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Friday, June 14, 2019

Megadungeon Design For Fun And Laziness

Quick summary: I want to have a megadungeon to run so I can have a fallback if I don't have a more complicated adventure planned. I have some methods I will use to make that possible.


(From Dark Souls 3)

I want to have a megadungeon to run because I am lazy. In theory, this sounds like a massive contradiction. What could possibly be lazy about having a multi-level maze full of monsters and treasure? Well its simple; megadungeons can just be pulled out at the drop of a hat whenever people want to play D&D but you don't have the energy to run a story-based and complicated adventure.

There can be aspects of diplomacy, role playing, and drama from a megadungeon game, but this emerges naturally and requires little intervention from the GM, it helps shift some of that responsibility on to the players.

Megadungeons are also good because they can be modular. If you find a nice dungeon someone else made, you can tack it on as a side-level. You can nab rooms from other adventures and place them in the megadungeon. 

The main problems with the megadungeon format is that;

  • There are hundreds of rooms that need to be stocked
  • You need to restock the dungeon after adventures
  • There is a high possibility of GM burnout
These can easily be remedied. First off, start out with just one dungeon level, with about 50 or so rooms. That is what Gygax started out with in the Greyhawk campaign. The second level can have some sort of guardian or lock that makes it difficult or impossible for the party to enter it in the first session or two, and the entryway to the second level should be in a far off section of the first level. This will buy you some time to make the next level while the party explores the first.


(From Darkest Dungeon)

Restocking can suck, as can stocking the dungeon in the first place, so this is why you should have some random tables for stocking most rooms. The vast majority of dungeon rooms should be randomly or semi-randomly stocked. Make a simple d6 monster encounter table and use that to stock most of the combat encounters. If you have any particularly neat ideas for other rooms, that's fine, go ahead and put it there, but if you can't come up with anything or just don't want to, just roll on the table. Traps are a little harder to randomize, but empty rooms are easy. Just roll on any number of mundane item tables and put something interesting in there. NPCs and Special rooms really need to be written up yourself though. And once a room is used up, mark it on your key and randomly restock it when you have a chance.

GM burnout is the hardest thing to fix, but it is possible. You just need to make sure you have some variety in the dungeon. Each level needs to have its own distinct theme, and each theme should be something you actually like and find interesting. If you don't care about goblins (you monster), don't have a goblin lair as one of your megadungeon's levels.

For example, here are some megadungeon level concepts I came up with on the fly just now:

1. Skeletons and goblins fighting in catacombs
2. Evil scientist's laboratory of horrors
3. Carnivorous underground jungle
4. Biomechanical giger-esque nightmare maze
5. Lovecraftian eldritch ruins
6. Flesh and bone labyrinth

These are all concepts I can get behind and would have fun running and designing. Now, contrast that with some published megadungeons coughRuinsofCastleGreyhawkcough where the levels can be described like this;

1. There are undead in an old castle ruin
2. Undead in an old castle ruin redux
3. Orogs and ogrillons in an old castle ruin
4. Orogs and ogrillons in a cave
etc.

It is good to have a unifying idea behind a dungeon, something that links all the levels together, but this shouldn't mean you just make a bland dungeon. Make something less Gary Gygax and more Jennel Jaquays.

Now you're gonna need some random tables, either ones you made yourself or ones you found. The AD&D DM's guide has some great ones, with tables for things in empty rooms, various kinds of traps, and of course all of the random encounter tables. After you pick out a few specific spots in a dungeon level and write them up, stock the rest  of the level with the following formula:

Roll 2d6, the first d6 determines if there is treasure in the room (1-3 there isn't, 4-6 there is), the second determines what kind of room it is, based on the table below:

1-2. Monster/Combat
3-4. Empty
5. Trap
6. NPC or Special Room

If there is treasure in the room, roll a d6, on a 6 the treasure is magical in nature, otherwise it is just normal mundane treasure.

Do this for every room, just noting what kind of room it is and if there is treasure, and if so, what kind. You could use the shorthand of;

C for combat
E for empty
T for trap
N for NPC
S for special

and then add * if there is treasure in the room, ** if there is magical treasure.

After you have everything noted, use your tables to fill in the rest, fixing anything on the fly if it doesn't work right. This method isn't pretty, but it is fast and will let you create and run a megadungeon very easily.

And a megadungeon has a certain charm to it, something so essentially D&D that its good to have one lying around. Its wonderful to just have an adventure location available for a simple saturday night D&D game, a mythic underworld to explore and plunder.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Plan Going Forward

Remember when a few months ago I announced I would be doing a daily 30 minute dungeon?



