Dungeon layout, map flow and old school game design


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This is one of the best, classic threads on EN World. Good to see it again.

I much prefer this style of dungeon design, which makes exploration interesting and gives players real, meaningful choices. When combined with a sandbox-style wilderness, it results in my favorite style of adventure. It's what I intentionally chose to mirror when I wrote Raiders of Oakhurst Reloaded, though since that adventure is relatively short, the major dungeon only contains two intersecting loops.

I'll caveat that by saying good physical map design can't save uninspired encounters, ecology, and linkage -- you need both. If you start with a good map, though, you're partway there.

That said, linear design isn't necessarily bad. As I've said elsewhere, because the players normally don't peek behind the screen, there's no difference between real player choice and the illusion of player choice. If the GM is effective at delivering the illusion of meaningful choice, the players will be highly satisfied even if the basic adventure is linear in design. All things being equal I prefer real meaningful choices to the illusion, but worst of all are adventures that lack even illusion of choice. We call them railroads.
 
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Janx

Hero
This is indeed a good thread, and a ton of work went into setting it up by [MENTION=1713]Melan[/MENTION]

I had actually been thinking of talking about dungeon design with regards to Diablo 3 (which I been playing on 360 lately), and here we are with this incredible opus to the topic.

having re-skimmed the first page, I'm thinking the dichotomy of linear vs. non-linear or extensive forking design really ties into what the group intends to do in the dungeon.

As I mentioned, I'm playing Diablo 3, and one of the annoying things is the enormous huge dungeons that I obey the Rule of Right in order to clear out the dungeon. it takes FOREVER to complete on some levels, isn't perfect, so I have to go back to some sections that had circlular paths, etc.

As I hate rat-killing/level grinding, my completionist and security concious nature is making me thoroughly clear out this level.

Which in turn is making me look at the place in question and thinking "who the heck would build a Barracks like this!?" because these structures were generated as a place to run around and kill monsters, not as their actual labeled use.

I imagine, that a giant Gygaxian Dungeon of Forky Complexity is great if your party intends to wander in, kill some stuff and head back out.

Once your party has a specific "story" goal, then it's a lot of wrong paths, extra stuff to achieving the goal.

Or if the party truly wants to clear out the level, it's going to get grindy.


So understanding the nature of the design is useful, for deciding if that design is beneficial or detracting from the objective of the party for that session.
 

Janx

Hero
This is indeed a good thread, and a ton of work went into setting it up by [MENTION=1713]Melan[/MENTION]

I had actually been thinking of talking about dungeon design with regards to Diablo 3 (which I been playing on 360 lately), and here we are with this incredible opus to the topic.

having re-skimmed the first page, I'm thinking the dichotomy of linear vs. non-linear or extensive forking design really ties into what the group intends to do in the dungeon.

As I mentioned, I'm playing Diablo 3, and one of the annoying things is the enormous huge dungeons that I obey the Rule of Right in order to clear out the dungeon. it takes FOREVER to complete on some levels, isn't perfect, so I have to go back to some sections that had circlular paths, etc.

As I hate rat-killing/level grinding, my completionist and security concious nature is making me thoroughly clear out this level.

Which in turn is making me look at the place in question and thinking "who the heck would build a Barracks like this!?" because these structures were generated as a place to run around and kill monsters, not as their actual labeled use.

I imagine, that a giant Gygaxian Dungeon of Forky Complexity is great if your party intends to wander in, kill some stuff and head back out.

Once your party has a specific "story" goal, then it's a lot of wrong paths, extra stuff to achieving the goal.

Or if the party truly wants to clear out the level, it's going to get grindy.


