Watching programmes about design makes you think about design, and in my case, dungeon design. There are lots of blog posts and other resources out there about how to make dungeons, and some of them are truly excellent. (Benoist's series on The RPG Site is the best of them.) There are interesting and innovative ideas about specific tasks such as keying (like the Dungeon Shorthand). There are thoughtful discusses at the level of principle (like Philotomy's Musings). But I don't think I've ever come across anything that is specifically about the design of a dungeon at the level of actually drawing it. When you sit down with a blank piece of paper, how do you actually draw a good dungeon level? How do you arrange the rooms and corridors to best effect? Where you do put the entrance and exit? Where do you put the traps and treasure? (Assuming you aren't random-stocking?)
So, let's think about it. You will have your own opinions which you are free to post here, or elsewhere. But here are some for starters. (Note: I almost never stick to these myself, but whenever I don't, I regret it.)
1. Rebuttable Preference for NSEW
Snazzy weird shapes and arrangements of rooms look good on paper but in my experience are really hard to explain at the table without ending up with the DM doing lots of drawing, which defeats the purpose of having players do the mapping. For this reason, I have a very strong preference for rooms which are basically rectangular or square (circles and hexagons are less good but okay; triangles are difficult; anything else is a pain). Similarly, I much prefer exits to be identifiable as a cardinal direction, and ditto for corridors to go in those directions. ("The corridor goes north," is so much simpler than "The corridor goes straight ahead for a bit, and then sort of bends to the left, and then corrects itself, and then bends left again...")
2. Symmetry is Lazy
It's easy to fall back on symmetry when you're having difficulty thinking. I'm sure you've all experienced this: you've drawn part of a dungeon and you're getting tired and so you do the DMing equivalent of a rorshach print and effectively fold it back on itself so you get twice as much bang for your buck, with one half of the page mirroring the other. This, in my experience, tends towards the drab, but also leads your imagination down a bit of a cul-de-sac - better to be expansive and keep sections of dungeon asymmetrical. (It's also somewhat unrealistic - architecture is rarely if ever symmetrical in real buildings.)
3. It's All About Connectivity
Perhaps the most important thing is connectivity. Compare Fig. 2 with Fig. 3 below.
Fig. 2 may have lots of rooms and a relatively complex layout but there are very few options for exploration - it is basically a railroad. At times PCs can go on detours, but these always lead to them having to retrace their steps, and their travel through the dungeon is ultimately limited to describing a glorified circle. This is bad.
Fig. 3 on the other hand is the same map but with connecting corridors added. Suddenly there are lots of options for the PCs when exploring, and also excuses for monsters in different parts of the dungeon to interact with each other. The PCs can actually interact with the map, once they've explored it, by taking shortcuts and setting up ambushes.
These maps are small and simple (and I have over-done things with Fig. 3 to make a point) but the principle is just as important in a dungeon with 100 rooms. Connectivity makes the experience richer for both DM and players.
4. Speed-Bump, Barrier, or Deflector
From the perspective of PC movement, just about anything you can place in a dungeon that isn't treasure will be one of three things: a speed-bump, a barrier, or a deflector. Any monster, trap, puzzle or NPC has the potential to either:
- Slow things down briefly (pause to kill some goblins or rescue the dwarf from the pit trap; resume)
- Prevent progress entirely (big scary dragon or pit of level-draining ghost vipers is too dangerous; PCs don't move past it and hence an area of the dungeon is closed off until they can)
- Deflect travel in a different direction (NPC tells the PCs about treasure in a certain room, puzzle leads to secret door, etc.)
This is worth considering when placing items in the dungeon after the rooms are mapped out. Anything you put anywhere will have one of those effects.
