D&D 5E How to Stock and Key a Dungeon Traditionally(and tips on Dungeon Design)

FallenRX

Explorer
Here is a post i made on Reddit, but posting here, though i doubt most of you need it.

"Roughly one-third of the rooms should remain empty. One-third should contain monsters with or without treasure, one-sixth traps and/or tricks, and the remaining one-sixth should be specially designed areas with monsters and treasures selected by the DM (rather than randomly)"- Gary Gygax

After doing quite a bit of reading on making dungeons, here is everything I learned, from reading old DnD books, some OSR circles, and Documents, and observing classic DnD design. These are templates you can quickly use to fill your dungeons with content, while keeping it well balanced, and engaging.

Remember RAW every time the players search a room its 10 minutes, and every hour, you check for an encounter, this is important as time wasted in a dungeon, can be the difference between life and death. Be sure to make a small table of wandering monsters that the party can encounter in the dungeon if rolled every hour.

How to use the templates below, to fill with ideas for your dungeon, then its just a matter of putting it on a map. You can just copy and paste the template and start writing, below the sections on what fits your dungeon. I also put a guide on how to properly key locations/rooms for yourself, which is a simply adjusted version of 4E's Method, which was the last DMG to actually teach this.

Basic Dungeon Design On any scale.

[1/3 Encounter Rooms] Only half of the encounter rooms should have treasure on average.

[1/3 Empty Rooms] One one-sixth of empty rooms should have treasure on average.

[1/3 Special Rooms] Only one-third of the special rooms should have treasure on average.

Special Rooms are Traps, Tricks, Puzzles, and or special unique encounters.

You can use the Gygax split, and make half of these traps and/or tricks, and the other half specially designed areas, and encounters like a boss fight, with lair actions.

Standard 18 Room Dungeon Template.

[6 Encounter Rooms] 3 of the rooms have treasure.

[6 Empty Rooms] Only 1 has Treasure.

[6 Special Rooms] 2 Rooms are Treasure Rooms.

[A Tip from Moldvay Basic DnD]
Each level of a dungeon has a "Special" Monster, one that is supposed to be the big climax of a dungeon crawl, when stocking a dungeon be sure to put these first, with whatever appropriate tables, then make a small Wandering monster roster, these can contain about 6-8 monsters in them. You can now use these to stock other encounter rooms as you please, easily, and every hour, you can do an encounter check(DMG says use a D20, and on a 18-20, a encounter happens), and if an encounter is rolled, you can use this table. Very useful tool.

(How to key Locations)

✦ Room description
✦ Monsters
✦ Traps
✦ Hazards
✦ Monster tactics
✦ Encounter XP value
✦ Treasure, if any
✦ Rules for terrain and features in the room

(example key)
Room 1— Starspawn spawn Guards
Smell like rotting flesh mixed with a chemical odor. Strange
shadows—don’t seem to follow light, things moving.

Monsters.
2 starspawn hulks
1 starspawn seer
2 starspawn manglers

Tactics. Berserkers attack when the characters enter the room. Next round, seer enters on balcony (10 ft. up) and manglers sneak in through side doors (Stealth +7 on the statblock).
Experience Points. 25400 XP Total.
Treasure. Seer wears a Ring of Protection(You gain a +1 bonus to AC and saving throws while wearing this ring. Attunement)

Dungeon Design Theory by Lungfungus.
In general, dungeons fall into the following five types:

[Gygaxian Naturalism/Themed]
This refers to a dungeon built around a theme with thought placed into "what do the orcs eat?" Generally, the term "dungeon ecology" is used. I would say that most RPG videogame dungeons would fall into this classification. Top-Down and Dungeon History design methods are often used to make these dungeons.

[Funhouse]
These dungeons are one where dungeon ecology is abandoned in favor of placing a great deal of the individual dungeon contents to be fun to encounter. These tend to have a great deal of dynamic elements. Those familiar with haunted houses would easily grasp these, as would those who have played light-gun games House of the Dead and Ocean Hunter come to mind. Down-Up and Checklist design methods are often used to make these dungeons.

