Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dungeons with Hexes

Last week's post (megadungeon topology) looked at alternate approaches to laying out your sprawling campaign dungeon.  Inspired by the vastness of Tolkien's Moria, I've been drawn towards creating megadungeons that act more like wilderness adventures than depicting endless 10' corridors across a gigantic sheet of graph paper.

Plus, it was a chance to pay homage to the High Gygaxian way of doing things - Descent into the Depths of the Earth and Vault of the Drow.  Where the old ways are still the best ways.

Below are some examples demonstrating how I've used a hex approach in the home campaign, the Black City.  First up is a look at the Transit Tunnels.  The surface of the ruined city is a hex crawl composed of tumble down blocks, where locations with extant buildings or points of interest are marked by letters.  I used the outline of the city as a foot print for the dungeon level to plot, spatially, where the entrances to the dungeon from the surface city were located.  Continuity is a thing, right?  From there, it made sense to treat the first level like an extensive tunnel system similar to a modern day subway.  The locations of the small "mini dungeons" were plotted as nodes.  I prefer having multiple smaller dungeons, over a large 100+ room level, as it's easier to build strong themes into the distinct spaces.  Can't escape the whole "must be rational" thing.  Let there be a method to the madness, as the classic article once said.

Thus was born the Transit Tunnels.  Here's a view of the map as well as one of the individual dungeons.  It goes to show you don't need any actual, you know, map making talent or mad software skillz, for something to work well at the table.

Scheme for the Transit Tunnels - the Well of Woe was at "A"
 The "Dragon's Den" mini dungeon

The dungeon map is from "The Dragon's Den", listed as node E on the Transit Tunnels.  At the end of the large east-west tunnel in the center of the map was the frozen lair of the white dragon, and the humongous chamber south of that passage was the lair of Zoltan the Welder, one of the alien super intelligences that could manifest a physical form and interact with the world.  Zoltan had enslaved some Svartalfs, and the players took great relish in destroying it (the Assault on Zoltan).  My printed version of that map has all the numbers and hastily scrawled notes.

The players are now exploring the next level down, the voluminous "Warrens of Decay".  Once again, I used the surface of the city as the starting footprint to plot where entrances from above allowed ingress to the warrens, and plotted dead zones for any of the surface structures that extended to the deep levels.  For instance, the Spire of Thaumaturgy (north of the glacier) has an elevator into the deeps - that needed to be carried through the warrens.

Hex map for the Warrens
For folks that read the game reports, the players started near area 28.  The Cairn of the Dead Roman is location 6 in the lower part of the map, and the Kingdom of the Cave Men is area 2.  The domed structure where the players disintegrated the Stone Walker is near areas 9 and 10.  Many of the locales are mapped as small dungeons, making this place exactly like a night-bound wilderness hex crawl with many small lairs.  I won't say more about the Warrens, as this map is currently active in play, and any players reading the blog could pick up inadvertent spoilers.

The impetus for these posts on megadungeon topology was a comment on Death Mountain by Dwimmer Gan; I still need to circle back and talk about my plans for level 1 of Death Mountain!  Both Death Mountain and the structure for Harrow Home show a different take on this node-and-line based approach to top down design.  I'll talk through how they're shaping up in my notebooks.  It's a curious practice, but I design game spaces via text first, moving from notebooks to a text file, and drawing the actual maps as one of the last tasks.  I suppose that makes me an auditory person (rather than kinesthetic or visual).  Or maybe I'm just bad at maps.


  1. Yep - that's right - area F is where a "frost gremlins" lair was found, and there was a Jotun's head in an ice there. Good memory! The glacier cuts across the surface above that swath.

  2. I love this design, especially how the various areas feel so different. Have you created levels beneath the Warrens of Decay yet?

    1. They're only sketched out in the notebooks. I've envisioned them more like traditional dungeons (albeit separated by long tunnels, akin to the Transit Tunnels) but maybe a more creative idea will emerge by the time I start drawing them. The deep inhabitants are pretty weird.