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:
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:
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:
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.
Explore the remains of a legendary kingdom thought to have vanished from the face of the earth.
What really happened?
Where are the Atlanteans now?
Who lives in the wreckage today?
What ancient treasures can you uncover?
And will you survive to tell the tale?
Ruins of Atlantis is the new campaign setting I’m working on for my Labyrinth Lord game. It’s going to be a sandbox-type setting with an emphasis on exploration. If the players are interested, we could end up digging into the history of things and try to discover what happened and why. Or, more likely, we could end up digging into the ruins in search of monsters to kill and treasure to loot.
Though I’ve currently only got a very small pool of players, I plan to set this up so that we can West Marches it if the opportunity arises.
Below is the first rough map of the setting:
Was flipping through an old notebook when I came across this:
A 9 level, 50′ diameter tower with a small 3-level dungeon below.
To be honest, I have no idea what this was for. I don’t remember drawing it up, though it’s definitley my writing. My guess is that it’s from the late 1980s, though it could be as recent as 1993.
One thing I find a little curious are the diagonal rooms, particularly the parallelogram chamber on the 3rd level. That isn’t really like me. I wonder if that was something special.
In any event, it’s free for the taking. If anyone happens to use this, let me know.
As promised, here is the second level of the old one-page dungeon complex I began running three or four years back when I first re-entered the gaming world.
It was written up for AD&D 2e, but the minimalist descriptions make conversion a fairly simple matter.
This level is a good example of what I was talking about when I said that I certainly never stuck to what has become convention when laying out my one-page template. In this case the level long and narrow and mapped along one long side of the sheet rather than relatively square and in the upper half of the left side of a landscape-oriented sheet.
Looking the levels over, I can see that I was already yearning for a bit of the old school vibe when I created these. I had decided to write things up in advance rather than winging it as I was often wont to do in the olden days, but I stuck to a relatively open bare-bones approach.
The first level has multiple exits from each chamber, something I’ve always tended toward when designing dungeons without a specific purpose. The second level, however, consists of what are essentially two parallel linear paths of advance with only a few options once a fork in the road is chosen. I don’t know that I ever drew up anything else like this, to be honest, and I’m not sure if I had a reason or not.
One thing I did here that I like is the well in #27 on the first level. It grants access to levels 2, 4, and 5. This would be considered “old school” in the sense that adventurers could use it to easily access lower levels early in the exploration of the place when they were of insufficient capability to survive. In play, the players discovered the well and the entrance to level 2 but never went further down. At a later point in lower levels they may have found the well via the entrances to those levels and had a quick way in and out of the lower levels bypassing the upper layers.
A theme in this place was that the surrounding terrain was a bit unstable, leading to a number of partially-collapsed chambers, some areas flooded with water (possibly concealing monsters, traps, or treasure) and “tremors” on the random encounter tables which could drop stones on characters or even collapse rooms or passageways. This was to be an ongoing thing.
Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised when I review these two levels. I had fully expected to view the designs as pretty basic and lame, but I think they hold up okay. Sure, I’d do some things differently if I redid them today, but even using 2e rules I think I was trying to “get back” to the way I had enjoyed playing so much in my early days of gaming.
To be honest, I’ve sort of got a little revved up about continuing this effort. My son bugs me from time to time about returning to those bronze doors on level 2, and maybe we’ll have to explore these ruins further.
A commenter on last night’s post about an old 1-page dungeon wrote:
You were doing one-page dungeon levels years before all the rest of us.
And I responded that, well, thanks for the kudos but I don’t really think there’s anything particularly noteworthy about that format in and of itself. It so happens that the first level of the one I still have happens to look quite a bit like the recent computerized templates, with half-page map on left, random encounter table below, and simple room key on the right. But that’s coincidence and a rather logical approach. It’s not an accident that the current template is so popular…it’s so popular exactly because the layout is sensible and works with a lot of ideas.
In fact, my old off-the-cuff 1-pagers often began life as a quick map drawn up wherever the muse led me, sometimes across the top of the page or right down the middle. And then I’d just jot notes wherever there was room. Sometimes, even, I didn’t map things out ahead of time, just listing potential encounters along one side of the graph paper and mapping as the game progressed. I didn’t even always use graph paper.
As for doing it “years before” all the rest, I don’t think I was the only one. Duh. For example, just this morning an old mid-90s dungeon was posted over at A Rust Monster Ate My Sword: Underdeeps of the Witchlord. It’s definitely worth a look. The four pages cover five levels, and the layout and format is very 1-page-like.
My guess is that a lot of DMs did exactly this sort of thing, and the fact that they did so is a big reason why there’s so much excitement over the modern 1-page layout templates.
