Dungeon layout, map flow and old school game design

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
What is with people snipping at each other?

Everyone chill out. Consider this an official mod warning.

Piece of advice: If your post is all about someone else's post and not really about the topic of the thread (or some reasonable related topic), think twice before posting it.
 

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The Shaman

First Post
Ourph said:
For site-based adventures, where the only story is the PC's exploration and confrontation of the adventuring milieu, meaningful player choice is necessary to keep things from getting boring (and provides rewards to players as they progress through the area by making the information they are gathering about the layout of the dungeon relevant to success/failure) and a non-linear dungeon with many points of access to important encounter areas is an excellent way to showcase and facilitate meaningful player choice. Interesting encounters are, as always, important as well - but for those of you who claim that is the only important aspect I suggest you may be missing out on a significant way to add to the enjoyment of the adventuring environment if you focus only on the details of individual encounters and ignore the importance of dungeon layout.

:edit: If it's not obvious from the above, just wanted to add a wholehearted "Excellent analysis" to my comments.
The Mingol speaks sagely. :)
 
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Hussar

Legend
I suppose the question comes down to: Does turning left or right at random equal a meaningful choice?

In a non-linear dungeon, you have little or no information upon which to base a choice. It's all about exploration and filling in the map. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, I question whether that is somehow a more meaningful choice than in a linear dungeon where you have a pretty good idea of which way will lead to some sort of resolution.

Take two dragons' lairs. The first is more or less a maze of twisting corridors, lots of branches and turns. If you solve the maze, you get to the center and meet the dragon. Add in lots of encounters peppered randomly throughout the maze and this is a looping adventure.

The second is a much more linear dungeon. There are side passages, possibly leading to branches and whatnot for the dragon's servants/slaves but there is also a honking big passage straight up the center leading to the dragon. Very linear.

IMO, the second one allows for more meaningful choices. I KNOW which way leads to the dragon. If I don't want to face him yet, I got hunting around some of the side passages, maybe turn up a secret path that leads to the back of the lair and lets me steal a great big diamond :).

I would argue that in a non-linear dungeon, all choices become the same. They hold the same weight and therefore cannot be considered particularly meaningful. Rather the choices are more or less entirely random. Do we go left or do we go right? If you have no idea what lies left or right, how can that choice be considered meaningful?

In a site based, exploration style adventure like KotB, that's fine. But, not every adventure should be like KotB.
 

meleeguy

First Post
Excellent Analysis

However, I think it is fair to point out that the FoF is not quite as linear as you state. An interesting poll might be one asking what entrance was used in this adventure. I just reread the intro and the clues are there, but I think the picture of the stonetooth needs to be a player handout so that one could see that the smoke and the trail are closely related spatially.

The maps in FoF is what drew me to the module in the first place. B&W, but beautiful nonetheless. There is an asthetic component to maps that is important to me, and I find sidelong impressions of the DMs maps usually makes me think "wow, that guy went to alot of trouble for this", and that adds to the experience.

As I'm sure your aware, all of this touches on graphing theory which is just more fun with numbers. I'm thinking of trying to get copies of some of the other maps you reference as a result of your post and my appreciation of good maps.
 

Ourph

First Post
Hussar said:
In a non-linear dungeon, you have little or no information upon which to base a choice.
That's true, the first time you enter the dungeon. That's why I maintain that linearity is absolutely fine for plot-based adventures, because you usually don't do a lot of "double dipping" in those kind of dungeons. At most, you might pull back and rest for a bit before pressing forward, but a plot-based adventure usually means you enter the dungeon, you "solve the plot" and then you're finished with that area. With a site-based adventure you might go back numerous times to explore further, take on challenges you weren't prepared to face the first time you came across them, etc. So, yeah, the first time you enter the dungeon you might not make a lot of informed choices (although if the DM is doing a good job, the environment should be giving players clues as to what lies ahead as they move through the dungeon), but the next time you enter the dungeon the non-linearity of the area gives (can give, obviously the DM has to make the non-linearity count for something) you an advantage.

