Friday, October 12, 2012

Open Friday: Dungeon Entry "Stat Block"

In the comments to last week's Open Friday post about setting detail, the idea was floated of a "stat block" for dungeon entries, which would include lines for doors, lighting, smells, and hazards -- something like this perhaps:
Door: Heavy wood with metal reinforcements, pulls outward, locked.
Lighting: Dark.
Smells: A faint musty odor.
I find the idea intriguing, though I do worry that such a format could easily lead to bloated room descriptions that provide so much information that it's hard to prepare and, worse yet, hard to improvise from.

So, for today's question: what do you think of the idea of dungeon entry stat blocks? Would they be useful to you and, if so, what sort of details would you like to see it include? If you don't like the idea of them, why not?


  1. I like that, I use something like that myself. It doesn't bloat anything - just leave off entries that don't make sense. No doors? No door entry. No treasure? No treasure entry. No smells? No smell entry. You don't need to describe what's not there.

    But I find a standard setup like that makes it very, very easy to pick out what I meant to include in the room on the fly. Once glance and I'm ready to go.

  2. I would find it useful. Details on what the flooring, walls, and ceiling look like would be useful as well, although you may only need that information once (for the dungeon or level).

  3. 4e kind of does it this way. I think that overall I prefer a looser, more conversational style, but I am fine with this as well.

  4. Level descriptions - ie .

    Level 2 Is a constructed dungeon, unless otherwise indicated the walls are tightly joined masonry, doors are heavy wood and open outwards, there is no light and no air-movement.
    Room 1: EmptyRoom 2: 2 Orcs HP X,X; Faint draft from secret door.Room 3: NPC MU Stat Block: XXXX; Reaction: furious at any interruption, mollified by gift of magic item. Knows: XXX.
    Level 3 is rough cavern,unless otherwise indicated walls are rock, slippery footing, dank smell, fungus abounds giving off low levels of light. Any doors are light wood construction- roughly fitted to the cavern walls.

    Room 1:
    Room X: Constructed dungeon 8' high, 5' wide corridors of masonry, unless otherwise indicate all doors are actually hinged iron bars, 1" thick - spaced 6" apart and set 3" into the floor/ceiling. etc.

  5. I like that approach because it reminds me to consider mundane details. I am great at coming up with descriptions for things that are odd or interesting or important, but I often tend to neglect describing ordinary things, which I think leads to a certain lack of flavor. (It also makes it easier for the player to pick out which details are important, because the important details are the only ones I remember to mention.) Having a standardized format for descriptions prompts me to think about elements of the area that I wouldn't have considered otherwise.

  6. I like this idea quite a bit, but I'd expand the "Door" section to be "Entrances/Exits" and have a bulleted list below the header that summarizes each door, window, portal, trapdoor, etc. Just something more generic than "Door." I'd also like to retain the narrative text that is generally read to the players (as a GM, I like those, but I know many don't.) Having the bullet points laid out like that, you don't have to dig through tons of text to find the details you need when a player asks, "What is the north door made of? Is it locked?"

  7. This seems very useful, especially because you can scale initial descriptions of rooms from simple to complex, and then respond to questions like "What does the room smell like? What are the obvious exits to the room?" quickly and with conviction.

  8. The version of the Caves of Chaos in the D&D Next playtest uses something like this. In particular, I appreciate the light level at a glance, as well as the listing for noises. The noises are helpful because they include likely noises from nearby rooms ("Loud arguing in orc from the east"), helping to give the dungeons a more interconnected feel and makes it easier to run on the fly as I don't need to scan nearby room entries to see if I should be mentioning nearby lights, sounds, or smells.

    You don't want to go overboard. Just a few key elements. Call out a noteworthy door, but in general just have a note, "All doors on this floor are thin wood and unlocked unless otherwise noted." (And that gets back to the issue that the traditional D&D door icon kinda sucks. I'm trying to untrain myself of using it, instead using the swinging door icon you see in blueprints. That immediately answers questions about which way a door opens for when the players wish to break the hinges or spike it shut.

