Fantasy TTRPGs- Starting a Dungeon

Dungeon crawls. Why do they exist and who would build such a thing?

Giving the dungeon, and the module, a backstory.

Whether I’m creating a typical five room dungeon or a massive underground mega sprawl, the first question that always comes to mind is: why? And the why actually goes both ways. Why would anyone in their right (medieval fantasy) mind want to build the complex, possibly underground at all? Furthermore, why would a group of characters want to go into a dank underground complex full of terrible traps and drooling, slobbering monsters?

Now, not every dungeon adventure the party is going to face is necessarily underground. It could be a hedge maze, an old manor, a shipwreck, or something even stranger. The question always remains, why is it there?

Who built it and for what purpose?

Not every dungeon is built for a reason. Some occur naturally. But every dungeon is inhabited for a reason. (Or worse, abandoned for a bigger reason.) I mean, every creature needs a home, right? Even drooling, slobbering, scary monsters gotta live somewhere.

But a true dungeon, a real stereotypical fantasy underground complex, springs to life with a legitimate reason of some sort in mind. I find it important to decide on a cause before I start construction so I know what the centerpiece of the place is going to be. Bear in mind, a truly huge dungeon would take thousands of man hours and gold coins or lots of magic in order to build it safely. Guards and traps are extra, of course.

Then we come to the who. Sometimes it’s obvious from my GM/DM’s perspective that said BBEG or villain needs a cool lair. Sometimes (Out of character) I need a particularly deadly place to stash some epic loot the party might need some time down the road. Other times yet, it’s just for flavor, like a sidetrack or incidental.

The builder’s in-character motive always comes to mind as well. Maybe it’s a tomb full of stone soldiers constructed in memory of a forgotten general. Perhaps a power mad necromancer needed a secluded place to build his golem in peace. (Darn villagers with their torches and pitchforks…) It’s possible a well meaning group of beings long ago wanted to seal away a gate to their realm. It could be the lair of an innocent Ancient Red Dragon that just wanted to keep it’s modest filthy lucre mountain safe before he can donate it to the orphans. Maybe a group of well meaning good samaritans wanted to seal something truly horrific away forever and throw away the key. Still another reason might be to bury a powerful artifact away from those who would abuse its power.

These are mere examples. We could go all day and night coming up with cool reasons to build a dungeon. The history and lore should play an important role in the next step: getting the player characters in the door. To be continued…

Fantasy TTRPG: The ‘Why’ of Dungeon Crawling.

One of my favorites is the group stumbles onto the thing completely by accident through a buried entrance or random hole in the ground. “While doing your character’s business off the trail, he stumbles into a hole and plummets 30 feet into (dungeon room number 1.)”

I like to give players a reason for their character to enter the spooky underground maze of despair and certain doom.

Picking up where we left of yesterday. Why would anyone in their right mind enter an underground complex full of locked doors, deathtraps, and horrifying foul creatures of every sort? Okay, beyond the motivation of, “We’re perpetually angry thieving murder hoboes looking for the filthy lucre mountain to steal.”

What is the hook of the dungeon going to be? What can I put out there to get at least one player, if not the whole group motivated to go traipsing down into The Lair of the Vampiric Devil Dragon? What logical reasons could there be for wanting to cheat death? Okay, aside from it being a fantasy game.

The two most basic kinds of motivation: Intrinsic or Extrinsic.

We’ll start with the complicated reasons- the intrinsic kind. Maybe the group wants to rescue someone. Maybe the lost component of someone’s backstory lies within. Perhaps the lich that built the place is someone’s great grandfather. In extreme cases, it might be to keep some really frightening thing from ending the world. Whatever the intrinsic reason is, it’s something motivated by the characters themselves.

By comparison, extrinsic reasons are pretty simple. The group has a reason to believe wealth, fame and fortune lie within. They’ve been promised a great reward for braving the depths and retrieving the MacGuffin. Gold and magic items top the list of extrinsic motivators.

There’s always basic curiosity and dumb luck.

