Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dwimmermount: Exploration and Mapping as an End in Itself

Dungeon exploration games like D&D (or ACKS, the rules set I'm using for my Dwimmermount game) splits the table activity between combat, exploration, and roleplaying.  Player advancement in the game comes from experience points, earned from treasure, and combat experience, earned by defeating monsters.  Furthermore, the ratio of experience-from-treasure vs experience-from-combat is recommended at a ratio of 4 to 1 (83% of the party's experience comes from treasure).  Dwimmermount has some interesting alternatives on expanding treasure and experience in the dungeon by monetizing aspects of their exploration, some things I've never done before.

There are two ways players can "monetize" the exploration of Dwimmermount.  The first approach is to sell maps of the dungeon.  Dwimmermount is the most important place in the world, the Axis Mundi, and much of the specific knowledge of the place was lost 200 years ago.  Now that Dwimmermount is reopened in the campaign, scholars, mages, rival adventurers, and political leaders all have interest in the place; maps have become extremely valuable.  The book provides guidelines on the value of player maps based on the number of doors and rooms, and these scale with the depth of the dungeon level from hundreds to thousands of gold pieces in value.

I like this mechanic because it puts a dilemma on the players.  Do they sell a valuable map for enough gold (and experience) to level up, allowing them to delve deeper, or do they withhold the maps because they offer a competitive advantage?  In order for this choice to have consequences, though, it'll be important to have rival adventurers nipping at the player's heels, so there's a degree of risk or irritation in sharing a map.  Likewise, many of the levels have resources that are valuable to control, and sharing a map creates the risk that control will be lost.  Knowing that maps have such value, I'm going to have the bad guys try to steal a map at some point!

The other way the players can monetize exploration is by recovering the secret history of Dwimmermount.  There's a thorough discussion of the secret history, organized numerically, and these key facts can be gleaned throughout the dungeon from a range of sources.  There are over 80 of them!  Bringing evidence corroborating the secret history facts back to the surface allows the players to sell this information for exorbitant amounts of money when they accumulate enough facts to answer key questions about the world.

My players have just started learning bits of the secret history of Dwimmermount - it'll show up in game reports 7 and 8, when I catch up with posting them.  It's doing a number of interesting things.  First, it's making the dungeon back story mean something.  We (referees) frequently complain about having to read pages and pages of dull background that doesn't affect game play, or which the players have little chance of discovering.  Dwimmermount provides pages and pages of background information on this secret history - but in Dwimmermount, this stuff does affect game play, the players can directly benefit from it, and there are many interesting ways to learn pieces of the secret history throughout the dungeon.

The open question I had was whether the players would even care.  My rotating group has a few dads, some older kids in the 14-15 years range, and a few boys (and girl) 9-12.  The kids are motivated by looting and crushing monsters.  However, I put together a "secret history tracker", in checklist form, and a list of the major questions that could be discovered as they explore the dungeon - things like the nature of the gods, or the origin of the dwarves.  When they found their first cache of "secret history books", deciphered them back in town, and started checking off items on their 'history tracker', the light bulbs went off.  These are quest items they can search for through the dungeon, and having a checklist that shows all the nuggets of knowledge that are out there; it created a "gotta collect them all" mindset.  Now the kids are looting the dungeon, crushing monsters, and keeping their eyes open for secret history clues to fill out their checklist.

So what if your players blow off this aspect of the game and just stick to monsters and treasure?  The referee notes indicate there's about 550k in treasure in the dungeon.  Assuming the 25% ratio for monsters, there's another 135k or so in monster experience in the dungeon.  That's enough to put a 5-person party up to around 7 level  or so, if the group is pretty diligent about completing each level and doesn't leak a lot of experience to player death or henchmen.  The overall value of the secret history is also valued near 550k, putting the dungeon haul up to a lofty 1.2M if the party focuses on answering the big questions by collecting all the pieces of secret history!  A group that doesn't exploit "dungeon archaeology" in Dwimmermount is leaving a lot of loot and experience on the table.