Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Top Down Versus Bottom Up

The Anti-Beedo Returns

You're probably familiar with the terms "top down" or "bottom up"; they're frequently used in the business world  for planning, and I've seen them used in design and software development as well.  We'll frequently specify a top down or bottoms up approach to generating a project plan or a budget, for instance.

Top down revolves around decomposition; set an overall target or objective, and then break down that monolithic piece until you're down to the right level of detail.  "The software budget this year is $XX dollars; let's allocate that to the different business units based on their percentage of the overall headcount".  You won't know the details of how you're spending those software dollars until much further along in the process, but you're progressively decomposing the overall budget until you get to the requisite level of detail, while staying within those overarching constraints set at the beginning.

A bottoms up approach is the opposite; you'd start with the actual departments, aggregate their detailed software development requests, assign dollar values, and generate a budget by rolling up the sums from the lowest level of detail.  Sometimes those roll ups put you way off target!

That's a brief introduction to the terms; the reasons why to use one approach over another is a different matter.  However, this is a gaming blog, so let's swing the discussion back around to dungeons.  Part of my decision to step outside my normal thinking (to become... The Anti-Beedo) was to apply a top down approach to the latest dungeon.

Beedo always used to start with the details of rooms, encounters, lairs, and inhabitants and assemble the maps piecemeal later; the Anti-Beedo wants to start with the maps, and use random stockers to blow out lots of content, and work out the details later.

The top down approach dictated a 10-level dungeon (the way Gary meant it to be), with the thinking that each level will target 100-120 rooms, divided into 3-4 themes or sub levels on each major level.  I quickly put together maps for the first two dungeon levels (8 individual mapped areas) and built the appropriate random stockers.  I'm going to circle back and complete the 4 maps for level 3, add the random stockers for level 3, and then spend a little time elaborating the details, reconciling inconsistencies, moving things around necessary.  Three levels is more than enough content to launch a game.  Overall, the top down approach seems to generate a large scope blindingly fast.  This new dungeon will be fully armed and operational extremely quickly.  (The emperor will be pleased with my progress).

I've gone with the Greek myth theme.  It's high fantasy and can leverage existing D&D bestiaries and take advantage of classic D&D "as is" without being Tolkein.  I can direct the kiddos to Xena and Hercules, Percy Jackson and Clash of the Titans, for inspiration and ideas and character concepts.  The dungeon revolves around the legendary Road to Hell Hades - a winding passage into the depths of the Earth, culminating at the River Styx, Charon the Ferryman, Cerberus, and the gates to Hades' Realm.

I previously discussed the ideas as "Death Mountain", and you can see the original inspiration here:  Death Mountain.  Unfortunately, I'm now planning on putting the dungeon near a coastal sea cave and cliff, with nary a mountain in sight, so I'm probably going to secure a new name.  ("The Vaults of Pluton" is my mental front runner).  In the next few days, I'll provide more insight into the top down design, how I built the random stockers, and so forth.  It's been a pretty interesting exercise.  Liberating, even.  If you have ideas for a name, suggestions are welcome.  Especially something in Greek or Greek-sounding.  You guys are a smart group of readers, I'm sure there's someone out there with a background in Classics or antiquities.


  1. Are you using Taenarum -- an actual coastal cave identified in Greek mythology as an entrance to Hades -- or is your use of a coastal cave a complete coincidence? If it's the latter, then I think you have your name.

  2. That name is really good. I was indeed thinking of the caves on Cape Matapan - the classical location for the entrance to the underworld - and knew the name Tainaron was used for the place. I wan't familiar with the alternate names - some variation of Taenarum, Taenarus or Tenaro should work fine as a name for the dungeon.

  3. The Cliffs of Insanity come to mind. I'm about as Classically literate as I am Car literate, which is to say that i know not to walk in the street but that's a bout it. However, the idea of the dungeon being in a seaside cliff is kind of appealing even as it presents a bunch of problems.