View Full Version : How to Dungeon Crawl?

2012-05-18, 01:55 AM
So, I basically decided Iím going run a game of Dungeons and Dragons inside Undermountain (using either of the many source books) and Iíve come to a conclusion: I donít know how to dungeon crawl! That why I created this thread so we could share advise and insights. :smallsmile:

So, how do you guys use maps in game? Many D&D products have large maps of the dungeons, how do you use these in game? For example, maps as big as these (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/UM_1_Master_20060405.png).

Do you show the players the complete maps, edited or unedited right away (ignoring fog of war)? Do you only show them the parts they have seen?

And if you prefer to do it realistically and not show the entire dungeon map right away, how do you let the players go from room to room? If itís a complicated dungeon, there will be a lot of corridors and trivial, seemingly unimportant random choices the players will need to make (do I go left into the dark corridor, or will I go right into the similar dark corridor)? I can't see how this will not end up becoming boring and annoying.

Maybe you could make it more exciting by involving skills? Even if you don't like 4e style skill chalenges, regular skill checks (dungeneering, search, etc.) could be involved?

2012-05-18, 02:12 AM
If your players go into frigging Undermountain and aren't making their own maps as they go, they deserve to get hopelessly lost and starve to death.

That said, it all depends on your play style and your play group. Generally the more tactical your players are and the more they enjoy resource management and being forced to think, the more they'll enjoy a straight-up, hard-rules dungeon crawl with encumbrance and lighting penalties and twisty little passages all alike.

If they just want to kick some butt and chew bubble gum, chances are you're best skipping over a lot of the peripheral difficulties of the dungeon and just let them wander between rooms getting beat up by traps and fighting monsters.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that dungeons lose a lot of their sense of substance if you just give them the map, let them declare they're backtracking if they haven't taken any precautions about getting lost, and have every room be even, well-lit and fit for habitation. At that point it's just a series of encounters; it makes the entire dungeon into a nice skybox. Part of the appeal of Undermountain and the Tomb of Horrors and the like is that they're more than just backdrops for fights. They're important in and of themselves.

I don't show players my own maps at all. I describe what they see, and if it becomes relevant we draw it on the battle map. It's the contents of the dungeon--as well as the challenges of navigation and exploration themselves--that keep all of this from being boring and annoying.

As a player, I'd be infinitely more engaged in actually mapping out a maze than in saying "I roll Dungeoneering to navigate the maze", just as I'd be more interested in solving a riddle than in saying "I roll Intelligence to solve the riddle." Skill checks are often necessary to accomplish interesting goals, but I've never felt that they're exciting or interesting intrinsically--that's one of the reasons I dislike 4e's skill challenges. That's not to say Dungeoneering and Survival and the like won't be helpful or shouldn't be rolled, but if you let them solve the 'riddle' with one roll it's just unsatisfying and insubstantial.

I rarely get to run games, and when I do it's almost never a straight D&D dungeon crawl, so bear in mind that this is all mostly hypothetical; it's been literally three years since I actually drew part of a dungeon on an actual battle map. And it's not like I was ever a great DM in the first place. So, you know, grain of salt recommended and all.

Good luck with your game!

2012-05-18, 02:31 AM
I have limited experience with dungeon crawls that arenít rougelikes, but Iím still putting in my 2 cents.

1) The D.M I had drew the map onto a whiteboard, but this might be inconvenient for a larger map. Consider using a sheet of paper and a blanket to cover it?

2) You don't need to separate puzzles and combat. In the example Iím using, we has to find a way to disable all the mephit-generators one by one before we were swarmed an dragged to our deaths.

3) Even though a dungeon-crawl is by itís nature much more linear, you should still be prepared (as prepared as you can be) for unexpected player ploys. For instance, I shut down the dust mephit generator by stuffing the fire mephit generator into it.

4) Unless getting hopelessly lost is part of the game, try to differentiate some wings of the dungeon, as basic caverns or corridors could get dull quickly. Something as simple as making is a dungeon of X (i.E, a fire dungeon, an ice-themed one, one which is organic somehow, a wuxia-themed one, a combination of the above) will breathe in at least a little life.

5) Traps! Traps everywhere! Get inventive with these. Iíve heard grimtoothís traps are good, but theyíre highly likely to kill your players so be warned.

6) Be inventive with the monsters used, and the wildlife in general: From what Iíve heard the wildlife of the underdark, itís basically the equivalent of the deep oceans of OUR world so both freakiness and weirdness is appreated. Alternately, if itís manmade, you can get a lot of mileage out of the ďliving statueĒ idea: everyone love golems! (except wizards, when theyíre on the pointy end of it.) Be aware that these things need to get food somehow, with the exception of undead and cosntucts (even outsiders need to breathe.

Also, consider the orgins of your dungeon, and how you are running the game. Are their shops in the dungeon? Out of the dungon? How far are you from civilisation? Are there communities IN the dungeon? How much light is there? Coveint natural fungus? Dimly lit? Bring torches or be eaten by a grue? Natural or humanoid made? Perhaps something stranger? Did the creator of the dungeon make it as a place to live, or to hide and protect something? If the former, how does he get past the traps, and get supplies, if any are necessary? If the latter, what is he hiding and why? If neither, why DID he make it? As a way to get adventurers to throw themselves into a meatgrinder?

