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View Full Version : DM advice on mapping out a dungeon.



Alyosha
2007-12-20, 09:17 PM
As a DM I can create fun encounters, set up interesting traps, and offer solid roleplaying opportunities.

But I cannot map out an entire dungeon to save my life. I want to be able to create a location that is interesting because it is there. I want my players to wonder what's around every corner for reasons apart from monsters, treasure, or traps.

I understand that a lot of building an environment is fluff and texture provided by the story teller, but I want suggestions on ways to make the place solid and interesting.

I'm tinkering with raised platforms, narrow walkways, and such as that. But I don't really feel like I'm tapping the full potential of such things.

Any help here would be more than useful and appreciated.

I'm not looking for specific advice on particular environments, but maybe things that I could use no matter where I set my adventures.

TheThan
2007-12-20, 09:24 PM
You can try a random dungeon generator.

Iíve used this one (http://www.aarg.net/~minam/dungeon.cgi) before for my own games.

They might be a bit of modifying to work, but they should do the trick.

vanyell
2007-12-20, 09:27 PM
I'm of a totally different school on dungeon mapping

just make your first room, right at the beginning, then ask, what was this room for? before it was a dungeon?
from there, it all goes outward. a bunch of small rooms close to each other? living quarters. make it make sense if you were trying to live there before hand.

Alyosha
2007-12-20, 09:28 PM
That's amazing! I never knew such tools existed. I'll definitely have to bookmark that site.

Balkash
2007-12-20, 09:34 PM
http://www.merriamwebster.com/ use the thesaurus. It'll honestly help. As well, maybe think of any great stories you've read. Anything that had lots of adjectives.

As well, all dungeons could use/need/have:

rope bridges
dank, musty smelling cave walls
lichen growing all over the floor
warped, rotted wood bridges that span a vast chasm that seems to fall for eternity
small critters seeming to skitter across the floor as you walk by
a faint breeze that kicks up suddenly, then quickly dies down
the glistening white bones of some long dead humanoid that litter the small crevice in the wall
droplets of water sporadically fall from the vaunted ceilings of ancient rock above
a distinct smell of rotten eggs
the faint pitter patter of footsteps fading fast in the distance
winding, befuddling layers of empty maze-like corridors


Cities could always have

old cobblestone pathes
pools of stagnant, brown water that collect along the side of the road
ragged, toothless old beggars
ramshackle structures, almost unfit to be called houses
the streets filled with a vast array of varying people
the market is buzzing with the cacophony of everyday barters and vendors
shabby, ill dress children roam the streets pitifully looking for a spare coin
town guards, patrol the docks in their brilliant armour, carrying their gleaming swords at their waist
the crafty old elf leaning on the wall of the tavern seems to wink to you, as you go by


just think of yourself walking around where it is you're players are. Imagine the sights, the smells, what are you walking on? what time of day is it? what is the weather like? who else is around? what else is around? what is the temperature? noises? bugs? birds? colours?

hope that helped.

===edit===

You can try a random dungeon generator.

Iíve used this one (http://www.aarg.net/~minam/dungeon.cgi) before for my own games.

They might be a bit of modifying to work, but they should do the trick.

I have that as a ZIP file, I was always wondering where it came from. Honestly, that was what I first thought of. But ya, just use those that imagery with the dungeon generator. Perfect

Inyssius Tor
2007-12-20, 10:06 PM
Steal ideas wholesale from more talented people.

Well, you knew that already. But it really is the golden rule of DMing; you can apply it to any aspect of the job.

Other than that: Come up with the purpose of a dungeon--to house a few hundred kobold miners, say.
Think logically about what would fit with that purpose. The kobolds need to keep adventurers from coming in and killing everyone; they get racial bonuses to mundane trapmaking, so they would probably put traps wherever they possibly can. Size is their biggest advantage, so they prefer cramped quarters (ten-foot-wide corridors exist only to be filled with traps); since they're on their home ground, they can score another advantage in making the entrance corridors twisty and disorienting--and on.
Derive a unifying theme from that step, and use it for most of the dungeon. Not all of the dungeon, though--changing the tone of a dungeon midway through will make things a lot more interesting.


TheThan: I dunno, that seems like a really bad idea. My instinct is to go with a single coherent theme for each dungeon, and it seems like that generator would hurt more than help. I can understand its use, but I wouldn't pattern my own dungeons after it.

Jolly Steve
2007-12-21, 12:15 AM
I have several random tables specifically for dungeons - go to www.apolitical.info/webgame/tables , and look at the 'Dungeons' section. The 'Adventure Ideas' section might be useful too.

leperkhaun
2007-12-21, 01:37 AM
depending on how long your players have played.

Use the older modules and the older 3rd party modules. Probably not something like castle greyhawk, but there are plenty of other ones out there.

Best part is that most game stores have them on the discount rake.

Alyosha
2007-12-21, 12:42 PM
I have another question.

How do you go about setting out the map and the grid? I've had DMs use graph paper, I've seen the sample grid out of the DMG laminated and marked with dry erase markers, and I've also seen some DMs use whiteboards and more or less estimate distances and such.

The Dungeon Tiles WotC produces and sells just seem to me to be cumbersome. It looks like it would take almost as much time to shuffle through the tiles to make the room than it would to just play the game.

I'm looking for a streamlined, efficient way that minimizes time to set up, erasing/drawing (especially for enemy and player positions), as well as systems that help to differentiate between each player and types of monster/numbers of monsters.

Reinboom
2007-12-21, 12:53 PM
I use a battle mat:
http://paizo.com/store/gameAids/gamingMats/chessex/megamats
with staedlater nonpermanent markers (just... never use red).

Leadfeathermcc
2007-12-21, 01:07 PM
I have another question.

How do you go about setting out the map and the grid? I've had DMs use graph paper, I've seen the sample grid out of the DMG laminated and marked with dry erase markers, and I've also seen some DMs use whiteboards and more or less estimate distances and such.

I have a 4 foot by 5 foot sheet of glass, an old storm window actually. Under that is a 1 inch grid. I usually describe the rooms and have the players draw them out on the grid with dry erase markers. Seems to work.

Fuzzy_Juan
2007-12-21, 01:09 PM
I always just think of what I want the place to contain, then think, natural, or artificial/mix...then start going to town. Once you have an idea of what it is, the form starts to happen on it's own. What lives there, why? Have they made any effort to defend their home if intelligent (few 'monsters' would inhabit an area and not make plans to defend it if attacked...well...if they have half a brain at least).

Also note, when designing treasure and monsters...if the treasre is particularly valuable, or in plain sight/not trapped...why the hell wouldn't the monsters have done something with it, or at least be using it?!?!

What about food, wandering monsters (they don't just stay put the entire time...do they?).

As such, my dungeons tend to be more like small monster towns with ful ecologies...slightly convoluted...but much more interesting...perhaps if you start thinking 'what lives here and why', then each room will just build itself. My dungeons seem to do that after a while.