Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Alex Schroeder was one of the judges for this year's One Page Dungeon Contest. In February he posted some ideas about what he likes in small dungeons. I don't see why the qualities he lists need be limited to smaller dungeons. I paid close attention because I'm really interested in the idea of abstracting out guidelines or general qualities for a successful old school adventure.

Now, much of what he lists you've probably seen before. I covered T. Foster's list of what one typical old school adventuring session should probably include here and Tran Eskoor An Doon posted that same list with some great additions here. I also blogged about Guy Fullerton's idea of the qualities of a great old school module, which is a little different but certainly related.

But one thing Alex mentions that I hadn't seen in either of those lists relates to factions in a dungeon and the opportunity for players to negotiate with them. This seems like a classic feature and should probably be added to any list of old school touchstones or qualities of great modules.

Here are some of the things he mentioned liking:
  • Intelligent opposition. If the monsters are too stupid, no amount of trickery will help.
  • A handful of named NPCs with goals and quirks to interact with.
  • Potential allies for the more politically inclined players.
  • Maybe even a third party beyond the party and the enemies.
  • Relations between these NPCs in a sentence or two. A is hiding from B. C really hates D. E escaped from the prison run by F.
  • Factions that these NPCs belong to. Actions will have long term consequences if factions are involved.
And I think these points are somewhat related in that they facilitate interactions with factions, a dungeon design that:
  • suggests multiple goals. Rescue prisoner here, kill boss there, find hidden treasure
  • offers an opportunity to spy on enemies for the stealthily minded players. A murder hole, a grate, a tiny tunnel, a scrying ball.
I'm really interested in designing my own Keep on the Borderland mini-sandbox, but I've never been very interested in humanoids as factions-- only because they aren't very distinct in my mind, sort of size-sorted orcs. So I'm thinking about factions and what would make them work. Some useful stuff from Alex toward that goal here.


  1. Thanks for gathering these tips (many of which I've never seen before). I'm hoping to build some old school dungeons for my blog this summer and useful advice is always appreciated.

  2. All good ideas, and something for me to keep in mind.

  3. Your welcome, Risus and yeah, this is what the blogosphere seems best for: gathering and sharing good ideas from all over the place.

    I have a ton of little text files, sort of my digital commonplace book.

  4. Factions should be based on anything but race.

    Blue hand orcs and their allies vs the red eye orcs and theirs. The north caves vs the south caves. The Temple and those who support it vs those who'd rather eat humans and elves than turn them into zombies.

  5. I absolutely love to use factions amongst the monsters/ncs in any given adventure/module/scenario. It allows for a healthy bit of versimilitude in that not all kobolds, trolls or (whatever critters of your choice) are all the same. Far from it. Some are foul, others fair, and quite a few fall someplace in-between. Negotiating with these factions is often a lot more fun than a 15-minute conflict/extermination-session. And sometimes those little bands of goblins know things that the big 'uns are a mite too quick to overlook...