2012-05-19, 08:19 PM
My tendency when I've prepared a complex dungeon is to expect the players to make their own maps. To make matters worse, mine all have changing elements, so their maps are bad within a few in game hours.

However, in order to give them some idea what they're up against, I'll give them an item that senses movement or something like that, and usually allow their spiritual leader to "have a vision" of the dungeon at some point(meaning I let the player come over and look at the map for a minute, maybe change something while he's looking).

2012-05-20, 06:06 AM
In my group, the DM will usually map for the players on graph paper as they explore. These can then double as combat maps when players get in fights (and it even leaves some unerasable marks that can double as bloodstains and corpses afterwards). This means the group has a good idea of where they have and haven't been, but since usually there is nothing important in the rooms afterwards that isn't marked on the map, its not a huge deal. If it were a mazelike dungeon where getting lost is an important factor than a map might be left out, and only drawn temporarily for combats (but this is very rare in my group).

Typical dungeons when drawn out this way usually only take one page of graph paper (and the DM has his own fully developed copy, maybe with notes, possibly digital). If its a little larger, you can make every square 10ft instead of five, or use multiple sheets (the largest dungeon I ever ran was nine sheets a floor, but it was an entire city, and the players flooded it while on the first level, so everything underneath drowned).

Averis Vol
2012-05-20, 06:37 AM
my group operates with a washable, two sided map so we just draw out as many encounter points as we can, occasionally draw a full map (like the last one i drew was a gnomes golem/alchemy laboratory and the entrance to his study, a big symbol of boccob on a tile floor with the ones that aren't the exact path electrified). but for the most part...i guess it really depends on the mission, the bad part about using an erasable map is that you can't just store old maps you have to re draw it every time, so we tend to go sparingly with the map layout and just let our imaginations do the work.

and on a related note, i'm also going into the undermountain right now, so all this talk is kind of terrifying :smalleek:

2012-05-20, 06:49 AM
Having run Undermountain first as a player and then as a DM:

Mapping will easily kill your time in-session; it did when my DM had to spend five minutes drawing for every minute we spent exploring. I counteracted this by letting them explore at a basal level, on a room by room basis, more or less automatically, and having a sheaf of maps for that handy. Besides, a good portion of that map can be dismissed as "winding tunnels, but with X"

It's a huge, huge dungeon, and that can be a problem. Just do what you can to keep them peeking around every one of ten thousand corners, because that will make the whole thing take real-time weeks.

2012-05-20, 08:06 AM
I think the best dungeon maps are flowcharts like this:
You don't need to map the shape and size of rooms, or the length of coridors. All you need is to know how many doors lead out of a room and what room you reach when use each door. Treating intersections or doors in the middle of corridors as "rooms" or rather "locations" may also be a good idea.

You can draw a detailed floor plan with all the rooms and corridors for yourself, but the map that the players have and which is updated as they go should be of the flowchart type.

2012-05-20, 08:08 AM
Depending on the dungeon though, oftentimes the pathways between rooms can be as important as the rooms themselves, so the flowchart might not always work. It is a different take on it though, one I haven't ever seen used before.

2012-05-20, 08:34 AM
I map the old school way - by hand. If it's an overland map that the characters should know (ie, the layout of the region they live in), they get to see the map, but without any "special" areas that they wouldn't know about.

For underground, the players can map for themselves if they want. They do so on paper. I again use hand-drawn maps, or pre-mades if a good one is available.

I only use a tile mat usually for encounters, and then only if it's a complex one. If it's a simplistic encounter we just use imagination and description.

2012-05-21, 07:44 AM
Mapping, as a player, is part of the point of real dungeon crawling. Yes, the first couple of sessions will seem like pulling teeth, but eventually you and the players will learn to communicate effectively and it will get easier.

As an aside, if you're evil, like me, you may want to consider not handing out exact measures unless the players take character time to actually start measuring the dungeon, which would certainly call for wandering monster rolls. "The corridor goes . . . a ways . . . then opens up into a room . . . maybe 30 foot on a side . . ." Let the players make assumptions and accuracy. Don't spoonfeed them.

Also, forget Undermountain. IMO, not that great. Instead, google "Castle of the Mad Archmage" by Joe Bloch. Vastly superior IMO.

2012-05-21, 10:47 AM
I expect my players to map as they go. They're all grown(-ish) adults, and should be able to draw lines on a piece of graph paper. If they refuse to keep track of where they've been, it's their problem. :smallwink:

We have only a small (36"x20") whiteboard with 1" gridlines in it, thus, only one encounter point gets drawn out at a time, and only if it absolutely NEEDS to be drawn out. (Combats get drawn out, but not all encounters are combats).

The problem with Undermountain, as you'll find out (if it's written to correctly reflect the fiction) is that rooms and corridors tend to...move, making mapping nearly useless for the players. (Also, don't look in any mirrors. :smallcool:)