I Can’t Sleep and Am Thinking of Dungeons

I can’t sleep and am thinking of senses in which dungeons have stories

A dungeon has a story in the same sense that a mall has a story, one I do not know and consisting the experience of its inhabitants, visitors, and it’s changing physicality

A dungeon has a story in the sense that when we enter one we generate memories which will often unintentionally become stories

A dungeon has a story in the sense that it suggests a story, even if it’s nature is not narrative

A dungeon has a story if it progress through it is linear, if this is to me a failure of the dungeon to find it’s potential

A dungeon has a story in the same sense that a narrative videogame has a story; you are floating through an algorithm based on your choices, but the places those algorithms go are often preordained, if not your responses to them

A given dungeon probably has a story in many or all of these senses simultaneously, depending on who is entering it, how safe they feel, and how the dungeon is described

A dungeon has a story in the sense that each time it is played the experience of it changes and that is in and of itself a story I’m interested in hearing

16th February, 2023

Idle Cartulary


Dungeon23: Day 14 reflection and pivot

Previous posts on Dungeon23 here and here.

I’m two weeks in, and I don’t like my lovingly prepared dungeon. However, I’m really enjoying the day to day drawing and keying of the dungeon. I just got bored with this level after a week, so week two isn’t as much fun. I’m not surprised by this: My prep often needs to be modified as I see what the day to day involves. I want to do Dungeon23 though, so I’m going to pivot, aiming to make it easier to increase the amount of dopamine hits the creative process gives me in a given week or day.

I’m going to start using a different weekly and monthly schedule, aiming to make a sub-level each week and then arrange them onto larger 24-28 room levels at the end of each month.


  • Tuesday: Take the next layout from Marcia’s Bite-Sized Dungeons for this weeks’ sub-level. Generate a theme and faction for the sublevel using oracles. Detail the local faction and its punnet. Based on these, sketch the sub-level’s map.
  • Monday to Sunday: Draw and key a room. Detail any monsters, traps, treasure or NPCs in the room using oracles.
  • Every fourth Monday: Arrange four sub-levels in a way that makes sense. Make a wandering monster list with one to four entries per sub-level based on these four levels. Populate the universal encounter table or recurring characters table as appropriate. Revise factions with relationships with other factions that make sense.
Marcia’s Bite-Sized Dungeon layouts, largely because then I don’t have to google it every Monday.

I didn’t start on Sunday because weekends are probably when I’ll have the least time to myself to do extra work; Monday and Tuesdays I have the night and sometimes the day to fit things in.

Sketch Procedure

  1. Roll 1d12 for nature of exits: 1-2. Blocked or stuck door; 3-4. Locked door; 5-7. Unlocked door; 8-11. 40’ foot corridor; 12. 40’ corridor containing a one turn obstacle.
  2. Roll 1d12 for nature of room: 1. Natural Hazard; 2. Trap; 3-4. Guarded; 5-6. Occupied; 7. Weird or magical feature; 8. Trick, puzzle or riddle; 9-10. Sign or spoor, warning, clue or password revealing wandering or nearby encounters. 11-12. A mosaic, fresco, basrelief, inert feature or mundane items revealing history or current use.
  3. Roll 1d12 for the nature of treasure. 1. McGuffin or unique magical treasure; 2-4. 1d6 gold bags or equivalent (~1000gp each); 5-6. Incidental silver treasure (~100gp or a bag of silver); 7-8. Incidental copper treasure (~20gp or a bag of copper). 9–10. Valueless keepsake or trinket; 11-12. No treasure.

Inspiration here from Warren and Emmy, as well as Marcia with thanks. I differentiated types of blocked doors; eliminated long corridors and transferred the time sink into an obstacle. I used Marcia’s economy for ease of treasure, and increased the incidence of minor treasures.

After this step, it looks like this.

Oracles and details

I’ve found I’m enjoying drawing additional information onto the map, even though my skills are still developing. This is also why I’m putting passage omens on the map. I’ll lean into it:

  1. Add oracles to sketch
  2. Write room description , aiming for Wolves upon the Coast or Through Ultans Door rather than OSE.
  3. Assign all nouns I can to be drawn onto the map in a separate sentence.
  4. For each exit to a known room, add passage omens to the map (sight, sound, scent and taste or touch).

