Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Delving Deeper Setting: Step 3 - The Dungeon

Delving a little deeper
This is the third of five parts in The Gygax '75 Challenge in which I create a Delving Deeper campaign setting using the process set forth by Dungeon & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Gary first presented this process in the April 1975 issue of Europa fanzine.

This is the mid point of Gary's process for getting up and running with a fantasy campaign: creating the dungeon. This set piece is truly the linchpin of an old school RPG setting. The characters will spend the majority of their adventuring time exploring it's depths. So let's get digging.

Three is the Magic Number

Gary suggests drawing out three levels to begin and then working to stay ahead of the characters' explorations. He goes on to say that each level should be based on a theme, before diving into a tour of his own "Old Greyhawk Castle".

My dungeon is inspired by the Rush song The Necromancer from the album Caress of Steel, leading to a theme revolving around the undead. The song tells the tale of the Necromancer in his tower ruling over his land. Many who wander into his realm become spectres of their former selves, trapped and doomed to forever walk the labyrinth below his tower. They are freed when Prince By-Tor defeats the Necromancer and sends his wraith retreating to darken a distant land. (Wait, isn't By-Tor mentioned in the week 1 post as the source of anti-clerics in this setting, you ask? Why yes he is, that is a story for another time.)

The setting and the dungeon take place long after the Necromancer's defeat. With his tower now in ruins, this makes for a perfect place to start. Looking over the list of undead monsters, there is a neat progression of beasties that maps nicely to the increasing difficulty of the dungeon levels.  But what does the dungeon look like?

Each level will have a different look and feel based on the nature of the creatures that call it home. There will be catacombs, caves, and crypts. I found images of the catacombs under Paris were the spark that I need to kick the creative process into high gear. At Ray Otus' suggestion, instead of drawing a true dungeon map, I focused on locations and developed more of a point crawl. This was a great time-saving tip and is enough to get me started; I can always come back and fill in more detail.

Speaking of detail, Ray put together a workbook zine (available on his Patreon) to help creators tackle The Gygax '75 Challenge. This proved extremely helpful in fleshing out the dungeon from a rough idea to a playable framework. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Final Product?

Ray and I gave ourselves a full week to work on this step in the process. Outside of work, gaming, and the regular commitments, this wasn't very much time. Here's what I was able to complete:

  • Named each of the encounters areas on all three levels
  • Outlined a point-crawl map for each of the levels
  • Described how the theme will be manifest on each level
  • Assigned monsters and treasures throughout the levels
  • Developed random encounter tables for each level as well as the surrounding ruins
  • Identified the ways to move between levels
  • Identified several tricks and traps to challenge the characters
Is the dungeon finished? No, not by a long shot. Can I run what I have? Definitely. And that is the point of this exercise: get something that you can start running for players as quickly as possible. Most of the details are still in my head:
  • The descriptions of each of the encounter locations
  • The appearances of the monsters, treasures, and levels
  • The history behind each of the locations
Right now the dungeon I have is really just a loose framework that I can use to ad lib at the table. I want to spend more time developing the dungeon into something unique, yet still true to the source material. I can do this on the fly if need be, but for now, I need to put the dungeon aside to begin working on the character's home base in step 4. 

We're over half way done and picking up speed. I'll check in with you next week on my progress.


Ray Otus' The Viridian Scroll

The Gygax 75 Challenge: Week 3

Ray Otus' Plundergrounds Podcast

Gygax 1975 Challenge Week 3

Illustration Credits

Wikimedia Commons - Hand-Drawn Dungeon Map with Crosshatch Pattern by Marc Majcher

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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