Ok guys, tomorrow is gonna be my first dungeon crawl experience with my new group of level 1 players, and after some encounters to let them understand the game, we're finally trying dungeon delving.

I have no experience with other dungeon related systems, as we used SW for everything and tho I used 4E before it was to run a couple encoutners per adventure.

I've just drawn a map on roll20.net since we'll have an online game session, but the map if pretty much blank since it's just rooms and corridors trying to represent a long-forgotten Abbey that's supposed to be haunted by a creature that controls shadows based on the Castlevania monster "Blackmore".

Tho I have some ideas of what sort of encounters I want them to face, I have no idea on how to spread monsters thru the dungeon since 4E is a very combat-oriented edition and to make for an interesting dungeon I'd pretty much have to add terrain features on every nook and cranny of the Abbey.

I've spent 3 hours already on thinking what to do with the rooms and where to place everything since besides monsters, I don't know what to add since the dungeon isn't very big and progression-based puzzles for a delve of this size (about 15 rooms and 8 corridors) seems pointless.

What do I have to consider when starting to furnish and populate a dungeon?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you clear something up? Are you looking for guidance for placing the encounters, or for guidance "dressing up" the rooms with things like furniture, statues, pillars, etc., etc., the kind of design features that fill the blanks? It's not clear, but I think you're asking for dungeon-dressing, not placing encounters, but right now you're getting answers about how to design dungeon encounters. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm asking on what "guidelines" peopel usually considers when deciding where to place Monsters AND furniture. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2014 at 2:05

3 Answers 3


Think in terms of encounters, not rooms

DMG has plenty of advice on creating encounters: monster composition, xp budget, etc. To start with, follow it closely. You can deviate from it as your confidence grows. As a general rule, you'll be fielding a group of monsters of the same level and number as the party, each encounter. That'll make for a fairly easy fight, though at low levels a string of bad rolls can make it very tough. If you wish to add a trap or another dangerous feature, try to assign it xp value (again, as DMG suggests) and perhaps replacing one of your monsters with it. As a general rule, avoid using monsters that are more than two levels higher or lower than the party.

When making an encounter, start with a simple idea: what's cool about it? A striking visual, an interesting mechanical combination of monsters, an advance in the story, something. Don't just throw a bunch of goblins after a bunch of goblins at the party, that's boring. Above all else, repetition is boring. A single bunch of goblins is fine. Killing them over and over with no variation makes it stale. But don't try too complex things yet, either - 4e has enough of its own complexity to master.

Once you have a cool idea, try and answer another question: what are the potential outcomes of this fight? PCs will win, they always do. What else?

Armed with your answers, you will have some idea as to what needs to be in the encounter. Given the constraints of the xp budget, it'll be a matter of finding fitting elements in the 4e toolbox. Eventually, you'll be able to make your own monsters to fit your needs, but one technique doesn't require any mechanical mastery: reskinning. Take an ooze and say it's a hungry shadow. Rename its attacks and abilities, don't change anything else.

Now that you have your encounters, place them on the map

Personally, I prefer coming up with encounters first, and don't even connect them with a rigid map at all. Rather, I say PCs have traveled for a while down a tunnel, and came across the next set piece. But since you already have a map, populate it.

Think of how the PCs will traverse the dungeon, where it'd make sense for monsters to set up an ambush, where the haunted family portrait hangs, etc. Again, don't think in terms of rooms - monsters can move between them, after all. Group the locations on your map as needed to suit your encounters.

And don't fret it. As overused as this phrase is, dungeon design is an art, not a science.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I might also suggest redrawing parts of the map to make your encounters more interesting when appropriate. (Smart) monsters that use line attacks would probably want to meet the PCs in a long corridor, for instance, but there should probably be 'hiding spots' to prevent it from getting to one-sided. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2014 at 7:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would also recommend having some random encounters handy for when that skill check goes horribly wrong and you make a lot of noise doing something \$\endgroup\$ Jun 29, 2016 at 17:52

In my experience there are two general types of multiple-encounter dungeons in dungeon-crawls. Logical and Magical dungeons. I could call these Logical and Illogical but generally speaking players accept 'a wizard did it' pretty readily when encountering what would otherwise be a pretty illogical dungeon construction. More on this later.

