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In Defense of the Funhouse Dungeon

I love “Funhouse Dungeons”.

There. I’ve said it.

So called “Funhouse Dungeons” are the Marmite of the RPG world. Most people either love them or hate them. Personally I love them. They are, after all, the kind of Dungeons I grew up DMing and delving in.

I recently posted about the great experiences I had running White Plume Mountain in 5th Edition. It was a great experience as a DM, although my players breezed through it fairly unscathed. The diversity of the encounters was refreshing and got the characters thinking more about situations because no longer did a trap, a room or a puzzle have to make logical sense in it’s surroundings.

The recent trend towards campaign books, particularly in 5e, is great in the sense that they provide fantastical, epic storylines for DMs to immerse their players in. Stories where the world, the NPCs and the events within make narrative sense and tie back to the BBEG’s motives. However, sometime I long for a simpler time where evil antagonists were just evil. A time where a room full of Orc guards could quite reasonably reside in their guardroom next door to a water-filled room full of sharks, without the DM having to wonder how they interacted with one another when the players weren’t around.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has done a great job of bringing the Funhouse Dungeon to life again, with it’s stand-alone adventures, complete with their Gygaxian brutality. The trademark “Funnel” in particular goes even further than the brutality of 1e and B/X era meatgrinder dungeons.

It’s not a genre that I would run constantly with my players as there is no narrative cohesion, but for a one-shot or for a brief detour in an otherwise serious campaign, Funhouse Dungeons can make for some light relief and keep your players on their toes. Nothing is as expected. What is old is new again.

Delve, delve, delve. Back to the days when delving was a thing. Back to the days when you got a buzz from that orange covered Tunnels and Trolls rulebook and Grimtooth’s Traps. Relive the days of poring over those 1e modules with their evocative image panels on the front cover.

You owe it to yourself.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

5 thoughts on “In Defense of the Funhouse Dungeon Leave a comment

  1. I love these styles of adventures. I agree, they’re not great from a sensible story sense, but they allow for things that you’re never going to find a good story reason for anyways (what kind of sensible person locks doors with riddles instead of a key, or guards treasure with lava-breathing sharks instead of normal guards, anyways?).

    I was unfamiliar with Dungeon Crawls Classics. It looks like fun, too. I might have to find it.

    Great discussion. I’d love to hear more about the kinds of things you like to include in your Funhouse Dungeons.


    • Hey. Thanks for the comment. I love a funhouse dungeon. I’m currently waiting to take delivery of “Into the Borderlands”, the remake of Keep on the Borderlands. The Caves of Chaos part of that, while not a classic funhouse dungeon, has elements of it.

      Dungeon Crawl Classics is great, particularly the quality of the adventures you can get for it which are super-evocative of those funhouse times. It’s very table heavy though, especially spellcasting, although not in the way something like Pathfinder is. Most spell rolls in DCC result in interesting colour and narrative rather than just being mechanical.

      Jeff Stevens’ “The Throne of Bone” is a modern day funhouse which I picked up and ran recently from DMs Guild. It is very nice if a little underpowered.–Adventure


  2. Oh man – now this is a trip down memory lane. When I was 7, my Dad introduced me to AD&D and we used to always do one-shots and funhouse dungeons. Now I’m an adult, I run 5E campaigns and yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. It can be a more serious game.

    I miss funhouse gauntlets. Thanks for reminding me of them…I may have to put one together…


    • These were always my favourite kind of Dungeon. Probably just because that’s the way people homebrewed Dungeons back when I was 12. They didn’t yet have the maturity to create coherent, consistent narrative. Then again, a lot of the official releases were the same. I don’t long for old school rules per se (although I do have a liking for Dungeon Crawl Classics). I’ve no interest in Magic Users with a single spell and 3 hit points. What I do have a hankering for from time to time is old school, unapologetic, disjointed narrative Dungeons.

      Liked by 1 person

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