Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Rule-Based Dungeon II

Work has been trumping blog lately, but I did a little more noodling on dungeons that would change based on certain rules.  I got interested in the Law/Chaos distinction I mentioned last post and tried to envision more specifically what those might look like.

The 1000 Frog Chambers
I mentioned that knowledge of rules could be a potential frustration/problem for players.  I think you can avoid this by making the fact that there is a rule discoverable, if not what the outcome of the rule will be.  What I mean is "This chamber will have a random monster in it every time you shut and reopen the door" is a rule, and players can quickly find out about it even if they don't know what a particular door opening will result in.

I had an idea of a horrible, chaotic dungeon based on a discoverable but random rule.  Imagine a small entrance room with a 10'x10' hole in the floor.  Peering into the hole with a light source, you see a vast space with a slimy, wet mass of frogs of every size hopping and croaking.  Every turn or so a giant frog with an iron chamber strapped to its back will arrive directly beneath this hole with a clang of iron on the stone.  The chamber is basically a hollow cube with a square opening in the ceiling.  If you drop down into this bare iron chamber you can reach a different area of the dungeon by the frog's hopping.  Once under an new opening, players will only have a minute or two to decide to leave the chamber or not before the frog moves on.

Clambering up into random sections of the dungeon will take away some choice players have in the order they want to visit areas, but it might juice up the resource management aspect of play enough to make up for it.

I think the trick would be to have different parts of the dungeon that are important to each other, and the order you find them in.  So, a key in one area opens a door in another which makes survival much easier in that area.  Although, this could turn into a tedious "waiting for the frog bus" epsiode.  I would have to try it in play.

The Tabernacle of Resolute Egalitarians
On the flip-side, a dungeon based on invariant, inflexible law.  Every being will have a 10'x10' of free space around them enclosed by a 10' high solid granite wall.  This moves with them.  This wall trumps other features in the dungeon.  Imagine cloud of war but the "cloud" is a solid stone barrier right around you.  Except, the wall of two beings will cancel each other out. A party walking four abreast will perceive an open hallway 40' wide. 

This might be too fiddly for a DM to track without a computer program, but if you could keep it simple enough it might offer interesting  tactical challenges:
  • sources of strong winds that walls will need to be maneuvered to shut off
  • foes with distance attacks
  • gaping spaces that open up in front of the party
  • features you can hear/feel and track toward without seeing


  1. the second one reminds me of a feature in Mario Galaxy where... man, this is hard to describe. OK, imagine you have a dark screen and a standard dnd torch that lights up a small area around you, and you can only explore in the light, and as the torch burns down it gets dimmer and the area of light gets smaller until it's gone and you're in the dark and can't move. Like that, except instead of light and dark you have a little circle around you where the dungeon is called into existence - it becomes visible + solid, and beyond that circle it's just empty air. And when your torch/scroll/hand of glory/reality-warping gate demon Maxwell burns down you're left without a floor to stand on.

  2. Yeah, probably better for a video game. Or maybe simplify it to be just floor over a chasm or something.