How to Use Meddling Gods to Make Life Very Interesting for Your Players

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0654

A Brief Word From Johnn

Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide Coming Soon

Today’s tips celebrate a new guidebook I’m putting out soon for you called Mythic Gods & Monsters. You’ve seen excerpts in recent issues with the Mythic God Generator and Mythic Monster Generator.

I wanted a quick and easy way to create gods for the new sword & sorcery world I’m building, and to populate it with new, unique monsters that have great backstories. Thus, the Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide was born.

I’ll be sending you an email about how to purchase the guide in the next couple of days. Keep an eye out for it in your inbox.

Phandelver Campaign Reaches Climax

What do you do when you’re the last man standing, bleeding and nearly out of spells, and a floating green skull gives you a do-or-die one-time offer? That’s what happened to the Murder Hobos last night. Let’s find out what they decided to do.

I’ve GM’d two sessions of my Murder Hobos 5E campaign since you and I talked last. The PCs have been working through the introductory adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, since 5E was released. And I’ve added my own sandbox elements, factions, and quests to the campaign.

Session One had the characters hired to bring mining supplies to the town of Phandalin for the dwarven Rockseeker Brothers. But just outside town the party discovered the Rockseekers had been kidnapped by the adventure’s villain, the Spider.

From that session onward, the party has been cursed by a god, stalked by a green dragon, harassed by goblins, and assaulted by drunken miners. It’s been a tough slog to finally trap the Spider in his lair at Wave Echo Cave, but the PCs have done it.

And so sessions 13 and 14 have been a dungeon crawl. The party triggered traps, fought undead dwarven miners who used to call Wave Echo Cave home, and spelunked their way to the penultimate encounter with a flaming skull named Mormesk and his ghast and zombie horde.

The battle against Mormesk starts simple enough. The barbarian recklessly attacks a pair of ochre jellies. But then dead miners in a gully nearby get up and join as a second wave. The party steps things up but maintains the upper hand. It isn’t until Mormesk and his wights charge in as wave three that PCs start to go down.

Ghasts paralyze victims for a minute. Mormesk the floating green skull divides them into squads and deploys them for maximum carnage. Meantime, he casts fireballs to soften the party up.

Malcor the fighter goes down and starts to bleed out. Then the barbarian. Then the druid. It’s just Six the wizard left, and his big spells are spent. Looks like a TPK in Johnn’s wife’s basement!

But then Mormesk demands Six to surrender. He then says he’ll let the Murder Hobos go if they agree to storm the Temple of Demothoin deeper in the dungeon where Mormesk’s hated enemy lives. If the party tracks down and attacks Nezznar the Spider, Mormesk will call off his “sweeties” and let the PCs go.

Six agrees and starts handing out healing potions. Soon the party is ready to go, though they are still battered and bruised.

Using a map drawn by a ghast, the party tromps through caves and tunnels until they spy a group of bugbears ahead. As per Mormesk’s information, they creatures must be the Spider’s advance guard keeping an eye on the main tunnel to the temple.

A fireball takes care of the poor bugbears, and the Hobos charge into Demothoin’s shrine. There the party is just in time to see Spider go invisible while a drow rogue and a long-hated enemy Glasstaff run behind a statue and open a secret door. The only one left in the room is Roscoe, the party’s rogue who was captured at the beginning of the session (due to the player being absent), who is tied and gagged in a corner.

The Hobos chase after their enemy down a long tunnel. The clever wizard stays behind, casts See invisibility, scans the temple, and spots Spider in the corner holding a knife to Roscoe’s neck.

Mayhem ensues. Glasstaff eventually drops. Then the Spider goes down. Six catches up to the female drow in the tunnel with magically enhanced speed. Then, at last, the drow goes down. The party is victorious!

Something weird happens, though. As Six catches his breath, the dead drow changes shape. She turns into Six! Then the ghost of Six floats through the wall. It’s Six, Six, Six! This triggers memories locked away until now by the traumatized wizard. Six remembers being part of an experiment. He was being cloned, used as the template. He was part of an evil program to create dopplegangers.

