Are "Pretty" Dungeons Better?
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  1. #1
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    Are "Pretty" Dungeons Better?

    The urge to run some kind of dungeon exploration game is the current thing to have caught my fancy, but I am terrible for wanting my dungeons to be "pretty". By that I do not necessarily man colour or fancy drawing, but rather architectural versimilitude. But good architectural sense make a dungeon better? Or are randomly assembled rooms from 10' by 10' to 60' by 60' sufficient for a good story?

    And as much as possible I do not mean this to be a situational question. Obviously a non-sensical dungeon run by a great DM is going to be a better game than one base on the Cathedral of Notre Dame run by a terrible DM. This is more a question of whether pretty dungeons are, generally speaking, better underpinnings for a game.

  2. #2
    Define "pretty"

    if you mean visuals the inspire awe, then sure, it helps

    do you HAVE to have it?

    nope, I've been doing dungeons that have no real description other than room size.

    Perhaps just have a few rooms (boss fight room types) that are 'pretty' and epic beyond compare. One of the times I flesh out a chamber is for the reason of developing the story.

    Because how else would the party know the dragon they just killed was the Red Bane of the east other than the giant tapestry depicting that?
    Bardic knowledge?

    Who plays bards?


    --The Summer Knight

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    Dungeons that feel 'real' are better, yes - even if that reality is the Chaos-warped labyrinth of a mad Archmage. The more nods to versimilitude, the better.

    In particular, 3D stuff like air vents and chimneys are always nice. Even lightwells, like in Moria. For castles, Dungeons that fit beneath the floorplan of the ground story. For mines, few or no big chambers. For limestone caves, some indication of how the water might once have flowed through them.

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    Something that just struck me, probably not for the first time, is that it would be useful if there was such a thing as a list of what elements pretty dungeons, pretty castles, pretty temples, et cetera need. A checklist for when drawing up your own, a template or formula. Fictions, and especially movies, are famous for their supposedly formulaic plots. Yet, where formula may be overused there it might be useful in design... If I had been thinking more clearly, I probably should have made a thread for that in the first place...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kaodi View Post
    But good architectural sense make a dungeon better?
    YES.

    Any ruin which was once inhabited should have bathrooms and kitchens and all the things one might want or need as an inhabitant. Think about what the people who lived there did all day, how they got from one location to another, and how they might have cut corners.

    If you make a comprehensible world, and your players are rewarded for comprehending it, they will tend to engage with it more, and they will have fun doing so.

    IMHO anyway.

    Cheers, -- N

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    As much as I hate to generalize about types of gamers (and gaming styles), allow me to do just that even though I will specify that these types of gamers (and styles) can become one another over time, sometimes can even become one another from one session to the next, so heed that advice while thinking over the following . . .

    In my experience dungeons that make sense are easier for logic-minded players to handle and overcome. I also know that in such situations a little bit of surprise goes a long way. Non-logic-minded players seem to be more surprised by even things I tend to think logical, but also seem to need more depth in the encounters individually. But dungeons that make sense are not always a matter of architecture.

    To give some quick examples to the point, I was recently revisisting Eric Noah's RPG pages and saw some maps that will help illustrate what I am posting. Eric Noah, for some newer EN Worlders who might not realize, ran a site that was the progenitor for this website, hence the E. N. in EN World (and the E. N. in ENnies, which I am proud to say I first suggested). Since the Mid-Nineties he has kept a journal of his campaigns online here including maps that people can grab and use for their own campaigns if they like. Hopefully, he will not mind my using his efforts for my examples to follow.

    Notice, for instance, the dungeon maps for the Multilevel Tomb. Most of the twelve levels utilize but a single map -

    Most Levels of the Tomb (Click through to see the map)

    These levels don't vary in architecture at all though adventurers might find very different inhabitants within the various chambers on each level, many that might or might not make sense. However one level, though originally the same, has been added to by "The Wolf Tribe" who has carved out grottos to suit their purpose -

    Level Six (Click through to see the map)

    Adventurers that first discover these changes when exploring the levels one by one will definitely feel a thrill at the differences but that's as much because of the otherwise sameness of the whole.

    Alternately, though for similar reasons, the Caves of The Red Tooth Tribe seem chaotic in comparison. However, if one were to see the write up for the following map, I'd imagine that it is divided into sections where different activities and purposes are at hand and adventurers would discover a rhyme and reason to the hodgepodge of tunnels and chambers. There would be chambers to raise the young, sleeping chambes, an armory and weapon storage, training areas, places to prepare and cook food, etc. When the adventurers begin to see the places and patterns, it will all make good sense.

    Red Tooth Tribe Caves (Click through to see the map)

    So, while the architectual design can make sense, as in the first maps, their usage at the time when adventurers explore tham can be quite chaotic, and the reverse can also be true of rambling dungeons where the inhabitants are primarily all working toward a single purpose. I see a lot of the same adventure design in Eric as I have had myself over the years. I tend to err toward the end of making things "Pretty of Purpose," when appropriate, but to honor the history of a location with appropriate architecture as necessitated by the earliest inhabitants, if they were so skilled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nifft View Post
    YES.

    Any ruin which was once inhabited should have bathrooms and kitchens and all the things one might want or need as an inhabitant. Think about what the people who lived there did all day, how they got from one location to another, and how they might have cut corners.

    If you make a comprehensible world, and your players are rewarded for comprehending it, they will tend to engage with it more, and they will have fun doing so.

    IMHO anyway.

    Cheers, -- N
    I have a story from a recent (3.5) game that illustrates this point.

    I botched a Teleport spell when we were very low on resources, ending up in an unfamiliar dungeon. We found a large iron stove, large enough for the party to fit in, and slept there. As we slept, the member on watch noticed some of the denizens of the dungeon - drow - heading to a small chamber off to the side every few hours.

    We realized this was a bathroom and decided to ambush them when they were taking their breaks. Worked out well - they didn't get a chance to act before we killed them.

    *

    Anyway. I wouldn't say that you should build dungeons for verisimilitude. I think what you should do is figure out what kinds of choices the game is about, and make dungeons that offer those kinds of choices. That often means making "pretty" dungeons, for reasons other people have shown in this thread.

    I think that when you design a dungeon, you shouldn't ask yourself "Is this dungeon pretty enough?", but instead "Does this dungeon give the players enough choices (of the kind they want to make)?"

  8. #8
    Don't get to anal about the dungeons (I can say that right?) to where it's no fun, sometimes, when things make no-sense, you realize that element of life that doesn't exist in the real world can explain.

    Magic did it.

  9. #9
    I've no hesitation in borrowing a plan of Tenochtitlan if I need a floating city; and no hesitation in carrying-out major landscaping to make it play well. Of course they had a water park - why wouldn't you

  10. #10
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    Yes, make some nod towards verisimilitude. If the dungeon is a lair of a bunch of humanoids, then, sure, put in some offal pits somewhere, maybe some air vents, that sort of thing.

    But, OTOH, given the choice between realism and excitement, go with excitement. Yes, it makes perfect sense for the dungeon to be a series of five foot wide corridors, but, that will totally suck to actually play in. Sure, it might make sense for a labryinth to be in this particular location, but, after three hours of the players trying to map the bloody thing, you'll just want to stab a pencil in your ear.

    Lost Soul nails it on the head. Step back and think about what kind of decisions and elements you want the players to explore in the dungeon and build around that.

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