Recently in a discussion, the topic came up of whether or not the “dungeon” still had its place. Here’s what I think.
The game wouldn’t live up to its name without at least some dungeons and some dragons. I think the very point of the game is that the player characters step into an enclosed realm of monsters in an event that becomes progressively less like the safe world they know, culminating in the greatest challenge they’ve ever faced together, and all in the name of wealth, fame or justice.
It’s exciting, interesting and it lets you be a hero, a hero whose heroic potential increases each time he performs an act of heroism. The dungeon is the basis of “where the adventure is” and is a place that is heroic to enter at all, while the dragon is the epitome of a final boss fight, providing a massive challenge and massive reward.
I think that once players get used to the game, they begin to want some reason to their dungeon – if it has no reason, then the players will find the underlying reason, “It was made up and placed here to give us something to do.” If that happens, the dungeon goes from a heroic adventure to a simulacrum of one, a series of randomly generated straw dummies held together by excuses. That’s not heroic – it’s dull and predetermined.