As the wizard reels from these revelations, the ghost of Six moans, “Break the chain, break the chain!” and fades back into the wall. Six flees. The party rests.

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We halt Session#14 there. The party gathers loot up from the corpses and absorbs their hard-win XP. They plan to return to Mormesk and “kill him dead.” That did not work so well the first time, but now the PCs at least know what to expect and can prepare.

I plan on pausing the Murder Hobos campaign over the summer. Mike, the player of Six the wizard, has agreed to run a short 4-6 session campaign using 5E for us. He’ll start once/if the PCs clean out Wave Echo Cave and finally complete the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure.

I’m looking forward to switching screen sides and playing again!

Hopefully you can get some playing or GMing in this week. As always, be sure to have more fun at every game!


How to Use Meddling Gods to Make Life Very Interesting for Your Players

To celebrate the upcoming release of the Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide, I wrote the following tips about interesting ways to use deities in your games.

I’m kind of an hourglass world builder. I first create the frame, then I did into the small details where the campaign and first adventure will take place. I leave the middle part out. The kingdoms, long histories, non-campaign regions, geography, weather, sea trade, races and other work I do later in the process. So, it’s top-down to the middle, then bottom-up to the middle, then fleshing out the middle.

Why do I do it this way?

My framework always starts with the gods because they influence my fantasy games so much. Gods should be active agents in games. Meddlers in conflict with one another. And possibly in conflict with cosmological evils. This instantly gives me adventure hooks, villain ideas, and campaign possibilities. The gods don’t just sit back and watch their favourite show on World TV. Instead, they play chess, sacrificing pawns to capture rooks, knights, queens, and kings. And as always, the PCs are affected.

So that’s why I worked with Roleplaying Tips columnist John Large to create the Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide. I wanted a quick and easy way to create meddling gods with distinct personalities, and to bring those gods down to the adventure level. For that, we needed a God Generator, Pantheon Generator, and Religion Generator, which the guide contains.

I also wanted the fingerprints of the gods at the encounter level. Without having to always use the route of divine intervention – encounters with gods should be epic, climactic, and rare – I wanted divine meddling to make life interesting for the PCs. So we create the Mythic Monster Generator that spawns creatures touched by the gods to roleplay and fight the PCs. Monsters of myths and legends to hook an adventure or five room dungeon around. Monsters with a backstory and ties all the way back to the heavens where the chess game plays out with deadly consequences.

The problem is, once you’ve got some awesome gods and pantheons created, what do you do with them? It’s boring just having deities in your notes playing chess. You want them involved in the affairs of mortals! Through monsters and other means.

So today’s tips are about how to get more gameplay out of the fantastic gods you’ll create using the Mythic Gods & Monsters Guide.

Stir The Pot

In my current Phandelver campaign, the PCs almost became murdering bandits who preyed on the innocent. A short player discussion set some game boundaries and the group decided to play neutral, not evil. The PCs still robbed an innocent farmer and his family, but they did not kill anyone and they returned some of the stolen gold in the form of equipment looted from goblins.

In sessions past, just days ago to the player characters, the party was all about the god Torm. A paladin worshipped the god and was active recruiting in his name. Another PC was about to convert to the god. NPCs in the village of Phandalin were being swayed to add Torm to their friend list.

Torm is a good god, and he took notice of the good work the party was doing in his name. But then with the paladin dead and the party heading down a dark path, he’s noticed that as well. And he’s decided to adopt the party and make them accountable.

I will have him act indirectly, though agents => NPCs. This gives me a way to stir things up and make the PCs’ lives interesting, sometimes with terrible timing.

You can use this tack too and make life interesting for your PCs.

First, add divine interactions to your adventures and encounters.

