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Dungeon layout, map flow and old school game design

EricNoah

Adventurer
Piratecat said:
I'll point out that I love linear dungeons, as long as they make sense logically.

It helps when, with experience, you get good at disguising linearity a bit. Bending, twisting, the third dimension, etc. can help, as can the occasional branch or self-contained loop.
 

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Henrix

Explorer
I don't think that any of the dungeon forms is better than any other, really.

But having the form appropriate for the scenario is the way to do it. If the dungeon in question is just one stop in a larger adventure then perhaps anything but a fairly simple and linear dungeon is wrong and distracting*.

Melan wants old-school exploration dungeons, where a lot of wandering around and finding stuff and secret doors is one of the prime objectives. In that case the dungeon should probably be more complex.


* And perhaps it is just the dungeon in question that is linear, not the whole adventure, if we follow Eric's and PCat's suggestions and use them to discuss the flowchart of the adventure.
 

Hussar

Legend
I think I can agree with most of that.

One thing to add though. If you always go for highly complex set ups, then there is a risk of the party being paralyzed by choices. If they know that the maps are going to be looping, with lots of secret doors and what not, then they are going to start acting on that - taking time to search every square inch, going back to the same spot time and again - that sort of thing.

Once in a while, that might be a good thing, but, for every adventure to follow that track, I'm not so sure. Sometimes that pirate smugglers cave is just a series of four chambers with access to the sea. It doesn't make much sense for every adventure to be so complex.

From what I've seen, Life's a Bazaar from the Shackled City AP is a lot more looping than linear. But that could just be my impression.

From the rather large amount of dungeon crawling I've done in the past year, I've seen what it can be like given a wide open map versus a channeling map. Wide open serves best when there are numerous plot lines occuring. When you have numerous factions that need to be separated and compartmentalized. A linear map is better when you have only one story to worry about.

IMC, Region B of the World's Largest Dungeon is wide open. There are five separate factions in the region as well as two large "no mans land" areas. The map is very complicated. There are a few chokepoints, but, by and large, you can take a large number of paths through the region. And, there are any number of possible endings for the region.

Region C OTOH is much more linear. Makes sense. While there are a couple of factions, the entire region is subject to a rather large black dragon. Eventually, all paths in the region are going to lead to that climax. Because of that, the map does need to be somewhat linear so that you actually MEET the dragon. There's not much point in having a BBEG if you can't find him. :)

Definitely food for thought.
 

EricNoah

Adventurer
Hussar said:
From what I've seen, Life's a Bazaar from the Shackled City AP is a lot more looping than linear. But that could just be my impression.

I haven't looked at the map in detail in some time, but this might be the perfect example of a) linearity with a very effective illusion of "loopiness", and b) learning a secret to turn a line/branch into a loop (once you figure out how to open the locked doors you can go in directions you couldn't go before).
 

Odysseus

Explorer
Doesn't this assume the monsters stay put in their encounter location.
Certainly in the adventures I run. Monsters move about.
 

EricNoah

Adventurer
Melan said:
Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury aren’t flawed adventures because they are new, but because they employ a structure which is antithetical to freeform play and represents a more rigid „story-game” approach, something D&D should be rid of.

This is the most problematic part of the initial essay. You are, of course, free to value freeform play over story-game style play, but to insist that D&D -- for everyone -- should be "rid of" it ... it's not helpful.

Rather, what would be helpful would be for each DM and player to know, ahead of time, what style of play he likes, and to then have the DM know how to design for that purpose. I have had my players tell me, in essentially these exact words, that they do not like freeform play. They want to be part of a story-game. Were I to force this style upon them, it would be as poor a choice as to force freeform players into a linear story.

Part of being a good DM is creating illusions. The DM who has a map/locations and a bunch of encounters, but not keyed ahead of time, can play in a freeform style but create the illusion of a linear story, given practice and skill. Likewise, the DM who has a linear adventure can effectively create the illusion of freeform play with some appropriate pre-planning. The effectiveness of these illusions will depend on the DM's experience and skill.

My gut instinct is that most players and DMs do in fact like a little of each over the course of an adventure and/or campaign -- some freeform play and some linearity to give shape and purpose. Or maybe it's just me, and that's why I often design with a line --> loop --> line shape, with chokepoints to make sure certain things happen, and with areas of relative freedom to encourage and reward player choice.
 

EricNoah

Adventurer
Odysseus said:
Doesn't this assume the monsters stay put in their encounter location.
Certainly in the adventures I run. Monsters move about.

A loop certainly makes it more possible for creatures to move about in less predictable ways. That can make for a fun portion of an adventure -- when you loop back to what you think is an explored region to find it is newly inhabited!
 

Henrix

Explorer
Yes, the Jzadirune area in Life's Bazaar is an interesting case. If I recall correctly it was almost all linear at first, then became successively more looped.
 

Delta

First Post
Melan, great work, and a fascinating read. I agree with you that nonlinear dungeons are more interesting. More importantly, I agree with you in the value of not forcing a particular story plot on the players through any kind of adventure design. (And that, I think, is a minority opinion nowadays.)
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I like the dissection of the forms of dungeon layout - but really different forms accomplish different things for different adventures - they all are equally valid.

Personally, being a tactics and terrain guy I like complexity in my maps and battle locations - but not just for the sake of complexity - what is there has to make sense. :)

At the same time, as someone alluded to above, sometimes the layout is very simple, but it is the behavior of the occupants that makes up the complexity and the "coolness factor" of the dungeon.
 

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