The Savage Worlds fantasy sourcebook that I mentioned last time turned up*. I haven’t had time to really dig into it but I will post more about the content and how it fits into my plans for a fantasy game for my boys at some later date. In the meantime, I wanted to write a bit more about fantasy gaming.
Dungeons and the Crawling Thereof
What is a dungeon in a roleplaying context?
Well, it’s not really much to do with the real-world definition, which is an underground cell or “close, dark prison” as Chambers puts it. A roleplaying dungeon is a complex of interconnected rooms in which there are monsters to fight, traps to avoid, and treasure to collect. They are classically situated underground, but that is not mandatory: a castle complex, a tree city, or a sinking ship could all be treated as dungeons with rooms to explore and adversaries to overcome.
The AD&D GM materials included a random dungeon generator, tables which you roll dice against so that you get random rooms and their contents – obviously these tend towards the arbitrary, but they can be a diverting way to spend time hacking and slashing your way through them. One of the funniest roleplaying sessions I engaged in at Uni was a random dungeon played for laughs, where the rolls were taken at face value no matter how absurd, along with some very silly set pieces. However, it’s not really roleplaying: the characters are only considered as tactical units, not as people.
One of the reasons I have resisted this kind of arbitrary dungeon delving with my kids is because there is usually so little story. The games I’ve run have been concentrating on storytelling while minimising combat – going to action rounds** for fiddly bits where inter-character timing is important, but mostly just letting the description of action and reaction tell the story. I am going to try to retain as much of that flavour as I can, but there will inevitably be more fighting because the boys have now had a few games of Munchkin.
Munchkin is very silly, entirely by design. It takes many of the roleplaying game concepts popularised in Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and turns the dial all the way over. It’s a game which specifically encourages undermining other players in combat, focusses on the loot collected during a dungeon crawl while utterly ignoring the geography of the dungeon, and it doesn’t have any story at all.
It’s also enormous fun. Terrible and wonderful things happen to the characters in more or less equal measure, and the game can completely flip in only a couple of turns. One game we played had my oldest’s character*** suffer some deep indignities and then die rather messily at the feet of a stomping dragon, but he ended up winning. It’s chaotic and hilarious.
Playing Munchkin helped lodge a few fantasy game staples in the boys’ heads: class, race and level are basic concepts in D&D, especially the trade-offs inherent in what you choose for your character. So now the boys know that a wizard might be able to control coruscating arcane energies but can’t pick up a sword, or that a dwarf can see in the near dark and lug around twice the amount of gear of any other race but can only run half as fast****. Savage Worlds doesn’t impose quite the same constraints of class that D&D does (or did) but many of the same trade-offs are present.
And so now we’re ready to dive into a dungeon.
Before we do so, however, I do need talk to the boys about the portrayal of women in fantasy.
Women In Fantasy
Fantasy, even more than science fiction, has historically appealed to and been targetted at young adult males, and part of that targetting has led to the pervasive portrayal of women as scantily clad, pneumatic objects: women in fantasy are often shown as fantasies.
Most games (at least the ones I am willing to play) don’t discriminate in the abilities of the characters based on gender: female characters are just as capable as male characters, and even in Munchkin the sex change curse only gives a penalty for one round because of the sudden confusion over how your body works.
But still… the fantasy source books tend to be illustrated with cheesecake. The Savage Worlds book is no exception here, with the cover showing an unnecessarily lightly clad female warrior, even though no one sane would go into battle without some kind of covering over every inch of skin.
So, there is a conversation to be had there before we start the game proper, with possibly a strategically placed paper cover over the unavoidable cleavage.
But I’m looking forward to running a dungeon. There will be puzzles at least as much as fighting, but a dungeon will be fun.
[*] or rather the paper copy did. I already had the PDF, but I haven’t looked at that yet either.
[**] the less combat-focussed term for combat rounds that I suggested last time.
[***] the characters don’t even have names.
[****] the same speed limitations being true of halflings, the non-copyright encumbered version of the hobbit race, leading to the saying that you do not need to run faster than the dragon, you only need to run faster than the halfling.