I find that sometimes "sort of" symmetry can be good. As you say, from an architectural point of view it's unlikely to be entirely asymmetric. But having the "left wing" look like, but *not exactly the same* like the right wing can be neat. The party is on alert for both similarities "there is probably another corridor there" but also for differences "Huh. This room is way smaller than expected... I wonder why?"ReplyDelete
True. I think also when it comes to buildings you will often have the external walls being the same but the insides being different. You can play with this too by having things broadly similar but with crucial differences.Delete
Ooo, that last point is particularly clever. Well put, sir.ReplyDelete
Anyone who restricts dungeon design to what can easily be described verbally is an idiot.ReplyDelete
==Snazzy weird shapes and arrangements of rooms look good on paper
How a dungeon looks on paper is irrelevant. The shit you scribble down is an after-thought, an attempt to capture what you have imagined. At least that is how it should be and anything else is childish. The idea that you work on paper and then imagine from what you have drawn is repulsive to me, that is computer game and board game design.
I am not saying that it is not the majority method, but the majority should not be permitted to play AD&D.
How should a dungeon be designed then?Delete
Close your eyes. Use your imagination to the extent that you have one.Delete
For example, close your eyes and imagine the environment around you. Consider the difference between capturing what is in your mind onto paper, and, taking a blank sheet of paper and manipulating stereotypical shapes according to design cliches which are "easily described to players" and *then* trying to imagine that environment.
I strongly suspect most gamers are incapable of imagining environments and moving through them. I am pretty sure they travel through environments visualising boardgame/TSR style maps as noisms suggests, worlds of graphic design.
I assumed most people wrote up their modules and then mapped them afterwards if necessary - I've only read 3 or 4! Only ever run Deep Carbon Observatory. Anyway, how would you transcribe/present a dungeon? I'd do it like this:Delete
"A: *Description, possibly with salient features bullet-pointed*.
Occupants: #1 (Description, stats, items), etc.
Items: Treasure, etc.
Exits: B, F, I (hidden: *How to reveal it*)."
Follow with room B, C, etc., possibly describe passages between rooms (Passage AF, etc.). Map if necessary.
P.S. How do you feel about hex/grid maps?
Good job nobody was restricting dungeon design to what can easily be described verbally, then.Delete
The idea that human creativity is just a matter of imagining something and then capturing it on paper is absurd. The editing process is equally as important, and when it comes to editing it greatly helps for there to be careful thought at the level of principle. You seriously think artists, interior designers, poets, novelists, architects, etc. just "close their eyes" and imagine something and then put it on paper?
==Good job nobody was restricting dungeon design to what can easily be described verbally, then.Delete
Your entire "1" above refutes this claim, and that is what I responded to.
The vast majority of osr creative types are invested in either *Rearrangement*, that is aping TSR tropes and 'inventing' new ways to combine existing basic units sometimes going so far as to substitute new monsters, or, like you and Irish Paddy Stuart, *Collage* where you mash poetic words or fantasy cliches together hoping that alarming juxtaposition will tickle the imagination - it does for about 5 seconds after which the principle rings hollow. Artists work organically, they don't cut random things out of magazines and glue them together like children who lack technique and understanding.
'unholy' + 'snow' is not the finished article, it is intern level pre-production.
The reason you said that dungeons should be childishly simple in design is because that is how they need to be if you are selling paper dungeons to hundreds of D&D morons but that is not how someone thinks who is designing a dungeon he will present *in person* to a few friends.
You have serious reading comprehension problems. My first point was specifically about designing dungeons presented in person to friends.Delete
But I really can't be bothered engaging with you any further on this. You are spending a huge amount of time and energy essentially jeering from the sidelines at people, like Patrick (who isn't Irish), who have the balls to actually produce things. That is infinitely more important than pointing out why it's all shit.
George Steiner had a good saying about this. I paraphrase but it was something along the lines of: nobody who could write a page of prose that reached the level at which Tolstoy sustained across entire novels would have any interest in being a critic of Tolstoy. Instead he'd become a novelist himself. You'd do well to think about that.
==You have serious reading comprehension problems.Delete
OK lets take a look.
In response you said == "Good job nobody was restricting dungeon design to what can easily be described verbally, then."
--WHAT CAN EASILY BE DESCRIBED VERBALLY--
"I have a very strong preference for rooms which are basically rectangular or square "
"I much prefer exits to be identifiable as a cardinal direction, and ditto for corridors to go in those directions."
"The corridor goes north," is so much simpler than "The corridor goes straight ahead for a bit, and then sort of bends to the left, and then corrects itself, and then bends left again..."
