I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts about dungeon design, and I’d recommend this one: http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/13085/roleplaying-games/jaquaying-the-dungeon
I’m beginning to find a renewed interest in prep (which is quite interesting actually, as I used to hate it…), more specifically in dungeon creation, as I feel that good dungeons are tough to improvise.
A good dungeon in my mind has many “choice points” and very few “choke points”, meaning that there must be many ways to where you want to go, and very few mandatory rooms/corridors, if any.
When I improvise, I feel that adding these choices are redundant, because there’s no real choice; whatever way they go, I’ll just put in the features that springs to mind. So there’s no real choice involved, unless the players demands foreshadowing of some sort. In other words, it because a dungeon where the players “always turn right”, even if they go left. If you know what I mean.
So, in that regard, I’m going to make a dungeon with multiple levels, using the guidelines for a good “jaquayed” dungeon (as explained in the link), but to fit the DW paradigm, I’m going to make the vast majority of rooms pseudo-empty.
I know myself to be a guy that starts up a lot of projects and rarely pulls through on any of them, so tonight I’m going to take my first shot at building a proper DW dungeon.
Might even ask for a crew to run through it later, could be pretty damn fun 🙂
19 thoughts on “I’ve been reading a lot of blog posts about dungeon design, and I’d recommend this one:…”
This is a great blog!
It seems to be, yes! I only read this four part series.
Thanks for sharing. It looks quite good so far.
It’s probably my favorite RPG blog. Go look for “node-based design” (there are two series) and “don’t prep plot” (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/4147/roleplaying-games/dont-prep-plots).
Hello Kasper. Here is my blog post about dungeon design: http://socratesrpg.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-do-i-design-dungeon.html
That’s an interesting take on how planning vs improvising affects choice.
Now, I can see where you’re coming from, but I have to say that I generally don’t consider the direction one takes in a dungeon to be a significant choice. Real choices are the ones that change PCs or the world around them.
When I improvise, I nearly always (1) use some kind of randomized method to generate content (like “dungeons as monsters” from Dark Heart) and (2) roll for the next rooms before the players enter, so they can look/listen and decide which direction to go. Real choices are important!
Larry Spiel In a hardcore dungeon delving campaign, choosing direction can be tremendously important, I figure. Without foreshadowing or ways of knowing what’s to come in different directions, it gets stale quickly though.
Kasper Brohus if that’s how you’re running it then, does have the dungeon pre-planned vs improvising make a difference then?
I’ll admit – I don’t do dungeon crawls. But I find the subject of your question interesting.
Larry Spiel In a perfect world, where my brain had an endless, ever flowing stream of ideas, where I would never be caught off guard, and I could improvise everything, every time, every where, then there wouldn’t be any difference between purely improvised dungeons and pre-constructed dungeons. Sadly however, I’m not that capable 😉
Note that I rote “pre-constructed” and not “pre-planned”, because I’ll utilize a lot of the draw maps, leave blanks principle. It is also more of a question about avoiding the arbitrariness of pure improv.
Larry Spiel To make it clear, I’m doing it to 1) ease the burden during play and 2) have fun drawing some maps. 🙂
so, is the common opinion here that total improvisation, especially in dungeon design, somewhat detracts from player choice?
Alessandro Gianni I didn’t mean to give that impression, I’m just bad at foreshadowing and giving choices.
If there’s two doors and I ask them to pick one, then it’s not a real choice, as the characters can’t know what’s behind either one.
One the other had, If I say that there’s a long trail of blood leading to one, and that the other doors seems to be nailed shut, then there is; there’s probably monsters behind the first, and someone wants to keep people out (or in) behind the latter.
That’s what I mean by foreshadowing.
In a pre-constructed dungeon then even without foreshadowing, either choice a gamble, but the result is not arbitrary.
There should be foreshadowing anyway, because otherwise it would feel arbitrary. The players might need to search for the clues though.
I don’t know, I somewhat see the focus of a player’s choice on what does he do in a given situation. Like, “you find yourself in the hall of sacrifices, four cultists praying to a demon-god’s statue, and your father standing in the middle of the circle with a knife in one hand and your baby brother in the other one! What do you do?”
edit: I expand a little bit: it’s not about discovering things. I’m probably taking this straight from dogs in a vineyard, but who cares about actual investigation? I want the characters to find themselves in all those crazy, intense situations, so I just throw them to the party, and THEN we will see where the choice lies.
