Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Dungeon of Random Tables

As a DM, I like to improvise from a set of fairly loose notes. I like being surprised as a DM. On the other hand, improvising requires a level of energy and invention that's not always there.

To get around this issue, I designed a dungeon as a set of random tables. An entry in the dungeon looks like this:

2. Audience Chamber
Visitors to the cult's lair wait here until their audience with the high priest. There are four bedrolls, a barrel of water, a bucket, and a small cabinet stocked with food and drink (6 days worth) here.

1d6-2 visitors are here. (Allows for an empty room.)
50/50 that they are simple hunters or trappers here to trade, or dark pilgrims seeking to join
Use bandit stats for either
Hunters aren't looking for a fight. Even chance that the cultists try to trick or attack PCs

This isn't rocket science, but it had two benefits to me in play.

First, it was fun as a DM not knowing what was in he room until the PCs entered it. It made the adventure more interesting to run, as I was as much an audience for it as the players.

Second, it makes for a very dynamic environment. It made the dungeon feel like a living place with only a small amount of effort on my part.

I used randomness in a few ways:

  • Absence/presence of inhabitants, plus their numbers
  • Attitudes/general initial reaction (violence, talking, deception, flight)
  • State of traps and other features (recently trigger, broken, normal)
  • Odd events, like whether the two rival ogres in a room happen to be fighting when the PCs approach
Overall, so far in play it has worked well to make the dungeon come to life. As long as your dungeon map is reasonably non-linear, it can have interesting effects on the flow of play.


pukunui said...

Sounds intriguing. Any chance you'd be willing to share more/all of your random dungeon table?

Mike Mearls said...

Weird, thought I responded to this ages ago...

Once I'm done running this dungeon (after the holidays) I'm going to post it online somewhere, probably just redacting secrets the players haven't found yet.

Assuming they survive - they went from "Oh man, cultists, let's sneak around and hide" to maybe getting too much confidence.

Steve said...

The dungeon reminds me of improv shows where multiple suggestions are given throughout the show. The improvisors (in this case the DM) play the general outline of the show, but the suggestions can dramatically change what happens.

The improvisors don't have to worry too much about where they're going since they have the structure of the show to guide them (in this case the dungeon). Since they don't need to worry about that, they can concentrate on how the suggestions (the random dungeon elements) affect and change the outline.

I picked up some Dungeon Decks at Gen Con a few years ago that offered something similar to this. It's really cool when the random elements end up magically justifying everything you already have going on--and I think this happens all the time if the DM and players are really open to the suggestions and their interpretations rather than locked down into preconceived notions.

It'll be neat to hear what comes of it.

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