Saturday, 29 May 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 4 - Writing the Key)

Welcome to the fourth part of my series walking through my dungeon process in detail. Last time, I drew some maps and set out a layout for myself, and now I shall fill them with content. Check out the other posts in this series here

Here is a link to a PDF of what I have so far. 

The maps have incorrect highlighting and page numbers at the moment, as I won't go back and fix them until I'm certain of which content will stay on which page. 

All creature stats are for my Electric Bastionland/GLOG hack Catacombers. The stats would work in EB or Into the Odd with no conversion. All Hit Dice are d6, so just roll or use the average of 3hp per HD. If no STR, DEX, or CHA is listed that means it is 10. CD stands for Critical Damage, which a character takes after they've lost their HP and fail a STR save. 

Setting Up the Key

I started by labelling most of the rooms. I googled "medieval castle layout" a lot and tried to set up a series of rooms that would make sense for the vision I had in my mind of Unterbranch Keep. 

Some rooms I had ideas for their description in the key right off the bat. For example, I knew that the Barbican would have some animated suits of armour acting as guards, and that the Parlour would have a slime in it. Other rooms inspired content from their very nature. Obviously the Grand Hall would have a big feasting table and the Chapel would some benches and a dais. 

Room description for the Barbican

For other rooms I used my 'theme' tables from Part 1 - Theme and rolled once for each room. I even did this for many of the rooms which I already had ideas, just to keep sparking my mind. I also rolled on my custom dungeon stocking table to determine room contents (empty, creature, treasure, trap, etc). Obviously my spark tables have entries for certain creatures as well as "trap" and others, so sometimes I only rolled on either the spark tables or the dungeon table, depending on what I wanted. 

Writing Content

To fill out room contents I rely heavily on Tricks, Empty Rooms, and Basic Trap Design, by Courtney C. Campbell. It is probably my most-used RPG resource, and well worth the money spent on the PDF.

As I wrote more content the ideas started flowing more easily. I placed more slimes and darkly animated objects, and fleshed out a bit of the brigand stuff. I tried to place a lot of treasure in the lower dungeon levels and a lot of clues in the upper Keep levels, so players could figure out what was going on if they wanted to. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Dungeon Process: Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (Part 3 - Map and Layout)

This is part three in a series where I am walking through my dungeon process in detail. 

Last time, I wrote some Background and Rumours for my dungeon, "Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep." This post is about the layout and maps. Check out the other posts in this series here. 

I believe that high-quality layout can improve a dungeon immensely. Many RPG products are more like a textbook than a novel. The information is in the text, but the layout serves to move that information from the text to the referee's brain.  

I gathered a list of well-laid-out dungeons for inspiration (i.e. steal and copy). Some were solicited opinions from the OSR Discord, and all are real OSR/NSR darlings.

I am not a layout and graphic design expert, so this 'analysis' is really just me summarizing my opinion about what I like and don't like about the layout decisions made in these dungeons. 

Dungeon Layout Analyses

Incandescent Grottoes, by Gavin Norman

Gavin Norman made a name for himself in the OSR through his skilled re-formatting of BX D&D into the beloved Old School Essentials (OSE). His adventures are also well-liked. I have never played them but I've read reviews and session reports which make them seem very fun. However, I am interested in the layout, not content. 

It seems like most Nectrotic Gnome dungeons follow the same layout style, so I focused on the Incandescent Grottoes. All of the examples below are clipped from the free sample pages on DriveThruRPG. 

Tables at the beginning of The Incandescent Grottoes

Near the beginning are a few tables: Rumours, Treasure, Encounter Table. They take up a full page each for easy reading, and employ colour. Big bolded titles at the top of each page make it easy to find what you're looking for by quickly flipping pages or scrolling through a PDF. The body text is much smaller than the titles, but still easy to read. 

There are a few heading styles with a legible hierarchy: the big bolded ones at the top of the page, followed by the purple "Level 1" style, then the bolded version of the body text as headers for the table columns. A strong font hierarchy is a valuable asset in a dungeon product. We can also see beautiful art filling the gaps left blank, and the colour-shape page number markers. This is a great start. 

Room Key of the Incandescent Grottoes

Now the key. Here we see something clever: an inset map showing the rooms described on this particular spread. I really like this technique. It makes it possible to run everything from the book without flipping back and forth, and without printing a separate copy of the map. You can see the other reachable rooms, so when the players exit a room you know where they're going.