This account is going to be a little messy, because my process was a little messy and I'm going to retell it as it happened.
False Start?Coming off of week 2 I was pretty excited. Then someone posted pics of a temple carved from living rock in India, Kailasa. This is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for! Since I am using early cultures from the southern Asia as inspiration, and I could find floor plans of the temple, it seemed like a great starting point. To a degree it was, but it made for a messy false start.
I spent a lot of time breaking the floor plan down into something a little more comprehensible using the free version of Dungeonographer. (I don't know if I mentioned it last week, but I used free Hexographer, Mac Preview, and Affinity Photo to make the digital map at the end of the post.) I wanted to preserve the two-story main area columned hall idea of Kailasa, but enclose the ceiling in rock as well. I mapped and re-mapped the temple multiple times until I got what I wanted. Let's say it took 2-3 hours.
But what did I have? I had a floor plan with very little idea of what it "meant" or what to do with it. It had a dozen rooms or so all nestled in a colonnaded hall with four upper story rooms. Two stories without a story behind it. Not even and implied one.
Note, by story I don't mean something I expect the players to follow, I mean the story of the how and why of the dungeon itself. Who built it? What for? How was it used? How is it used now? Something for the players to discover, not something they "have to" discover to "level up."
The Bubble MapA couple of days later I was on the Discord channel with JJ (of Beyond the Gates of Cygnus, and traveling companion on this Gygax 75 journey). JJ tells me how well things are coming together for him working through the directions I provided. Duh. Follow my own directions! What a novel idea.
So I sat down and generated the number of rooms per level, exits, budgets for the themes and so on. Then I started drawing a bubble map in my journal using the temple as a starting point, but not worrying at all about its actual structure.
I call it a bubble map. You might call it a node map, or a mind map, or a point crawl map. It's all the same thing. You make some bubbles, write things in them, and connect them with lines – which also have things written next to them sometimes. Conceptually, each bubble is a room for me, though that term can be kind of loose. It might actually be a feature or challenge that occupies the room – so instead of writing "The Armory" I might write "Animated Weapons." But more often than not I leave that kind of detail in my head and jot down the main function of the room.
Anyway, here is how it progressed. First a super messy version where I was thinking as I drew and then a cleaner version, with a few labels still missing on level 3. The themes came as, or just before I tackled each level. The features usually came as, or just after I completed a level. Meaning they arose out of mapping and I either realized at the time that they were the singular coolest or most notable thing on the level or figured it out when I took a step back.
The point is I was working back and forth between the bubble map and the list "requirements" from my workbook steps. The back and forth was helpful and pushed me a little as well as letting me know when I had "enough."
|Messy, Messy Bubbles|
|Revised Bubble Map|
Not sure how else to say it. This week was a bit of a grind! Fun, yes, but lots and lots to do. In fact, I don't feel like I'm finished. Could I run characters through it? Sure, with a bit of on-the-fly creativity. I certainly have enough to go for a week or three.
The first level now has a simpler and more concrete map than the one I made with the false start, including basic room descriptions, placed monsters, wandering monsters, a puzzle, a few secrets, some treasure, etc.
Level two is ready to play, since it's kind of simple and involves mostly wandering monsters. Level three has a concept and central feature, as well as connections to the other two levels. In fact, all the levels are connected to each other directly (you can get down to 3 from 1, if you know how). Best of all, the dungeon has a little story that it tells to those who take the time to fully explore it.
|Level 1 & 1a|
The Dungeon's Story
In the end, I want to put my work out there as a zine, and I'm compiling it as I go, which makes extra work. So I don't know how much of the story I want to tell. Let me shorthand it, which kills me, because it means leaving some of the coolest stuff out. Level 1 is a long-abandoned, unlit temple where the worshippers of a Lawful (but cruel) god once gathered. Everything faces the central structure and the upper stories have semi-open walls. In the center is the gilded statue of a many-eyed owl and around the perimeter stalks a "guardian." The first level also contains a sort of false tomb, a secret way down to level 3, and a more obvious way down to 2 – an ant tunnel rimmed with softly glowing fungus. The whole second level is the ants' maze, with an underground lake, egg chamber, fungal garden etc. But something is wrong in the colony; rogue, mutated ants with a strangely human eye in the center of their broad heads are behaving erratically and hoarding amber-like stones. Down on level 3 is the "true tomb" where many skulls in niches and more of the amber stones can be found, along with a strange device that ... well ... let's leave it there.
I could easily spend three weeks (1 per level) on this step. But I'm going to move on and backfill as needed.