Second, let the PCs do their thing. You and I both know how that’s going to turn out. 🙂

Third, have the god react, but in subtle ways or through NPC agents. Use the god’s domain or personality to flavour the response so you get a great theme going.

For example, turn one of your ruined locations into an old church. Add some holy items in there. Stuff important to the god and his followers, but not necessarily worth a lot as treasure. Then monitor what the PCs do. If they desecrate the place, that gives you a green light to intervene. If they fail to abide by the god’s rules, say offering a small sacrifice as thanks if you stay in the church overnight, that gives you a green light to intervene. If the PCs loot the place but then fail to return the holy items to followers or if the party lets the holy items get damaged, then yup, it’s time to stir the pot.

NPC followers are another good approach. How do the PCs treat clerics, pilgrims, and agents of a god?

Divine items are a third way to get gods involved in an in-game, “PCs dig their own holes” kind of way. Have that new magic item the cleric loves so much be created for another god. Unless proper rites and thanks are given, that god is going to get upset.

Once you’ve got the opportunity and trigger figured out, next decide the reaction. How will you stir the plot? Here are a few ideas:

  • The weather turns bad or supernatural
  • Agents start following the party
  • Clerics of the god act against the party, perhaps aiding the PCs’ enemies
  • Monsters act against the PCs on the god’s behalf or under its control
  • The god is one step ahead and creates dilemmas for the party to make their lives miserable
  • Healing and other services cost triple
  • The god reaches out to his brothers and sisters and they unite against the PCs
  • False information is sent through visions that direct the PCs into danger
  • Authorities harass the PCs, such as the guard ordered by the King who was pressured by his high priest

Last, think up a couple ways for the PCs to make amends. These make great quests, side-plots, and stories. You can also offer the party opportunities to consult diviners, fortune tellers, and NPCs who will tell them why they’ve been cursed. Or you could have the PCs learn this through dreams. Then let the party come up with their own ideas for penance and you make their choice work out if the group is successful.

My PCs have offended Torm. There will be consequences. And this will make good gaming.


My last campaign, Riddleport, revolved around a divine plot arc. A dead god created a vacancy in the pantheon. Powerful demon lords, devil princes, monstrous champions, and other villains competed for Ascendance along with a few forces of good. An artifact hidden in Riddleport was the key. Learning the operation of that artifact was the main plot arc, in a backdrop of intense rivalry and competition amongst several factions.

Each faction had a divine patron. Because the gods wanted allies amongst their peers. If they could influence what mortal Ascended, and make sure the mortal was loyal to them, they’d gain advantage in the pantheon.

So really, the whole campaign was a divine mega-plot, with holy and unholy involvement at all levels (literally from 1st level onward, and figuratively from the streets to the heavens).

I like this top-down approach to campaign planning. It makes things simple to figure out and flesh out.

If you start with the most powerful agencies in your world and what they want, you can quickly spot the major conflicts and see what’s at stake. Then you do this fractally at each lower power level until you reach party’s level.

Throw in other agencies to take on the role of change agents and foils, and you’ve got a ton of material and inspiration to work with for each adventure and session.

Riddleport was the first time I recall making a divine mega-plot explicit. In the past I’ve created these plots but made them invisible to the PCs. You can take this approach too, as it gives you a lot of flexibility. The gods fight behind the scenes and manipulate mortals, which results in adventures for the party.

For example, the forces of an evil god might make a massive lair as a base of operations. 100 years later it is done and evil begins to taint the land. Are there any heroes who can stop this evil and save the world? The adventures are all about the PCs learning the source of the evil and figuring out the keystones and linchpins they need to take out to cause the collapse of the huge evil lair. And the god angle is there, working in the background.

This approach also gives you many strong yet subtle puppet strings to manage the campaign with. Enemies get funding, allies, and magic boons from mysterious patrons, for example. Meantime, you have the backstory figured out to keep things consistent. The curtain is there and you know what’s behind it, in case the PCs ever want to find it and sweep it open. This gives you a lot of confidence while GMing.

