhaps? Why not do this? Each GM makes a part of a megadungeon without talking to any of the other GMs, they make it so that when their team is nearly up they can put in a Red Door and that Red Door leads the PCs and players into the next megadungeon area, run by the next GM. Maybe you decide that it's all one system, maybe you decide that it's not, so maybe when players open that Red Door they get a new sheet. I could see that happening with 6 hour chunks. The player chooses the Ranger at the start of the night, they get a 5th edition D&D sheet. They open the first Red Door and now they've got the "same" ranger character but now they've got a Dungeon World ranger sheet, then the 2nd Red Door and back to the 5e D&D sheet, then the last Red Door and now they get a 13th Age Ranger sheet. All the same "character" just different expressions of reality.

Back in Middle School (or early High School?) Thomas and I ran a "Tower of Infinite Evil" that was similar to this, where we each took a direction from the entrance, with Thomas taking upper floors, and I took the lower levels. We had, if I recall correctly, several explicitly half-divine PCs and I'm sure we stretched the PC rules pretty far, since Thomas recalls having "a priest with unlimited solipsism spells". My idea was that every level was different, almost like a demi-plane created by whatever nonsense evil god(wizard?) we had or had not decided had created the tower, whereas Thomas' levels all were identical sizes with stairways in the same place. Still, part of the fun was seeing just what might be waiting on the next level. I'm sure that my approach was heavily influence by Planescape, since that would have been just around the time that I got the first Planescape box set.

Even if you didn't change up the rule sets/characters, it would be interesting to see the change as GMs changed places. I can imagine a straight forward carved stone dungeon leading to a Red Door that leads into a dungeon where the walls are brambles and thorns leading to a Red Door past which is a dungeon of ice leading to a Red Door that has a sewer dungeon.

Done right, where every GM is willing to put the Red Door to the next section wherever it needs to go when the time is right, you could avoid the pitfall of needing to make sure that PCs have to get so far so that the next GM can take over or so that the plot of the dungeon can be satisfied.

Frak (for those of you playing the Antagonist Relations blogpost drinking game, take a drink for "Zack uses cursewords from a fictional world"). Now I'm going to have this on my mind for a while, thinking of all the interesting permutations or complications you could introduce or explore.


  1. I do to think the fact that you're able to run 5e this way is a testament to its brilliance as a compromise edition. Its not quite as easy to house-rule as TSR versions of the game, but you can DIY quite a bit without mucking with the basic math (module skills, which are terribly hard-coded into the game).

    In terms of your megadungeon, I like the idea, but I've been thinking a lot about shared words lately because I recently discovered I might like the Forgotten Realms (The horror, the horror.) There's something nice about everyone being on the same page about things like major cities and deities and the like that's come out in my own games here in far away that I should think a bit more about and post maybe.

    1. I don't have a problem with shared worlds, though I do know that I probably read 10+ Forgotten Realms books (probably more like dozens, or at least every single TSR book the Apple Valley library had) and I can't remember anything about the setting aside from Drizzt and Elminster, and I can't really tell you anything about either of them either.

      And my Exquisite Corpse Megadungeon isn't meant to be a long term or serious game, but a wacky idea for a single long session with a rotating cast of DMs. Outside of the 24 hour game event, it wouldn't work as well, I don't think. But I thought of it as I was contemplating Ben's Extra Life event as I was realizing that in his shared world with 4 gaming groups, I have no idea not only what the house rules are currently, but I also don't really know the setting and where one could plunder a ton of printed realms stuff to provide good background blurbs to characters, most of what would be needed for the Known World would have to be written down as I think it mostly lives in index cards from their microscope setting building, oral tradition from the game as it's played at the table and knowing Ben, half-sketched out GM notes from copious amounts of prep. Just like if I was running the event and using my Shattered World setting, and had a bunch of new players, there would need to be a lot of bringing them up to speed on what they know about the setting.

      The other thing I think my Exquisite Corpse Megadungeon does well is provide a good excuse for not having a continuity of players and GMs, so you don't feel like you have to make one story or experience that all ties together as I've found attempting that in the past to be alternately disappointing and maddening as you run around like a crazy person at a large LARP event, trying to keep all the sub-plots going to build up to the big plot and then try and figure out how to make the climax work when x,y and z got done but m and p didn't.


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