We playing a dungeon recently that I designed years and years ago. It was terrible. It was terrible for a few reasons. First, it was designed when my primary dungeon inspiration was Legend of Zelda (a very linear, single-player style). Second, it was designed for Dungeons and Dragons before anything from Mind Weave had ever entered my imagination. And third, it just wasn’t a very good dungeon, there was too much going on and a lot of spacing filling done badly.
In this post I hope to address at least the first two problems. I touched on this when I wrote Mind Weave Dungeons are Different, but recent work on my Megadungeon, Korgaran’s Succession, and the current Blog Carnival have made me formalize the keys to good Mind Weave dungeon design. I’ve come up with 7 guidelines:
- Every generic build (stealth/range, melee, casting) should have a potential role in
- Out of combat scenarios such as puzzles and passive obstacles (terrain, doors, etc.)
- Set piece combats that a given build can usually resolve unthreatened
- Full battles involving the whole party, all of them threatened
- All of the scenarios above should be resolvable without a generic party, but more difficult.
- The dungeon should have a united theme/reason to be. Each part of it should fit the theme or have a place in the history of the locale.
- The dungeon should be open ended with multiple solutions and paths.
- The dungeon should introduce puzzle concepts gradually to manage the difficulty curve.
- The dungeon should contain enduring consequences for major errors such as difficulty leaving, increased enemy alertness and/or presence, and additional obstacles.
- These should still be possible to overcome and make the dungeon more fun, to make up for removing the satisfaction of a perfect run.
- The dungeon must be able to either withstand or discourage the creation of new paths, especially by magical tampering. (A locked door surrounded by rock should not be expected to force players to go find the key, since the stone can be fairly easily destroyed by magic.)
Most of these things apply to dungeons in general, but that last one is particularly important to Mind Weave dungeons. Any dungeon that expects to gateway the players in a single place needs to have something in place that prevents them from using a short range teleport or a stone destruction spell to get past it. This could be as simple as a group of enemies they fight at the gateway or as devious as several false gateways throughout the dungeon that discourage them from trying to get around them with magic.
- For simplicity, I’m going to call the generic builds “thief”, “fighter”, and “mage”.
- The whole dungeon is a puzzle, let’s talk obstacles.
- Thief-Most likely to have climb skills and jump skills to get up ridges and cross pits. Could also help by finding secret doors, scouting ahead, and getting information about the dungeon at large from other explorers and locals.
- Fighter-Most capable of lifting people into corridors branching from the ceiling. Also most likely to survive a fall and be able to carry everyone out.
- Mage-Feather fall spells, healing spells, know locale spells, and stone destruction spells are just a few utility spells that will come in handy in this dungeon.
- Most of the combat is Lightning Slugs, but we can work with that:
- Thief-Slugs move slowly enough that pairs, or maybe trios, met in a long corridor could be sniped at a distance. Stealthy strikes on lone explorers could also come up.
- Fighter-Armed properly and with adequate scouting (or noticing a flickering light around a corner), a fighter could take limited numbers of slugs encountered at close range.
- Mage-Larger groups of slugs encountered at an ideal range could be handled by a battle mage. Alternately, they could provide lightning resistance to help allies take care of it unharmed.
- Some large slug groups in inconvenient groupings and locations could cause a large encounter, but mostly just the Adamantite Dragon and other explorers would make up battles that make for a definite Charlie Foxtrot.
- The whole dungeon is a puzzle, let’s talk obstacles.
- None of these powers are strictly necessary for getting through the maze. It might take longer as you carefully bunker in bolt-holes or use the sphere manipulator in the Hall of Altars to get a direct path. The fights are all pretty straightforward with any group, or at least avoidable.
- The Sphere is right up Korgaran‘s alley. It existed to keep the religious factions in the complex from getting around without help from his priests.
- There are definitely a lot of ways through the maze, from killing the dragon to stop it’s rotation to using the sphere in the Hall of Altars to control it’s rotation. In either scenario, myriad paths exist.
- The Sphere has ladders and sideways staircases, a major hint that rotation is coming. regardless of entrance, one or both of these clues comes immediately. The big sphere in the Hall of Altars is also a clue as the dungeon’s nature. A rotation when the players are in a relatively safe place can be the final warning about it before the turning becomes truly dangerous.
- It’s pretty easy to get lost in the dungeon and have trouble getting back where you came from, so not tracking your position could be a mistake, but that might be hard to keep fun. A more fun error would be to let worshipers from the surrounding ritual grounds chase you into the Sphere, in which case it would be a fun madhouse as people fall screaming and ambush each other in the turning corridors. Yea, that’d be great.
- Finally, this dungeon withstands tampering very well. A mage might be able to teleport the group across it, but that’s going to be a high cost spell, and on the diagonals would take some precise math. I’m willing to let them have that, especially since it means missing the treasure for the whole section. Stone destruction will be even more expensive and cause more problems that it solves, unless extra care, time, and cost is taken to avoid making long, straight shafts. It’s a pretty solid dungeon.
So there you have it. All of my future work on Mind Weave dungeons will take this into consideration, and I may address them directly from time to time. Let me know what you think in the comments below.