Hussar said:
Take two dragons' lairs. The first is more or less a maze of twisting corridors, lots of branches and turns. If you solve the maze, you get to the center and meet the dragon. Add in lots of encounters peppered randomly throughout the maze and this is a looping adventure.

The second is a much more linear dungeon. There are side passages, possibly leading to branches and whatnot for the dragon's servants/slaves but there is also a honking big passage straight up the center leading to the dragon. Very linear.
There's a problem with your analysis. Both of those dungeons are linear. A maze doesn't make the dungeon non-linear or "loopy" it just makes it confusing. There's only one way to correctly solve a maze, and a maze on Melan's analytical dungeon-grams would simply be a straight line linear dungeon.

In order for one of the lairs to be non-linear there would have to exhibit one of two design methodologies. 1 - Branching: There is no "end monster". There are multiple tough monsters all reached by individual routes (some of which may interconnect). 2 - Looping: There may be a single "end monster" but that monster's lair (and the lairs of its guards, helpers, etc.) may be approached by several different avenues (e.g. - Conan, Subatai and Valeria sneaking into the Mountain of Power through the caves in the ravine, rather than entering through the front gates).

Hussar said:
If I don't want to face him yet, I got hunting around some of the side passages, maybe turn up a secret path that leads to the back of the lair and lets me steal a great big diamond :).
You've just turned your linear dungeon into a non-linear one. What does that say about your analysis above? :\

Hussar said:
I would argue that in a non-linear dungeon, all choices become the same. They hold the same weight and therefore cannot be considered particularly meaningful. Rather the choices are more or less entirely random. Do we go left or do we go right? If you have no idea what lies left or right, how can that choice be considered meaningful?
I think you're confusing the term non-linear dungeon to mean a dungeon devoid of information, which isn't the same thing. A linear dungeon and a non-linear dungeon will look exactly the same to the players the first time they encounter it (unless there's something obvious like a sign saying "this way to the Dragon's Lair" on the wall). The difference is that a non-linear dungeon makes the information gained from exploring and mapping more valuable. A linear dungeon provides no choices on how to get from point A to point D, there's only one way - so knowing the layout of the dungeon does players no good (other than the baseline of knowing which opponents might be where, but that's true of a non-linear dungeon too). Knowing the layout of a non-linear dungeon provides the players with additional meaningful choices to be made.

"If we want to get to the big diamond room we can either go through the deadly trap room or through the rust monster lair or we can go down to the second level and explore some more to try to find a way back up near point D."

In a linear dungeon, players don't have those options.
 

rounser

First Post
While a good analysis, the OP makes a deep value laden assumption throughout: that linear is bad and muti-branching is good. The OP worships at the altar of "choice" - without stopping to reflect if it is logical or makes for a good story.

I don't agree with this perspective at all. While I do recognize that many share it - a flawed assumption widely shared does not make that value or belief right or correct.
Meaningful player choice represents a sense of control over PC's fates. Without it you take away much of the woulda-shoulda-coulda which can make the game compelling, the excitement of exploration (if all roads lead to Rome, Rome becomes less mysterious)...in other words, much of the adventure, and responsibility for success as well as failure. As has been noted earlier in the thread, this can be faked, but even bothering to fake it seems to be rare.

It's also entertaining for the DM to watch what path the PCs take...but generally it's unfashionable because it represents a lot of extra work for the DM, some of which may remain unused.* Thus, railroad is the order of the day. I find it a bit difficult to justify a railroaded dungeon, though; aren't those walls railroad enough? You need to channel the PCs more? :confused:

I think it can be related to why we roll dice instead of taking 10 for every roll - if the outcome is predetermined, who cares about the outcome?

*: Rarely the case....as has been noted from D&D's first dungeon, Castle Blackmoor, PCs tend to clean everything out as thoroughly as possible, and take everything that's not nailed down.
 
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Melan

Explorer
Hello!