Simple three cards oracles for each element I’ve pre-assigned based on the two simplest tarot draws.

After adding the oracles to the sketch, it looks like this.
  • NPC (or monster): Personality, Body, Hopes/Fears. Don’t stat. Use hit, strong hit and crit as attack detail, and heavy, light and no armour.
  • Location (room or levels): Aesthetic, History, Current Use.
  • Faction: Foundation/Aesthetic, Proactive/Selfish Agenda, Method. Remember that power and wealth are not agendas.
  • Traps: Theme, Goal, Functional? (Y/N)
  • Hostile Factions: In addition, use Monster Punnets using Melee/Ranged and Damage/Special axes.
  • Treasures: Origin, Theme, Twist. Treasure Punnets using Magical/Non-magical and Functional/Decorative axes. Add spare treasures to the incorporation list.

Using these, I detail and key one room and it’s treasure per day, Tuesday being optional. Passage omens are a little Diogo and a little Anne. On good days I don’t write more, because I’ve found I draw more. I’ll leave my hard day rule in place and if I come up with a story I will work them into empty rooms.

And after detail, looks like this.

Wandering monsters and other encounters

Wandering monster tables are a difficulty, because there are going to be 50 or so sub-levels. I’m going to write one rolling table, with d4 entries per level. I want easy inspiration for interesting encounters, though, so I’ll draw from Keystone Encounters and Structuring Encounter Tables, and try to remember the maxim “Make an undesirable demand on the players attention”:

  • Roll 1d6 for nature of encounter: 1. Indefinite threat omen; 2. Indefinite threat; 3. Definite threat omen; 4. Definite threat; 5. Threat aware of an unknowing second threat; 6. Two threats interacting.
  • Roll 1d12 for indefinite threats, that are only threats if interfered with: 1. Lost; 2. Hurt; 3. Trapped; 4. Sleeping; 5. Sick or starving; 6. Eating or cooking; 7. Excreting or bathing; 8. Weeping; 9. Socializing; 10. Building or demolishing; 11. Artistic pursuits; 12. Doing drugs or drinking.
  • Roll 1d12 for definite threats that are likely hostile: 1. Tracking Prey; 2, Lying in Ambush; 3. Fleeing; 4. Committing a crime; 5. Searching; 6. Holding Captives; 7. Spying; 8. Scavenging; 9. Religious ritual; 10. Gloating; 11. Plotting; 12. Returning home

Rolling on this giant encounter table, I’m not entirely sure about. I suspect it will be something like 2d6 + Dungeon Level, with 1 always being “Roll again on the universal encounter table” and 12 always being “Roll again on the recurring characters table”. The universal table’s goal is to tell the story of and something of the history of the dungeon, and the recurring characters table I can populate as I go with the most enjoyable NPCs. This means I’ll need a few running lists to fill out gradually:

  • Incorporation
  • Recurring characters
  • Wandering monsters
  • World anchors
  • Universal encounters

That’s my revised process. The first test sub-level I made was a crumbling dinosaur-worshippers temple filled with ancient matter warping technology occupied by marooned space pirates. The second was a tower filled with reliquaries that a sect of monks dedicated to forgotten gods seek to use to beam the ghosts of their past worshippers to evangelise them back into existence. Both of these stayed exciting for all six to seven rooms, with the primary barrier being how I string them together and develop them a story. But at least this is more fun.

What are your reflections at week 2?

Idle Cartulary

13th January 2023

Preparing for a mega dungeon: Dungeon23 themes, characters and factions

The first post was my prepping templates and principles to make the day-to-day participation in #dungeon23 easier. This one is about preparing the overarching yearly and monthly arcs of the dungeon, so I’ve got some more levers on days that are too much, and so it’s somewhat cohesive overall. This has the more challenging post, as it’s actually work, which my brain abhors.