==Patrick (who isn't Irish)
Patrick Stuart is Irish.
The next bit is funny.
You quote == nobody who could write a page of prose that reached the level at which Tolstoy sustained across entire novels would have any interest in being a critic of Tolstoy.
Imagine for a moment that it is not necessarily true that you and your friends are writing at the level of Tolstoy, or anywhere near it, or anywhere near the level of Stephen King for that matter, imagine you and your friends are just non-fiction Dungeons & Dragons writers, I put it to you that George Steiner might not have reserved any particular admonition for "being a critic" of such works.
==The idea that human creativity is just a matter of imagining something and then capturing it on paper is absurd.Delete
That is exactly what I think artists do.
==You seriously think artists, interior designers, poets, novelists, architects, etc. just "close their eyes" and imagine something and then put it on paper?
What I am suggesting is that most creative D&Ders DON'T *imagine something* and then *put it on paper* but instead *take existing paper* and then *cut it up* and *rearrange it* and at no point *imagine something*.
You, noisms and Scott Driver, are my favourite online D&Ders. I am duty bound as a matter of my honour to improve your games by shitting on your heads by way of encouragement.Delete
Next time I see Patrick I'll have to tell him he's Irish, then. I'm not sure he's aware of it - he seems to be under the impression he's English.Delete
As I said, I'm not going to engage with you any further on this. Ask yourself what's important in life and what will actually satisfy you and make you happy: making things despite their flaws, or jeering from the sidelines. If it's the latter you can do it elsewhere because I can't be bothered reading it. Thanks.
That's OK, in this new season of gentle weather I like to shift my focus to mocking Zak Smith on his blog anyway.Delete
I will, however, feel free to pay a visit any time I have been drinking heavily. See you soon!Delete
Agree that connectivity is key, but variety is just as important imo. Differently sized rooms and hallways, for starters. Height differences, or rooms-within-rooms. Easily described features, like staircases, catwalks and alcoves, rows of pillars, or rooms focused on altars, fountains, statues etc. I really like running battles, and encounters that stretch over an area, where architectural elements can be used for cover, ambushes and the like.ReplyDelete
Angry GM wrote a while back about a system of drawing dungeons that are easy to map (only rectangular rooms, corridors only leading north, east, south,or west, ...) but also have considerable variety. I found it quite compelling and might give it a try. (Though I think in an online campaign player mapping might not be feasible.)Delete
Yeah, fair point. Variety which is easily describable at the table is a really important balancing technique.Delete
This is one of the things that encourages me to draw weird nonsense shaped passages; a massive winding tunnel is not interesting, but a spiralling path around the inside of a stalactite is, a dungeon map is always in tension between it's mind-map/flow chart nature and being a drawing of a specific fictional space.ReplyDelete
I don't map squares personally, because I don't use the strict timekeeping of encounters that makes them necessary. However, I do use random square maps off the internet as inspiration. So when the person or computer program drawing the spaces inevitably comes up with a weird swirly line, I try to interpret it as something that might be interesting. Almost always if something circles around and comes back, I use it as a cue that the space is multi-height.
I think you're right about symmetry, but here's something that may or may not save your life; you use a global north/south/east/west scale, it works for text adventures so it can obviously work for you, but another way to track entrances is to just mark down the asymmetries that each room has and let people navigate by that.
If a room is totally symmetric for some reason, then people getting lost is probably intentional, (and you can privately number each door for yourself clockwise), otherwise there's probably something different about one side of the room vs another, one patch of wall vs another, or one kind of door vs another, which might relate to what is beyond them. Use this, and you never have to say "north is x, west is y" again, because you can draw a room as a picture, or a load of text, and then for each door on the side of that picture, draw a mini picture or write what the door looks like, or what it's next to.
Then you draw the flowchart lines between these pictures, curvy or straight, and put somewhere along that line a picture or description of the passage they are going down.
You give players a series of local orientation clues to make their way through the flowchart, then break it up into an expanded part diagram, with space to write notes between the boxes that represent the rooms. You're not restricted to any particular scale, you can hide secret rooms everywhere and allow paths to go up and down without problems, because you're not stuck to a flat global plane because of navigation concerns. You can picasso it.