D&D 5E What Don't You Like About Dungeons?

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
I've never struggled with this, but we all have different experiences with the game.

I'm curious what you mean by "never struggled with this". Meaning, like @iserith, you don't worry about it? Or you don't find it difficult to know when a player is using player knowledge? Or it doesn't happen at your table?

EDIT: Nevermind, you answered it in a subsequent post.

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I’m a big fan of dungeon crawls, particularly running them. The idea that there’s this strange place, filled with monsters and treasure of a bygone age, and the whole point of the game is to face those dangers in the name of getting rich and acquiring power is what really does it for me. I also enjoy the exploration side of the game, especially when there’s big risk but big reward involved.

I tend to eschew complex campaigns or campaigns that deal with world ending events. A dungeon, especially a megadungeon, lets me focus in on the sorta here and now of the fiction, which I find helps me create more tense and dramatic sessions.


Victoria Rules
If you do like dungeons (or at least like them as much as other adventure locations), what do you like about them? How do you approach them as a player?
As a player, I usually approach them by wading in and exploring until there's something to either beat up, loot, or both. Then that thing gets beaten up, looted, or both. Lather rinse repeat until we've done whatever bigger task we went there to do, then go home and divide the spoils. :) I like dungeons because while I-as-me can go out and explore some woods etc. anytime I want, I can't go exploring dungeons - they add to the fantasy element. And the whole exploring piece is important to me.
If you're a DM, what kind of resources do you use to help you design and run them effectively?
I'm not sure I design them "effectively", if by that you mean the least bit efficiently. It's usually either pretty labour-intensive (if I'm trying to doll it up so someone else could run it) or pretty slap-dash with lots of notes and maps on scraps of paper.

Running them is easy, though, in that the whole environment is (in theory!) laid out in reasonable detail ahead of time meaning I rarely if ever have to do any on-the-fly creation. All I have to do is narrate and referee.

Contrast this with an outdoor or city adventure, where it's kind of impossible to detail everything ahead of time and thus a lot of stuff gets made up on the fly...which would be fine except my at-table note-taking is atrocious and I'll sometimes forget things 5 minutes after I've said them (I blame beer). I can run these, but they're way more of a headache unless I want to railroad the party, which I'd prefer not to do.
(I'm making this a D&D 5e thread because that is the most recent and arguably popular version of the game. If you're going to talk about other editions or even other games, please say so explicitly so as to mitigate misunderstandings as to rules or the like.)
Everything I say above is, I think, edition-agnostic; though I'm coming from a very-much-pre-5e point of view.


Victoria Rules
This is a weird problem for the game. One of the classic adventures, Keep on the Borderlands, has a latrine area in the caves of chaos. It's strange, because apparently only 2 of the dozen groups of creatures use a latrine, but it creates a sense of realism that they'd have one. However, it does create a game problem, where the players might decide to "hole up" in there, picking off the enemy one at a time. I think these have been completely and deliberately removed from modern game design to prevent this type of strategy, plus the possibility of it offending some sensibilities (just like no one on TV or the movies ever has to go, unless its a plot point).
If true, the bolded is the worst kind of meta-design.

And if people's sensibilities are offended by the mere presence of a latrine, well... <<facepalm>> ...not much I can say there.


Victoria Rules
What I have seen is players moving their tokens all over the place and getting separated.
We run it that if you move (or don't move) your token, that's where your character is; and if it means people get separated then so be it. Then again, our parties often resemble non-herded cats anyway, so... :)

Same goes when using minis in real-life play.


Victoria Rules
What I don't like is after a certain point and size, a dungeon doesn't work the walk D&D sets them up as unless the inhabitants are of above average intelligence and have a lot of unused resources at their exposal. So you either end up with monsters who don't drain resources like they are supposed to OR engage the same tactics.

