Many dungeons—published and homemade—often contain a multitude of long, empty passageways between rooms.

For example, my DM is running "The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan" from Tales from the Yawning Portal (and he still is—no spoilers!), and in the shrine the PCs frequently find long, narrow hallways lacking encounters and traps. They seem to exist just to waste time, even if that time is only a brief exchange between a player and the DM.

Is there a design goal or rationale behind these empty hallways? Are they just cover for the handful of corridors that actually contain encounters or traps?

An ideal answer either quotes from established dungeon designers or provides published or homemade examples long hallways that successfully achieved some goal. I'm looking for the gameplay reasons DMs or dungeon designers would decide to include corridors like this, and the sort of goals that they are trying to accomplish.

  • 32
    \$\begingroup\$ Does it really waste time? How much time are you actually spending in these empty hallways? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2017 at 12:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related, possible duplicate: I want to run vast and realistic dungeons, but my players get frustrated trying to search every room \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2017 at 17:09
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Sh4d0wsPlyr, that relates to how empty rooms play out at the table. My question is why dungeons are designed with empty hallways, which is very different. \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 17:22
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I still think this question is too broad because it goes from an acceptable scope - "why do the old school dungeons I'm seeing reprinted now have long corridors" - to "well why does anyone have long corridors in any adventure they've written ever." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented May 7, 2017 at 11:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ well, you COULD rest in an empty hallway, just cast an illusion or better, cast a solid stone wall behind you, and take off on a nap \$\endgroup\$
    – clockw0rk
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 15:14

9 Answers 9


Note: This isn’t an answer specific to but, instead, explains why the maps for the older adventures updated by Tales from the Yawning Portal have those really long corridors. In other words, playing an adventure that uses old school maps means diving into old school mechanics.

Long corridors informed the light management minigame

Originally written in 1980 for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan—like many early adventures and adventures that followed in their footsteps—includes long, seemingly pointless corridors with neither creatures, features, nor traps. Such corridors may have been to keep encounters separate, but early adventures often expected the DM to reinforce one section's opposition with the opposition from another section. (And, having recently run The Keep on the Borderlands (1981), I can vouch for this. Yeesh. Freakin’ goblins.)

The reason I suspect such long corridors exist is these earlier games' emphasis on light management—and, to a lesser degree, encumbrance—that's largely fallen out of favor with many contemporary players. (The folks, players, and similar folks excepted, of course.)

To give you an idea of how things used to work, the Player's Handbook (1978) for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons on Movement in the Dungeon says, "The movement distance in the dungeon is 1" to 10' over a turn of 10 minutes duration while exploration and mapping are in progress" (102).

To break down what that means real quick: movement in AD&D is tracked in game inches of 10 ft., so 1" to 10' over the course of 10 minutes is a speed of anywhere from 10 ft. to 120 ft., with 30 to 40 ft. for the slowest adventurer (one toting over 105 lbs. of armor, weapons, and—importantly—torches).

So if the adventurers are mapping (and they are mapping because adventurers that don't map only don't map once) then the adventurers may be moving through the dungeon at about 3 to 12 feet per minute! Therefore adventurers were expected to travel those long hallways of 10-ft. squares at the rate of 3 to 12 per 10 minutes. (Also, unlike exploration movement, moving through areas that have already been mapped, movement in combat, and fleeing from danger were all done at a much faster pace!)

Then the Player's Handbook says that a torch is exhausted after 6 turns (60 minutes or around 180 to 720 ft.) and a pint of lantern oil after 24 turns (4 hours or about 720 to 2,880 ft.). And if their light goes out—for whatever reason—adventurers either spark up again or soldier on in the dark.

"Light management? But I have darkvision!"

