How to Create a Dungeon Level
These rules are presented to give you a toolbox for creating the levels of your megadungeon. They can also be used to make smaller lair style dungeons. The toolbox analogy is pretty fitting, though, because just as a hammer, nails, saw, and so forth are necessary to build a house, so too is the lumber and the time putting in the work. These rules are not a substitution for your imagination and creative work, but hopefully they are a useful guiding framework that limits your work to the fun stuff of coming up with what’s interesting, and somewhat mechanizing the more tedious parts.
Create a Level Front
Like the wider ranging and more amorphous sources of adventure of the surface world and wilderness, your preparation for the dungeon is organized as Fronts and Dangers, though being dungeon fronts and dangers, they are a little different in nature. You will follow a step by step process, and when you finish, you ought to have a living, breathing dungeon space ready for adventurers to stomp into and cause trouble.
1. Pick Tags for Original Purpose
Following is a list of tags that describe what the original purpose of any given area was broadly speaking. These don’t have any particular mechanical effect except to remind you what kind of hazards and monsters to put in there, how to lay out the rooms, and so forth. Somewhere between one and three is usually good for the level overall. Use these to capture a broad theme to guide you when maknig decisions about the level.
Arcane - Either built for some kind of Arcane experiment, or an area magical in nature.
Bandits - Brigands, human or otherwise, built or modified this area for their purposes.
Caverns - The natural forces of the earth opened these tunnels and chambers.
Chaos - Twisted by the intrusion of forces antithetical to reality, there is something deeply wrong with this part of the dungeon.
Cult - Constructed or modified for use by a secretive and sinister cult of some sort
Demonic - This area has received the attention of a demonic entity and reflects its twisted nature
Divine - When constructed, this area was imbued with some sort of divine energy - be sure to name the deity
Dwarven - This part of the dungeon was originally delved by dwarves. It is likely orderly and heavily decorated with dwarven designs.
Fungus - Extensive and large fungi grow in this area, whether wild or cultivated by underground denizens for food.
Gate - This area contains a passageway to somewhere else - a different environment, realm, or even world.
Mines - These tunnels were dug in pursuit of gold, silver, gems, or something else valuable under the earth, and are likely to be rougher hewn and less orderly than others, twisting to follow veins of precious materials.
Monsters - Some kind of intelligent monster made this place for its own use, it may be crudely done or well made.
Nest - This area was burrowed out by some kind of bestial creature.
Prison - A dungeon in the truest sense, this area was built to confine prisoners, and maybe worse.
Temple - This area was dedicated as a temple to some power, whether divine or profane, or something stranger
Tomb - Parts of these halls and rooms were built to serve as catacombs to house the dead.
Religion - This area was dedicated to some particular religious figure, you should specify which.
Volcanic - Whether active or dormant, this area was formed by movement of hot molten rock and gases from deep within the earth.
2. Pick Tags for Current Nature
Like the original purpose tags, these tags are meant to guide you in making decisions about crafting the level. You’ll notice that many of the tags are the same as from the original purpose section, even if their descriptions are a little different. The idea is that you don’t need to double up on something that is still true (If it was created divine and is still divine, no need for a separate current nature tag). Instead, these tags allow you to set up interesting contradicitons that show the way the dungeon has changed and developed. What was once the proud market place of the Dwarves may have become the scene of sorcerous displays by an evil cabal, and is now where bandits bed down their horses.
Ancient - Whatever formed this location, it was long and long ago.
Arcane - This location serves some magical purpose, or is imbued with arcane energies.
Bandits - Some kind of humanoids that prey on others have set up shop in this part of the dungeon.
Chaos - This part of the dungeon is twisted and tainted from the touch of something beyond any rational world.
Cult - A sinister and covert religious group uses this area for its mysterious ends.
Demonic - One or more demons maintain contact with the world in this place, and it carries their taint.
Divine - Blessed by some deity, name which god has bestowed his or her benefits on this section of the dungeon.
