Playing with Campaign Structure

While hanging out with some friends the other day playing tabletop games, I started to have ideas. Combo-ish ideas. And while I haven’t really formed those ideas into anything substantial or useful yet, I want to talk about them because hey, this is a blog and typing sentences that haven’t fully formed in my brain yet is what I do best.

A little background: recently I have been experimenting a lot with campaign structure when running tabletop games. In particular, I have developed and am running my first ever megadungeon. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a megadungeon, think of it like the setting of games like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon, or Shiren the Wanderer. You have a town a la the American gold rush, hastily thrown together by a bunch of foolhardy folks hoping to get rich off of a nearby source of potential profit. The profit in question is a giant dungeon complex, full of gold and treasure but also full of dangerous monsters. You can go in and get out in countless ways, and the players explore this megadungeon in hopes of striking it rich and living long enough to talk about it. My group has been enjoying the megadungeon style, and as a GM I have been enjoying the change of pace.

So that’s the background. Here I am, a GM who already has the concept of megadungeons on the brain. I’m playing some tabletop card games with a group of friends over at my house. Specifically, we’re playing Boss Monster. If you’re not familiar with Boss Monster, you seriously need to check it out. It’s a really fun card game about being the final boss of an old school 8-bit dungeon. You build deadly rooms and cast nifty spells to lure and violently murder heroes, harvesting their souls to prove that you’re the best boss monster around. The base game (there are two editions, Boss Monster and Boss Monster 2) allows up to four players, while the Crash Landing expansion expands the game to allow five or six players. Definitely check it out!

Anyway, enough of the not-sponsored promotions of other people’s products. In the fiction of Boss Monster, adventurers deciding which dungeon they are going to go explore and loot are waiting “in town.” And this idea of all the adventurers hanging out in the same town, going to different dungeons where powerful monsters are competing for dominance and trying to lure the heroes inside…I think there’s some potential there. The fiction that drives Boss Monster as the basis of a tabletop RPG.

Thinking about this in terms of Dungeon World, I think this would be a really good way to utilize fronts in a really engaging way. The whole concept of fronts in Dungeon World comes from the idea of “war on two fronts,” and having four living, changing dungeons actively running at once would be a really cool way to do that. Whichever dungeon the players choose to explore, there will ┬ábe three more that have the opportunity to grow and become more dangerous. But going to focus on any of those dungeons will allow the first one to grow again, and eventually the boss monster that the players have allowed to grow in power unchecked will become mighty enough to lead its forces out of the dungeon against the town.

I definitely can see a risk of that set-up only leading to a couple of inevitable conclusions: the players split up and die, or one dungeon grows crazy-powerful and everyone dies. Plus, although each dungeon could be designed in a really unique way, exploring multiple dungeons back-to-back in that manner with no drive other than “stop this place from getting bigger” could burn out pretty quickly.

Perhaps the better approach would be to simply run a game where the fiction of the world was inspired by Boss Monster. Utilize the megadungeon style and base the rooms, traps, and enemies off of the threats present in the world of Boss Monster. You could even have particularly powerful monsters based on the bosses themselves, capable of casting spells straight from the game’s spell card list. Throw in some heroes as hirelings and BAM, Boss Monster campaign.

I’ve entertained the idea of combining different kinds of tabletop experiences before – what do you think about it, adventurers? Do you think using other games to inspire a campaign is a good technique? Where do you draw your inspirations when playing with campaign structure? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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