Yeah that's not happening.

Reasons why:

  • I'm taking 3 different college classes right now, and soon I'm going to be taking 4
  • My part time job is working me as close to 40 hours a week as they are legally able to
  • I've got other hobbies besides D&D
This doesn't mean the blog is dead though, in fact I am disgusted at how much the blog has been languishing. 

SO
If I cannot post daily, why not post weekly? Every, say, Saturday, I have to post a thing. This means that I can work on stuff throughout the week and come up with something good to share. I think this is a really good idea, both to get me back into blogging and to help make sure I don't just disappear from the internet.

So I'll be posting more stuff soon, for now, here is a dungeon I wrote while on break at my work (Click the image to expand it)




Monday, May 20, 2019

30 Minute Dungeon: The White Maze

A weird surreal funhouse dungeon, just to get back into the swing of things. Some parts are a bit wonky, I'm out of practice, things have been busy and out of hand this past month.


(Art by Mathew Borrett)

Hook

Deep in the woods where few people ever go is a twisted labyrinth of white stone. It has been there as long as anyone can remember, and it is rumored that it comes from a time before humans walked the face of the world. The maze normally has no entrance, and anyone who has tried to climb over the labyrinth's walls has never returned, but rumor has it that once every 300 years it opens; that time is tonight. What secrets could this unearthly place hold?

Description

The White Maze is a strange structure built by faeries eons ago. Its original purpose is unknown, but the maze has strange properties beyond mortal understanding. For one, the maze occupies less space than it should physically be able to, and for another, time doesn't seem to pass the right way there, and creatures from the past or future can be found wandering its halls.

Combat Encounters

The Dwarves
A group of naked, hairless dwarves occupy this "room" of the maze, sharpening weapons of bone, hair, and white stone. They have a wild look in their eyes. Various pieces of furniture crafted from similar material to their weapons are scattered across the room.

These dwarves have been trapped here for centuries, and have since lost their minds, plucked out all their hair, and begun to worship the maze, hunting down others who wander its twisted halls. Their leader wields a weapon imbued with unnatural blood magic, an axe with a head made from a human jaw. This weapon causes the user to feel intense euphoria and regenerate wounded flesh whenever they take a sentient being's life.


The Blind Dragon
There is a vaulted roof to this area of the maze, and as such it is shrouded in darkness. 

Within this room is a dragon, blinded and with its wings removed, but a dragon nonetheless. It rests on a mound of coins and gems, waiting for prey.

Training Orcs
Several orcs are practicing for war on makeshift wooden dummies. Their leader, a tall, loathsome thing with a grotesquely large chin, barks orders in orcish.

These orcs have been maintaining a constant war with the naked dwarves, but are at a standoff. Unlike the dwarves, they can be reasoned with, though they are quick to stab their "allies" in the back. Their leader is called Gnarlash.

Traps

Invisible Bridge
There is no ground here, it is simply a hole that descends ever deeper into the ground, with no bottom visible.

There is an invisible bridge with several holes in it that crosses the gap. It can be founding by pouring sand or placing objects on to it. Anyone who falls into the pit and fades from sight is lost forever.

Floating Blades
A horrific tinnitic buzzing like that of millions of bees fills your ears as you enter this part of the maze. Rotating blades of shining silver spin at various heights and angles, floating in midair. There are gaps between them, but one must be very careful to avoid injury.

The blades are made from pure silver, and if somehow disenchanted could be sold for quite a profit.

Empty Rooms

Warning
"This is Hell" is written on the wall in an oily black substance.

The substance can be collected, and is highly flammable, usable as a fuel source for lanterns.

Faerie Statue
In the center of this circular clearing is a white statue of a thin being with insect wings

The statue's eyes are expensive pearls

Fish Pond
A beautiful pond of albino fish.

This is the sole source of food and water in the maze, and it is magically cleaned and replenished every sunrise.

Special Rooms

Healing Amnesiac Mist
A mist rises from the floor, obscuring everything in this part of the maze. It seems you are in a wide open area.

The mist causes vivid hallucinations, which are designed to try and lure anyone who sees/hears them to go further into the mist. If one does go, they will disappear, only to reappear elsewhere in the maze with no memory of what occurred and full health.

Non-Player Characters

The Prisoner
A man in a gray robe lies on a bed, sobbing.

