Saturday, August 13, 2011

Why do some think Dungeons Suck?

Why do some think Dungeons Suck?

You hear this crap all the time from old and new school gamers. With a defiant sniff...

"Me and my players don't like dungeons. We believe in deep role-playing. Dungeons are so boring. Just going from room to room killing stuff, It's so boring and blah."

Well Then whomever has been running (and writing) your dungeon needs a bit of schooling. If you limit your game to "no dungeons" then you are doing it wrong.

FIRST When creating a dungeon don't just make rooms fill it with monsters and start playing.


All dungeons should have their first purpose before they were dungeons. In my huge megadungeon "The Black Stairs" it was originally an underground colony from some unknown time.

An underground city populated by humans long ago then something terrible happened! It seems they all just disappeared or left in a great hurry.

Nature should also play a role in a dungeon. In the black Stairs water has worked it's way in many places. There are two waterfalls that now pour through huge holes that go deep into the dungeon never filling it up. In some cases if one drops down can access the dungeon from multiple ways other than the front door.

There are also chimneys that are pouring out smoke from unknown depths as well as tracks and trails showing that this dungeon is a living place.

Dungeons should also have factions and some some way of trade and commerce though some are connected to the mythic underworld and have no rhyme or reason to them.

If a dungeon is large enough then there should also be various interested parties other than the PCs. In my Labyrinth Lord version there is a huge group of NPCs that belong to the local adventurer's guild who have staked "official" claim to the dungeon. A large party of over 12 NPCs. Always increase NPCs if the players were foolish enough to go back to town and brag on their adventures and show off all the treasure they found.

In the Pathfinder version I did not have time to make them (Cause the system is a clunky mess of too many rules) so they are just found dead.

You should use various descriptions to portray a sense of ancientness and oldness. The players should be able to feel the textures and smell the smells of the place.

Also make odd traps and tricks that strike the fear of death into the players.

Add elements of video games such as doors that can ONLY be unlocked by certain magical keys.

Have various NPCs from civilization give the players quest to find certain objects within the dungeon.

Let many treasures not all be gold jewels and gems. Sometimes and ancient set of books, tapestries, furniture, clothing, wine, or whatever can be the most valuable treasure.

Many intelligent monsters will be ready for the next visit of the adventurers with ambush and traps.

Maybe even a less intelligent pet is corralled for the PCs to encounter...



  1. Dungeons can be scary, dude. You shoulda seen the look on my wife's face last night when I told her that, during a dungeon adventure, her torch went out when she used it to whack on a grey ooze.

    Immerse yourself in THAT.

  2. Immerse myself in grey ooze!? Heh.

    I myself am pleased that I actually managed to induce sympathetic claustrophobia in some of my players the last time I had their PCs in the deep catacombs of the Kingdom of Ghouls.

  3. It also helps if you have a bunch of big ideas and small ideas, and you think of cool things and find them online, and stick them into little nooks and crannies. If you dream up some challenging thing, stick it in the dungeon somewhere. Maybe just things that are wondrous or mysterious or menacing.

    In a good monster movie, the monster seems like the main point, but it's really just the thing around which the characters develop themselves. Same with "haunted house" style movies. In overland travel movies it's Man vs. Nature. There are a lot of examples.

  4. I also find that a lot of groups that don't play dungeons are merely thinking of dungeons too literally.

    They often have plenty of dungeon type settings but have convinced themselves that the labyrinthine monestary, the ancient library, the caverns or even that mysterious city are NOT dungeons. Heck, even a jaunt through a forest can be, for all intents and purposes, a dungeon.

    I am not a fan of dungeons for dungeon's sake, myself. If I do bring a dungeon into my game, it's almost never presented directly as such. Going down the mysterious chasm at the edge of a local town and finding an ancient magic prison swallowed by the earth is a dungeon, but I'll never call it one. :)


  5. She will do it anyway only every once in awhile and she can do without grey also