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Designing dungeons for multiple excursions

Cor Azer

First Post
One of the things I've always really enjoyed about games like The Legend of Zelda is that you're encouraged to return to dungeons you've already "completed" so you can reach new areas that were previously unexplored. The main ingredient here is that the player can see the unreachable area well before getting there. Often they'll spend a long time trying to figure out if they can access it, but eventually they'll notice a hint that shows them that they need a later item (ie, in the case of the Zelda's, perhaps you see a hookshot target, which says you need the hookshot before returning), or simply grow frustrated and leave. With luck, they'll remember to come back later, and thus find a hidden McGuffin.

Note that I'm not really talking about dungeons that are just so big that the players can't really help but leave, rest in town, and come back. Rather I'm looking at the situation where while en route to defeat the evil cult, they notice a weird golden door across an uncrossable chasm. Then a few adventures later, they learn that the weird golden door is the entrance to a hidden tomb filled with riches - and now that the party can fly, they decide to go back are loot.

To be fair, I'm not explicitly trying to create a situation where it's impossible to get to the "unreachable" area - on occasion my players are more creative than I and come up with a way to access the unaccessible, so I don't want a situation that is necessarily a simple "magic barrier that says no until the DM says go". Maybe it's a wide chasm, maybe it's an ancient dwarven door with a magic riddle waiting to be solved, or maybe it's an incredibly high wall.

Ideally the obstacle can be overcome with either player or character knowledge, or character abilities, but even plot items (as simple as a key, or perhaps a magic bean that grows a climbable vine) can be valid "solutions".

So with that in mind, do other DMs try to design dungeons to support this? How do you do so? Is it successful, or are your players like mine and often grow frustrated being unable to "complete" the dungeon in one go?
 

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Walknot

First Post
We just left behind a dungeon with unexplored area(s) because there were some urgent need to do some other things before it was "too late" (in game). SO, in general including plotlines that create a "time is of the essence" mood can contribute to a multi-visit dungeon.

Another idea (have not played this one) is to use tides. For instance a literal tide (ocean tide) could prevent exploring certain area until such & such a time. But there could be other tides, such as a tide of goblinoids that has so infested an area that it is unsafe (even for heros). Or a tide in the affairs of men, such as allowing seasoned guides (a must in this example) only after the harvest is in.

Of course, combinations of tides could present the group with "windows of opportunity" to explore a certain stretch of a dungeon. Depending on time constraints.
 

Another approach is not a single dungeon, but a complex that includes multiple dungeons. For example, a necropolis that includes multiple tombs, each of which is its own dungeon. Each delve is a mission to a specific dungeon within the complex ... but if the players want to wander about and enter another one, they're welcome too.

Just beware the one in the big hill with the stones set in the shape of a grinning skull ...
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
A possibility I've used in the past is having some other kind of monsters moving in to the areas the PCs cleared out. . . so they return a year or so later and the place while mostly the same, might have new areas excavated, others collapsed, new traps or blockades, etc. . .
 

Nebulous

Legend
A possibility I've used in the past is having some other kind of monsters moving in to the areas the PCs cleared out. . . so they return a year or so later and the place while mostly the same, might have new areas excavated, others collapsed, new traps or blockades, etc. . .


This is sort of what i'm going to do with Tallow's Deep, an old 1e or 2e adventure from Dungeon magazine i'm updating to 4e. I ran it years and years ago for the group, and i have one player now who has been in it, but i want to change it up some. Not that he'll remember much except the river trap and the deadly conclusion.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
This is sort of what i'm going to do with Tallow's Deep, an old 1e or 2e adventure from Dungeon magazine i'm updating to 4e. I ran it years and years ago for the group, and i have one player now who has been in it, but i want to change it up some. Not that he'll remember much except the river trap and the deadly conclusion.


Tallow's Deep is one my favorite adventures of all time and those players from that group who are still around still talk about it to this day.

