The Gold Rush Dungeon

gold rush

In 1848, 16-year-old John Wimmer was playing in a mill-race his father was helping to dig in Coloma, California. Seeing something shining in the freshly dug channel, he reached down and pulled up a nugget of true gold. He ran to his house to show it to his father, and the supervisor, James W. Marshall. Marshall went down to examine the channel, finding more and more gold. Before long, people were traveling from all over the world seeking their fortune in the hills and streams of California. They came by sea. They came by land. They built businesses, won and lost fortunes. Some thrived, some went home empty handed, and some found nothing but their end.

The California Gold Rush is a familiar story for many of us from our history classes (or from being curious as to why there is a football team called “the 49ers”). I think it would also make for an interesting influence on a fantasy-style role-playing game setting. For instance…


Old Man Sutter snapped his whip at the graying oxen pulling his plow. Trudging along behind, head down, he had quit paying attention to his chore long ago. He left the job to his old oxen. When his plow jerked to a stop, he snapped his whip again, never looking up. The old beasts didn’t move. When he did, he saw the plow was stuck against something in the soil. A closer look revealed a stone worked into a large rectangle the size of a man, half buried in the dirt. Another could be found in front of and buried deeper, and then another, and another! Soon, a set of stairs were revealed, leading to an ancient and cavernous fortress buried underneath a field of wheat. Sutter dug out 20 such descending stones until he found a dagger with a pocked and scarred handle, but a blade that still shone. He ran to town to show it off, and came back to find nothing but the bones of his oxen where he left the beasts strapped to the plow - and very much alive.

Sutter’s Sunken Fortress is full of fantastic monsters and magical treasure from before. In no time, adventurers will come from far and wide, by land and sea. They will build businesses, win and lose fortunes, thrive - or die. Those adventurers wishing to gain some of the treasures of the great halls and caverns come to the nearby boomtown, where they can stock up on supplies and various wares they’ll need to traverse the dark below. They’ll find allies, form parties, and head into the dungeon for a day or two at a time, returning to the boomtown to rest, reload, and reform new parties. New adventurers are arriving in the boomtown all the time. Frankly, adventurers leave to find their fortune never to return just as often.

With this nugget (haha) of inspiration, I want to run an open table-style game, and I want YOU to join me ⚔. Never played a tabletop RPG and want to try it? Played long ago and want to get back in without making a commitment? Play, but want to play more often? Simply want to be a part of the gold rush? Email me!⚔ . An open table game is a tabletop role-playing game in which any player is welcome at any given session, as opposed to the traditional model of building a party at the beginning of a campaign that sticks together for months, or years. For instance, one night, I might act as Game Master for Dave, Dave, Tyler, and Matt. A few weeks later, it might be Chris, Dave, Corin, and Darren. A few weeks later, NO DAVES. Can you imagine? No Daves!

The truth is the open table concept is a classic. As Justin Alexander discusses in his post about opening his table, kids in the 80s were doing this regularly. At the lunch table in the cafeteria. Study hall. After school at a friend’s house. Throw the book to whoever’s turn it is as GM, grab one of your character sheets, have at it. Remember being a kid, and not caring about how you were supposed to play? I miss that feeling, and I missed gaming in the 80s altogether.

Of course, there’s good and bad, here. Likely, there won’t be an overarching story line, nor will there be deep character development or relationship building. I love those three things! I can keep running a couple long-running campaigns to scratch that itch.

I think the good is overwhelming, though: The schedule can vary widely - 9p to 1a one night, right after work on a weekday, Sunday morning some time, etc. New players can test the waters easily without making a commitment to a campaign that could last months (or years!). Players can try several different characters. Druid today, Wizard in a couple weeks. Play a new one every time! We can try out weird party compositions - all-paladin dungeon inquisitions? A bunch of snobby, scholarly wizards? Whatever! With a list of potential players, I can get in extra gaming as I feel the urge by simply emailing the list and requesting 4 people join. We could even have guest GMs, or rotating GMs! (I could play some, too! Whee!)

Never played a tabletop RPG and want to try it? Played long ago and want to get back in without making a commitment? Play, but want to play more often? Simply want to be a part of the gold rush? Email me!⚔

(Done something like this before? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Email me.)

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⚔: I might do some of these as online-only games, via some sort of video-enabled chat thing. Still: To play, being near Indianapolis, or at least someone I know, is a requirement.