[RPG] How to build interesting dungeons?


I'm a new GM and I need to undestand how to build enjoyable locations.

I don't get how to build interesting dungeons. For example, I need to explore a castle. But a castle is not as complicated as the classical "maze of caverns", so it would just be a boring walk. What can I do to improve my dungeon creating skills?

Best Answer

For me, there are 2 main questions that you should ask yourself. The first one is "what will I, the GM, find interesting?" The second is "what will interest my players?" These are the most important questions and from them we are going to build the dungeon.

After we do that, there's one thing that should be made clear: "Where the main action in this dungeon should take place? Is it a long road filled with monsters or is it a collection of rooms, each one with its own set of monsters (or even a single one)?" If it is a collection of rooms with a few corridors connecting between them, you can practically almost skip the walking between the rooms, focusing instead on the rooms themselves. As the question is about a castle, I'll assume that we're talking about a set of rooms with monsters and the like within them, connected by corridors.

Our next question, then, is "what is the story of this castle?" The castle is not just a castle, right? It's a famous place, the source of many a legend. As such, we need to create such a legend. Let's go for a simple one, as an example: "The famous wizard Olivius created this dungeon in order to defend all of his treasures, but most of all, in order to lock the great dragon Zarius Maximus away from the village, believing he may be able to catch 2 birds at once." What does this legend tell us? That there's a dragon waiting in the end of the dungeon, that this place was made by a great wizard and as such will be guarded by many dangerous things, and that there's a great treasure there. It also gives us a reason to go nuts with what we're about to put there.

Now we implement the answers to the first 2 questions. If, for example, Robert is interested in big fights against huge monsters, we can put a giant for him. If Lisa wants to disarm a great trap, we can implement a trap that will be so thrilling that when she'll disarm it it will be remembered for ages. The trick is to put in the rooms what the group (and that includes you) finds interesting.

When we finish this we have a list of rooms with monsters/traps/treasures within them. Now we're beginning to connect between them. The main trick here is to make sure that we don't forget anyone of the players. It means that each room should be surrounded by rooms that interest other players, aiming for an equal representation of all the players' interests. Then you tweak it a little, so it won't be too formulaic. If the rooms that interest Lisa the most are always surrounded by rooms that interest Olivia, then we'll replace some of the surrounding rooms by rooms that interest Richard.

To conclude all of this, here's a summary of the steps you should make:

  1. What does interest me? What does interest my players? These are the things that we want to see within the dungeon.

  2. Is this a long road filled with monsters or is it a collection of rooms, each one with its own set of monsters?

  3. What is the story/legend of this dungeon?"

  4. Now we fill the dungeon with monsters, traps and the like, according to the legend and to the things that interest us.

  5. Connecting the different parts of the dungeon with corridors, for example.

  6. Tweaking the way we located the rooms a little bit, so it won't be formulaic.