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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    ExtravagantEvil's Avatar

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    Default How to make a Good Dungeon

    Greetings Playground, I come to you for grand assistance. As the title says above, what are some good tips for someone who is not skilled in making dungeons? To preemtively stop this from surfacing, I am not looking for a "Tucker's Kobolds" scenario, just some general tips in making a strategically well founded, interesting dungeon that isn't over powered.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    i have a link to a random dungeon generator, so you don't have to think one up, and a link to traps people have made in the past. pick some traps that will fit, add in some pit traps and other simple traps and some monsters, and it works well enough.

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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    My thought process is as so:

    1) Theme.
    2) Construction
    3) Denizens
    4) Design

    The theme is a short sentence that describes the dungeon. "Huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses" and such.

    The construction is just that. I think of how many levels I want the dungeon to have, what the original designers intended it to do. Crypts house the dead, castles are defensive structures, a wizard's laboratory is used for his experiments, and so on.

    The denizens depend on several factors. Are the current denizens still living there? Is the dungeon old and several generations of denizens have come and gone? Think about the game in a naturalistic fashion. If you put a ghoul in the dungeon, its assumed that other humanoids have been turned into ghouls as well. Perhaps a group of adventurers entered the dungeon and died horrible deaths to traps but their deaths also give clues to the traps inside. Molds appear in old dungeons with more dangerous molds appearing next to their food source (green molds next to fire, yellow molds near food, so on). In areas with a lot of metal a rust monster might appear. If a band of primitive humanoids inhabit the dungeon maybe they enslave and breed the rust monster?

    All of this stuff was important in older editions of D&D which is why you see stats like "Number of monsters in lairs" and huge blocks in a creature's description regarding their weapon count and children. In the final design stage I add everything that's missing. Scratch off some traps, add some new ones, write up random monster charts, etc.

    Big thing is to think of a dungeon as a living, breathing organism. The creatures inside the dungeons are parasites, feeding off and permanently altering the dungeon. The dungeon, being a living creature, tries to fight off these creatures or otherwise adapt. Walls may be knocked down, doors may become stuck, floors will become weakened and may give way, etc.

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Wow jmbrown...I am the pc playing in this dungeon (I am playing a half troll (monster class) orc fighter, I will probably take barbarian or other martial classes but thats another post) and I really think you have have really kool ideas about dungeon making. And besides, my DM need all the help he can get
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    The best things I get from a good dungeon are:
    being pushed to the limit- there might be a couple big baddies around my level in CR, but there's a lot of small things that end up making our spellcasters use 90% or more of their spells by the time they are done, and the melee characters are barely able to keep themselves on their feet. When I ran my last campaign, a level 5 party was worn out by several CR2 sahuagin, due to numbers and tactics.
    Flavorful and accurate - An enjoyable dungeon is one that makes sense. For example, in my last campaign with the sahuagin, they had taken over a lighthouse several miles off of the mainland, and all the traps were possible for the accompanying underground cavern. It wouldn't make a lot of sense to find sahuagin in the middle of a desert, in most cases. Do a little reading on the monster's personalities, and try to roleplay their personalities out. There have been several times I have seen a monster who's common tactic is hit and run, and it just stood there and fought.
    A dungeon's location should make sense too. My friend has the simplest explanation for dungeons, which im not fond of - "you randomly appear in different areas of the multiverse, all of which are dungeons by coincidence." If they are exploring the orc village causing trouble, don't put it right next to town. After all, if they were right next to town, either it or the orcs would be long gone.
    Have something for everyone - make sure that the rogue has traps to disarm, the fighter can smash things, and the wizard/cleric can do stuff. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to do something, such as when I was a rogue in a dungeon with 90% undead/constructs and no traps, and the dm would not allow true death crystals. My character walked out of the dungeon, went to town, and stole stuff.
    Nothing should be aimed at intentionally killing - as with being flavorful, traps are not usually intended to kill people trying to get into a dungeon. After all, dead people can't go to town and say "don't go there, its scary." Start with small traps near the entrance, a small pit trap, some dart traps, etc. As they get closer to their goals, the traps will get more deadly, since those traps are "last ditch." Even then, the biggest goals of a trap are: slow them down, make them waste resources, tenderize them for the boss.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Am I the only one who thinks traps are usually stupid the more you think about them? I don't think they're too powerful, cheesy or something like that.

    I just think that in-game, you'd have to be really paranoid and an impractical planner to litter your stronghold, you know, the place you live in, with lethal traps.

    The problem is even worse with ancient, uninhabited places of mystery and Indiana Jones-esque action. Once the traps are sprung, who is going to re-set them for future invaders? Are there professional trap re-setters?

    Edit: Also, you'd need to have inhabited the dungeon for a long time. Those traps don't install themselves, you know.
    Last edited by Raimun; 2010-10-16 at 02:18 PM.
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    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    This guide was written for rpg maker games, but some of the points apply well to tabletop games as well.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    As has been pointed out, it's a good idea to think of dungeons in terms of their history.

