Welcome once again to another edition of the Map Mine, wherein I discuss a map that I've put together to illustrate one or more map concept designs.
In previous posts I've talked about things like subverting expectations, adding branching paths, and other design techniques (both those I fully agree with and some I do not but still appreciate the style).
In this one, we're going to explore a weird library - where most of the rooms are designed to house books - much like a modern library or bookstores have sections of stacks, so too does this library. For this example I tried to keep the rooms to a minimum, but if I were to use this in a real adventure (and...I might, I'm really liking the idea), I would add even more different library rooms off of the winding corridors.
It additionally has some extra "features". For one, it's got a pair of sarcophagi hidden behind a secret door. Much like it's not uncommon for notable individuals to be interred inside a church or other building there is also historical precedent for a Library to double as a tomb. So, our pair of founding librarians are too interred in this building, hidden behind a sliding wall.
Likewise, there's a natural section in the southernmost part of the map. The hallway opens up into a natural cave system, littered with bones. I wanted to add a place to make the library even more strange and to place one of the stranger denizens that I wanted to place in here. There are several kinds of traditional D&D monsters that have the ability to absorb knowledge either willingly or not. Think Mind Flayers from D&D or Caulborn from Pathfinder. For us, though, we want something less directly sentient - I'm envisioning a monster that can absorb the minds of its victims and answer questions almost like a recording. Dangerous, impossible to reason with, and yet still useful for a library that wants to extract and record more information.
Multiple Levels as a Branching Mechanism
One of the features of this map is that it adds branching paths by having multiple sections of the map that can go up or down, depending on the direction of stairs or pits. I've not included the below level in the example, but take note of the various places you can move between the levels to create branching paths for the players to explore.
I've talked about loops before, as a mechansim for making dungeon exploration interesting - but as a side effect (or, depending on the kind of game you're wanting to run, a primary effect) is that the players can take multiple paths. If you've placed a particular objective that they're after, then you need to consider that they might make a beeline there and back out. Or they might get lost exploring for days and never uncover the thing.
I think this is generally a good thing. A hallmark of a good game and a good GM is being able to roll with the players making interesting and bizarre choices. If they make it to your macguffin really quickly, that's okay! Let them get on with their objective. Alternatively, give them a challenge on the way out - did they loudly proclaim that they're going for loot at the tavern the other night? Perhaps there's a rival party. It's all about not railroading the players, letting them make their choices and never ever sticking too closely to your plan.
If they keep exploring a bunch of different rooms - awesome! You get to showcase more of the set pieces and have fun building out the environment and watching your players do unexpected things with it.
What's important for the looping technique (as I mention in some of the other points and other folks have written extensively on the topic) is giving the players and their characters a real choice in how they want to explore. One of the most common critiques I've seen about published adventures is how GMs feel compelled to railroad the players into a set series of events. Don't do that, railroading is boring.
The other minor thing I wanted to call out on this map is I've got implied verticality with how the dungeon corridors loop underneath each other. This means the dungeon is on a slope. Does your brain interpret that representation as a dead end, or as a loop underneath?
On Dungeon Meta Continuity
I've also alluded to this in some other posts, but I figured I should have a section here to talk about how the "meta" continuity of the dungeon plays into all of my dungeon designs.
Several classic megadungeons (The Black Temple in particular) have a bit of continuity to the rooms, but sometimes they place things in there that are completely nonsensical and make zero effort to connect the pieces together. How did that pile of orc corpses get into the room? Why is the adjacent room decorated like a space ship when this whole place is a medieval dungeon?
Those things can be kind of fun, and in a few of the adventures I've even seen prefaces that flat out say that they're not designing for continuity. But, hey, this is one of those things that I prefer to have continuity across. The entire map should be logical, even if there are rooms that subvert expectations.
Let's take our cave section in this map - it's a weird natural structure inside of the larger library. Above we talked about it as being a lair of a creature that the librarians essentially used as a living book. The "why" the creature is there is just that - it's being used like a living knowledge repository. But why is the room the way it is? There are a couple of different answers depending on where you've placed the library on a wider map - it could simply be an unfinished room where they stashed the creature if the library were hewn from the side of a mountain. It could also have been carved specifically to cater to the creature's needs or desires.
Likewise, why are the sections separated by long corridors? In a functional library you typically want to make it easier for the denizens to get around. In this library, it's designed for a purpose. The idea I was playing with here is the idea of "scholarship as meditation" - the long walk down the hall and back is almost ritual in its desire to make the scholars have a distinct mental separation between the main hall and the sub hallways.
Now, as you can probably tell, some of these things are loosely connected - and possibly spurious from the character's perspective. Which I think is awesome, it leaves room for ambiguity or the GM running the module to make changes or come up with alternative explanations. for why things are the way they are. You're not locked into one explanation - it's just the one I've thought up.
Thanks again for tuning in to another episode. I'm not actually sure what the next episode is going to be about, but once I figure it out, I'll update this post. See you next time!