The larp dungeon crawl


I helped crew a larp dungeon crawl yesterday.

Embers: Paths of the Maker was a day-game in the Embers campaign, about the entry (and ransacking… er… “study”) of one of the citadels of the lost gods. The sort of thing that in a tabletop game would be a classic dungeon crawl, with monsters, traps, puzzles, and secrets. And from the crew side, that’s exactly what it looked like. The GM’s had a dungeon map, and pre-planned rooms full of dungeon-crawl goodness. A setup trick - a copy of the map, NPCs who did some initial exploring and filled bits of it in, and other NPCs who could be helpful dungeon guides - allowed them to pace the game and limit the options available to the PCs, while giving them agency (the PCs were making choices about where to explore from their HQ). They had five or six of these “paths”, opened in groups of two, with (I think) information recovered in early rooms unlocking the later ones.

From a crew POV, the GMs could say “right, they’re going this way, we’ll set up this sequence of rooms”. Conveniently, we also had a venue which allowed a sequence of rooms, rather than having to use the “elevator” method (in which one room is set-dressed for an encounter while the PCs wait in the “elevator” / navigate the maze of twisty-turny passages). And we were well-briefing, with handouts, so we could just be sent on our way and left to it.

Naturally, the players split up, which meant having to handle a few things at once with a small crew, but it worked overall, and people seemed to have fun.

This (and some online discussion a few weeks ago) has got me thinking about ways to handle this sort of game. Any suggestions?


I’m not sure what you’re asking, I think. Were there any specific problems or challenges that came up during the dungeon crawl you crewed? Something that went wrong that you’d want to prevent in the future?


Nope - the game ran well and nothing seemed to go wrong. Its more a general request for information on a type of game we don’t see a lot of in Wellington and for this there’s some explicit demand.


Ah well, in that case…

I’d start with locking down the venue if I were to try and organise something like that. It’ll determine what I can and cannot do in general terms.

I’d approach the next stage in the same way that I’d design a P&P dungeon, I think. What are the rooms and what’s in them? How do my players go through them - linear progression, multiple parallel paths, areas with chokepoints?

What is the purpose of my players exploring the dungeon? Do they want to find treasure? Information? Kill the monsters? Save someone or find someone to interact with them? Simply survive and get out?

There are different types of obstacles the players could encounter as well. Riddles and traps make the dungeon feel more puzzle-based, monsters and NPCs add to the atmosphere.

If at all possible, I’d use every kind of strange, unusual and creative light source in my set dressing that I can find. It adds to the atmosphere immensely.

Find more NPCs than PCs if you’re doing a survival-themed one. I’ve been crew in a couple of zombie survival events (not dungeon based ones) where this was the case and it was awesome for both sides.

This post is getting a bit long so I’ll stop the brainstorming here. But I’d love to be involved if you’re planning anything specific!


The most important thing for me with this game were the existing character relationships and interactions. I suspect it would be a little harder to pull of the same sort of game as a one-off, unless you spent a bunch of time writing the usual theatre form relationship conflicts. Which seems like it might be double the effort of a normal theatre form? I wonder if you could do this in the vein of Hydra games and have people bring characters from other games…?


@Ryan_Paddy did one at Chimera many years ago - “Forgotten Gods”, set in Robert E Howard’s Hyboria and using themes from the Conan stories. It had pre-written, theatreform-style characters, split into a number of groups, who then wandered round Motu Moana getting into trouble with one another. Despite some implementation problems, it was great fun.

ATM there’s a definite demand in the Wellington market for short-form live combat (but also a hell of a lot of other games wanting those calendar slots). It may be easier just to do it as a campaign like Kingdom. Even an explicitly-labelled one-off will result in an expectation of a campaign, and that expectation is a big reason why I just don’t wan tot go near organising this sort of game (it would distract me too much from the sorts of games I like organising).


I wouldn’t give the players pre-generated characters for something like this at all. At most, I’d give them an archetype to play but maybe not even that. These games are very much party vs. environment so any conflict within the party should come out of how the archetypes react to the environment they’re dumped into. And I’ll (almost! :wink: ) guarantee you that it’ll happen pretty much by itself if you’ve got even half-decent players.

You’d need to tell them what genre it is, of course. Costumes and weapons for high fantasy look very different from those in a zombie scenario…

I disagree with the expectation of a campaign if the game is explicitly labelled as a one-off, though. Surely all you need to do is stand your ground when asked?


You’d think that, but it won’t stop people from asking or expecting. Or just expecting me to do another one in the same style, which is the same sort of hassle.

(For context, I currently run about 8 theatre-style games a year, which is quite enough to keep me busy).


I’ve played with a couple of pregen larp dungeon concepts a while back. Both would use a hall venue, and they wouldn’t involve traversing a dungeon. Instead, they put players in a core room in the dungeon and have things come to them.

  1. An underground dwarven kingdom has been overrun by monsters, and the surviving dwarves have barricaded themselves in a hall deep below the ground. The waves of monster attacks are overwhelming, so the dwarves must find a way to save their home and themselves that involves more than just fighting. They are barricaded in a treasure room of ancient magical artefacts, which they must figure out how to use in order to defeat the hordes.

  2. Dungeon Dark: A party of adventurers has completed a dungeon, and are now in its deepest hall. Here they expected to confront the evil wizard that controls the dungeon, but instead they have found the master’s hall full of magic portals to distant lands. They can’t go through the portals, but things are coming out of them. How can they draw out the wizard, and solve the mystery of what he has been doing with all of these portals, while facing a myriad of strange people and dangerous creatures emerging from the portals?


@Ryan_Paddy Both excellent suggestions! Did they ever go anywhere?


You could do it that way, yes. It would be a very different game than the one that was run last weekend though, and would have a slightly different audience. You’d need to fill the quiet spaces a bit more, as characters would have less of their own drama to sustain themselves.


No, they’re milling around with all the other games I’d like to write and run some day. I think they’d make nice convention games.


Or you could give the players the tools to create that drama, Dungeon World style. There’s some tips on how to do that on Burn After Running, which is focused on tabletop one-shots, but its applicable here:

  • Give pre-gens minimal backgrounds;
  • Ask questions, or give them bonds (e.g.)
  • Give them relationships with NPCs;
  • Offer very simple dilemmas, the players will do the rest;

World That Is effectively used playbook-style character creation, with a few questions for each character archetype which were used to build the setting collaboratively. I think it would be a really useful thing to do in a simple fantasy game.

(Also, speaking of “Burn After Running”, they’ve got some neat stuff about 3-session campaigns as well: part 1; Part 2 )


Asking questions is a very good idea if the players are expected to make the characters up on the spot. At the very least, it will clear up who they’re trying to play in their own minds.

Related to that (and the point about simple dilemmas): one thing I’ve done a number of times when playing myself was just establish, with each other player in the immediate group, if our characters know each other already or not. It sketches out a very simple network of loyalties that can then be used to decide what to do in an unexpected situation.