Dungeons that are nothing more than a series of rooms containing a random assortment of monsters and treasures and that have no real reason for existing are the result of sloppy, lazy design.
(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])
To create memorable dungeons, a GM should consider many more factors than simply what to stick in its rooms. When designing a dungeon, consider the following factors:
- Original Purpose of the Dungeon: A dungeon designed as a gigantic tomb is going to look and feel completely different to one that was once a grand temple. In either case, the builders construct different kinds of rooms, chambers and corridors based on what they needed the dungeon to do.
- Who Built the Dungeon: The dungeon’s builder inevitably leaves his mark on the dungeon. From grandiose statues of himself to particular room features the PCs can detect even a long-dead builder’s influence on the dungeon.
- Current Purpose of the Dungeon: Even if the dungeon was originally conceived as the tomb of an powerful mage, the orc tribe that now lurks within will adapt and change portions of it to suit their needs.
- Dungeon Inhabitants: The dungeon’s past and present inhabitants leave their mark on the dungeon. They may have altered the original structure, decorated it in distinctive fashions and so on.
- History of the Dungeon: A dungeon’s history inevitably affects its disposition when the PCs delve within. If an earthquake struck the dungeon, for example, evidence of the damage it inflicted is likely all around.
- Upcoming Events: Upcoming events can affect the dungeon. For example, a dungeon hosting a battle of annihilation between duergar and troglodytes will have signs of not just the current conflict but upcoming battles (which might include traps, fortification and so on). An evil mastermind planning to subjugate the surrounding countryside will have many troops (and the equipment and provisions to sustain them) in his dungeon.
I haven’t touched on any mechanical aspects of dungeon design – l’ll save that for another article, but when you design your dungeons do you consider other factors? Tell me what they are in the comments below.