Basically once you dungeon has more than 2 floor, you have to go into WH40K Necromunda Hive City Gang Warfare mode in other to give the dungeon the variety of enemy resources, and tactics.
There's no gangs in the original Dark Tower (a pretty big dungeon crawl, for thems as haven't seen it) and yet there's no way you can say there's no variety in there!


Victoria Rules
I have been known for decades in my gaming circles for including fully usable toilet facilities (with different design and maybe a quest in itself for how to actually use it without public embarasment) in every single adventurable locale I create, be it a palace in The City of Brass or the Dungeon of the Ooze Overlord. If you gotta go you gotta go.
Nice. :)

The other thing I find many dungeon designers forget to include is something that was and-or still is a source of clear water for the occupants. Irrelevant if it's a tomb, of course, and the opposition are all undead; but any place with living occupants needs a water source.


There's no gangs in the original Dark Tower (a pretty big dungeon crawl, for thems as haven't seen it) and yet there's no way you can say there's no variety in there!
But how sensible were the inhabitants and architecture of the Dark Tower?

That's my point. Once a dungeon gets too a certain size it gets very gamey. Because there are few "sensible" reasons for large fun dungeons.


I've not struggled with it either, but that's chiefly because I don't make it my business to judge why a character does a thing. As DM, I only need to know what they are trying to accomplish and how so I can decide whether it succeeds or fails or there's a roll. As a player, I only need to know if I can do something to help my teammate succeed in their goal.
But if you're not judging your players and making them uncomfortable at the table are you really doing your job as DM?


Well, I've decided not to play Dungeons & Dragons specifically for the foreseeable future, but yes, I GM classic high fantasy as one of my preferred genres. And my biggest beef with dungeons is that my group focus on and really enjoy the social pillar and roleplaying. And the classic dungeon take a lot more prep to make role playable and social than if the party hang in town or do their Marx brothers stuff in a village they just entered.

Nowadays the definition of dungeon is pretty fluid, but for me it's a confined area with a focus on combat encounters. I tend to put in some variant of combat heavy dungeon in like every 10-15 session in my own campaigns - that seem to hit my groups sweet spot.

So it's not that I hate dungeons, it's just that me and my table rather do other stuff during our session that fight with the bugbear in the 20 by 20 room to the left.


First: I consider any fixed location with several (or more) encounters to be a "dungeon". The orc keep, the dwarven mine, the ruined temple, the ore processing plant, the Ancient sealed tower...

Second: Having said that, last night I literally provided a dungeon exploration for my players. My campaign tends to be heavy on overland travel and wilderness encounters. In this case, they traveled through magically-fogged poisonous swamp trailing a lost noble, and found a ladder into the depths of a castle so ruined they barely recognized the broken wall next to them as a construction. Underneath, nine rooms to explore, with broken passages, submerged tunnels, hostile fungus, giant crocodiles, an underwater section, a gelatinous cube (map built before I saw the movie, just saying!), a dragon skeleton, and an "interesting terrain" feature. Plus the underwater section led to another mini-dungeon.

They defeated the crocs, the cube, and most of the fungus; they ignored the underwater section, and retreated from the "interesting terrain" room. "Screw this, the noble ain't here." And they left. [For the record, they are 8th level, and the strongest two encounters were a pair of CR 5s.]

So, while I like the opportunity to challenge them with a series of encounters that test and erode their strength... they like to come at everything fresh, healthy, and able to nova. This dungeon can be retreated from and assailed again the next day - it's sat unmolested for centuries after all. But most dungeons can and should change in response to the characters' actions, and that sets up a level of tension and stress in my players - and myself, when I play! - that I think goes against our desire at this point to have a fun evening with friends, away from jobs, kids, and other stressors.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So you've decided to play this game called Dungeons & Dragons. But, perhaps after some experience with the game, you've decided you don't like dungeons. I feel like I see this a lot in various online discussions and I find it unusual to take a stance against the very thing the game was seemingly designed around and still continue playing it.

While the game can feature adventure locations and situations that aren't or don't involve dungeons, what is it specifically about dungeons that you don't like? When you hear that it's time for a "dungeon crawl," what sort of negative things does that conjure in your mind? If you're a DM, why do you avoid running dungeons in your own games?

If you do like dungeons (or at least like them as much as other adventure locations), what do you like about them? How do you approach them as a player? If you're a DM, what kind of resources do you use to help you design and run them effectively?

(I'm making this a D&D 5e thread because that is the most recent and arguably popular version of the game. If you're going to talk about other editions or even other games, please say so explicitly so as to mitigate misunderstandings as to rules or the like.)
I will run and enjoy a 1-2 session dungeon, max. Anything beyond that is spending too much time on what isn’t the reason we are there.

For a dungeon crawl, I’ll just play HeroQuest. I love that game.

But if I’m playing Kid the Artificer, I want to be engaging with the City of Waterdeep, or with the Netherese refugee community, or with other inventors and revolutionaries, or a thousand other things than spending a week in a hole killing oversized rats to get treasure.

Even stuff like Castle Ravenloft is more than I need to have fun with a location, while Death House is mostly just a bit too…empty, in places, but otherwise moves along, has an unfolding mystery and horror, two spirits you can try to help, and the creeping dread of knowing the only way out is through.

If every dungeon crawl was like that, and not any longer than it needed to be to tell the story as I despise filler, I’d use them more often.

So, to try to organize my ranting:

  • No longer than demanded by the story of the place
  • No entire rooms with nothing even vaguely interesting
  • No filler fights to draw out the crawl (basically don’t make it a crawl)
  • The whole “delve into a dank hole full of monsters to kill them for loot” thing. Anything that makes me feel like Columbus or Cortez is a bad time, for me. I want there to be a point.
  • Ideally it should always be able to tie into, reveal things about, provide tools for, or otherwise has soemthing interesting to do with one or more ongoing story threads outside the location
  • For some reason, most crawls I’ve tried has really bad encounter design? Like, groups with no archers of mobile skirmishers or even a climber, stuff like that.
  • Often doing them well requires far more prep than other types of adventures, and I’m much better at improvisation

Now, what I have enjoyed and in some cases even written myself:

  • Death House
  • An island tower I wrote with a central mechanism in the basement that controls the moving parts of the tower, that could also be controlled from the top observation dome room, if they set up the machine to operate while in the basement. Then there were 6 levels of aberrant creatures between the bottom and top, that they were able to reduce to only fighting 3 groups through good strategy and rolls with the mechanism and a clever use of a familiar and an unseen servant, and when they got the top there was stuff relating to 2 PCs personal stories, more puzzle type stuff to figure, and then a big horde fight where a “Chuul-drake matriarch” that could call waves of chuul-drakes and dolgrims and such, with armored windows that couldn’t be closed in just one round (many actions to close, interfered with).
  • A Claus for Concern 3pp adventure. I heavily modified the content and history and did a whole “Santa and each of you used to be darkling things of the deep winter, be Santa offered you the chance to make something new alongside him” thing with the 3 PCs. Good pacing, lots of oddities, lots of opportunities for me to inject the sort of b-story about memory and deciding again, and again, every day, who you’re going to be.


I cannot say I don't use dungeons at all in my games, but dungeons do tend to be quite rare. Considering I'm the kind of mapper that always includes restrooms/lavatory, or includes laudromats in space ships - I create locations that have purposes. If I can find a purpose for including a dungeon, I'll include a dungeon. But I don't stick in a dungeon, just to stick in a dungeon - it must have a purpose for being there, for it's making, otherwise I don't make it. If I had more reasons to include dungeons, I'd create more dungeons, but I tend to have other locations I need as mapped locations...


I've got people wandering around a dungeon at the moment, it's a forest. They follow trails and paths to get through but, unlike a traditional dungeon, don't need a secret door to bypass areas, they can throw caution to the wind and forge through the walls of trees, they haven't yet, perhaps because they don't trust me.

