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


This post is kind of fascinating.
The thread in the One D&D forum about "bringing back dungeon exploration to D&D" got me imagining...wishing for, really...a supplement specifically for DMs who want to emphasize good old fashioned dungeons. I wouldn't care if it's official WotC or 3rd Party. I'd probably buy it in a heartbeat without even reading the table of contents, but it's also fun to think about what might be in that table of contents?

Ideas? (And this is a '+' thread because if you want to pooh-pooh the idea of 'bringing back dungeons' the other thread is a fine place for such cynicism.)

My off-the-top-of-my-head ideas:
  • A system for keeping track of time, with rules and suggestions for how to use that to add pressure
  • Other ideas for keeping the tension and pressure up (without counting torches)
    • E.g. Rests: ways to make rests something players are less eager to take (ties into the time thing)
This entry and the comment about not counting torches brings me back to the thread on "Combat as war or sport" and a video by Matt Colville where he ask what kind of Game 5e is and give his views on OSR. In particular the intense inventory management style game the location is a challenge, in particular it challenges the players. The adventurer is a competent adventurer because the player manages their resources well and that means inventory management. Having a bag of flour to detect invisible creatures, or mirrors to peek around corners and enough torches is an important part of the game.
So the first thing that should be discussed is, what is the dungeon(location) for in the game. If location as a challenge then it should discuss inventory management, the importance of lighting and and resource attrition and the random encounters suitable for that kind of play.

If, on the other hand, the characters are competent adventures then perhaps one should assume that routing adventuring gear is part of their standard inventory, absorb the maintenance of stocks (spell components) etc in to the living costs and perhaps introduce a rule for an inventory check to see of the character has some exotic item that the party might suddenly wish they had like a bag of flour or 100 meters of string or sealing wax or whatever.

Then there is "Why are you here?" You could be here to rescue the villages or prevent the Dread Necromancer sacrificing Mr Tiddles (the Queen's elderly tabby cat) to summon an eldritch abomination. All of the above on the challenge of the environment could apply but many groups are not interested in that kind of play. They are more invested in the opposition from NPCs and their minions.
Here you could bring up discussion on the 5 room dungeon, more story focused playstyles and how they contast to sandbox and exploration type play.
A discussion of exploration rules and some kind of skill challenge mechanic would be useful here.

All the elements below could then be discussed in the context of the various play agendas.

  • Rules for mapping, backtracking, and getting lost (i.e., if you want to map carefully, it consumes more time!)
  • Traps!
    • I really don't like WotC's take on traps; I would want @iserith...or The Angry DM...to write this chapter
    • I imagine this chapter containing both guidance on how to design and DM traps that aren't just empty dice rolls, and also a whole trove of fleshed out traps based on that guidance
  • Puzzles! (Similar to traps)
    • This wouldn't necessarily have to be the sorts of puzzles designed by evil geniuses (who apparently have phobias about good old fashioned keys); it could just refer to anything the party has to figure out. "There's a rope bridge spanning the chasm, but the ropes look rotted and most of the planks are missing..."
  • Secret Doors! (Similar to traps)
  • Random tables for fleshing out dungeons.
    • Not (necessarily) to generate a whole dungeon, but for when you are just filling in details or looking for inspiration)
  • A whole chapter on light and darkness, full of juicy guidance on how to use both to terrify your players most effectively
  • New monsters?
  • New subclasses? (Honestly not my favorite)
  • Links to a playlist of thematic music
  • General guidance on how to design and run dungeons
    • Issues of realism (why are the monsters here? what do they eat? etc.) and whether your players will actually care
Rules for mapping, etc referred to above (otherwise exploration) could serve a number of purposes, it abstracts a larger dungeon into a series of discrete smaller location and allows the group to determine the state of the party (in terms of available resources) when they arrive at a location of interest. As such a way to replace some stuff that is currently done with keyed maps and as a way to bring navigational difficulties into VTT play where the players can see the map of where they have passed through.
Traps, puzzles, secret door and random encounters are (primarily) sources of attrition (whether of time, spells/powers or inventory) appropriate usage varies with playstyle (Some people hate puzzles).

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There are so many books out there with this content..... They should read and steal from those.

I'd like more fantastic stuff, and less realism. Random stuff like walls that suck light, or mysterious glowing rocks. Mushrooms that give off oxygen. Give us long time players something we haven't seen 100 tinted.
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I would do it as a Guide to the Underdark, setting neutral so it could be added to lots of different game worlds+home brew, so that we would get both an environment to adventure in and lots of ideas and supplementary material relevant to a dungeon-centred campaign. I also think that would be a lot more popular than something sold expressly as a book about dungeons, which would probably be seen as a niche supplement.


I like spelunking simulation. Makes things feel more real.
And I hope you find the dungeon for you.

But for me, dungeons, while awesome, are already on the edge of absurd and so when presented with the choice of either going through toil and trouble to try and get them to feel something like "realistic", versus leaning into their strangeness,I will take the latter.

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
And I hope you find the dungeon for you.

But for me, dungeons, while awesome, are already on the edge of absurd and so when presented with the choice of either going through toil and trouble to try and get them to feel something like "realistic", versus leaning into their strangeness,I will take the latter.
Fair enough. Different strokes.

I like spelunking simulation. Makes things feel more real.
Except they don't take the ubiquity of D&D's magic into account. I'm not even talking spells (but also that), but also magical/supernatural flora, fauna and phenomena. Write it for a non-dirt farmer world, rather than pointless minutia about how much rope frays against various surfaces.

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