The Map Mine: Keyed Dungeon pt. 1

The Map Mine: Keyed Dungeon pt. 1
Turns out the cadence for these posts was a bit too close for me to effectively manage with quality posts, so after this two-parter we'll be moving to an every other week schedule.
Every other Wednesday Alex will walk through a map he's created and discuss some of the design choices behind it.
Keyed Dungeon Map

Welcome once again to another addition of The Map Mine, this time we're going to take a look at a subsection of a dungeon complex. I've decided to split this into a two-parter: The first part will discuss the layout and the design choices and the second part will be a fully keyed dungeon adventure featuring the map. The intent is that the adventure will be compatible with Shadowdark RPG under the Shadowdark RPG Third Party License (but as this is an experiment in a system I've never actually run - it's very likely to be really really bad! We'll see!)

As in the previous maps, once I've got the general idea sketched out (on paper or in my head) I start with a base in Dungeonscrawl to get the general layout ready to go, export that as an image, and import it into Affinity Designer as the base layer. Once that's done I can start adding the icons and flavor to the design.

I'll be doing a video covering how I use Dungeonscrawl in the near future - keep an eye out.

The Map

This is the largest map we've examined so far, clocking in at 8 rooms - one room larger than our second place contender Chaos House. The underlying premise behind this map is that it's the base of operations for a disgraced noble, run from town and looking to take revenge on the royal family who abandoned him. He's not a nice man, and has committed crimes that more than justify his ouster and banishment. Regardless, he's decided to recruit some assistance and outfit a small band to sow discord among the community with the ultimate goal of bringing pain to his family and get his revenge upon all of them.

How he came to be in an offshoot of a dungeon is left to the next post, but for now, sufficed to say he moved in and has an unsteady peace with the other denizens of the complex.

General Design Features

I did not want this portion of a dungeon map to feel like it has any "homey" elements to it. The primary inhabitant is essentially roughing it in room #1, and then using the remainder of the rooms to facilitate his revenge. It's spartan.

Food and restroom services must come from somewhere else - either he's foraging from the rest of the dungeon complex, or he's made a pact with something to keep him sustained.

Lighting is generally "fine". There are torches lining the walls of the main hallway, and the remainder of the rooms are dimly lit via lanterns positioned in various places (the library has several of these atop the bookcases). However, Shadowdark relies on torches running low to manage the time pressure - so while it's not strictly required, we're going to include a bit of a lighting-based surprise for the PCs in room 3.

I'm very new to how Shadowdark RPG plays, and this'll be my first adventure in the system - so this is my best interpretation of the system from reading the book and other published materials as well as a long series of chats with the wonderful Arcane Library community on Discord.

The contents of the rooms have been trucked in (with the possible exception of the library), evidence of prior habitation should be observable as the party moves through the rooms, but basically every bit of furniture should be new, or repurposed.

Flow of the Map

By my estimation, the first order of business for a disgraced noble trying to establish a base of operations would be to carve out somewhere to rest near to the location where he'll be working. Room #2 serves this purpose. But, it's not an actual bedroom, because I want this noble to feel obsessed. He doesn't pay much attention to his own bodily needs, so a simple bedroll and a small campfire amid a pile of clutter is sufficient for him. He's definitely had an opportunity to improve his accommodations - but he hasn't. He's too focused on the objective to even care about creature comforts. It's basically his nest. He's also extremely unlikely to be there.

Directly across the hall from his nest is his "command center".  This serves the purpose of the "planning" area. Planning should be used loosely here - the man inhabiting the area is behaving irrationally - a manifestation of his entitlement and rage.

The rest of the area moves around around in a circle. If we look back to the previous episode, you can find some of the design philosophy around how to do interesting dungeon crawling experience. We don't really hit much more than "a few dead ends and turnbacks to confuse the party" here - but we can add some interesting features at the end of those hallways to hint at what the area could have been before its current inhabitants took over.

...about those inhabitants

The other thing I wanted to play on was the trope of "single man makes dark pact to fulfill his desires" - in the most literal sense. At first, our antagonist was just fuming, but he came across the library in area 7, and therein as if by a miracle, he found his deliverance - the ability to summon aid. He set up an altar in area 3, and set about populating the area with some friends.

The first order of business, summon something to arm the strike forces he's been sending to town. For the forgemaster, he set up area 4 as a workspace which he's been using to churn out weaponry and equipment to fuel his revenge upon his family and the town that houses them.

After that, he needs to summon a strike force - and he's using the materials in Room 8 to accomplish that. To add additional interest to that - the strikeforce also has hyper intelligent devil dogs - complete with prehensile tail and humanlike hands.

Finally, I imagine he's had a few meetings with various other members of the dungeon complex - and room 5 serves the purpose of meeting with those creatures. This should be the only room which has some kind of refreshment, the purpose of which the cabinetry in room 6 serves. This'll serve as one of the treasure touchpoints for the map.

On the Importance of Treasure

Sometimes, the system for which you design the map has some elements to it which will require some additional map considerations. For Shadowdark RPG, this is the default way the characters gain Experience Points. They aren't incentivized to stop everything in the dungeon, they gain XP for gathering things that are valuable - both tangible and intangible.

This is how some other retroclones award XP, as well as 1e D&D (well, in addition to murder). There's a great article on the 1e subject over on ENWorld.

To this effect, I've scattered several places where you can have valuables - the altar, the cabinet with fine liquors, and even the devils our antagonist has summoned can be coerced into revealing secrets.

In part 2, I'll explain the adventure I've put together along with some of the elements that I've incorporated to jive better with the style of play that Shadowdark RPG shines at - and as I think I've learned - it's community resonates with.


As always, I hope you've enjoyed this installment of The Map Mine. Part 2 continues with this same map next week, after which we'll move to an every two weeks schedule.