2020-07-23 Improvising Dungeons

@Yoric was looking for hints:

Does anyone have experience on improvising dungeons? I’ll be running a (largely narrative) campaign soon and it’s likely that a dungeon will be involved at some point. I feel comfortable about all the colonialism, politicking, backstabbing and losing illusions this campaigns revolves around, but I have never been into dungeoneering, so I’m a bit lost there. Any hints?

I said:

I think if you need to improvise it, start with a bunch of lists: a bunch of themes (roll once per dungeon); a bunch of encounters that you can adapt to the theme on the fly (prepare maybe ten, enough for two sessions), some traps (six?), some tricks (stuff people can figure out), some lore (for players to discover), and some cool one-off treasure items (possibly named). One page max, I’d say. Then keep adding as you scratch stuff off.

Then I decided to put by foot where my mouth is and give it a try, and I got two pages. I used Hex Describe for inspiration, of course.

(Sadly, two pages make this a bad fit for the One Page Dungeon Contest.)

OK, let’s try this.

I think the important part is that you can’t roll too many dice, look at too many tables because you’re improvising at the table. That allows me to make two or three rolls, at most? And then off we go!

Map Let’s take the first map, pick the first theme (bandits), no mission because the players stumbled upon it while hex crawling, but they’re on the way north to the temple of Orcus, uh... time to roll some dice!

Monsters? 2! Giants, surrounded by friends. OK, bandits and giants? Troll? No, can’t be befriended. Ogres? Too easy. Let’s go with wood golem. A kind of mech, but for fantasy bandits. It’s large. Inside is a Fernton “the poker” Feneath, operating the golem. 4 HD, AC 4, 1d10 damage with it’s maul. Boss monster, surrounded by ten bandits. 1 HD, AC 7, 1d6.

Next one. Tricks and Traps. 1! A big monster from the old days. One of those garbage eating puddings or compost heaps. Intelligent. Malevolent. Can infect people. Fernton avoided infection but has used it infect people, to make them talk, to turn them into spies. It doesn’t always work. But people are talking about a curse turning people to plant zombies in the two neighbouring villages. The compost Barblefarf will attempt to charm you if you’re within 30 ft. Let’s place it in room 11. In the top left is a pit, with a steep incline leading down there. Fernton avoids coming too close. Not sure what room 12 is. A prison cell? Somebody Fernton wants to talk to. An rider for a merchant. Filibus. Not F again. Lidibus the messenger, carrying a letter for Ydia (not Lydia), informing her of the death of her son Egekil.

Magic items... should I roll? No, I’ll pick. The necklace of dharma. Should Fernton wear it? How about a number two. Uglus the minor mage. His spells are... magic missile, mediocrity (a 60ft ray of clumsiness reducing a target’s Dex to 3, adjusting AC and ranged attacks appropriately), tar pit (turn a 10ft × 10ft area into sticky black slime, immobilizing 1d4 people, save vs. spells to jump out of the area before you’re affected), 3d4 hp. I just made those spells up, they look OK.

OK room, rooms. Look at the map again. I see... a hideout under a ruined stone tower. The ingress to room 1 is inside the tower. The ingress to room 8 is a hidden path through some thorny bushes at the foot of the hill. It’s the favourite entrance for the halfling brothers... Uh... Borneo, Bamoler, Isaan, Kolered. These are the bandit spies. Accomplished sneaks. They’re keeping guard outside. Chances are they saw the party and weren’t seen by them (remember 5 in 6 to hide outside). They live in room 9. So, write that down... four halfling beds in 9, dirt and thorny branches in 8, straw and some shelves for wet boots in 1.

3 is where they keep the wooden golem. The passage from 1 to 3 is big. Room 2 is huge weapons for the golem. Mech lances to spear a coach. A ballista. Room 3 has the giant maul. All the work space stuff to work on wood. Vials. Glass. The book on wood golem construction. Needs the capture and staking of a dryad. This is fucked up.

4 is the place where Fernton sleeps. Secret door into the workspace.

5 & 6 could belong to Ferton. What the hell is he keeping in there? His lover? Uglus the minor mage? Is Uglus his childhood friend, the one who came back to rescue him from serfdom after running away from wizardry school? I think so… Two best friends forever. Perhaps they have a relationship, perhaps not. So let’s make 5 the lab and library and 6 is where Uglus sleeps.

Uhm. 13 is the common hall. This is where they eat and sleep and roast their meat. 14 is the kitchen and larder.

7 is already harder to reach. Hm. Not sure. Secret stuff to be determined later. What else? Number 10 is still empty. Maybe something weird to protect people from Barblefarf the compost heap’s singing charms… A leather helmet with dark goggles and covering the wearer’s ears. There are four such masks, here. If you don’t wear them, you’re going to roll a save vs. spells as you open the door to 11.

Allright… That didn’t take too long. Probably too long for improvisation at the table. Gah! This makes me unhappy.

How many bandits in total? 20 bandits encountered in groups of 1d6 unless the alarm is raised, the Uglus the minor mage, the Fernton “the poker” Feneath and his wood golem, Barblefarf the compost heap, Lidibus the messenger, the halfling brothers Borneo, Bamoler, Isaan, Kolered.

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