You can also use divine mega-plots for world-building. What better and easier way to theme a world or region than to make it the battleground of the gods, whether it’s armies making overt war or agents running an invisible one.

Yes, mega-plots are definitely a cool way to use gods in your game.


In my Temple of Elemental Evil campaign last decade, as a house rule, cleric PCs dealt directly with their gods when praying for higher level spells. These became intense roleplaying scenes and a source of plot intrigue.

I set it up so praying for 1st to 3rd level spells meant you dealt with an aerial servant who was the assigned PC’s “handler.” The servant was a full NPC complete with personality, own goals, and own way of doing things.

I played one as a rude, selfish jerk reluctant to grant spells. You could have a helpful one who passes along clues or shares information, one that lacks confidence and needs the party’s help, or even one who’s a spy for an enemy god.

During play, most mornings the cleric would get his spells without incident and we gamed on.

But sometimes, morning prayers resulted in personal interaction with the aerial servant. He would ply the priest for news and information about what was happening in the village of Homlett. He was especially interested in sightings and interactions the party had with other clerics, demons, and devils. And other times he would demand small payments or services from the cleric. “Go to this place and tell me what you find” or “Give me that book you found in the library.”

A caveat with this set up is the aerial servant has all the power here, because he approves the cleric’s spell requests. This puts the player in a weaker position and at a disadvantage, so wield this situation with care. First make sure your player is ok roleplaying a subordinate. In my case, I knew my player could handle a bullying boss, and after a couple of tentative roleplays with the aerial servant I then dove into the role full steam, but first not without trying the waters.

I also gave boons to compensate for the pain-in-the-ass factor. The aerial servant would often appear the day of a big upcoming battle or dangerous journey. He’d grant bonus spells, maximized spells, and buffs. As I knew what was coming up, I’d often give benefits tailored to the challenge.

The servant also passed along information on a need-to-know basis. This sometimes helped the players end party debates faster, and gave the group useful tid bits to encourage them to explore certain people or places. I also used the servant’s gossip and information to help guide the party back on desired tracks. It was always up to the PCs whether to act on the information or not, but as I was running a published module I sometimes needed help keeping the PCs within the front and back covers. The aerial servant was a perfect vehicle and in-game voice to manage this.

Once clerics needed 4th level spells and above, they dealt with their god directly. Again, the god got a full NPC treatment with motives, personality, and flavour. I described how a divine link would be created during morning prayers and the god would fill the PC’s eyes and ears. In truth, it was an avatar or shard of the god, but the character did not know and that was a secret I did not get to unveil before the campaign ended. The reason this was important was the shard was not immortal, and I had plot plans for him.

The god shard would interrogate the cleric, pumping him for intelligence on Temple operations and what the various villains were up to. He’d create urgency for the party to continue fighting the Temple and kill or imprison the high priests who ran it.

When the party learned of other direct divine involvement via factions within the Temple, the PC’s god became enraged and we entered a phase of the campaign where the party was privy to divine politics, grudges, and backstories, which everyone seemed to enjoy a lot.

I roleplayed the god as a selfish jerk, but that was just to break stereotype. You can create any personality for your god, and roleplay him as you see fit. The key to this tip is to have the god and their agents involved in the campaign and influencing events via their mortal servants and pawns to create intrigue in your game. Morning prayers made this easy and immersive. And granting spells gave me enough GM leverage to make it into a fun game for players and PCs.

Plane Tourism

I’ve always loved Planescape. It’s my favourite setting. The books are beautiful, and the ideas within their pages always lights my imagination on fire.

However, I still prefer a low-fantasy type setting for the PCs to tromp around in. I like having the planes and multiverse there in the background, offering strange creatures, dark secrets, and grim plot hooks.

When the PCs summon an elemental, I like to know it’s coming from a wondrous place. When the group confronts a demon, I like to run him as an agent of evil patrons. And when the party stumbles onto the weird and unexpected, I enjoy having the planes there as a story source to draw upon.

But I’ve never been a fan of a whole campaign spent plane hopping. For one thing, it’s a lot of work unless I restrict the PCs’ movements. For another, I like depth of a consistent milieu, with recurring NPCs, locations, and items.

Gods, however, give me the best of both worlds. They create a bridge that lets me have my Greyhawk or homebrew gritty fantasy world while letting the PCs occasionally venture into the planes for some crazy adventures before returning home.

In my cosmologies, gods can touch all the planes. And each has their own plane or part of a plane they draw power from and use as a home base. In past campaigns, PCs have visited their god’s divine realm, usually by invitation. I whisk the party away for a grand feast or awe-inspiring meeting with a god or, more likely, his agents.

The PCs explore the area and get into mischief or uncover a plot to foil and earn the god’s favour.

To bring the PCs to a god’s realm for roleplaying an adventure, I’ve used all of these methods:

  • Dreams and visions
  • Magic portals
  • Magic staircase
  • A villain’s lair (e.g., Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits)
  • Deck of Many Things and other magic items
  • Divine intervention

When bringing the PCs to a god’s plane, I’ll have other mortals there to for the party to interact with. It gets taxing being mere ants amongst powerful beings. If you bring your PCs to a god’s feet, consider adding NPCs to the scene for the same reason.

Also, have at least a few encounters or encounter ideas in your back pocket. If the party wants to explore this amazing setting, or if you want to do more than roleplay a brief meeting between diety and party, then you’ve got material ready to GM.

I like to reveal some weakness, too. It gets tiring for players to face immortal, omniscient, invincible NPCs. This is another reason to sprinkle the adventure or scene with mortal NPCs. In addition, though, a sign of weakness adds plot to your campaign. You might not run this right away, but it’s something now in your back pocket to unfurl when you want. And the players will enjoy the moment when they learn either the god could be in jeopardy or the all-powerful have secrets too.

Have PCs visit divine realms from time to time, allowing you to insert the planes seamlessly into your campaign.

Divine Intervention

Remember in AD&D there was a chance of summoning a god and getting divine intervention?

We used this a lot. Whenever a PC was in dire jeopardy, we’d get out Deities & Demigods, calculate the percent chance of summoning a god, and then the player would roll.

Even with a 1% or 2% chance, players managed to summon gods on several occasions.

I also added a chance on the opposite end of the scale, 99 or 00, for something different and bad to happen, like a demon to appear instead.

You should consider adding this option to your campaigns, because you can do a lot of cool things with it.

First, if a god does appear, know he is not beholden to the PCs (at least, under my house rules). He’s not under their control or even influence. So, I always turn it into a negotiation, with a quest or service the price of the wish. Often, this resulted in saving a PC’s life in exchange for triggering a whole new adventure. As GM, I’ll take that trade any day.

Second, you can add a delay. This buys you time to think and plot. It also prevents the PCs from attempting to summon every time they get into trouble, because they know it’s usually not an instant summons thing.

Third, I charge a price to just begin talking with the god. Either in the form of a ritual for the summons that drains party treasure, or a demand from the god when he does appear to make it worth his time immediately or he’ll disappear. No god likes being interrupted, so most have some simmering anger that needs appeasing.

Fourth, a god does not have to be the one summoned. An avatar, aerial servant, or agent could be the one brought to the PCs. Such is the way of a bureaucracy. You decide, and play it from there.

Fifth, allow just about any god to be summoned. The PCs choose, plan the anticipated payment, and roll. If the god does appear, he’ll want to take advantage of the situation. Often, this might be an additional requirement that the party starts following the god. Now they’ve got multiple bosses to answer to, and that always makes for interesting gameplay.

My answer to how gods let themselves be summoned is it’s the nature of the universe. It’s woven into the fabric of reality that deities must have an open door policy.

Also, if you like the idea of divine intervention being a treasure siphon, an adventure hook generator, and a character dilemma machine, but if you think actual gods appearing is too coarse for your setting, you can always arrange subtler manifestations.

