Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Rules of the Dungeon

As usual, as soon as I start seriously working on this megadungeon project, I start getting bogged down in process. Should I use the one page dungeon template? Should I ink the maps? Should I map first, then figure out what's in it, or should I work out what's on the level and then map?

Fie, I say. I'm building this thing in the spirit of being fifteen, before I knew that there was a right way to do things, when I just scrawled my notes on graph paper during French and stuffed them into colored folder's depending on whether they were this week's adventure or the next's. I'm giving myself a few basic rules, and beyond that, I'm going to do my best to stay out of my own way.

#1. It must be delve-ready by July 27th. I'm doing this, among other reasons, to honor Gary Gygax, so I pretty much have to run it on his birthday. (Or at the very least, on the Sunday before.) I ideally want to have the first three levels done by then, but I need at least the first level finished and the second started. I figure I can't screw this one up, unless it turns out I have some weird dungeon-related disability.

#2. Don't get it right. Get it done. I'm supporting this by giving myself some leeway to change things if I decide I don't like them. Mostly, though, I'm adopting this as a mantra. It's a dungeon, for crying out loud. There's no way to do a twisting cavern of madness right, and at any rate, this is a learning exercise. As much as I like the idea of having one dungeon that I use for twenty years and run hundreds of people through, I'm not stuck with this thing if I outgrow it.

#3. It must be hand-written. I've run my last few campaigns entirely on the computer, but while it's incredibly convenient and I'm happy with how those campaigns turned out (or are turning out, since that's how I'm running At Star's End), I need to get back to writing notes by hand. It's what right for this project.

#4. It had better be weird. Otherwise known as "Stop worrying and love the dungeon." This one I don't think I'll be forgetting, because dang it, it's (one of the many reasons) why I'm taking on this project in the first place. To get a taste of that otherwordly underground weirdness that I hear all the serious dungeon-istas talking about. It's worth keeping in mind, because one of the problems I always had when I tried to run dungeons in the past was that they weren't weird; there was nary a dollop of fantastic illogic to be found.This is the rule I'll refer to when deciding whether the President Cave should make an appearance, or whether there really needs to be a cupcake sub-level.

And that's pretty much it. A few basic principles, but no need to bog myself down with more rules than I need.


  1. That sounds like a very good set of guidelines you've established. They should serve you well.

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, I have one piece of advice about Rule #2. In your efforts to get it done, don't do so at the cost of your own enjoyment. The one thing that I've learned with my own megadungeon build is that when it starts to feel like a chore; step away for a bit, even if it's only a hour or two. Don't try to push past the feeling that the dungeon has become work in order to finish it. Dungeon building should be fun for the referee not only in the running, but in the construction. If you're not having fun building it, chances are you're not going to have fun running it, and that lack of enthusaism is going to carry over to the players. Take a break and come back to it.

    If it still feels like a chore after a break, that's a good indication that you might be on the wrong track with the encounters and tricks/traps you're using. Try another approach and switch up the monsters and weirdness and see if that feels better.

    Good luck!

  2. Have you seen this?

  3. I love rule #4. Good luck.

  4. So does the President Cave have a huge copper disc with a portrait of Batman on it?

  5. Amityville Mike: Thanks. That's very solid advice; I've gotten myself into trouble along those lines before, so it's good to have a reminder.

    Tim Jensen: I've never played it, but it looks quite cool. This project is a little too whimsical for it, but I'd like to fiddle with it someday.

    Jack Crow: Thanks. I really need to exercise Rule #4 in my GMing in general more often.

    BigFella: It would be a crime if it didn't. An absolute crime.