Tuesday 13 December 2022

On Dungeon23 and the Correct Way to Write Dungeon Room Descriptions

So, people are excited about the idea of creating a megadungeon over the course of 2023, at a rate of a room a day/level a month/365-room dungeon a year. And, I will admit it: I am excited by the idea too. Yes, even I, who would describe myself as one of history's greatest contrarians if only it didn't involve being grouped in with other contrarians. Even I feel the allure of impossible-to-realise and foolhardy projects that are begun with great enthusiasm and forgotten just as quickly. 

I might do it. I might even make it a Yoon-Suin-based one. We'll see.

In the meantime, though, I have been alerted to the existence of extensive discussions about the 'right way' to write and format dungeon room descriptions.

My own thoughts on this are: keep it simple, try to be evocative, and make use of basic text formatting tricks to make sure important information is quickly conveyed.

I just so happen to be typing up my handwritten notes for my regular campaign, and have developed a patented bold/underline/UPPERCASE technique for doing this that you are free to make use of. The rule is:

Bold text is for anything which needs to 'pop' when the DM is quickly scanning the description in the heat of the moment

Underlined text is text which refers to another location on the map


Here's an example:

31. Old Pupating Chamber. A large, high-ceilinged vault whose walls are lined with honey-comb like hexagonal receptacles, each around twelve inches wide and two feet deep. These contain the dried remnants of chrysalises of beetles, long ago hatched. One of these receptacles contains a small sack with 200ep and an ordinary black widow spider who will bite anybody putting their hand into the sack, killing them within 1d6 rounds on a failed save vs poison. The floor is covered in shrew-man urine.

The chamber was once used by the fair folk for feeding up the giant beetle grubs bred in rooms 37 and 38, one to each receptacle. FIVE SHREW-MEN are here, looking after THREE GIANT WEASELS. As soon as there is any noise in rooms 29, 30 or 31 the shrew-men will come running, goading the giant weasels in front of them. 

SHREW-MAN: HD 1-1, AC 7, #ATT 1, DMG 1d4+1 (small handaxe, sling), Move 120, ML 6 

GIANT WEASEL: HD 2+2, AC 6, #ATT 1, DMG 1d8, Move 180, ML 7


  1. That's great! I'd also recommend ordering the description as follows: backdrop/sensory; obvious monsters; obvious features; hidden/non-obvious/interactive stuff.

  2. Or perhaps you start with what you think should be the format and allow (that's the important part) it to evolve organically. The process of making daily informs the correct (for you) way all of this comes together. I haven't yet either decided if I am going to dive in but this is pretty much the way I do everything.

    I feel like it's important to give yourself permission to make a mess. You can fix it later.

    1. Yes, this is so important in all creative projects. There is no greater enemy to creativity than perfectionism. You have to do the thing first and then you can fiddle around with it to make it as good as it can be afterwards.

    2. Agreed. In the age of social media, it's even more important to give yourself permission to make a mess and not compare yourself too harshly to the perfect "WIP" notebooks and sketched ideas of others.

      I'm very time-poor, but I'm trying to define a stripped back version of this exercise that I could manage.

  3. Nice formating. I also use bold italics for things that the DM needs to know but are not immediately evident to the players such as traps or hidden monsters.

  4. I like to underline monsters. What matters most is consistency (within the document) and improving usability

  5. I am totally doing this for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2E world of Titan, and have resurrected a dead blog to do so. Intro starts here! http://fantasygamebook.blogspot.com/2022/12/dungeon23-inspires-dead-blog.html