Welcome to the Dungeon! – Who is in your Dungeon?
Next thing we’re going to look at with your dungeon is to look at the ecology of your dungeon. I talked about it a little bit in the what is your dungeon, but it used to be that dungeons would have all sorts of monsters living together with random traps thrown in, in a way that would kill the monsters if they actually had left their rooms where apparently they had an infinite supply of food and water.
So instead you have to plan out your dungeon to make sense. Though, there is an easy way to make an old school dungeon, and that’s with four simple words: “A wizard did it.”. That will get you out of jail free when your dungeon doesn’t make sense. But that only works in some situations. A lot of the time you’re going to be building a dungeon for a specific reason. Maybe it’s an old abandoned temple that is hidden away in the jungle. Having ice monsters in there isn’t going to make sense. You’re going to want to have something like Yuan-ti in there, and they can be bossing around another race. Or maybe it’s in a volcano, well, then fire elementals are probably going to play a big roll in the dungeon.
But it could be boring to just have one type of monster in the dungeon, and I agree with that. If I was playing in a dungeon, I wouldn’t want to run into a fire elemental in one room, then two in the next room, and one after that, then an empty room, and so on and so forth until I reached my goal.
Instead, start by thinking about if there is a big bad in your dungeon? Is there a boss monster that your players are going to have to fight? If there is, who is that guy, is it a demon? Is it a Mind Flayer? Is it a mad wizard? All of those are going to have a different group of monsters working for them. You might, for example, run into lesser demons or even weaker creatures like goblins that the demon has conscripted to guard the upper levels. Then maybe the further in you go, you run across a demon who is in charge of the goblins and imps who is a mid point battle. From there on, you face a mixture of demons of various powers and a few goblins thrown in until you finally face the big boss demon at the end of the dungeon who is most likely doing some evil plot when you get there so you have to stop them from being able to do it.
Another example with the mind flayer, you’d be looking at Underdark creatures, such as Duegar and Drow who would be being controlled by the mind flayer. You might even run into a band of Githyanki or Githzerai who might want to stop the mind flayer as well, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be an encounter, just might not be combat. Eventually you’ll probably have a situation where you have to sneak around a bunch of mind flayers to get to the elder brain or the main mind flayer leading the charge to disband the other group. But since this is the underdark, which is almost a dungeon onto itself, you can also use natural monsters down there. Various oozes and slimes might be clinging to the wall. A cloaker might be off in the shadows waiting for the next unsuspecting drow or adventuring party to come by.
You can start to see how you can build out a dungeon that really has a theme and feel to it. In fact, that’s one good way to start with a mad wizard dungeon, what sort of theme would they have put in it. Maybe they have it elemental themed and each floor has a different type of elemental in it and the traps are built so that they aren’t an issue to the elemental type on that floor.
But there are also some dungeons that don’t have a big boss in them, or if they do, it isn’t because someone has set this up. The examples above, all of them are probably something that’s been tailored to the group in them. But what happens in the example of the abandoned temple? There isn’t some big bad Yuan-ti in there who set this up to be great for snake people? It was most likely a human or Elven temple from a long time ago. So you have to start to think about how they are going to be using the place. Maybe they’ve only cleared the first few levels of the dungeons because the traps later on are just too nasty. So you’re going to have to deal with them early, but eventually the dungeon will be “safer” or less monster filled, until maybe you get past those really bad traps.
In the example above, it’s possible that the ecology even changes part way through. Maybe the original owners of the temple left some construct monsters further down. Or maybe something is also coming up from the bottom (or down from the top) of the dungeon. Or maybe instead of constructs, there are a group of Drow who are using it for some dark ritual, but it’s easier for you to get to them by going down through the temple, through the Yuan-ti, through the traps, as compared to searching the underdark with it’s dangers and maybe finding what you’re looking for in time.
Hopefully it’s starting to make sense how you can use a dungeon in your game and have it be a part of a bigger story of the world and of your game. By having a more tightly built dungeon you don’t have to have it be a random wizard, but you can tailor it specifically to the spot in your world that you want the dungeon to be and build it to a specific theme, monster, or boss, whatever your game needs.
Have you made a dungeon with a really cool theme or some really cool monsters? Tell us about them in the comments below.
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