Thank you for the insightful comments, all. I will try to write some answers tonight, and post them tomorrow morning. Some of them have been very illuminating - and shed light on how my interpretation of dungeon play doesn't encompass all possibilities and approaches. More on this later, because coherent thoughts are arguably better than initial impressions. However, I would like to offer two preliminary remarks:

1. My article is inherently biased, as I freely admit. There is a good reason I chose the "1E-2E-OD&D" thread tag, and that is because I approach dungeon design from a viewpoint heavily influenced (although not completely dominated) by the works of early TSR, Judges Guild and other "old-school" designers. I am also an unrepentent gamist, with slight simulationist leanings.

2. Some posters have remarked that encounters "make" an adventure exciting. There is no disagreement here. Nevertheless, I wanted to mostly put these considerations aside for this thread, and examine how map structure can influence or enhance the game. This doesn't mean I don't value encounters. That is very far from the truth. I believe, though, that introducing that angle would have damaged the clarity of my message this time. In some other thread, I will gladly discuss my views on that subject as well. Just not now, too much work and too little free time. ;)
 

The Shaman

First Post
Ola, the Mingol discourses wisely - in particular...
Ourph said:
I think you're confusing the term non-linear dungeon to mean a dungeon devoid of information, which isn't the same thing. A linear dungeon and a non-linear dungeon will look exactly the same to the players the first time they encounter it (unless there's something obvious like a sign saying "this way to the Dragon's Lair" on the wall). The difference is that a non-linear dungeon makes the information gained from exploring and mapping more valuable. A linear dungeon provides no choices on how to get from point A to point D, there's only one way - so knowing the layout of the dungeon does players no good (other than the baseline of knowing which opponents might be where, but that's true of a non-linear dungeon too). Knowing the layout of a non-linear dungeon provides the players with additional meaningful choices to be made.

"If we want to get to the big diamond room we can either go through the deadly trap room or through the rust monster lair or we can go down to the second level and explore some more to try to find a way back up near point D."

In a linear dungeon, players don't have those options.
Exactly - legends and rumors, fragments of old maps, parley with dungeon denizens, changes in architectural style all lend weight to the character decision-making process.
 

jester47

First Post
Melan, you left out two entrance exit points in FoF. also I think there is an extra loop in sunless, not to mention an exit into the underdark,
 

grodog

Adventurer
phenomenenal post, Melan!

Melan---

A hearty eye-opening "wowza!" for your phenomenal mapping analysis essay. Thank you!! :D :D :D I put a link to this thread (and the original Quasqueston question about the Greyhawk Castle maps @ http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=165693) over in the dungeon design 101 thread @ the Knights & Knaves site.

One of the assumptions that you make, and that only one or two of the first responders mentioned, is that in the more complex maps, the players themselves must be interested in being challenged by the dungeon environment (vs. the more-standard 3.x paradigm of challenge the PCs instead of the players). In order for that challenge to be effective---to fully leverage the less-linear, more freeform, discovery-laden map models---I believe that the players need to map as they explore: otherwise the big blank areas/hidden sublevels/etc. won't be revealed, and the more complex environment loses a lot of its intrinsic appeal. (Aside: it would be interesting to see how linear some of the more complex adventures and maps appear to be if the players failed to find any secret doors/sublevels/etc.: the "first glance" map vs. the "mapped the whole entire dungeon using Divination, Find the Path, Wand of Secret Door Detection, etc., etc." map).

As has also been discussed here recently, player mapping in D&D seems to be a lost art at best, and a very loathed experience at worst. The trends expressed in a few threads seem to be that mapping wastes too much playing time and/or is too much of a hassle to mess with, regardless whether the map is relatively linear or very complex and specifically designed to mess with mappers (like original Castle Greyhawk and El Raja Key maps were). Based on the mapping threads here, that opinion seems to cut across editions too: many older AD&D players said that they never mapped then and don't map now either. If the players aren't interested in mapping any kind of dungeon environment, is it even possible to employ more complex dungeon building techiniques successfully?

