The Dungeon Delve and the Three Act Play

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11 Responses

  1. RisusMonkey says:

    Great post. Add an action-packed teaser before Act I and you have a nice cinematic structure that reflects certain movies and TV shows (Indy, Bond, and Buffy come to mind).

  2. Mark says:

    I’ve found, when using the Delve format, that each section has to amp up from the last encounter. For example:
    Encounter 1: Kobolds
    Encounter 2: Lizard Men
    Encounter 3: Dragon!

    Also, increasing the complexity of each can be pretty cool.

    • greywulf says:

      Another alternative is to make the second scene the toughest. Give that scene the highest XP allocation or set it in a particularly challenging environment with loads of difficult terrain (and an in-situ skill challenge) to keep the players on their toes.

      For example, the second scene could be set in a high-impenetrable jungle with the PCs fighting against Dinosaur Behemoth Brutes while struggling against wandering vines (Skill Challenge!).

      This opens up the Third Challenge to feature a load of Minions and a powerful Elite Controller (a Dinomancer and a horde of Lizardmen, say) – always a satisfying end to a game session, without necessarily having to ramp up the XP.

  3. Elton says:

    Actually, Greywulf, a real story has four acts. The introduction of the story (Act I), Escalation (Act II), Climax (Act III), and Denoument (Act IV). I’ve been running my adventures with this sort of structure for a while.

    I’m writing my adventure — the Blood Challenge — with this sort of structure. That’s why the Bard’s plays have four acts. According to Story Mind theory, a story is what the human mind plays out to solve a problem. When you run an adventure for the PCs, you present a problem (the Dragon has kidnapped the Princess), which the PCs must solve (Once upon a time there was a hero, who saved the beautiful princess). They solve the problem, you explain its effects.

    That’s what DMing is. :) Sorry about lecturing you.

    • greywulf says:

      Not so. A play can have a variety of number of Acts, and each style has different merits. these range from the One Act play all the way to the Five Act play, and beyond. A “real story” can have any number of them, depending on the needs and literary style of the script writer.

      In this context though, I was looking at the Three Act Play as it applies to the Delve format, and in that style the Dénouement is included as a part of the Third Act after the Climax rather than being treated as a distinct act all of its own.

  4. When following the 3 act formula, I like to also include Chekhov’s gun – introducing something that seems unimportant fluff in the first act that becomes critical in the third act.

    • greywulf says:

      I made a cheese sculpture of Chekhov’s gun once, but it went off.

      Good point, well made – I must remember to put more unimportant fluff in my games :)

  5. OnlineDM says:

    Excellent post! I run a lot of delves – they’re called Living Forgotten Realms adventures – and I like the three act play mindset to give the narrative some structure.

  6. David says:

    I think the best part of this post was this – “I’d much rather my players be able say “between second and third level we cleared out The Broken Tower, an Orc Stronghold, revisited Coppernight Hold, walked the Lizard Swamps and the Foetid Pits then started our assault on Tomb of the Tiefling Empress” than say “second and third level? First half of Thunderspire Labyrinth”.

    That seems way more interesting, and not only do I want my players to be able to say that I want to be able to say “I ran my players through the…” not, “Oh, we’re still doing Keep on the Shadowfell”

  1. January 9, 2011

    [...] The Dungeon Delve and the Three Act Play from Greywulf’s Lair ” RPG (greywulf.net) [...]

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