Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon: Getting Over Myself

Well, there was a time when I wanted to keep this style of writing off my blog, but it seemed to help me actually write instead of endlessly edit, so...

So I Want To Make A Dungeon? Just follow these [insert final number] simple steps!

Be Warned: This only superficially and sarcastically resembles a step by step procedure that I would recommend following. I may or may not revise it into one later. I've been working on this pretty much constantly since my earlier post, and so this is an artificially re-organized and dramatized version rather than a real-time log.

Step the First: Decide to really make something instead of constantly brainstorming on yet another amorphous project I get distracted away from and build up anxiety about not finishing

Return from an RPG info-sphere hiatus and come across a couple of genuinely inspiring posts on making dungeons at the equally indispensable Swamp of Monsters and Papers & Pencils. Remember Bryce's Black Maw experiment. Remember I saw a few neat dungeon-building "games" recently - Ex Umbra and Delve / Rise.

Think "Hey - maybe I'll just make a dungeon. I've never really done it before despite how much I've read about and thought about dungeon design. It might even be a nice, chill past-time exercise, like a crossword puzzle; just following procedures and progressively fill in some gaps. Some nice soothing distraction from our IRL hellscape."

Decide to keep it vanilla, trope-y, not get my head too high in the clouds with heady artpunk/OSR-envelope-pushing concepts. Focus on making something Bryce wouldn't pan. Use the lingua franca of BX and put my handy OSE books to good use. Keep it to one level (though we'll definitely want to have multiple floors/sub-levels for some good verticality. Every time I see a dungeon restricted to one lateral, level I nope out.)

Spend sometime revisiting  some old links and compiled dungeon design notes from around the blogosphere of the last decade (Philotomy's advice, Melan diagrams, Jaquaying the Dungeon, Goblin Punch's Checklist, Blackrazor's Stocking Method, a bunch of others), and honestly come up short on good fully "worked" examples of a well-rounded old school dungeon. (Fittingly, I saw only yesterday that Necropraxis agrees after reading the exact same posts that inspired this project. Though the recent Gygax 75 Challenge comes close. Note that I'm not sure I actually intend to fill this gap with this series - the dungeon itself takes precedence!) 

So less a simple, relaxing exercise, but between all the resources and my own design thoughts, I think we can work this out. 

Step the Second: Prevent Blank Page Syndrome AND Icarus Syndrome by just getting something concrete to start with

All of my backburner dungeon projects have started with ideas for central features and themes, or a rough shape of a map. Moon College started with the idea of a bunch of thematically related magic items. Its map was literally shaped around them.

And I've always assumed if I ever made a "whole package" dungeon that I'd be meticulously designing the map layout myself, (and I will almost certainly be doing that after this exercise). Starting from an "externally sourced" dungeon feels... pedestrian.

But partly inspired by the Papers & Pencils guide, and given the self-constraining nature of this project, I decided to turn things upside down and just start with a pre-made map. And not just any pre-made map. A random Donjon map.

I've always kind of written off Donjon as being too random and vanilla, and it really is, particularly the room contents. And you're also locked into its rigid generation rules.

However, after playing around with the advice from Papers & Pencils, I did find some sweet spots in the generator settings that spat out some layouts I didn't hate.


And! I discovered that Mipui, an online map editing tool we've been using in the Castle Xyntillan game I've been playing in, can import maps from Donjon.

Mipui doesn't have the most intuitive or... nuanced toolset, and it can be visually buggy and slow even with modestly sized maps, but it's definitely the most comfortable tool for editing old school dungeon maps I've found - at least online. And its image exporting is pretty good, if you don't need any fine detail beyond what the tools it supports. I definitely intend to reproduce the map in another tool, maybe Tiled, or actually hand-draw it, since that's another thing I haven't really done since childhood despite my latent, 1.6 decade-old (insert gasp and sigh of despair) Art & Design college major.

I also intend to produce two maps - one for the GM (with optimal iconography and notes for running) and one suitable for displaying to players in a VTT or cut up and assembled at the table while playing (no secrets). That's another pet peeve of mine - a lot of effort and artistry goes into creating some beautiful maps that only the GM gets to see! It doesn't take much to get those to a condition that they can be very simply used in Roll20, as long as you aren't using "S"s that stick out of walls, or crossing passages over each other.

So I generated a few Donjon maps and settled on one that spoke to me. It's far from great, but all we're really looking for here is a starting point for a dungeon that already has good looping, flow and multiple routes, and some good variety in layout.

The Donjon map imported to Mipui

Step the Third: Start tweaking, and then stop tweaking

Get rid of the most glaring absurdities. The passages that lead back into the same room, the ridiculously long linear corridors, the dead ends (should have used the "no dead ends" setting) - this isn't a funhouse dungeon.

Starting adding some flare and non-standard shapes. But don't get obsessive about the layout yet. I'll revisit how and why I refine certain aspects later.

Snip snip... ah, much better.

This step, at least, was nice and relaxing - in the same way as fixing up a wonky generated Minecraft village.

Many more steps to come - if I'm up for it. I've got an outline of everything I've done so far, but don't want to Icarus up this post before I Icarus up the dungeon itself.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!



  1. Hooray!
    One of the downsides to a generated map is the lack of variation. its' all rectangular rooms separated by corridors. There are no "weenies":
    No immediately and visually distinct landmarks to help a GM or group navigate the space. It all looks about the same.

  2. I'm making something right now to run with my kid, my wife, and my mom. It will be my kid's first time playing D&D (or any RPG), so I'm trying not to make it too difficult, too lethal, or too scary.

    Anyway, I paused for a few minutes in my labors and was happy to see you're doing similar dungeon-hashing-out.

    Solidarity from Minnesota, USA! If you feel the wax on your wings melting, fly lower!

  3. Your self-deprecating labels for your steps really struck a chord with me, even though I braved myself for them.

    Perhaps it’s time I move my dozen or so incomplete Perfectly Planned Dungeon projects off the back burners and into the recycling bin. Thanks for the motivation

  4. I'm here for more practical examples like this. Looking forward to the next update.


Be kind, approach disagreements with curiosity, enrich the conversation!