[Mega-dungeon]
This is the dungeon type OSR is famed for. Hundreds of rooms, several levels, and factions. Campaign play is designed around going deeper and deeper into these dungeons. The original games ran by Gygax and Anderson focused on these kinds of dungeons. Such dungeons have sub-levels and can be thought of as tabletop versions of Metroidvania games with a large degree of exploration and interconnectedness across a vast space.

[Nega-dungeon]
This the dungeon type LOTFP is infamous for. It is a terrible place to be full of terrible things, where the more things you touch the worse you tend to make things. The most famous Nega-Dungeon, Death Frost Doom, still contains 7348 silver pieces among 48 rooms, which if was all on the 1 st floor of a dungeon would fulfill the suggested amount 48(100+50)= 7200s of treasure. This dungeon is more fitting to that of a horror film than a fantasy world. I think the description of a “negadungeon” arises from 10x as many traps as a regular dungeon and only a few powerful monsters with foreshadowing not properly done by the referees running the games and sadism by the module author.

[Mythic Underworld]
"There are many interpretations of "the dungeon" in D&D. OD&D, in particular, lends itself to a certain type of dungeon that is often called a "megadungeon" and that I usually refer to as "the underworld." There is a school of thought on dungeons that says they should have been built with a distinct purpose, should "make sense" as far as the inhabitants and their ecology, and shouldn't necessarily be the centerpiece of the game (after all, the Mines of Moria were just a place to get through). None of that need be true for a megadungeon underworld. There might be a reason the dungeon exists, but there might not; it might simply be. It certainly can, and perhaps should, be the centerpiece of the game. As for ecology, a mega-dungeon should have a certain amount of verisimilitude and internal consistency, but it is an underworld: a place where the normal laws of reality may not apply and may be bent, warped, or broken. Not merely an underground site or a lair, not sane, the underworld gnaws on the physical world like some chaotic cancer. It is inimical to men; the dungeon, itself, opposes and obstructs the adventurers brave enough to explore it" – Jason Cone

The mythic underworld is an amalgam of the other dungeon types, and is more of a platonic dungeon ideal.

Dungeon Design Methods by Lungfungus

[Top-Down Dungeon Design]

  1. Start with a concept of dungeon
  2. From concept make monsters/traps/treasure/special
  3. Arrange concepts in physical space
  4. Add missing mechanical elements to dungeon
  5. Refine dungeon
Pro: Aesthetic consistency and tonal fidelity
Con: Important dungeon elements absent and time-intensive

[Down Up Dungeon Design]

  1. Use dungeon generator to design map
  2. Roll for contents of each room
  3. Add missing aesthetics and colors
  4. Refine Dungeon
    Pro: All dungeon elements present
    Con: Gonzo/disjointed dungeon fills and absence of an underlying theme
[5 Room Dungeon Design (checklist) ]

  1. Establish 5 specific aspects of a dungeon
  2. Arrange concepts in physical space
  3. Add missing mechanical elements to dungeon
  4. Add missing aesthetics and colors
  5. Refine Dungeon
    Pro: the dynamic player facing elements of the dungeon are focused on
    Con: Only 5 real rooms are made making the dungeon feel very empty.
[Dungeon History Design]

  1. Establish original use of dungeon
  2. Establish current use of dungeon
  3. Arrange concepts in physical space
  4. Add in factions
  5. Establish faction interactions
  6. Add missing mechanical elements
Pro: this is a mix of top down and 5 room design which results in good dynamics and unified themes
Con: borderline world-building rather than pragmatic use of time, mechanical aspects of a dungeon not emphasized

All of the methods state to make a map and then stock the rooms once the dungeon layout is established. Making a Map is more art then science, but there are excellent guides on how to design, fun and interesting dungeon maps. Such as here.
Jaquaying the Dungeon

