Using Random Dungeons

Recently, I came across Dizzy Dragon Games’ online random dungeon generation tool.  I’m not a big old schooler, so at first I considered it a novelty.  But I watched it roll up a cute little map and it got me thinking.

On the one hand, a purely random dungeon is lame.  No rhyme or reason to rooms or monsters.  Piles of treasure sitting out loose.

But on the other hand, it has done a lot of the work for you.  It’s easier to edit than to create from scratch.  And in the real world, not everything always has obvious reasons and is tied up in a nice coherent little package.  (Hell, there’s rooms in our office building at work that we puzzle over “what in the world was this supposed to be for?”)  Also, a lot of modern dungeons are too “full.”  They have something in every damn room.  With this autogeneration, you get a more realistic largely-empty abandoned complex with some knots of critters in it.  Bonus.

I was going to run an adventure (Showdown with the Arm-Ripper) that had a pretty small dungeon – some very cursory work, mainly about one big awesome room and setpiece battle.  I needed more time to work on the next leg of my adventure.  So I thought, let’s see what this random dungeon can do for me!

Here’s the one I generated. The format’s pretty rough, but the map is nice, and there’s loads of dungeon dressing and stuff.  I think he’s doing something clever with the monster generation – it tends to add more of the same monster, so my dungeon had repeats of hell hounds and owlbears and stuff.

I wish I could show you my edited version – but because of the site’s output format, I pretty much had to print it and mark it up with pencil – I would love it if they added a more editable format.  But I can walk you through what I did – and in the end, the PCs enjoyed the dungeon and it seemed organic and not thrown-together.  The session summary detailing the first half of the dungeon crawl is up, the other one will be up within a week or two.

The dungeon I needed was an old overgrown ruined shrine.  This made it easier to have an incoherent dungeon – this place was all jacked up.  Original furnishings, most of the doors, any decorations or murals or whatnot – all gone.  They’ve had plenty of other dungeons where the purpose of every room was writ large, so I figured this would help mix it up.  Also, part of the plot was that the pirate Black Dog had used the place for caching treasure, which explains the unguarded loot bundles (each one got hidden and trapped by me.)  In fact, the dungeon’s randomly generated “Baneful Depths of Demons” name was just a colorful sobriquet he used on his maps to scare off the rubes.

The first thing I did was break it up into zones.  There are natural choke points that largely divide the complex up into coherent areas.

First, the northwest zone.  I moved the minotaurs from room 38 into the all-secret-doors room 7.  They consider the whole NW zone theirs – they don’t like the trolls in room 15 but have trouble killing them, and besides they’re a good buffer against intruders from the entrance.  Sure enough, the party went there first but the fake poison gas in room 5 scared them off.  You will note by careful observation that the entire western edge of the map is only accessible via secret doors (layers of them, in some cases).

Next, the central zone.  From the natural-cave entrance all the way down to room 65, it’s pretty much one big open area.  The “dungeon dressing” of breezes and air movement made sense through this zone.  The rust monsters in rooms 42 and 34 I kept – I made the central area of rooms 33-63 there their nest.  All the doors were rotted out and long gone from age, and I added a doorway between 32 and 62.  The PCs were dicking around in room 37 and that attracted the ones in area 42, an d then later they were trying to ambush some hell hounds and the rest in 34 swarmed them.  (Since the party’s heavy hitters are a monk and a druid, they were not as terrified of the rust monsters as you might think.)  The dopplegangers in area 72 became “Celia” and “Rhody” (named after the rhagodessas and caecelias that were in the dungeon…) , hapless women adventurers.  The illusion of 9 adventurers in area 65 became all the Pathfinder iconics, which was entertaining.

Then I did the southwest zone.  The hellhounds in 59 were actually in the midst of ravaging that area – they don’t lair there, they got sent in to hunt down a pesky paladin.  Several treasure caches got converted into Black Dog-trapped chests.

Next came the southeast zone.  The most important thing was eliminating the door between are 36 and 47, meaning you have to traverse the whole SE section to get up into the northeast, and that only via the secret door in area 73.  There were a number of owlbears here, so I decided the whole area 70/80/73 area is a big owlbear lair.  In fact, that’s what the locals think the cave is, just an owlbear lair, not a big ass dungeon.   The PCs got guided in here by the “girls,” and most of the owlbears had already been slaughtered by the principals of “Arm-Ripper”, except for ones in 70 and 73.  An owlbear fight later and they looked for and found the secret door into area 74.

