Maybe I'll Just Make A Dungeon: Crystallizing the Central Features

Step the Fourth: Crystallize Themes, Central Features, Inhabitants, Brief History

Going into this project, I had a couple inspirational themes/central features:

  • The dungeon was of dwarven origin. I'm not sure why, but dwarven styled dungeons seem underrepresented in the OSR - at least, I don't know of any prominent OSR adventures that take place in such.
  • I want to play around with a style of "architectural puzzle" ala classic Zelda dungeons. This means these puzzles are in good working condition, and fits in well with the dwarven architecture trope. So the dungeon probably hasn't seen much ruination since its construction. It's pretty rare we get to explore non-ruined locations in OSR adventures. I enjoy the Mythic Underworld concept, but I have difficulty suspending disbelief especially if I'm responsible for actually building that underworld. More on that later, perhaps.

I want this to be a versatile module, which led to a couple more features:

  • It could be the first level of a larger dungeon, so it needs a connection down. But it also needs to stand on its own, so maybe that connection is sealed. But it can still be opened - the GM just decides what exactly is behind that seal. A kind of Quantum Prize.
  • I really want to see more in-built scalability of difficulty, and hence suitability for a wider range of character levels. So the dungeon in its "default" state should be on the order of other good examples of 1st-2nd level dungeons, and have good support for increasing difficulty.

Two further central features were inspired by the generated map itself:

  • I noticed the biggest rooms were all the same size and shape. This is obviously a quirk of the algorithm, but it did give me the idea that it is intended, and perhaps they were all of a similar purpose. These turned into "monument rooms", a large statue of a dwarf in the center, holding a valuable item, the room trapped in some way to protect it. There were 7 of these, which is an odd number... maybe there's a secret 8th in a differently shaped room?
  • Importing the map to Mipui, some of the Donjon-generated detail is lost, including which doors were locked and trapped, but interestingly it did transfer portcullises. I think dungeons could use more "windows" - ways to see ahead which could give hints at the dungeon's layout and "objectives" without allowing easy passage. So I decided to make most of these unopenable, at least from the side you're likely to reach first.

Preview of the next map-focused installment

Extrapolating from these themes

So the fact that the dungeon hasn't seen ruination also likely means it hasn't been inhabited by intelligent individuals since... what? What happened to the dwarves? I guess they're dead. Undead? Perhaps protect what they sealed below with their un-life? Ok, so some light ruination.

What if the items the statues hold in these monument rooms need to be collected in order to unseal it? That's 8 items. Kind of a lot. So maybe they aren't super challenging to acquire, but have a good variety of types of challenge. And the dwarves aren't a constant danger.

But what else is in there to give the party a challenge? They must be the first ones to open up this dungeon since it was sealed off. So let's style the majority of the wandering and inhabiting monsters after unintelligent dungeon dwellers; things that would fit through a tight, undiscovered entrance and have gone about their merry lives in darkness for decades. Normal rats and bats, spiders, oozes. And I really want to throw in some monsters from BX I think are underutilized: Cave Locusts, and Giant Geckos. And... Cats!

But we really need some kind of intelligent faction to interact with. And that was a perfect match for scalable difficulty. I'll include a number of factions that could begin inhabiting the dungeon after the party arrives. Challengers to the party's quest, and a first wave of more general dungeon inhabitants moving in. The GM can pick and choose between these to add spice and challenge.

So a rough history and outline comes together:

  • A small dwarf clan, maybe its head their 8 children, strike out on their own to create this stronghold
  • They Dig Too Deep, decide to seal away What Lies Below via these Macguffins, become undead in the process
  • The hold lies fallow until its entrance was rediscovered, the party arrives, and then a variable amount of challengers hot on their heels

So in a way, this module might examine the birth of a more typical Dungeon. I'm not sure how hard I'll lean into that concept, but it's there in some respect.

In reality, a lot of this took place in the back of my mind while working on various other bits of the adventure. I was going to start looking at further map changes in this post, but I really want to give that a lot of attention, so I think I'll cut this one off here.

I encourage you to comment below, rather than elsewhere.

Long live the Blogosphere!


  1. 7? In a dwarf-themed dungeon? I think that's a perfect number.

  2. Bravo!

    The basic timeline of the dungeon reminds me rather much of Dwarf Fortress. This is a good thing.

    Maybe the central MacGuffin(s) could be the product of Delving Too Deep, e.g. some number of adamantium/orichalcum/mithril/unobtanium worked artifacts (lyres, cups, childrens' toys). Maybe these are scattered about in separate hoards, or all in some central one. And maybe the real treasure - and the real challenge of this dungeon that opens it up in OSR situation-fashion - is that the adamantium/orichalcum/mithril/unobtanium vein is still there, waiting to be mined again if the PCs are able to deal with whatever was Too Deep and made the dwarves dreadful, as well as going through the whole extremely difficult process of setting up and securing a profitable mining operation in a dungeon (and then defending it from greedy barons or other adventurers).

  3. I just wanted to say thank you for putting together the apocrypha book. It made me want to try running games in that style. Before i read it, I mostly associated the OSR with the raggis of the world.

    I had run games partly in that style, but this book presented the whole very well. I think the important part is that it don't focus on the rules, but the *style*. Evelyn Moreau's illustrations also add *a lot*. The text would have felt much more bare without them.

    I couldn't find any way to comment on the actual article, so I posted this here. I hope that was ok.

    1. Thanks Alicia - super glad to hear that! If you'd like to, general PA comments can be added to

    2. Ah, I missed that and went right to the PA page itself. Thanks for pointing it out :)


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