A dungeon is like a pinball machine

Driving home from running a DCC RPG session, I was noodling about why I love dungeon crawls so much. My usual line of thinking is that I love dungeons because they’re basically sandboxes, and I love sandboxes. With a dungeon, we agree on the boundaries of the sandbox, we discover toys therein, and we play with those toys with unexpected results.

And that’s when a more apt analogy popped into my head: dungeons are like pinball machines.

A pinball machine is a chaotic system with some predictable inputs. You know what will happen when you launch the ball (and how to vary it with your launch strength), and how the flippers work. You can see some of what’s going on, and guess what will happen when you interact with various elements.

But once the ball is introduced, the system springs to life. Chaotic interactions occur. Opportunities arise. Balls are lost. You start to see how things work. Goals hove into view.

Which…sounds a lot like a dungeon, no?

It’s not a perfect analogy — for one thing, you can see the whole pinball machine from the outset, for the most part — but it matches up pretty well.

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