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