As I write this little missive from my humble jail cell in the Dark-Site run by the Dungeon Design Code Infractions Secret Police, or DDCISP, I am forced to ruminate on my crimes.
I was delivered to this vile "dungeon" of despair because I did not use graph paper. I did not follow the lines. I was a sloppy and lazy Dungeon Master. I acted without any concern for my players and actually faked half of the adventure -- I am the worst kind of Dungeon Master because I am a cheater.
And most of all, I disrespected the memory our great founding fathers, St. Gygax, and St. Arneson.
I am a traitorous comrade and deserve my fate. My living conditions are abysmal and I am being tortured daily as I am forced to listen to bad slavic rap music round the clock...
…and must eat healthy food: oatmeal. The low sugar diet will kill me -- Please Send MTN. DEW!
Ok, everyone relax!
There is no secret police force that keeps tabs on how people design their dungeons, so if you think someone is peering in your windows to see what your maps look like, either take your meds, or call the real police.
Now, lets look at Quick and Dirty Dungeon Design some more.
This is yet another truly shaming example of how I do dungeons. (See Exhibit A)
Exhibit: A (also known as The Walls of Shame)
If you examine Exhibit A, you once again see a a lot of personal shame -- my own. No one was ever supposed to see this, ever!
Lameness abounds, except for the fact that we had a blast playing it. This little piece of garbage dungeon lasted 4, or 5, sessions and I kept adding to it between sessions to keep it fresh and new. If monsters got killed, monsters got replaced. None of that clearing things out stuff; every mission required whole new monsters to be dealt with before getting to unexplored areas.
I think it took me maybe 2 hours to whip up and I didn't even bother to make a separate page to note the monsters on. What I did instead was to CHEAT. I made little notes and drew little designs next to places on the map. These are all just memory triggers for me to use as I am running the dungeon.
This is once again a bit heretical because at some point, someone decided that dungeons were supposed to be really painstakingly complicated and throughly annotated straight jackets. This probably came about because of all the published modules.
We've all seen these pre-made dungeon modules where everything is described in minute detail:
…as the players enter the room, the first thing they will notice is that there is a trail of glistening and damp saliva leading from a wooden chest in the corner to a dead orc sitting with his back against the wall on the opposite side of the room…
Ok, Some people love modules. I won't fault them for it. I use them as inspiration and STEAL IDEAS from them; yet I actually find modules incredibly difficult to run -- Too much to remember for my little pea brain.
I find that making my own dungeons is much easier, and the process for making them can be done in simple stages.
You can either make your map first, or create encounters first, I tend to mix it up and make half the map and then populate it to see how the rest of the map should be drawn. I'm jumping ahead of myself though; I need an overarching concept before I do anything.
First I come up with A THEME. In this case I have a double theme, one of which is that half the dungeon is silly because it is dedicated to Fred Funk. There is some scrawly graffiti in a triangular room that says: "Funk, King of all the orcs was here!" Along with a scary pumpkin face. The other is that a clan of kobolds is living here and the nearby village peasants are angry because of the raiding parties to steal their cows and occasionally people. There's more, but it does not matter. Ok, three overlapping themes, but whatever.
So what if the kobolds discovered a room where a demon is trapped inside a statue and that this is a really bad place for the players to find.
Themes can be anything that inspires you, be it a location like the River Cave complex from the last post, or who lives there, or maybe just a mood - I want this to feel scary like a haunted house. I want to emphasize that mood is important,
I even make notes in some rooms about the kind of mood I want to evoke during play. Is there fogg, is it silent? Telling your players that everything is suddenly silent is a powerful moment in any dungeon dive.
Once I have a map and a theme, I make a list of EVENTS like so:
-Area of map is controlled by kobolds
-There is a tunnel that over time will become infested with what look like insideout rat
-The wizard's chamber is empty, right now, but on the desk is a magic dagger. If it is touched, it animates and can fly around stabbing people. It is AC2 and if hit by a player it will deactivate and fall to the ground until touched again
-The players hear footsteps running away from them into the darkness - Boo!
-A supernatural gust of wind and rain suddenly occurs and then immediately stops And then a voice is heard laughing maniacally
These examples are actually much more detailed than my actual lists of ideas. Some of my ideas may be wandering monsters that talk to the players, I just didn't list those. Yet they are all just little memory triggers for me, so that when I run the dungeon I remember what is there and what should happen. I also embellish all my notes in real time as I actually play the encounters out. I am always faking my way through the game, Yes, I cheat!
Once I have my list, I simply plonk everything into the rooms.
The players will already know something unsavory lives here, because there are filthy symbols scrawled on the dungeon walls. Look closely and you see some symbols marked on the map - yep kobold graffiti. (Sorry if you are a bit too prudish to see these symbols. I make really scary dungeons.)
