TMC: Daedalian Musing – Dungeon Crawling? Advanced-Current


Dungeon Crawling? Advanced-Current
by Delphine Lynx

The purpose of this piece will be to examine the different factors which go into the creation of an Advanced-Current style dungeon, and is intended as a companion article to the others in the Dungeon Crawling? series.

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”

As with so many other things in life, the Advanced-Current dungeon represents both the least frequent and, potentially, the most interesting of our options. When it comes to dungeon creation, the advanced-current style stands out because only it pushes the limits of what a fantasy dungeon entails. The typical dungeon of this style (referred to henceforth as AC, for convenience) takes one of two forms:

  • Deathtrap: In this form, the dungeon is a swirling mass with no apparent purpose save to cause death to the unwary adventurer. Rather than cells, laboratories or storage areas, this dungeon is simply filled with trap after trap and some of the most difficult monsters in the game. What this provides is a gauntlet style of dungeon, wherein the players can be tested constantly as they struggle to progress ever further into the dungeon’s termination. An excellent example of this style dungeon, for those familiar with Shadowrun, is the Renraku Arcology – in essence a giant box which has been taken over and filled to the brim with security. The layout is not inherently designed for utility anymore, or at least, if it is, it is designed for such in a way which humans cannot comprehend. As far as the adventurer is concerned, every room exists simply to kill them, interspaced with the occasional room which may have treasure or some other such perk.
  • Lair: On the other end of the spectrum is the AC dungeon used as a lair or fortress, wherein each and every room has its own specific purpose. What’s more, the security is perfectly suited to the logical needs of any one area. Although these dungeons are typically extremely difficult to adventure in, they tend to be more reasonable than are the deathtrap style dungeons, as both the layout and the security are logically based and presented as being for the purpose of getting maximum utility out of the dungeon. For this sort of dungeon, picture any stereotypical high security research facility or compound. Security exists to protect certain areas, and the feel of the entire thing is of orderly functionality. Corridors connect things, and the feel is less of a maze than merely of a highly secure building.

Before providing a detailed discussion of creating either type of dungeon, I would like first to outline some of the aspects which go into creating an Advanced-Current dungeon of either type, in much the same manner as was done in the discussion on caves. A unifying theme which we will see emerging very quickly is that of the unimportance of reality. Based upon their very rarity and abstract nature, these dungeons are inherently less restricted than are their more common brethren, and as such warrant special consideration.

Entering an AC dungeon doesn’t need to be as straight forward an affair as enterting the other style dungeons. Given the amount of money, magic and/or technology assumed to be employed in having created these dungeons, the player can be expected to enter in any way the designer desires. Some methods I personally found to be of interest include:

  • Time triggered portals tend to be interesting, because they channel exploration of the dungeon into specific times of day – thereby, in essence, forcing team work by those seeking to explore it, as they are all entering at once. Though the players can still skirt the issue if they’d like, either by entering and then logging out or by entering and then not exploring in groups, this entrance style still rather facilitates grouping. Even taking the grouping issue as an aside, though, time specific entrances tend to create a sense of importance as far as the area they guard is concerned. If security is so paramount that the area’s owner seals it off except when absolutely necessary, whatever’s within must be extremely important.
  • Airlock style one way entrances are another option, wherein the players must pass through a door which will seal behind them before they are able to progress into the dungeon proper. One possible option here, though a risky one, is to make death within this airlock essentially certain unless the players have proper identification of some kind. Literature and history both are filled with tales of travellers making over the drawbridge only to be slain upon attempting to retreat or enter the castle proper.
  • A far cry from the other two, you also have the option just of using a generic N/S/E/W/U/D entrance and leaving the rest of the dungeon to provide difficulty. The advantage of this is that it provides the players not only with a false sense of security, but it also delays the emergence of the unrealistic elements so prevalent in such dungeons until after the players are deeper within.
  • Standard one way entrances are a bit of a cheap trick, but ultimately quite effective for dungeons of this difficulty. If players know before entering that their only way out is all the way on the other side they are apt to be far more careful.

Naturally quite a few other variations exist. Any of the above can be set in any physical location whatsoever, or replaced with something of your own design. The style one would typically like to project here, as per my preference, would be that of inaccessability and uniqueness from the start. By beginning with a daunting entrance, you put the player immediately on edge and in awe of what’s to come.

At the point that the players have pased the entrance, what’s next is up to you. My suggestion would be to plan out the dungeon’s layout in great detail before attempting to create anything, because the style of one room directly impacts the style of the next, and so forth. In order for this to come through in your descriptions, I would advice creating the complete map before you even begin to write anything for each room.

Some thoughts on mapping:

Deathtrap Lair
  • Remember that, even though there is no specific purpose to the room layout insofar as function (i.e., medical lab next to medical storage, etc) there will still be a purpose to the layout in terms of avenues of approach, etc. Typically the best way to handle this is to choose your treasure related rooms first, and then connect them in such a way as to make them the least easily accessable rooms in the dungeon. Remember, the more rooms the players must walk through, the more time it takes, and the more times they get lost, the more likely they are to die before reaching the treasure rooms.
  • Throw in quite a few forks and/or dead ends. In this style of dungeon, the architecture needn’t make sense from any logical perspective except to confuse and bother the players. Keeping this in mind, you can do as much as humanly possible to frustrate their attempts to fully explore the dungeon – all without needing to worry about any lack of realism, because confusing adventurers is the purpose of said dungeon.
  • Dividing the dungeon into ‘segments’ of sorts can often work nicely, and will allow you to differentiate thematically as well. Sections can be marked by any manner of divider, from a complex doorway to a sign to nothing at all. The other advantage offered by such an arrangement is to allow you to differentiate between suggested level ranges, as such a clear division will serve as an easy excuse for segregating monster and trap types.
  • Decide early on the purpose of the dungeon. Will there be torture chambers? A mage’s laboratory? Once you’ve done that, it should be apparent what other rooms are required and the sort of traffic which will exist between them, allowing you to then decide how to route your corridors and where to place your security. Further, rooms with specific purposes ought to be as abundant as possible, because miles of empty corridor quickly becomes uninteresting.
  • Even though these dungeons must be designed for the utmost utility, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be easily navigable by adventurers. The lair of an archmagus, for instance, may be lacking in proper doorways, if said NPC can teleport. Likewise, if the dungeon’s owner can fly, there may be large pits placed about the dungeon. The point here is that, even within the framework of a logical, efficient dungeon, you can stil work in certain structural anomalies.
  • All eccentricities aside, the dungeon itself must be highly functional. In order to maintain this, I would suggest that you begin your work by plotting it out as you would a town – key rooms/locations, followed by paths, followed by the less significant rooms. Going in this manner you will have the sort of efficient, easily accessable pathways required of any high use, high efficiency dungeon.

At the point that your dungeon’s layout has been completed, the next step will be to determine the specific feel you’d like your dungeon to have. How much effort you put into this step depends largely upon the style of your MUD. In a pure HnS MUD, the room descriptions matter very little, and the dungeon’s feel will be projected more through the monsters, treasures and traps present. In a MUSH, on the other hand, room descriptions are much more likely to be read and can be used to project different impressions. While only you will know just how much work is warranted here for your MUD specifically, my suggestion would be to at the very least cover the planning stage. At the point that you’ve decided on a complete feel, even if the room descriptions are extremely brief, enough of it will come through to have been worthwhile.

  • Unless there’s an idea you’d specifically like to convey as an alternate, immaculate cleanliness tends to work well for these dungeons. Not only does it suggest the quality involved, but for the deathtrap style dungeons it lends the necessary air of immortality and monotony. On the other hand, especially in a deathtrap style dungeon, a large mess works as well. The one thing I would suggest be avoided is refuse. Though heaps of objects are fine – broken furniture, old weapons, stones – miscellaneous dirt and garbage tends just to muddle the dungeon’s feel.
  • Don’t neglect your doorways. While N/S/E/W/U/D exits can be fine, at the very least decide what they represent. Hallways? Doors? Airlocks? No dungeon of this type will be completely unsecured and, while in a fantasy world there aren’t liable to be magnetic scanners or anything of that nature, magical wards or locks can certainly represent a hindrance to the progress of an adventuring party. As with anything else, however, be sure not to overuse locked doors. In MUD design you are constantly treading the line between what you might like to do and what will unduly frustrate the players, and more than a few locked doors in a row tend to fall into the latter category.
  • Determine the principal material of the dungeon and mention it frequently. Though your ordinary dungeons may be produced primarily of featureless stone, AC dungeons tend to be much more carefully constructed, with hand picked or even magically created materials. An example of this might even go so far as something like the AD&D spell Wall of Iron, with which you could theoretically present the characters with an all metal dungeon. Though not necessary, choosing a proper material can help to let the players know just how much work went into the dungeon they are exploring and, by extension, just how important it is.

Having now a layout and a general idea of the style you’re going for, it’s time at last to move onto the more interesting and exciting elements of the dungeon, namely traps and monsters. Though admittedly security, from a logical standpoint, ought to be secondary to whatever is being protected, from the standpoint of most MUDs it is of course the security (i.e. mobs and traps) which comprise the reason for the dungeon’s existance.

Monsters, if only because they represent the less complex of the two, will be touched upon first. Essentially, as veteran builders, you all know the aspects which go into creating monsters, and thus I’m not going to reiterate them here. Instead, I want to add just a few thoughts which may be taken into consideration in fleshing out some of the ideas you already have.

  • Personality is key. If the players fought your monster without being able to see its name, would they recognize it? While an answer of ‘No’ may be acceptable in general, for a dungeon of this style, everything must feel bigger than life; everything must feel unique. On account of this I would suggest, at the very least, including mob programs for emotes on the part of the monsters.
  • Keep in mind that these opponents, in most cases, represent security guards – and security guards, even in areas where they’re authorized to use lethal force, don’t quite behave as typical monsters do. Instead they offer the opportunity to include mob programs for team work, teleporting, calling in backup, sealing off doors, etcetera. When one night yells “Help!” his call is seldom unheard, and there’s no reason not to write an ample number of programs to enable this aspect of defending forces to be represented.
  • Include one type of ‘uber enemy’ which may be used to supplement the ordinary security guards. Most ‘dungeons’ have them, be they the destroyer droids in Star Wars: Episode I or the Agents in The Matrix. Some sort of extremely dangerous enemy which may pop up at any time adds an air of urgency to the dungeon crawl, and will encourage your players to exercise caution as they proceed.

Traps…traps I was torn about the inclusion of. Though they form a lynchpin of this style of dungeon, the subject is also broad enough in breadth to warrant, in a sense, its own article. As such, I have decided to touch upon it briefly here, with the understanding that in a future article it is a subject I will detail more thoroughly.

Obviously the first step is to see whether/how your MUD supports them. Fortunately, even in MUDs which don’t, most can be faked through the use of cleverly placed mob programs upon mobs lacking a description (i.e., invisible mobs). Though this method isn’t particularly elegant, it works decently well for those seeking to utilize traps but lacking a coder willing to implement them immediately.

The use for traps depends quite a bit on the style in which they’re implemented. If they are indeed implemented as mob programs, then often when the player escapes they will do so by killing said mob – at which point they will be awarded experience, and as such shant be very agitated at the wasted time. On the other hand, if there is no reward save safety for avoiding a trap, then they must be used far more sparingly, least the players be frustrated. My best suggestion, as far as it goes, would be to start by putting them in key places where they’d logically belong, and expand from there. If the players seem to hate them, add no others. On the other hand, if they seem to be popular, adding them to more and more rooms is perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, no matter what you decide upon, traps really don’t work very well in text. Not only is their shock value dampened when presented in text, but the method of their application is also distorted. In most other games, it is player skill which helps to avoid traps; reflex to jump as a floor falls, or pure dodging as fireballs fly from the walls. MUDs, on the other hand, rely far more on character skill than player skill. As such, you must be sure to make traps inherently interesting and dynamic after having been triggered. While the triggering of traps may be less interesting in text than in graphical games, once a trap has gone off there can be quite a bit to do.

  • Escape the falling ceiling! This doesn’t work quite so well unless the area is dynamic, as players will simply find a way to script it. But in an area with dynamic routes… “The ceiling is falling! Get out of the area within 67 seconds or die.”
  • Particularly fun is the statue-as-a-monster or weak-monster-as-a-monster trick. Either one will confront the player unexpectely with a strong opponent – perhaps one of the uber guards mentioned above.
  • Avoid the generic Death Trap at all costs. No one likes DTs… no one. They’re intrusive, discourage exploration and are not only automatically fatal but generally absurd. No mater how much you’d like to randomly place DTs, I urge you to please consider utilizing a more reasonable, player friendly trap type. While DTs can be of use very rarely as far as a deterrant or threat device, they have no place in general use.

At this point you should have enough to begin the process of creating a dungeon. The nature of the medium is so specific to each individual that I cannot by any means present a roadmap here, but I’ve touched upon the key points you’re likely to face in planning and beginning work. Where you go from there is up to you.

Dungeon Crawling? Advanced-Current – copyright © 2002 by Delphine Lynx – All rights reserved.

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