Taking mapping opinions into account, I'm curious to hear what people think about Melan's map creation ideas relative to the idea of needing to map them: not the actual act of mapping itself (which is not likely to reveal much useful to this thread), but whether or not building a more complex, freeform map does in fact necessitate mapping on the part of players in order to get the most out of the level.

(BTW Melan, the Greyhawk Castle maps just arrived on Thursday: I'd be curious to see your flow chart analysis of the top map image from the GH dungeon, or the big Judges Guild maps we linked to in Quasqueton's GC thread, or Wheggi's fabulous Quilt Dungeon map @ http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=1153). I'm not sure that the really complex, larger maps would be very easy to flow, which is why I imagine you stuck to the 1 sheet maps from modules?).
 

hong

WotC's bitch
grodog said:
Based on the mapping threads here, that opinion seems to cut across editions too: many older AD&D players said that they never mapped then and don't map now either. If the players aren't interested in mapping any kind of dungeon environment, is it even possible to employ more complex dungeon building techiniques successfully?

Sure. You just abstract the map into a graph, like Melan did, and wing the actual in-play descriptions. Like this:

Code:
          X---------X-----X
          |         |
    +-----X----X----X
    |               |
----X-------------- X-----X
    |               |
    +-----X----X----X
               |
               X----------X

where each X represents an encounter, trap, NPC or otherwise noteworthy location. You can make the connections between the X's as twisty or straightforward as you like.
 

TheAuldGrump

First Post
I care a great deal more that the maps layout make sense than whether it is looping or linear. If the 'dungeon' is a dwarfen mine then it is likely to be branching, with galleries and shafts leading back to a few entrances. If it is a dwarfen underground highway then darn straight it is going to be linear, while if it is a dwarfen stronghold it will contain loops so that the defenders can reinforce one another (and a good deal of it will be above ground, to control an area).

And for what it is worth I liked the Village in VoH at least as much as the moathouse, and used it as a setting for a large number of adventures aside from the main theme of the adventure.

The Auld Grump
 

grodog

Adventurer
hong said:
Sure. You just abstract the map into a graph, like Melan did, and wing the actual in-play descriptions. Like this: [image snipped]

where each X represents an encounter, trap, NPC or otherwise noteworthy location. You can make the connections between the X's as twisty or straightforward as you like.

Sorry, I need to elaborate more hong: certainly players can map simply without needing to create maps that are exact replicas of the DM's map; but, if players aren't even interested in creating trailing-style maps during play (like the one you made), then does that basically defeat the purpose of freeform dungeons?
 

Melan

Explorer
With a slight delay, here are my replies and comments on points raised by posters up to #47.

***

1. Two approaches to dungeon design

One already useful result from the thread is that I am now able to coherently formulate a thought on the purpose of dungeons which had been germinating in my mind for some time. There seems to be a split in the game fandom on this subject, and accordingly, it polarises discussion. First, there are those who identify dungeons as a vehicle for plot-based play. These people also tend to have fewer problems with linear dungeon layout, or even prefer it to other types. Their preferences are probably better served by a dungeon with a definite beginning, a definite finish and a sequence of encounters, which, when strung together, builds a narrative (or something to that extent). In this game form, the layout or structure of a dungeon doesn’t matter too much. As a provocative statement, I will risk drawing flames by saying that
a) there is no overwhelming need in this case to even have a dungeon map – as a DM, you could direct the game with statements like „having defeated the mildly annoying tarnisher monster, you press onward, and after bypassing some side passages, you enter the court of the lich-vampire. You see a marble fountain spraying six sorts of coloured liquid before a great bronze portal. (etc.)” I am not convinced all players otherwise accustomed to plot-based adventuring would take well to this - as Eric Noah noted, players like their illusion of choice - but taken to the extreme conclusions, that is what linear design is: focusing on a predetermined sequence of encounters.
b) this form of adventure isn’t a real dungeon in the classic sense. For one, it has zero explorative element. What it is instead is a set-piece, a backdrop to set plot-based adventures in. This is in stark contrast to the dungeon as originally imagined - a place to adventure in. That kind of dungeon has no plot - this kind doesn’t have place. Naturally, I am writing about absolutes, when there is ample room in between.

