Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dungeon Design and the Bleak Beyond

Over the course of my three decades of dungeon design the only recurring theme has been one of change. From the crude earliest efforts to the modular string-of-adventures format to the so-called classic dungeon to that first megadungeon effort to the archival style to the one-page idea and on to the present day, my history of dungeon making is marked by sweeping changes based on a wide range of ideas, examples and inspirations. Each step along the way adds to the overall collected know-how. It has been an evolution of design and a labor of love.

The dungeon trend, this path I have followed and at times forged, shows that changes will continue, of this there is no doubt. One of the stumbling blocks for crafting that true megadungeon is this very trend of change. Knowing that by the time level 12 is finished it won't look, feel or play like level 1 is bothersome. Something about my sensibilities finds fault with this fact. The preference being of course a continuity of the vibe established with the very first levels of such a place.

Much of it can also be attributed to gamer ADD, of course. By the time the heavy lifting begins a new approach, thought or philosophy gnaws away at the dungeon's foundations and sends the project into limbo.

Finally emerging from the planning stage after nearly two years of contemplation is the latest example of these megadungeon heart breakers, the Bleak Beyond. Before the first map was even drawn numerous theories and notions had been conceived and scrapped. Ideas such as “Lairs & Stairs”, the “Sub/Hub” style, “Room Clusters”, “Inside-Out” design and so forth; far too much thought was invested in these methods which may never see the light of day. Besides, excessive time was wasted on my part in trying to reinvent the wheel.

Now that a design approach has been settled on there is actual progress being made. Albeit at a snail's pace. The building blocks are still being placed and the project continues to garner all of my gamer interest. What design approach is that you might ask? The Bleak Beyond borrows heavily from my archival style and one-page philosophy. The archival style saw maps becoming more convoluted with less wasted space per page and it also embraced the notion of recycling. No longer was this a dungeon in the modular format of fire and forget. The one-page philosophy is embraced now as well, minus the sometimes cramping templates. “Without the template it's no longer one-page, though!” Yes, but the philosophy established with the one-page is the key for me. It's a heady mix of word economy, random tables and the Empty Room Principle.

So the Bleak Beyond is moving slowly forward with my latest design style, one driven by random tables, a unique bestiary and treasury, unusual conventions and an archival spirit. The plans for the cornerstones are drawn up, and right now it is potentially a signature worthy endeavor. I say potentially because I have already pegged this as my new megadungeon heart breaker. In the end at the very least I can share some of my efforts here as I have been doing lately. Readers can borrow, steal and alter as was done with the one-page design notes or some of my other meanderings. Nevertheless, wish me luck.

In parting I'll share a list of the planned levels for the Bleak Beyond.

Standard Levels (36):

Katskradle
Beneath the Fetid Fens
Down the Mol-Min Hole
Altar of the Gloom-Pit
The Tangled Tunnels
Hap's Woebegone
Pits of Unspecified Doom
Hornswoggle Hall
So and So's Fate
Awfulville
The Grand Brood Nidus
Webwarrens
A City Swallowed
Sewers of a City Swallowed
Chuckhole Hollow
The Writhing Sepulchre
Chapel of the Jilted Bride
Dens of Undesired Dream
Incomparable Brainy-Dome
Frankenlabs Cooperative
The Vexations of Vrimnas
Church of the Excommunicated
Crumblebums
Illojical Werks
Supreme Citadel of the Morkevagten
The Irradiated Level w/ No Name
Shrine of the Sleeping She-Paladin
Vadghiragh
Evil Dude's Domain
Palace of Ceaseless Extravagance
Temple of Glob, God of Green Slime
Feefestung
Sham's Furnace
Balmorphiact
Akt-Elemdor, the Vault of Night
Echoes of Darkness

Secret Bonus Levels (16):

The Abyss of Nada
Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Bloody Vintner
Central Teleport Terminal
Cubbyholes of Regret
The Donjon Illustrious
Ill Angels ONLY
Inn of the Bawdy Monkey
Ixmorin's Ill-fated (Mini-Levels 1-5)
Snow Globe
Super-Chute Control Chambers
Thimbledowns


So, yeah. This could take forever. Baby steps.

~Sham

4 comments:

Ragnorakk said...

Big Rock Candy Mountain!
Hope there's some banjo players therein!

Matt said...

Looking forward to this! Every time I think I need to look up monster stats while writing NOD material, I remember Dismal Depths and just make a new monster. In other words - you're an inspiration.

Telecanter said...

"Ideas such as “Lairs & Stairs”, the “Sub/Hub” style, “Room Clusters”, “Inside-Out” design and so forth; far too much thought was invested in these methods which may never see the light of day. Besides, excessive time was wasted on my part in trying to reinvent the wheel."

I would be curious to hear even brief snippets about what your were trying with those approaches. Even if they were complete failures I feel I could learn a lot from your experience.

Sham aka Dave said...

@Ragnorakk: Chuckhole Banjo players! Chuckholes are "Inbred fae-man hybrid redneck hillbilly types".

@Matt: Thanks!

@Telecanter: I should probably collect my notes from these ideas and share them here. More on this later.