For simpler, smaller-scale affairs here is a good guide to laying out simple Five Room Dungeons.
The Nine Forms of the Five Room Dungeon
And more on the topic of Five room dungeons.
The Ultimate Guide to 5 Room Dungeons

You can also use plenty of map generation tools to make yourself a map and fill it yourself. Like Donjon. donjon; Random Dungeon Generator
Kasoon. Dungeon Map Generator - Kassoon.com
DunGen. DunGen

And of course the excellent Dungeon map generator in the back of the DMG.(5E DMG Appendix A: Random Dungeons p290) with has tons of great resources to stock, and dress your dungeons however you like, as well as random tables for Down-Up Dungeon Creation.

Also great Dungeon Map Makers you can do it yourself with.
Dungeon Scrawl | Home
Dungeon Map Doodler
Dungeondraft

And this is all i got so far, on the design philosophies and methods of creating a Dungeon in DnD.

Dungeoncrawls is an important structure, as they are the foundational blocks of DnD and maybe RPG's as a whole, but i feel how to make and the design philosophies that go into making one, has been a bit lost for awhile, so I thought i'd share what ive learned about it.

Remember, A dungeon can be anything and anywhere, and what dungeon crawling really is, is just a structure of exploring a location place by place, an incredibly useful structure that makes characters who want to explore, let's say abandoned ruins, or even just someone's house, useful.

Knowing how to design, implement, and prep one, is an incredibly useful tool to have, and allows you to run a wider variety of scenarios than before.

Hope this helped, even slightly. Sorry if it's a bit stream of consciousness because it basically is.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Nice write-up!

A few points to consider...
Basic Dungeon Design On any scale.

[1/3 Encounter Rooms] Only half of the encounter rooms should have treasure on average.

[1/3 Empty Rooms] One one-sixth of empty rooms should have treasure on average.

[1/3 Special Rooms] Only one-third of the special rooms should have treasure on average.

Special Rooms are Traps, Tricks, Puzzles, and or special unique encounters.

You can use the Gygax split, and make half of these traps and/or tricks, and the other half specially designed areas, and encounters like a boss fight, with lair actions.

Standard 18 Room Dungeon Template.

[6 Encounter Rooms] 3 of the rooms have treasure.

[6 Empty Rooms] Only 1 has Treasure.

[6 Special Rooms] 2 Rooms are Treasure Rooms.
Formulae like this might seem fine at first glance, but one can hamper one's thinking and creativity by hewing too closely to them.

For example, I'm designing an adventure right now where most of the rooms are empty, because a previous adventuring party (who the PC group will be there looking for as they have vanished) looted them a few months back and at the same time killed off most of the potential foes.
(How to key Locations)

✦ Room description
✦ Monsters
✦ Traps
✦ Hazards
✦ Monster tactics
✦ Encounter XP value
✦ Treasure, if any
✦ Rules for terrain and features in the room
I would change the ordering here:

1 - room description
2 - terrain and features notes (and rules if needed)
3* - monsters and their tactics, combined
4* - traps and hazards, combined
5 - treasure if any
6 - xp values for each individual element (each monster, each trap, etc.)

* - order should reflect what the PCs are most likely to encounter first because that's the order in which the DM will need the info. For example, if the trap is in the door and the monster is behind the door, write up the trap first; maybe even before the room description!
 

FallenRX

Explorer
Nice write-up!

A few points to consider...

Formulae like this might seem fine at first glance, but one can hamper one's thinking and creativity by hewing too closely to them.

For example, I'm designing an adventure right now where most of the rooms are empty, because a previous adventuring party (who the PC group will be there looking for as they have vanished) looted them a few months back and at the same time killed off most of the potential foes.

I would change the ordering here:

1 - room description
2 - terrain and features notes (and rules if needed)
3* - monsters and their tactics, combined
4* - traps and hazards, combined
5 - treasure if any
6 - xp values for each individual element (each monster, each trap, etc.)