A very brief discussion of how the adventure fit into that old campaign can be read here.
 

Nebulous

Legend
Tallow's Deep is one my favorite adventures of all time and those players from that group who are still around still talk about it to this day.

Indeed, we still talk of that adventure with great reverence. It taught the DMs alot about three dimensional traps, and how to make the puny goblin a truly fearsome foe. I hope i can do the 4e version of it justice!
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
Just wanted to say that this is a great thread, which I am following with interest.

In a 3e example, the first place the PCs explored was a cave system that had at least two more branches that their goal didn't take them to. One of the branches was a kobold lair, the other led deep underground.

I like to include potential other sites in nearly every adventure if I can manage it. So, passing on an unused roadway, PCs might see cracks that lead down to a space with rushing water....wonder what's down there? Or they might see something a long way off, or hear a story of another location from an NPC.

I love the idea of players who have too many options, and hate having too few, no matter what side of the screen I am on.


RC
 

Nebulous

Legend
I love the idea of players who have too many options, and hate having too few, no matter what side of the screen I am on.

RC

I agree with this to an extent, but with a few caveats. I remember telling my brother once that our current campaign had 14 ongoing subplots. I was pround of that, but looking back, they only followed a few, probably didn't finish ANY, and were ultimately a little confused. I've tried to reign in the "go anywhere, do anything" style some. I've also played in games where there are so many options you lose track of what you're doing.

Although having too few options is almost as bad.
 

In the Age of Worms adventure path, IIRC, the dungeon you visit in the very first adventure contains a disactivated portal that you activate (and go through) a few adventures later.

AR
 

Korgoth

First Post
Another approach is not a single dungeon, but a complex that includes multiple dungeons. For example, a necropolis that includes multiple tombs, each of which is its own dungeon. Each delve is a mission to a specific dungeon within the complex ... but if the players want to wander about and enter another one, they're welcome too.

This is actually the design rationale of my Jakalla Underworld megadungeon in my Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) game. Each level is a series of distinct areas. On level one they have found a sprawling series of catacombs (unnamed but containing individually-named areas, such as the Watch House of Eternal Vigilance, where they had to fight a bunch of zombies), a sprawling undercity of abandoned basements and storerooms, a small but functioning temple (The Black Abode of Putresence Triumphant; actually it's not functioning for the moment because they slew the priests), a tomb complex (the tomb of Kalvar the Cruel), etc.

The tomb complex they explored actually had a pit which they did not explore... it in fact leads down to another tomb holding a vastly desirable prize, but they were gun shy about spelunking it after the shoggoth in the tomb's treasure room ate one of the party (the rest did well to escape).

In the whole campaign, which has lasted a few months, they've only explored less than half of level 1... of course the dungeon was designed to be approached in multiple forays and for some areas to be "missed". There are also multiple entrances and ways to move up and down in the dungeon. Conceivably, we could have multiple parties exploring the dungeon, but so far I only have 1 group for it (down to 7 players right now, but that's not a bad number).
 


GlaziusF

First Post
In the Age of Worms adventure path, IIRC, the dungeon you visit in the very first adventure contains a disactivated portal that you activate (and go through) a few adventures later.

AR

This is probably a good way to approach "saving something for later" - something that looks significant but which the players can't artificially bypass (ie tunnel through 250' of rock to get around a magic barrier).
 

Jack7

First Post
I designed a dungeon crawl one time (I'll put up a description of it elsewhere, in my Adventure's Thread) that included a moving or sweeping artifact that had been created by a seemingly long dead Wizard. The Wizard had an ancient reputation in history for being extremely ingenious, and powerful, but also for being cruel and evil.

As the artifact moved through the dungeon anyone caught in it's path was transported either forwards or backwards in time (it operated on an oscillating, but patterned basis). Sometimes they were transported backwards to a time when the dungeon design was primitive, or unfinished, sometimes forwards to where it was far more complex in design. (It could not as a matter of it's normal operation transport anyone or anything back to a time before it was created.) In different eras the players would encounter different areas of the dungeon (because of what time period they encountered it), different creatures, treasures, furnishings, traps, puzzles, etc.

