View Full Version : DM Help Looking for ideas on running a good dungeon

Ken Murikumo
2016-06-15, 11:24 AM
Not so much plot or enemy layouts, but more along the lines of tips for running a successful and fun dungeon.

I want the dungeon run to last about 2 sessions (we play for 3-1/2 to 4 hours per session)
i want it to be less, "you go down a hall, disarm a few traps, and find a room. This room has (blank) in it. There are 2 other hallways, left or right."

I've run a few dungeons while DMing, they weren't bad, but i would like to improve my DMing abilities in every aspect.

Koo Rehtorb
2016-06-15, 11:25 AM
A liberal application of gelatinous cubes.

2016-06-15, 04:20 PM
Here are a few ideas:

Puzzles! Puzzles can be lots of fun in dungeons. (Just look at the Zelda series.) Real-life manipulatives and clues can help immerse players in the challenge.

Mysteries: It's a Dwarven ruin, so why is there so much Elvish writing on the walls?

Secrets: There's a long-dead skeleton in the dungeon next to a wall with many, many scratch marks on it. Can the party find what the dead person couldn't?

Backtracking: Rogue failed to pick a lock? Hide a key further along on another path. Even if the party succeeded, now they can close the door again, potentially cutting off pursuit or creating a trap.

2016-06-15, 04:25 PM
Pacing: Have some ideas for wandering monsters or other events that will keep the party moving and engaged.

Puzzle-alternatives: Puzzles can be very hard to solve and it's no fun being stuck at one for an hour. Have alternatives planned if they can't solve it (ie. a timed riddle that activates a golem if the riddle isn't solved).

Jay R
2016-06-15, 05:16 PM
It will be a set of incidents. If you do not want it to be a set of disconnected incidents, then you must connect them. And the end is some evil entity committing some horror, and the denizens are his protectors.

Perhaps all the others are minor evil clerics and undead. In that case, the traps should be poisons, which will not affect the undead guards.

But have a theme that the party can slowly puzzle out.

2016-06-15, 07:50 PM
It's all about atmosphere. I take cues from dungeons that you remember from video games. One of the greats is the Forest Temple from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I'm also going to talk about Anor Londo from Dark Souls and Ravenholm from Half Life 2.

Each location has a specific thesis upon which every element of the place converges. You can think of it like how you want the mood of the place to be. The Forest Temple is all about corruption and insanity, Anor Londo is about wonder and awe (with sinister undertones), and Ravenholm exists to be dreaded.

Each location reinforces its thesis with an appropriate aesthetic quality. The Forest Temple is dark and twisted, full of undead and strange magic. You get the literal sense that the place is twisted up in the hallway that spirals around. Doors and passages and ladders are in strange places. Anor Londo gives you the sense of awe by taking you to a palace and cathedral in the sky, and having you adventure literally on top of it. Ravenholm is in an abandoned village and then a graveyard. In most tabletop RPGs, the GM stops here. You know you are supposed to feel spooked because the GM just spent a minute describing the dungeon as a real spooky place, or whatever. It is important to have the right aesthetic qualities to match your dungeon's thesis, but that is not all.

The most important element is the *action* of the location. While you put your players in the location, you also have to set up things for the players to do that align with the location's thesis. In the Forest Temple, the player goes in and slays creatures that are unnatural, that did not exist before in the uncorrupted forest. Magical skulls surrounded by fire, ghosts, werewolves, skeletons, and such. The minibosses in the place is a group of magic wielding ghosts. Your puzzles entail taking things that are wrong, and setting them to rights. You untwist the twisted hallway, you solve puzzles by sliding together cubes into the right pattern, and such. In Anor Londo, you are constantly in danger of falling from the roofs of the grand structures you're climbing on, giving you an idea of how insignificant you are, and how much like a vermin you are to the beings who constructed Anor Londo. Ravenholm's action is all shooting zombies in the dark. Horrible enemies combined with poor visibility makes you think you see them anywhere, reinforcing the sense of dread. When you design your dungeon, you need to think about what your players are doing in it. Is your thesis supposed to be about peril? Put players in perilous situations, put enemies in perilous situations. Put traps everywhere! Is your thesis supposed to have something to do with wealth? Play around with what players loot, play around with maybe having your players collect objects, fight over objects, and use physical *things* as a part in solving your dungeon.

Lastly, *setup* is another important element. One of the ways that each location makes a big impact that people don't often think about or don't often see is how they are set up. You learn about each location or get an impression for each location before even going there, setting your expectations that can be played with inside of the actual location. Ravenholm in Half Life 2 does this really well, as you hear people talk fearfully about it before you ever get there. The Forest Temple acts a little more subtly by how it's situated in the plot. It being the first proper dungeon after you enter the horrific future sets a certain expectation that you will be as unpleasantly surprised by it as you've been by all the other changes you've seen after entering the future... which is true, given how corrupted the dungeon is. Anor Londo gets set up by the contrast between its openness and the previous area, which is defined by closed off, dark, claustrophobic spaces. In your own RPG settings, you should not stick the players in a dungeon every session, but rather every other session, or even every third session. In between every dungeon, you are building the players up somehow to be prepared for the dungeon. Put in references to the dungeon by how NPCs talk about them, or physical evidence around the dungeon. Maybe your players will get to the dungeon and have to take a look around before they are ever allowed to enter it and properly go through the experience.