Fungus - Omnipresent and possibly huge fungi cover this section .of dungeon, whether overgrowth or cultivated by subterranean inhabitants.
Gate - This section of the dungeon serves as a gate to elsewhere - whether mundane or supernatural.
Mines - These tunnels are actively worked to extract the riches of the earth.
Monsters - Creatures, whether humanoid or not, infest this area. Use each significant monster type present as a tag.
Nest - Something monstrous and non-humanoid has made this area its home.
Prison - Captives are held or tortured here.
Religion - Some religion is practiced here. The tag should specify the deity’s name.
Temple - This section is used for worship of some force.
Tomb - Whatever its original purpose, this section now houses the burials of some intelligent group.
Volcanic - Active magma and hot gases can be found in this area.
3. Decide Total Treasure Number
As discussed in the Domain Play section, one Treasure is equal to 500 GP. A good rough formula for how much treasure a level should have is to multiply 10 times a number of D6s equal to the level of the dungeon (this is untested still!)
4. Create a Danger for each Section
This is where most of your work creating dungeon levels will come in. Follow the steps below in the Create a Section Danger section in order to detail each section of the current level. Any tags you’ve selected for the level overall will apply to the sections unless you decide otherwise. Also, it’s important to point out that an entire level can just be one section. This is a great way to make either“lair” type dungeons, smaller megadungeon levels, or parts of larger megadungeon levels. In the original Fellhold campaign, most levels were divided into quadrants which were statted up as sections.
5. Create any level-wide monster assets
If you have any especially large monsters or wide ranging monster groups that you want to be prevalent throughout the entire level and not associated with any particular section, go ahead and follow the rules for creating a monster asset detailed in the chapter on Assets.
Create a Section Danger
It will be most regular for a level to represent a number of rooms and corridors roughly the same distance above or below ground, and for sections to be some subset of those rooms and corridors. This is not the only possible way to use these rules, however. You might have a tower that counts as all one “level” and each section is a floor, or even a grouping of floors. Don’t feel bound to create a new “level” and “section” just because the player characters will have to go up or down some stairs to access it. You could also create a sprawling ruin of a city and have each neighborhood be a section. The rules are purposely flexible.
The included Section Reference Sheet provides space for recording most of the decisions you make here, but all that’s really needed is a pencil and some paper (preferably graph paper).
1. Create a Ruin Location for the Section
This is fairly straightforward, and is mostly a content holder for all of the work you will do in the rest of the steps. If it is ever interacted with using the Domain Play rules, it will be a ruin with a Treasure value of whatever you assign from the overall level Treasure, a nature of whatever Original Purpose and Current Nature tags you pick, and any monster assets you create for the section. If you want to keep the dungeon feeling “alive” you can have each section function as a small domain and take domain turns using the monster assets and transfer treasure around and modify assets accordingly.
2. Pick Tags for Original Purpose
These are the same tags as for the overall level, but they allow you to fine tune a particular section of the level. Perhaps the level overall is an ancient Dwarven city, but this section was their fungus farm, yuou could add the Fungus tag.
Arcane, Bandits, Caverns, Chaos, Cult, Demonic, Divine, Dwarven, Fungus, Gate, Mines, Monsters, Nest, Prison, Religion, Temple, Tomb, Volcanic
3. Pick Tags for Current Nature
Just as with the Original Purpose tags, these are identical to the Current Nature tags for the overall level, but allow you to call out a particular section as different.
Ancient, Arcane, Bandits, Chaos, Cult, Demonic, Divine, Fungus, Gate, Mines, Monsters, Nest, Prison, Religion, Temple, Tomb, Volcanic
4. Assign portion of Level’s treasure to section
Use your own good judgment here, but unless you have crafted one section of the level to have more treasure than others (like, say, because a dragon has its lair there or an entire tribe of trollkin store their loot there) it’s just fine to split it up evenly among the sections.