It is interesting to note how this interpretation of dungeons has influenced game design since the early 80s, so much so that it is considered to be synonymous with it. Even the designers of Sunless Citadel and Forge of Fury, who admittedly wanted to showcase 3e’s „return to the dungeon” aspect, chose this form which is demonstrably different from the comparatively non-linear introductory modules like Keep on the Borderlands or In Search of the Unknown. It seems to me that today’s dungeons aren’t the spiritual successors of this form - instead, they can trace their ancestry to tournament modules like Slave Pits of the Undercity or even Tomb of Horrors. Tournament modules are understandably more linear than others, because they need to standardize the flow of play for comparative purposes (post-tourney appraisal). I also suspect they are associated with less designer guilt, because, after all, a dungeon without a „real purpose” is „dumb”.

The second approach is treating dungeons as an environment the players can explore. Although there may as well be some nebulous main objective („Humanoids are raiding the countryside. Kill ’em and take their stuff.”), there is a single reason for the existence of the dungeon in the campaign: to allow exploration in a reasonably freeform environment. In theory, the dungeon is only „finished” when the players tire of it or exploit its adventuring potential. The sequence of play may emerge from goals set by the party or spontaneously. (As an interesting observation from personal experience, the game session seems to often have a buildup, peak and denouement even in such unregulated cases - due to the simple phenomenon that as players exhaust their resources due to attrition, every successive encounter poses more risk of loss, and eventually, one comes which severely taxes the party and may lead to exceptional successes or spectacular failures.) This style is arguably better served - or outright requires - more complex and more extensive maps. In fact, unlike in the other one, negotiating the hostile environment is in itself an element of play. I also posted my OP in a thread on Dragonsfoot, and Evreaux made a very insightful comment to this effect, far better than I could:
I think a key design principle behind good dungeon design (one foregrounded in your comments and largely missed in the conversation on your post at EnWorld) is that the dungeon itself should be at least as much an obstacle--and entertainment--as any monsters or traps. Shifting walls, one-way secret doors, hidden regions of the dungeon, intricate layouts, all of these features and more are designed to keep the place itself challenging, above and beyond the encounters. This is whence came Gary's caution in the adventuring section of the PHB that if PCs are cut off, their goal should immediately become finding a way back out, regardless of what they had been seeking previously. When tackling an adventure, the dungeon must be addressed first, monsters second. Otherwise, your PC will die deep in the ground, loaded with treasure and unable to get back out. This is why your second two options tend to be better dungeon design (at least, for my money) than the linear ones; they stress the dungeon itself as an opponent, rather than just being an interstate highway with exits at monster rooms. Dungeon design should ideally be the adventuring values of the place expressed formally.


***

2. Meaningful choices and dungeon maps

There seem to be two questions that need to be addressed here. First, what are meaningful choices? Hussar (among others) wrote:
I suppose the question comes down to: Does turning left or right at random equal a meaningful choice? In a non-linear dungeon, you have little or no information upon which to base a choice. It's all about exploration and filling in the map. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But, I question whether that is somehow a more meaningful choice than in a linear dungeon where you have a pretty good idea of which way will lead to some sort of resolution.
Ironically, I originally had a lengthy paragraph about this question in the original post, but ended up cutting most of it because I thought it would have made the article too long. Oh well. ;) Meaningful choices may be identified on multiple levels of decision making. Rounser already touched upon them, but here they are again. On the simplest level, not all choices are meaningful. At a nondescript intersection, you may as well flip a coin or follow the golden rule („left hand on the wall”). A DM could provide some information with descriptive hints: a charnel stench to the right, scattered equipment to the left - or use „intersections” which inherently require a meaningful choice (do we take the twisting chimney to a lower level or do we use the marble stairway that is decorated with skulls?). In many cases, this is impossible. But even in a theoretical information-poor dungeon where individual branches are nondescript, choices become meaningful on the strategic level where the goal is managing a whole expedition. For instance, the following questions may come up:
„Do we delve deep into the dungeon or stay near the entrance and cover more territory?”
„Do we use the shortcut where random encounters are very common, or do we go through that abandoned level we don’t know fully yet?
„How far are we going to go? Do we undertake higher risks for a higher probability of rewards?”

