Friday, March 8, 2013

The Player-Built Dungeon

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 made myself?

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.


  1. What I have been playing around with is the "procedural dungeon" -- as opposed to a completely random one -- based on procedures that can be implemented on the table-top.

    The Dungeon is a "stack" of People (Adversaries-Neutrals-Friendlies), Places (Traps, Empty, Clues, Secrets), Things (Treasures, Tricks).

    Just to demonstrate how I would do this with Player input.

    The "People" list combines both set and random encounters. If a random encounters occurs, roll a die as usual. Certain Rooms are tagged as Set encounters, you roll a die and add a value to get the encounter in that room.

    Roster: 1d6 for Wandering / 1d6+3 for Rooms
    1,2,3: "Wandering-only" Monsters
    4,5,6: "Patrolling" Monsters
    7,8,9: "Guarding" Monsters

    In addition, certain Roster items would trigger Clues that would build up to a larger encounter.

    #6: 1st, Room filled with blackened bones; 2nd, Room with scent of sulphur. A red dragon-scale is embedded in floor; 3rd, a red dragon's lair.

    The way I would utilize this with Player input is to have the Players submit entries that would get plugged into one of the three categories. Challenging encounters would "build" as per the 1-2-3 Clue encounters.

    There is a similar procedure with Places and Things in my system that I am still fleshing out. A result of this is that there is no "finding traps" anymore and it plays more like Zork with combat -- in theory anyways.

  2. Sounds cool, so, like a card/board game where players are making some of the cards? Have you tried it yet? I'd be interested to see how much of the game became making the entries and how much became exploring them. Or to hear how players reacted when their own sequence of rooms appeared.

  3. I think this is an important part of adventure design - to provide some anticipation or foreknowledge to a situaiton so the players have somethign to go on besides pure reaction. Very often adventures will include a player map that they either get as the hook or that they can find through research or poking about the nearby town. Add to that the standard legends and lore or rumor table and you have some ability to foreshadow or invoke that feeling of familiarity. Then it a step further and having places the characters know from experience be changed or re-purposed, which is something you can get in a longer campaign but hard to do in a short one. I like the idea of seeding this experience a little by having the players submit a location 'from their past' for the GM to mutilate.

  4. @ Telecanter: It's still in the design phase right now, but I plan on testing things soon (I have started to gather an interested group of players). I will be posting reports on how effective it is et cetera so if you keep tabs on my blog you'll see that.

    It could be done as player-sourced or fully-DM controlled. Heck, it could even be crowd-sourced. It remains to be seen how unwieldy it is -- but it uses the same "design space" as rolling for wandering monsters so /in theory/ it should work seemlessly with the existing (D&D) dungeoneering game.

  5. @Mr Todd: thanks. Your mention of rumors to try and achieve this familiarity makes me wonder if you could have something like class-based rumors to give to folks when they pick a class. Maybe I'll write a post on that.

    @Rev. DB: Cool. Good Luck!

  6. Just in general, Telecanter, you do good work. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Thank you. I appreciate that. I'm sick this week and still having to deal with work issues. I hope to post some interesting stuff soon.