141

When it comes to doors and chests, it really helps to think of them in terms of real objects and interactions. For example, My house has a front door. It's made of wood and I always lock it when I leave, so people can't get in. Next to my front door, there's a massive 2x2 meter window (AC 10, 1hp) and anyone who wants to get in my house can just chuck a ...


117

Presenting Monte Cook’s "The Orc and the Pie", ©2001 The World's Shortest (Yet Technically Complete) Adventure: A Parody "The Orc and the Pie" Adventure Background: An orc has a pie. Adventure Synopsis: The PCs kill the orc and take his pie. Adventure Hook: The PCs are hungry for pie. Room 1: The Orc's Pie Room You see an orc with a pie....


98

By definition, nothing's going to happen in an empty room (though see below). There are no hidden doors to find, no puzzles to solve, no enemies to fight. So what's their purpose? Bringing the dungeon to life While all the orcs may sit around in a guard room waiting for PCs to show up, where do they sleep, what do they eat, what happens to their trash? Think ...


54

It was an example adventure by Monte Cook It seems to have been made as an example adventure that is as short as possible while still being an actual adventure hook, but it is no longer available on their website. (Here's an entry for it on rpggeek.com, which puts its publication at 2002, and shows an image for it that dates it to 2001.) The synopsis is ...


51

There are several examples of tombs from Ancient Egypt that could serve as inspiration for a D&D style dungeon. You can check out the Wikipedia articles on each of three sites pictured below. It seems that historically, the labyrinth of passages in many Egyptian tombs were functional (and also may have confused tomb robbers). Tomb complexes housed the ...


43

My very first time as a GM, I showed up to the session with a great pile of notes and plot. Half an hour later I threw it out and started improvising because they'd gone in a totally different direction. Over the years most of my players have been willing to follow a railroad if I ask them to, but I've developed a totally different kind of session prep which ...


43

Fantasy fiction tends to exaggerate features of the natural world. Instead of spiders, you have giant spiders. Instead of house fires, you have sentient fire elementals. Similarly, fantasy tombs are larger and more dangerous than real-world tombs. I'd suggest two options if you want to balance realism and fantasy fun like you describe: use a tomb of ...


43

Breaking down doors is loud, doors have uses, and some doors are much harder to break down than others. Breaking down doors is loud. Unlike picking a lock, smashing a lock is a loud and attention attracting activity. Monsters can pinpoint your player's location and prepare an ambush, flee with treasure, and generally do a lot of unpleasant things. Enemies ...


38

It's not only difficult from a design point-of-view, it can also be unrealistic! How are bandits, owlbears, and a hag all living in harmony in neighbouring caverns? Here are a couple of ideas. By no means is it meant to be an exhaustive list. Keep 'em Separated One simple solution is to add distance. Dungeons can be huge. If the swamp monster is a 15-...


32

It's not your job to come up with solutions, or even methods of solving. It's just your job to provide conflict. Here's an example. The party wants to obtain the ancient golden scepter of Kobora from the Frothy Crypt. The entrance to the scepter's chamber is locked, and the only key is held by Angry Kurt, the one-eyed grave digger who hates all humans and ...


28

Undeniably, adding dynamic responses to a dungeon is hard, and when its a published adventure that doesn't account for it, it's doubly tricky. You're also correct in identifying the problem that, if all the inhabitants of a dungeon level work together against the party the CRs can get out of control quickly, especially at the lower levels. A solution would ...


24

@RobertF's answer with its pictures of Djoser's pyramid was intriguing... After looking more into that, I found that the pyramid itself is part of a larger funerary and religious complex. So, while the areas under the pyramid (the "tomb" proper) are relatively small and simple, the entire complex consists of large open areas, tight maze-like corridors, big ...


22

In short, D&D-style tomb-dungeons are not particularly realistic. But that doesn't mean you can't make them seem like they are. Many prehistoric cultures (such as the peoples of pre-Roman Britain) used burial mounds rather than "tombs" to bury their dead. These mounds where not always used to bury a single individual either. In addition, they were not ...


22

Use real-world maps. If you're really interested in verisimilitude, you can look at floor plans from the internet. For example, if I wanted to make a manor, I could do a bit of googling and find a floor plan like this, which looks like it could make for a decent house-based dungeon crawl: Alternatively, if you wanted to have some ancient temple or tomb, ...


