Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Random Dungeons

I left my last post on a note about randomly-generated dungeons.
Now, random dungeons have a tendency to be incoherent; dungeons for their own sake without much internal logic. But the upside is that they (theoretically) don't require a lot of investment of time or creative energy.
As much as I would like to be running a serious campaign and developing my own setting, the truth is that it is difficult to get a handful of busy 20-somethings to meet on a regular basis.
So suddenly, running one-shots and short adventures with B/X rules and random dungeons has a certain appeal.

My previous experience with random mapping involved using the random tables in the AD&D DMG. Except the book doesn't make explicitly clear how the tables work, and it takes a fair bit of designer discretion to make them work.

Incidentally, the AD&D DMG is my favorite D&D book. Loaded with evocative details and rather little clear direction on how to use them.

So I went looking online for tools to produce random dungeons. Shout out to Dungeoneering Dad for doing a lot of the legwork.

These tools draw a dungeon map and populate them with monsters, treasure and traps:

I ran a game for myself to test these dungeons out. Also, to teach myself how to run B/X smoothly.
I admit that even I felt a little weird sitting down to play D&D with myself. And yet, it helped to smooth out the kinks in how I run Basic before inflicting it on my players.

What I found was that even randomly generated dungeons take some tuning and preparation to run well.
Donjon produces dungeons for the later editions, and also for AD&D, which is closest in overall balance to Basic. I like what Donjon does. But:

A lot of the traps are sure to kill low level adventurers. In playtest, they killed much more often than monsters. They'll have you going through thieves like potato chips and Mountain Dew. I could tolerate an occasional trap of certain doom, but I think Donjon overdoes it.
If I were to play it as generated, I would atleast devise a means to grant XP for traps. Like if a party inentionally avoids or succesfully disarms a trap, they get XP as if the trap were a monster of the HD that the trap would kill with an average damage roll.
For example a falling block that does 6d6 damage does an average 21 damage, which would equate to the average HP of a 4 HD monster. So noticing and circumventing the trap grants XP as a defeating a 4HD monster.  I will try it this way in further playtest.

Donjon also gives a lot of details- from dungeon dressing to a wandering monster table. But it behooves the DM to look through these details and determine what they actually mean before you have to describe them to the players!
For instance; if one of the wandering monsters is a six dwarves wandering senselessly, the DM suddenly has to invent a backstory for this dwarf. Or if a room has an X marked on the west wall, the DM will have to note why somebody made the mark in anticipation of when the players choose to obsess over what is actually a random bit of dungeon dressing. Some traps are listed without describing what exactly the trigger is or where the danger-zone is. Some bits of dressing like large Idols with ruby eyes will certainly be construed as treasure, so it's better to determine what they are worth and how hard it will be to pry them out before the players ask about it.

Also, the monsters listed in B/X are pretty basic. Most generators will pull out monsters which aren't listed and will need either adaptation or replacement.

Moving on to mythweavers. Mythweavers makes dungeons for 3rd edition and will require conversion. You'll need the 3rd ed. DMG and MM for this. This one is kinder with the traps. It also pays out much larger sums of gold and even magic items. So characters in a mythweaver dungeon will go up much faster.
Mythweaver lacks a few of the nice feature which donjon has; like  a wandering monster table or showing the dungeon entrance or offering various file formats to save the dungeon in.  It just createsa a little more work
Mythweaver is also very weird about its dungeon dressing, offering a list of unrelated items if any. It seems to me that it would generally be more useful just to know the function of a room and some reference to its state of repair, along with any natural or geomorphic features.
All in all, donjon is to be preferred for Basic D&D adventures.

There are also a lot of map generators, which draw dungeons, but do not stock them. All in all it seems like preparing and tuning a stocked random dungeon isn't much less work than stocking it yourself, If you stock you own dungeon,I think you are more likely to be fluent in int when it comes time to run.
Here is a map generator- it also does nice looking caves

But these are particularly cool. I used this and randomly populated it using the guidelines in the Basic book, with some help from Tricks, Empty Rooms, & Basic Trap Design by Courtney Campbell
It took a while because the geomorphs are so complex. I am a little concerned that it will be difficult to describe the cogent information about the shape and layout of some of the spaces- difficulties which you would not have in the series-of-disjointed-rectangular-room style of dungeon.
based on:  https://rpgcharacters.wordpress.com/maps/geomorph-mapping-project/

I hope it works out. Now If only I can manage to get some people together.

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