etc.
As an example, when I was running Necromancer’s Tomb of Abysthor module (which I consider a dungeon with a very good layout), the players eventually realized that every time they left the dungeon to recover, their opponents, the cultists Orcus would organize ambushes, try to block certain routes and prepare for their next assault, and that these assaults were progressively getting more and more brutal. It was an interesting dilemma for sure - and it encouraged them to explore further, look for alternate entrances and so forth. The suitably complex structure of the dungeon made this kind of choice possible.

The second question is: how do encounters fit into the map? Some posters seem to have come to the incorrect conclusion that a complex layout means
a) a lot of frustrating mapping puzzles
b) that interesting rooms will be few and far between.
Neither problem is an inherent feature of a well constructed dungeon. It is also possible that certain mapping puzzles are fun if not overdone - they are no different from any other dungeon type encounter like getting across a pit or avoiding a mechanical trap. As Ourph correctly remarked, most of them can be treated as a single unit of the dungeon. In the OP, I can easily point to multiple examples: the complicated minotaur maze in Keep on the Borderlands is represented by a crosslike structure (you can essentially get to the minotaur, a fire beetle lair or a secret door that leads to the bugbear chieftain’s hideout), and the room maze in In Search of the Unknown is essentially a straight line, because it eventually leads you to the same destination no matter where you go in it. Some mapping puzzles are of course frustrating. I file numerous mazes under this category, such as the minotaur maze in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth or Borderlands (I am presently preparing to write up one of my minotaur mazes as a free adventure so there will be one that doesn’t suck ;)).

It is also not definite that a big, complex dungeon will be miles upon miles of empty space with the occasional encounter. In fact, Paul Jaquays proves in his excellent dungeons (Dark Tower, Caverns of Thracia, Realm of the Slime God) that this is far from the truth: the secret is simply putting a lot of good encounters into your dungeon. :) Bob Bledsaw’s Tegel Manor is another example of a dungeon module where most rooms have an interesting encounter, and the dungeon layout is 100% perfect (coincidentally, I wrote the revised version for Necromancer Games, so I had to become very familiar with how it works - it works very well indeed).

The obvious downside to this approach is that such a dungeon becomes time-consuming to design. That is a real problem with no optimal solution. Iron regime proposed making a map and plopping down encounters as the players explored it. While I wouldn’t advocate this solution as perfect, I remember having a lot of fun this way when I was fourteen and I was running Ruins of Undermountain with nothing but the maps, dice and my imagination. ;) Today, I’d rather be a bit „uneconomical” in my design and let unexploited encounters or even mini-adventures return at a later date, possibly in another campaign. Of course, in a dungeon which accommodates multiple forays and there is no definite end to adventuring, it is more likely that the PCs will stay around and explore unknown sections. And there are some things which remain mysteries - for example, in Rappan Athuk, there is a
hidden tomb on the „purple worms” level which none of Bill Webb and Clark Peterson’s PCs found under 25+years.
Occasionally, that is no problem either.

***

On to specific comments.

Hussar:
One thing to add though. If you always go for highly complex set ups, then there is a risk of the party being paralysed 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.
Yes. That’s why I usually consider it wise to put secrets where their discovery is not due to painstaking searching, but observing your map, examining a natural or man-made feature, or following a hint/rumor/map. As for the second point, I use a lot of small dungeons too, but consider them a part of wilderness adventuring. These should be probably be called „lairs” to differentiate them from the real deal.

