Welcome to the Dungeon! – Why Use a Dungeon?
Let’s go back to the beginning where we talked about what a dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons is..
A dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons is normally seen as a festering hole in the ground, like you’d end up with in classic games. Instead it really is anything where there is an entry point and a goal where you go in and get something or defeat some boss, or to get to a certain location that only the exit can lead you to. Then there are challenges along the way.
You can see how this looser definition makes it much more useful for your game. Your “dungeon” could be going through a section of the underdark in search for another entrance to a “dungeon” on the surface that then the players will still have to go through. So your dungeon could literally be leading to another dungeon and that works well.
Your dungeon could be the gauntlet of challenges at the end of a campaign that lead up to the big bad monster who your party has been going after the whole time. Or it could be two rooms leading up to that big bad, but it’s a point of entry. I think something even as simple as a foyer in a manor and then two paths leading to two waiting rooms and then a waiting room to the main hall where the big bad Emperor of the Frozen Realm sits works for a dungeon. You’ve given yourself a chance for some combat, you’ve possibly, if you want one direction to be better, added in a riddle or a puzzle for the players to figure out.
I’ve given some examples of what different dungeons are, but that only shows what some dungeons might be, but not why you’d want to use a dungeon.
A dungeon is nice for the DM, because it gives you a fairly straight forward session or sessions to plan. Your players are always going to do something that you wouldn’t expect, always, but in a dungeon, because you’ve already planned it a fair amount, it’s not going to be as difficult to deal with those random things. This means that you’ll have less on your plate to come up with things on the fly, and have planned encounters in more detail than you normally would have. It also means, that if you’re partly in and the session comes to the end, you already have some plans for the next session.
Also, because of the planning you can do ahead of time, this is something that you can tweak slightly and move to another game at a later time. There are plenty of monsters in the monster manual that you can reskin it to. If the first game is more classic fighting goblins, looting treasure, kicking down doors, you can create a dungeon to put them in to get to the big bad. Maybe, now you are running an elemental campaign. Now you can swap out the goblins with elemental creatures, raise the challenge level of your game and raise the difficulty of your traps and use the exact same dungeon set-up. Just with reflavoring how you describe things and what monsters are in the dungeon, you now have a very different dungeon.
Beyond making things easier on the DM, they also offer a chance for variety and world building in your world. If you need to drop bits of history to the players and don’t want to just run a session where they are in the library getting talked at by the librarian, a dungeon is a great way to go. Now they are going to kick out some goblins, or so they think, but it’s going to be a chance for you as the DM to sprinkle in some knowledge of the ancient world that will matter for the players later, while they are still getting to do something.
It also allows for making really unique pieces for the players to play through. And I don’t mean setting up some big map with minis that the players get to look at and ooh and ah over, unless you can do that (I can’t). But it allows you to create the mad wizards tower that the players have to fight their way up. It allows you to do a crazy underdark/Mind Flayer story or the maze of a Beholder. These places are going to be places that will be remembered by players and a chance for cool and crazy moments to happen that players will talk about for a long time afterwards. For me, creating those moments is something that I want to get better at, and a dungeon and planning on dungeon are a good way to do that.
Finally, I think it’s a good time to use dungeons as benchmarks in your story. So, if you’re a player, you might suspect this, but most DM’s don’t have the whole story planned out before they get started. We have a beginning, maybe, and an end, most likely. If nothing else, we have a concept for the game and an idea of who the big bad is for the game. But sometimes we have ideas where we know we want, around level five, this thing to happen to move the story forward, and at level ten, this other thing. Making those benchmark spots into dungeons really lets you move the story from one spot to the next arc of your story as it leads up to your big bad. And when you don’t think of a dungeon as a festering hole in the ground, now all of a sudden you have a lot more options.
So what do you think? Do you think that there are good reasons to use dungeons? Do dungeons feel too focused for you or too much like a railroad for you?
This wraps up the Welcome to the Dungeon! series. Let me know what you thought about the series as a whole?
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