Since today's show was dealing with dungeons, I thought I'd deal with a subtopic of this in regards to designing believable dungeons. Today's topic is something I'd like to call "Dungeon Ecology," the worldbuild and design of a functional dungeon.
This revolves around asking central questions necessary to the existence of your dungeon. For example, why are your inhabitants here? Are they trying to unearth an ancient artifact located here? Are they simply hiding from the prying eyes of society? Nobody is going to inhabit a musty old tomb without good cause.
Another interesting question is how your dungeon gets supplied. Where does its food and water come from? How do the inhabitants clothe themselves (if applicable)? It's not as if you can farm crops in a dungeon. Answering these questions leads to a more fleshed out dungeon, and a fleshed out world, possibly even providing plot hooks. If the goblins in the dungeon are supplied weapons via a passing orc caravan, this hints that perhaps they possibly have wider connection. After all, nobody would be supplying the goblins in this dungeon unless they were profiting from doing so, or unless they wanted the goblin in the dungeon to be armed so that they can harm anyone in the dungeon. Which then begs the question of why somebody wants adventurers to be harmed for venturing into this place.
Another worthy question is how this place came to be a dungeon in the first place. What is the history of this ruin? Was it abandoned when a demon portal was opened in the basement? Are the demons still there? Or were they replaced by Drow who tunneled into it and cleared it out to have a base closer to the surface? Knowing the history of the place helps it fit into the larger world, and also leads into answers for questions like why a particular group is inhabiting it?
Consider how the dungeon exists as part of your world, not simply as a source for encounters and loot. While providing MacGuffins is fine in its own right, if you have no explanation around it, it feel very much forced, and tends to ruin the immersion of your games and the overall quality of the experience. The more information you have about your dungeons, the more "real" they will feel, and the more fulfilling it will be to shamelessly plunder them for loot.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. If you want to read more in relation to today's show topic, you should go check out my article "Megadungeons" on my personal blog. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.