Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DM Tips: A Small Dungeon Solution

No one likes a dungeon that lasts for multiple game sessions.

Well. No one I have played with, personally (except my wife).

Our groups tend to want to get to the next plot point quickly. Not to say that there isn't plot that occurs in dungeons, but it feels like the standard dungeon just drags on for too long. Many people online, especially recently, have been complaining about the dungeon setting, as well as trying to solve it or get rid of the concept entirely. As an active Dungeon Master, I have seen what these dungeons do to a game:
  • Players forget why they were there in the first place.
  • Players become bored.
  • Players forget that this is a Role Playing Game and not a tactical simulator.
  • Players begin to get distracted increasingly with each session in the same dungeon.
DMs, I have the solution. Well, maybe not THE solution, but A solution.

Create smaller scale dungeons.

If the game's story only calls for dungeons because that is where the baddies are, then they might need to be of a smaller scale. For example, before you can advance the plot, Townsperson A requires you to gather Item B from Dungeon C. That's all fine and dandy, but the trouble here is that each room in the dungeon most likely holds a full level appropriate encounter. If your games are anything like mine, each encounter takes at least 50% to 75% of the session. You just MIGHT be able to squeeze two encounters into the session, but most dungeons, I would guess 90%, have AT LEAST three encounters. I TYPE IN ALL CAPS FOR EMPHASIS!

For something as trivial as getting Item B for Townsperson A, this is far too long. Not to mention that the slow progression does not make the players feel accomplished, but more like they are wasting their time. No one likes excessive grinding.

To create the perfect small dungeon, you need to remember that the Townsperson A Quest is just a minor one. Ergo, it should be resolved by the end of the session.

I propose to you, dear reader and fellow DM, that the entire dungeon, with multiple rooms, should equal no more than 1.75 to 2 encounters. Example, for a level 1 dungeon for five players, the entire dungeon would be worth 750 xp. You can even expand that to mean that each level (or 3 to 5 rooms) of the dungeon is divided as such, if you actually want a longer dungeon over multiple sessions. These types of dungeons allows the flow to continue, and the players to feel accomplished and bad ass. Most importantly bad ass.

I plan to put together an example dungeon for my next post; one I created for the very first game of a campaign. The players in that game all enjoyed it and felt accomplished in their mission.

Disclaimer: All of my players were seasoned Role Players. I am not sure I would recommend a full dungeon as I design it for a new player's very first game as it may not help them learn the rules of the system as well as one standard encounter could. See: generic tavern brawl.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely and I've been doing this myself. I will use the printed modules but strip out or combine many encounters to limit how long a "quest" lasts. Usually 3 sessions.