The Galaxy Cluster Theory of RPG Campaigns

Last night I had to stay up until 2 AM (long, unimportant story) with nothing to do but jot down ideas in my Moleskine notebook.  Here’s what I came up with.

Grognardia recently started Megadungeon.net  It’s a nice site, whith a great “old school” map of a place called Urheim.  You’ll need to go take a look for this to make sense, but basically there are different levels which are in turn made up of individual “clumps” of dungeons that I call “galaxy clusters.”  I call them this because it means that encounters are basically arranged like solar systems: in clumps separated by space.  “Dungeons” become a nodal point of encounters (say 50-100 rooms, some of which are occupied).  You can get from dungeon to dungeon, and then from dungeon cluster to dungeon cluster, but only through certain pathways.

Why is this important?  Well, for one thing it breaks up the map into managable units.  That was always my problem with level one of 0one’ s The Dungeon Under the Mountain: the rooms were just jumbled together so that realistically, in order to use it, you’d have to stat out every room because you couldn’t really control where the PC’s went on a eight-page map.  Everything connected to everything else.  With clustering, you can have the PC’s work their way through a certain area, but at some point have the long river/passageway/teleportation portal going to the next place as a good point to say to the players “hey, we need to stop here so I can spend some time fleshing the next part out” if necessary.  To put it another way, it staggers the gameplay out without making it too much like a railroad.

I think, in my increasing-becoming-less-hypothetical-and-more-probable OSG D&D campaign, I’ll probably go with some sort of combination sandbox/clustered megadungeon layout.  A central city, with a couple of small (say, 50-100 room) venues (we’ll call them “minor area dungeons”) and then one mega-dungeon locale.  That way the PC’s can slowly cut their teeth on the smaller areas, then head for the big one when they have a feel for the game and perhaps double-digit hit points.

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