One cavern at a time:
One of my recent purchases was “How to Host a Dungeon”. It is a solo game designed to be played to create a fully stocked dungeon. The manual guides you through several ages using dice rolls and random tables to do the actual building. It starts with the creation of the world, and ends with a fully hosted dungeon that is (at least in part) controlled by an apex villain, ready to kill adventurers.
What the game does well is it creates a dungeon with an aura of history. As you progress through the ages, the world and the dungeon is reshaped. At the end of play, your dungeon, like an ogre, is going to have layers. Dwarves built the underground city, but left. goblins and hobgoblins then took up residence. While the goblins scavenged above, the hobgoblins went further down. The hobgoblins fell under sway of a “dungeon master” and began stealing treasure from the goblins. History like this creates a vibrant dungeon, and a satisfying explanation for the way that things are (i.e. something with bit of depth). When you have this background information, the dungeon feels more real and cohesive. Even if the lore is never discovered by the players, it will still seep through in play.
The game also provides a vehicle for focusing your efforts. Your notes from the game create a structure that propels you to start building a campaign, scenario, or whatever. I am a believer in using structure to push creativity: When I have limits and structure, I actually do something as opposed to sit around and wonder (or browse reddit).
The downside is that in order to build that history, you have to spend time. Monsters and societies have moves, and they need to gather treasure, breed, and do all sorts of nefarious actions. Some active dungeons can have several societies all competing that have to take their “turn” every “round”. Doing this for every single creature group can get a bit tedious. There are several times that I have quit the game once the dungeon got “full enough”.
Also some of the instructions are confusing, and although the revised edition fixed many of the grammatical issues, there are still a few times I am left scratching my head. When I played the first time, I went and watched a youtube video to see if I was “doing it right”. But don’t worry, like with all role playing games, the rules are just guide lines and they should be violated, upon occasion, to make something cool.
The bottom line:
It’s $5 bucks. Totally worth it even if it is just used as a dungeon design aid.
A Different Example: Results of Play or what the hell is going on in this map?
Long after the world was formed, but long before written history, a group of demons were banished to the material plane. Using a giant (probably purple) worm they dug for creatures and wealth to sacrifice to their dark gods, in hope of returning home. 7 of the demons died through infighting, 2 bound themselves to the material plane, and one worthy creature traveled back to the abyss.
Through the centuries, the 2 remaining demons silently guarded their infernal constructions. Eventually, one was overpowered by a hobgoblin mining tribe, who set up residence in the abandoned demon palace. The hobgoblin’s camp was close to a mithril mine, and the creatures quickly became wealthy and powerful through mineral exploitation.
A society of giants moved near the volcano, and early in their exploration of disappeared, leaving only their tombs and treasure behind as a mute warning to all who enter.
Eventually Druegar followed the giants and settled near the volcano. They wisely explored a different path. However, their tribe was destroyed due to a plague. Those that did not die, fled leaving their wealth behind. Eventually undead, drawn by abandoned the treasure, gathered in the Druegar and Giant tombs.
Hearing tales of loot, a group of adventurers traveled into the volcano, they were all destroyed by the gathered giant and Druegar undead. Undead heroes anyone?
Meanwhile, the surface kingdom, who had been growing quite well expanded its own dungeon into a previously unknown cavern. While the initial reports indicated that the cavern was full of priceless gems, the survey teams were not aware of the giant spiders lurking in the shadows.
There are also some goblins, an ogre magi, a purple worm, the last demon, trolls, and an evil nefarious force trying to take control over the entire dungeon. There is also untapped mithirl ore, and a barely touched gold vein. Who ever conquers this dungeon is going to be rich.
I may actually use this for part of a campaign. If any of you are my players, forget that you saw this.
Right? Depending on how far you stretch the monsters, or how expansive you want to make the dungeon, you just built the skeleton for a 5-10 level campaign. I mean, sure, you have to actually build the dungeons, encounters, and back story, but you now have 3 or 4 competing groups with real motivations, histories, and adventure hooks of their own, a fully hosted dungeon.