Dungeon Density

When I say “dungeon density” I do not mean, at least not this time, the frequency of monsters and/or treasure within the mythic underworld. Rather, I’m talking about the physical density of the construction. Are the rooms, corridors, and chambers packed tightly together? Or are there a smaller number of chambers spaced more widely, connected by longer passageways? Certainly, different labyrinths will take different approaches, but what sort is more common?

Check out this which I put together from the Dungeon Geomorphs put out by TSR back in the earlier days of the game:

Sepia Sample Dungeon using Geomorphs

Notice how there are very few sections of solid stone, with most corridors and chambers separated only by thick walls.

Compare that to this created using the Myth-Weavers Random Dungeon Generator:

Myth-Weavers Sample

Now, the Myth-Weavers generator produces lots of horizontal and vertical corridors, but otherwise my dungeons usually look more or less like this. Much more than like the geomorphic sample. Notice the amount of solid stone (gray) in the second map compared to the first map. The number of rooms in my designs will generally be similar to the lower map, and I will not usually have dense maze-like areas such as are found in the lower left corner of the first map.

I understand that everyone will do it slightly differently, and that each dungeon may have a particular character to its design, but I wonder if the sorts of designs the geomorphs result in are common. Even if they aren’t popular today, were they back then? Is that why the geomorphs are like they are? Or was it simply an attempt to cram as much onto one page as possible?

Update: Here is a snapshot showing the three geomorph sections I used to create that first map:

Sections colored in

As I’ve got them scanned in to my computer, I can rotate and flip them as desired. I did do a little “cleaning up” of the map after joining three sections.

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6 Responses to Dungeon Density

  1. mrrkyl says:

    In my experience the former (high density) design works fine for subterranean humanoid dwellings and low level dungeon crawls, but not so well for higher level parties or groups that will make frequent use of such spells as passwall, stone shape, rock to mud, etc. The main problem with high density dungeons is that the floor plan becomes easy to predict when mapped out, making it easy to determine where hidden areas might be found.

    Like you, I avoid adding maze-like areas to my maps unless there is a very good reason for them to be there. I’ve never had players who enjoyed mazes so I don’t waste their time or mine by including them.

    • Kilgore says:

      FWIW, I don’t really mind it when players “figure out” where hidden rooms are due to gaps in the map. Seems reasonable to me. Of course, it would then be worth it to dump in a few room-sized solid sections so the party spends a week looking all around the perimeter for the secret door they know must be there somewhere.

  2. Telecanter says:

    I think you raise an interesting idea in general. I wonder if the geomorphs themselves play a factor in this. I’ve thought a lot about geomorph design and it’s really hard to balance density. You don’t want them to just have a single room per morph, but you probably don’t want them to be wall-to-wall rooms. Think about it, you rarely see geomorphs designed with a “blank” or “null” in the set. So, it will be very rare for any solid rock in the dungeon to be as big as the size of a single geomorph.

    • Kilgore says:

      Right. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the old TSR Dungeon Geomorophs, which I used to make the first map, but they consist of two square sections and one narrow rectangular section which fits alongside them to fill one letter-sized page.

      (I’m adding an update to the post with a snapshot of the three sections I used in my example.)

      If I opened up a geomorph set I paid good money for and found that a lot of the sections were mostly empty, I’d be more than a little miffed. So maybe they crammed them so people would feel they “got their money’s worth” regardless of the design.

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  4. mleger says:

    yeah, i got to say. i don’t like either.

    when i design a dungone, it has multiple steps.
    what was the goal of the dungeon
    – lock a great evil, store the dead, protect a magic item
    what is the players goal
    – find the magic item, explore, kill the boss
    what rooms would be in the dungeon based on the goal
    – would there have been a alter, a pit room,
    what traps would be in the dungeon based on the goal
    – pit blocking the way, magical energies
    has any natuarl occurances happened since the dungeons creation that affect or change the design?
    – earthquake, flood, kobolds taking over the early stages.

    I let the goal of the story define what the dungon will be.

    i guess its not a random dungeon then

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