D&D General (+) What Should Go in a D&D Book About Dungeons?

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
So my desire for terminology is rooted in the why of the place. So you have this weird collection of creatures hanging out in this place with all the politicking that might go one there. But why is it there? Do the bad guys just live there? Are they some BBEG's troops waiting for orders? Are they guardians for something specific?

In the first case, I'd call it a dungeon (if a bit of a busy one). But in the middle case I would call it a fortress. I'm not sure exactly what I would call it (a vault?) in the final case.

Again, I just like have distinct categories for things because I find them informative. You would assault a fortress in a different way than you would break into a vault or you would explore a dungeon.
Are those also in game words for them? If so, what is the go to when the players aren't sure which case it is?
 

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jgsugden

Legend
...But if the latrine is just a latrine, and is included only for the sake of realism (you DID measure rise over run to make sure the pipes would drain correctly, didn't you?) then many of us don't really care whether or not it's there. Maybe, for some people, its absence would be a glaring inconsistency, but I think being bothered by things like that is a choice.
You're missing my point. It isn't all times you make sense that drive the story as a notable event- it is the things that do not make sense. Seeing a latrine is not a magical experience that makes the game better. Dropping in the latrines, and the sleeping quarters isn't going to (often) be the payoff. It is the setup for the payoff.

Let's say you're playing a game in which there has been a waste disposal option for creatures everywhere you go. Sometimes it is just a deadend corridor. Sometimes it is a portable hole. Maybe an Otyugh. Maybe some oozes. Sometimes it is a river. Whatever - but the DM made sure there was an option for waste removal.

And then the PCs come to an orc cavern system and discover there is no waste removal option. This is a potential clue the PCs could note to indicate that maybe there is more to the complex than they've found. Maybe the druid wildshapes into an animal with a good nose and follows the faint smell of waste to a secret door. Maybe they just say, "they have to poop somewhere" and search the caves again. Maybe they speak with dead and ask where the orcs pooped before they died (and if you've never experienced the grand magnificence of Post Mortem Excretion Interrogation I feel sorry for you). But it can be a trigger for the PCs to figure something out.

And I promise you, players - across the board - love to feel like they figured something out. Not the PCs. The players. Even if they have their PC blindly stumble into the trap because the player realized it was thre and the PC didn't, they love to feel like they solved the puzzle you put out there.

Now, a DM could 100% just tell the players, "You don't see a latrine option. You think there must be more to the cave," That can, and does, happen in games. However, that type of dump of answers to players is a weak way to move the game forward. It takes agency away from the players. Even if you gatekeep it behind an investigation role, you're just reducing the game to dice rolls and DM dictums. The more tools you give the players to identify and apply, the more options they have to feel awesome.

There is, of course, middle ground as well. There are a lot of DM styles. However, I'm not talking about the spectrum of ground - I'm talking about the things you find when you venture to the realm of making settings where the dungeon makes sense. All I am, and have been, saying is that making a sensical world where you can apply 'real world' logic and figure out clues based upon the logical conclusions gives a DM stronger and more immersive toolset to create a game where players get to be more involved. I am not telling you that you have to play that way - just that if you do, it gives you tools that can be really rewarding.
 

Reynard

Legend
Are those also in game words for them? If so, what is the go to when the players aren't sure which case it is?
I'm not sure. I guess I am thinking of it more from the adventure design point of view. Like the book would say "If this location is a vault, do this and expect this, but if it is a fortress do this and expect your players to do this instead." So it is GM facing terminology designed to help build appropriate challenges based on the purpose of the dungeon.

Again, it isn't terribly well thought out at this point. it is just something i find interesting and possibly useful.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Again, I just like have distinct categories for things because I find them informative. You would assault a fortress in a different way than you would break into a vault or you would explore a dungeon.

In my mind the difference is not the way the game unfolds, or what strategy/tactics you use, it’s the feel.

A castle full of hostiles is, in my mind, more closely related to a bandit camp or a tavern full of very unfriendly locals than it is to a “dungeon”. The one-room barrow with a Wight is more dungeon-like than the castle is.
 

TheSword

Legend
This is just semantics on my part but what you are describing isn't a dungeon, it is a working fortress. I don't think a dungeon is defined as a structured location with some monsters in it. I think the fact that it is ruined, labyrinthine, balkanized, re-inhabited, full of forgotten secrets, and just plain weird make it a dungeon.

If it is the place where the evil overlord forces his weapons and trains his troops for sorties against the good and civilized lands, it is a fortress. And the way PCs would interact with that place is very different than the way they would explore a dungeon. Not to mention the different motivations for doing so.

