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Welcome back, Dice Fondlers. Last time, we fleshed out our primary NPCs and tied them into our plot. This week, we’re playing things fast and loose as we go over some tips and guidelines for creating encounters and building dungeons by using the tools provided in the DMG.
Establish the Settings
We’ll start by breaking down our adventure. In our (ostensibly) three-act adventure, we really have three main sections. First, we have the wilderness setting where our party finds the map and has their first encounter with the villain’s forces. This also most likely includes their passage to the nearest settlement to gather supplies and information. The city itself is the home of our second act. This portion includes social interaction, learning about the “illness”, gear gathering, and unexpected attacks from the shadows. Finally, our adventure’s climax is in the temple and the dungeon beneath. This is the opportune place for us to put a randomly generated dungeon. The other areas will be better handled with either random encounter tables (perhaps for dangers in the wilderness or city) or the regular encounter designer for set pieces like our villain’s initial attack.
Creating Believable Dungeons
Our dungeon, however, should feel organic. Following the tables in the back of the DMG is pretty self-explanatory for dungeon building. This isn’t really a difficult part of adventure creation. What is a lot of tougher is explaining why specific rooms exist inside our dungeon.
Our dungeon format is simple. We roll for a starter area, roll for passages, and continue building until every passage is ended and we have one set of stairs to take us under the temple and into the lair of the Trembling Giant Myconid colony. Both of these spaces need to feel like they’ve been lived in. The temple may or may not have a Myconid presence in it, but the lair beneath it certainly does.
Meanwhile, we also have to consider that this temple was originally the living and worship space for an evil cult. There will be iconography and grim sacrificial areas, certainly. There should also be places for the cultists to have slept, eaten, armed themselves, and otherwise lived their daily lives in. While randomly assigning these through the “Dungeon Type: Temple” table is all well and good, we can’t rely on it, otherwise we may end up with four sleeping chambers and an armory, while forgoing a worship area. This doesn’t help anybody. Similarly, in the under-dungeon, while we should probably use “Dungeon Type: Lair”, we have to consider that the Neutral Good Human Barbarians lived there once, and a now a colony of mind-sharing fungal people inhabits the dungeon.
DM Tips on Encounters
This leads right into the next topic: encounters. Our characters starting at level 1 means that, depending on party size, we should be very careful what sort of enemies we throw at our adventures. For example, once they reach the lower dungeon, they should be at least 3rd level. With this in mind, one may feel completely safe throwing an intellect devourer or ogre at the party because, hey, the Challenge Rating/XP quotient fits. While that is entirely true, you need to keep in mind the mood you want for your game. At 2nd and 3rd level, the Ogre or Intellect Devourer can make pretty short work of a single character in just one roll. In the case of the intellect devourer, it is a pretty difficult death to even come back from or defend against. Nothing like when a newbie player has their mind devoured by a teleporting brain with cat legs after only a single failed roll to keep them from wanting to play.
The real rules here to follow are:
Read the entries for the monsters that fit your XP/CR budget. Just because they can be wedged in doesn’t mean they fit the mood or level of lethality you want right then. A mob of crushable kobolds can make your party feel cool, while an ogre that risks the entire party’s death is like an epic battle at low levels. Choose wisely.
You also want to make sure that your creatures have a purpose being in a dungeon. Our temple may have plenty of weird creatures hiding out in it; it’s been abandoned for years. There may be insane cultists, creatures from the surrounding areas looking for shelter, or underground monsters that have been pushed out by the Myconids waking up. There probably won’t be Fire Elementals or random Sahuagin encounters because this isn’t Burning Man for the Lovecraft Support Meeting—it’s a fungal nightmare.
Why am I not building these encounters as we write? Well, plainly put, because there’s a lot of number crunching and a lot more rolls than I’m willing to dictate through an article because DnD is already dry to read. I don’t need to rub sand in your eyes for fun. However, with these basics in mind, get out there, and spend your weekend like I will: dreaming up horrors and opportunities for greatness in your players. See you around, dungeon aficionados, and remember, until then…
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