* - order should reflect what the PCs are most likely to encounter first because that's the order in which the DM will need the info. For example, if the trap is in the door and the monster is behind the door, write up the trap first; maybe even before the room description!
Thank you for the advice. On the note of Formula, I am aware, the goal was to basically just give a standard baseline, where people can adjust from really.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Eccch, empty rooms.

Every room should contain something otherwise it's a waste of time.

Something to........ touch, kill, smell, lift, search, take, hear, query, resolve, break, greet, see, read, move, chat, etc, etc.
In this context, “empty” really just means no monsters, treasure, traps, or hazards, not that there’s literally nothing in the room.
 

Jeremy E Grenemyer

Feisty
Supporter
Remember, A dungeon can be anything and anywhere, and what dungeon crawling really is, is just a structure of exploring a location place by place, an incredibly useful structure that makes characters who want to explore, let's say abandoned ruins, or even just someone's house, useful.
This is some good, useful work. Thank you for writing this up and sharing it with us all.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
"Roughly one-third of the rooms should remain empty. One-third should contain monsters with or without treasure, one-sixth traps and/or tricks, and the remaining one-sixth should be specially designed areas with monsters and treasures selected by the DM (rather than randomly)"- Gary Gygax
We disagree with Gary Gygax on this:

 

FallenRX

Explorer
We disagree with Gary Gygax on this:

Eccch, empty rooms.

Every room should contain something otherwise it's a waste of time.

Something to........ touch, kill, smell, lift, search, take, hear, query, resolve, break, greet, see, read, move, chat, etc, etc.
The first thing to say is, that empty does not mean "Empty", I meant more, there isnt any monsters, Hazards, traps, tricks in it, Empty rooms can have ton of meaning, even simply contextualizing the place like "this is where the Orc's Eat"

And, this reminds me, I was gonna make a post on why empty rooms in Dungeons are Important because recently i've come to realize without them, Dungeon crawling simply becomes just a "walkthrough of scenes" and overall, less meaningful and impactful.
i've also come to a theory that it leads to worse overall adventure design in general, this in just my opinion on this though.

Gygax's method and the idea was based around the idea that...not every dungeon room is worth exploring, and your not supposed to eventually look in every room, it was too risky, and dangerous, every room you designed to search was a calculated choice, on "Is this worth the risk", every decision made mattered, as if you went and wasted time in an empty room, the danger will come closer, or worse, you found a trap.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
The first thing to say is, that empty does not mean "Empty", I meant more, there isnt any monsters, Hazards, traps, tricks in it, Empty rooms can have ton of meaning, even simply contextualizing the place like "this is where the Orc's Eat"

And, this reminds me, I was gonna make a post on why empty rooms in Dungeons are Important because recently i've come to realize without them, Dungeon crawling simply becomes just a "walkthrough of scenes" and overall, less meaningful and impactful.
i've also come to a theory that it leads to worse overall adventure design in general, this in just my opinion on this though.

Gygax's method and the idea was based around the idea that...not every dungeon room is worth exploring, and your not supposed to eventually look in every room, it was too risky, and dangerous, every room you designed to search was a calculated choice, on "Is this worth the risk", every decision made mattered, as if you went and wasted time in an empty room, the danger will come closer, or worse, you found a trap.
It’s a difference in gameplay style. Empty rooms are important for location-based campaigns, where the challenge is in navigating the space and managing risk vs. reward while your resources slowly dwindle. But this type of campaign is growing less and less common in favor of more event-based campaigns, which very much are “moving from scene to scene.” In this style of play, an empty room is mostly just a dull scene, because the dungeon is less of an exploration challenge in and of itself, and more of a backdrop for the adventure.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
It’s a difference in gameplay style. Empty rooms are important for location-based campaigns, where the challenge is in navigating the space and managing risk vs. reward while your resources slowly dwindle. But this type of campaign is growing less and less common in favor of more event-based campaigns, which very much are “moving from scene to scene.” In this style of play, an empty room is mostly just a dull scene, because the dungeon is less of an exploration challenge in and of itself, and more of a backdrop for the adventure.
Absolutely. This is something that works in TSR editions of D&D but really doesn't in WotC editions.
 