    1) The idea behind the dungeon - this is usually pretty straightforward, a cave network, a ruined castle, an abandoned lighthouse.

    2) The layout of the dungeon - this is determined by the reason it exists. A place that was built will have spaces for living, for working, for eating - in short, a crumbling monastery should have started out having all the accoutrements for a group of monks. A few rooms that are segregated and quiet for meditation, a place to keep/prepare food, practice/sparring rooms if appropriate, that sort of things.

    3) The current purpose. Your players are going to this place - why? The monastery is crumbling, why do your players care? Because a blackguard and his hobgoblin cronies have taken it over? That'll require a very different sort of setup than a number of giants stepping in and using it as a convenient place to herd their cattle.

    4) What changes have its current inhabitants made? If that blackguard and his hobgoblins have moved in, there'll be signs of them having fixed up holes in the roof and put tarps over the holes in the walls, to make it more livable. Maybe the quiet meditation room was repurposed for sleeping - the monks had learned to tune out unnecessary noises, so they slept near the training room, but hobgoblins find it easier to just sleep in the soundproofed rooms.

    Finally, 5) - traps. If someone still lives in there, how do they "get to work", so to speak? It's not hard to imagine a heavily trapped Wizard's tower, standing tall in the middle of a clearing in the woods, filled with all kinds of strange and murderous traps. But can you imagine Johnny the Lich coming back from a reagent/body-gathering trip, lifting the hem of his robes to carefully step over the tripwire that triggers the swinging pendulum? I can't. Some might have traps that can be easily bypassed - kobolds building trap doors that only trigger with more than 30 lbs of pressure, for example, or a set of dwarven tunnels meant for a last stand, where anyone coming through is subject to a trap that can be deactivated with a switch hidden in the stone. Maybe a rolling stone-type trap, slow enough that a dwarf can outrun it, but it provides time pressures; They can make a poorly hidden switch (since no one will be looking for it while being chased by a boulder), and have Dwarven stonecunning provide the free check. Notice the switch, it opens a door that provides safety. Anyone who isn't Dwarven has to take the time to search, or they come up to a dead end.

    Essentially, the dungeon just has to make *sense*. If you look at it through the eyes of the current inhabitants, would you live there? A Rust monster in a granite quarry doesn't make much sense, unless you have a source of food (old tracks/carts?) - but you could put one in an abandoned iron mine easily enough, and the mental image of sneaking up on a rust monster licking the wall of the mine is thoroughly amusing.
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by jmbrown View Post
    My thought process is as so:

    1) Theme.
    2) Construction
    3) Denizens
    4) Design
    5)?
    6)Profit

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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Take in mind the capabilities of the party. If they're not of a very low level, they probably have work-arounds for a lot of typical dungeon challenges. You need to keep a balance between two truths:

    *It is good that the players have fun abilities that let them solve challenges in new ways, and they should get to do so.

    *It is bad if the players simply bypass every interesting part of the dungeon, especially by using one or two tricks over and over.

    This is a big challenge, and there's no one right answer (really, it depends on the group). Intelligent dungeon inhabitants go a long way to explaining how the circumstances might adapt to what the PCs do, but as with anything, be careful to not just neuter the PCs as soon as they do anything you didn't expect. Also remember to vary things up a little bit. PCs are smarter than they look, and if there's a pattern, they'll simply set up a standard procedure for dealing with it. This isn't inherently bad, but the fourth, say, swinging-blade-over-a-pit trap is a lot less interesting than the first one, because the PCs are likely to say "ok, we'll just do what we did last time." Your dungeon should reflect how OK you are with that. In a video game, it's one thing to have similar challenges over and over, since the player still has to actually make the jumps across the lava pits or find the pattern to dodge the arrow traps or whatever... but at the table, the narrative fun of that mostly only holds the first time or two.
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    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Raimun View Post
    Am I the only one who thinks traps are usually stupid the more you think about them? I don't think they're too powerful, cheesy or something like that.

    I just think that in-game, you'd have to be really paranoid and an impractical planner to litter your stronghold, you know, the place you live in, with lethal traps.

    The problem is even worse with ancient, uninhabited places of mystery and Indiana Jones-esque action. Once the traps are sprung, who is going to re-set them for future invaders? Are there professional trap re-setters?

    Edit: Also, you'd need to have inhabited the dungeon for a long time. Those traps don't install themselves, you know.
    Actually, if you think about it as a mage castle/keep then the lower floor would probably be filled with traps outside of the main hallway. A wizard can teleport wherever they want to go, so the only real reason to have a lower floor is to trap enemies in. The reason you have a front door on ground level is that people will go through a door first, and start tearing down walls second.

