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Dungeon Design Checklist

Here's a quick dungeon design checklist for if you're planning a session, making a map, or tossing something together. The essentials.

Story

  • Has a name
  • Has a good why/origin for existing
    • Has a history
  • Players have a good why/reason for being there
    • Tie it in with the overall campaign, adventure, story, or characters
  • Don't make it just us vs them
    • Give inhabitants complex motives
    • Think about the ecology, economy, and cause & effect
  • Engage the senses
    • What do players smell?
    • What do players hear?
    • What do players feel?
    • What do players see?
    • What do players sense?
    • What do players find that's interesting other than treasure?
  • Think about what happens after time
    • If they stay too long, what happens?
  • Challenge your own and the player's assumptions
    • Not everything has to make sense
    • Not everything has to be realistic

Play

  • Has a focus on exploration, social interaction, and/or combat
  • Balance between modes of play
  • Engage character and player strengths and weaknesses
    • Make sure the dungeon has something for each player to do
  • Balance risk vs reward

Mapping

  • Rooms are labeled, not just numbered
  • Dungeon supports a mini-map if it takes multiple pages to describe
  • Support different tactical styles of play, where possible
    • Near vs far
    • Elevation
    • Choke points, pincer attacks, etc
  • Provide multiple entrances/exits, especially for larger dungeons
  • Does it need a legend to make sense of the symbols?
  • Are there secrets to uncover?
  • Includes what's important, omits what's not, keeping things quick and easy to read

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