Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How to Host a Dungeon Changed My Life

photo "borrowed" from Planet Thirteen Games.
The other day (week), I had a life-changing experience.

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.


  1. Oh yeah, I bought How to Host a Dungeon quite some time ago. Played around with it a bit and found it was fun to just mess around with it that way. I could also see the potential for using it as the basis and rationale for some more fleshed out (mapped out?) large dungeons, especially if you're building a dungeon to run other players through. It's a fun way to generate some basic patterns and history, to which one can add more detail by other means.

    1. Exactly. I also find it easier to remember my own creation's history vs. a commercial dungeon's history, which should, I hope, make improvisation in room descriptions easier.

  2. I will be very interested in your further thoughts (after playing with it) on How to Host as well as those on the Purple Worm dungeon.

    -- Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff,
      I ran The Purple Worm Dungeon back in December (http://tabletopdiversions.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-purple-worm-graveyard-another.html). It's a fun, short, adventure with the very real possibility of a TPK. That itself is not a bad thing, but it can happen within the first 3 rooms, depending on the corridors the party follows.

      I think it's well suited for one-shots/convention games for that reason. Also, some of the cool things about the dungeon might not be a good fit for a GM's own game world ( which is not unusual for a published module, but if I was a player that got one of those things, I'd be disappointed to have it taken away from me, best not to present it in the first place.)

      The PDF is not expensive, but I love the cover art, so I got it in print. It's rather thin, but the cover is full color, so well worth the few extra dollars.

      Once I've run a session or two of the dungeon campaign, i'll post my thoughts about how it's working.



  3. I quite enjoyed my first go through of how to host a dungeon. It does definitely get your creative juices flowing. I had though of trying to create a top down dungeon afterward, but I felt the scale perhaps was a bit too much of a jump. Each room should/would be appropriate almost for a small dungeon map I thought.

    It it will be interesting to see how you develop your map.

    Here's a link to my play through. http://miniatureinsurrection.blogspot.ca/2013/07/how-to-host-dungeon-primordial-through.html

    1. Just read your play through, looked like a lot of fun! In the full version, the author gives a suggestion of 3-5 top-down dungeon rooms per room from How to Host a Dungeon, with the caveat that you could always do more. I opted to treat each How to Host a Dungeon room as a level with as many rooms as I wanted to draw (and that would fit on a 3x5 moleskin page).

      Like your example, there are multiple rooms at a given height on the page, so i treated it as "sub levels" or perhaps "parallel levels" is a better name.

      I used the type of room from How to Host a Dungeon as the theme for the level. Barracks? Lot's of living quarters, kitchen, bathrooms/latrines, storage. Cemetery? Crypts, shrines, chapels, etc. Mines are jagged, twisty and organic vs. say barracks, which would have lots of carefully shaped rectangular and square rooms.