Step 3: Dungeon Overview

To begin on step three, I pasted the guiding questions from the Dungeon Architects Handbook and overwrote them with my answers. I was finding this, more detailed and preemptive work that commits me to something for a whole year challenging, but then I realised I wrote a dungeon theme oracle, so I’m going to hack that and Ty’s tables that are in it to get the juices flowing. This’ll result in more text than I prefer, but it’s planning-facing text, not something I’d put in the product or tell the PCs except as secrets discovered.

Themes and Architecture

I rolled for the individual levels (see below, obviously I’m writing all of this out of order), but I struggled to generate a concept that will keep me motivated for a year, so I used MTG random and spread them as a celtic cross to develop my main theme and story. This was entirely too much, but once I had sufficient seed, the remainder went into characters and factions.

Present: Sleep; Challenge: Ring of Gix (Not every cage is made of bars); Subconscious: Rapacious Dragon (surely it won’t notice if I take – Theria the sky’s last words); Past: “Pound the steel until it fits! Doesn’t work? Bash to bits!” Future: Searing Touch; Near future: Magus of the Balance; Internal Influences: Soul of Ravnica; External Influences: Relentless Assault; Hopes & Feats: Memorial to Folly; Outcome: Ruby Leech (its gems didn’t stop pulsating until they were completely removed).

Not every cage is made of bars.

In the town square of Snowick Bush, Harrawyn, the Restful Tree, shades the town and with white flowers that glow with a aura gold. Beneath the tree is a short circular stairwell, leading to a barred gate. Only fools enter, but there is no shortage of fools travelling to Snowick Bush. Harrawyn is dying, and no-one knows why.

For a thousand years the devil-princeling Geas has been bound to sleep with bonds wrought from the feathers of angels, and sunken beneath the earth in the mausoleum called Memorial to Folly. If he wakes, he will sear the lands seeking vengeance on those that betrayed him. Harrawyn has grown from the prince’s angelic bonds, and glows with their divine light.

The recondite boons that led the hoar-priests of the Burning Lands to bury Geas here were present unbeknownst to them because even deeper below is a sleeping god: The Ruby Leech-god, slowly feeding until it’s metamorphosis. Few still worship the Leech-god, more ancient even than Geas, but as her age approaches, her psychic tendrils reach out to whisper to truth-seekers just as tendrils of her god-flesh reach out into the earth.

The greed-serpent Rapace had long tunnelled through dark and deep, but in time found the Memorial to Folly, smelling the treasure buried with Geas to be taken to the dream, and settled her supplemented horde amongst Harrawyn’s upper roots.

The delving of various recent and distant companies for various reasons formed the burrows connecting the Greed-serpent, the devil-princeling and the Leech-god. As the community of Snowick Bush grew, the nature spirits known as Freshet, Leafmould and Morimori were driven into these tunnels, which became known as Three Spirit Burrows.

Minor and Major Factions

Major factions claim two or three levels of the dungeon at status quo. Minor factions, only part of one. This gives me five major factions and however many minor factions and one-person factions (I’m calling them bosses for brevity, but some are fundamentally good or at least natural, and some are indomitable god-things, so not necessarily to be fought) as the dungeon supports. I’ll give them some of the following traits to begin, but I’ll not complete them all so the dungeon has room to grow: Faction, name, description, drive, allies, foes, schemes. Oh and a level suggestion.

