A word of warning to my players, this post will reveal the first dungeon of our next campaign.
First up, a big hello to Grognards and other readers coming from the Old School side to check things out. I may talk about D&D 4e a lot, but I do love dungeons a lot!
All right, ready for another installment of my campaign prep for my D&D 4e Megadungeon campaign?
While Yan was busy populating the City Within with factions and organizations, I traveled the Web for ideas and tools to create dungeon maps to actually have places in the Primal Dungeon to adventure in.
Campaign name aside: I’ve been calling it the Primal Within campaign, combining The Primal Dungeon with City Within, I kinda like it. What do you think?
I wasn’t looking for software mapping tools, because the barrier to entry are high (learning the software and possibly pay for it if it’s not Open Source). Furthermore, all the options of such software distract me from actually designing. What’s worse, when the software does not do something that I want, I obsess about it for hours and stay stuck .
No, really, nothing beats a sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil…
The One-Page Dungeon Template
It started in a discussion back in 2007 about making Megadungeons. The idea of drawing part of a Megadungeon’s level on a 30X30 map, making it fit on one page and leaving room for some brief notes for Wandering monsters and room key was discussed. From there, Chgowiz, Sham and Mike developed tweaked and used a One Page Dungeon Template (as well as a larger scale 30X30′ map) to create all kinds of cool old-school dungeons (Have a look at their work, it’s great stuff).
I’ve really got to thank these guys for making the idea into a tangible tool. While initially developed to answer their needs of creating dungeons for older editions of D&D and its myriad of retro-clones, I’ve found these tools to be very helpful for my current 4e needs as well.
The templates can be used many different ways. If your are the type to follow the classic “Fill the Map” method, you can print out the empty template and start drawing your dungeon. Once this is done, you can fill in wandering monsters, legends and the room key.
For DMs who like to improvise adventures, doing just this is often enough to create a full gaming session.
Alternatively, if you want to follow the ‘Fill the Map’ method but want a larger map to draw in, you can use this large scale 30X30 map created by Sham. Once done, you scan the sheet at 600 dpi, cut it in your favorite software (I’m fond of The Gimp), import it in the template and fill the rest in your favorite word processor.
If you’re more of the “Map the Fill” type (i.e. you design your encounters then make a map to fit them in), you can open an empty template on your word processor and fill in all the text boxes. Once done, you print out and draw your dungeon or import it image file from your favorite imaging software.
Using the Template for D&D 4e
Anyway, when I looked at the template, I realized that a 30 X 30 grid was the perfect size to create a 10-15 room dungeon at a scale of 10′ per square. This is exactly what I’m looking for in my next campaign. With such a scale, you can get 4e friendly scaled rooms without any problem.
In fact, you can use the same grid at different scales to represent a regional map (1/4 mile per square), a Dungeon level (10′-20′ per square) and a tactical battlemap (5′ per square).
Being of the ‘Fill the Map’ school of dungeon design, I modified the template to suit my needs and used it as a planning tool.
By the way, I’ve brought all files together here (including my adaptation of it) for your convenience. Fell free to download it. They’re released according to the Creative Common-Share Alike license (i.e. do what you want with them, but don’t forget to credit their creators).
I then printed out the template and started drawing a dungeon. I didn’t have any specific idea when I started out. I wanted some sort of abandoned temple complex. Having it dedicated to an aspect of Elemental Chaos establishes the influence of the dungeon’s imprisoned Primordial and goes in the direction of the campaign’s background.
I started by drawing an entrance leading to a pillared hall (I like pillars, they provide cover and can often be toppled on the head of PCs/monsters). From the hall I drew a huge temple room, complete with a raised basin/altar and a large circular pool. (The post’s image is the dungeon I’m describing here)
That made me think that a cult devoted to Primal Water elements would have a lot of water running around. That’s how I made a hidden room filled with water accessible from the Pool only. In that room I put a lone sarcophagus and let the concept simmer at the back of my mind.
(Water Elemental Vampire! Sea-Mist Wraith, Mummified Shauagin Lich Priest… possibilities endless!)
Having a temple and one sarcophagus, I thought about adding the obligatory crypt.
That’s when the main trick of the dungeon came to me. Abandoned Evil Water Cult Temple, water everywhere, crypts…
How about I made the guardians of the Temple be the spirit of enslaved undead humanoids, all ex-enemies of the Cult, forced to serve for eternity?
In my mind’s eye, I could see a room filled with glass coffins in which marine ghouls were forever trying to claw through the transparent walls while their spirits were forced to guard/patrol other areas of the temple as Spectral Guardians.
Ding! I had a winner!
I added another crypt and some guardians and I had my dungeon.
At that point, I was thinking how to work in wandering monsters into the place. I abandoned random encounters when I switched from AD&D 1e to Gurps in the late 80’s. Re-implementing this aspect of Old-School gaming in my adventures wasn’t going to be easy. For it to work for me, I needded a rationale to explain monsters walking around an abandoned temple. I had the temple’s guardians, but I wanted something more… random yet believable within the design space defined by my players’ suspension of disbelief.
That’s when I thought about adding burrowed tunnels around and through the temple structure. Thus, with a dungeon that’s been breached by a burrower that made its lair nearby, I could picture monsters walking around and interrupting PCs during a rest period.
I added more tunnels and caves , including the obligatory collapsed passageway for DMs wanting to expand the dungeon further. I also had the tunnels breach certain areas of the temple.
At that point, I thought about the possible effects that a large burrower could have on the dungeon, so I knocked down pillars, busted door open and even destroyed one of the ghoul’s glass sarcophagus.
As I was doing this, to story of the dungeon was taking shape and I hadn’t even written one room description yet.
The last element that cliched the whole thing was to determine what kind of burrowing creature could have set a lair here. Considering that my players would likely be level 6-7 when they’d be playing it, I searched the online D&D Compedium for all burrowers between level 7-9.
I got the Bulette…
Since the Bulette is a level 9 elite Skirmisher it’s a perfect model to create an unofficial “level Boss” monster by upgrading it to a Solo monster with a few more HP and new powers
(the real Boss would, of course, be the one in the hidden Water crypt room).
So I pictured a dungeonbred Bulette, large sized, covered with silvery runes, that escaped from some Mad Wizard’s laboratory that settled in this dungeon.
The concept and maps of the Font of Sorrows was done.
I then described , very briefly, what each room would contain so that when I actually prepped for that game, I’d have all critical elements to build from.
You wanna see the final product?
Of course the dungeon is not playable as is. Unless you’re a great improv DM (which I’m not), more prep needs to be done. I’ll need to stat out all monsters, flesh out interactive terrain elements (falling pillars, acid pools, etc), place treasure Parcel and work out to present each elements like the various implied rituals. Finally, I need to place the exploration of this dungeon in the context of a plot that involves factions of the city, the dungeon or both to get my storytelling players to enjoy it more.
Heck, I’m thinking of adapting the one page template to allow one sheet 4e encounter…
I’ll let you know how that works out!
Thoughts, ideas? Let me know!