Not so fast. The light management minigame largely predates darkvision—the O-so-convenient, usually-black-and-white-but-otherwise-crystal-clear see-in-the-dark-sans-light method possessed by many modern PCs. Instead, old school PCs of appropriate races possess infravision that only sees heat signatures. (Infravision also provokes fist fights about Science! at the gaming table—a reason for the change from infravision to darkvision in some later editions). And infravision is fouled by heat—like from a torch or lit lantern—, so navigating by it isn't an option unless the party's entirely dwarves, gnomes, and the like. And good luck mapping using infravision exclusively! Infravision's terrible for detail work: all you're seeing is reddish blobs and blurs.

Unusually, the Player's Handbook helpfully offers up some trivia for those still cocky about having 60-ft. infravision: "Dungeon-dwelling monsters have infravision to 120 [ft.]" (ibid.). So in the dark the monsters will always spot the PCs down these long corridors before the PCs spot the monsters, it's often useful to see for reals during combat, and if the lights do go out It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Then there's all your gear…

The glacial pace of dungeon exploration is exacerbated by the encumbrance system: a torch weighs about 2.5 lbs., a lantern about 6 lbs., and a full flask of oil about 2 lbs.! (All weights approximate, converted from their equivalents in gold pieces which AD&D uses to determine an item's bulk and weight). An adventurer carrying more than about 35 lbs. is encumbered and slowed, and an adventurer carrying more than about 105 lbs. is you in I don't have to outrun the monsters; I only have to outrun you.

(What old school PCs really hankered for was a magic weapon that shed light so they could largely dispense with torches, lanterns, and flasks of oil, but adventurers first had to find such magic weapons somehow, and that probably meant playing the light management minigame for at least a little while… or far longer with a less generous DM!)

And there're wandering monsters, too!

The Dungeon Master's Guide (1978) on Time in the Dungeon says, "It is essential that an accurate time record be kept so that the DM can determine when to check for wandering monsters…" (38), and Gygax isn't kidding. Adventures usually had wandering monster tables that had the DM sic foes on the adventurers while the adventurers were busy ever so slowly mapping those too-long corridors. The DMG's own example of play, for instance, has the DM checking for wandering monsters every 3 turns with wandering monsters appearing on a 1 in 6!

Putting it all together

All three of these elements—light management, encumbrance, and wandering monsters—coalesce into an ordeal that can leave inexperienced players' PCs stranded in one of those extended, featureless hallways—in the dark, turned around and befuddled, their light sources exhausted—and then attacked by wandering monsters! Dungeons are scary. It's dangerous to go at all.

Playstyles change

Like I said, the light management minigame isn't that big of a deal now—I mean, even late-cycle published adventures, for instance, largely dispensed with the light management minigame to emphasize instead encounters in individual rooms wherein PCs could battle their foes and take their stuff—, but, back in the day, the light management minigame—how many torches folks had, who had the lantern, where the next flask of oil was coming from, what would happen when all these supplies inevitably ran out—was Serious Business.

And in The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan that light management minigame was incredibly Serious Business.

About The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan specifically

Originally designed for tournament play using the three pregenerated PCs in the back of the adventure, Tamoachan relies mightily on these specific tournament PCs carefully managing their light sources. Altogether, the tournament PCs have but two torches, one tinderbox, one flask of oil (that "ignites only on a 1 in 6"), and one light spell (and additional light spells are unavailable as substitutions for other spells—because tournament that's why). (This is no spoiler. Everything's there, spelled out on the handouts.)

More about light in the original Tamoachan in the spoilers below.

Before venturing into the dungeon, enterprising tournament PCs can—if they really want to—spend some precious, precious tournament time "making crude torches which will burn for 1-4 turns" (3). Pro Tip: Do this and take as many as you can carry!

But wait! There's more!

The dungeon's first room—the Vault of Chicomoztoc—screws with the tournament PCs' light source, causing "a flame to illuminate a 10 ft. radius dimly, as if in a dense fog" (4), when normally a torch illuminates a 40-ft. radius! So, y'know, just in case the PCs get the (ahem) bright idea to, like, look around after the cut scene in which they fall into the room, they can totally waste one of their two torches right there at the entrance.