All of us veterans know some hooks by heart. For example: a ragged looking wizard stumbles into the inn with a map in his hand. He falls over dead in the middle of the group’s table, dropping the map in the unsuspecting rogue’s lap after muttering something about an ancient curse.

One of my favorites is the group stumbles onto the thing completely by accident through a buried entrance or random hole in the ground. “While doing your character’s business off the trail, he stumbles into a hole and plummets 30 feet into (dungeon room number 1.)”

Last, there’s always basic curiosity. Rumors abound at the inn about a miner’s discovery of a door covered in an ancient, unknown dialect. The cleric’s order recently unearthed a series of forgotten vaults underneath their oldest temple. Why is the humble town of Tristram suddenly under siege by hordes of demons and undead? Who lives in the Death Fortress on Skull Island? There might be some sick loot in the old ruins at the top of the hill.

Whatever the reason, good luck to you and your players. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you!

D12 Tables

I have more d12s in my bag than d20s. Yes, I rolled a Nat 12!

I could make a 1d12 table of 1d12 tables I want to make. That’s how much fun they are. I won’t bore you with that one here, but it could be done.

I make 1d12 tables for a lot of odd random things as a DM, though. They add all kinds of spicy goodness to bland encounters. They work for weather, travel, global events, some NPC attitudes, and of course, random monster encounters. I know I’m old school, but I still believe in the old wandering monster table. Because maybe the troll down the hall decides to go for a stroll about the time the party thinks they’re going to rest. Bwah ha ha! Rolled an 11. Meet the troll.

I think the d12 is the most underrated dice in any game, except ICRPG. Yay! I suppose they’re good in SWADE and EGS, too if I remember right. But D&D and Pathfinder are very reserved in their use of the d12. My solution is to use them for any and every thing I can think of. I carry the things for fun every day. Really.

My players have called me out on it in the past. I have a pattern for most of my tables. You can probably guess the pattern. 1’s are, of course going to be catastrophically bad or unwanted news. 12’s are, naturally, something favorable or at least more favorable. 2-3 are usually something unwanted but not scary bad. 10-11 are usually the pretty good end of whatever the table is. Everything else is likely meaningful but random. I’ve done more random variants, but that’s the gist.

I have more d12s in my bag than d20s. Yes, I rolled a Nat 12!

Let me throw down a sample:

Roll 1d12. Average Night at the Stable:

  1. The stable catches fire! If the group has mounts there, the animals are in danger! One of the stable hands running into the inn a major panic to get help and save the animals.
  2. Horse thieves! Choose a random party member who had a mount in the stables. Their mount is now missing.
  3. Oops. The stable boy accidentally left the stall door open when he was cleaning. Choose a random party member. Their mount is now out wandering around somewhere.
  4. Asleep on the job. Stable keeper accidentally loaned one of the characters’ mounts out to a local merchant. The animal is treated well, but won’t be in the stable until the next night.
  5. Where did they find this kid? The stable boy decided to ignore his chores. The animals are not fed or watered, and stalls are not cleaned out. This will lead to somewhat moody, fatigued, smelly mounts the next day.
  6. All is well. The stable keeper feeds the all of the animals a treat! Unfortunately, it doesn’t agree with one of the mount’s tummies the next day. (Choose a random mount.)
  7. All of the mounts are well fed, well treated, and are ready for action the next day.
  8. The stable keeper notices an issue with a horse shoe and takes care of it, free of charge. He lets the group know the next morning.
  9. The stable keeper chases off a predator outside the stable. He lets the group know about it in the morning. One of the characters’ mounts is still skittish. The stable keeper will offer to loan out his personal thoroughbred for free if desired.
  10. The mounts are well-loved. They receive a +1 discretionary bonus to any one given roll during the day.
  11. What’s in that feed? Whatever the stable keeper fed the mounts, is working very well. The group receives an Advantage on any ONE given roll related to travel or the mounts.
  12. Holy buckets! The mounts are well fed, loved and ready to go! ALL mounts gain a +1 discretionary bonus and Advantage on one travel/mount related roll. They will also automatically pass the first morale roll within 24 hours automatically! The mounts are happy.

%d bloggers like this: