Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wilderness "Dungeons"

It seems that the dungeon has one scale and once you exit it, the knob is turned back a few clicks and the wilderness has another.  The 10' square becomes the 25 mile hex.  But I wonder if there is a way to tap into something in between.  As a kid, I always loved those maps on the end papers of children's books that showed a locale that the book took place in (sort of like Winnie the Pooh and Watership Down, but I know there were better examples that I can't find now).

And any one who has done a little hiking knows the wilderness at a smaller scale is not just something you can breeze through-- there are ravines, rock fields, thickets, and bodies of water.  I wonder if these could be laid out like a dungeon.  I don't mean trying to constrain movement like video games do, with every tree acting as part of a wall.  But, if you want to force your way through those thorns over there, you can but it will take time to hack through and giant rats love thorn bushes.  Treasure can be present as well: abandoned shrines covered with offerings, magic berries, toad stools, the loot from the creature lairs etc.  Were there ever modules that explored this idea and I missed them?

Update: Anyone trying this should have Zak's post on dungeons as required reading. There's a lot there, but re-reading it, I think he gives reasons why people don't often go this route.  Sorry, I'd forgotten about that until my last post reminded me of his gigadungeon idea.


  1. The maps at the end of Watership Down were amazing.

  2. Working on my city-state of Ibis, I thought about doing the gardens at the Nomarch's palace like an outdoor dungeon - paths, hedges, courtyards, magic pools, etc. I'm sure the same concept could be used for a true wilderness - you might want to go to a one square (or hex)equals 10 yards, though.

  3. B5: Horror on the Hill had an overlap wilderness map at 300' to the square (I think). It's a bit like what you're talking about -- but I agree that this could (and should!) have been taken farther. The 'dungeon' in Fighting Fantasy #2 "Forest of Doom" is another good early example of a wilderness dungeon.

  4. Of course you can! The overland map would look something like Stuart suggests, with keyed encounter areas detailed at the "dungeon" level... instead of an underground map, you create an above-ground map at 10' or more per hex/square.

    Not unlike Gygax' approach in D1-2 Descent into the Depths, with a smaller scale. Imagine the D1 map of the troglodyte caves set above-ground, and there you are. That's really more a cavern wilderness map than dungeon in the first place.

  5. Hey, thanks for the comments. I looked back at B5 and D2. Both seem more about giving the party something to track through on the way to the main dungeon, right? Although, B5 is closer to what I'm imagining., and would probably work without the dungeon proper.

    So, there you go, your challenge, should you choose to accept it is to make a wilderness dungeon interesting enough to explore in its own right.

  6. B2 had a small scale wilderness adventure. You had to survive a short trek through the woods just to find the caves of chaos.

    The vast scale of outdoor/wilderness adventures has been getting a lot of attention from me lately. 30 miles, 24 miles, 10, mile, 5 mile hexes are all freaking huge if one has to actually deal with them as wilderness. Turning that large an area into a one sentence blurb (at best) or simply one of a couple hexes tromped through in seconds of table top play (all the time) is cheating us out of playing in a different setting. We're all used to the world going by at 55 mph when we travel that we forget just how much stuff is out there and how different travel would be for the charcaters and denying the players from getting to learn what the campaign is like by making vast stretches of it an abstract blur.

    Sweeping travel epics are fun so the big hexes make sense but every now and then it also makes sense to adventure at a much smaller scale.

  7. I have difficulties using scaled maps in my games. Even with dungeons! I've ended up using flow chart based maps.