Logical Dungeons

A Logical dungeon is a dungeon that makes a lot of sense to exist all on its own. Examples being things like caverns filled with bats, temples filled with priests, and prisons filled with guards and prisoners. These types of dungeons are often pretty short and simple, because they can have a tendency to become boring or deadly if too large.

A Logical dungeon is not the kind of place that's populated with puzzle rooms, riddle spitting sphinxes, or gargoyles that speak only lies or truths. Instead, these dungeons will be filled with natural puzzles, monsters that fit into the scenery of the dungeon and sense that there are reasons for things that exist in the dungeon.

The PCs might be fighting tree-dwelling elves over a magical item. The dungeon could then be the connected tree-tops of the elves' city. You would encounter things like soldier elves at choke points, bridges that have been cut down to bar their path, released animals, and ambush style traps. In this case, starting with a city layout that was built with defense in mind will increase the realism. Laying in elements that make the city come to life, such as uses for the buildings the PCs travel through (inns, stores, barracks, religious centers, homes) and a lack of encounters that don't make sense to exist in the tree-tops, will all come together to create a believable dungeon to crawl.

Magical Dungeons

Conversely, Magical dungeons are intentionally fantastic and unbelievable in their arrangement and construction. They don't have to make logical sense. It is probably a bad idea for every dungeon that the PCs visit to be like this, but every once in a while it is good. These are often what people classically think of when they think of a dungeon.

Do you have a room that is totally isolated from the outside world by a magical puzzle, yet is somehow filled with living creatures? You've got a magical dungeon.

To sell this type of dungeon you need a wizard or other magic user that probably is somewhat mad and absolutely has too much time on their hands. These dungeons are built to be solved. They are built to reward adventurers for little reason beyond boredom on the part of the creator. These are the dungeons that are filled with chests containing magic items which are being guarded by strange creatures. Why are the items here? Why are the creatures? Who knows. Why is there an ogre buried deep in a mountain alone who only wants to present people with logic puzzles? Why is there a room with magically moving platforms that hover over lava? Why are there random gates to distant realms pouring eldritch horrors into corridors? Because it was funny and the mad wizard just wants to be entertained and had these swords of lightning just laying about anyway.


These two basic types of dungeons can be combined. Sometimes, the Magical dungeon has been mostly explored, the remnants of solved puzzle rooms being recently used by bands of orc raiders, or tunneling beasts have broken into sections of the dungeon from outside. In these cases it is important to remember that while the maddened construction of the Magical dungeon itself doesn't need to follow any real logic, the later usages of the spaces do need to be logical.

The converse is also true. Sometimes a natural cavern is co-opted for use as a Magical dungeon. The caves might be filled with floating magical platforms that can only be stood on for 6 seconds before vanishing, but the natural pools of water should appear as such.


I speak as a huge 4e fan when I say that unless you really know what you are doing 4e sucks at dungeon crawling (best dungeon I ever ran I threw away XP and said "You level up once each time you enter a new level of the dungeon" - cue creative PC abseiling team and on one occasion smashing through the floor).

This is because 4e is structured like a big budget action movie - and three things hold:

  1. The protagonist isn't going to die half way through the film - and although a 4e fight looks tense the PCs are unlikely to die. So a good fight has another question (can the orcs kill the PCs? Poor. Will one of the orcs get away to sound the alarm? Good.)
  2. Wide spaces and complex situations help. Daredevil might have had his brilliant corridor fight, but in general you want your encounters to be a handful of rooms and some sensible strategies (the orcs slamming the door then coming round for a flanking attack works well).
  3. Scenery matters - interactive scenery far moreso. One single spiral staircase to push a monster down (and any PCs worth having will push monsters down holes) is worth ten paragraphs of background detail on frescos.

Again, like an action movie you want to spend most of your time not actually fighting. Investigating and exploring. Talking. Too much combat clogs things.

In your case in specific 15 rooms and 8 corridors should be enough for between two and four combat encounters - especially if there are backdoors. (And you want them to be very different; say a guardpost trying to get away, an attempted rolling flank with the NPCs knowing the map and secret doors, and either an inner sanctum full of arcane effects or a last stand with minions?)

One other thing to do is make sure the PCs don't have time for a long rest (or all the loot walks out of the door) and have them arrive tired for preference. Pressing on should be a genuine decision and risk/reward calculation. One encounter before they arrive, and then make them decide whether to hole up and lose something (time? Money?) or risk the woods at night when they've blown their dailies and most of their surges.


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