Minicon and the Minneapolis Dungeon

The Minicon blimpThe “Minneapolis Ties to Gaming” panel that I mentioned before went pretty well. We went through local gaming history pretty much chronologically, starting with boardgames published in the area nearly 100 years ago and ending with the potential future of gaming, as it’s being created here.

We addressed the local genesis of RPGs, including in-world Diplomacy play reports, Braunsteins, Dave Arneson’s innovations and other threads that led to Chainmail and D&D. There were asides about what exactly a Braunstein is, references to Playing at the World and discussion of various influential and innovative RPGs and RPG products published in the Twin Cities (Tekumel, Ars Magica, Whimsy Cards, Dread, Chronica Feudalis, Heirs to the Lost World and more). We talked about Fantasy Flight Games, one of the biggest and most enduring game companies, and based in the Twin Cities. We talked about local authors who got their starts writing RPGs (Steve Brust, Pat Wrede and others), prompting me to remark that, when people say it’s impossible to do well by writing up your RPG campaigns, I’ve grown up thinking it’s impossible not to do well! I managed to work in references to Chirine’s upcoming Tekumel Braunstein game, and we gave Tekumel a few good minutes of general discussion. We finished with a discussion of Fantasy Flight’s innovations (integrating computers into games, in particular) and how the future of gaming might be created here. The panel ranged wide and far, probably a necessity when there’s so much history around here.

In particular, we talked about the Minneapolis Dungeon, a game I’d only heard a few hints about. It looks (from searching) like Playing at the World doesn’t mention the Minneapolis Dungeon, but the blog for the book does. (Edit: As pointed out by Mr. Peterson in the comments below, his book does mention the Minneapolis Dungeon, just not using that specific phrase.) In that post, Peterson describes the publishing history of Craig van Grasstek’s Rules to the Game of Dungeon. But he doesn’t talk much more about what happened outside of publishing, nor what those games were like. (To summarize his points and those that came up in the panel: the Minneapolis Dungeon was created when Blue Petal decided to run something similar to D&D, but without D&D rules or dice. Other people started GMing it, too, and it took on a life of its own. It eventually got mostly supplanted by other games in local popularity, but no game ever dies.)

We discussed this a bit more during the panel, and later that night, one of the original Minneapolis Dungeon GMs ran a session of it. It was certainly interesting from an anthropological/historical point of view to see how the game went. Everyone got to choose a special power for their character, and all resolution was (it appeared) via 2d6. It also looked very close to freeform, with a lot of GM interpretation required to decide how a given action worked. And it seemed that a good portion of the time, the GM was deciding what happened with little input from the players, and that the GM was consulting his own records without letting the PCs know what was going on. In other words, it seemed very freeform but also very railroady and subject to GM caveat. Freeform can be great, but GM caveat is not my playstyle. So, probably not something I’d enjoy very much.

Still, it’s good to have seen what the Minneapolis Dungeon is like. I feel like I’ve got that extra piece of the puzzle now.


Minicon and the Minneapolis Dungeon — 16 Comments

  1. That “Playing at the World” book does indeed cover Minneaplis Dungeon extensively, and what the games were like, in Section 5.1. Mostly it is discussed under the name “Castle Keep” that Blue Petal originally applied to the game.

  2. Just curious about what kind of player input you would have like to have seen? What made it “railroad” to you? How could it have been more sandbox or narrativist? I’d like to hear your ideas about that!

    I was struck by the fact that the GM allowed each player to choose a freeform power. Not sure if that was part of the OMD, but I don’t recall that every happening in any D&D game I ran or played in back in the day. I thought that was a pretty cool bit!

    • I guess the railroadiness was mostly about the level of GM caveat, to me. The player input seemed limited to “I’m going to try to hit the giant weasel” (or whatever), with the GM often rolling the dice, then deciding and describing the outcome. And it seemed that the GM was supposed to try pretty hard to kill the PCs.

      How to improve that? Well, by playing Blade & Crown of course! Or playing some other game. Less flippantly: I don’t know Minneapolis Dungeon well enough to suggest how it could be altered, but I also don’t think it’s my preferred play-style, so I’d rather just find a different game than try to rework it.

      The freeform powers seem to feed into, or derive from, Minneapolis silliness. On another panel I saw this past weekend, folks from different places around North America discussed what distinguishes Minneapolis fandom from other regional groups, and a love of silliness was one of them. As Playing at the World notes (thank to Jon Peterson for pointing it out), the PCs might buy and use Lysol or bubble gum (p. 1040), and in Saturday’s scenario they faced a giant weasel. Those all seem related, to me.

    • I remember reading an article in the early 80s about a group playing Minneapolis Dungeon set in the world of Xanth. Each person living in Xanth has a single magical power. So it seems that this idea comes from there.

      • Certainly seems possible! I don’t know enough about either Xanth or the evolution of Minneapolis Dungeon to say. Maybe Jon Peterson can research this! 🙂

  3. Yes, and I think there is a pretty strong Arnesonian thread within the silliness. Jeff Berry has described some of the goofiness of the original Blackmoor, with holy water fire houses and Elven bangsticks!

    I was so busy drawing my giant weasel mise en scene based on the story that I wasn’t paying too much attention to the blow-by-blow. The GM’s narration of scrying spell results did inspire me to create the Eye of Vague Auguries though. 🙂

  4. Thanks for the report! Working Sundays and having to miss things like this gets old, but I have to pay for the games somehow! Hopefully, you got a chance to play with Richard; he’s still the best!

    [Historical Footnote: The ‘railroadness’ of Mn-Stf Dungeon comes from none of us knowing how to run a game, way back when, so we just faked it. And the 2D6 comes from D6 being what we could get! :)]

    It’s very kind of you to mention my game in June, too! Thanks!

    yours, Chirine

    • Seems like the railroadiness is due to GM style… I could see different GMs doing it differently, regardless of era. And using 2d6 is no problem at all — sorry if I came across as disapproving of that.

    • As I understand it, Minneapolis Dungeon has always been a homebrew kind of thing, with different GMs having their own rules and innovations. No standardization, which means no publication.

      I bet that some of the Minneapolis Dungeon GMs would be willing to let someone look at their notes and rules, but I’m not sure what the best way to contact them would be.

    • Have you seen Jon Peterson’s fairly recent article about the game? Craig VanGrasstek has provided a written copy of his version of the rules, which Peterson has typed into a downloadable PDF. Sounds like just what you’re looking for.

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