The man has been trapped here for so long he doesn't know his own name. He wants out of the maze, but can't remember how he got in. He does know that once you enter the maze, if you don't get out in time you will be trapped forever, unless you can find the way out 300 years later. Aging doesn't happen in the maze, so although he is ancient, he appears to be in his 40s.

Friday, April 26, 2019

30 Minute Dungeon: Orc Lair


(From Holmes Basic, I believe)

Hook

Orcs have been seen wandering the wilderness! You have heard tales of their cruelty and monstrous capacity for violence, and from the looks of it, these ones are armed for war. A few remote hermits have had their shacks burned to the ground and their livestock ripped to shreds, though some survivors claim that it wasn't the orcs that killed their livestock, but something horrible that travels with them, The orcs seem to have made their lair in a nearby cave.

Description

A warband of orcs called the Rusted Teeth are camping out in a cave, leaving by night to raid and pillage. They are small in number, but have an enslaved troll which they use to make up for it. A farmer named Frederick has been kidnapped by the orcs.

Combat Encounters

Orc Guards
Some orcs stand watch, clad in armor made from stitched together leather and rusted steel. One of them wields a heavy crossbow, while the others are equipped with spears and shields.
The orcs with spears and shields will attempt to protect the crossbow wielding orc. If any of the orcs are killed, one of the remainder will flee to the barracks to alert the others.

Barracks 
It smells like a pigsty in here, and it isn't much cleaner. A number of orcs lie sleeping on cots, while a few sit gambling on a fight between beetles. 
As soon as the orcs notice the party, they will awaken the sleeping ones (including their leader, Balfrug. Alternatively, the death rattle of one of them may awaken the sleeping orcs, if they don't have time to react. The orcs will try to use their cots as cover, and wield a variety of weapons, such as crossbows, pikes, slings, and axes. There is a chest in the corner full of the gold the orcs have looted.

Troll Lair
Before you stands a huge, monstrous humanoid, covered in cancerous growths and cysts. It reeks of rotting meat, and it has a strange silver collar around its neck, covered in mystic symbols. Stalactites hold up the ceiling.
The troll is wearing a magical collar, stolen by the orcs, that makes it susceptible to the commands of the one who put the collar on it (Balfrug). The troll is under standing orders to kill anyone who isn't part of the Rusted Teeth warband, and it will follow this order without any care for its safety or survival. The troll may try to break the stalactites in the room to bring down the ceiling. If the collar is removed the troll will be grateful, and will flee into the wilderness. The magic collar can be re-used by the party.

Traps

Bear Traps
It looks like there was a fire in this room. Piles of ash, bits of burnt wood, and a few small piles of oddly unburnt leaves cover the floor, and drawn on the wall in charcoal are crude images of murder and destruction.
Hidden under the leaves are bear traps. A golden amulet, dropped by one of the orcs, lies hidden under the debris.

Tripwire Bucket Of Oil
There seems to be some spiderwebs in this room, including a long thin strand across the floor, numerous cobwebs, and a funnel web in the corner. 
The long thing strand of web is actually a tripwire, and if activated, a bucket of oil will fall on the triggering character's head, coating them from head to toe. The bucket, upon hitting the flint stone floor, will make a spark, causing the character to go up in flames.

Empty Rooms

Hanging Animal Skins
Hung up on the wall are a number of animal skins. Some are crudely sewn back together, as if they were torn apart before being hung up.
These are the skins of the animals killed by the troll. The orcs intend to use them as clothing, once they are sufficiently dried out.

Shrine To A Pig Demon
A small statue of a pig-like humanoid sits in a niche at the end of this chamber.
This is the object of worship for the Rusted Teeth, and represents a grotesque swine deity to which Balfrug has pledged himself. The other orcs will be fearful if the statue is threatened with destruction by the party, believing destroying the statue will release the demon to slay them. This is just a lie told to them by Balfrug in order to maintain fear.

Latrine
It smells disgusting in here, and you can soon see why. A vile puddle of urine with piles of feces nearby show that this is where the orcs "take care of business".
Human teeth can be found in the feces, including a gold tooth.

Special Rooms

Stairway
In stark contrast to the rest of the cave's natural form, a set of cut stone stairs lead down in this room. You cannot tell how far it goes.
The staircase descends down several miles, all the way down to the underworld. The orcs avoid this room, for fear of the what might come out. Strange whispers and unfathomably alien sounds can be heard emanating from the stairway if one listens long enough, beckoning the listener to descend down into the depths. After a while, these noises can put a listener into a mindless trance, compelled supernaturally to go down the stairs.