  • Capi Gammo College (Minor – Level 1). Fugitive students from an arcane school, taking shelter, investigated for chaining a nature spirit. Don’t know what’s below, but will soon learn and become covetous and fractured.
  • Leafmould, the Autumn Spirit (Boss – Level 1). A very tall figure, in a long robe of decaying leaves that are left in a trail behind them, wearing a wooden mask that changes expression only when you look away. Bound and brought here by the Capi-Gammo College. Silent; brings rot and decay to living things, and moreso to plants and the dead.
  • Myfstadt Town (Major – Level 2). Family-oriented gnome-sized trolls, recent immigrants. Driven to be cosy and defend their town. Schemes to access cosy decor from outside the dungeon via a black market, and pay for it with dungeon loot.
  • Freshet, Spirit of Winters’ Thaw (Boss – Level 2). A salmon-skinned, horse-headed, heavily-muscled woman, driven here by Snowick Bush Dam. Seeks allies to free her back to Pellucid Stream. Water flows uncontrollably where she is near.
  • The Persuaders (Minor – Level 3). Body-warping human-faced beetle-men often with hammers or other tools for hands. Driven by a desire for uniformity, industrialisation and greed. “Pound the steel until it fits! Doesn’t work? Bash to bits!”
  • Morimori, the Guardian of the Forest (Boss – Level 3). A kind, blue, humanoid stag-mammoth, captured by the Persuaders to power the Eternity Machine. Loud, full of gusto when free; chants for the plants to grow.
  • The Friends (Major – Level 4). Pallid creatures, on their back several useless black-blue levitating umbilicals. grown from lilac glass cylinders and tended to by silent black and white cats. They are clones of intruders into the dungeon. Driven by a desire to reconcile memories of their stolen bodies they are haunted by. Schemes to bring more and more genetic materials to the cylinders for future generations.
  • Moss Maids (Minor – Level 5). Miss-covered women of sweating stone, seeking to serve Freshet whose life begat theirs. Slow, grinding, immovable, slimed.
  • The Greed-serpent Rapace (Boss – Level 5). Single-minded and voracious in its pursuit of riches, but cunning as are. Poisonous, darker than the earth it slithers though. Speaks in your skull like a hiss cutting your flesh.
  • The Philosophickers’ Society (Major – Level 6). Studious, tiny clockwork men, a product of the Eternity Machine. Driven to experiment without fear of reprisal. Scheme to dissect the Greed-Serpent. Scheme to taxidermy all creatures living in the dungeon.
  • Enlightened of Rapace (Minor – Level 7). Berobed and pacifist Hamstvolk. They feed their worldly desires to Rapace, their Greed-god. Allies: Rapace Foes: Redcloaks.
  • Sunfire Knights (Minor – Level 7). Heavily armoured, goblin-proportioned hamsters known as Hamstvolk. Their armour and weapons are bronze and more effective against hellspawn; blunts easily against the mundane. Seek glory by bringing all demonic life to an end. Known as redcloaks.
  • Three Fallen Thrones (Major – Level 8). Angels imprisoned for treason, and their lesser creations. Driven to return to heaven. Scheme to persuade allies to harvest the Angelic Bonds and return them to Plymiris, the Weeping Angel.
  • The Devil-princeling Geas (Boss – Level 9). A handsome, sharp-featured boy. Possessed of great command, but must collect his emblems of power to gain his full power once more. Buried with him, but they have been scattered throughout the dungeon and one was never buried: It remained the crown of the kings and emperors who succeeded him, for a time.
  • Church of the Divine Leech (Major – Level 10). Wearing liturgical clothing, in disrepair as are their decaying bodies. Driven to free the Ruby Leech God. Seek to remove all thirteen rubies from its flesh to free their god.
  • The Ruby Leech God (Boss – Level 12). A huge ruby-studded leech-like entity waiting to transform into her god-form. massive tendrils of god-flesh strangle the dungeon and can be found anywhere. They incite mistrust and feed on blood. Inactive until enough violence is performed for her to ascend.

I have no idea how I got from “thirteen is too many, let’s have five only” to sixteen factions, but they’re fun to make, and no doubt a few will not gel. There will be two, sometimes three factions per level to choose from, every level, for locations and wandering monster tables.

Wandering Monsters

Six random encounters for the whole dungeon and six wandering monsters for each level. I suspect I shall want more than six encounters per level; I like intruding encounters from other levels, it’s important. I’ll overload the table, and let the GM decide how to access the extra entries.

The gist of the second dice: 1. They left a sign or omen. 2-3. Chill activity. 4-5. Proactive activity. 6. Two wondering monsters encounter each other, roll again. If you roll a second six, roll on the random encounters table instead of, or in conjunction with the wandering monsters table.

An example of a wandering monster entry: 1d4 giant red azaleas (1. pollen trail, 2. dormant and closed, 3. feasting after a hunt, 4. hunting for soft live flesh, 5. seeking red rubies).

