Building a Better Dungeon Key

In writing the rough draft of a review to appear later this month I wound up reading this section from the classic Runequest adventure Snakepipe Hollow by Greg Stafford and Rudy Kraft.  It was  also used in some Judges Guild modules. I consider it a great format, especially for those new to designing location oriented adventure. Just reading it probably helps defeat some common assumptions (such as dungeon design being static).  It also provides excellent organization.

Each room will be organized in the following manner:

INITIAL DIE ROLLS: This will have the chance of a certain event or the presence of certain creatures stated as a single 1D100 roll. Some rooms may always be empty or always have the same thing in them. Those will have “none” in this category. If a later roll contradicts results obtained in an earlier roll, the earlier roll takes priority (i.e. if a die roll has stated that Joe was in room 2 sleeping, he cannot later be in room 17 carving a turkey unless the referee feels that he would have had time to shift and could reasonably be expected to have so shifted).

FIRST GLANCE:It includes the size and shape of the room as well as any outstanding features. Also included here will be an indication of what type of rock the room is made of.

CLOSER LOOKS: Significant details, some of which will be misleading and/or unimportant.

EXITS: They will specifically state each of the possible exits from each room, where they lead to, whether they slope up or down, and any important details which need to be mentioned about the passageways between rooms (also included here are the types of rock through which these ways pass).
HIDDEN SPOTS: Included in this section will be the time it takes one person to search a room (See Found Items section for explanation of search procedure) and the chances of a found item being present. Also included is the existence of other items or places which can only be found via a Spot Hidden Item roll.

TRAPS: This is a description of where any traps in the room are as well as how they are set off and what effect they will have.

DENIZENS: This section will give the important information on what ever monsters or being live in the room. If this section says non, it means that no monster makes his regular home here but it may still be possible via the Initial Die Roll for monsters to be present.

TREASURE: This section describes the appearance, power, and values of all treasure items found in the room (except of course the found items which are explained in their own section).

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Assorted odds and ends which doesn’t really fit into any other category.

The mentioned found items section basically says, when characters search roll the found item percentage to see if there is something to find. If there is make the Spot Hidden Item role for the searching character (if more than one character is searching pick one and only one to roll for). If they fail to find it they can try again at half value. If they do, roll on a big chart of items (20 in this case) to find which one, re-rolling if you get one already found.

Sure, if I was writing this up I might wind up with a page of material per room excluding stat blocks.  However, for a new Dungeon Master that might not be a bad idea. Even for a more experienced hand using this format in a one per sheet or index card with numbers in a corner might find it easier to search than the traditional list on a piece of paper.

3 thoughts on “Building a Better Dungeon Key

  1. I like this idea. It is a fine way to develop a dungeon and all those details that go towards lending some versimilitude to the process. You could do a similar overview sort of piece for entire sections of the dungeon, or particular zones, which would speed things up and simplify the process a little bit. Very cool post. Thanks for sharing this–you've got me thinking now.

  2. Thanks, and yeah it could do sections. Especially if you're doing a large mega-dungeon things like the list of encounters and found object list for each section. This would not only speed things up and simplify them, but could add flavor to each section.

  3. Pingback: Buried Treasures: Hellpits of Nightfang | Places to Go, People to Be

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