Saturday, June 26, 2010

Empty Rooms

One of the things I have done religiously while creating my Dwimmermount megadungeon is abide by the rules presented in Volume 3 of OD&D for the distribution of monsters and treasure. There are several reasons I've done this, but chief among them is that these rules ensure that about two-thirds of the rooms on each level contain no monsters. That means, for example, that of the nearly 70 rooms on the first level of Dwimmermount, only 23 of them will have occupants.

That leaves 47 "empty" rooms for the characters to explore. Of course, a lot of these other rooms aren't really empty at all, since they might contain tricks, traps, clues, unguarded treasure -- 1 out of every 6 unoccupied rooms has it according to the rules -- and just plain inexplicable things. My experience over the last 18 months of running a megadungeon-centric campaign has been that it's often the "empty" rooms that are the most memorable, as it's here that the players, through their characters, interact most immediately with the game world. Furthermore, empty rooms help build tension and mystery, both of which are vital to the long-term success of a campaign.

Dungeons & Dragons is, after all, a game of exploration. Dungeon delving is a quest for loot and knowledge and, far from being the focus of the game, combat with the inhabitants of the dungeon is but one possible obstacle standing in the way of the characters' goals. That's why it's important that dungeons, especially megadungeons, have lots of empty rooms. It's a practice I fell out of over the years and whose importance I only understood fully as I immersed myself in OD&D. Now, it's hard to imagine stocking a dungeon that isn't mostly "empty."

14 comments:

  1. How do you keep the players from knowing that it's really an empty room (in terms of significance, the absence of foes is obvious)? Do you have 47 at least moderately detailed descriptions for the empty rooms? Do you use them to make up a coherent "dungeon ecology"? How often do your players make something of them that you never intended and in essence fill them up themselves?

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  2. I think its really important that you mix combat with equal parts of skill use, riddles or problem solving, interaction with NPCs, traps and just plain nothingness

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  3. This makes me want to write up a random empty room chart.

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  4. Must remember this as I stock my megadungeon....

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  5. Agreed.
    I use Dungeon design section from Moldvay Basic set and Dungeon Dressing tables from DMG. I like the encounter typology (combat, skill, trap, role playing, etc) from D&D 3rd Edition.

    I usually use an overarching theme from whoch to derive the Dungeon ecology from the Dungeon's origin and its history. Underground quarters of a Necromancer consumed by his obssessions will be different from a border outpost that was overrun by goblinoids and taken over by a thieves guild that specializes in blind-fighting. Dungeon exploration is what makes D&D unique and that is why I still have it and integrate it into the campaign, which, strictly speaking, is not dependent on them.

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  6. Dungeons aren't real until full maps and keyed notes are posted ;)

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  7. Dungeons and their contents have to make some sense to me in the context of the game's setting, or else I just don't enjoy them. (As a player, of course, figuring how it "makes sense" is part of the fun.) Thus I agree with you that a large portion of the rooms should be empty. A too-crowded dungeon feels more like a bus station than a place of mystery.

    Aside: One of the fascinating things about watching your Dwimmermount experiment is seeing how you take random rolls and decisions made during the campaign and make sense of them afterward.

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  8. I love empty rooms. The more random the better. One of my favorite features of the GM Tool Kit app for the iPhone (free!) is that it has a room contents generator for those emergency moments.

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  9. The empty rooms feel more natural and give the party a chance to get a breather. In megadungeons that is the way to go.

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  10. is the OD&D table you refer to reproduced in LL or anywhere else?

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  11. @ Brian: Trent Foster analyzed the room contents breakdowns for dungeons, based on edition (OD&D, Holmes, AD&D, Moldvay/Cook, Mentzer) over on Dragonsfoot @ http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=30673&start=53. It's on the 4th page of the " So-Cal Min-Con Adventures" thread, and is well-worth checking out sometime.

    Allan.

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  12. As a player, I enjoy finding empty rooms (monster-wise empty) with interesting details to investigate.

    As a DM, I also leave some rooms empty in my dungeons. However, my empty rooms are about 40-50%. I'll try raising the number to add more mystery to the dungeon, and also to add world details which otherwise would pass unnoticed to my PCs.

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  13. is the OD&D table you refer to reproduced in LL or anywhere else?

    There's a table very much like it in LL. The results are not identical but it's close enough if you don't have access to the LBBs.

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  14. I was (foolishly) skeptical of this empty room thing until experiencing it in a big way at NTRPGCon.

    I lack the eloquence to explain why. But it just "makes" the dungeon into a dungeon.

    This also speaks loudly to your view of rules/settings/what_have_you based on actual play. Another idea I'm totally in agreement with after/based on personal experience.

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