An example of a random encounter entry: Therya the Sly. Foolhardy and eternally curious adventurer. “Surely it’ll be fine if…” Stats as thief. 1. triggered trap or complete puzzle, 2. roasting red-azalea fronds over a flame, 3. reading The Adventures of Maigan Longshanks, 4. about to be defeated, 5. having just uncovered treasure, 6. seeking an assistant with an upcoming challenge.

Other ideas random encounters are they Magus Justice seeking to solve the mystery of the white tree’s impending demise, Geas’ dreaming soul wanders the halls, charming and persuasive, seeking freedom, Rapace roams the dungeon, seeking valuable treasure over they wake, a mercenary rival adventuring company, willing to turn coat for gold, an omen or visitation from a nature spirit.

Step 4: Themes for Levels

I’ll pull from Sean’s weekly prompts for now. Here’s what I rolled: 1. Decay; 2. Pit; 3. Empire; 4. Chaos; 5. Flood; 6. Greed; 7. Cut; 8. Solitude; 9. Sleep; 10. Darkness; 11. Death; 12. Love. This is already sparking my imagination: Water flow linking Decay to Flood; Greed as a storehouse of Empire and Chaos as what came to destroy it; Solitude leading to Sleep. A doomed undead romance connecting Darkness, Death and Love. I would like to say holy shit those last three couldn’t be better themes for the deepest three levels of a dungeon. I’d like to remind myself that I should add & not every cage is made of bars to every level prompt; I want to work that theme in with at least one individual or faction on each level.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve got a ton of juicy, contradictory content that I can use or ignore as I choose next year. And I’ll call the megadungeon A Cage of Feathers, for now, and keep it if the theme holds or unless something juicier appears.

I realise there are a few items that’ll need building over the course of the year: A secrets list, a hooks list, twelve random tables, better faction and boss summaries, NPC summaries and stat blocks if I ever decide what to stat it for (Errant? B/X? ITO? Cairn?). A lot of the factions can just be generic bestiary stuff, like as goblin for hamstvolk.

I think I’m ready. I started the last post on the 8th and am posting this on the 14th, this prep took serious work, but I enjoy prep work to be honest, to the point of favouring it over the creative work. I’ll try to report back monthly on here next year, both with the status of the dungeon and with updates on how my processes are going.

Idle Cartulary

14th December 2022

An extra-dimensional dungeon

I’ve been listening to the Wheel of Time audiobooks, and thinking of the extra-dimensional dungeon that Mat enters to face the Snakes and the Foxes, this worlds’ version of fae. This dungeon’s layout is asserted to follow rules alien to the human heroes that enter it.

One example is following a hall that turns to the left, until it seems as if you must be walking in a circle, the inside windows displaying the outdoors, despite that. Another is having to return back through the same door as you came through a number of times back and forth, before reaching your destination.

I’m calling. this extra-dimensional because I’m sure a mathematician somewhere will be frustrated with my calling it non-euclidean, but that honestly feels like a better term because architecture and geometry is what is alien in this dungeon, not all of physics.

A friend on discord gave some interesting suggestions when I remarked on being unable to figure out how to do this in a way that was 1. Systematic; 2. Reasonably Solvable; and 3. Fun to Figure Out.

We draw dungeon maps with six directions, so the easiest solution is that I map each real life direction to a non-euclidian version, with the number of repetitions of the new direction being equivalent to distance, one square being equal to one repetition.

We need to set some rules for description:

  • The PCs know the world is not like ours, and that they need to figure it out; give them a guide to start, or a riddle or something.
  • Windows are in all hallways, except that does replace hallways when they are present.
  • Windows are sealed and unbreakable, in order to cue PCs into the uncanniness of the geometry.
  • Keyed rooms always have doors that are marked in some way, to provide clear cues to identifying the six rules.
  • Keyed rooms may have multiple entrances, but the direction you exit in is irrelevant to the direction you go.
  • If a hallway requires doors, they are unmarked doors alternating on both left and right, for each cycle of hallway.
  • Failure to complete a direction correctly results in re-entering an identical room to the one you started in.
  • Describe how the outdoors doesn’t respond to the movement inside the way you’d expect from the geometry the PCs can see.
  • Both indoor and outdoors should be described as strange or wrong. Dr Seuss feels like a good reference here, perhaps Paul Nash, Hernán Bas, or the World of Edena by Moebius.

