Different Dungeoneering Goals

Thinking about the Dungeons of Thaarl, I have been considering ways to encourage players to move away from the default dungeoneering goal of “clear the dungeon” – this is usually stated as either “find all the treasure” or “kill all the monsters”. Why? Because I think the meta-goal of “level-up by getting more experience”, itself achieved by retrieving treasures and killing monsters, is a little… well, meta.

Why are the characters in the dungeon? Given that “levelling up” is a meta, player-level rules-based motivation, it’s a bit weird if the character’s goal is “level up”. D&D taught us to express this as “find treasure” and “kill monsters”, although originally it was mostly the former because XP awards for fighting were, well, crappy.

Simple answers might be stuff like, “Retrieve the Lost Sword of Thingamajigger” from the dungeon. Perhaps we might be adventuring to, “Rescue the Baboon King from the evil Humans.” Either of those would make for a different experience of play and you can “level up” by substituting XP for treasure and monsters with XP for achieving the mission.

But then if, like me, you prefer games like BRP and GURPS which don’t have “level up” as a meta-goal then you are free to reward characters in other ways. Both these games drip-feed the opportunity to improve skills and gain new abilities over the long-term, but those rewards come from the natural activities of playing in the world.

Maybe the goal is to find out some lost secret hidden deep in the dungeon, or to piece together some clues to reveal the location of some other person, place, or thing that’s important to the player characters. But even better, what if the players themselves are suggesting reasons to delve: one player wants to carve out their own kingdom in the deeps, taking territory away from the Deep Elves who killed his family.

Treasure is simple and easy to set up and default to, certainly. But it is a default. I tend to see defaults as fall-back positions. If I don’t have any other reason to go dungeoneering, well, I can always go find some coin. But the inventive Dungeon Master will surely place more interesting hooks as bait for some richer goals.

Or, in the case of Thaarl, maybe it really is just about buying your freedom.

Game on!

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