Friday, October 10, 2014

Dungeon Descriptions/Notes

The following is an answer to Harvicus, who asked on the previous post,

". . . after seeing the thought you put into the goblin village and how open ended your world is, does your world contain dungeons in the classic sense? If so, I would love to see an example or two of the type of maps and area descriptions/notes you would use to run one."

(If anyone else has a good question like this, leave it on the Vacation Eve post and I'll start a new thread; this is for those who have anything to say about my dungeons).


I rarely draw out dungeons in the traditional sense.  Like the pathway to the village, I have a conception of what the dungeon's tunnels and chambers would be like, how they would be designed, where various channels would lead and what obstacles would exist for the party to overcome.

Having this clearly in my mind, knowing the left door leads to such-and-such and the right door leads into the 'bad area,' I then draw the dungeon as the party goes forward on a 3x4 foot whiteboard that's next to my gaming table.  I draw things quickly, from cut view and top view as necessary, sketching out dimensions with arrows and drawing simulated sizes for the characters themselves to gain a sense of scale when moving through a cavern or standing at the edge of a cliff.

When combat occurs, I pull out a hex-map template on Microsoft Publisher, slap a few walls up and run the combat on the program with my desktop duplicated for the players to see.  The image on the right shows the level of depth that I'll employ - this one is from the online campaign where the party fought two minotaurs and their pet bull.

Setting up a map like this takes me about 10 to 15 minutes from scratch, which makes a good time for people to take a break, stretch, talk about the combat they're just about to start and get themselves worked up as they watch me design the images.  In the last three years I've been forcing myself to be more creative with my imaging, so that I'm not just drawing boxes.  The players gave me a lot of abuse at the beginning, as everything I drew looked like blobs, but lately they have expressed their approval and complimented many of my figures.  I think the minotaur at the bottom looks quite good.  The one at the top is supposed to have been killed, but I still haven't got the hang of drawing dead bodies from the top down.

So, in a sense, yes, I will run a 'traditional dungeon' - I had one of my offline parties running in one for a year, which they escaped just lately.  On the other hand, I don't run traditional dungeons in traditional ways.  I get the party through empty rooms by NOT having them move their miniatures along.  I draw as much as is needed to make the party understand where they are and how the space relates to them.  I am a really crappy artist, but even I can draw a hill and a pond clearly enough to give them a sense of where the dungeon entrance is visually.


Harvicus said...

Thanks for taking the time to post this. It is exactly what I was wondering. Because your world is so open and driven by player choice, do you have several prepared dungeons that have sat idle simply because no one has taken the time to discover and explore them, or is everything kept as very broad strokes until it seems there is a good chance that a party will be visiting them?

I know you enjoy putting together your world map and details, so I guess that question is mostly aimed at discovering if you have the same desire to dream up and drill down into the detail of actual adventure sites.

Another hypothetical question, if you were going to run a one off adventure in your world, would you treat it as any other running, or would you have a specific goal for the players to accomplish?

Hope you do not mind so many questions, just trying to discover more details about how and what you prepare for your sessions.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I would never willingly run a one-off adventure. You might just as well ask if I would suit up to play one inning of baseball.

Typically, I have some idea the party might step into a dungeon with the next session. As I have planned articles, papers, essays and projects, I design the dungeon in my mind over a period of three or four days, during moments of relaxation. I tend to lay about for an hour or so at a time, just thinking, as I find this can be very freeing creatively. Usually something interesting occurs to me, I build upon it and when the session begins, I start fleshing it out in front of the players.

Thus, I'm not 'winging' it for the campaign, but I'm not spending a lot of time pedantically writing down the details ahead of time. With practice, I am able to hold these things in my memory until I'm ready to disgorge them.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Wow...your method of "dungeon design" pretty accurately describes my last few times out as a DM (well, except that I don't use a hex grid for combat). And here I've been beating myself up for NOT "pedantically writing down the details ahead of time."

I suddenly feel surprisingly better.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Perhaps it is my theatre experience, JB. One prepares, rehearses, perhaps memorizes the script, but one performs on the spur of the moment. As I am a dungeon master, and there is no blocking nor exchanged dialogue with others, rehearsal is unnecessary - preparation and presentation are paramount.