I need to think about what it might mean for a hallway to change direction, in terms of description, when I choose my six directions. If I turned west from south, for example, the PCs may not be able to tell, rendering the puzzle unsolvable; as would up a level from east. This suggests that different directions might need alternative descriptions.

Time is also important. It’s typical that these extra-dimensional dungeons warp time in certain ways. Potentially we add a speed multiplier affecting parties travelling in a certain direction.

  1. North: Follow the hallway a full circle to the left. Sinuous. 150% speed.
  2. East: Do not follow the hallway, rather pass back through the entryway you just came through. Sinuous. 100% speed.
  3. South: Follow the hallway until it disappears behind you. Angular. 50% speed.
  4. West: Go through every second door you find in the hallway. Sinuous. 50% speed.
  5. Up: Go through every first door you find in the hallway. Angular. 100% speed.
  6. Down: Follow the hallway a full circle to the right. Angular. 150% speed.

I feel like this won’t make total sense until I build a small dungeon, so here’s one. We’ll describe the path taken while traversing the pink arrow, assuming all rooms are keyed.

You arrive through the twisted red doorway into a room with five walls and an oddly high roof. You walk out the strange, trapezoidal archway ahead of you, seeing a long hallway with marked with strange, sinuous patterns, that curves out of sight to the right, lit by strange yellow lights that span the width of the hallway. You return through that doorway and return to the room you came from. When you return to the doorway a third time, it is no longer trapezoidal, but pentagonal, and you teach a new room. You pass through the same doorway twice this time, and then the patterns on the walls change to an angular, regular pattern. You follow this hall until it disappears behind you, coming to a room with three exits. You choose one, and follow the hall until it disappears behind you before finding a pentagonal door to a new room. You leave and find the sinuous patterns have returned. You re-enter this door five times, enter a new room when the trapezoidal door becomes pentagonal, and exit through the first door you see, finding angular patterns on the walls of the hall. You exit the first door in the hall that follows, and leave the new room you find to enter another hall. This hall is sinuous, so you enter the second door, which leads to another sinuous hall. You enter the second door here, and there is yet another hall. You enter the third hall again, this one also on the right, and find a pentagonal door, and a new room. You follow the hall, now patterned in an angular fashion, in front of you until it disappears behind you and the patterns turn sinuous, pass through the door you find twice, and find a room with one exit. You take it, curving to the left; you turn around until you are back at the beginning again, and repeat it again, and then the hall straightens and doors appear. You take every second door, three times, and find yourself at the Courtroom, your destination.

Phew, that was alot. But it works. This might be too hard a puzzle, or too punishing a fail state, but pepper the dungeon with treasure and battle and the bloody scrawl of those who’ve come before, and we have a compelling life or die puzzle. And in the Courtroom you get to bargain for three wishes with wicked devious entities.

I’d love to see other takes on mapping and running extra-dimensional or non-euclidian dungeons, if anyone has thought about it. This is but one way, the only one I could come up wjth

13th December, 2022

Idle Cartulary

Wierd oracles and punnett rooms

Rory’s Story Cubes

I’ve been going through my games shelf (honestly, I’m not playing most of what’s on there). and I found a few oracles I haven’t really looked at before. One is Rory’s Story Cubes, which are dice with symbols on them that are freely available in toy stores. I also found these Intuiti Cards, which are like abstract shape tarot without suits?

Magic: The Gathering Cards

And then Hy Libre posted some Magic: The Gathering combo’s she liked and I realised MTG cards are honestly great fantasy oracles if you don’t know anything about Magic: The Gathering. Later it was drawn to my attention that Nick LS Whalen does this exact thing to create adventures, although he reports Magic cards lean violent so often he uses it less than he used to. I’ll wait on the Magic cards approach until I can innovate on that approach.

