Your party has made its way into a deep, dark dungeon and you’ve discovered that it’s vast indeed, with likely…

Your party has made its way into a deep, dark dungeon and you’ve discovered that it’s vast indeed, with likely…

Your party has made its way into a deep, dark dungeon and you’ve discovered that it’s vast indeed, with likely hundreds of rooms to find and explore. As a GM, how much prep do you like to do in this situation? Create some possible rooms with preplanned descriptions? Make lists of possible monsters? Decide on possible treasures? Design devious traps? Just wing it all the way?

14 thoughts on “Your party has made its way into a deep, dark dungeon and you’ve discovered that it’s vast indeed, with likely…”

  1. Probably make one or two pre-prep room descriptions that are key to the plot and abstract away the rest with custom moves and a “dungeon clock”.

    After all, this is DW, not ACK: the goal isn’t room-by-room dungeoneering, right? Attach your plot-relevant rooms to the clock: let’s say there are two important encounters, one with a key NPC that needs to be met, and one with a “dungeon boss” (though I think those are misplaced in DW, personally).

    We can ensure that PC’s hit the pre-prepped “key NPC room” on the day after their clock hits 6 o’clock, and ensure that they meet the Boss on the day after their clock hits 12. You might also prep plot-relevant “precious”, and plot-relevant “armed encounters,” for when those rolls come up. Don’t prep too much: you don’t know where the PCs will end up, after all.

    Endless Dungeon:

    One player rolls +Wis for every day of searching the endless dungeon. On a 10+, hold 3.

    On a 7-9, hold 1, and there’s a complication.

    On a 6-, still hold 1, but it’s definitely not numbers 2 or 5 (not to say DM has to make trouble with numbers 2 or 5, but players have no chance to preclude it), and there’s a complication.

    Other players can assist this roll, if fictionally justified.

    Spend a hold to:

    1) Not get lost (dungeon clock is advanced by one). (If 1 is not chosen, MC might choose to complicate the PC’s lives by regressing the clock one step. I wouldn’t get carried away with this.)

    2) Disarm and avoid traps during this day’s searching. Otherwise, play out the scene w/ the trap (or else have players roll +DEX to avoid dmg, with partial success or failure indicating an unfortunate outcome. Use something like damaging their stuff or damaging them in fiction, e.g., acid burns on their hands, don’t just deal dmg. Damage is boring; hurt their fictional positioning.)

    3) Find something precious. This can be jewelry or magic items; or it can be something else of value. An NPC? A “monster’s” lost child? A shortcut out?

    4) Find something edible. Don’t consume any rations this day. (If PC’s choose this on a 7-9, they might have a bad trip that night. If they roll a 6, they might find food that ends up leaving them sick all night, and ultimately precluding HP regeneration from making camp, if they ate it. Or the complication can be entirely unrelated to the food.)

    5) Avoid armed encounters, or encounter enemies only in groups small enough to have been easily routed.

    Their rations running out pushes them away from an infinite opportunity to accrue loot via option 3, so you know they’ll push their clock to 12 sooner or later. If you want the dungeon to last for-f’n-ever, change the ration choice to “and replenish 2 rations” or somesuch, and/or make option 1 require spending two hold, depending on whether you want to carrot or stick the PCs out. I recommend carrots, always carrots. Give the PCs the chance to endure /if they want to endure/. Don’t make it hard to leave /if they want to leave/.

    Additionally, the player not choosing 5 doesn’t mean that the MC has to throw an armed encounter, and it doesn’t mean an armed encounter has to end in violence. IT may be another group of people trying to get through the dungeon ahead of the players, to capture something valuable, and they can’t just be run off. It may be a group of “monsters” scouring the hallways looking for a missing child (look back to “find something precious”.)

    edit: in retrospect, be wary of using some of my suggested complications. Complications really ought to advance the plot, not just throw monkey-wrenches at the PC’s. For instance, I really dislike my “food poisoning” complication. That’s not a plot-advancing unwanted complication, that just putting the PCs through shit. Not really appropriate for DW at all.

