21
Dec
12

DIY Dungeons

In my recent post about posers and players I talked about a comment requesting that my fellow Mules and I, being hipsters who have ruined everything else, would leave D&D alone for those who genuinely enjoy playing the game. I would claim not to be a hipster, except I don’t wantdiy dungeons to miss out on my share of what must be a sizable XP award for ruining everything in the modern world. Also it is undeniably true that I organize RPG events  in places like art galleries and DIY spaces where people wearing skinny jeans are known to congregate.

The latest such venture is DIY Dungeons, which benefits tremendously from the access to non-conventional gaming spaces conferred by my co-organizers Ray Weiss and Tim Hutchings’ local cred as a musician and an artist, respectively. My contribution is just to think about how to make RPGs function as a party game – meaning that they’re immediately accessible whether or not folks have played before, and structured in a way that people can sit down and get involved whenever they arrive (like we do at parties, unlike how we do at most RPG sessions) and easily move on to whatever else they like to do at parties after they get a taste of the gaming experience.

The next DIY Dungeons event is tomorrow night. 12/12, at a DIY space called Olive Garden. I don’t really understand what DIY spaces are, but a common element seems to be naming them for things they are not; one of the precursors to this series of events was the Everything is Dolphins release party held at Shea Stadium, which has no more relationship to baseball than tomorrow’s venue does to Italian food. (Playing in an actual Olive Garden would rock, though.) Here’s the description for the game I’ll be running:

CONQUERORS OF BRONX RIVER ROAD. The zombie apocalypse is here! Can you rebuild civilization using your wits, nerve, and the resources you can loot from the neighborhood around you? In this hack of the Adventurer Conqueror King roleplaying game, you’ll play yourself struggling to survive in a bleak future by fortifying a stronghold, recruiting other survivors, and decapitating zombies with chainsaws.

Over at the ACKS G+ community people hoping this presaged the release of Adventurer, Conqueror, Mutant Badger wanted more details about this hack, and a previous one that mashed up ACKS and XXXXtreme Street Luge. (The latter scenario took its cue from the intro to the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, where Bobby, Shiela, et al. wind up in fantasyland after going on a roller-coaster ride. The ACKS characters had discovered this portal and taken the trip in the other direction – I found a great map of Knott’s Berry Farm circa 1983 as a prop to show the strange land they discovered. The XXXXtreme Street Luge characters, meanwhile, had broken into the amusement park, shut down after kids disappeared on the roller coaster, and were using it as a racing venue). Here’s the skinny:

They’re designed for a particular goal – being able to get new players going very quickly and also letting them get up from the table 15 minutes later if they want to move on – and aren’t meant for anyone but me to be able to run (so nothing is written down). That said:

- In XXXXtreme Street Luge you quickly randomize characters and then players take turns in the spotlight. Each other player asks the spotlight player “In this made-up circumstance, how did you deal with the situation using this particular stat?” The ACKS mashup uses the same GMless narrated-action-after-the-fact approach (so it’s functioning more like a storytelling game) but turns it on its head – players take turns in the role of party leader, in which they invent a problem and then ask the other players “How does your character help us get out of this jam?”

- The zombie hack relies on a) converting ACKS gp into a genre-appropriate unit of exchange (a day’s food); b) squinting at the ACKS price list until a chainsaw looks like a sword and a Corvette looks like a light riding horse; c) using pennies to represent gp and track encumbrance; d) building a map of the real-world location on the table as stacks of coins: if you capture the auto parts store, you’ll be able to loot this many resources, which you can then spend to fortify other map locations. The “you play your character” thing is mostly there to make it easy to get into the game – you just think about what you’d do in this situation – and mechanically means that everyone is a fighter with average stats, except that if a +1, 2, or 3 bonus would mean they’d succeed I’ll give the player a chance to tell me why their abilities would help in this situation and then convert that to a 3-18 score.

