Map Mine: Shadowdark Random Dungeon Generation

Map Mine: Shadowdark Random Dungeon Generation
Supernote showing Shadowdark's Title page, laptop, and pen, arranged on a desk with a dicebag in the background.
Getting Ready to Roll - Shadowdark renders excellently on eInk

Welcome to part 2 of this mini-series where I'm walking through some random dungeon generation methods found in various tabletop game systems!

In the previous post, I examined D&D 5th edition's random generation rules. This time we'll be walking through creating a Shadowdark dungeon using the methods found in the Shadowdark Core book.

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It's worth noting that I'm not focusing on many of the excellent online procedural generation tools, instead I'm doing pen-and-paper generators using good old-fashioned offline tools.

When I set out to do this post, I was planning on trying to get through both Shadowdark and Four Against Darkness. That's not how things worked out. I went a little overboard with the generation this time and turned it into a full-on mini-dungeon. Whoops.

Shadowdark Generation: A Simpler Method

Compared to the 5e method, where the dungeon is endless until you decide to stop, Shadowdark is much easier to manage. As usual, I will not repeat the exact rules for dungeon generation (but they can be found on page 130 if you want to pick up the book).

To begin, we start with a fixed "size" of the dungeon and roll a number of d10s equal to the size of the dungeon. In my case, we're aiming for a 5 room dungeon, so we'll roll five dice. Here's what we landed on:

5d10s - 3, 10, 1, 9, 10

After you've rolled your d10s, you do what I think is most interesting about the generation method: draw an outline around where the dice landed to get the layout. I took this to an extreme and arranged the rooms based on where the dice landed.

Normally you would do this on a piece of paper, but I used my Supernote A5X to do the layout. I sketched out some room sizes based on nothing more than "feelings". Relatively quickly, I had come up with this basic layout:

Five rooms drawn on the Supernote matching the layout of the dice.
Sketchy Sketch

The next step was to connect the rooms to each other, using whatever mechanism you feel is logical. Since I had earlier rolled for the dungeon "type" of "ruins, ", I imagined this place as an old temple to some forgotten god. I could reinforce this immediately by checking to see what sorts of rooms I had on my hands. Using the tables provided, I wound up with two boss monsters, one of which was a "religious leader". Sold!

Since I knew this, I wanted some outdoor features and looping passages to connect the rooms. Because it would be incongruent to connect everything with interior passages, I made two outdoor paths which connect to exterior doors on the temple. Likewise, I thought some water features would be nice, so I surrounded that outlying northern room with a lake and made a small pond to the east.

Here's how that looks fully sketched out - and we've got a completed dungeon!

Fully sketched out mini dungeon

But wait, why stop there?

So by now I would have had enough information for this post and could have stopped short of actually populating the dungeon. But there's something about how simple it was to get to this point that made me want to keep going. You all get to come along for the ride.

Transferring the Map to Dungeon Scrawl

First thing's first, if I'm going to turn this into a proper mini-dungeon, I'm going to need something that's easier to work with than an exported drawing. Enter Dungeon Scrawl! I took the general idea from my sketch and then made it into a 5-foot grid representation in Dungeon Scrawl.

Here's how that wound up looking with unpopulated rooms:

Populating the rooms

So, each of those dice also represents what's in the room. By the way, based on the tables, there's not a way to get a trapped room that also has NPCs in it, but you're free to mix-and-match. I didn't do that, and stuck exclusively to the random rolling. In order, we've got the following rooms:

  1. Trap - Sturdy Mechanical
  2. Boss Monster - Physically Strongest
  3. Nothing
  4. Treasure - Guarded by Monster
  5. Boss Monster - Religious Leader

Thematically, I wanted to stick with the idea that this is a place of power and there was some kind of cult present. Room 5 reinforced that idea, and so I needed to figure out what to do with rooms 2 and 4. Room 4 was easy enough, let's make it a room with cultists in it. What kind? Maybe they've set up camp in there and have some treasure on them.

For room 2, I had to dive a bit more into the idea of the temple and what the cult was doing there. Since the main room was surrounded by a lake, it would stand to reason that there's a Lake God, or Lake Spirit, that was the focus of worship here. So what if the cult were trying to corrupt the lake spirit and bend it to their will? Maybe the Lake Spirit sent some water elementals to stop the cult, starting with some minor ones at first and then increasing the level of "violence". That's how I hit on making it a Lesser Water Elemental, that the cult had trapped in a room and just left to its own devices.

Room 3, easy. Nothing there, but let's fill it with rubble and add an auxiliary entrance through the ceiling.

But what about room 1? A "Sturdy Mechanical Trap". This one was a little tricky, especially since the map design lets you bypass it by going through different doors. So let's make all the exterior doors locked and use the trap in room 1 to unlock them. The party could still pick the locks, or they could go in through the ceiling of room 3 and still traverse the building.

Now that I know what the rooms contained, I fired up Affinity Designer and started populating the map with objects and some flavor to make the exterior areas more clear. Here's how that looks:

Map populated with icons and foliage.

Making a Single Page Adventure

Because I went completely off the edge here, I also crammed all of this into a single page dungeon. You can download it here or on Itch.io.

Wrap Up

Well, that does it again. Next time I'll be walking through how random generation works in Four Against Darkness, which is really the core premise of the game so it might wind up more of a game review than a map post - but we'll see how it goes. Thanks for tuning in!