Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Generating Dungeons With Threads

Standard dungeon generation style(?): create a certain number of empty rooms, guarded rooms, treasures, and oddities. Arrange them with interesting connections. Come up with a random encounter table.

In theory, this starts with the creation of individual chambers. maybe brainstorming gives you a subtheme to splash through part of the space. And it seems to work fine, but what if we generated dungeons by threads, sets of three or more chambers connected by some theme or information. Separate the dungeon (or the level, if very large) into early, middle, and late sections, according to expected order of visitation by a party. Have early rooms establish some fact, middle rooms continue and make plain the pattern, and late rooms pay them off.

This is simply the concept of foreshadowing and checkov's gun applied to a game in which you don't have a guaranteed order of events.

Example: early in the dungeon the party encounters an obvious or broken trap. In the middle section they come upon a trap of identical mechanism, but that stands a real chance to debilitate them because it is neither hidden nor broken. Finally, late in the dungeon they come upon another identical trap, but this one threatens to kill, not debilitate.

Note that nothing is ruined if the party skips one section or encounters it out of order. It all makes just as much sense, but rewards thorough exploration. In some cases, experiencing them out of order may be advantageous

Another example: early in the dungeon, a pair of goblins stand guard. In the middle section, a large, empty goblin barracks is discovered. Late in the dungeon, the party comes upon the dungeonlord's elite goblin patrols. So with the intended thread followed in the assumed order, the party learns of the existence of goblins in the dungeon, then learns how they live and presumably how many there might be, then encounters a challenge in the form of goblins.

Importantly, these threads can have any combination of room types. "obstacle-encounter-encounter with treasure" is just as valid as "empty-empty-empty." Consider this final example:

Early on, the party walks through a hallway with carvings of crayfish on the walls. In the middle section, they find a riverbed that serves as an alternative exit. Late in the dungeon, they come up a section rotted by years of flooding, with uncertain flooring and hazardous spores.

Consider the following generator. It offers only basic prompts to help remind you of your own dungeon checklist. And it's not the kind of thing you can improvise on the table. But I hope it may provide a structure to guide and reinforce your better instincts when making a dungeon.

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