The traditional dungeon is, as the name suggests, a dungeon: a brick-and-mortar thing, square in shape, and specifically separated from normal spaces. Those are the first dungeons I ran through in tabletop, and what my view of them was like. The first time I saw an organic dungeon—a malevolent forest that led everybody inside it astray–it blew my mind. It harked back to medieval European history, when the forest was indeed a place of danger, and that danger was just outside of the village.
After that, I learned about World of Darkness, where adventures were abstract flowcharts that just roughly described a set of cause-and-effect connections, each of which contained some conflicts. It offered a far more organic way to deal with adventures. Moreover, it brings along an interesting reminder: danger is not something that is separate from normal urban life, it’s right out there in the forest just outside of the village. The village is just that little bit of safety that we’ve carved out in the wilderness.
When I’m a storyteller, I steal a lot of my plots I pay tribute to a lot of source material. I make no attempt to hide this in my RPG storyline notebook. I’ll have a title at the top of a page like “Haunted House Flipper” or “Deadwood With Magic”, and some notes of elements I find interesting in those bits of media. Sometimes it’s a single idea, such as the bar location of The Red Strings Club; at other times it’s as expansive as the basic plotline of a Poirot mystery flipped upside-down (what if somebody accidentally died, and it totally looks like you did it, and you have just a little bit of time to hide the crime from the investigator coming in?).
Whatever it is, I really enjoy ripping off taking creative inspiration from things I read, watch, and play. It’s quite difficult to create a new thing from scratch, but if you can twist something or just put a familiar thing in a new setting (let’s face it: Firefly is just “what if there were cowboys in space?”) oftentimes people either won’t realize it and enjoy it without hinder, or realize it and enjoy it all the more by leaning into it. There’s even a special joy you can take in hamming up a scene with a poor impression of the source material.
My tastes in RPGs sure have changed since those Baldur’s Gate days. I remember that in university, I met a new tabletop group in Groningen. They were people quite different from those I had met before, and as an insecure twenty-something person, I wanted them to like me. The game of choice was D&D (3.5ed by this time), and we were playing in a Forgotten Realms setting. The DM was creative and invested, and combined his interests in history and geography with some storytelling, and that resulted in quite some interesting stories.
Sadly, looking back on those days, there was also a lot of sexism and racism involved. It was that 20-something ironic “joking around with the guys, not hurting anybody” kind of nonsense. We made light of things that in reality not a single one of us had real experience with nor suffered from it. They were jokes that seemed to fit the group culture, but looking back at it they were harmful behaviors. I carry them with me as a reminder of how easily and how quickly we can all fall into harmful behaviors that we, with age, experience, and wisdom can recognize as problematic. I don’t blame them or myself but I do regret having done that.
As time went on, I learned and grew, and also met a new set of people in uni that I admire much to this day. They are open and kind people, who are critical and fairminded. With the first group, I started DMing, but it was with this group that I really learned to enjoy DMing my own material. We explored new types of RPGs, and sometimes we played to squabble amongst ourselves, sometimes we just did fun crazy stuff, and sometimes we explored difficult subjects together. Roleplaying can be a really healthy thing to do with a group, and I’m happy I got to explore that with them.
Now, as we’re all older, we’ve hung out less and less. One in our group moved to the middle of the country, and I mostly had contact with her through the others. The other two live in the city Tracy and I just left, so it’s trickier to meet up with them quickly. However, a little while back we did start up a new Burning Wheel game (my favorite RPG) with the two latter people. It’s a great way to hang out with people, and sometimes it’s easier to just invite people to a game than to say “Hey, I miss hanging out all the time with you all.”
I’ve been a fan of tabletop roleplaying games for ages. Starting out (like most) with Dungeons & Dragons, through podcasts I discovered quite a few others. Among my all-time favorites are Burning Wheel and Torchbearer. Torchbearer is having a kickstarter for the second edition right now! If you’re interested in tabletop RPG gaming, I recommend you go have a look. You won’t regret it.