Non-Player Characters

Kidnapped Farmer
A skinny, black haired young man with soft brown eyes is tied up with rope, next to a bucket of dirty water. He is gagged with cloth, and struggles when he sees you.
The man's name is Frederick, and he is a simple farmer who was kidnapped by the orcs. He was to be made a meal for the troll, but he managed to convince the orcs that he knows where some great hidden treasure is. He claims that he cannot tell them until the full moon (which is in 3 days), for he has a secret treasure map tattooed onto his skin that is only visible by the light of the full moon. None of this is true, Frederick is just a very good liar and desperate to not be eaten.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

30 Minute Dungeon Expanded Concept

Right so everybody on my blog should know about my 30 minute dungeon formula, but if you don't here is a brief recap:

Based on my experience as a dungeon master, I find that the perfect ratio of rooms in a dungeon is as follows:

30% combat encounters
30% empty
20% traps
10% NPCs
10% weird stuff

Which, in practice when it comes to making a quick dungeon in 30 minutes, is 3 combat encounters, 3 empty rooms, 2 traps, an NPC, and something weird to fiddle with. Also one magic item, thrown somewhere in there.

Now this is all well and good but I've found myself realizing that even I didn't really full "get" what made a good one of any of these archetypical rooms in a dungeon. What separates a good trap from a bad trap? When is a combat encounter just a boring die rolling competition, and when is it tactical and neat? How do I a huge dumbass write interesting characters?

Here is what I came up with to answer these sorts of questions:

What does a good combat encounter need?
  • A reason for the party to fight. The enemies should be blocking off an area they need to get to, there should be treasure that is being guarded, or maybe there is an innocent person to save.
  • The environment needs to be interesting and exploitable. There should be stuff in here that both the enemies and the party can use to their advantage. Tables that could be knocked over and used for cover, chandeliers that can be knocked off the ceiling, explosive barrels, etc. This encourages the players to think tactically and makes combat actually interesting.
  • Enemies should think tactically and act in ways that make sense. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, a mindless zombie is probably gonna be less intelligent than a bandit, but the general principle makes sense. Enemies should flee when wounded, take cover from ranged fire, coordinate with each other, and select targets logically.
(This is taken from the Wolfenstein 3d mod Medevil, and I think this forms the basis of a neat combat encounter. There is a table in the middle that acts as cover, two different enemies with unique tactics and strategies. If this were in a D&D game, the players could even utilize the tapestries on the wall to their advantage, maybe throwing one over an opponent to blind them!)

What does a good trap need?
  • Some sort of reason for the players to want to bypass it. If there is just a side room with no treasure and a chest with a poisoned latch, that's not a good trap, you're just being an asshole. A proper trap should reward the party for overcoming it in some way, through either treasure, access to more of the dungeon, etc.
  • A way to bypass it or deactivate it. Sure, logically a dungeon builder would want a trap that can't be avoided or stopped, but you're not running a game about killing player characters, you're running a game about fantastic adventure! Put in a sneaky hidden lever that deactivates the crusher, or a magic word which makes the spikes in the walls retract. Or just add a way out that avoids it all together! A death trap shouldn't be a death trap, if that makes sense.
  • A way to actually notice the trap before it does its business. You don't need to necessarily tell the players anything when the enter the room, but if they start looking around and asking you questions, answer them! If they look closely, let them notice that tripwire or pressure plate. Reward exploration and observation.
(I love this illustration from D&D 4th edition, its a little bit over the top for my taste but this image of the adventurers fleeing from a huge boulder while being shot at by arrows is so cool)

What does a good empty room need?

  • An empty room should have a reason for existing. There should be doors or corridors that lead to other rooms, some treasure, or some lore and story behind it. 
  • Something should be in the "empty" room that relates to the dungeon's theme or history. For example, a wizard's labyrinth might have a portrait of the wizard, or a small laboratory in great disrepair. 
What does a good special room need?
  • Honestly do whatever you want with this, this is your chance to put something in the dungeon that is wacky and out there. Just think about something weird that you could semi-reasonably explain its reason for being here, and then plonk it in. 
  • Screw balance, this place doesn't follow the rules. That doesn't mean it has to be super deadly or game breaking, it could just be some weird effect or encounter, like an ogre which doesn't actually exist or something.
What does a good NPC need?
  • Mannerisms or a distinct voice. Give that fella a silly voice, go ahead, it will help the players remember them.
  • Goals and motivations are also important. Why is this person in the dungeon? What do they want?
  • An NPC also needs likes and dislikes. A character who is deathly afraid of rats and is oddly attracted to wizards is a lot more interesting than someone without any preferences for anything.