Erik Mona:
This is a fascinating post, in part because I wrestled with some of these same issues when writing "The Whispering Cairn," the Age of Worms Adventure Path kick-off module from Dungeon #124. The Cairn is a much smaller dungeon than many of the ones analyzed in Melan's thought-provoking post, but in order to make it more than just a simple dungeon crawl, I put a lockout mechanism in the dungeon and forced the players to leave the cairn midway through and go on a seemingly unrelated mini-quest. I'm very curious what Melan thinks of that type of encounter setup, and how he might incorporate it into his visual model.
Keeping in mind that I am unfamiliar with Whispering Cairn, my guess would be to insert this detour into the flowchart, even though such „lockouts” tend to make linear design even more linear. There is nothing preventing it. I am ambivalent about these sorts of plot devices; for example, I think a similar element hurt the final dungeon in EGG’s otherwise excellent Necropolis mega-adventure by breaking the flow of exploration. But I don’t know, maybe it works in Cairn.

As an aside, Melan, how dare you call the moathouse dungeon crayfish a more interesting encounter than Lareth the Beautiful? The cleric's staff of striking alone is enough to fell one character in a single round. The encounter has always been very fun when I've run it. :p
Lareth never impressed me that much. However, I have a high opinion of giant crayfish, giant frogs (most assuredly!), rust monsters, gelatinous cubes, green slime and similar squiggly horrors. They emphasize the whimsical and weird aspect of the game, and are an important part of its character. In fact, they are part of what makes D&D a non-generic fantasy game (along with Vancian magic, a decidedly materialistic worldview, etc.). But this is a subject for another thread...

The town itself is no more boring than places like Orlane or Restenford
Also boring. ;) Not boring: City State of the Invincible Overlord, Modron, Lankhmar, the Keep.

Settembrini: very good observations! You should post more. :D

Ourph: likewise, that’s some very good stuff.

meleeguy:
The maps in FoF is what drew me to the module in the first place. B&W, but beautiful nonetheless. There is an asthetic component to maps that is important to me, and I find sidelong impressions of the DMs maps usually makes me think "wow, that guy went to alot of trouble for this", and that adds to the experience.
I have also been a lifelong fan of maps, from before I was roleplaying. My dad had a book with maps of caves in them... that had to do something with me getting into dungeoneering. ;) WRT Forge of Fury’s maps, I was initially very impressed by them, but after a while, I realized that they just weren’t as good as my initial impressions made them seem. The art is very good, though, and I don’t think they are „dangerously bad” in any case.

As I'm sure your aware, all of this touches on graphing theory which is just more fun with numbers. I'm thinking of trying to get copies of some of the other maps you reference as a result of your post and my appreciation of good maps.
Actually, the images were (indirectly and distantly) inspired by my job - I am a regional economist, and really like abstract, graphical models of economic geography.

As for getting good maps, I highly recommend anything Paul Jaquays did (Necromancer Games recently re-released Caverns of Thracia, which is a good start), but there is no way his maps are getting graphed. Simply too complex - Paul's use of the third dimension is unparalleled in game design.
 
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Melan

Explorer
hong said:
Sure. You just abstract the map into a graph, like Melan did, and wing the actual in-play descriptions. Like this:
[snip]
where each X represents an encounter, trap, NPC or otherwise noteworthy location. You can make the connections between the X's as twisty or straightforward as you like.
Precisely. I know players who have done this successfully.

grodog said:
(BTW Melan, the Greyhawk Castle maps just arrived on Thursday: I'd be curious to see your flow chart analysis of the top map image from the GH dungeon, or the big Judges Guild maps we linked to in Quasqueton's GC thread, or Wheggi's fabulous Quilt Dungeon map @ http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/php...opic.php?t=1153). I'm not sure that the really complex, larger maps would be very easy to flow, which is why I imagine you stuck to the 1 sheet maps from modules?).
I chose the one-sheet maps because they weren't too complicated and because the thread was intended to make a point and demonstrate a general principle. I would love to chart some of the more complex maps I have, but it would be a much harder thing to do. I will see what I can do with the Sunstone Caverns, though - that's yet another map deserving of praise.
 

Soel

First Post
el-remmen said:
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. :)

I totally agree as a player. As a dm, I do like complex maps, but perhaps I let a little too much logic into things, and am forced to question why they would make passages that circle around, with secret doors, and traps about. If I can answer those questions in the sense of the adventure, or its backstory, then I use complexity.

