Tuesday, 17 January 2012
I'm in a bit of a period of creativity at the moment so have managed to get down 2 complete sub-levels of Castle Bastard and many sides of A4 scribbled with further notes, not to mention the ideas that haven't made it as far as pencil and paper yet.
I'm going for a modular approach to dungeon design whereby each level consists of a multitude of sub-levels, each of which has a map which fits on a single side of A4. Tunnels and passages run off the edges of the paper and eventually emerge onto other maps to link sections to other sections. Vertical means of ingress and egress leads to other levels on other pieces of paper. Some of these routes before sub-levels are effectively "long and twisty" so there's no adherence to the idea that each map butts up to the next in graph paper style.
There are two reasons for this approach - firstly the interior of the world is a great megastructure of sections of underworlds stolen from a myriad of other dimensions and the sub-level concept fits in nicely with this. I can then have a pseudo-Egyptian sub-level with tunnels that lead onto things like the forgotten catacombs of a Bugbear civilization in a cave system and then some poison-gas filled vaulted chambers on the same dungeon level.
The other reason is that creating a single dungeon of around 10-30 rooms with a single theme is much more of a easily undertaken task than creating a map of 200 rooms and quailing before the task of filling it and gives better results than that 200 room monster becoming plain and vanilla because you didn't want to make the whole thing a series of monster warrens bored from solid black marble or similar.
I've adopted a three part approach to creating the individual sub-levels that seems to be serving me quite well.
1 - The Map
The Advanced Fighting Fantasy (2011 version) technique. D6s dropped on map, where they land is the rough centre of a room, read as a D3 for number of exits. Dice clustered together indicate adjacent rooms, clusters separated out are joined to the rest of the map by corridors/tunnels. A few D8s read as d4s are chucked in to avoid the trap of no room having more than 3 exits.
2 - Stocking
I don't stock room by room. Instead I come up with encounters and then place them on the map once I've got a complete list of encounters. To aid with this I effectively reverse-engineered the random generation table from B/X. If you were using this table and your dice rolls were all nice and regular, for each 12 rooms in your dungeon you'd end up with these results.
4 Rooms with monsters/NPCs of which 2 have treasure
4 Empty rooms with either 1/6th of these containing a treasure or with each having a 1-in-6 chance of treasure
2 Traps with 1/3 of trap rooms containing a treasure (or each having 2-in-6 chance).
I find it much easier to then fill in these "slots" before placing. You can look for an area that looks right for your encounter rather than simply obeying all the dice or wasting time keep rerolling.
3 - Word Association
I wrote about this back in 2010 and you should read that if you don't know what I am talking about. What I do these days with this technique is to try and ensure that the 100 words come from a sort of "word association" process with each word being the first thing that springs to mind once the previous one is written down. I believe there's a fair bit of coaxing great ideas out of the creative sub-conscious going on here. I then roll 3 d100 results and write down the results doing my best to combine and justify the three or at worst two of them. The "slots" mentioned above then tend to fill themselves.
The other beauty of doing it this way around (encounters, then place them) is that sometimes the word association process comes up with an idea that deserves expanding out to a whole area or sub-level rather than be under-used on just one room. This can then provide a theme for the current level or be written down as a candidate for later expansion. One of Castle Bastard's sub-levels which the non-existant NPC adventurers that populate the Rumour Table dub "The Forest of Rust" came entirely from a three word combination rolled at random ("FOREST", "IRON" and "SNOW" in case you are curious).
Even when you have a vanilla encounter such as 5 Orcs in a room, you can roll on the W.A. chart and try and see how that simple encounter can become something original and memorable if you have to incorporate words like "SMOKE", "SLOPING", "SKIN" or even just "RED" into it. All of those are words from recent W.A. chart's I've created.
To take one example, SMOKE, it could be simple as a cave filled with so much smoke that the PCs are staggering around almost blind when delving with the Orcs. But it has to come from somewhere which would generally be a campfire but it could be a natural effect of some fungus found locally which emits the smoke in order to spread it's spores. Tying this idea in with the prescene of the Orcs then perhaps the spores have a strong hallucinogenic effect upon the Orcish nervous system and, inspired here by thoughts of those medieval Catholic fanatics who practised self-mortification and ended up with fungal infections in their wounds, they believe they can speak to their gods when in this mental state. So we have drug-addicted Orcs who worship smoke-emitting fungi and while the obvious idea here would be for them to regard outsiders as violating taboo and worthy of a bloody death perhaps our Orcs are really evangelical about the whole thing and want to make converts to their religion.
Would this idea be wasted on a one-off encounter? Probably so suddenly we can have a whole cave network of stoned and tripping Orcs desperate for the PCs to see the smoky light of the true Orc gods.
This is working for me and the creativity is flowing. Each sub-level appears to be an easily manageable task and the word association has created dozens of ideas that I would never have consciously dreamed up if I was staring at a blank map and trying to give every room an unique and interesting encounter.