So understanding the nature of the design is useful, for deciding if that design is beneficial or detracting from the objective of the party for that session.
 

rmcoen

Explorer
Through the vast powers of Necromancy, I doth resurrect this thread....(I got here from an article by Alexandrian on "hexcrawling", from a google search on hexcrawl, from the "Runewild" Kickstarter going now.)I loved the original post. I also agree with many of the comments that have been added, including most "recently" in 2013, the post by Janx. If the story involves a Barracks (to use Janx's example) filled with possessed soldiers, over an undead- and demon-infested dungeon... I would expect a completely logical Barracks building, like I'd find in Roman or European architecture: several bunkrooms, a cafeteria, a couple private rooms for an officer or two, an armory, and a storeroom. A "linear with hair" map, with maybe two or three exits from the cafeteria, and at least 2 entry points (plus windows). And a single stairway down to the dungeon. The dungeon, on the other hand, would have straight designed hallways and cells, but could also be honeycombed by prisoners, restless (un)dead, combat damage from demons, etc -- *it* could be a branching map.But... do your PCs in a ftf RPG want to grind out every corridor in a sprawling map? or do they want to find the "source of the infestation" and obliterate it? Let them decide, I suppose, with story impacts based on either decision. Spend too long grinding out every demon and zombie, and the evil plans have advanced in the kingdom; break the soulstone, kill the cultists and leave, and hear stories about undead and demons terrorizing the countryside...In my current campaign - not a "dungeon" but a planeswalking "fetch quest" - each location of the fetch is a series of branching encounters. the maps are relatively unimportant (excepting tactical combat). Right now, they are in a demiplane Drow city, trying to destabilize a political situation with blackmail and assassination, while trying to fetch the artifact. I haven't mapped the whole city, just a circle with districts. They invaded one Wizard tower, so that got mapped - but not all 6 levels, just the entryway, a couple key decision points (brave the traps on the cabinet to get the teleporter Badges, or slog on through environmental traps the old fashioned way (stoneshaping through the floor/ceiling)), and the "battle-the-crazed druid-lich" level. Where was I going with this... oh, right: this is a story-based campaign, where they can "fetch" the 5 items in any order - but I adjust the monster power based on teh order they do them in. So the 4th item's guardians are still roughly as strong as the party; the decisionmaking-reward comes from the loot - going after Item #1 got them favors from an archfey; Item #3 got them a planewalking staff (saving them component costs) -- how they approach each successive item is affected by which items they already acquired.I (GM, my story) can't afford to have them "miss" one of the items because they didn't search for a secret door, or chose not to go back up from level 4 to sublevel 3B. But, in the current circumstance, they have a decision in front of them - betray their current benefactor, get the Item they want, and leave... or stick with the original plan, get the item and an artifact, *and* the combination to a Vault they otherwise won't have access to... So to that extent, this is a "hidden level / reward for dilligent players" that can be bypassed.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Though I've been in this forum since before this thread began I somehow managed to completely miss it - until now.

I haven't read through all of it and so this may have already been brought up, but one thing that seems to be missing from the OP's analysis is the presence or absence of multiple vertical connections between dungeon levels. Vertical connections, including those that skip levels, can make an otherwise poorly-designed linear dungeon into an excellent one comtaining lots of choice points and interweaving, because loops don't always have to be horizontal.

The most basic example of this: consider a two-story building that consists of two long hallways, one above the other, with rooms leading off of each. There's one entry, by which are some stairs to the upper deck. Bland boring single-branch dendritic pattern on each level, right? But put a second set of stairs at the far end of the halls and bingo - you have a vertical loop. Put a third set of stairs or an elevator at the midpoint and you have a figure-8 design, again vertical.

I'll use as an example Dark Tower. It's mostly on four levels, with a couple of linear bits on other levels that lead to bosses; and one of the best things about it is just how many ways there are to get from one level to another. There's vertical loops, horizontal loops, vertical accesses that skip levels, choices everywhere - it's great!

A lesser - but still excellent - example of this is L1 Secret of Bone Hill. At first glance each horizontal level looks rather linear...until you realize just how many vertical accesses there are, particularly from ground level to the level right below. There's tons of possible loops and interconnections in there but to see them you kind of need a side-view map rather than the usual top-view.

If memory serves, Forge of Fury also has a few different vertical access options between some levels, which makes it not quite as linear as the OP suggests.

Lanefan
 

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