The classic dungeon crawl promotes a play style that is very cautious, methodical, and calculated

Friday, November 11th, 2022

Yora of the Spriggan’s Den feels that classic dungeon-crawling is a fascinating and fun form of gameplay, but the archetypical dungeon crawl is not a good basis for a Sword & Sorcery campaign:

The classic dungeon crawl, with its complex underground labyrinths, countless traps, secret doors, and numerous small hidden stashes of treasures all over the place naturally promotes a play style that is very cautious, methodical, and calculated. It encourages players to progress slowly and with care, to examine all the small and possibly insignificant details, and to take any precautions before following through with well thought through plans. In a well deaigned dungeon, this can be hugely exciting and thrilling. But it’s a kind of exitement and tension that is very different from the style of Sword & Sorcery. This is a style that is all about fearless and even reckless initiative, where fortune favors the bold. Heroes are certainly relying heavily on cunning and trickery to take down foes much stronger than themselves, but often these are things improvsed in the heat of the action and more of a gamble than much of a plan. In a Sword & Sorcery themes campaign, players spending a lot of time over maps and rummaging through large boxes of tools to disable a dangerous mechanism with a minimum of risk is something that you want to avoid, not to have as the default approach to playing the game.

This contrast between methodical attacks and dashing ones goes well beyond fantasy roleplaying games. It’s arguably the key distinction between stereotypical Great War tactics and the newer stormtroop tactics that commanders like Rommel used to overwhelm larger forces in strong positions.

(In 1989, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Alfred M. Gray reenergized the post-Vietnam Marine Corps with the publication of Warfighting, which advocated that more dashing style.)

If an adventuring party takes its time, then the dungeon full of monsters should have time to organize and attack the adventuring party en masse, instead of getting defeated in detail.

(Hat tip to Castalia House.)


  1. Longarch says:

    R.E. Howard inspired many (including Gygax) with his vision of Conan getting severely injured by a booby trap and continuing to fight against a wand-wielding wizard regardless. However, although booby traps showed up at least twice in the original Conan stories, Gygax exaggerated the frequency of traps far beyond Howard’s vision, possibly due to Gygax’s interest in real-world boobytraps in Vietnam.

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