For example, in a Forgotten Realms campaign years ago, we did divine intervention only through dreams. Or you could have Plane Tourism in effect, which gives you license to play with timeline and all sorts of things as the PCs are physically taken to the god’s realm and must wait (and qualify) for an audience.

You could make it a prayer-based system. Instead of direct divine interaction, PCs roll for major prayers to be answered.

I think any opportunity to bring in a plot-inducing force at a PC’s request is a cool one to take advantage of. Decide the nature and flavour of how this works to suit your campaign, but consider how you might use it to enhance your games.

Likewise, consider how having gods and pantheons in your games opens up many possibilities in your campaigns. You can play them subtle or not. Have them be sources of roleplay and intrigue, or just be your backstory to make things logical and interesting. You can run gods as awesome NPCs as well as their agents. Or you could make them important influences that add more depth to your world and give PCs a bit more accountability within it.

That’s the beauty of gods and pantheons. They are fantastic GMing and storytelling tools. I use them often and hope you think about these tips for use in your games as well.

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Ship Tips

From Jeremy Brown

For fantasy ships and fantasy ship combat, the game product Corsair was very useful. The Buccaneers & Bokor supplements from Adamant Entertainment were excellent.

As to ships themselves, there’s a few things to consider.

What’s the function of the ship itself? A warship is laid out differently than an armed sloop, which is still different from a whaling vessel. A little historical research in books or web sites can turn up a lot of these differences. The same points apply to spaceships.

A good idea is to make a list of all the possible areas you might have shipboard:

  • Galley
  • Mess
  • Cabins
  • Cargo hold
  • Bilges
  • Crew quarters
  • Main deck
  • Quarter deck
  • Foredeck

What makes your ship go? In fantasy games the most common answer is sails or oars, but there’s other options. What if the keel of the ship uses water elementals for propulsion? In Eberron the sky ships used elementals to fly. Ships could be built like houdahs on the backs of sea monsters.

The Chinese actually used men running on treadmills to turn paddle wheels on the sides of some ships. In space, similar questions determine lots of things: is the ship a ram jet? a solar sail? is it warp drive? How does it get from here to there? Also, the same questions of what rooms and items are on board become important.

Further, remember that ships have other portions not traditionally thought of as surfaces: the rigging on sailing ships is an important place for combat in sailing vessels. One of the main tactics in boarding a sailing vessel was to foul or bring down its rigging and sail, or its mast. This causes hazards below. In space, similar things can be done with hull breeches and pressure doors.

Many ships have spaces that communicate with multiple portions of the ship. Bilges in sailing vessels run under a large chunk of the ship as do ventilation shafts in space vessels.

All ships will also have basic things in common. Just make each unique in certain particulars. What if the aliens the PCs are attacking breathe a different atmosphere, say one that flames when contacted by laser fire? This could cause a lot of issues. In a sailing situation, what if during the battle fire breaks out? Also too, not all ships of the same class are built the same way. There’s eccentrics in every group.

You can also use templates. I believe Ronin Arts had a starship templates thing where you gave starships quirks like haunted, cursed, faster than normal. The same can be done with other ships. Also too, a lot of the things in the Stronghold Builder’s Guidebook can be adapted to ships with only a modicum of work. Imagine a ship that projects storms around itself as a defense mechanism. Or a ship that has a portal to a home base built into it. Pirates can come out of it as needed.

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Revisiting Plot Diagrams

From Pierre Savoie

re: “Trouble Completing Prep?” from RPT#632.

Johnn, I finally loaded some scans from my notes for games of Cyberpunk There is a tree-diagram for a whole adventure, and then there is a “zoom” where I zero in on a particular branch and write it out bigger (but I think it was not for the same game).

You can put the names of NPCs or important locations in boxes to help make things easier to find. You can also draw curvy lines from one part of the diagram to another to show relationships in the plot.

