Deep Druids, Pt. 1: Lenses

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
  • Loops
  • Multiple level connections
  • Discontinuous level connections
  • Secret and unusual paths
  • Sub-levels
  • Divided levels
  • Nested dungeons
  • Minor elevation shifts
  • Midpoint entry
  • Non-euclidian geometry
  • Extradimensional spaces
  • Structure
  • Landmarks

The Highlight Reel View

From this article, now reprinted here.


  • 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

From here.


  • 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

Angry looks at individual combat encounters and has some solid advice here (part 2, part 3)


  • 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.


Next: brainstorming





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