Monday, 3 December 2012

Dungeon Crawl: The Greatest Escape

The Dungeon Crawl. This is probably a term familiar to most players of various types of wargames and role play games. I am sure that the term in all likelyhood pertains to a specific game or game type, or it at least started out that way, but in my mind, it can refer to any game in which the primary driver is exploration and combat within a dungeon like environment. Now strangely, I don't see why this couldn't include futuristic games like Space Hulk. The element of the 'quest' is still there, it just looks different, and I guess you don't have individual models each controlled by a different player, but you could if you wanted to. The extreme end of the 'Dungeon Crawl' is probably the lengthy pure roleplay games mastered option, such as can be enjoyed playing D & D.

The point of this post is that, while I believe that miniature based wargames such as Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine and other battle or skirmish focussed games are great for simulating the genre of hostile confrontation of your choice, they are missing an ingredient that I think you can only get from a Dungeon Crawl. Though I have in the past played HeroQuest, Space Crusade, D &D and Gurps, lets take my favourite game of this ilk as an example: Warhammer Quest. To me, this game exemplifies what I want to demonstrate.

With battle games, you are the general of an army. You may have an attachment to the troops under your command, if they are Knights of the fair kingdom of Bretonnia, or less so if they are a regiment of Skaven Slaves, but that they are the troops under your command is beyond question. When playing games like Warhammer Quest, you are in control of a single character model, and whatever you may have named this character, whatever race they may be, you have a personal connection to that character. They represent you.

Some people might argue that the Company Master of your Space Marine Strike Force, or the Warboss of your Ork Warband also represent you, but I think that is only true to a far lesser degree. They represent you as commander. They are the leader of your force, the figurehead of your army, and if they die in this battle (unless in a campaign with additional rules), you can select them again for your next battle, looking none the worse for their resurrection, but they do not represent you to the same degree as your Warhammer Quest character. If your army commander dies, you continue to control what remains of your army. If your Warhammer Quest character dies, that's it, it's over, you're out of the game, and sometimes worse, the campaign which could have been running for weeks, months or even years. You are (not literally of course) dead.

It is also significant that in a game of Warhammer Quest (or other Dungeon Crawl game), there are additional connections built between your character and those of your fellow players. Not only are you not competing against one another, unless for bragging rights over who has accumulated the most gold, you need each others skills to help you get through the dungeon and complete the quest. Your Barbarian and Dwarf can fight like heroes, but the healing magic and fiery blasts of the party Wizard keep them going long after they might otherwise have been overwhelmed by the vicious denziens of the dark, and sometimes the Elf's speed and skill with the bow can save the day. This cooperative element adds even more to the connection you have with your character and to those of your friends, and makes them even less like the general of an all conquering army. Especially when your Elf just fell into a pit, rats are knawing on your silk lined boots, and the Dwarf's rope is your only hope of getting out again...

When a new band of warriors sets out into a dungeon, it may as well be you and your mates stepping gingerly into the darkness. You will probably find that you also even refer to your character as 'me' or 'I'. 'I will move to this doorway', 'I will attack that Goblin Spearman'. This is a level of connection that is beyond that of the table top battle or skirmish game, and doubly so when between adventures your warriors must brave the hazards of simply travelling between dungeons and visiting settlements to pick up provisions, aquire new skills or just get drunk in a tavern and pick a fight with a mad eyed ginger mowhawked troll slayer with questionable hygiene.

Some skirmish games, like Necromunda for example, also include elements of advancement between games, but because you both control several models (that is unless your gang has suffered terrible misfortune at the hands of rival gangs, or attracted the unwanted attentions of the Adeptus Arbites) and generally play against an opponent rather than in cooperation with your buddies to achieve a mutually beneficial goal (like getting filthy rich), games like this don't connect you with your models as much as the Dungeon Crawl. The greater the connection, the greater the depth of immersion in the story, the greater the level of escapism that you can achieve. That is my belief.

Playing games with miniatures, much like reading a story, or watching a film, is about several things, but the most important is probably escapism. The chance to kick back and get absorbed, to imagine you are someone or somewhere else, doing amazing things that you never could or simply might never dare to do in 'real life'. The Dungeon Crawl is in my opinion one of the pinnacles of this escape from the mundane, from the rigidity and hum drum of parts of our lives. You make a personal investment in your character. Their success is your success, their untimely demise, your exit back to reality, while your comrades are left to mourn your departure and continue into the darkness in the quest for glory and riches without you.

These are the reasons why I think that, in the world of miniature gaming, when it comes to escapism, the Dungeon Crawl is king. Anyone who has never tried it, I thoroughly recommend that you give it a whirl. If possible, and if you can locate a copy, you could do worse than trying Warhammer Quest, or even the daddy, HeroQuest, though I am sure there are many others to try. Hell, even Lego do one now. Don't believe me, check out Toys R Us!

All you have to do once you're in the dungeon is make it out alive. Thanks for reading...

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