In my Previous post on Room Negative One, I argued that you should Dungeon Master your game as if the world outside the dungeon is as exciting a place as the dungeon itself. ‘Dangerous dungeons do not exist in a vacuum,’ I implied, ‘and the players should be harried at every turn when approaching their destination.’ Now I’m going to argue the exact opposite.
Room Zero represents the first room upon entering the dungeon. In many ways, it may be the most important room out of the one hundred or so rooms that your players explore. That’s because the first room will frame the rest of the dungeon. Players will subsume what to expect based upon what they see, or don’t see in this room. If your players see an empty room with four doors, they can assume that your dungeon will be sparse, low on detail playground for a series of miniatures combat scenarios. If, however, the first room they encounter is rich with details – from the mutilated bodies of dead orcs on the ground, to the cryptic runes etched into the wall, to the more crude taunts from one goblin tribe to another scratched below that – then your players are going to assume that your dungeon has a lot of important intricate details in it and they will advance appropriately.
You can do a lot with player expectations. You can play against them, luring them into a false sense of security, or trick them into trusting in the wrong non-player characters, with some well-timed false clues. You need to be careful when doing this, though. If you subvert a player’s mental process too often, you’re inviting them to stop thinking about the consequences of their actions. After all, if nothing follows its logical progression in your game, then its best to take everything at the point of a sword. Just smash everyone or everything. It’s probably a monster or a trap.
More often, you should seek to justify your player’s expectations. Just like Chekov’s Gun, if your party sees evidence of orcs in the dungeon in the first chapter of your journey, then they should attacked by orcs in the second or third chapter. “If it’s not going to be fired,” instructs Chekov, “It shouldn’t be hanging there.” Playing within the realm of player’s expectations is a rewarding experience, even if it sounds counter-intuitive. Giving your players what they expect, after all, doesn’t sound imaginative. But finding a way to reward your player’s insights, while maintaining an engaging plot, is a very imaginative task, indeed. Anyone can perform the unexpected. Performing the expected, and maintaining excitement, is an earmark of good story-telling.
In this spirit, you should let your players have Room Zero, the first room of the dungeon, as a room to acclimate themselves, group Read more…