Designing Dungeons to Inspire Stories in Dungeons & Dragons

Todd Kenreck: One of the many ways that you can make one of your adventures really interesting is location. To have a really great map or a really great dungeon, and just have an environment that is very evocative, that leaves the players imagining it long after the adventure is done.

Chris Perkins: All of the topic of dungeon design, the editors of Dungeon gave me some advice early on which says, "Think of your location as a character and as having a personality, and then try to bring that character and personality out in a map design." If your villain is a mad wizard who has built a dungeon, that dungeon probably isn't symmetrical, because mad wizards don't think symmetrically. And frankly, symmetry can be death in a dungeon design because then the players can meta their way through it. But if a dungeon was built by Yuan-ti, what does that actually mean? I doubt Yuan-ti would use stairs. Generally snakes don't like stairs. They probably have lots of ramps everywhere, things to coil around. There might be basically fire coils like pillars with shapes in them so that Yuan-ti can coil their way up to higher levels around these pillars. But players are like, "How we gonna deal with that?" I think that thinking about the dungeon as a being or an entity or a character to be flushed out is good, because then you can start making notes to yourself of what are the types of things that I can put into the dungeon that really bring it to life.

So you've got a good hook to bring the characters into the adventures. You've got good villains or good villain pairing or a villain with a twist to sort of inspire the DM to run that adventure because they love the villain so much, and you've got a map that is a character in and of itself, that a DM says, "I love this map. I can't wait to run this adventure because it just seems like a cool location." Do you need to have all those things? No. Do you need to start with all those things? Absolutely not. Whenever I come up with a new adventure, there's always just one idea in my head, and it's usually a villain or a location or a quest. And I take that idea and then I just build around it. And often the first things I build around it I don't particularly care for and I throw away. It's like, oh, I want a hag villain. But I've done hags in this other adventure. I don't wanna do them again, or hags have been done to death over here. I have an idea for a vampire villain, but we just went through Barovia and Strahd and all that. I don't wanna do a vampire again, unless it's maybe a dwarf vampire. Haven't seen one of those in a while.

Right, yeah. Or what other kinds of vampires are out there? Could you have a vampiric Treant? Probably. Never seen that before. This is a bit of a plug, but the monster manual contains a wealth of adventure hooks. Every monster entry, if you were to read it, invites the DM to take that monster and build something. There's something there. It talks about them, what the monsters like, what they hate, what they do, why they do it. Just by reading one of those monster entries, you can typically come up with two or three good adventure ideas. And that's a good way to sort of start with a villain first approach. In some cases you just wanna create a map of something. I'm like this. I create maps all the time for things, and I don't even know what they're for. I don't know what the endgame is of the map. There's no adventure to go with it. And as I'm drawing the map, it'll occur to me what lives there and why. And then the adventure becomes, well, why is this interesting to the characters? Why do they want to go to this location?




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