Friday, April 12, 2019

30 Minute Dungeon: The Crypt Of Radok The Cruel



(This is me right now)

Hey, I'm still alive. I haven't been posting much because of general stress combined with me being quite busy. My initial goal of posting a dungeon a day was far too optimistic for what I'm capable of right now, with a real job and college. But, I don't want this blog to fall by the wayside, and I still love D&D, so lets make a dungeon.

Hook
There have long been tales of a buried sorcerer and his treasure in the hills, but they have never been substantiated until now. A local explorer trekked inside, and brought back a centuries old golden coin.

Background
Centuries ago a powerful sorcerer wandered the lands, plundering and killing as he willed, and he amassed a following of impressionable young occultists. This spellcaster was named Radok the Cruel, and by the time he retired, he had gathered a large amount of treasure. But Radok was dying, he had spent too much time adventuring and performing black magic in his youth, and now that old age had taken him, his body was beginning to decay at a rapid rate. He ordered his followers that he be buried, along with his treasure, in a tomb in the hills.

Combat Encounters

Giant Spider
Cobwebs cover almost every inch of this room, some sheets are thin as fine silk, but others are vast ropey masses of sticky fiber. 
A pale white giant spider lurks among the web, waiting for victims to move closer. A skeleton, wrapped in web, can also be found in this room, with a pouch containing a few coins.

Undead Bandits
Around a wooden table are seated several human corpses, long since desiccated and mummified. The table has a small pile of coins and jewels on it.
If the treasure is touched, the corpses spring to life and attack.

Animated Statue
An easel stands in front of a beautiful statue of a goddess. On the easel is a canvas, on which is drawn the sketch of the statue before it.
The sketch depicts the statue in a different pose than it currently is. The statue is animated, controlled by a bound demonic spirit, and will attempt to slay the interlopers when given the chance.

Traps

Incense Of Eternal Slumber
A delightful perfume pervades the air of this rather fancy and comfortable looking room. There are cushions and blankets strewn about, and a table in the center has several candles on it. Some figures in the room appear to be sleeping peacefully.
The perfume dulls the senses, and makes anyone who enters feel relaxed and sleepy. It even has a minor hallucinogenic effect, requiring some effort to realize that the sleeping figures are rotting corpses. Anyone who falls asleep in this room will never wake up unless they are removed from the room.

The Gorgon's Book
This room is cramped, and contains only a small lectern and a lantern next to it. Atop the lectern is a closed leather-bound book. 
The book is both a deadly trap and a potent magical weapon if its power is discovered. Anyone who opens the book will see remarkably lifelike portraits of gorgons drawn on every page. Nobody who sees the true face of a gorgon can continue to live, and will turn to stone unless they manage to look away before viewing the creature's form.

Empty Rooms

The Fountain Of Wine
A fountain bubbles and splashes in this room, spewing forth a translucent red fluid that smells faintly of grapes. The walls, floor, and ceiling are decorated with mosaics of a vineyard.
The fountain is magical, and ensures that the wine flowing through it remains potable and delicious. The wine can be bottled and sold for significant profit, though there is a limited supply.

The Art Gallery
Dozens of paintings of a stern faced man with a black goatee stare down at you from the walls. 
The paintings are all portraits of Radok the Cruel.

Taxidermy Room
Several stuffed predatory animals are arranged in threatening poses in this room, including a bear, a lion, and a wolf.
All of these animals were, in life, the pets of Radok the Cruel.

Special Rooms

Random Telepad
A circle of white light glows in the stone floor, surrounded by curious arcane symbols.
Anyone who steps in the circle is teleported to a random room in the dungeon.

Non-Player Characters

Radok The Confused
Before you, on a throne of carved stone, sits an evil looking man with a black goatee, dressed in fine red robes.
This is a holographic projection of Radok the Cruel. It fully believes it is the man himself, and does a very convincing job at acting the part. However, it cannot cast any spells (though it will threaten to do so), and doesn't actually know that much about Radok's life beyond the basics. The real Radok is dead, the throne being hollow (there is a way to open it around the back) and containing his mummified corpse. The corpse is wearing red robes of the finest quality, and is buried along with piles of coins and jewels.


(This is the kind of vibe I'm going for. Picture is of Roger Delgado as The Master in Doctor Who)