If you look at the kobold warrens, you see 6k, 7k, 8k, next to some of the rooms. My kobolds are nasty little buggers, if they are losing they will run away and warn the other kobolds, so you can see where one kobold survived and ran up to join the kobolds in the next room as a curved line and a +1. Now the next room as 8 kobolds, and then it happens again, they retreat and now the players are up against 14 kobolds and the tables have turned as the players beat a hasty retreat!
The rat tunnels are like sewers and as we played I really went to town describing how the players are trudging through ankle deep water and then they see all these little eyes reflected back at them by their torch light. This is standard run of the mill stuff, but it can scare players, and as they found out: It can still kill you!
For the record, our crew beat a hasty retreat and everyone survived.
And of course the uninhabited Wizard's lab. I cheated on that too. When I made the map I put it on the extreme upper right hand side as a secret chamber. The players never found it, so I moved it to a room marked spider in the upper middle of the map ,they found that one. I like to RECYCLE planned encounters, if they are not discovered, and why waste a good chance for fun?
Most of the time I cheat when I run a dungeon. I make half of it up on the spot and I move interesting things around as I play to keep things interesting. Sometimes my notes are not enough and I make things up in game time, or alter them based on player behavior. I said - sometimes. :)
And I can hear all of you out there saying things like: But that's not FAIR!
Well cupcakes, life isn't fair -- and I cheat my players when we play. The thing is, am I really cheating them?
Cheating players, is when they die because something they have no chance to resist kills them. Yet a core reason for playing is to have a stimulating experience and interact with all kinds of situations. I am just being lazy because I only prepare a few special encounters before each session and pad it all out with monster combat encounters and strange events. again, I try to maximize player enjoyment with, you got it, CHEATS to keep the game interesting. If the players do not go to that side of the map, well then, maybe something interesting ends up over here.
I also don't bother to use random charts to make combat encounters. I've been playing for decades and I just decide what I want where, and make a note on the map.
Some people have commented to me, Yes - Dan Boggs - I am talking about you, that it is not fair to populate your dungeon intentionally. Dan, It's just that I have monsters that I hate to use, so I find it easier to put monsters into rooms that I feel an affinity for, and I tend to make up one shot home made monsters a lot. It's a map and even if my placement is not random, what passages the players choose is, so it's still random.
Of course a first level dungeon like this requires a bit of restraint.
In the previous blog post I talked about referee mystique -- Players do not know what you are doing and this allows you to keep them nervous and afraid of your dungeon, as well as just keep them out of your business; so you can go about making things more intense in your game session -- by Cheating!
I like to run fast games and my Cheater System actually helps me run a quicker game. Which also brings me back to
MY PROBLEM with pre-made modules. There is so much detail in a pre-made one, that I can often forget those details and the players may never get all the details. This also happens in my cheater games, I forget things, and yet the players do not know this and have fun.
I used to really feel anxious when I missed some key element during a game, I was really hard on myself at times. I've finally realized that if the players don't know about it, they can't care -- JUST HAVE FUN and keep playing!
I also think the THROW AWAY DUNGEONS sometimes end up being some of my best work. Since I don't care too much about it, I feel much more freedom in making it.
Well, now you've seen another of my truly embarrassing maps. And hopefully , you will consider trying some of my sloppy and lazy technique in order to speed up your own dungeon making for your campaign.
There is no reason that game preparation should take too long, as long as your game judging ability still provides for an entertaining evening of gaming.
If you try a test run of a home made Quick and Dirty Dungeon, you may find your players are having just as much fun as when they run through an expensive pre-made one. In fact, you may find you are a better dungeon master than you realized too.
And another thing to consider -- Some encounters will never happen:
The players met an NPC named Boaty. Boaty is actually a pair of twin magical boats who say the same thing at the same time in chorus. They are very freindly and helpful. They will take you anywhere you want in the watery areas of the map.
They asked the players if they wanted to go to Happy Island - NO. Then they asked the players if they wanted to go to Dragon Island - NOPE. And finally they asked the players if they wanted to go to Laser Penguin Island - A DEFINITIVE NEVER EVER!
Consider that any truly big and dangerous monster, or place, in your dungeon is well known. The characters will hear about it from the NPC's. And perhaps, if they are smart, they will just not go there. These mythic places that players never want to visit will become epic in your games. It's been nearly a year and the players still mention Laser Penguin Island despite never having been there.
Ok, now it's time to apply this technique and see what happens. Get some paper and a pen(cil) and get to building and populating your own module. Set your Theme, make a List of Events and Creatures, Then note everything on your wonderful new map -- Instant Dungeon Module!
The methods for Quick and Dirty Dungeons are really just a tool. It may not work for everyone.
Try it, if you do not like what you've made, consider that this style of design allows for redo's. These sloppy maps can be rough drafts and practice. You can throw the map away, or better yet, look at what you have, take what you like, and make a newer and better map.
Don't forget to check out our SHOP as well as the Gary Con Movie Draft Sample here: