log in or register to remove this ad

 

Is "A Wizard Did It" Acceptable Worldbuiling?

Fauchard1520

Explorer
I appreciate a well-thought-out explanation as much as the next gamer. The dungeon was built by such-and-such a person for concrete reasons, and its inhabitants have a reason to live there. That's satisfying worldbuilding. However, I think that phrases like "chaos magic" and "a wizard did it" were invented by GMs tired of sane and orderly dungeons. There's a certain appeal to a funhouse environment with nonsensical inhabitants. A dragon lurks in a tiny broom closet. Doors open for monsters but not PCs. The random marble trap in Dragon's Lair.

My question is this: Do you need backstories and explanations, or are you OK with “a wizard did it?” Do you like dungeons that “make sense,” or are you alright with the occasional bout of silliness? Can both styles exist comfortably within the same campaign, or does an element of nonsense devalue the internal consistency of the setting?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

ragr

Villager
I'm firmly in the it's got to make a degree of sense bracket, but I'm not overly fond of silliness in any case. A degree of sense because I think it's unreasonable to require that every aspect of dungeon design should be based around concrete reality. So, for example, if many of the guardians are wearing armour then there needs to be an area or rooms that facilitate repair or manufacture unless there's an outside source, which is then part of the overall story - weapons smuggling from civilisation etc. Strong stories provide good backbone and sometimes the mundane stories are more resonant than the fantastical.

Those kind of details need to have been considered but I'm not overly concerned about a lack of obvious toilet facilities.
 

I not only like dungeons that make sense, but I need them to make sense. At fourteen, I rewrote Keep on the Borderlands because I couldn't understand how all those creatures existed together in the canyons.

This is not to say I have always done a great job at it, nor is it to say I need a backstory on every tree branch. ;) It is to say, that the flow and logic of an environment should make sense. When it doesn't, particularly due to magic (think white dragon cave and its lair effects in a desert environment), it should stand out to players. It should make them think - what the heck?

Traps probably cause me the most consternation. Traps that would kill a drunken rogue coming home from a night at the tavern, in a guild hall that has dozens walk around daily (including new recruits), and is used as actual living space. I. Just. Can't.
 

reltastic

Villager
For me it's all about the purpose of the dungeon in question.

Barracks, castles, caverns, etc all need to make sense to a degree. They were built for a reason, or they were created and inhabited for a reason. They are usually occupied by creatures that make sense. Wizards didn't do it.

But there are some dungeons, vaults, tombs, etc that can be made by wizards and don't need to be as consistent. I loved Tomb of Annihilation and that style of dungeon as a DM, and the one I'm currently running is in the same vein - however, it's inhabited by creatures that make sense - elementals and constructs that can be controlled and can live for indeterminate amounts. The rooms are puzzle rooms, so the puzzle itself needs a certain logic behind it, even if the idea of a "puzzle dungeon" is pretty silly.

I almost never do joke rooms, though a lot of the rooms lend themselves to some unintentional comedy, which is always welcome at my table.
 

Mallus

Hero
The trouble with dungeons is they're first and foremost user-facing puzzles. They exist to challenge players. All those tricksy traps and defenses only make sense it that context.

You can give dungeons all sorts of internal logic, justification, and theme, but those are all additional things built around the chassis of their original purpose.

Note that I'm using 'dungeon' to mean the sort of thing I first encountered in old D&D and AD&D tournament modules back in Ye Olde Nineteen Eighties. This doesn't apply to real-world structures adapted to be D&D-esque dungeons.

But to answer the question: I like a little explanation beyond 'a wizard did it' -- unless they really did do it -- but this isn't quite the same thing as 'making sense'.
 
Last edited:


Gradine

Final Form
It's a matter of tone. How serious your overall tone is should dictate the amount of verisimilitude in your worldbuilding; the less serious your tone, the more acceptable breaks in immersion are.
 

atanakar

Hero
D&D dungeons make little sense to me regardless of the explanation. I rarely use them. An escape route out of a fortification. An underground oubliette, jail, torture chamber, natural caves inhabited by creatures, are as far as I go underground. No one is complaining at my table. ;)
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Yeah, I'm not a big fan of "just because wizard". I can accept not every detail having a reason or explanation as long as the broad explanation is reasonable. The players may not know it now, but it becomes something they can potentially learn something about through exploration or research and then the mystery starts becoming understood.
 

I think it depends on how well the thing that "A wizard did" fits with the rest of the world. If I'm running a grim and sinister Ravenloft campaign and a Roger Rabbit-style toon shows up, that won't work as well as if that same creature appeared in a gonzo post-apocalyptic fantasy world. If it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb, the players are likely enough to nod, accept "a wizard did it," and move on.
 

the Jester

Legend
My question is this: Do you need backstories and explanations, or are you OK with “a wizard did it?” Do you like dungeons that “make sense,” or are you alright with the occasional bout of silliness? Can both styles exist comfortably within the same campaign, or does an element of nonsense devalue the internal consistency of the setting?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes- but neither chaos magic nor 'a wizard did it' are necessarily nonsense elements.
 

