How To Battle Dungeon Design Fatigue
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0978
RPT GM Tom G asks:
I would like to know how my fellow GMs battle dungeon fatigue.
I have no difficulties making the entry, the story of the dungeon and the first couple of rooms interesting. But after a while it all bogs down to left, right, or straight ahead.
Any dungeon of more than 5 rooms is kind of difficult. Normally, I check the important pieces of a [published] dungeon and delete the rest to keep it fresh and tensions high.
But other DMs surely have better ideas.
Thanks for your RPG tips, a great service for the community!
Greetings from Germany,
I think battling adventure development fatigue needs a bit of a rethink on why dungeons exist in your campaign.
I have one suggestion today that you hopefully haven’t come across before:
Create Two Histories
There are two points in time you can mine for fresh dungeon ideas.
And in my mind, fresh dungeon ideas means more joy in dungeon building.
The Origin Story
The first timeline item is the dungeon’s Origin Story.
Why was the dungeon created? How did it form? What was it originally used for?
Because you can turn any site into a dungeon, this question hopefully opens up new possibilities for you.
Instead of Yet Another Cave (YAC Syndrome) you might have a hideout for escaped prisoners, a place of religious ceremony or shamanic home, or a quarry or mine for special minerals.
As part of your Original Story, add conflicts, magic, the supernatural, or the divine to spice the place up.
The more interesting your Original Story, told in as little as a paragraph, the more interesting your dungeon’s development.
Next, we want to know about current events on your timeline.
What is your dungeon used for today? What conflicts does it cause? What campaign plots has it become central to?
Today’s news can help you add new angles.
Maybe bandits now use a part of the dungeon as a hideout, not realizing there’s more behind the secret door or collapsed tunnel. Perhaps a cult lairs here and feeds off a strange energy from below.
For today’s use, think about the logistics and story aspects and write another quick paragraph.
For example, bandits might need a place to sleep, eat, store stolen goods, plan future operations, and hold hostages. From there, you’ve got inspiration for dungeon decorations and room ingredients.
Further, add your normal conflicts, such as a struggle for leadership, love triangles, excessive ambition, revenge, and so on.
Now you might have a bandit hideout where bandit #2 wants to become #1 and plots in the cave’s shadows, while #1 continues to make riskier plans to get revenge against a nearby town.
Where Things Get Weird
For bonus points, have the Origin Story affect Current Events.
Perhaps something simmers beneath the ground all these years since origin and now it’s coming to a boil.
Maybe a faction has settled in the dungeon and the Origin Story is messing with them.
Maybe the origin lures victims to help it escape or change the region.
Perhaps our bandits start getting strange dreams. Bandit #3 begins exploring the caves, compelled by nightmares. Bandit #4 has visions and goes into the wilderness to find a monster. And bandit #5 starts having seizures that commence a transformation….
Create Dungeons Bigger Than The Floor Plan
Tom, you mentioned story is not a problem for you.
I would argue that the right story makes the rest of dungeon development easier.
I like Origin Stories meet Current Events meet Conflicts.
This dynamic creates adventures bigger than the floor plan.
However, for general inspiration, as next steps I would consider:
- Maintain a list of cool monsters and NPC foes
- Create a list of interesting treasures and rewards
- Keep a list of cool dungeon moments
Building such lists in itself can inspire. Especially if you’re reading adventures written by others.
And when it comes to building out your areas, draw from the lists to help you get through the crunchy parts better. I hope this helps. Check the Facebook thread to see if other GMs have great ideas for you as well.