FallenRX

Explorer
It’s a difference in gameplay style. Empty rooms are important for location-based campaigns, where the challenge is in navigating the space and managing risk vs. reward while your resources slowly dwindle. But this type of campaign is growing less and less common in favor of more event-based campaigns, which very much are “moving from scene to scene.” In this style of play, an empty room is mostly just a dull scene, because the dungeon is less of an exploration challenge in and of itself, and more of a backdrop for the adventure.
Oh I agree for sure, its why I recommend the Five-Room Dungeon type stuff in the post, aimed at those type of dungeons, since I feel those should be on the shorter end in general.
 
Last edited:

Personally, I think harking back to Moldvay and Gygax as to how a dungeon should be created is... limiting. "We" should have earned somethings in the decades since they wrote their opinions. Sure, there are things one can take from them, but it would like trying to use an Edsel as a base to design a new car. Sure, start with 4 wheels, but we can do better.
 

FallenRX

Explorer
Personally, I think harking back to Moldvay and Gygax as to how a dungeon should be created is... limiting. "We" should have earned somethings in the decades since they wrote their opinions. Sure, there are things one can take from them, but it would like trying to use an Edsel as a base to design a new car. Sure, start with 4 wheels, but we can do better.
That was my point, I simply wanted to give a baseline for people to start with, the foundation, then people can get creative. I also went to give examples of other ways of Dungeon Creation, like 5 Room, Random generation, history, for people who wish to really branch off.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
5 Room Dungeons are great and allow for theme, history and flexibility to be overlaid on to a standard framework.

I do tend to think ‘designing‘ empty rooms is pointless since they can just be handwaved in dialogue “you pass through the first few room and find nothing of interest…”. Of course some otherwise empty rooms may contain clues - but in that case theyre not actually empty
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Personally, I think harking back to Moldvay and Gygax as to how a dungeon should be created is... limiting. "We" should have earned somethings in the decades since they wrote their opinions. Sure, there are things one can take from them, but it would like trying to use an Edsel as a base to design a new car. Sure, start with 4 wheels, but we can do better.
I mean… One of the things that we’ve learned since then is that they actually did know what they were doing, and had good reasons behind a lot of their design decisions. Sure, adhering slavishly to this guideline is limiting, but it is good general advice for the kinds of games they were running.
 

I like a 12 room dungeon:
-The PCs can complete it in one session.
-Just enough scope to " tell it's story in that space", without needing filler
-Should tax the PCs resources so that it becomes a challenge to get it done in one day.
-Can make an interesting map, and is easy to map in session.
-Enough xp, esp in 5th ed, to gain a level after its completion, ( at low level anyways).
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
...But this type of campaign is growing less and less common in favor of more event-based campaigns, which very much are “moving from scene to scene.” ....
Yes, becoming less common in, say, 1992.

It actually kinda funny we are talking about dungeon design at all. At some point, it was received wisdom that the only real dungeons being run were modules (as they were called). A DM might come up with 5 room locations, but in their scene to scene games big dungeons were an ancient relic.

Join a game of classic D&D adventure!
 
Last edited:

What purpose do empty rooms serve?

1) Realism? It doesn't make sense for the [insert dungeon justification here] to be jammed full of monsters?

2) Spacers? If it wasn't for the empty rooms the monsters in room 7 would kill the monsters in room 14?

3) Safe rest zones?

4) To lull the players into a false sense of security, so they might actually be surprised when the perfectly ordinary chest turns out to be a mimic?

5) Because I drew lots of rooms on my graph paper and can't think of enough stuff to fill all of them?

6) Something else I haven't thought of?
 


Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top