Just starting to design an elemental themed dungeon, 4 dungeons for each prime element that the players will need to get through to pick up the elemental keys to get into the final area.

But since this is what we don't like about dungeons, I really hate traps that don't make sense. Things like having a pit trap in a well traversed area of a goblin warren with no other means of the goblins getting around it.


Magic Wordsmith
But since this is what we don't like about dungeons, I really hate traps that don't make sense. Things like having a pit trap in a well traversed area of a goblin warren with no other means of the goblins getting around it.
For those, I often put a long wooden plank nearby amidst some rubble. It looks kind of like something fell away from the ceiling perhaps, but the plank is used by the denizens to cross the pit safely. Smart PCs figure it out. The rest? Well...


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
An idea I had for a campaign based largely on dungeons.

We begin the campaign with X teenagers coming of age on a small chain of islands. The chain is diverse, and the adventure would have guidance for building the islands each kid comes from based on what they want to play, involving asking each player questions in a sort of session 0 mini game. This way all races are on the table, but every species ever printed isn't on these islands. Also you get a group of PCs with ties and bonds in this place, reasons to care what happens to it, etc.

It is the Great Dragon Festival, which is a time to celebrate when the dragons came and saved the world from darkness a thousand years ago, and to light up the night in thanks. The festival happens mostly on the biggest island in the chain, which is home to the Dragon Temple, and so every few years teens from 14 to 16 (small population, there aren't always like 5 15 year olds every year) are tasked with entering the Dragon Temple and lighting the fires inside of it, which will shine through the crystalline eyes of the great dragon's head at the top of the temple.

When the teens gather and enter the temple, they find that darklings have infested it, and even the light crystals that normally glow perpetually have gone dark. It's a fairly short dungeon, but getting the lights back on requires finding the power stations, realigning the mirrors that feed sunlight to the crystals, and defeating the darklings along the way.

At the end of the temple, up in the dragon's head, you get a boss fight with things you have to break or activate or whatever in order to weaken the BBEG. Once that's done, the group is able to light the central crystaline light of the temple, shooting brilliant light out of the dragon's eyes. That done, they are spoken to by the temple itself, which is a sentient celestial construct in the form of a dragon, and thus actually one of the dragons that came to the world to save it a thousand years ago. They're tasked by the dragon with finding the other dragons and awakening them before the forces of darkness do, and warns that if they find one that has been awakened by darkness, it will be corrupted and require cleansing, but once cleansed and awakened, a dragon will protect it's region and bestow a boon.

And then you get a really interesting dynamic where you get a ship, recruit people you know to help crew it, and set sail, exploring a fairly open world but always heading swiftly toward the next Dragon Temple, eventually getting the ship magically upgraded to an airship by the fourth great dragon, and there are 3 of the four Great Dragon Temples already in the sky, and they're corrupted, and they're a huge threat, and one is heading toward the island chain you're from.

The GDTs would be harder and a little more complex, but none of these "dungeons" would be anything like a megadungeon. We're talking a dozen rooms and as many non-room areas, many of which will need to be visited multiple times, as you fight your way through a living puzzle that is trying to help the dark creatures inside and on it fight you off, but is weakened as you cleanse each power crystal and restore it's light, until eventually you have to fight the boss, and you can cleanse the control crystal and return the dragon wholly to the light.

stuff like managing allies, assigning other teams to deal with lesser things or rally allies, forging alliances, etc, would probably be optional, but well supported, with benefits for success and complications for failure. What do you do to help these refugees created by your failure to set up a sufficient defense of this port city that is now on fire? Think Dragon Age Inquisition's war table, with different skillsets available to you for the advisory roles you need.

Maybe end the whole thing with a battle where you get to ride dragons into battle against a big darkness cthulu or whatever, as a cool climax to the campaign, or maybe go the zelda route and you have to make your way into the depths of the cthulu's lair and battle it on it's own ground.

But most of the action happens in dungeons that are dragons.

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