|photo "borrowed" from Planet Thirteen Games.|
That sounds a little dramatic.
What I mean is, I had a paradigmatic shift in my approach to thinking about dungeon design, all thanks to How to Host a Dungeon, from Planet Thirteen.
I picked this up when I ordered The Purple Worm Graveyard because 1)it's about dungeons (duh, do you need a better reason?) and 2)it's a solitaire game. I was powerless to resist it.
In brief: the game starts with the land in a pre-dungeon state and takes it through several ages, from construction to manipulation to the arrival of The Big Bad and beyond if you desire. The resulting map and history can then be used to create a dungeon for use with your favorite RPG.
So, what exactly was so great about it?
For one, I rarely draw dungeons from the side-view (like the example of the Haunted Keep's levels in Moldvay Basic) but there is an obvious benefit for starting there - it's easy to see how the levels physically relate to each other and where the connections might be.
Second, it reaffirmed the benefit of something I've been doing lately: drawing maps on blank paper. The lines aren't perfect and the dimensions aren't precise(that can be hand waived as "settling" and such) but, importantly, it frees you from the stiff linear nature of graph paper. The resulting look can be more organic or in my case, it looks like the levels were constructed by drunken dwarves.
Finally, the game gave me a real sense of the history of the place. This is the part that really gets me excited.
Knowing why each level was constructed, it's easier for me to produce a traditional top-down map: I know what features to include on each level. I also know what may have survived from the earliest days of the dungeon, and what has likely been overlaid/built-upon/destroyed by successive generations of inhabitants. When I felt like sketching a few additional levels, i found it easy to justify their existence into the whole story.
The best part? I only completed the first two "Ages" of the dungeon and my brain was off and running! This is absolutely worth checking out if you're into solitaire games and/or dungeon settings.
Will this have any benefits at the table? I'll find out soon enough, as I'm going to be running a dungeon-based campaign (I'm calling it a "mini mega-dungeon campaign", an idea taken from Dyson's Delve) in this dungeon in less than 2 weeks.