Finally, the east/northeast zone. From area 74 on most of the doors were still in good repair.  The PCs went right by the NPC adventuring party in room 79 – I decided they were in there on a quest (looking for Gilmy the ettin actually, long story) and had blocked themselves in there to rest and regain spells.  I added some doors to the block of rooms in the middle east section and moved the dire bear to comfier quarters in room 50 –  three of the PCs snuck in and coup de graced it!  That was fair enough, because if it had heard them it would have torn them a new one.  They all rolled really high on their Stealth checks, and then the bear made two natural 20s on its saves vs the coup de graces – but sadly failed its third one.

I turned the doors between areas 43 and 44 into huge barred doors, and those curtain walls were all arrow slitted.  It was a very obvious hard point and the PCs didn’t chance it.  They just went north, and I basically cut out the random dungeon at room 19 and segued it into the druid shrine from Arm-Ripper.

In the end, I just scooted some doors, monsters, and treasure around, and came up with reasons and motives for the critters that were there, and voila – a randomly generated dungeon that suddenly makes some sense!  It’s a big ruined sprawling place, lightly populated with coherent sets of critters that all have some kind of reason to be there.

So thanks to Dizzy Dragon.  I won’t use random dungeons a lot, but with some care and feeding they can be judiciously used even in a campaign that values realism.  If the tool got changed to have better, more easily editable output- just the rooms and stuff would have been nice, but even better the map…  It’d be hell on wheels!

10 responses to “Using Random Dungeons

  1. nice job of editing that random dungeon into something you could use. Thanks for the description and explanation.

  2. I found the same site a couple of weeks ago as well but I haven’t had a chance to use it in game. That was some really awesome work you put into turning the random dungeon into a living, breathing piece of your campaign.

  3. Thanks for the tip about the site, and the interesting description of how you employed it.

    Another useful thing I have gleaned from your entries of late is the motivation to scour through the printed adventures I have dismissed, to find things I can re-purpose for my current projects. As you point out, it has to be faster and more likely to inspire more creativity on my part than trying to always invent everything whole-cloth.

  4. Thanks all! Yes, I’ve been really focusing on reuse lately – I have to run like 8 hours of game every 2 weeks, and I don’t have huge amounts of spare time to create stuff from whole cloth (and 3.5e/Pathfinder prep, especially of NPCs, takes a long time). So just like “reskinning monsters,” I am specializing in reusing things from all kinds of sources, remixing them, and making them seem completely custom to the players. Heck, I ran two adventures that another GM in our group ran in a previous campaign, and a third that two of the guys in the group had just played in another game, but with a little reskinning and a lot of fitting them into my own world’s events and NPCs’ motivations, it is working out as well as a purpose made adventure path.

  5. I’ll also note that being lightly populated meant our 4th level party didn’t feel like they needed to “hole up and camp” during the middle of the dungeon either – they went end to end no problem. I prefer that. A lot of the fights were either very threatening or not threatening based on positioning and tactics and not raw opposing CRs.

  6. I gave it a whirl, just to see what different parameters do, and got a good laugh after generating a truly monstrous-sized complex for a mid-level party. I will use it more seriously in the future to see what it can really do, but I thought you might get a kick out of these results:

    Room 14 (20×20, square)
    The hilt of a broken dagger is lying here.

    Encounter: Dragons, Gold (4)
    Treasure: As per monster type.

    Across the hall? 3 Blue dragons in a huge room… with a dented helm.
    I have to admit, a lot of memories came flooding back. The best part is how the dagger is described first. Ha~

    • @Runeslinger LOL! That is classic. I’ve tinkered around with the controls to try different combinations but I’ve never gotten a result like that. Good times.

    • Tried again and I got dragons finally:

      Room 19: (20×20 square)
      This area smells faintly of manure. There is water dripping here.

      Encounter: Dragons, Red (4)
      Treasure: As per monster type.

      Guess we found the dragon’s restroom. Across the hall is another room with 4 black dragons. Guess they are waiting their turn. 🙂

    • That’s pretty funny. Yeah as levels go up, the work to make it not all seem totally retarded goes up. “Dragon in a room” is a phrase that is probably best never uttered.

  7. …but can you imagine the look on your players’ faces if you laid this before them with a look of sincerity on your face?

    It might be a good thing to do if you end up playing with a group of rowdies… “Do I have to use the Dizzy Dragon, dragon map?”

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