Because of the nature of the artifact it existed in the dungeon at any and every era simultaneously, so that the players always were being moved around in time, and sometimes in space.

The mission was to recover a rumored device that would allow the recovery of a True piece of the Cross which according to prophecy would allow Samarkand to stave off a coming invasion. The trouble was that the piece of the Cross, was according to the same prophecy, on another world and could not be recovered for another 600 years in any case. Nevertheless the prophecy also spoke of where to look for the piece of the Cross (the relic) and when the party was sent to that locale on an expedition they dug underground and into a set of catacombs that led into the "Tesseract" (or dungeon) of the time device. By the time they began to encounter the device and figured out it was sweeping them through time they began to realize how they could actually recover the artifact they were searching for.

The real trick of course was to try and maneuver the device (or gain limited control of it) to try to take them to the time period of the Wizard to see what he was really like, and if he could help them locate the piece of the Cross and then return it to their own era to assist with the invasion against Samarkand. What they didn't know is that they kept re-encountering the Wizard over and over again in different guises at different times and places and forms in the dungeon because like the device he had created he was now in constant flux and existing simultaneously in every era of the dungeon as well. (The Elturgic magics he had used to create the device had inadvertently transformed him as well.) The dungeon itself had become his "time trap and time capsule." So in order to help the party get the piece of the Cross, he wanted them to help him regain control of the time device, so he could shut it down and finally die.

Anyways, in that case, time travel was the way I got around the whole problem of the "crawl design" and how players were able to explore and re-explore the same place over and over again and have the dungeon itself in a constant state of change as well.
 

Sir Robilar

First Post
As the artifact moved through the dungeon anyone caught in it's path was transported either forwards or backwards in time (it operated on an oscillating, but patterned basis). Sometimes they were transported backwards to a time when the dungeon design was primitive, or unfinished, sometimes forwards to where it was far more complex in design.

Wow, fantastic idea! I always wanted to include some time travel into my campaign but never knew how to do it. Idea stolen. ;)

In what issue can Tallow's Deep be found?
 

Jack7

First Post
I always wanted to include some time travel into my campaign but never knew how to do it.

Well, that's one way.

Another trick I used one time was to make the entire dungeon, or area where the adventure was taking place (it was actually an old, deserted monastery that had been built atop an old set of partially underground ruins), into a sort of time trap.

Certain areas of the "dungeon" were, because of the fact in my setting that Elturgy (arcane magic) is not native our world, being phased or fluxed in time, rapidly shifting back and forth between both different time periods, and between the two separate worlds. The arcane magic from the other world was inter-acting with the strong divine magic of the monastery to cause the intended Elturgical effect to malfunction. Instead of warding and coagulating and protecting the place from being discovered and infiltrated, what the malfunction was causing was for the place, or sections of it at a time, to continuously and randomly shift in time and between the two worlds. And this strange flux was causing the entire area to be easily noticed by, and to attract, various monstrous creatures and even certain supernatural beings.

Because of the fluctuations in time and between worlds all forms of magic, arcane and divine, and even psionic powers, were also in flux, prone to malfunction, or even to becoming transformed into something entirely different than intended.

Anyways that's another way I've used time travel.
I didn't use it thought to make the dungeon able to be explored multiple times, but if it was worked right I reckon you could write a scenario that had that same effect.

