Wednesday 3 May 2017

Making a Dungeon, Part 1

The other day I chanced upon a discarded scrap of paper with the following, unfinished, diagram printed across it: 

Any half lucid dungeon master mind on seeing this no doubt jumps immediately to thought of completing what is obviously a dungeon map. Which is exactly what my mind did.

Turns out the diagram is of the "nephron", which are the little tunnel filtration systems that our kidneys are made up of. From wikipedia: 

"The nephron (from Greek νεφρός – nephros, meaning "kidney") is the basic structural and functional unit of the kidney.Its chief function is to regulate the concentration of water and soluble substances like sodium salts by filtering the blood, reabsorbing what is needed and excreting the rest as urine. A nephron eliminates wastes from the body, regulates blood volume and blood pressure, controls levels of electrolytes and metabolites, and regulates blood pH." 

The diagram and the description both seemed to me fertile fodder for making a dungeon. So that is what I am going to do. I also thought it may be interesting to document the process and I am going to do that too. I'm going to attempt to describe my thought/work process, hopefully leading to a completed dungeon (maybe eventually in the format of a PDF) that may serve as a fun little guide for making a dungeon of your own. 

Step 1: The Map.

Every dungeon I've ever created and run began as a map. I like to sketch out a place, getting vague ideas of what might inhabit the areas as I draw them. Sometimes these ideas start to influence the design of the map, sometimes not. I think the vast majority of my dungeons have been post apocalyptic in some manner, in that the dungeon was not currently inhabited by the original occupants. This may come out of the fact I draw the map first. Once the structure is there, whoever inhabits the dungeon will have to make do with what they've got, employing the rooms and corridors for their own purposes as best they can.

For "The Nephron", it was clear to me that the bulbous bit at the top of the map was important. Thus the dungeon would either lead/protect/be otherwise obsessed with that point. I imagined an altar of sorts, or some sort of liquid/magma coming in one end, being used in some manner then being shipped out the other side. 

I wanted to make sure there was a few routes to the altar, without diminishing the fact it was probably protected/important in some way. Additionally I wanted to ensure there was more than one way into/out of the dungeon, and give it enough size to allow for more than one major group inhabiting it. I toyed with the idea of much crisscrossing above/below the original diagram, but thought it might be too complicated to read and only did it twice. 

The Dungeon Map, showing my additions in blue.
As I drew the map the vague, broad strokes image of the place I was mapping were as follows:

  • A caverny, cavey, cliffy section to the south. 
  • Stone square dwellings mined into the southern natural rock section.
  • Grander mined stone dwellings/palace section taking up the west side of the map. 
  • A central gauntlet of grave danger leading to "The Altar of the Nephron". 
  • Tunnels and secret entrances that linked up to this central gauntlet. 
  • The altar itself is fed from somewhere deeper/external. 
  • There is probably a throne room somewhere and some group is doing rituals and slipping in and out of the altar room. 
The completed map.

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