Friday, June 10, 2011

Dungeon Design - Good, Bad, Indifferent

The cannon regarding good dungeon design is access via multiple entries coupled with distinct internal areas communicating with multiple other internal areas via multiple ways as well. I agree that this makes for a good-game dungeon, but I don't think that it makes very much sense. I call this design principle multiple-connectors: opposed to limited-connectors.

The primary reason why I believe the limited-connector design makes more sense is that (generally) every square foot of material removed from the underground must go somewhere else. IMO, this extensive effort pushes design to limited-connecter frameworks ("You can walk another 300 feet, Bob. I'm not going to excavate another tunnel just for your lazy butt."). Besides caves that in no fashion resemble real caves, this is one of my pet peeves about underground construction - where did all that excavated material get moved to? Outside every hole dug into the earth should be (or once was) a pile of rubble.

Historically underground creations were made mostly for religious, protective, or mining purposes. These activities also push towards limited access. Religious buildings have limited accesses, protective buildings have limited accesses, and mining has limited accesses. The limited-connecter design for above-ground religious and protective buildings would certainly be continued below ground given the extra framework pressures. Mines tend to resemble trees - a large single shaft from which multiple, rarely-connecting branches fan out.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that I have no problems publishing linear dungeons in any of our lines as that's what I believe would more than likely occur underground - to me, they are the normal. As I expect the GM to alter every adventure to make it more harmonious with the play preferences at their table, adding connecting passages (if that's what's preferred) is an easy task, IMO. All that said however, multiple connector dungeons are always welcome. They can be some of the more rewarding to explore - especially when the connecters exist with a greater purpose that "good dungeon design."

PS. IMO, multiple-connector dungeons work best for locations that have been re-purposed several times by various occupiers. This helps explain the erratic construction.


  1. Nice post Joe. I've always felt that while some for the analysis of dungeon layout that's been done is interesting, it's also post-hoc, looking for patterns for which we have no evidence the early module designers were aiming for. So I think it is only so productive to make it into a dogma. I think variety is the key, so that one module might be one way and another module a different way.

  2. Your conception works (somewhat) from a Gyxagian Naturalism perspective. However, if you come into a dungeon from a perspective of Dungeon as Mythic Underworld, or Dungeon as NPC. In both of those scenarios then many-to-many (to use a database term) connections not only make perfect sense but are required. Dungeons as living beings don't necessarily map to the most efficient hollowing out of earth and indeed, are likely, just like other living beings, to have multiple paths to the same destination.

    As for mechanically excavated areas, there are many reasons why linear spaces may or may not make sense:

    A. Proximity to other useful spaces,
    B. Further construction,
    C. Further destruction,
    D. Natural causes,
    E. Bad ideas,
    F. And the big one: Function - not every human-like activity allows for purely linear function, I would argue that not even MOST activity allows for such.

    That's not to say that there shouldn't be linear dungeons, but having them be the standard, especially for larger spaces seems... unlikely.

  3. With a Mythic Underworld all bets are off, of course.


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