April 19, 2014
The Dungeon Crawl
Whether met with cries of joy or moans of disdain, dungeon crawls are found in many role-playing games. Dungeons crawls are what players have come to refer to expansive dungeons (be they actual dungeons or not) filled with monsters and treasure. The best dungeon crawls have a story behind them, a reason for the players to be trekking through its cavernous depths that is something greater than to simply kill all the monsters and take all of their shiny loot – which is still a nice bonus. Designing a dungeon is pretty easy. You can either draw one out yourself, or find one you like from the multitude that are available at your local hobby/game store or online. Then, with your dungeon map set, you populate it with things for your players to deal with; such as monsters, treasure, and traps, and really, that is about it. Preparing a dungeon is the easy part. Running a dungeon is where the real challenge – and fun – is at.
First off, you need to decide how you are going to present your dungeon to your adventuring party. The easy way is simply to give them an unmarked map of the dungeon, but this tends to be the least preferable method. With a map in hand, unless given to the characters in-game as well, it makes the experience lose its element of exploration, which a lot of players are very into. A better way is to either let them sketch out a map as they go, in which case it is up to the Gamemaster to be as descriptive about the environment as they can manage. Ever detail needs to be made known; otherwise the players will miss things that would likely be obvious to the characters. For my groups, I have found the best method is to be using a dry erase board that the Gamemaster fills in as the players go. This way the Gamemaster is able to draw out all the elements from their own map while keeping things the players are not aware of – such as traps or hidden creatures – a secret until it becomes appropriate.
Then you need to decide how casual you will have this dungeon be. Is this the sort of dungeon the characters can just leave to rest and resupply when needed, or is there something trapping them down here, forcing them to ration their various resources? I usually like the latter, as it creates a greater sense of tension, but I do not use it lightly. When doing so, it is important to know your players and their characters, especially how much they should be able to take. For really long dungeons, it can also be a good idea to put in something to give them a boost. Maybe there is a fountain that restores the health of those who drink it? Or a trapped spirit willing to grant its protection to those who set it free? Give them something, otherwise you are likely going to find yourself with a bunch of dead characters, a bunch of unhappy players, and no real notion of where to go from there.
Finally, you need to decide if your dungeon has a purpose or not. I do not mean just why the characters are there, but why was it made in the first place. People do not just go around making extensive underground labyrinths for fun, you know. Who made the dungeon? Why? What secrets does it hold? Maybe this will be worked in the narrative of the story, or maybe it will not. Either way, knowing this helps in creating a theme, which adds a lot to a dungeon. To this day, my players still remember – with great dread – the dungeon of the man gnome trap-smith as well as the golem caverns. Give your dungeon character, as this is how you will make your dungeons memorable.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good dungeon crawling… I mean gaming.
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