Musty dungeon corridors set with uneven flagstones whose walls are daubed in goblin graffiti are infinitely more interesting than “a dungeon corridor.”
(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])
Dungeon dressing is one of the most important things a GM can do to bring his dungeon (and campaign) alive. Sadly, because it’s not a crucial aspect of dungeon design – it’s not as important as stat blocks, for example – most GMs don’t have time to dress their dungeons. That’s a shame as there are many great reasons to dress a dungeon:
- World Building: If you waffle on about the ancient style of dwarven mining or the fascinating intricacies of goblin art the players will likely switch off and go to sleep. If you casually mention the intricate locking mechanism of a stone door, the players immediately want to know more.
- Verisimilitude: Dungeons are not sterile, unchanging environments; explorers and inhabitants all leave signs of their presence within. Crude graffiti daubed on the walls, skeletal remains, carven pillars and more all add a sense of realism to the place which helps players maintain their suspension of disbelief.
- Story Telling: What happened in the dungeon before the PCs got there? Dungeon dressing can give the players some of the answer. Were the orcs slaughtered by something large and obviously powerful or are the signs of flooding, earthquake or other calamity everywhere?
- Foreshadowing: Are the dungeon denizens working toward some evil scheme? If they are, on doubt, the PCs will be able to find signs of their work throughout the dungeon. Does the dungeon periodically flood? If so, signs will be evident throughout the complex and give canny players a warning that something bad might be about to happen.
Do you dress your dungeons? What’s your favourite feature to “dress up?” Let me know in the comments below!