Of course, it's easy enough to say a fortress is a kind of dungeon with a specific purpose. That's fine and you can certainly have a chapter about dungeon taxonomy. But to me, the king's vault and the villain's tower would get a different classification than "dungeon" just to create a clear distinction.
Yes it does seem like semantics.

What I advocated are dungeon denizens that don’t just sit in place waiting to be slaughtered by PCs but react to invasions of their territory according to their level of intelligence.

There are countless dungeons that include intelligent organized denizens. I’m very comfortable calling the Sunless Citadel, Undermountain or the caves of chaos dungeons and I like it when the intelligent folks who live there react appropriately

There are a few reasons for this, firstly it makes threats more dangerous and 5e needs all the jeopardy it can get to balance out the resilience. Secondly it makes PCs use tactics rather than charge into every situation. Thirdly it makes roleplay in the dungeon more likely as opposed to kicking down every door and taking skulls. Partly because enemies might outgun the PCs and partly because they might surrender.

Anyway. Wasn’t looking for a fight. Just wanted to share something I would like to see in a book about dungeons… how to use intelligent creatures as if they were intelligent.
 

Reynard

Legend
Yes it does seem like semantics.

What I advocated are dungeon denizens that don’t just sit in place waiting to be slaughtered by PCs but react to invasions of their territory according to their level of intelligence.

There are countless dungeons that include intelligent organized denizens. I’m very comfortable calling the Sunless Citadel, Undermountain or the caves of chaos dungeons and I like it when the intelligent folks who live there react appropriately

There are a few reasons for this, firstly it makes threats more dangerous and 5e needs all the jeopardy it can get to balance out the resilience. Secondly it makes PCs use tactics rather than charge into every situation. Thirdly it makes roleplay in the dungeon more likely as opposed to kicking down every door and taking skulls. Partly because enemies might outgun the PCs and partly because they might surrender.

Anyway. Wasn’t looking for a fight. Just wanted to share something I would like to see in a book about dungeons… how to use intelligent creatures as if they were intelligent.
I think you missed my point, which is probably my fault for being unclear.

I didn't mean that any dungeon inhabited by intelligent enemies wasn't a dungeon but was a fortress, I meant that if all that is in a dungeon is one faction or a group of aligned factions all focused on a single goal, that felt like a fortress rather than a dungeon. I had a few follow up posts to clarify what I meant by various terms and ultimately conceding that don't know what the best terminology might be. I won't waste time repeating that stuff here, but the long and short of it is that I think the purpose of the place -- from the PCs perspective, in the game world-- is the defining factor.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Again, I just like have distinct categories for things because I find them informative. You would assault a fortress in a different way than you would break into a vault or you would explore a dungeon.
Assuming you knew what you were getting into, which isn't always apparent until quite some way in.
 

Reynard

Legend
Assuming you knoew what you were getting into, which isn't always apparent until quite some way in.
I mean, maybe? I tend to try and give my players lots of information early to enable good use of agency. Sure, sometimes things turn out to be a ruse or surprise, but not giving them proper information to at least approach an adventure reasonably does more harm than good, IMO.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I mean, maybe? I tend to try and give my players lots of information early to enable good use of agency. Sure, sometimes things turn out to be a ruse or surprise, but not giving them proper information to at least approach an adventure reasonably does more harm than good, IMO.
DM: "There's a castle on a hill maybe 5 miles from town, abandoned since Lord Lordicus, its last owner, died maybe 7 years back. The locals have recently - as in the last month or so - noticed lights at night and heard strange echoing noises at all hours from up there, meanwhile several farmers in that area have, over the last few weeks, reported finding dead livestock with neatly-slit throats. Can you brave heroes go up and check that place out for us?"

What are you getting into? Do the players/characters naturally deserve any more info, or at this point is it learn-as-you-go?
 

Reynard

Legend
DM: "There's a castle on a hill maybe 5 miles from town, abandoned since Lord Lordicus, its last owner, died maybe 7 years back. The locals have recently - as in the last month or so - noticed lights at night and heard strange echoing noises at all hours from up there, meanwhile several farmers in that area have, over the last few weeks, reported finding dead livestock with neatly-slit throats. Can you brave heroes go up and check that place out for us?"

What are you getting into? Do the players/characters naturally deserve any more info, or at this point is it learn-as-you-go?
That's a perfectly fine description of a dungeon as I described it. But if it turns out that it is a working fortress for the Dark Overlord, that description is potentially misleading. Of course, we're ignoring PCs doing research and recon prior to passing the old gate.

A sealed tomb holding ancient secrets is different than a death cult incursion outpost. Of course the death cult could set up their outpost in a sealed tomb, and that could promise some interesting wrinkles, but I don't just plop PCs at the entrance with false information. I like player agency. They should get to determine how they approach a dungeon. And to do that they should have a reasonable idea of what the place is most of the time.
 

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