21

I think we have similar lines of thinking. Looking to the real world not only is a great resource that can be inspiring, sometimes drawing a map lends itself to grid-based 2-dimensional thinking. D&D maps are also grand in scale and as you and others have pointed out, with the focus on what's fun. I too think this can backfire when suspension of ...


20

Do you know the room is empty? (Of course you do.) Do your players know? How do they know? Is the room totally smooth material without a single crack or joint? That would be most unusual, and hence interesting. Dungeons are typically uneven and roughly hewn, run-down by poor climate, and probably not entirely clean. Is there as much as a piece of rotting ...


18

We can look to real life to gain some insight: Bank vaults in the US are rated to 4 different possibilities against forced entry: M 15 minutes Class I 30 minutes Class II 60 minutes Class III 120 minutes Classified storage of national security secrets also have door certifications, the Class 5 vault doors being: 20 man-hours ...


17

As a player, what I hate is when I think I have agency, but I don't. If you're obvious that there's no agency at a certain point ("cut scene") then it's usually ok. If the failure doesn't mean anything, then it's false agency. Just use a cut scene.


17

As others have already answered, “orc and pie” came from American game designer Monte Cook’s “The Orc and the Pie”—“The World's Shortest (Yet Technically Complete) Adventure: A Parody”. It was posted on Monte Cook’s website on 2001-07-27. The original website is no longer accessible, but it is archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.


16

The geometry of the surface of a sphere is non-euclidean. Its hard to tell that on sufficiently large spheres, but quite obvious on fairly small ones. So, in a sci-fi type setting you could have the dungeon occur on an asteroid. It sounds like you are wanting something more Escher-esque than relistically non-euclidean, but if you mostly want non-...


16

In addition to excellent examples provided by Robert and Wesley, I think it bears mentioning that it is worthwhile to make the distinction between "realistic" and "realistic in a fantasy setting". Most real-world cultures would build their tombs on the assumption that the stiffies are not going to get up and walk away on their own (barring some resurrection ...


14

If there is no downside to breaking down a door compared to unlocking it, there is no point in choosing one over the other (except for ability to do either) Unlocking a door is quiet, and does not necessarily alert the next room of monsters that the players have arrived. Breaking down a door is a messy and loud affair. If any subterfuge is needed for ...


13

While the general section on beholders in Lords of Madness doesn't give any particulars of the furniture in the beholder's lair, there is an example lair detailed later in the chapter (page 56). I won't reproduce the whole thing here, but the important room for our purposes is the beholder's personal chamber: This large chamber is quite impressive; the ...


13

How To Host A Dungeon This game may be the solution you're looking for. It is a solo game for building a dungeon that is supposed to present logical events occurring in the dungeon throughout different epochs of time through rolling on random tables. I've only purchased the game; I haven't played it, so I can't confirm that it results in a logical layout. ...


13

Everyone is talking about doors, but you also ask about chests. If you break open a chest, in Real Life, there's a fair chance that whatever's inside will get damaged, right? If there's something fragile inside, it might get smashed. If there's liquid inside, (inside a fragile bottle, for instance,) it might stain other items in the chest, for example making ...


12

It depends on dungeon structure - unless you enforce a completely linear structure then you don't know how many of your planned encounters the party will defeat before finding a way to the next level. And it also depends on what encounter difficulties you want (easy versus deadly) and what other sources of XP you have, if any (awards for social encounters, ...


11

You should try and envision as many possible ways to bypass the obstacle as you can think of, yourself, and use this as a measure whether the obstacle is too "one solution". I personally envision MacGyver in the traps I think of and think of all the ways he'd get off the sticky situation. Usually, a single solution can be expanded with these: Don't forget ...


11

It sounds like your problem is that your adventure's plot requires your players to have a specific set of encounters in a specific order. This kind of required linear progression is, as you have realised, a railroad. The way to avoid a railroad is not to require any or all of the encounters, and to not require them to play out in a specific order. Have you ...


11

If the PCs are "normal humans", then the opponents and situations they face shouldn't be any more difficult than the things humans face in the real world. Exploring a cave system is hazardous in itself, especially without specialized equipment. Meeting up with certain animals (bear, wolf, mountain lion, tiger) that one might find in the outer regions of a ...


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