This is related to the Pre-Mapped Dungeon, so if you want you can read my thoughts on that first.
A few weeks ago I gave my good buddy a bunch of tools I made to help in DMing and asked him to use them to run me as a player. I wanted to see how they might work for someone else. Another big reason I wanted to do it was to see what it would be like to experience a Dwarven Outpost. Would it feel different to run through a dungeon that I had
It was. It was cool. My hireling died in the first room to a panda-headed crab-thing and I desperately searched the place for what I knew I would recognize as the treasure corridor. Once I found it, I was very cautious about the traps I knew to be there. And once I'd found the weird treasure he'd put in there, I beat a hasty retreat knowing I had most likely found the best the place had to offer.
Because of the last few posts I got to thinking what if players could have that same experience-- not just of a type of dungeon they can become familiar with by encountering them several times, which the outpost kit was meant to facilitate-- but of a dungeon they knew well because they made it themselves?
Now, I don't think it would work to say "design a dungeon and we'll run through it" or even to take the more modern, indie route of "let's design a dungeon together that will be fun to run through." I think the DM has this role because the fun of exploration requires not knowing what is behind the next door (and also having a single creator probably gives a place a more consistent tone and logic).
But maybe what we could say is "draw up the manor house of your ancestors" or "make a map of the urban sewers you grew up in." Then the DM can take that map and apply decay, add monsters, and traps left by the waves of inhabitants that have been there since the character left. And if the party visits that location the player who drew the map would get a little extra spotlight that session: "The secret entrance should be just past the stables, but the stables appear to be gone . . ."
Now, my experience of uncertain familiarity with the dungeon worked in part for me because 1) it had been months since I made the outpost kit and it wasn't fresh in my mind and 2) the tetramorph aspect of it let it be shuffled around a bit.
So what might work here is to have players make something well in advance of them experiencing it. I'm not sure about the tetramorphs bit. It would make "familiar with, but not sure about" work better but it feels like a lot to pawn off on a player. I suppose if you had enough players with magic-user characters you could ask each of them to decide on a room a typical Mages Guild would have.
Hmm, or maybe I could just design a set of tetramorphs stencils for each class, say typical sewers for thieves, typical church catacombs for clerics, and then give each out to players who choose those classes. They could even have them in hand as they explore "By the shape of this room I think were are in the central junction."
You would think that high mortality games could cause a problem. That having a player draw a map of a guild hall and then having that player's character die immediately would make the map a waste of effort. But the goal here is familiarity for the player, not necessarily rigid narrative logic for the characters. Heck, you could just say that player's new character had heard tales of such a place.
So, maybe I should have really titled this post The Familiar-to-the-Player Dungeon.