Friday, May 22, 2009

We Think Too Small

I had planned a great big giant post about my Rome trip around the theme of "We Think Too Small." But things got busy... So let me link a couple of galleries and then give the sum-up to the post I was going to make.

My Rome Photos from May 9 - 12.

My Turku Castle Photos from May 15 (not so spectacular, originally built in the 1200s but it's been "repurposed" and renovated so many times, and it looks just like Hämeen Linna inside).

Just look at those Rome pictures though (the ones of the monuments, not the ones where I start obsessing over why some statues' penises are broken and others are not). Look how big those buildings are.

When I see RPG maps and cities and settings, I see a lot of things built on 5' and 10' squares. Sure, the past couple of years has seen the megadungeon come into fashion again, and the scale of one of those is immense, but the individual elements and rooms don't seem to be.

If I'm not mistaken, D&D is supposed to be "middle-agish" in feel, and the default method of play is exploring dungeons and ruins from some ancient civilization.

... Rome, right?

Not literally, of course, but the idea is that there's all this ancient treasure and magic underground that isn't overground. The ancients were Richer and More Advanced.

... Rome, right?

Even if not, the scale of the architecture of ruins can, and perhaps should, represent the splendor of a civilization that produced and possessed all that ancient treasure. Break it out. Make it HUGE. Go wild. It'll make everything seem even more fantastic, yet be more real at the same time.

And exploration strategies will have to change with all those great big distances to cover as opposed to being stuck in claustrophobic conditions.

But there are other ideas to be ripped out of Rome. I've got a few pictures in that pile of Egyptian obelisks that had been looted and carted back by the Romans. We shouldn't let our ancient ruins be monocultures! Rome spread its influence, but also took in a great deal of influence from those it conquered.

Visiting the Pantheon made me realize something too. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it didn't fall overnight either, and it certainly didn't just crumble into dust when it did. The fall of a civilization that built the ruins that are now this week's dungeon probably didn't fall into ruin overnight. After whatever caused it to not be the paragon of splendor, people probably stuck around trying to rebuild, or pretend as if their new society was the same as the fallen one just for living in the same space. They'll rip out the guts of the current architecture (to use elsewhere), temples, and other great places while keeping the magnificent facade, and replace the innards with their own cultural artifacts.

So that great ancient city that's being explored can be a mishmash of cultures and times, and can end up being as gonzo as anything D&D has to offer, without even ever breaking verisimilitude. Not a bad deal.

And one thing that our tour guide at the Colosseum said struck a nerve (the guy was really good, for charisma and the ability to make the tour enjoyable at least, can't speak for his factual value so much as I'm not up on my Roman history, but we got lucky because we just randomly picked out someone advertising English tour groups)... when the Romans brought animals from all over to the Colosseum, they weren't bringing "animals" as the citizens understood them to be. The lions, hippos, giraffes, etc, seemed like monsters to the crowd. Surely there are D&D adventure seeds in that realization...

So that's that. It was a fun trip, Italian drivers are crazy, Maria was surprised to find out something that I already knew - metalheads are the same everywhere you go (she seemed shocked that the crowd for Doomraiser looked identical to the Finnish metalheads), and the food... oh my goodness... the food. :D

I'll leave you with one photo I took which I decided to call Armor Class 9:


  1. Great photos! I loved Rome, I was lucky enough to spend 2 months there when I was in school. The layers of history in the city is amazing you can have lunch in a restaurant and when you use the bathroom in the basement the foundations are from Roman times. Also study the history of the Castel St. Angelo originally the tomb of Hadrian and gradually fortified over the centuries to its current state.(Might have to add something like that to one of the cities in my campaign).

  2. I agree 100%! The ancients are the super-pagan, cultish romans and the Hobbits and Elves are living atop their tombs.

    Didn't the Romans invent concrete and then the recipe was lost until way later? I always thought that'd be a mind blower to discover these enormous structures made out of, apparently, beautifully carved, lightweight, unknown stone.

  3. Piranesi's Views of Rome and Carceri are major thematic influences for my Vaults dungeon. They have a sense of ponderous massiveness that really works for me.

    Rome - Never been (although I'm a total Romans geek). Hoping to go there for our honeymoon.

  4. Jim - lol @ "Armor Class 9"

    Chris - Rome is an EXCELLENT choice for a honeymoon, I can say from personal experience. Do it!

  5. Crazyred -

    The story is that the Pantheon was the largest concrete dome built until the Houston Astrodome.

  6. Who said everyone think to small?

    In my megadungeon everything gets bigger deeper beneath the earth! :)

    I just realized that level five is going to be silly, since I filled most of one sheet of letter sized graph paper with just one room.