An Ode to the Dungeon Crawl

Don’t get me wrong, I love games with intrigue, politics and drama deeper than arguments over who dealt the most damage last round. But sometimes it’s fun to kick back and relax with an old-school dungeon crawl.

Many of you may find it a little odd that I even need to talk about it as though it’s something out of the ordinary. After all, the game is called Dungeons and Dragons – dungeon crawling should be a major component of any campaign, right?

To be honest, this actually depends heavily on the campaign you’re playing and the DM running the game. Though the roots of the game definitely lie in sprawling dungeons filled with monsters and treasures, over the 40 years or so that it’s been doing the rounds the focus has shifted somewhat.

Plenty of games these days are based around narratives and character-driven plots, which rarely leave much room for trap-laden passageways and wandering monsters. While the party may break into the villain’s castle, they’ll likely end up exploring a reasonably realistic structure with mess halls, guard rooms and barracks, rather than find themselves confronted by a door engraved with a cryptic riddle.

A great many people I talk to online and in person about D&D reference their love or Critical Role, and how much they wish they could play in a campaign like the one run by Matt Mercer. However, while I certainly share their sentiment, I must admit that I can’t remember a single session that I would class as an old-school dungeon crawl.

This is anything but a criticism, of course. The party and viewers love the campaign and a session or two stuck in an old tomb wouldn’t particularly fit the vibe. One of the very first rules of DMing is to shape your game around what the players want. However, if you’re currently running or playing in a game that has a heavy focus on the narrative rather than prodding tiles with 10 ft. poles, maybe try giving it a go.

If nothing else, blasting around a dungeon is a great way to have some quick, relatively mindless fun. You see some monsters, you drop some fireballs on them. There’s no shades of grey or ethical dilemmas, and no need to stay on your best behavior as heroes of the realms.

And sometimes, when you get home from a long day of work and sit around a table with your friends, that’s all you need.


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