Thursday, February 7, 2013

Manipulating Matter (Dungeons, Traps and Magic)

Wrath of the Titans is not a very good movie. The story is uninspired and the acting is not very deep, either. But the set pieces are something else and nice to behold. Especially the underworld and the labyrinth are beautiful and got the DM in my brain chatting up a storm, so to speak.

What follows are some pictures (found in an interview about the development here) and a few ideas I got about it.. A video with some scenes of the labyrinth moving and shifting can be found here.

It all starts at an impressive door of magical enhanced stone:
Hephaestus opening a magical door.
To open the door, the stones have to be arranged in the right order. To move the pieces, magic is needed. This is pretty nice aspect for an "ultimate heist" dungeon crawl. One mission could be to find a draft of how the stones need to be arranged, the other one is an mechanical issue, so to speak.

To make it an entertaining experience for the players, it will need some sort of subsystem to make it work and produce some tension on the way. And it shouldn't be about not being able to open the door, but more about what ressources are needed to get there.

One of the missing pieces in D&D, for me at least, is the lack of rules for creating and manipulating (magic) environments. Sure, there are some connectors (how to create magic items, some spells, skills, etc.), but mostly it just gets waved away. How all those evil wizards are able to build the traps, doors, entire dungeons or creatures they have in their lair is just beyond the rule book (as far as I'm aware of).

How to manipulate matter

This idea is pretty vague right now, but I'll explore it further in another post. So far I'm thinking about giving Magic Users the possibility to sacrifice a spell slot to gain the ability to manipulate a certain kind of material to an extend related to the spell level used and how hard it is to work with the material. With racial modifications (it should be easy for dwarves to manipulate stone, for instance). Materials could be wood, leather, stone and metal (with some exotic variants for living matter and undead). Very experienced Magic Users should be able to manipulate more than one kind of material, but specialists working together should be an option, too. A somewhat different, but nonetheless very interesing approach to this is the Eberron class that James C. introduced a few days ago over at A Dungeon Master's Tale.

An ever shifting Megadungeon

After opening the magic door, the heroes enter the labyrinth. Here's a picture of it:

A megadungeon?
This is how a Megadungeon should look like, isn't it? Vast and intimidating. One of the characters in the movie calls himself "The Navigator". He is not of much use in this, but in a D&D game, this is were a thief should come in handy. And I don't mean scouting, but more like evaluating safe passage and finding shortcuts. So here is another thing about Megadungeons: just "exploring" a big, complex structure like this is pretty pointless, a group needs a reason to be in there, something to find, something to go to.

But I digress. What really blew my mind was when the dungeon in the movie started to change.

Inside  a shifting dungeon.
Let's say there are some static elements in a dungeon like this. Factions in the dungeon might fight for those never changing elements and might even build traps to protect those save havens. The sections inbetween are always changing. Mapping is only in a basic sense possible. There might be patterns involved how it changes. But not for all parts. Some might malfunction, some might be controlled by someone. The hazards of such areas might be animated objects, magic traps, undead, creatures that are able to live in such an environment and the changing elements themself. Random encounters would be more likely, if the group finds a safe passage through the shifting dungeon (because the dungeons inhabitants will know about it) or very rare, if they are in unsafe areas (for the same reasons).

With the possibility to tinker with the moving parts of the dungeon (sabotage by the thief, magic manipulation by a specialist Magic User, maybe clerics can be involved, too), a whole new set of adventure opportunities arise. Preparation becomes a crucial  necessity and that's what I was looking for.

That's it so far, the rest will follow. Here is another nice pic from the movie:

One more for flavor.

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