And, finally, about those wandering monsters:

Wandering monsters weren't used when Tamoachan was run at conventions. The element of randomness added by wandering monsters meant one group of players could have a totally different and far more difficult dungeon crawl than another group, making judging performance difficult. But, when retooled for home use Tamoachan of course included a wandering monster table. Players at home would be disappointed if there weren't wandering monsters, right? The chance of an encounter? 1 in 12. Checked each turn.

Looking at Tamoachan's original maps (on which the game has based its Yawning Portal "Tamoachan" maps), it's possible for the tournament PCs to exhaust their light sources as early as the dungeon's Lower Chambers, thereafter becoming reliant on the dungeon to supply light and being unable to map (and likely lost) in the interim. Without carefully managing light sources, the tournament PCs' map will be in disarray, and but one carefully mapped lengthy corridor—and there are several lengthy corridors in Tamoachan—can deplete the entirety of the tournament PCs' light sources!

A contemporary party that ventures into Tamoachan in the standard dungeoneering fashion—with all their gear and their fancy light sources—will likely find the adventure's endlessly long corridors pretty darn boring, but when the adventure was published and used with the tournament PCs, those absurdly long corridors were a risk that demanded careful light management lest the tournament PCs become the dungeon's latest victims.

Note: Thanks to Joel Bishop for bringing to my attention how I'd misfigured originally the AD&D movement rates. Even I was suspicious of 1 ft. per minute!


The goal is usually to block sound traveling and reinforcements arriving too quickly. If there are no long hallways, everything is so close together that if you shout once, you have the entire contents of the dungeon crashing down on you.

Separating the rooms allows you to have distinct encounters and not worry too much about the next encounter, because they're out of earshot.

This is something I've learned when my designing my own dungeons. I always tried to make realistic looking buildings and cave networks that fit on maps, but quickly realized that most of my adventures either ended with the players fighting everything at once or the players looking desperately for clever ways to avoid open fighting because they did they would not be able to prevent being swarmed. It wasn't until I started spacing out encounters on the map, that the idea of "multiple encounters" started making sense.

The last game I played involved a cave network with a split and a long hallway on each end. It allowed me to have an "off limits" area on the left with dozens of evil cultists (a challenge for later, when the characters are stronger) and an explorable area on the right. Without those long, empty hallways, I would not have been able to separate these two areas as any sound of combat would easily carry to the crowded room, and I'd have to come up with convulated reasons for why nobody came to check it out. (Assuming the players would even be willing to risk it, which I doubt)

  • 31
    \$\begingroup\$ Other than the practicality of this answer, it also allows for different types of 'flavor' to be added to the story, such as: "As you walk through the hallway, you sense an eerie presence in the air, growing stronger as you slowly creep towards the end of the hallway..." "The vines on the walls become more dense and thick, covering the stones completely as you reach the end of the hallways. You are now walking on roots and tiny leaves." It doesn't require as much detail as, say, an entire room that is the same length. Just gives another opportunity and more variety to storytelling. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2017 at 7:49
  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ Another practical addition to this - sometimes the intended dungeon layout requires a few long passages to fit in rooms where the DM wants them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2017 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is why big, heavy, stone walls are also a useful dungeon staple. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 16:53

This issue was addressed in the original release of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.

The Empty Spaces

We find these relevant passages in Book 3 - Underworld and & Wilderness Adventures.

Page 6

In laying out your dungeons keep in mind that downward (and upward) mobility is desirable, for players will not find a game enjoyable which confines them too much. On the other hand unusual areas and rich treasures should be relatively difficult to locate, and access must be limited. The layout of a level will affect the route most often followed by players. Observation of the most frequently used passages and explored rooms will guide the referee in preparation of successive levels, which, of course, should be progressively more dangerous and difficult.

Page 6

As a general rule there will be far more uninhabited space on a level than there will be space occupied by monsters, human or otherwise.

And on Page 7

Roll the die for every room or space not already allocated. A roll of a 1 or 2 indicates that there is some monster there.

