Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Empty Rooms

I've been reading the various posts on empty rooms, based initially on Tenkar's ill-fated Dwimmermount game, with enjoyment. It's interesting to hear different perspectives.

First, how are people defining an empty room? Devoid of monsters? Devoid of treasure? Both? Completely devoid of anything? There's empty and then there's empty. I tend to think devoid of monsters, but that's my view.

I don't think we can have a discussion about empty rooms persay. All rooms, empty or not, need to considered in the larger context of the rooms immediately adjacent to it or the theme of the dungeon or dungeon level. Why are they there?

Empty rooms can accomplish a great deal - after all classic fantasy is supposed to be about exploration and not just hack n slash. I find empty rooms add to the verisimilitude and often add an exclamation point to encounters when they do occur.

Of course Barrowmaze has its share. This was a key aspect of the design. In hindsight, I wish I had more to give it a more hollow, empty feel.

BTW I played part of the first level of DM with James and really enjoyed the sense of exploration he was trying to inject into the game. But that's just me.

8 comments:

  1. I think a major part of the issue was the "dungeon dressing" is how closely it is linked to the local setting and history which is is not part of the current playtest material, but appears will be part of the final product.

    I'm sure James was able to bring those to life when he ran it, but for my group, it wasn't clicking as there was no value in it for them. I certainly didn't have the info to fill in the blanks.

    I suspect this will be less of an issue (or not an issue) with the final release, as the "dungeon dressing" will be grounded.

    It also reminds me why I stopped playtesting MMORPGs - the incomplete experience rarely matched the final release. In this case, even though the first level of Dwimermount was complete, it's set adrift without proper grounding in the setting and became difficult to pull off successfully.

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  2. Without empty rooms you aren't exploring a dungeon, you're just running a gauntlet.

    Empty rooms also serve to increase tension. If you know that every room contains monsters, there won't be much suspense in opening the door, will there?

    Filling each room with an inhabitant would create an awfully crowded dungeon with a neon 'No Vacancy' sign flashing outside the entrance.

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  3. The key to me is that a room may be empty of monsters but not empty of interest for the players. Imagine finding a secret door, the room beyond is layered in dust and cobwebs, but no monster lurks within, instead you may have found a small complex of rooms that tells you a great deal about the area you are preparing to explore, or they key to unlocking a mystery, the possibilities are endless, and yet there are no monsters within. A DM needs to decide whether such flavor is to his taste and hopefully know if it will bore his players. It seems like there is a demand for a non-stop rollercoaster of a dungeon with monster to kill around every corner and in every room. Personally I think such non-stop action would become stale and boring very quickly and some measure of balance between monster filled and empty is required. My preference seems to be about 50/50 with the weight of the balance leaning a little more on rooms without monsters but hopefully interesting none the less.

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  4. When I discuss dungeons and say "empty room," I mean empty. Like, there is no dungeon key or number and no associated text.

    I may stick stuff in an empty room, but it's devoid of anything useful or interesting except possibly doors elsewhere.

    My players don't seem to mind them at all.

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  5. I'm perplexed by this whole concept / discussion, esp initial complaint.

    Players have choice, even more so in sandbox, non-linear megadungeon. No one forces them to spend time in any room or even to open the door to any room. If they chose to spend 3 hours in/out of game time searching and futzing with every brick in wall and piece of garbage they have no one to blame/thank other than themselves.

    If uninterested they could open door, see nothing, move on. Could even preempt "dressing description" by asking DM "Any monster, any obvious loot? No, we close door."

    Many people use to railroads and storybased games struggle when given choice. Often either doing nothing waiting for plot to advance or doing everything (e.g. exhaustively searching every room) assuming it's part of plot.

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  6. If I paid for a module filled with empty rooms I'd wonder if it was worth the price.
    Perhaps its too early to tell , and it might very well be, but from what I've read, the criticism is not empty rooms per se as much as its about the product being delayed and so far not living up to the hype.

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  7. I've read much of Dwimmermount, and it can't hold a candle to Barrowmaze. I love reading modules almost as much as I like to play them. Barrowmaze had me constantly imagining a party going through the various places. Dwimmermount put me to sleep. Problems I noticed: too many empty, or uninteresting rooms, too few opportunities for meaningful player interaction, and too much focus on backstory and history. Just my opinion, and perhaps the problem will be fixed when the finished product comes out.

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