What’s fun about these is they all oracle completely different things. Story cubes are a set of 54 common concepts. Intuiti has a major and minor arcana that are numbered, and then abstract shapes. Magic cards have a very specific image, a very specific title, often have a quote, and then a bunch of other information like symbol and colour and whatever that subtitle is.

Now, I’m not going anywhere concrete with this, but the other day I coined the term room set because Frank Mentzer implied dungeons are just groups of rooms with themes. I made a d20 spark table with themes, so I could randomly populate room sets with cool ideas. I didn’t like using the spark table really, but it did the job. The main problem I had with my method was that it didn’t address the issue of layout, which Mentzer was using to drive play.

And then Warren D reminded me this morning about punnett squares, and treasure is basically the same as a dungeon Ty, right? I started thinking about using punnett squares to combine the spark tables and some type of dungeon layout table. Problem is, I don’t have a d20 list of dungeon layouts. I just use other peoples maps! I hit a barrier with what that table would look like.

But Intuiti cards are literally a few hundred abstract designs. So what if my punnett square was literally laid on something like this? And rows were people and columns were themes?

Intuiti Cards

Inhabitants: 1. Gobliny; 2. Ogrish; 3. Elemental; 4. Corpsy; 5. Demonic; 6. Arcane; 7. Divine; 8. Draconic; 9. Fairy; 10. Beastly; 11. Treeish; 12. Stone; 13. Spectral; 14. Oozing; 15. Shapeshifting; 16. Flesh-eating; 17. Trollish; 18. Simulacra; 19. Dark Mirror; 20. Clockwork.

Themes: 1. Trapped; 2. Homely; 3. Worshipful; 4. Buried; 5. Drowning; 6. Haunted; 7. Angry; 8. Studious; 9. Searing; 10. Imprisoned; 11. Castoff; 12. Armoured; 13. Painful; 14. Joyful; 15. Homely; 16. Playful; 17. Prepared; 18. Hidden; 19. Seeking; 20. Free.

So, after rolling elemental, divine and simulacra inhabitants, and haunted, armoured and seeking themes, I end up with a prompt that would look like this for each room:

  • Winding, interlinking haunted labyrinth inhabited by elementals
  • A heavily reinforced vault guarded by elementals
  • Four square rooms in which an elemental search party sets up base
  • A brightly lit broad meeting hall in which a cultists temple takes place
  • A secret room from which the thing guarded in the vault can burst forth, with cultists trying to unlock it
  • Massive plants reach into the darkness in a huge cavern, where the delving cultists do their darker rituals
  • A complex full of crystal cylinders, cloning whoever sleeps within – currently all the same elfin person
  • The highest point of the complex, heavily barred door, built to broadcast whatever is found in the vault, but now living area of the simulacra
  • A deep shaft where all the complex meets; guarded by simulacra, but seeking tentacles grasp whoever enters the shaft.

This is cooler than a table, and I could literally sketch a dungeon map based on these ideas, but it wouldn’t be quick. I’ll have to think further on story cubes and magic cards, but honestly I haven’t looked at Intuiti cards in years, so this is a boon for me.

I’d love other ideas for improvising dungeon ups!

Idle Cartulary,

3rd July 2022

Mentzer’s Dungeon

Frank Mentzer’s dungeon, remixed by Dyson Logos.

Sean McCoy recently posted an old perhaps reddit post by Frank Mentzer, talking about how he always improvises the same dungeon. Along with it, Sly Flourish wrote about the concept here. I think Sly Flourish missed the most interesting part though: Mentzer has sketched themes out roughly for the entire dungeon:

So it looked like this:

You wouldn’t call it a five-room dungeon, but you can definitely call it a five-theme dungeon. The key is that the themes are linked to the dungeon layout: We have a long hallway with off-shoots and a room for sharpshooters at its far end in the west, a looping, secretly-connected lair in the east. A deceptive pair of rooms ahead, filled with misinformation about what lies ahead, and if we take the long route we reach a temple or meeting room, with hidden treasure rooms and a locked exit to the north leading who knows where? And finally, our entry filled with graffiti hiding clues about what lies ahead. I like this. How can I simplify it? What are our five themes and what are their key nodes?

