Dungeon crawls are a staple of roleplaying. For this article, let’s expand the definition of dungeon beyond traditional tombs and caves. Crashed spaceships, inner-city sewers, and post-apocalyptic abandoned malls are all really variations on the dungeon. In a way, any remote location where bad things live can be a kind of dungeon. If you GM, odds are your PC’s will end up in some stinkhole sooner or later.
The drawback to dungeons (and remote wilderness areas) is that they may not provide sufficient roleplaying opportunities. In a village, city, sailing ship, or starship there are plenty of people to talk to. But not out in the bush. While there is no simple formula for running a successful session, providing varied encounters is generally sound practice. Varied encounters, including roleplaying opportunities, are more likely to hit the enjoyment modes of most players.
For myself, designing dungeons with more roleplaying encounters can be a challenge. So I spent some time listing some ways to get players talking to folks (and other things) in the dungeon. Here’s what I came up with:
While a bughunt often can be fun, room after room of unintelligent monsters or aliens can get old. Include opponents who can speak common or the language of the party. Also, consider having them not fight to the death. If they surrender or can be captured, then the party can interrogate or bribe them. This is a great way to get information to your party and keep the session moving towards a goal.
If your bad guys are truly bad, they may have captured some locals to serves as slaves, hostages, or even lunch. After rescuing them, they can be a great source of information or direction for the party. Also, prisoners are a classic trick for introducing new party members after a death or when adding a new player.
Think talking statues, swords, books, computer interfaces. All of these provide chances for roleplaying, puzzles or riddles (if you use them).
These folks might be bored, lonely, or angry that their peace has been violated. Also, they may hold ancient knowledge. Unless you think your party is liable to attack them, you might not even need to generate any statistics for them. If they do decide to attack and you don’t have stats handy, just say: “Are you sure you want to go up against this?” Use a menacing voice, maybe chuckle evilly. Might save you some effort.
David Brin wrote a series of science fiction novels in which dolphins and chimps had their intelligence raised. They were “uplifted.” Imagine if a traditionally non-sentient monster were suddenly able to speak to the party. Would they continue to try to kill it? Would they be curious as to what magic was used to uplift the monster’s brain? Is the monster truly happy in their new state, or have they been shunned by the rest of the pack? These kind of questions can lead to great roleplaying opportunities, and perhaps even serve as adventure seeds.
These are just some of the possibilities for providing more roleplaying in the dungeon. Why don’t you add your ideas to the list? Tell us below.