I never thought I’d see the day when I’d actually touch graphing paper again for the express purpose of drafting dungeons.
I was a wee lad of twelve years or so when I last did this kind of thing, and looking back at some of my old stuff, I was pretty damn anal. I didn’t quite like the idea of wasting space on a large sheet of square graphing paper so I filled every bit of it. I had traps, monsters and various room features everywhere. Too bad I wasn’t able to run any D&D games then.
Still the memory stuck with me, and now that I’m actually GMing, I figured, why not, right? It’s not like I’ll probably get the chance to run an honest-to-goodness dungeon crawl in a while, so let’s get cracking.
First thing I do when I design a dungeon is to think of it’s purpose. Dungeons can be anything from manmade structures to natural caves… and occasionally even weirder things. However, every dungeon exists for a reason, and it’s inhabitants and layout are influenced by this reason.
Take a typical dungeon, say… a Thieves Guild training ground. The concept alone immediately brings up certain elements to mind, such as:
- Locks and Traps – It’s a Thieves Guild after all, so I’m pretty sure a few of these will be strewn around.
- Hidden Doors – Much like the Locks and Traps, hidden doors are also things that thieves should be on the lookout for.
- Dogs / Wolves / Canines – If I were a guild master I’d teach my people to handle dogs when sneaking into a compound.
- Magic – Thieves have to be taught to handle all sorts of situations, including ones that don’t obey physics. This also lends to a good skill challenge site.
- Goons and Archers – I’ll probably rely on primarily humanoid opponents for this, but ones that are equally skilled in the arts of the Thieves Guild, so flash powders, bows and other things will probably find their way in the goon’s equipment lists.
Of course, the various challenges in the dungeon will change accordingly, natural dungeons might have the threat of cave-ins and flooding, while traps are more common in man made dungeons. A little forethought could also be of help when it comes to designing where to put traps. Have a spike trap not too far away and with piping from the toilets for example, might just serve as an additional justification for having it having poison. (punji pits, anyone?)