The Gassy Gnoll: Delving Into Another Man’s Dungeons…

The Gassy Gnoll has a bone to pick with dungeon designers. It’s a metaphorical bone and largely a point of inquisitiveness more than anything else because he loves a good dungeon map as much as the next guy. But who builds these things? Who maintains them? Who lives there? Curious gnolls want to know!

Every time I run across a map online (or draw one myself just for kicks), I have to figure out the story behind it. I’m just wired that way I guess.

So let’s look at an example. Dyson Logos is a master of the hand-drawn, gorgeous dungeon map. A recent one ([Friday Map] Devon’s Hall) is a case in point. Beautiful, straightforward, and to the point with an elegant simplicity about it. That’s why he wins awards and gets all the kudos he definitely deserves.

But let’s take a step back and look at the map for a moment.

I don’t know the back story from Dyson’s campaign. So I have no context. But my brain automatically starts filling in some of the story somehow.

The complex appears to be built into the side of a bluff or hill, with a path up to the main entrance. And apparently there are really two separate complexes built on top of one another. If I had to guess, these structures were built independently of each other with the rougher one built at a much earlier date with crude tools. Or perhaps the older structure was a pre-existing cave system that was already there. Let’s go with that.

So why did this “Devon” have the structure built in the first place? If it was as a secure location during times of trouble, it’s not the safest place on the planet. The front door doesn’t look all that sturdy and it leads into a huge room with multiple entrances and exits, so it would be extremely difficult to defend. So perhaps it’s the “party boat” philosophy and the Lord had the structure built to entertain large numbers of guests and lives elsewhere.

The parties go on in the main hall, so visitors rarely go too much further into the complex I’m guessing. To the east are what might be temples or rooms with raised platforms for oration. To the north is some sort of storage or preparation area. And then to the west might be an area for lodging. Maybe that’s where the staff stays during a party or where the Lord rests while waiting to make a grand entrance. So this wouldn’t be used all that much, just for celebration times.

The understructure however… that’s another story. Lots of little side passages that dead end and squirrel around beneath the larger, more modern structure above. What used those caverns before? They look mostly natural, so perhaps it’s just home to a few critters. But what happens if one of the upper rooms suffers a collapse and the two areas become more intertwined? We end up with upset critters crashing the party and possibly causing all sorts of problems. Why would you knowingly build on top of that?

Like I said… curious gnolls want to know. 🙂

Within four paragraphs I have a bit of a story for a map I’ve only seen a few minutes ago. But is that what Dyson intended?

When you design a dungeon, whether it’s just a handful of rooms or a multi-page megadungeon, what do you have in mind for that structure? Usually you’re designing with a purpose in mind unless you’re simply sketching and know you’ll fill it in later.

But when you start with someone else’s drawing, where do you begin? Do you allow the map to suggest a natural flow or do you have an idea in mind for an encounter or series of encounters and try to find a map to fit?

What process do you follow to go from mind to map or map to story for your games?

The Gassy Gnoll Sign

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