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James’ Dungeon Discussion

We’ve asked James Hutt, our adventure designer extraordinaire, to return and give us more insight into Book of Tales, the upcoming adventure compilation for The Witcher Tabletop Roleplaying Game.

He decided a discussion about dungeon design would be just dandy.


Hello, it’s James Hutt again.

Do you like sewers?

What about puzzle rooms?

If you answered “no”, too bad! Because today I’m going to talk about designing awesome “dungeons” for The Witcher TRPG.

Q: What is a dungeon, and why are you using “air quotes”?

A: A dungeon is not always a series of subterranean rooms with disposable henchmen and a boss monster at the bottom! It can be anywhere, and anything, so long as it falls within the following definition:

“A dungeon is a series of curated gameplay challenges bound into one interconnected location.”

I want to zoom in on two of those words: Curated and Interconnected.

These two words are essential for making an awesome dungeon. Screw either one up, and your dungeon will suck.

Curated means balanced and quality assured. One bad room can bring down an otherwise great dungeon, and if your dungeon is all combat challenges, I don’t care how great they all are, by the end, your players will be sick of hitting things with their swords. Vary up the content and keep it fresh.

Interconnected is much harder to achieve. It means that each room of the dungeon is related in some way to at least one other room in the dungeon. Warning: This requires careful planning. But when done correctly, your dungeon will “make sense”. It will be believable as a location. When your players tear it to pieces at the end of their swords, it will politely explain itself to them as they do so.

Here’s an example of one of my favorite dungeon rooms that I wrote for the upcoming book of adventures for The Witcher TRPG.

SPOILER ALERT!

Also, the following content is subject to change and may not appear in the final product.

The sewers under Maribor are a wreck due to a combination of broken magical infrastructure and good, old fashioned monster infestation.

The armies of Nilfgaard, who recently took possession of the city, are too busy to fix it, and they probably just killed the guy who knew how it all worked in the first place.

Your players are there to kill some cultists who have a secret lair hidden somewhere in the sewers (Coram Agh Tera, by the way).

In these sewers, a series of collection lines flow into a main waste line, which forks away in two different directions: one that leads directly out of the city, and the other which feeds into the south section of the sewers.

Three heavy metal dividers are suspended by chains which can be raised and lowered, using a series of levers, to increase or decrease the water level in the channel or divert the main waste line in either direction.

A golem was created to do this job, but one of the levers it was created to pull rusted away a year ago. The golem is still there, dutifully pulling at the empty space the level once occupied. Truly, employee of the year material.

The party wants to reach a cultist’s stiff body buried in the toxic sludge in the middle of the wide channel to get a key it holds in the stony grip of death. Draining this section of the main waistline will accomplish the puzzle’s main goal.

That’s Curated!

BUT, if they fix the broken lever, they can divert the main waist line into a direction that has been dry since the mechanism broke a year ago, a rude awakening for the monster that has made that particular location it’s lair. This will make the upcoming fight against that monster SIGNIFICANTLY easier.

That’s Interconnected!

How do you like that silver?

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