Later on Page 7

Roll again for every room and space. A roll of 1–3 in those rooms or spaces with monsters in them indicates some form of treasure is present. A roll of 1 in a room or space which is unoccupied indicates that there is some form of treasure there.

Note the Rooms or Spaces, Gygax realized that there was a lot of ways of laying out a dungeon so make the random placement tables flexible. The combination of odds meant that only 4 out of 9 rooms or spaces would have something in it. (add the 1 in 3 odds of monsters appear with the 1 in 6 chance of a empty room having treasure in it).

Hence the original intent was to have a lot of empty spaces in the dungeon which also meant the hallways.

The Dungeon Layout

Next you have to consider the layout of the dungeon.

At the top of page 6 we have

In laying out your dungeons keep in mind that downward (and upward) mobility is desirable, for players will not find a game enjoyable which confines them too much. On the other hand unusual areas and rich treasures should be relatively difficult to locate, and access must be limited. The layout of a level will affect the route most often followed by players. Observation of the most frequently used passages and explored rooms will guide the referee in preparation of successive levels, which, of course, should be progressively more dangerous and difficult.

This is a nice analysis of the layout of dungeons done a few years back by a gentleman name Melan.

He includes examples looking at several classic and 3.0 edition dungeons.

The basic thesis is that dungeon layout can be classified as

  1. Linear
  2. Linear with Branches
  3. Branching
  4. Circular

Dungeon Layouts

Players tend to be more satisfied with exploring dungeons with Branching or Circular layout than Linear or Linear with Branching due to those layout offering more choices in what to explore.

If you look at the map for the Hidden Shrine you will see that the dungeon is basically linear with several major sections that have a circular layout within that section. The layout of the Hidden Shrine appears to be linear with circular sections. To me it not surprising there are several long empty corridors.

And it looks like it was designed as a linear dungeon for two reasons. The first and most important the lowest level was a tournament dungeon designed to be run in a specific amount of time. Linear dungeons have the least amount of choices so it is likely that more groups will be able to complete the adventure within the allocated time.

Two this is shown by the side profile. It was the designed as an exploration of a Mesoamerican style temple as a D&D dungeon. The author likely turned to historical sources for inspiration. For example it wouldn't be hard to find a map like this one of an Egyptian tomb in the 1970s.

Egyptian Tomb


from the constructor's point of view (a character), it's entirely normal to separate the "believer's portion" of the dungeon from the "armory portion" and the "kitchen/mess hall portion" and the "stables portion" and the "quarters portion". To reduce noise and smells and disturbances.

also, sometimes there are obstacles that you wish to go around when digging dungeons...

from a level design point of view, it is probably best to separate the locations so that not all the dungeon's inhabitants rush at you when you stab the first monster at the entrance.


Often this:

"Are they just cover for the handful of corridors that actually contain encounters or traps?"

Sometimes these:

In my homemades, sometimes the purpose of long hallways gets lost when looking at a single level, but when the dungeon is viewed in full 3d, the long corridors on levels 2, 3 and 4 are to get around the massive cavern on level 5.

And lastly, a trap for the unthinking mage. "I cast fireball at the group of X", without thinking about precisely where to target the explosion...


Only the designer of a dungeon will know the real answer. However, some plausible answers are:

  1. Ostensibly, for defense, though it is really to reward players who are flexible. I put a ballista at one end of the corridor and the bolts will careen and ricochet all the way to the other end, unless several soft somethings absorb its energy. Of course, the first ballista shot kills a groupie or misses. Now the party has to do something to get down the corridor.

    Gee, don't you mages have something (like Darkness) prepared? No? Then we have a problem.

    The ballista is easy to disable if you can get to it (it's just sitting in a alcove). So I add things like this to encourage my players to take a variety of spells and not only the ones that are the most brutally effective in combat. (Conversely, my combats don't require the mages to bring the most brutally effective combat spells. I was once chastised by a GM for not memorizing the greatest possible quantity of Magic Missile spells. It was a valuable lesson, though perhaps not in the way he intended.)

