Deep Druids, Pt. 1: Lenses
Now that Halaster’s Old School Guide to Undermountain is done, I need a new thing! I’ve been looking forward to doing a regular little dungeon – I’m thinking about half the size of your average DotMM level. The Deep Druids from my Undermountain expansion have really captured my heart and I’d love to give them a home.
In thinking about how to do a good dungeon, I’ve landed on the concept of taking the same dungeon and looking at it from a bunch of different, but complementing angles. So here’s what I got!
The Accountant’s View
Kind of an obvious one. All the numbers gotta add up! Not everybody does this though and you end up with weird lopsided dungeons.
- Figure out how much XP your dungeon’s supposed to contain (I’m thinking “half a DotMM level” so a quarter of the total XP required to level up).
- Make sure your encounters are all between easy-deadly.
- Sprinkle in the recommended amount of treasure.
- And magic items too!
- You’ll want the D&D recommended ratio of tricks and traps in your dungeon as well.
The Map Builder’s View
From this article. Not all of these are relevant to a dungeon of the size I’m planning, but most are!
- Multiple entrances
- Multiple level connections
- Discontinuous level connections
- Secret and unusual paths
- Divided levels
- Nested dungeons
- Minor elevation shifts
- Midpoint entry
- Non-euclidian geometry
- Extradimensional spaces
The Highlight Reel View
- Something to steal
- Something to be killed
- Something to kill you
- Different paths
- Someone to talk to
- Something to experiment with
- Something the players probably won’t find
The Complex Scenario View
- Add ~8 simple factions, goals, or quests
- Combine each pair until you have 4 more interesting quests
- Combine into two very interesting quests
- Combine into a final, extremely interesting quest
The Volatile NPC View
From this article, all about creating volatile situations through NPCs.
- Add NPCs/villains that have:
- A motive
- 1-3 means to realize their ambition
- And a defined “opportunity” that the NPC is awaiting to use their means in order to accomplish their motive
The Combat View
- A Bunch of Creatures (tactics, goals, strategies)
- A Battlefield Around the Combatants
- A Battle’s Character (its flavor)
The Playable-At-The-Table View
As hammered down consistently by Bryce. He keeps teasing this book of his and even shares a preview on the forums, but for now, let’s use the slightly out-of-date Review Standards.
- An overland portion to the adventure is nice, but not required.
- Wandering monster tables are generally required.
- Wandering monsters should have a PURPOSE in wandering around. Patrolling, looking for food, etc.
- Dungeon maps should have lots of ‘loops.’ Linear dungeons are not a good thing.
- If you have multiple levels, and you should then there should be multiple ways to get between the two levels.
- Weird and unique magic items are a good thing. “Sword +1” is not.
- Tricks & traps are a great thing! Make sure there’s some evidence of them if the party is looking.
- Boxed text is usually not a good thing.
- Dungeons should have a good quantity of empty rooms and some unguarded treasure.
- Evocative atmosphere.
- Terse writing style
- Pools/statues/etc that do strange things.
- Non-standard monsters.
- Foreshadowing of the main villain.
- Order of battle for humanoids getting help.
- Lots of vermin, animals, ooze, undead type things in dungeons.
- Go light on the humanoids, or even replace them with normal bandits, etc.
- Removing player ability/options is seldom a good thing.
- Monsters should be doing something, not just always sleeping/guarding.
- Factions are very nice to have. It allows for an expanded opportunity to role-play in the dungeon.
All Dead Generation’s View
Gus has recently done a blog about this stuff as well!
- Avoid linear maps.
- Consider the size and scope.
- Place multiple entrances and exits, especially if the dungeon is larger.
- Verticality is a traditional way to break up regions or “Levels”, but multi-level rooms and oddly shaped rooms are best used sparingly.
- Symmetry is risky
- The map of your dungeon should have an internal logic.
- Use rumors and hooks.
- Build evidence and background stories into the location descriptions.
- History defines the appearance of a location.
- Murals, carvings, graffiti, and detritus encourage player investigation.
- History and background stories help make the goals and attitudes of a location’s inhabitants more plausible and transparent.
- Consider the locations of faction food and water source and waste disposal.
- Not everything needs to make ecological sense but everything should have a place within the larger ‘ecology’ of the location.
- Define the leadership, goals, and concerns of each faction.
- A faction leader or other NPC doesn’t need a lot of detail to come alive.
- Create an “order of battle”.
- Don’t feel bound by existing monster/spell/item descriptions.
- Random encounters and random encounter tables are a key to dungeon design.
- Beware of formalism.
- Don’t use ‘read aloud’ boxed text.
- Start your description with the most important things in the space.
- Be as concise as you can.
- The details you can include should be evocative and inspire the Game Master to fill in what’s missing.
- Describe what’s in the room, not what it used to be.
- Describe a space, not the characters exploring it.
- Describe a space, not a scene.
- Include senses other than sight when providing descriptions.
- Make your rooms interactive.
- Beware of minimalism.
- Use a consistent tone and style of language.