An Example Of The Creature Feature For Your 5 Room Dungeon Designs
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0932
Without a key idea or theme, our adventures can feel like an uninspired assortment of random ideas.
Our adventures fail to make an impact and they fall apart.
One awesome solution is to create a Feature.
Before you begin adventure design, choose a Feature. Pick a central idea and build your five rooms out from that.
Your ideas draw from your Feature, so your whole adventure feels connected and coherent. Your adventure makes a lot more sense now.
Your Feature also becomes a major gameplay experience for players as they grapple with the challenges, risks, and rewards your Feature presents.
The Three-Eyed Lizard: An Example Feature
Let’s make a sample adventure called Myste Cryk (“misty creek”).
For Myste Cryk I need a dungeon under the town.
Before I start figuring out its rooms, monsters, and treasure, I pick my Feature.
I decide I want my Feature to be a creature.
So I pick a random page from my tome of monsters.
A big one too.
Great. Now I’ve got a seed of sand. Time to make it into a pearl.
A large lizard for my experienced group of players has been done several times before. So I decide I want something different.
- It eats rocks
- Special minerals are its favourite
- Its skin or blood is a psychedelic poison
From these ideas I extrapolate.
My five room adventure is based on a Creature Feature. So I know the lizard lairs in it and needs to stick around.
Maybe there’s some juicy minerals it likes so much concentrated below the village of Myste Cryk. It eats the rock to get to the minerals. Therefore, the passages and rooms of my dungeon have been created by the lizard.
I’ll need to pick the mineral type. It somehow makes the lizard’s blood a psychedelic poison so I need a rare mineral. Googling…
I spot a mineral called parisite.
Wikipedia says, “Not to be confused with Parasite.”
Not so fast, Wikipedia.
Yes, yes I will create confusion with it.
But moving on, another idea comes. Psychedelic…the third eye?
Yes, the lizard has three eyes.
More ideas come.
Maybe the villagers of Myste Cryk trip out on the lizard? They might even worship it. They sacrifice themselves to it in exchange for its potent blood. The villagers don’t get poisoned due to immunity built up through many doses.
The Cult of the Three-Eyed Lizard.
Start With Your Feature and Build Out
Using a monster as your Feature is a great way to go.
It instantly gives you a foe for Room #4.
When you think about what space it needs, how it uses the space, what drives the monster, and its physical and possibly esoteric characteristics, you can flavour Rooms #1-3 with clues, signs, and encounters derived from the monster’s existence here.
And Room #5 gives you an opportunity to twist the heck out of your Feature. What the players thought was happening is actually something totally different, something that makes them totally reframe what they’ve just experienced.
In our example, we’ll play up the three-eyed lizard motif in the village. We’ll be subtle about it. And maybe a little creepy.
When the PCs battle their way through to Room #5, what could they find? How about villagers in religious ecstasy, covered in lizard blood, getting ready for the lizard’s wondrous appearance….
This is why a Feature helps you connect your five rooms so well. Why your adventure makes much more sense now. And why it gives you great design inspiration to defeat writer’s block.
There are several types of Features so you don’t over-use the Creature one. Mix them up and be strategic in their selection to give your campaign depth. In fact, if you look at your map just noting your Feature picks, you can use this one simple technique to craft a rich milieu.