And, really. Go check out Underdeeps of the Witchlord.
UPDATE: I was just leaving a comment at Rust Monster and realized that the post actually was published yesterday morning.
I must admit that I’ve always liked the 1-page dungeon design scheme. Back in the day I would map out a quarter to a half sheet of graph paper (I only seemed to have access to 1/4 inch squares back then) with a dungeon level and then simply list ideas for creatures, tricks, traps, and specific treasures to include. When we’d play I describe the corridors and chambers, plopping in monsters and treasure as the whim struck during play.
This had the advantage of being quick. I could whip up a simple level in a pretty short period of time, and quick glance at DMG random encounter tables or the Monster Manual allowed me to create an encounter listing pretty quickly. The list would be something like this:
- Orcs with a gnome prisoner
- Half-orc champion with a +1 broad sword and 2 orc bodyguards with armor and max hp
- Fake door in corridor wall
- Magic mouth spouts nonsensical rhyme that should make players think treasure is in the next room
- Water weird in clay jar…gem of brightness in bottom
- Pendulum axe trap with +2 battle axe
Now, I just whipped that up off the top of my head in thirty seconds. My guess is that most DMs could do the same (or better).
And as we’d play, I’d drop things in, change them up a bit, or add and discard as I saw fit. This was sort of fun, as I was being creative while we played rather than before. And I didn’t have to bother with all sorts of detailed preparations on my own before we could play. Give me fifteen minutes and I could whip up a little level for an hour or two of adventure.
Unfortunately, it seems that the very nature of these creations means that I don’t appear to have actually kept any of them. Somewhere there is a box filled with a bunch of my old gaming stuff (I hope) and maybe some of them survive in there. But what I whipped up quick and played right then and there didn’t seem real important at the time. In fact, I recall some instances where players on a lower level wanted to return to an upper one that they had cleared previously and I didn’t have the map. If players had kept their version, often an almost-exact duplicate of mine, we were in luck. If not…well, maybe the mythical underworld underwent a radical change. Or something. Whatever happened, magic was definitely involved.
Years later, I returned to the 1-page concept when I re-launched my gaming career with my kids. Below is a scan (apologies for the poor quality but that’s the best I can do) of a map for level one of a dungeon I wrote up about three or four years ago:
This was designed for 2nd Edition (before I decided to go old school) so some of the monsters and checks are a bit new-fangled, but it’s interesting to see how the minimal descriptions leave things pretty open for easy conversion. I also got a little more detailed with the descriptions, keying them to rooms and actually thinking things out in advance. I also had the foresight to not destroy the sheets immediately following the session.
So while the one-page dungeon concept is having a bit of a renaissance, like so many other parts of the old school movement, it’s not really something new. It’s just an old friend back after a bit of an absence.
I’ll post the second level in a day or two and do a little bit of analysis of my (admittedly uninspired) design work on these. I had grand plans for a huge dungeon consisting of small one-page levels and sub-levels like this, but we only got as far as the locked, engraved bronze doors that lead to the third level. My son’s character has been converted to Labyrinth Lord and is still in play, and he still possesses the magical key to open the doors, so maybe we’ll return to it some day.
UPDATE: A slightly re-worked version of this dungeon received Honorable Mention in the 2009 One Page Dungeon Contest. It was honored as Best Dungeon Circa 1974, which is quite a compliment right there.
My guess is that most old school-ish gamers hold these in pretty high esteem:
For all the hours I spent pouring over these and books from the 1983 boxed set, we never really did a whole lot in Greyhawk. I always had grand plans to start up a continent-spanning campaign of some sort or other, but it never materialized. Several characters we played lived in Greyhawk, but other than names on a map and places or origin, none of the world really seeped into our games. A few modules here and there made use of the setting, but even then I was more likely to place things in my own campaign world than use them as written.
For all the advantages I believe using your own world has, I do regret not making more use of the Greyhawk. My maps are still rolled in a tube somewhere in the basement, and the Glossography and Guide Book are still in the box along with photocopies of some map sections I planned to make use of but never did.
Jeff’s Gameblog recently had a great post on the script used in the maps, so check it out if you missed it.
Maps from here.
I’ve got some more done on my wilderness map for the Forbidden Jungle sandbox:
The yellowish terrain is a huge plateau thrust above the level of the jungle canopy. The sickly greenish terrain is swampy territory.
I also moved the settlement that the PCs will start in a bit farther back down the river.
Characters will arrive in the outpost town via boat from the coastal area (off map).
I think I’ve got this map far enough along for now. I’m going to start working on more detailed info regarding the background and setting and beginning to detail the area around the town.