CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Things They Leave Behind

Filling Your Dungeon with More than Monsters

Last month I spoke about dungeons and dungeon crawls, and how they should remain an important part of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. One of the major complaints about dungeons – which includes crypts, ruins, caves systems, and other contained, linked areas – is that they are little more than a gauntlet of seemingly unrelated monsters. To help get away from that, it is important to fill a dungeon with more than just room after room of creatures and clever traps, but with objects important to the people who built the places the characters will be exploring.

Two of the most common places we use as dungeons are ruins of ancient civilizations and crypts that house the dead. Ruins are places that at one point people lived or worked and these places would contain artifacts of the people who left them behind, if they haven’t been overly raided already. Tombs and crypts of ancient civilization often have the objects people loved in life buried with them, and in some cases depictions of those people in art or books about their lives.

The first thing you have to decide is the purpose that room in the dungeon served. Many times GMs just throw together a few random rooms without a care to their original purpose. They then fill these rooms with monsters making the entire place a meat grinder. This is what gives dungeons the reputation as being little more than a vehicle for hack and slash. Was this a research facility? If so what kinds of rooms would be there? Is this a notable person’s tomb? Many times the rooms here represent the things they most loved, so what did they do in life?

I’ve been running Paizo’s Shattered Star campaign over the past year. Honestly without the extra stuff I’ve added it’s little more than pushing through a giant dungeon in every book looking for pieces of a MacGuffin. And these dungeons could very well be bland if they weren’t given such life. Every floor of the first dungeon serves a purpose, each room is outlined for the purpose it served. In just about every room objects for that purpose can be discovered; some destroyed, some mostly intact, and some magically preserved. Each object found gives not only a clue to the inhabitants lives, but when you look back a few books in you realize many of them were also clues.

Some of my favorite pieces of dungeon window dressings are art. Frescoes, tiled mosaics, tapestries, and carved pillars show glimpses into the past. You can use these to foreshadow the future as well. Your big bad is an ancient evil rising from the past, or maybe a cult of an elder deity long since forgotten. These pieces of art can give clues into how to defeat the creature. An ancient weapon may be depicted in mural on the wall of an ancient temple. A poem written around the edges of a tapestry might hold the beginning of an ancient dismissal ritual.

My second favorite find in a dungeon is books. Old libraries, scientific or magical notebooks in research areas, and personal journals buried with the deceased; all of these can help the PCs learn about the history of your world, or the life of your bad guys. An undead creature has risen and is seeking revenge, maybe the journal in his old tomb will give you clues to defeat him. Your adversary has been sending creatures the likes of which you’ve never seen, The ancient library has a book with an entry about them, but where did he learn of their existence if they are this old?

I also like to add empty rooms that just have objects geared toward the room’s purpose. This can tell you much about the people who lived here. You might find many sleeping chambers each with a prayer mat in them, maybe these were a very religious group of people. You come across floors of cells and torture chambers with creative tools in them, perhaps this was a sadistic civilization that reveled in pain and control.

Monsters are all well and good, and what would a dungeon be without at least a handful of encounters? In truth though, if you want to make your world a much more robust place, then the people within – especially the ancient people – should have had real lives, and real lives leave artifacts. The more detail you put into your dungeon the richer the experience your players will have.

Are your dungeons more than just a string of monster filled rooms? What kind of objects do you litter your tombs and crypts with? Does every room in your structures have a purpose? Share your experiences in the comments.

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