  9. in principle I like the format James suggests a great deal. In an ideal world, those features should be listed in every room. I wonder, however, whether in practice this might make for difficulties in publishing, especially with a megadungeon. That is, this model is going to add 4 lines of text for every keyed entry. That's a lot of lines. Necromancer Games seems to have solved this problem by including a general description for each level. Such a generic description could include types of doors, their normal locked status (or not), overall smells and so forth. If a feature in an individual needs deviates from the level norm, then it can be noted in its key. Such a format might be more attractive to publishers, as it is almost certain to save space and thus cost less money. It's also the case that for some rooms, the features you mention (light, smell) just may not be very important; in those cases a generic level description may suffice.

  10. I would use a general description for the level look and feel, and then use short room stats blocks when needed (the room is an exception or contains something of note).

  11. I've always used detailed stat blocks for dungeon and wilderness areas: illumination, smell, sound, construction, traps, etc. These cues allow me to build a more dynamic description of the area quickly - instead of reading a block of descriptive text out loud.

  12. I like the idea but ONLY where the room elements are A) significantly different from the rest of the surrounding territory and B) they're important differences. If it's set dressing without any real impact on the adventure, then just leave it in the regular description, but if it's something that needs to be brought to the party's attention (the faint hint of frost around door knocker; the discolored streak below the keyhole), then give it a stat block so it's right in the DM's face where he knows about it.

  13. I'd just collapse all that info in a "Notes for Neighbors" section - or some other title that conveys you're describing things that would be evident from nearby areas.

  14. One problem with stat blocks like this is that they can become repetitive. Don't you feel like the there entries you mention above would be saying the same thing again and again, more often then not. So they'd actually take up space, but not provide much value.

  15. Chaosium's RuneQuest scenario book "Snake Pipe Hollow" (at least in the RQ3 version) had a "Cavern Description Format" that had a separate paragraph for INITIAL DIE ROLLS, FIRST GLANCE, CLOSER LOOOKS, EXITS, SEARCH, TRAPS, DENIZENS, TREASURE, and MISCELLANEOUS NOTES, omitting ones that didn't make sense for the particular location. It made it quick to see what was going on, but took a fair bit of space on the page and (on the few times I tried using the approach for my own adventures) took more writing. I think I'd prefer something terser.

  16. You could easily summarize this information in a single sentence. No reason to basically double the amount of lines.

    A more useful stat block could look like this:

    Description: Basically your stat block in a single sentence
    Monsters: Your typical monster summary
    Traps: List of traps and other hazards
    Treasure: Hidden treasures, doors and such

  17. I actually appreciate bulleted-style descriptions so this would be a good fit for me. It's much easier to read on the fly while setting up a scene. Save the long narrative blocks for those who can't be extemporaneous while speaking!

  18. Generally not a fan of this. I think it's a formalism that winds up handcuffing you to those elements and not thinking about other stuff that would fit outside a category. It takes up a lot of space. For a DIY project it would be a lot of editorial work to fill that stuff in all the time. I think freeform description of circa 7 lines or so are better.

    The per-level description of stock details is a quality idea, however.

  19. There might be some value to it, but you'd have to keep disciplined to ensure it avoids bloat:

    to stop? Detailed furniture descriptions (There are five different
    kinds of chairs in this room...)? Appearance of the throw rug knitted
    by child-orc labor overseas and imported by the evil wizard, including
    the Do-Not-Remove Under Penalty of Lolth tag?

    It's the sort of
    thing younger-me would probably have gone overboard with in the name of a
    "realistic and fully prepared" setting.

  20. It coul be useful, but it could lead to a standarization too. I prefer original descriptions.

  21. A good technique where relevant and not covered by any other umbrella assumptions regarding the area of operations.

  22. "I do worry that such a format could easily lead to bloated room descriptions that provide so much information that it's hard to prepare "

    And then we can define an XML format that describes any dungeon! Oh wait! We can merely extend RSS/ATOM and leverage existing RSS readers to create plugins that make then all DM screens!

    OK, I share your concerns. I believe all DMs are smart enough to fill in non-critical details. If there is a trap that depends on the door being wood, the adventure writer should include that.

  23. I believe it is important for every door to get such an entry, even unassuming ones just to get the players' attention. Smell and lighting should be used sparingly.