Friday, September 16, 2011

Dungeoncasting made easy

Even if I didn’t just love the name, Super Galactic Dreadnought is a fun blog that shows off a wide variety of hobby interests, much like my own past-times.  Recently its author, Desert Scribe, decided as a sort of solo venture to come up with nine dungeon levels, using the old original B/X D&D rules for random dungeon encounters.  Or rather, he just decided to populate them, leaving the trivialities of a graph paper map to a later date.

It’s a fascinating bit of reverse engineering, and I thought I’d copy the process here.  Basically, every level has roughly sixty rooms, with one-third being occupied.  So using the random generator charts for dungeons, you come up with twenty encounters.  You then look at the encounters to see if there are patterns or obvious alliances between the creatures, and then sub-divide the entire lot into factions, plus the odd roaming monster or vermin.  Once you understand the “big picture” you can build the dungeon around them.

I love the idea, mostly because the focus isn’t totally random, and suggests the possibility of allies that can help you navigate the dungeon.  This is critical, because in “Old School D&D” dying was very easy, especially if you see every encounter as a “kill it and take its stuff” moment.
Unlike Desert Scribe, I’ll be using OSRIC, which I purchased earlier this year at KantCon.  It’ll make for a slightly more random assortment of creatures, and I’ll need to modify the way he used the tables (which use first a d12, then a d100, not another d12).  The first d12 tells me which sub-table to roll on, the second which monster I will encounter.  Once I have the monster, I roll to see how many there are, modifying the number based on the level of the dungeon.

So, using the helpful website, I come up with the following set of numbers (d12/d100):
3/98 Gnome (14)
9/72 Bugbear (3)
11/17 Grimlock (5)
10/16 Grimlock (3)
12/84 Wight (2)
5/80 Wild Dog (4)
12/81 Wight (2)
4/1 Devil, Asaggim (3)
4/67 Beetle, Giant Fire (4)
9/68 Spider, Large (4)
3/64 Beetle, Giant Fire (2)
8/75 Kobold (28)
4/59 Frog, Giant (7)
7/97 Gnome (10)
3/93 Rot Grub (12)
5/25 Bat (23)
12/16 Ghoul (3)
8/53 Frog, Giant (1)
4/90 Rot Grub (14)
9/28 Dakon (1)

Four wights!  Gygax’s beard, that’s a terrible turn of events for a first-level dungeon.  We’ll keep them off in their own area.  Wights turn people into other wights, so the ghoul isn’t an obvious ally--I could see him as a roaming stalker of the rest of the level.  I’ll put the gnomes in one faction, a small group of fellows just looking to survive, maybe even with the assistance of the ape-like dakon and the wild dogs.  The hobgoblins can boss around the kobolds, who are trying to take out the gnomes while avoiding the wights.  There’s a few giant frogs around, maybe even a small lair.  The fire beetles, bats, and rot grubs are all vermin, feeding off the carcasses of the first level.  The assagim is a bit of a wild card, perhaps a clue to something that lies beneath.  Could these wretched devils have wandered their way up from a lower level?

At this point, you can start to see a bit of the story develop.  If the PC’s don’t befriend the gnomes, they way inadvertently wander into the area with the wights, and almost certain death.  But to gain the gnome’s trust, they may have to prove themselves against the kobolds and the bugbears, all the wild avoiding the roaming vermin and the ghoul that prowls the area.

A somewhat compelling story, and all done in under an hour.  In fact it may have taken me longer to write the post than to come up with the encounters.  They’ll need to be fleshed out, not to mention the other forty encounter-free rooms in the dungeon.
So, what do you think of this style of adventure design? It's a change from my usual course, which would be to use Central Casting: Dungeons to build the map first and then add in the encounters. I'll add more to this series as the mood strikes (or with encouragement).


  1. I'm a little late commenting on your post, but I wanted to let you know I'm thrilled to see someone else use my dungeon-bulding technique, and I'm glad you got some entertainment out of it. A small clarification: I designed it using the Holmes rules (and my own wandering monster tables), not the B/X rules.

  2. I love this idea. I was wondering, could you do the four wights like the witch sisters in Macbeth, only much deadlier (and undead)? Wights that are as much NPC's as monsters? I'm thinking three of them could be sisters that were Bedlam witches in life (a la Monsters of Myth by Blackblade Publishing) and the fourth could be a wight that was turned as a child but is at least a hundred years older than the sisters. Their lair in the dungeon could be a corner room that actually has the easiest exit to the civilized world via a hidden/secret tunnel that facilitates their nefarious affairs. Well, easiest if you don't mind wights :-)