Designing a Dungeon: Part 1

I've written a lot of adventures over the past 35 years. This is in no small part because creating adventures one of the things I enjoy most about RPGs. Putting togehter a new challenge for the players and then watching how it all plays out when they're tossed into it is insanely fun.

So there I was, getting ready to create a new adventure for my Aetaltis campaign setting, when a friend says, "Why don't you share your process with your patrons?" I'd never thought of that before, but I figured why not? Hopefully you'll find something useful for your own adventure writing efforts in this "watch me work" series! Either way, it'll be fun to share one of my favorite RPG activities with you!

The Inspiration

I draw a lot of my own maps, but often it's fun to start with one that's already completed. This is especially true if you're tight on time. I also find that working with an existing map also inspires me to come up with creative ideas to explain what I see there that I might not have come up if I'd drawn my own map.

But we'll get into more of that later.

You see, I'm a patron of the fantastic cartography of Dyson Logos. The mapping style is crisp, clean, and does a great job of balancing an attractive style with the fact that an RPG map is, essentially, a tool for running games. It's not easy to walk that line, but Dyson does a great job.

So when I got a notification this week telling me that I could get 71 Dyson maps for $9.99 AND that I could use those maps for commercial purposes, I pretty much clicked "Buy Now" before I even finished reading the message. For you, that "commercial use" bit probably doesn't matter. For me, it's a big deal, since the work I do is for on my Aetaltis campaign setting. <shamelessplug> (Which you can support by clicking here!) </shamlessplug>

Step 1: Choosing a Map

So I download my pack of maps, unzip it, and take a look at what I've got. Not surprisingly there is a ton of good stuff there, but I'm kind of in a dungeon crawly mood. After waffling between a number of really excellent options, I settle on this one.

Pretty ain't it? I like this because it has a variety of interesting elements. The entranceway has those cool double stairs. This is cool because it forces the players to make a choice right at the start. Even if both choices have the same outcome, forcing the players to choose will help to create immediate tension. 

There's also that cool water feature. What the heck is that about? Forcing the players to slog around in ankle deep water adds character to an encounter, so I'm liking that as well.

Plus, check out all those oddly shaped rooms. All sorts of neat little nooks and crannies. What are those about? It'll be fun coming up with explanations for all those cool little features.

And finally I'm liking the second entrance. This will be great if I need a major villain to escape out the back, or if I want a way to introduce some additional critters to the adventure that wouldn't come in the front door.

So I definitely like this one, but before I go further, I'm going to make one adjustment to this map. I'm an old school sort of guy, so if the entrance to my dungeon isn't on the bottom of the page, I feel like something is off. Yeah, it's dumb, but what're you gonna do?

So now we've got our map, and we're ready to go.

Right now, however, I've got to run off to do some other Aetaltis writing, but when we come back tomorrow, we'll look at the process of figuring out why someone dug this place out and what all those rooms are for!

See you tomorrow!

- Marc

Read Part 2 in this Series—Dungeon Design: Fantastic Archaeology

Marc Tassin is the creator of the World of Aetaltis and the founder of Mechanical Muse. He's been gaming since 1985, and he's also a published author and game designer. He's had the opportunity to write for some of his favorite RPG products over the years, including material for Shadowrun and Dragon Magazine. You can find him at Gen Con every year, usually lurking about near the Exhibit Hall or the Writer's Symposium rooms! To support his Aetaltis patreon, just click here!

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