  2. In DW, I’d do a simple flowchart, and have 3-4 ideas for traps; I’d use the traps as a roll table and probably only end up using one of them if previous outings in DW are any indicator.

    I had a good experience with having players roll+WIS to find important stuff in a maze. 10+, and they get something good/important. 7-9 they get something interesting. 1-6, I make a move.

    That’s not super clear, though, so I’ll try to give an example. Say they’ve tracked some treasure to a dungeon, carried there by a couple bandits. Only to discover that the bandits were out of their league, and their heads decorate the walls. Something like that.

    Well, on a 10+ they might find clues about who’s so dangerous in here. First success would be to find the “trophy room” with the bandit heads. Second success might take them to a room full of eggs. Third success, they might find heavy robes (heavy enough to use as a disguise) and some armor, with a helmet shaped for a lizard. Then maybe they find a ceremony, just getting started.

    On a 7-9, on the other hand, they might find a group of lizardmen walking the dungeon, with enough warning (noise of footsteps and voices) to escape or lay a trap. They might find evidence of the lizardmen raiding nearby villages and towns. Shiny things, and religious artifacts, etc; all guarded by a lightly-snoozing lizardman. They might find an interesting puzzle, prepared in advance.

    But of course, that’s just one way you could do it.

  3. Who is your bad guy? Why is he in the dungeon? Why are the PC’s there? Why are the PC’s and the bad guy in conflict? What will the bad guy do to stop the PC’s? What dreadful thing will the bad guy unleash on the world if the PC’s don’t stop him?

    Those are your fronts, dangers, grim portents and impending doom. So build you dungeon around those answers.

    You start with the who and the why. That is the most impotant. From there you work out how. Only then do you decide the least important which is the where (the map.)


  4. I would just get a general idea for a theme and go along improvising. With that said, I would think of a huge dungeon complex, with many different entrances and exits, as the players can leave it for a time if they feel bored or wanting a change of scenario

  5. I did this once using a vague flow chart. I figured out what the essential locations would be, based on the nature of the dungeon. Each location got a couple tags. i then laid them out in a rough approximation of where i expected them to be in relation to each other.

    I also put together a rough bestiary of monsters that i expected would be in/around the various environs within the dungeon, so that i could quickly respond as they explored.

    As the PCs entered the dungeon, they could uncover any number of distractions along the way, and we had lots of room to find locations i hadn’t planned for.

    I was quite glad that i had only minimally prepped the dungeon, too. When the party fell apart into a PvP standoff that ended the dungeon dive in the second room, it felt like a natural culmination of the events leading up to that point, and i was able to embrace it as GM without any regret that the rest of the dungeon hadn’t been explored.

    Now I’ve got some location notes that i can use, or modify, the next time i want a similarly themed dungeon.

  6. What are the PCs doing in this Dungeon?

    Are they here to just explore? And I’ve got no real ideas on what they’ll find? Then I’d definitely use the Plumb the Depths procedures and tables from Perilous Wilds (or something similar… I might go so far as to make some customized tables).

    Are they here to find something (or someone) in particular? Get in, get out, with minimum fuss? Then I’d:

    * Make a few “zones,” with impressions and dangers and possible discoveries and connections to each zone.

    * Maybe make some custom moves for moving from zone to zone (“When you cross the crumbling bridge…”) or for navigating a whole zone (“When you try to sneak through the breeding caves unnoticed have everyone roll+DEX…”).

    * Make a front or two to show how residents of the complex respond to the PC intrusions, and/or to show what they’re up to

  7. This is a modified version of a move by Jason Cordova​ that my group uses frequently.

    Dungeon Crawl

    When you spend your time trying to make your way through a dungeon, maze or other labyrinthine structure, describe how you do it and roll +STAT. On a 12+ gain 2 hold. On a 10-11 gain 1 hold. On a 7-9 gain one hold, but you also encounter one of the dungeon’s dangers. On a 6- lose 1 hold and you encounter a danger. You may spend 3 hold at any time to find what you are looking for in the dungeon. You may also spend 1 hold at any time to discover one of the dungeon’s treasures. Describe the room you find it in when you do.

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