I’m interested in doing every kind of outreach for RPGs I can arrange, whether it’s to hipsters or kids 8-12. One of the things DIY Dungeons has been able to achieve that other approaches like the afterschool class (formerly D&D, now ACKS) has not is to achieve a better gender balance than I usually see at conventions and gamedays. Here are some pictures from the first event, at the Clocktower Gallery, where we had to talk loud to be heard over the sound of a robot gamelan installation:

50% of the women at this table had played D&D before (which is to say Anne, in red on my left) so maybe my observations about usual gender balance say more about me.

Ray running his new game Cyberpanky N.O.W., scenario “McDonald’s Mercs”; cyperpunk proved to be an immediately relatable genre even for non-gamers.

Brian, from the band The Nuclears, running a Call of Cthulu scenario set in the Sex Pistols’ London; this also proved immediately accessible.

My experience so far has been that convincing people to try role-playing games at these venues is an exercise in anti-hipsterdom. My job is to say Hi, I’m glad I’ve caught your attention with these colorful dice and maps! In addition to being aesthetic objects for your aloof, ironic appraisal, these are used in game I hope you will sit down and genuinely enjoy right now. You can choose whatever degree of distance from the events in the game works for you. Me, I’m going to fully commit to having a good time, goofy voices and all.

If you’re in or near the Bronx tomorrow, come out and join us at 5 pm (or whenever if you want to put my easy drop-in goal to the test). Gaming will go on until around 9, when the bands Cave Cricket, Old Table, and The Widest Smiling Faces will make it too loud to hear one another’s funny voices. If that’s too short notice, the next DIY Dungeons events will be on 1/4 at Big Snow and 1/20 at Silent Barn. Hope to see you there!

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6 Responses to “DIY Dungeons”


  1. December 21, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Goddamn hipsters with your dice bags made of recycled materials and your dwarf characters making short jokes in an ironic manner and wizards with ‘eyewear’ instead of spectacles! Yer ruining it for the rest of us!
    Seriously, though… Olive Garden? I don’t know if that’s inspired or obscene. Isn’t that the place where they give you that bowl of olive oil heated by a candle to drip your bread in? When the players announce that they will use their lit lantern to set fire to the gelatinous cube, you can throw the olive oil heater at an unoccupied table to see if it goes up in flames or not.

  2. December 21, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    “Adventurer, Conqueror, Mutant Badger”

    Glad to see this catching on. :)

  3. December 21, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    @Stephan, I hear Olive Garden is renowned for the free breadsticks, but I actually do not know if it includes unlimited flaming oil as well. It bears further investigation.
    @buzz, one of the minor sadnesses about playing Metamorphosis Alpha recently is that, unlike Gamma World, you cannot gain new mutations due to radiation exposure; clearly this cannot be the case in ACMB so that one can make the journey from human freebooter to crushing jeweled thrones beneath your mutated paw.

  4. December 22, 2012 at 3:56 am

    if I wasn’t away for the weekend I’d be all over this. I’ll try to free up some time for one of the later events :)

  5. 5 Lord Bodacious
    January 4, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Reading this post this am (http://sorcerersskull.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-party-dies-at-end.html) got me thinking about this.

    As many of today’s YA fantasy/scifi authors have discovered, basing your fantasy on a world we know is a great way to skip some of the “fantasy” exposition that may wilt the enthusiasm of party goers. Simply inserting the player into a fantasy setting is a really turnkey intro. no stats, no class, no problem… “It turns out that abandoned subway you pass every day is actually a dungeon!”

    I think a card based mechanic for some kind of benefits/equipment also streamlines it (especially if they can keep their cards). Maybe the player has to select one benefit (smart, fast, strong) one shortcoming (slow, weak, short attention span) and one power or magic item and get off to the races. You could certainly build a mechanic to expand this into a more detailed player system – but basically running everyone with the same baseline “stats” keeps it super simple.

    DISCLAIMER: This post is a tangent, tagged on here 3 weeks after reading the I am pretty sure you (Tavis) have unpacked this idea in much more detail in other formats and convos. This game may already exist.


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