Dungeon Design

Good dungeon design is not unlike decent FPS level design.  There are a number of technical and fun factors to be considered, like resting areas, hazards, range of visibility, camping spots, etc.  However, to be believable, a dungeon or similar construct must also be logical and explainable to the most nitpicky of players (whom you will never really satisfy anyway, but you can do better than the competition).

First, realize that the dungeon is the most overused and hackneyed device in all of gaming.  They can be lots of fun, but after a while the smart players will start to wonder, "Where did all these dungeons come from and why is this bizarre array of monsters living in it?"  Once they figure this out, they will start to notice that the dungeon lacks basic necessities like storage, food preparation areas, sanitation, etc.  This kills any immersiveness they might have felt on their first exploration, and reduces your construction to a running joke amongst fantasy gamers.

One thing to keep in mind is that you have to explain why all these dungeons are lying around everywhere.  Excavation is a very labor-intensive and expensive process, and most intelligent creatures won’t go to the trouble of building a dungeon unless they have a good reason.  Nocturnal creatures may build them for the same reason dinural beings use artificial light sources:  so they can keep being productive when they would otherwise have to be sleeping.  Extremely rich and powerful beings may in fact excavate underground for storage, detention, emergency shelters/escapes, or to expand living areas in places that are difficult to build aboveground, like a castle on top of a craggy hill that’s already gone as high as it can practically go.  Other creatures may take up residence in abandoned excavations like tunnels, mines, or natural cave complexes.  Keeping in mind the purpose and origin of complexes like dungeons can go a long way toward making them believable.

Another obvious thing to do is to just not have so many damn dungeons everywhere.  An aboveground complex like a fort, town, or castle can be just as enjoyable as an underground complex, and be far more believable.  If your lore allows for a very old civilization that left a bunch of buildings lying around, why should an itinerant group of intelligent monsters bother to build something new when they could just move in?  Why would they go to all the trouble of mining through solid rock when it’s easier to build wattle huts with a palisade?  Just use your head.

2 Responses to “Dungeon Design”
  1. One fundamental problem with your theory here: If I builld my home above ground I have much thinner walls, This makes it much harder to conceal the traps that I am going to install. And I’m still going to have to do a lot of excavating to make all of those pit traps. I might as well not bother putting traps in every single room.

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