Circles are room sets, stars are secret room sets, dotted lines are connections, zig-zags are secret connections.

This betrays some of the complexity of the original dungeon map (~25 rooms and some Jacquaysing), but is sufficient for the analysis. For this structure to work:

  • There is an exit and entry room, each with one connection to one room set.
  • There are five overt room sets, each with two or three overt connections to other room sets.
  • For three of these overt room sets, one of these overt connections is a secret connections.
  • There are three secret rooms, each secretly connected to an overt room sets.
  • One or two connections link with each other, rather than to room sets.

So, let’s transmute this analysis into a procedure:

  1. Mark five room sets.
  2. Connect three of them with secret connections.
  3. Connect all of them two or three total times; connections can be with other connections.
  4. Add three secret rooms and connect them anywhere.
  5. Add an exit and entry room, with a connection to a single room set each.

And then, for each room set, roll once or twice on the theme table (honestly just came up with these without much thought, they could be better, or longer, or more detailed), and describe the set of rooms:

  1. Trap
  2. Home
  3. Worship
  4. Burial
  5. Flooded
  6. Worship
  7. Haunted
  8. Anger
  9. Library
  10. Burning
  11. Prison
  12. Rubbish
  13. Armoury
  14. Pain
  15. Joy
  16. Mundane
  17. Play
  18. Preparation
  19. Hidden
  20. Seeking

Now we have a dungeon creation procedure for quick pick-up dungeon creation! Shall we give it a spin? Having put no thought into the layout at all, here’s the map:

And generating up the 10 room set themes we get (once again, I’m not editing here) anger-trash, haunted-library, mundane-armoury, anger-burial, worship-prison, burning-haunted, mundane-joy, hidden-preparation, plus for the entry and exit, burning and trap:

  1. One of two braziers burns with an otherworldly flame, on either side of an etching of a door. Scratched on the rough, white stone wall in charcoal are notes scrawled desperately. …doors must shock…books are alive…Sherman was here…wear a dark cloak! …no weapons…Fireproof clothes! …disturb the bones.
  2. These interlinked rooms are full of the scattered bones of various beasts and people are piled among food scraps, green waste, and rusted metalwork of unclear source. The bones if disturbed will arise into shambling bone-things, raging that they were torn apart and from their resting places.
  3. Deep and spiralling catacombs are stripped here, formed into a makeshift library. Each of the books here are possessed of a spirit, which can communicate via its pages.
  4. A mausoleum, the catacomb is poorly stripped, but stored here are the most ancient texts and the rarest magic. The skeletons of those who brought them here are slumped by the door. One ancient warrior, buried sans skull, rages at any who disturb it, caring not for the books, but rather for its rest.
  5. Fearful weapons, arcane explosives, magic cloaks in large and giant sizes, stored here in case the hulking family needs escape. They are plundered from the catacombs and should be used only in fleeing them, for the spirits of the dead are angry and will pursue those who they find in their belongings.
  6. Worshippers mundane clothing, armour and weaponry is kept in this cloakroom, as the caged darkness does not receive armed visitors well.
  7. The catacombs here feature stone doors, all leading to an amphitheatre gazing down upon a massive copper bird-cage. At the base of the cage is deep, black water. Do not open the cage; it shocks to touch. The seats are full of unarmed worshippers of the caged darkness. Small rooms look down on the amphitheatre, dangerous if the worshippers reach their weapons.
  8. The sound of play and laughter. Draped with curtains, warmed with flames behind grates, and comfortable, a family of hulking creatures dwells here, with rooms for all their needs.
  9. Long, wide, columned halls are illuminated with living flames. They speak and reach out for you. They are not angry, only lonely; the last of those buried to imprison the caged darkness. Alcoves line the walls, yielding refuge and secret walkways.
  10. Giant copper doors shine and offer escape. They are shocking to touch.

That’s not a bad little dungeon, for 20 minutes work. I think I’d include the entry and exit in the initial connections in retrospect, because there are an excess of overt connections, and potentially add another secret connection to make up for it. But, for a first attempt, this is a lot of fun.

Idle Cartulary,

27th June 2022