I've drawn inspiration from the article "Monsters and Treasures in the B/X Dungeon" on Spriggan's Den. The simple insight it makes is converting the dungeon stocking probabilities into their base proportions, so X-in-6 chances become a checklist-- in an 18-room dungeon, you want 3 to contain monsters with treasure, 2 to contain traps, 5 to be empty, and so on. Everything I set out in this article, which describes how I stock a dungeon in 20-room chunks, is an annotation on that idea.
A. Choose Special Monsters
A d6 encounter table is the right size. If you're putting several blocks together you may want to make different tables for different parts of the dungeon, but a d6 table is good because it allows for variety while repeating enough to give a sense of place. You should select creatures that you find interesting, not just creatures you think can serve a particular role. Putting goblins on your encounter table because you need a weak enemy is not likely to be as compelling as putting goblins on your encounter table because you read Goblin Market and got scared of goblins. One good way to find monsters is to look through your book's bestiary for creatures you like but haven't used before. (I did this for Little Snake's Man's Cave and got to use all of them together!) Another good way is to shut all books and think of intuitive, evocative freaks.
Of your six encounters, (and these will overlap):
- 2-6 able to communicate.
- 3-6 strategy or ability in combat besides repeatedly hitting a target. An alternate attack that makes you save vs something horrible is good. Lifting up a puny mortal by the foot is good. Throwing your coinpurse and running immediately is good.
- 1-2 Undead, if your game has something like a standard cleric class.
- 1+ creature of a type relevant to a major class ability, like a large opponent if your hobbit class gets a bonus against tall guys.
- 1-3 includes creatures you can't readily stab to death, either immune to attacks like a stone tiger or disparate like a swarm of rats or a glob of goo.
- 1 humanoid if none of the others are, or 1 non-humanoid if all the others are.
|The Derro. I wanted to put this monster at the top but then people looking at the preview on Discord would have to see it and that seemed rude.
Good dungeon situations are simple. They contain some fantastical element and involve some ongoing or recent event that makes the area relevant to those outside the dungeon. A remote fishery operated by a lich's dead automata and his crabfolk allies is an interesting place, but make sure they're affecting the outside world. Maybe they're selling cursed crab cakes or robbing the graves of nearby villages for workers.
Some fantasy media will be bad inspiration for a dungeon scenario because it will be saccharine and abstracted. All art forms have their gems, but there is a proliferation of ungrounded tabletop games drawing from bland video games drawing from uninspired movies drawing from misunderstandings of esoteric tabletop games drawing from commercialized short stories based on surface-level understandings of myth grounded in a fertile real-world storytelling culture. There is a reason almost every culture tells stories of betrayal, wonder, love, war, infidelity, dead people speaking, house spirits, and miracle workers. Try to tap into ideas that still have some juice in them. They don't need to be original but they should be exciting and emotionally grounded. If you're working in a setting inspired by Grimm fairy tales, you don't need to settle for reading TVTropes synopses or watching Neverafter-- Grimm tales are very accessible! Such is true for the many classic and/or children's and/or folk stories that are liable to have a lot of creative juice worth squeezing.
This is the time to decide some general features of the dungeon space. Unless otherwise noted, what are the doors, walls, and ceiling like? What do the doors look like? What smells prevail? List your assumptions.
|from the Ouroboros of the Orb Oracle
- 3x monster with treasure
- 3x monster
- 1x trap with treasure
- 2x trap
- 3x special
- 1x hidden treasure
- 5x empty
- stuck door
- locked door (possibly with a key to be found elsewhere)
- two or more secret doors
- magic scroll (in games where magic-users learn spells this way)
- construction trick (like a sliding wall or imperceptible slope)
- text in uncommon language
- two or more descents/ascents of one or more levels
- poison (deployed via trap or enemy)
- disease vector
- effect that changes primary attributes
- effect that can change PCs in a unique, indefinite way
|It doesn't need to look good. Its beauty is its function.