5. Choose or Draw the Floor Plan
This part has always proved challenging to me, and so I remind you that you can repurpose sections of the many, many dungeon maps available for free or for purchase. It is satisfying in a different way to work within the constraints of an existing floor plan to find your vision than it is to think through the placement of rooms and halls and make your own decisions. Both are fun, and both lead to good dungeons, so honestly, go with whatever you’re most comfortable with, and feel free to mix it up from level to level, section to section.
The main thing you’ll want to concern yourself with, whether drawing or copying a map, is to make sure there is interaction with the rest of the dungeon. Make sure sections connect in multiple ways, have stairs up and down levels, and so forth. It’s especially fun and interesting to make multiple connections of different sorts, such that one part of level 1 leads down to level 2, but another goes to level 3, and still another leads to a sub-area of level 1. Layouts like this encourage thorough exploration and lots of backtracking, giving you the chance to showcase the dungeon as a living, changing place.
6. Create the Stocking Tables
The stocking tables are really where the section comes to life. It may seem dry at first to make a bunch of tables, but they allow you to combine your creativity and judgement and random chance in a way that really fosters a dynamic, living feeling for the dungeon. If you haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll be amazed at the way motives and plot hooks and history just pop into your brain as you work your way through the rooms with a random table. They also make it really easy to restock the dungeon after the adventurers have massacred their way through a section.
6a. Create Monster & Treasure Frequency Table
The Monster & Treasure Frequency Table allows you to determine whether a given room contains a monster and/or treasure. When checking to see if a room contains either a monster or treasure, you roll on this table. The default table, modified from the original adventure game is as follows:
|Roll 1st Die||Result||Roll 2nd Die||Result|
If you use this default table, the procedure is to roll 1d6 to see if there is a monster with or without treasure, and then to roll a 2nd die if there is no monster to see if there is unguarded treasure. To save time, you may wish to roll 2d6 of two different colors, designate one the “monster die” and the other the “treasure die” and ignore the treasure die on a result of 1 or 2 on the monster die.
If you choose to create an alternate monster/treasure frequency table, simply choose a die size, how many dice to roll and then assign values. I’d recommend sticking with the default until you get a feeling for how populated a dungeon you want to face in play. Having a good mix of rooms that are genuinely empty and rooms that just need a little searching to find somethign of value, and rooms that represent a potential threat is necessary to keep the exploration aspect of the game fun and interesting.
6b. Create Monster Stocking Table
This table is where your section really gets the flavor that your players are going to notice the most. Monsters provide the most interactive part of what the players will face in a dungeon section, and so help define places. As you choose monsters for the table, don’t think only about how many hit dice they have, or how large a group they travel in, think also about how they fit together, and what they’re doing in this section of the dungeon. In a section of the dungeon you’ve designated as Hobgoblin controlled, most of your entries will probably be Hobgoblins. If you want a section of caverns to feel more wild and untamed, don’t put any intelligent monsters in your table. You get to exercise some discretion and taste in what you include and at what frequency, but then the random die rolls will give a pleasantly unexpected specific mix.
Another important consideration is the rate of refresh for your stocking table. The dungeon should be a living place, and just because the adventurers have been through an area before doesn’t mean it should be a barren, safe wasteland from then on out. Tweak your stocking table to reflect changes (maybe driving out the hobgoblins opened up the area to goblins now), and after the right amount of in-game time has passed, go through the stocking process again. A good starting point is 1 week, but up this for rarer creatures or lower it for especially prolific ones.
To create your table, simply select a die size and then assign an entry to each value, using the guidance above. Do yourself a favor, though: don’t go nuts on the die size. If you try to pick d100 monsters, or even d100 discrete entries for every single section, you’ll end up throwing your referee’s binder at the wall in no time. Now, if you have broad percentages that amount to 20 or less entries, that’s just fine. For starting out, D6, D8, or D10 gives you plenty of room to play with, but won’t leave you stumped on those last few entries.