Tonguez

Hero
I did a mega dungeon once that was a Ruined temple that had been built above a ancient cave system at the bottom of which had been buried an ‘Ancient Evil’ whose corruption had been seeping upwards from its tomb. Between the Temple ruins and the deep cavern were:

1 the Temple ruins had become a camp for goblins and random vermin
2 crypts where the former temple priesthood had been interred as mummies (many now undead)
3 below the crypts were a series of tunnels and caves that at one time had been collapsed by a former adventuring party to ‘seal in the Evil’ - the collapsing tunnels give me an excuse to reconfigure the dungeon for repeat use.
4 the collapse had opened up these tunnels to some natural sea caves
5 the sea caves also let me add an underwater section in which lived a Vodyanoi
6 the Vodyanoi had dug through into a smugglers tunnel which ran from some sea caves on the coast inland to a nobles manor.
7 eventually PCs might reach the deep cavern and the burial site of the Ancient Evil

Anyway as a mega dungeon it had some logic to it, was reconfigurable and had 3 entrances, 4 ‘bosses’, multiple themes and allowed for an aspect of ‘magic’ seeping up from the Ancient Evil.

Ive also got entire landscapes created by battles of ‘gods and ancient Titans’ so ...
 
Last edited:

Fanaelialae

Legend
I generally prefer a dungeon to make sense, but I'm fine with a wizard did it. Crazy wizards doing weird things is basically intrinsic to D&D. Look at owlbears.

In the case of "a wizard did it" though, I would lead with that. If you put together a dungeon that makes no sense, and don't reveal until the end that a mad wizard was behind it, you may lose your players to incredulity before they make it to the reveal. Better to be up front about it so that they go into the scenario expecting it to be somewhat nonsensical.

Unless your players really love funhouse dungeons, I'd use them sparingly.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I appreciate a well-thought-out explanation as much as the next gamer. The dungeon was built by such-and-such a person for concrete reasons, and its inhabitants have a reason to live there. That's satisfying worldbuilding. However, I think that phrases like "chaos magic" and "a wizard did it" were invented by GMs tired of sane and orderly dungeons. There's a certain appeal to a funhouse environment with nonsensical inhabitants. A dragon lurks in a tiny broom closet. Doors open for monsters but not PCs. The random marble trap in Dragon's Lair.

My question is this: Do you need backstories and explanations, or are you OK with “a wizard did it?” Do you like dungeons that “make sense,” or are you alright with the occasional bout of silliness? Can both styles exist comfortably within the same campaign, or does an element of nonsense devalue the internal consistency of the setting?
Does the world contain the possibility of PC wizards? Are they going to be given the same flexibility?

If the answers are yes and no respectively, I hate that particular form of hand-waving.
 

Davinshe

Explorer
In my world I actually canonized "a wizard did it" as an in-game phenomenon. The stress of pushing ever more arcane power into one's head had a tendency to eventually cause the mind to snap in a phenomenon called "mage madness". Such mages had erratic and unpredictable behavior, and it commonly manifested in a paranoia that caused the mage to construct elaborate death traps in an attempt to protect themselves from threats real or imagined. However, such mages are oftentimes more magically inventive in this state than when they were sane, and more than their fair share of new spells and magic items are created by such wizards. Players who wanted their character to push the limits of magic knew that failure would likely edge their character closer to this result, lending a feeling of magic being risky and unpredictable that isn't normally present in D&D.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Not just a wizard, a mad wizard. A sane wizard would have potentially comprehensible desires and rational plans. You don't want any of that as an old school dungeon master, it constrains your hand far too much. As OD&D Book I Men & Magic says, the dungeon should be constructed "by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses."
 

Some aspects of the world aren't necessarily going to make sense, as the DM isn't likely going to have all the knowledge necessary. In these situations, it makes sense that the gods or magic might have caused any oddities that crop up. In dungeon design, unless a magic user was actually involved in the design (Castle Greyhawk, Ghost Tower of Inverness, Temple of Elemental Evil), then most aspects of life should be taken into consideration (water, food, movement).
 


The Winchester House in California exists. There are many examples of massive compounds being created by the powerful in real life human history.

It would be inconsistent to not have at least, one rambling mega dungeon, in a world with no shortage of immortal(ish) Wizards.

Let alone complexes made by Gods or Beholders.

Human Common Sense is a poor guide when positing a D&D world that teems with intelligent species and worlds are ageless creations of the Gods.

Elves, Dwarves, Mind Flayers, Gith, Dragons....why do structures made by these have to make sense to humans?

It is called imagining, folks!😀
 
Last edited:


Most Liked Threads

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top