Eric raises a good point in comments: players do invest in Old School games by inventing zany in-jokes and peripheral nonsense. This is fun stuff: I’m a fervent proponent in our mule-based alignment system, and a fanatical believer in the Boss, our made-up deity.
But the fact remains that this stuff usually sits on the sidelines of play. Eric, our Dungeon Master in that game, has indulged our whimsies through the kindness of his heart, and has done a few things to give the Boss Cult some spotlight time. But mainly we’re playing Keep on the Borderlands sprinkled with Boss-ism.
So here’s a dumb-as-dirt way to get your players to design a grab-bag dungeon for you.
- Get three players. If you have one player, chop her in thirds. If you have two players, chop one of them in half.
- Explain your setting to players in general terms. Remember, they are players and have short attention spans. The idea here is to give a general flavor of your campaign setting, like “Curry” or “Hoisin Sauce.”
- Isolate your players from each other. E-mail works well here.
- Tell your first player (or the feet of a divided player) to develop three scenarios for adventures–the general mission or purpose for an adventure. Write these scenarios on index cards.
- Tell your second player (or the head of a divided player) to develop three general settings for adventures, including a couple rooms or areas within a dungeon. Put these ideas on index cards.
- Tell your remaining player (or portion thereof) to describe three sets of special monsters & treasures. Again: index cards.
- As the Dungeon Master, riffle through the index cards. If everything sucks, throw the cards out at your players’ faces in frustration, and find new players who are able to do your work for you. But ideally your players do not suck and have given you some good notions.
- Combine in a mixing bowl: 1 Scenario + 1 setting + 1 idea of special monsters & treasures = basic adventure outline. This stuff represents rumors or historical lore that has made its way to the players. Alter one detail in a signficant way, just to keep players on their toes.
- As dungeon master, draw the map and stock the dungeon with “non-special” monsters and treasures.
This way, players have some investment in the dungeon that results.
I’m not sure how well this would work, but it’s worth a shot. At the very least, it seems likely to generate the sort of surreal, eclectic dungeons that seemed to characterize mid-1970’s Dungeons & Dragons play.