It is possible to run your game from a set of tree-diagrams, with maybe only some scratch-sheets to put in the NPC stats for combat. Or you can prepare sheets of specific verbal introductions to a section. The geometrical tree form of the notes helps you remember more and zip to a particular location in the notes to find keywords.

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Splitting the Party is Fun

From Randy Aitken

I love splitting the party. It allows me to tell a more personalized perspective to the overarching story, as it is important to the individuals apart from the whole. Later, when they come back together they have many more smaller pieces to sort through, each character individually invested in the clues in which they were key to discovering.

Before the session I set out a rough plan of how to share face time. To illustrate I’ll give an example of the work I did for the next game session. My party of six split three ways: the thief went to try and learn what she could about a startup guild, the barbarian went to look for work within this same guild trying to infiltrate their network, and the others had an appointment with a local noble for information about this guild. Each of these actions came from the players before our last session ended.

Now I’ll use that to my advantage to kick off the next. I’ve divided the sequence of actions to start with four phases:

  1. Allow prep time for some unknown condition
  2. Roleplay a scene to build tension
  3. Present the obstacle
  4. Allow character interaction to overcome

Each splinter of the group will face the same format. As one finishes a phase I move to the next. Each splinter gets just a couple minutes of interaction before I move on to the next. I will try to create cliffhanger stopping points at the end of the roleplay and obstacle phases to keep engagement high. The details for each phase are thus customized to the interactions of that particular splinter.

I don’t know how they will get back together, but when they do each will have clues to the bigger story based on their personal encounters.

Splitting the group is fun.

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How to Make Your Dungeon More Interesting

From Jesse C Cohoon

Many times people think of dungeons as these static things that monsters inhabit, but if viewed as an interconnected, alive system that opens up many more possibilities than would ordinarily be possible.


When designing dungeons, remember that enemies move around. But don’t limit their movement to just one area.

Keep in mind sound travels, and a battle in one area attracts enemies coming to the scene from different areas. In the heat of the battle, PCs may find themselves surrounded by enemies where they can neither move forward nor retreat until the situation changes.


Add varying types of obstacles and ways of conquering them. In the Zelda games, there are lots of puzzles, many of which are solved by blowing up obstacles or fake walls, pushing blocks and rocks, swimming, activating switches in a specific order, and accessing areas that need some sort of protection or alteration to enter.

In each of these cases, Link had equipment to help him out: gloves to give him strength, earrings to allow him to withstand heat, special armor that allowed him to swim underwater and the like. In Zelda: Skyward Sword, the hero gets a Batman-esque grappling hook weapon that allows him to be pulled to walls, stationary helicopter type units, and ivy covered rock facades.

Unlock Zones

Allow different areas to be opened up as the players get more powerful. Just because a party went through an area doesn’t mean there aren’t more secrets to be discovered. There may be hidden passages, areas blocked by monsters they didn’t fight, underground areas they need to dig to, or areas that were too high for them to reach or magically blocked before. When characters get special powers like fly or stone to mud, the dungeon has an entirely different feeling.


Change the dungeon in a significant way. This is a classic in video games. Some changes you can make are:

  • Having the dungeon flood
  • Light it on fire or fill it with smoke
  • Turn in upside down
  • Make it portable
  • Fill with quicksand or other material
  • Time shift it (thank you Zelda: Skyward Sword)
  • Collapse walls
  • Change monsters
  • Change the dungeon’s climate

Change the Situation

Instead of seeing a dungeon as a thing where characters enter, kill anything threatening, and loot their enemies, the dungeon could be a thing of peace where negotiation rules the day, an espionage mission where the characters need to be stealthy, or a rescue mission where they have to be careful who they kill.

Plan in Layers

The best dungeons have multiple layers, from deep underground or underwater reaching up many stories into the sky. Having puzzles that span these levels, clues for the story-behind-the-story, and boss battles where enemies are massive (in terms of scope and number of participants), makes your dungeons truly epic!