Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For the Love of Minidungeons

I've always had a fondness for the small and compact in my D&D experiences where dungeons are involved. I've run games from one end of the multiverse to the other -- I happily design entire crystal spheres -- but when I want dungeons, I want small ones, whether pre-designed or scratched out on graph paper as the ideas flit through my head.

These days I find myself working on an even smaller scale; "microdungeons" might be a better name. With time constricted and my games designed for a single player (at most, a single PC and an NPC companion), I'd rather focus my energies on a themed, explorable-in-a-session minidungeon than on one small chunk of a sprawling complex that -- due to real-world constraints in time and attention spa, given the length of time between sessions -- will probably never quite hang together properly in my player's mind.

But when I get right down to it, I just like tiny dungeons. The smallest I've designed recently was two and a half chambers plus connecting passage and descent stairwell; most of my dungeons hover around the six-to-ten count for chambers, plus access routes. I've even made multiple-level minis with this room count. It's a nice comfortable number that I can readily apply a theme to if I wish.

And themes have always had an appeal to me. Random rooms don't have the same feel; I want a tomb for a specific individual or organization, a delve generated by a certain sinister power, a temple dedicated to some long-dead (or not so dead!) godling. All of these things can and have been done with larger dungeons, of course! But it's still a factor in the minidungeon appeal for me.

Of course, there's always the potential for adding more. Slip a secret door or a previously-unpassable blockage (or a warp-glyph, or a magical archway, or, or ...) into the design, and minidungeons can be daisy-chained together into a larger complex if I suddenly find myself wanting or needing more playspace.

I do think there's a certain finesse (that I haven't achieved, alas) to a really good minidungeon, in the same way that there's a flair and finesse to a finely designed megadungeon. The minis, unfortunately, seem to be neglected at times; used as a throwaway or a quick diversion rather than a worthy pastime in their own right.

Even during this renaissance of the megadungeon, I maintain that there's a place for the small and the compact.


Jack Badelaire said...

There was, back in the 90's, a product for the Forgotten Realms (but probably usable anywhere) called "The Book of Lairs" that had small encounter lairs for all PC levels. Most of these were some type of "Mini-Dungeon". I'm sure I've got that book kicking around somewhere...

taichara said...

I've heard of that one, but I've never atually gotten my hands on it.

Anything interesting inside?

Anonymous said...

Good idea. I was about to post a few of these myself, and you beat me to the punch, but I am not complaining. Excellent work!

taichara said...


Thank ye very kindly! I'm glad you've enjoyed them.

Fiddler said...

"will probably never quite hang together properly in my player's mind" describes what I have experienced MANY TIMES with my group of 7 players -- because our game sessions are few and far between.

taichara said...


Pretty much exactly so, yup.