One other time I used time travel and then the cause was a spell which placed the entire party in stasis and because of the artifact that triggered the spell they didn't get released until nearly three hundred years had passed. In that case too I imagine you could write a multiple use scenario for the dungeon. Such as, you get near the end of the dungeon and get trapped in a stasis field, then when you get clear some time later you have to fight your way back out the way you came in only this time the dungeon is inhabited by entirely different creatures, and maybe even has changed radically in design. That could be interesting too if you did it right. The party wouldn't even necessarily really be aware of what happened til they got out into the open world and discovered how much time had really passed. They'd be trying to figure out exactly what had happened and why and only later would they discover that they were in a totally different time period.
 

justanobody

First Post
So with that in mind, do other DMs try to design dungeons to support this? How do you do so? Is it successful, or are your players like mine and often grow frustrated being unable to "complete" the dungeon in one go?

Yes. The players can revisit any area that survived their last visit there. :lol:

I allow the wandering peoples or monsters in an area to take over the region when the players aren't looking. The world does not just sit and wait for the players to come to it and interact with it.

It is a labor of love, but a labor none the less. I always prepare creatures and animals to populate areas after the first encounter the players have with that area so that when they return someone may have moved in to where the players left vacant. Bands of traveling rogues or gypsies, or anything else just may take refuge in a newly abandoned shelter.

The last question makes me think, do you mean later return to as in after they leave the dungeon, or Diablo style where each visit creatures respawn?

I don't really like adding new things into a dungeon that were not there to begin with to excess. Some new things may try to enter, but will be faced with the same things that await the players. So a group of gaurds that were tied up on the way out may defend against new people entering as well the players existing.

In the case where the players have left and are coming back, the players get annoyed that the place they thought was going to be always theirs with them leaving it unguarded has been overrun by critters so they have to fight this new problem to get the treasure they stored away and left behind because they couldn't carry it. :lol:

But it is not the DMs job to make sure hidden treasure stays hidden for the PCs to return to claim later.

In the end it was always fun for the players as they viewed it as just more XP to earn. It also taught them some things about me as a DM and what to expect and later prepare for things to come.
 

Belac

First Post
In the original Brown Box booklet for dungeons, Gary Gygax suggests that ALL dungeons should be designed like this. (Of course, he also seems to assume the entire campaign takes place in one dungeon.) He suggests that any given dungeon should have one or two levels under construction at any given time, and that previously explored levels should occasionally be repopulated with new monsters and have sections of the map redrawn due to digging, construction, earthquakes, magical effects, and other things. (Actually, he sorta implies that you should just add new areas and change old rooms without worrying about whether there's an explanation.)
 

howandwhy99

Adventurer
In the original Brown Box booklet for dungeons, Gary Gygax suggests that ALL dungeons should be designed like this. (Of course, he also seems to assume the entire campaign takes place in one dungeon.) He suggests that any given dungeon should have one or two levels under construction at any given time, and that previously explored levels should occasionally be repopulated with new monsters and have sections of the map redrawn due to digging, construction, earthquakes, magical effects, and other things. (Actually, he sorta implies that you should just add new areas and change old rooms without worrying about whether there's an explanation.)
This is exactly what Diaglo does in our OD&D campaign, but he has an explanation for everything. (no red dragons in 10' rooms) He says the whole world is a dungeon.

I'm thinking the walls in this one room are pretty wide...

But it I don't believe it is unusual to have nested dungeons inside of actual cavern dungeons like in the D series or Castle Whiterock.
 

Cor Azer

First Post
The last question makes me think, do you mean later return to as in after they leave the dungeon, or Diablo style where each visit creatures respawn?

Definitely referring to the leave and come back.

I'm not a fan of "respawning" monsters, without a reason (ie, there will likely always be orcs roaming the wastelands, but if you kill all the goblins in the ruined fort, there likely won't be any the next time you pass).

In my current case, I'm roughing out a campaign that takes place over a minimally sized peninsula. It's only been recently (several centuries) populated, although there are some hints of earlier use, if not outright habitation. I want a few dungeons around, but not too many, and there's going to be a bit of a scavenger hunt going on over several adventures, and I want the players to be able to return to previously visited dungeons to search out new areas - so I need to be able to hint at these "later" areas, but somehow obstruct their immediate investigation.
 

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