    So a first floor that looks like its a "real" floor with bedrooms and the like but trapped as all get out makes sense, because people sneaking in would go into those areas first. If the wizard has actual guests he teleports them up to the second floor which is trap free. Then he would trap the Big Door to his lab with sigals and wards.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    DwarfFighterGuy

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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    One of the things that I always try to think about when designing a combat-heavy dungeon is how to make it realistic for the guards to not come running at the first sign of the PCs. One of the things I've found that works is not to put entire encounters into a single room: once the fighting starts, the noise attracts more guards from nearby rooms, who arrive over the next few rounds. Alternately, set it up so that something else is happening to distract the guards: an intrusion from some other party, an escape lower down in the dungeon, a feast occupying most of the guards.

    Another thing to think about is putting in features that don't play into the dungeon, but that make sense from a realism standpoint. If you have players like mine, they will eventually ask "Hey, we just came through a huge mess hall and killed a bunch of guards. Where's the kitchen?" and it tends to ruin immersion if you don't have an answer.

    Finally, there's a thin line between making a wide variety of challenges and throwing in what the players will see as random stuff. A goblin lair with a kennel of wolves or wargs is fine, but a kennel of something weird, like displacer beasts, is pretty much just a random encounter in a dungeon unless you can come up with a good story behind why the goblins have displacer beasts. Likewise, randomly throwing in a magma chamber full of elementals in a lich's underground stronghold just for the sake of a fight that doesn't involve undead is a bad idea.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Tvtyrant View Post
    Actually, if you think about it as a mage castle/keep then the lower floor would probably be filled with traps outside of the main hallway. A wizard can teleport wherever they want to go, so the only real reason to have a lower floor is to trap enemies in. The reason you have a front door on ground level is that people will go through a door first, and start tearing down walls second.

    So a first floor that looks like its a "real" floor with bedrooms and the like but trapped as all get out makes sense, because people sneaking in would go into those areas first. If the wizard has actual guests he teleports them up to the second floor which is trap free. Then he would trap the Big Door to his lab with sigals and wards.
    However, not everyone is a wizard. A warlord/etc. would like to able to walk in his castle to have some breakfast without being impaled with spikes, inhaling poison gas or falling to his death.

    Also, even a wizard needs mooks to guard his castle and other wizards tend to make poor mooks for they lack, um... mooking skills? Anyway, basic mooks can't teleport.
    Last edited by Raimun; 2010-10-16 at 05:43 PM.
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Raimun View Post
    Also, even a wizard needs mooks to guard his castle and other wizards tend to make poor mooks for they lack, um... mooking skills?
    Most important mooking "skill" is expendability.

    Anyhow, 3 levels of Dungeon Lord nicely fixes such trifles (you and all your allies will not trigger any traps in the dungeon unless you want to, can ignore difficult terrain inside and can open/close all hidden doors as free actions).
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    If a lair has been established as having long-term inhabitants who need food, sleep, etc. Put in kitchens, bedrooms, and so on.

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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Morithias View Post
    If a lair has been established as having long-term inhabitants who need food, sleep, etc. Put in kitchens, bedrooms, and so on.
    And toilets.

    In the dungeons I design, climbing through the sewer and out of the toilet is always an option for entry.


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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Raimun View Post
    However, not everyone is a wizard. A warlord/etc. would like to able to walk in his castle to have some breakfast without being impaled with spikes, inhaling poison gas or falling to his death.

    Also, even a wizard needs mooks to guard his castle and other wizards tend to make poor mooks for they lack, um... mooking skills? Anyway, basic mooks can't teleport.
    I think you're overestimating the placement of a trap. You're not going to stick a trapdoor in the main entrance hall unless there's a secret hall you and your minions take or there's a "panic lever" which activates/deactivates all traps at once. Just like you set your alarm when leaving your house, a dungeon assumes the creator set all the traps and left (generally the case with burial sights) or died at some point defending his house so half the traps are still active.

    A good trap will be easily bypassed but almost difficult to discover on its own. Live in a place long enough and you learn to avoid stepping on the third stair but an adventurer certainly won't know that. A giant block could fall on anyone who stands next to that picture of Old Aunt Frida because there's a pressure plate there. Turn the treasure chest key counter-clockwise, not clock-wise or else you'll flood the room with poison gas.
    Last edited by jmbrown; 2010-10-16 at 06:08 PM.

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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by AslanCross View Post
    In the dungeons I design, climbing through the sewer and out of the toilet is always an option for entry.
    Hooray for absurdly spacious sewers!
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    There's a blog about micro dungeons.

    I ran Thelon's Rift just a few weeks back.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: How to make a Good Dungeon

    Quote Originally Posted by Greenish View Post
    Most important mooking "skill" is expendability.

    Anyhow, 3 levels of Dungeon Lord nicely fixes such trifles (you and all your allies will not trigger any traps in the dungeon unless you want to, can ignore difficult terrain inside and can open/close all hidden doors as free actions).
    That's my point, most of the time, teleporting wizards aren't really expendable.

    Dungeon Lord? Of course, forgot about the fact that this wonderful game has a Class/PrC for even home ownership.
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