  2. It's how two separate dungeons are joined together. We built one, and we found the other, and we though it prudent to connect the two. I would expect the nature of the walls to change ("Gragnar the Dwarf notices that these walls were smoothed with copper chisels...") Now the party knows that the nature of encounters could change. Perhaps they are getting closer to their goal of the High Priest's sanctuary. Perhaps they are going the wrong way and are descending towards goblin caverns...

  3. Coupled with #2, provides for future expansion as needed. Now there are plenty of places to begin new construction. "You see here a skeleton with a scroll of paper. No, it isn't magic at all. What's on it? Gragnar says its an amateurish architectural drawing of where the new shopping mall was going to be made... 80' down that boring featureless corridor."

  4. It's a silly trap. It's boring and featureless by design. And it isn't as long as it appears. As you walk down it, you're teleported 30' back down the corridor. How long before the party figures it out? At one point, the dungeon was part of the Mage's School for the Gifted, and this harmless trap was a PhD thesis. Another poster had a very entertaining and interesting post about light management. Now this silly trap turns inadvertently deadly. It would be interesting to see the party's creativity here.


A long hallway with no doors can be used to show how big a potential room is that you are passing. It also has plenty of surface to waste your time searching for hidden doors on.

And as stated, plenty of room for traps. Placing a trigger at the far end of the hallway makes it seem safe for other party members who are impatient to join whoever has taken the lead. This is good for defending against large scale invasions where a large number of enemy soldiers have entered the hallway during a siege or robbery attempt. Taking out just the point-man leaves a large number of angry friends seeking to avenge them. Waiting for more unwelcome guests to enter the hallway gives a better chance to maximize damage to a larger group of individuals. It also makes it harder to retreat backwards in a narrow space, everyone-for-themselves style tripping over each other while being pelted by tiny darts/arrows, falling rocks, flooding water, flaming oil, snakes, sand, or just any ordinary poison gas. The farther they have to run backwards, the longer they can be exposed to the nasty trap. and in a confined space, effects can be multiplied.

Also.... setting a trap on a locked door at the other end makes everyone want to come forward and help try to open it. This makes it easier to force the first door to close and lock before anyone can sprint back to it and try to wedge/hold it open, because it is JUST TOO FAR.


Long seeming empty hallways...usually aren't empty. But the DM does not have to tell you otherwise especially if your passive perception or perception checks are low. When it appears to be a long empty hallway always second guess your surroundings.

Also because dungeons are alive the hallways give a transition zone to move around the keyed encounters. Perhaps in AM the encounter is in room A around noon the encounter is in the hallway and then the encounter moves to room B in the evening. Or more simply put think guard rotations.

Perhaps Ooze encounters form as liquid from the corners pools together behind the unsuspecting party.

Traps. It's an empty hallway, and with 4 traps I'm not going to bring up unless the players bring up they are actively looking for traps and roll successfully. DMs love traps.

Place for random encounters. Charts galore in the DMG for random encounters. Large empty rooms offer battlefields for such encounters.

When encounters spill out from their room of origin. Say the party opens a door with 20 zombies on the other side which start to spill out into the thankfully empty hallway.

Anyway I hope that sheds some light and helps. Enjoy!


A lot of these older dungeons were designed not from the perspective of "this makes sense in the game world" but from the perspective of "this is how we make an experience for the players." It's a top-down sort of design, basically.

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have anything to back up the claim, can you quote a designer, for example? Putting in references will greatly improve this post. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 2:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer is correct, from my experience in the Old School games; the dungeon was a thing in itself, and you designed them as a DM with challenging and entertaining the players foremost as a design goal. This was alluded to also in RSConley's answer. It has been well argued that it wasn't until a lot of convention play and modules came out, and Hickman's Ravenloft was published, that a subtle shift in dungeon design framing began to emerge. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 13:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .