I want to put together a good-sized one-level dungeon for a full-on playtest of our game, so I grabbed a bunch of geomorphs from Dyson, rotated and flipped and slapped them together, and began tweaking them a bit. The result looks good enough for me:

Geomorphic Alpha Dungeon

Geomorphic Alpha Dungeon
(click for better look)

I didn’t just grab geomorphs at random, but I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at them, either. I put them all together using Paint.net. Once I had the basic layout, I started making adjustments. First I walled off the edges on the outside of the map, leaving a couple as entrance corridors. Then I had to go through and make sure that every section was accessible; due to the nature of geomorphs, you can end up with rooms or whole areas that simply cannot be reached from the rest of the dungeon. So I added some doors, a tunnel, and a hole in the floor of an overpass corridor to connect everything. Then I began tweaking things here and there a bit until I had what I wanted.

I deleted all the floors so that I could have a lower layer with a grid show through and I like the way it turned out. I can turn that layer “off” to remove the grid if I want. I have a plain white layer under the grid for a background.

One thing I worried about initially is the fact that the grid and the walls don’t match up. The risk is that as I describe the rooms and corridors and the players map them, at some point things won’t quite fit together right. But as I thought about it, I think this will maybe be a bonus. I’ll describe rooms as “about 20′ wide by about 30′ deep” as usual, but in this case the “about” will be meaningful. If things don’t quite fit together perfectly on the players’ map, so much the better. I’m sure those who design dungeons without graph paper at all will agree.

I’m putting together dungeon encounter tables from our monster list, and once that’s done I’ll populate this using the B/X method and our monsters and treasure list. One thing I’ve been wanting to try for a while to eliminate some of the haphazardness of random dungeons without removing the fun and balance of random results is to roll up all the contents BEFORE placing anything.

The idea is that, instead of rolling up the first room, moving on to the next room and rolling that up, then moving on to the third etc., etc., is that I’ll have a list of everything to start with and can then place it as I wish. So if there are four rooms with goblins, they can be grouped together a bit (if I want) rather than scattered here and there as they’re rolled up. If it seems like there are too few monsters, I’ll know to put monsters in some of the “Special” areas. If it seems like the monsters are bit too frequent (or tough) I can place something else. I hope this brings out the best of both worlds, bringing the unpredictable nature and idea-generating randomness to the place while avoiding the willy-nilly jumble that often makes purely random dungeons feel like a collection of unrelated encounters.

We’ll see how it turns out, but I’m liking it so far.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the map is not quite complete yet. There are a few areas still separated that I haven’t quite decided how they’re going to connect. I probably won’t finalize things until I know who/what’s in there.

For example, look at the large chamber with columns in the lower left of the dungeon. Work your way out the front doorway and see where you can go. Hint: You can’t get to most of the dungeon. To the right I’ve highlighted a shot of the segregated area (green).

Depending on the dungeon and particularly what’s in the big chamber, I can add doors or other ways to reach the area. It’s just important to look for these types of cut off areas when slapping geomorphs together. They often aren’t obvious.

10 Comments to “Alpha Dungeon”

  1. Adam says:

    Just a thought: portions of the map that don’t connect up with the rest of them are (a) a clue to careful mappers, and (b) an excuse to have a teleporting room somewhere in the level.

  2. David says:

    Figuring out how many encounters, then rolling, then assigning them to rooms is exactly how I’ve been doing my megadungeon!

    • Kilgore says:

      Interesting. I don’t think that the idea occurred to me until just recently. I like the basic concept of random generation, and some of the most memorable tidbits started out as some crazy random roll that I had to figure out how to fit in.

      But by rolling first and then assigning, you can put multiple “orcs” results together (if you want) to portray a tribe and so on, and you can use a “special” slot for a special-looking chamber rather than just putting three giant rats into the big columned chamber with the arched ceiling and multiple secret doors leading to the hidden sublevel.

      So rolling and assigning is “random, but a little less so.” An attempt to get the best of both worlds.

  3. Marcus says:

    Looks good.
    Your idea to group rooms reminds me of the encounter area design style used in 4e. I think it’s a good design decision.
    Can’t wait to find out more. 🙂

    Cheers, Marcus

    • Kilgore says:

      I haven’t done more than page through 4e, so I don’t know many details about encounter design in the game. But the idea of grouping rooms of similar humanoids, for instance, is straight out of Keep in the Borderlands and lots of other old-school designs, also.

      • Hedgey says:

        Yep. My campaign as a 4e game and I have been striving to break down some of the natural limits/tendencies which 3/3.5 and 4e DMs and players have tended to fall into. I like the OSG-ness of this.

  4. Wow, I’m late to this party… But I, too, wanted to chime in in support of the stocking approach you’re taking. It reminds me of the way B1 worked, with pre-defined “room contents” that the DM was then supposed to place as desired. It was supposed to be a learning tool, as I recall, but it definitely lead to something of a more refined result. Go, LK, go!

  5. Hedgey says:

    I like your idea of pregenerating rooms before the party gets to them, having a list of rooms ready. This not only makes it easier the DM to keep everything flowing, which is one of my pet peaves as a DM, but it also allows the DM to focus on keeping a certain amount of consistency in his universe… kind of like the idea of Gygaxian Ecology/Naturalism. As you mentioned above, clumping goblins with goblins, etc. I am going to add a bit of this to my own campaign. Certain regions (e.g. Tenple of the Snake) of my own sandbox dungeon (Saedom) are designed sub-levels with specific monsters and loot, but most of the chambers I want to be much mroe open ended. Thanks for helping me to reorganize my thoughts on this.

  6. Dyson Logos says:

    I get giddy when I see the geomorphs being used like this. 🙂