Dungeon 23 (Wk 4) - Strange surprises!

 Day 22

"Let the dice tell the story!" 

Well, that was apparently the story of the day as my random dice rolls against the 1e DMG Appendix A had me drawing passages and stairs for level 2. I'm continuing on that level by filling in the areas that connect to previous levels, in case the players run into them during play of level 1. I'm using Table 2 "Space Beyond Door Is:" for the results of "what's at the bottom of the stairs." 

And then I got a result for a set of new stairs that read "up 1, down 2, chamber at end." Well... 

So I should say that in this dungeon, the stairs don't necessarily connect in such a way that makes sense from an architectural "does this fit here?" perspective. And this up 1, down 2 chamber result gave me an opportunity to do something I don't normally do - sublevels. 

Sublevels aren't mentioned specifically in OD&D, although the cutaway view of the sample dungeon dungeons in Vol III show the 4th level divided into an A and B section. Nary a word that I can find in Holmes Basic, AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide or Moldvay Basic.

In poking around the web, I came across this forum post where the author did a deep dive (heh) into Gary Gygax's famous Castle Greyhawk dungeon and its levels. He identified 10 "dungeon" sublevels as well as extraplanar destinations. There were Castle Greyhawk extra-planar destinations published as standalone modules (EX1, EX2 and WG6). That's about all I can find in terms of what might have been "officially" explained about how sublevels work.

One of my favorite OD&D writers, "Philotomy", has this to say about sublevels: "A dungeon sublevel is an area that is isolated from the main level, usually by some sort of secret pinch point. In many old school dungeons, sublevels are a kind of reward in and of themselves. They tend to be smaller than full levels, and are often themed, although neither of these is a rule that cannot be broken. Sublevels often contain fantastic elements and large treasures, but they can also be more dangerous than normal. One of the great things about sublevels is that they can easily be added to an existing dungeon layout. This is a good way to incorporate third-party modules into your dungeon, as well."

Well, then! I'm holding off keying the sublevel for a bit, see how things progress a bit before I toss weirdness, but the idea of "fantastic elements, large treasures, more dangerous" has me VERY intrigued by the idea of taking the players elsewhere. I do have a fondness for the Ultima series of CRPGs...

Day 23

Some days, the rooms/corridors come easily within a calendar day/grid area, other days, the dice results take me to a different day/grid area just by the flow of the passageways. Today was difficult because the passage random results took me to three different areas! For those areas, I focused on one, and will do the others on upcoming days. It felt like a struggle and took me a bit longer to complete the day's work than normal.

The results of room contents also proved difficult to tease out into something that flows with how the dungeon has been going, but gave me opportunities to design some fun things. We'll see if the players think its fun! 

Day 24

Yesterday had me thinking about empty rooms more than usual, and it appears that social media was doing the same thing, given all the posts and comments. I made a podcast episode on the art of empty rooms and it can be found here

Today's results were across two calendar areas - just the way the dice were falling and I was on a roll. I  have an interesting opportunity with what the Monster/Treasure Assortment gave me for a monster result - beserkers! I think we'll see if there's glimmers of another faction here. If not, at least it might be a memorable encounter for a group of players. 

Day 25

Another day of odd, challenging results - what is it about this week?! Another potential sub-level (and I have an Arnesonian inspiration for that...). AND, a reason to pull out and use my copy of the Random Esoteric Creature Generator that I've had for nearly 14 years. I've used it maybe 2 times in the past and both times made for interesting creatures and situations. Highly recommend it if you'd like to get away from yet-another-orc. 

Although I've come up with a lot of ways to make my orcs far more interesting than the standard cannon-fodder - ask my 4th level AD&D players who are currently licking their wounds and facing a line of ten "larger than normal" orcs... 

Day 26

Today, the monster results gave me the first big baddie of the dungeon and now the theme/story is starting to coalesce. It's going to come out in play, though, my key only has a couple of words to help me remember and bring it to life. 

That's the theme of most of my key. Enough to help me at the table, nothing more. No history, no backstory, no fluff, only the meat of the matter and then only enough to get me rolling. Much of what I end up doing is improv anyway, so that works for me. 

I also passed 100 rooms today. Keyed about half of the new ones already, will finish up the others later tonight or tomorrow. I'm running about 4 days ahead right now, just with how things have flowed.

Still, it feels significant - 100 rooms, keyed on 15 pages. I originally estimated that I'd have about 780 rooms, so being a 7th of the way done in about 35 days... it's going to get interesting come summer!

Day 27

When I have a connection between levels, like stairs/chutes/pit traps/chimneys, I'm trying to call it out on my map so that I know what connects where. I also am filling in, or at least generating the area that the connection leads to on the upper lower levels, keying them later. 

For the current level, I had a few connections that were spread out, so I'm hopping around on the month calendar, instead of filling in each space sequentially by date. It's led to some interesting choices that I've resolved by saying "OK, 1-2 do X, 3-4 do Y, 5-6 do Z" or rolling on the DMG random table to guide me (e.g. if I'm considering if it's a passage or chamber, I'll use the Table II "What's Beyond Door" column to help inspire me.)

It's worked out pretty well, but ye gods, I hope the mapper AND my descriptive skills are up to the task, because this map may be difficult to transcribe as a player.

As a DM, I resort to "ahead, to the left, to the right, alongside" descriptions. Diagonal passages are challenging, I can use a "ahead to your left, behind to your right" for a \\ type of passage and vice versa for a // type of passage. It's always at the perspective of the players, which can be difficult! I think that gets sorted out the first few games.

One thing I won't do with this particular dungeon is provide a battle map or an on going sketch, at least for now. To me, part of the challenge of this sort of game IS the mapping. We'll see how the game goes as we play.

(Map is not my own, drawn by a "Dru!" in 1994 and shared on flickr here.)

Day 28

The week ends on an easy note, I just filled in one calendar area and extended passages into two others. I had an idea to bring over a harmless, but fun item from my wife's 1-on-1 campaign and put it here. It fits in very well with the theme of the dungeon. I'm holding off on explaining the theme for the moment, as I'd like the players to get an idea of what is going on, but it fits very nicely with the Mythic Underworld concept I've got going. 

I'm going to present the dungeon locale in a way that it possibly could be in my campaign world, but it could also be stand-alone - the way the players will be introduced to the world, it won't matter. More reveals in the first After Action Report from the game!

I put together an empty room generator spreadsheet (link to Google Sheet) after collecting some entries from the subreddit r/d100. I love Courtney Campbell's Empty Rooms book, but after over 100 rooms, 60 or so are empty, I wanted to mix in some other elements. It  just presents 10 random entries from over 150, so it's more of inspiration for me. Feel free to make your own copy!

Dungeon23 stats: Levels: 4, Rooms: 136 (66 added this week). Level 2 continued. Levels 3 and 4 started.