One of the aspects of my game that I’m actively working on improving right now is my use of dungeons – in that I rarely use them in my games and have only a passing knowledge of how to make a good one. To help me learn how to make a good dungeon I’ve been reading a bit of the Dungeon Master Guides from almost all of the editions, as well as, a few other sources that have tickled my fancy.
One of the surprising things I’ve learned so far is how similar building a dungeon, a campaign world, and an adventure really are from the get go. Each asks a Game Master to come up with a “hook” for why adventurers would be interested in exploring there. The “hook” is what draws players into the action and gets them to the point where the story begins (Cook, 97) . Ray Winninger, author of the Dungeoncraft series from Dragon Magazine, clarified this a bit by once describing the hook as follows:
. . . Your starting point is the world’s basic concept or ‘hook.’ Most successful AD&D settings have a single, easily digested characteristic that makes them unique and interesting . . . A good ‘hook’ goes a long way toward immediately signaling the world’s unique characteristics to the players . . .Winninger, 21
Let’s look at a couple hooks real quick:
The Nightmares Underneath: The world exists somewhere between the lands of reality and nightmare in a land known as the Kingdom of Dreams. Nightmares are breaking through and corrupting the world and only the heroes can stop them.
The Slumbering Ursine Dunes: An open-ended sandbox set in a mythic, Slavic world with demi-gods, bears, demonic pirates, and a reality jumping barge.
I’m going to give this some more thought but in the meantime what are your hooks for your own dungeons? Comment below and let’s talk about them!
Cook, Monte, et al. Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Wizards of the Coast, USA: 97. PRINT
Winninger, Ray. “Dungeoncraft” Dragon Magazine #256. February 1999. pg 21. PDF