However, most of the time, logic wins out, and complexity is thrown out in favor of utility (from the perspective of the dungeon's builders.) I always seek some sort of middle ground, if I can.

BTW, thanks, Melan, for the analysis, research, and discussion (and inevitably, idea,) sparking!
 

Quasqueton

First Post
Nice work Melan, but you sprinkled too much personal opinion in there for its own good. It's asking for argument rather than discussion.

Linear dungeons are not inherently better or worse than "all over the place" dungeons. As you note, there are examples of well-loved classic dungeons using all the various mapping styles. (People often overlook the vast diversity of classic adventure modules.)

Linear style is better for "mission" adventures, and "all over the place" style is better for "exploration" adventures. A party can have both kinds (and others) during a full campaign. If every dungeon was linear, or if every dungeon was "all over the place", it would get pretty boring to me.

What I dislike about linear dungeons is when there is no way for the inhabitants to get around -- like how do the rear creatures get past the front creatures? (This is what I hate about White Plume Mountain.) What I dislike about "all over the place" dungeons is lots of anticlimatic deadends or mazes. (This is what I hate about In Search of the Unknown.) Both styles can have their flaws, just as both styles have their benefits.

The adventure I'm running for my D&D group right now is a linear dungeon leading to a "all over the place" dungeon. It is a pyramid (entrance at the top) that leads them down through a series of encounters in a linear style, and then opens up to a prison where they have plenty of choices for direction -- some routes loop back around, but some are deadend branches

Quasqueton.
 

I have to defend Melan on this 'personal opinion' thing. It's only fair that he states his biases up front. I think it's fine to state opinions as such, especially when they are so eloquently defended!

Your post also has personal opinions, Qasquetron. I'd love to see a post from you, supporting them with as much data and analysis as Melan has given us. Perhaps a thread on how to run a linear dungeon without railroading?

Ken
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
The Shaman said:
I think the map should fit the adventure, but that said, I prefer complex maps to linear ones in most cases because they offer more opportunities for meaningful player choices.

I always create much more material than I actually use, and I don't plan "stories" that require the players to choose from a limited set of options in order to hit plot points along the way, so there's no issue of "wasted" work or players "missing" something.

I pretty well agree with this.

I think that linear dungeons are sometimes actually simply "encounter areas" in a less-linear setting, and I also think that linear (i.e., simple) dungeons are sometimes necessary because of realism. The lair of the Bonewardens (i.e., Dragonskull Dungeon), IMC, was fairly linear because of the nature of its builders. OTOH, my mega-dungeon (The Dungeon of Thale) back in 2e days allowed my players the joy of locating new spots and hidden areas -- and this was a big draw to the dungeon. (I had several groups in the same campaign, and they competed to locate new areas first...)
 

Quasqueton

First Post
Your post also has personal opinions, Qasquetron. I'd love to see a post from you, supporting them with as much data and analysis as Melan has given us. Perhaps a thread on how to run a linear dungeon without railroading?
First off, my name is "Quasqueton" (name taken from the classic BD&D adventure In Search of the Unknown).

Of course my post has personal opinions, it was a post of my opinion of the data he presented. The "support" for my opinion is the data right in the opening post. I don't think I said anything in opposition to, or contradictory to the data Melan provided. But I did state my opinion in opposition to and contradictory to the opinion Melan provided.

He looks at the data and sees one side of the subject, and I look at the data and see several sides of the subject.

And I didn't say that his having a personal opinion, or even stating his personal opinion was bad. I said:
Nice work Melan, but you sprinkled too much personal opinion in there for its own good. It's asking for argument rather than discussion.
Presenting data as support for one's opinion tends to invite argument over the opinion. Presenting data straight, as is, invites discussion of the data.

Perhaps a thread on how to run a linear dungeon without railroading?
How can you run a linear dungeon without railroading? Run it like you would anything else. Railroading is a phenomenon that has nothing at all to do with linear dungeons.

Quasqueton
 
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