Saturday, April 25, 2009

Decent into the Dungeon (part 2)

In Dante’s Inferno, Dante's journey starts with him being pursued in a dark wood that would lead directly to the gates of hell. One could argue that this represents the ultimate dungeon experience, as it is not just a cave that Dante is entering but it is actually a portal to another place. In essence, the entrance represents a transition from the real to that which is supernatural. I find this imagery particularly interesting.

When I played my first game, the dungeon entry way was a portal into another world, in which all things were possible. Outside the dungeon was a fictional historical European environment. In that first campaign, we did not spend a lot of time exploring outside the dungeon. The game existence was the dungeon for all practical purposes.

This leads to an idea that outside the dungeon is rather, dare I say, dull and routine, and perhaps even a bit of a grind. The monsters, magic, treasure and other out of the ordinary experiences all existed inside the dungeon. It is this concept of transition from normal to supernatural that exists in the entry way of a dungeon that I find to be very powerful imagery. Once we pass from outside to inside, we leave the natural behind, and anything can happen once we have past the threshhold. It is the wardrobe of the game that separates the rather dull to the exciting.

That was in the old days. In the current times, this has been dropped, as we have turned to world building in which even the outside of the dungeons have become fantasy worlds where the supernatural also exists. I often wonder in our attempt to create a world, are we losing this powerful symbolism of the dungeon entrance?

I think there is a natural urge to world build and give our creations context for existence. Once could argue that when one steps into the game as a whole, one is escaping the current reality and entering a world that offers something exciting. Gaming should be fun, and should offer a entertainment right from the start, and I agree with all that. However, with this methodology, we lose that stark contrast that the dungeon mouth represents. As the treasure hunting adventurers enter the dungeon, they are entering into a place that is far more dangerous and exciting than exists back in the home town.

I suspect that my initial experience in D&D is similar to that of others that began around 1980. The adventures centered around the dungeon, and the goal was to get there as fast as possible, as that was really the point of the game. As time went by, the experience rapidly moved away from the dungeon and expanded like a genesis device to populate an entire area and eventually the entire world.

This goes back to my comment yesterday about magic. Initially, magic was only found in the dungeon. Now, the concept of a magic shop is a fairly well used idea, and can be found in almost every adventure that has a significant sized town. With magic becoming widely available, I would argue that it has lost some of its magic and become a bit mundane. If one has enough gold, why even bother going to the dungeon at all? Just go to the local store, grab a cart and start shopping. I think we are losing something here.

Now I realize that the ship may have left this pier many years ago, and I think in some ways some of the magic has also left. The unknown isn’t really unknown any more. Where once someone may have thought the drow were cool and mysterious because no one really knew much about them, contrast that to now where they mainstream and very well known, even by non-players.

I think this is one of the major reasons why I love the dungeons. There is still a bit of uncertainty about what lies in them. There is still excitement walking down a long hallway, wondering what traps lie up ahead. Finding that room in which an ancient tomes hint at something powerful is waiting a few levels down. Knowing that character survival is a precious thing and that luck favors the well prepared.

But, it is that dungeon entrance, that portal into darkness that symbolizes the transition from the dull real world to that which is magically supernatural, that holds special interest for me.

No comments: