25 July 2022

Dot Dungeon

 

Dot Dungeon


".dungeon is a tabletop roleplaying game with mechanics inspired by social games like Werewolf and Munchkin where the real world (and you as a person) affect the game. The world of .dungeon is inspired by MMO's, both fictional (like .hack//sign) and real (Guild Wars 2) and is set in a mysterious game engine that is growing and feeding on itself, ever-changing."

.dungeon collection


.dungeon is a ttrpg that emulates MMOs in a heavily narrative way (note I used narrative not narrativist because forgisms are awful). One player players the World (GM), and the other players play Player Characters—but there are also PCs that aren't played by players which are distinct from NPCs—in a MMO that may or may not be on its final days, or other such narrative reason for the campaign to end. Aspects of it are very meta. It's acknowledged that you're either playing yourself playing a character or, if that makes you uncomfortable, that you're playing someone who a real person playing the game. The stats are meta skills and knowledge, and the classes while given game style names are ways for you the player to bring who you are directly mechanically into the play of the game. Shape-shifting into your pet. Making art of the events of the game.


But for all of that, it is still effectively a DnD—a dungeon crawlery kind of game—as most MMOs are. But, the group rather than individual characters, has one hit point total, or connection. When connection hits zero, the game ends, and there are several suggestions on narratively what that could mean, and the way connection is lost and restored is designed to slowly dwindle to zero. The campaign will end. The campaign IS a character. It is rather melancholy. I do in general like this. It helps alleviate the problem of a campaign dragging on forever.


The system is pretty simple. Stats are dice. When dice are rolled, it's simply a matter of rolling die vs die, and the difference is how much connection is lost from either side. Simple. But, this makes everything in combat. Almost every contest is an attrition of hit points. It makes sense since connection isn't hit-points, it's the connection the characters have to each other and the world, and it's slowly dwindling. Failing to pick lock? Frustrating. Getting sass instead of help from an NPC? Frustrating. Dying repeatedly to monsters? Frustrating. All these are things that will make people quit games, or put them down never to be picked up again. Loss of connection isn't necessarily negative since it's ok to finish a game, regardless of how "finished" it is.


BUT. It still bothers me that everything is "combat." And no, don't try some, "well in the conversion section is talks about jenga and clocks," malarkey. Clocks are just fancy hit-points. Jenga towers are also hit-points. SURE it is a bit reductive since even in other games pass/fail is one hit "kill." BUT in .dungeon it's all one pool for the players. This isn't a flaw, necessarily, even though I fundamentally have a problem with everything being resolved the same way with the same result, loss of connection.


And it's messy and vague. Fighting goblins reducing the connection of individual goblins kills that goblin, but deal damage to the players as a group. How do you adjudicate one character dying and needing to respawn, remember characters don't die permanently in MMOs. The simplest take would be, the character that failed dies and has to respawn, while the group loses connection, but this feels bad. Even in "hard" games like the souls series, common enemies don't necessarily one-shot characters, and in MMOs that definitely isn't a base assumption. Don't get me fully wrong here. I'm used to making my own rulings and I do leave stuff vague or out that is commonly spelled out. This though, is frustrating. I don't think it's good design. It leaves something out. Dying repeatedly in game is frustrating—hence of lost of connection—but the character death in video games comes from the mechanics of that game. Your character in Dark Souls or Legend of Zelda or any number of games, takes damage and dies. You've "lost"—spent really—the time it took to get there, the loading screen time, and then time to get back to where you were—you're losing connection with the game, it's community, your friends that play THAT game. .dungeon doesn't model that. I think it should. I think that for as much detail the book goes into on other topics, there could have been more under respawn.status than "some contests may result in a character needing to respawn..." Can I make my own decisions on how to determine whether or not contests will kill a character? Of course I can. But this puts a roadblock on me playing this game rather than cutting it up for parts.


.dungon doesn't model PC advancement in a manner consistent with most of the source materials source material. Yes you the player of a game accumulate experiences independent of your avatar, but generally an avatar has mechanical means of advance, even if it's not a clear cut numerical manner like levels. Which granted, most MMOs have a Sisyphean relationship with levels and hazards. Higher levels mean more powerful foes which means in many respects the numbers didn't really get bigger. It's that meme of the dude fighting lobsters with a club and then fighting lobsters that are pallet swapped etc etc. Thing don't really change, so in one respect this kind of advancement way likely discarded or maybe not even considered by Batts. Instead character advancement is finding skills that can be improved. And there is no hard list of skills, something I like. I love it when a game says "yeah here are skills are, and this is what skills do, but I'm not making a huge list because the scope is too broad."