Alessandro Gianni If exploring dungeons is what the campaign is about, then the definition of what choices “are about” differs a lot from investigation based campaigns.
Kasper Brohus I just had the most insightful of insights about how different can be the principle of filling the characters’ lives with adventure and the agenda of being a fan of the characters from group to group. I will meditate a lot about this.
Kasper Brohus I’ve got a few articles series on my blog influenced or inspired in part by Justin Alexander’s work at The Alexandrian.
http://www.kjd-imc.org/hall-of-fame/setting-design/campaign-and-scenario-design/ is a good landing page, http://www.kjd-imc.org/hall-of-fame/setting-design/node-based-megadungeon/ is another good landing page covering a specific application of the same principles (building a megadungeon in a node-wise manner, including nonlinear navigation).
I find it useful to remember that there are two different types of meaningful geographic choice that can happen in a dungeon.
First, there’s the type most people talk about: Selecting which encounter you’re going to face next.
In many cases this is, in fact, a random number generator: If you have nothing to distinguish between the choices, you might as well flip a coin. There are ways to deal with that and it’s probably a good idea to explore them: Foreshadowing. Prisoner interrogation. Rumor tables. Even the mechanics of the Arnesonian megadungeon (where, for example, lower levels are always more difficult so you always have a meaningful choice when confronted with the option of going down or continuing to explore the current level).
In terms of improvising dungeons, you can maintain the integrity of this first type of geographic choice by always improvising at least one step ahead. For example, when they enter a room and you say “there are two doors” don’t wait for them to choose a door before making the decision about what lies behind each door.
With all that being said, it can be difficult to consistently avoid the “random number generator” here. And, in my opinion, that’s OK because this is not the most interesting type of meaningful geographic choice in a dungeon environment. THAT choice happens when you re-visit known terrain.
See, the first pass through a given chunk of dungeon is like the legwork in Shadowrun: You’re gathering information. You may not know how this information is going to be useful yet, but the more you can learn the better off you’ll be when it comes time to run the “heist”.
The heist, in this case, can take a lot of different forms.
For example, it’ll probably start small: “I think if we go this way, we’ll hook back up to these rooms we explored earlier. Or we can go down these stairs and go into completely virgin territory. Whaddya think?”
But it can escalate fast:
“Oh shit! We’ve pissed off the dark elves! Do we make a straight race for the surface? Do we try to lead them into an ambush amidst the grotto of dinosaur bones? Or do we try to hide out in that secret crypt we found?”
“Doubling back you discover a warband of ogres and orcs have moved into the cavern. It sounds like they’re heading for the surface. Do you try to sneak around through those side passages and warn your friends? Or just stay here where you’ll be safe?”
“Okay, we’ve made an alliance with the goblins. They’re saying they can help us secure the eastern stairs so that we’ll have a secure line of retreat when we fight those feral vampires down on level 3, but we’d need to pay them some sort of tribute.”
One of the key aspects to this second type of choice is to break away from the idea of room = encounter. In fact, it’s most useful to break away from the “encounter” mindset almost entirely. The dungeon has to be a strategic landscape and not just a collection of disconnected tactical challenges.
What can really emphasize this sort of thing is any dungeon complex large enough that the PCs will be visiting it multiple times. (Assuming, of course, that the situation in the dungeon changes and grows organically between visits.)
“Well, it looks like they’ve built barricades the main hall. Do we send a magical missive to our goblin allies and try to coordinate a simultaneous asault on their flank? Or do we try to slip through the fungal arboretum and just circle around them?”
It’s in this second level of meaningful choice that jaquaying the dungeon becomes particularly useful. Without the tapestry of interconnetions it provides it becomes much more difficult (or impossible) for these kinds of choices to evolve: In a linear dungeon, the bad guys have fortified the main hall and… well, that’s it. You can’t sneak around. And they must have trashed your goblin allies when they came through them. It reduces a rich strategic choice into a boring tactical one.
Tuckers kobolds is a fantastic read.
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