Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Liven Up Those Corridors!



Dungeons are a thing of beauty, but too often I see empty, endless looping corridors where nothing ever happens save for the occasional wandering monster.  Mazes are awesome, options are great, but what is beautiful, isn't always playable.

Take Map A above.  All good right?  Nothing you haven't seen before.  But unless something happens in those passageways, you're going to waste a lot of time slogging from room 1 to 2 (especially if someone's mapping.)  It might look cool, might be fun to draw, might look fun to play, but it kind of isn't.  You could just do this.....


Map B might seem dull, but it's gonna make your session run a lot smoother.  You just saved about 20 minutes of unnecessary slog.  But that's no fun.  You want that dungeon to be a labyrinth.  You want that sense of exploration.  You want those players cautiously peeking around every corner.  You want them interested in the entire place.....not just the rooms.  Too often, hallways are just time-killers.

They shouldn't be.

Almost every time the players turn a corner something interesting should happen.  This doesn't have to be a fight, just something interesting.  Dungeons should not only be places of danger, but places of wonder.

Now look at Map C below.  I've added a fountain, a one-way door, an alter, a statue, a portcullis, a curtain, some stairs, and a huge pile of rubble -- all outside of rooms.   Not everything will be dangerous or meaningful, but the players sure as hell don't know that.  Every turn of a corner becomes interesting now.


Many of these objects should do something.  There should be a trick, something hidden, a treasure, a trap, a penalty, or a perk.  At a minimum on Map C, the players will have 2 encounters while traveling between the two rooms. These encounters can make sense or not make sense, but most of them should adhere to the theme of the dungeon.

And that's all it takes to liven up the place.  Now that small, 2-room section of dungeon is packed full of goodness.

Side note Your map doesn't have to be so finished -- you're the only one looking at it!  Consider  Map D, it took a minute to draw.  Fill in the margins with notes and stats and doodles and you'll be good to go with a dungeon just as fascinating to behold as the most professionally drawn piece!


10 comments:

  1. Good advice. Funnily enough I’m halfway there already. When i have ideas to turn into maps they look like C+D. It only seems to be for DnD style dungeon crawls that i try to make a finished map. Rarely for traveller or Flashing Blades or RQ or over the edge. Strong conditioning from when I started with ad&d in 79 i guess. Good post.

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    1. Thank you, Alistair. Finished maps definitely seem to be a D&D thing.

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  2. Really good to be reminded of these things. Encountering stuff also is the only way to make the players feel the passage of time.

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  3. Good post (and nice map art, too)! The division between the liminal "corridor" of emptiness and the "room" where stuff happens is arbitrary, so adding interesting stuff everywhere is a good thing to do.

    There was a good post about the use of hallways and corridors over at DIY & Dragons - https://diyanddragons.blogspot.com/2019/05/should-we-start-numbering-hallways-on.html

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    1. Thanks, Tamas. I remember that post, it was a good one.

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    2. What I think is distinctive about what you've done here, GraphitePrime, is you've made the intersections really interesting, which is a little different from filling the whole hallway length with some clue.

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    3. Anne, that's a good observation about the intersections. I think a combination of the two would make for much better dungeons. For example: A statue (which may or may not be a trick), unrelated to the nearest room except for the fact that it's partially covered in moss or webs (or whatever) that grows thicker as you move down the corridor toward that room. And as some have pointed out, we don't want to devalue "rooms" as a thing, so make sure whatever's in that room is awesome.

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  4. I like this, but at the same time I can't fully shake the thought that if you place stuff in the corridor, at some point it becomes a room.

    So if the solution to corridors is to make them more like rooms, why not go all the way and just make everything rooms?

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    1. Hi Olav. Certainly is a fine line. I think of it in terms of "encounters"(something of note -- definitely intriguing, probably dangerous, maybe helpful) some happen in rooms, some in corridors, stairwells or where-ever. On a map label it like it's a room. A dungeon of mine might have 35 encounters with only 25 of them actually being "rooms." My goal is to make the whole place interesting and remove tedious corridor movement. So, anything that you would normally limit to a confined space, a "room", put some of it elsewhere, for example, a stairwell lined with statues that do stuff, might be more interesting than those statues simply lining the walls of a room and makes the travel between rooms more intriguing.

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