6c. Create Room Dressing Table
Room Dressing is whatever random stuff you place in rooms to give them some character beyond their bare dimensions and the composition of their walls. It’s not necessary to have or to specify dressing in every single room, but you’ll want to be careful about only describing items in detail when they warrant being searched or flat out telling players a room is empty if it is. Let them explore! Try to include things that suggest something of the section’s purposes throughout the ages. As with the monster tables, choose a die size that seems appropriate and fill it with things that seem evocative of the tags you chose at the beginning, but that can be reused a few time without it being weird.
Depending on how frequently you use the room dressing table, you may want only things of especial interest or curiosity, or you may want a bunch of random nothing. Just remember that anything of value is treated under treasure, and has probably long ago been carried off by monsters unless hidden.
Maybe roll a D20 along with your monster/treasure frequency rolls and treat 1-10 as nothing, and then have results for 11-20.
10. Place any special monsters or treasures
Often you will have one or a few creatures or items that you know exactly what you want to do with - the troll chieftain, the dragon, and so forth. Don’t put these guys in your monster chart! They deserve to be treated as individual threats placed with care. So before you use any of your shiny new tables, place the things that are special to the section. Remember to deduct any treasure so placed from the available section treasure to be assigned using the stocking tables.
11. Run through remaining rooms using Stocking Tables
After having hand-placed the important monsters and their hoards, you identify any rooms that seem like they might contain monsters and/or treasures (I tend to leave out tiny storerooms or rooms that are extremely repetitive, or to only pick a few of them). Go through each in turn and roll on your monster and treasure frequency chart. If they indicate monsters and/or treasure, use the appropriate charts. Place treasure with monsters according to the monsters’ description, and when placing treasure randomly, it should be D100% of 1 Treasure (500 GP), and it should be well hidden and/or trapped. This is an excellent excuse to include a trap you hadn’t thought of yet!
As you go through placing monsters and treasure, you may find it easier to convert the sections Treasure total into a GP value and then assign the Gold Marks, Silver pennings, Copper Skillings, jewels, weapons, and so forth accordingly. If you reach the total treasure value for that section, then do not place any more treasure. If you have a lot of rooms left without any treasure, consider altering the level’s overall amount of treasure to better reflect what ought to be there.
12. Create Wandering Monster Table
This table will quite likely be fairly similar to your stocking table (sometimes they can even be identical), but you can add some nuance by having a distinction between the monsters that wander this area and those who actually reside there in a more permanent fashion. In addition to choosing a die size and assigning monsters (or evecn strange sounds or events) to each result, you need to choose how often to check for a wandering monster in this section. Once per hour (6 exploration turns) is fairly typical, but you can vary how dangerous and draining an area is not just in the difficulty of monsters, but in how often they show up.
13. Create Monster Assets
Follow the rules for Monster Asset creation detailed in the Assets section of the Domain Play chapter in order to create assets representing any large monster forces or particularly powerful individual monsters. Again, this will let you play out “domain actions” between dungeon inhabitants to keep the dungeon dynamic, as well as giving you the information you need if any enterprising domain ruler tries to deal with a dungeon through main force.
14. Place Traps
Go through the level and place any fiendish traps or puzzles you care to. Sometimes you’ll do this step as your draw the floor plan and see where traps would make sense. Other times you’ll being to see a sort of logic emerging from your stocking rolls, and you’ll set up traps that way. Give traps some thought: were they put there by the original constructors? Can they be reset? How do the dungeon’s denizens deal with them? On the other hand, don’t overthink them too much: dungeons have traps, they’re part of the territory, so if you think you need some, put them in there.
15. Final Touches and Tweaks
At this point you have an entirely playable dungeon section that you’re prepared to restock or have interact with other dungeon levels and sections as necessary. It’s helpful, though, to take a moment to look at everything together and make any final tweaks that suggest themselves, whether regarding monster placement, treasure amount, or just what makes sense or not, this is your chance to double check that the section actually makes good on the creative vision you codified in the tags you chose at the outset.