The way .dungeon is written and set up wants you to slot in modules from other games. Explicitly. Treating them like cartridges and the like. Because that is the setting, an MMO devoid of anything more than a generic fantasy allusion.


This is good though. It's a build your own setting premise. Yes I do know by now there are 3 zines with adventures and setting material, but the main premises are "here is some shit to play with that acknowledges some of the meta nature of playing a game, and how to reuse materials you already love or use any of the millions of adventures modules hanging out collecting dust.


But there is a flaw. Which character improvement being built around collecting and improvement skills, how do you gauge relative power when converting I6 Ravenloft? How powerful is Strahd?


Actually. I'm gonna convert him here.


Count Strahd von Zarovich, Vampire


FREQUENCY Rare

NUMBER APPEARING 1

ARMOR CLASS -1

MOVE 12"/18"

HIT DICE 10 (55 hit points)

% IN LAIR 90%

TREASURE TYPE F

NUMBER OF ATTACKS 1

DAMAGE/ATTACK 5-10 (1d6+4)

SPECIAL ATTACK Energy Drain

SPECIAL DEFENSES +1 or better weapon to hit


Additionally he's a vampire so all the other vampire specials apply to him.


I'm not going to detail the rest of this full page stat block because most of it doesn't require numbers specific to AD&D's system.


There isn't an example monster/obstacle block in .dungeon, so we'll do our best.


Connection_Rating 55 (which is slightly more than the starting CR of the whole group)

Difficulty.info Heroic/d12 (you could argue that difficulty would be relative to the characters or that Strahd is Legendary/d20 or even that he's Medium or Hard since Ravenloft is for levels 5-7 which is about 1/2 to almost max hit dice for AD&D and he's the big bad for the module)

do_something_cool.info Needs a magic weapon of some kind. There would be a bunch of the other things I'm not going to bother to type out.


That's just him, not the rest of the adventure or even just the castle. It could be that I'm approaching this from the wrong angle entirely. Maybe a module like this should be approached as a campaign finisher. Because I don't know else I can envision the attrition the group go through since connection rating can never be fully replenished. I just don't know.


Game Over isn't written to be a bad thing. It's there to let the campaign end. It's over. Talk about the good and bad times. Maybe lament the game ending before you could finish the last adventure before summer ended, the server died, or whatever.


It still feels like something is lacking in the spaces between connection rating, respawn, and obstacles use connection rating. I don't know. This is effectively just a surface level read. I don't have time to run this for anything longer than maybe one or two sessions. So I won't stare at this too much thinking about "fixes" to problems that may only appear from my ignorant perception.


Now lest this seem to be an unrelenting complaint or disparagement, there is a lot of things that I really like that haven't commented on.


I enjoy the dichotomy of Non-player Characters and Non-player Player Characters. NPCs being the general AI driven NPCs in games, shopkeepers and the like, and Non-player PCs being characters that fictionally are controlled by other players, just players that aren't real. Those characters are the random people you meet PUGing or run into grinding in the wilderness in MMOs, or the helpful summons in a souls game.


The most interesting thing is modeling the group's relationship with this Non-player PCs with a dungeon, at the end of which that character goes their separate way. Kind of a microcosm of the eventual end of the game.


Also the oracle section is kind of cool. It's intended for solo play, but I also think maybe this system isn't super suitable for solo play. It does in a way demonstrate a tension between playing a game solo and with a group, since one of the draws to playing an MMO with a group is the group, but if the group breaks up the people slowly lose interest in the game. While when you're playing a game solo, barring servers dying or other external factors, continued interest in a game only has to contend with one player's desire to play it.


Overall, I like that Batts is playing with this concept. It's kind of a parallel to My Body Is A Cage since both are about two sides of people, the Real vs the Unreal, Waking vs Dreaming, Life vs Game, but saying both are Real.


Would I do Playing as Players who Play Characters in an MMO the same way? No. I feel there is an void where the PC Avatar is. It lacks mechanical weight to me. But Batts's inspiration isn't just MMOs but also fiction inspired by MMOs. The characters in-game avatars are just as or equally important to the overall character as any real world qualities. The stories rarely engage with the mechanics of the fictional game in much depth. I'll admit I'm not as deep of a fan of this genre as I am other genres like real robot mecha or magical girl, and I feel the way I've treated and will treat interpretations of them to ttrpgs is similar to how Batts did the same with .dungeon.


And I think I'll end it on that note.


You can buy .dungeon in print here Nerves .dungeon collection and digital here itch.io and here Drivethru Affiliate Link I don't get any money if you buy direct from Batts which is the way I recommend. They get more money and you get a book.