Monday, 14 October 2013
Dungeon Crawl Classics: Short Story or Novel?
Well, there is certainly some truth to the idea that many of the Appendix N authors wrote primarily short fiction, as they were writing for the pulps. Robert E. Howard, for example, wrote primarily short stories. There is only one Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, and his planetary adventure novel, Almuric, seems to make up the list of Howard's longer fantasy. Fritz Leiber, of course, wrote short stories that sometimes strung together into longer plots. H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth were also primarily short story writers. For Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath are notable exceptions. The Lurker at the Threshold was completed by August Derleth from a Lovecraft fragment.
(Manly Wade Wellman went on to write five "John the Balladeer" novels, of which I have managed to obtain The Old Gods Waken and After Dark, the first two. When one compares that to the short stories, which can be collected in a single book, one has to wonder in this case whether it is fair to say Wellman is writing primarily short stories or novels with this character.)
If we examine Appendix N, 22 specific books are recommended and 13 specific series. Of the 22 books, 20 are novels and 2 are collections of short stories. Of the 13 series, 4 may be considered series of short stories, although I would argue that the listed series of Gardner Fox are novels that were published serially, and that the "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series by Fritz Leiber in places comes close to being the same.
The megadungeon model does not require that each session revolve around the megadungeon, but merely that it always be part of the background in the event that the players are looking for something to have their PCs do. It is a convenient resource to allow the players to choose their own course - if they absolutely refuse to follow rumours and plot hooks to Hirot, they can choose to explore westward into the Great Ruins of Thereitis.
While many believe that the megadungeon was invented by J.R.R.T.'s vast ruins of Moria, or the halls of Thror under the Lonely Mountain, one can discover vast underground tunnels and ruins in the writing of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gardner Fox, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Margaret St. Clair. Vast ruins (including underground ruins of many levels) also feature in Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey.
Like it or not, the vast ruin, and the network of underground tunnels, are as Appendix N as any other aspect of gaming. Likewise, novels are at least as influential as short stories in Appendix N fiction. As a consequence, the megadungeon is an apt fixture in many (but not all) Dungeon Crawl Classics campaigns. It provides a place for the PCs to explore, it allows the players to make meaningful decisions about what quests to undertake, and it gives the judge a place to locate lost civilizations, forbidden magic, and all of that goodness that puts the "dungeon crawl" into "Dungeon Crawl Classics".