Using my list of good dungeon design elements that I had compiled earlier, I began to analyze my initial concept for the Caverns of Lakoma. As I went through each item, it inspired more thoughts and development, until I had a nice foundation for the first level of the dungeon. The following captures the core of that initial process.
Create a short background, no more than 2-3 sentences.
The Lakoma people carved an underground city over four levels deep from a pre-existing natural cave system. When they died from a plague brought by the Bedari, the spirits of the Lakoma remained behind to wander the halls listlessly. Over a decade ago, humanoids rediscovered the caves and have begun to use it as a base of operations. In recent months, diabolists traveling in exile discovered one of the hidden entrances, and now fight both the humanoids and the undead for a place within the Caverns of Lakoma.
Use the three factions rule. PC actions will tend to have long term consequences if factions are involved.
The three factions of the Caverns of Lakoma are: Lakoma spirits and undead, a tribe of humanoid raiders and a small cult of diabolists.
Create at least three named NPCS that can server as potential allies, good villains, and provide other opportunities for negotiations and roleplaying interaction. Each NPC should have an interesting personality trait.
- "The Chieftain": A revenant who, in his living years, was once the chieftain of the Lakoma. He will not rest so long as non-Lakoma walk the halls of his underground city.
- Arihapelo the Dragon: The leader of the tribe of humanoid raiders. The only force stronger in Arihapelo's life than his intense greed is his fierse pride.
- Mubarak Khalil: The leader of the exiled cultists. Mubarak prefers the company of demons to that of mortals, and treats his followers as little more than slaves and potential sacrifices.
Define relations between the NPCs in a sentence or two.
- "The Chieftain" hates both Arihapelo and Mubarak, and wants them both dead or gone.
- Arihapelo wants to see Mubarak enslaved and his demons dismissed from the city, and wants to use "The Chieftain" to locate other treasures within the city.
- Mubarak seeks to magically bind "The Chieftain," and desires the treasures and magic held by Arihapelo.
Have multiple goals, to increase the diversity of experiences that can be had in the dungeon.
On this level:
- Rescue someone who is about to be sacrificed from diabolists.
- Recover stolen goods held by Arihapelo's raiders.
- Put the spirit of "The Chieftain" to rest.
Have a secret that the players can figure out about the dungeon itself, or some similar concept.
Perhaps the Lakoma tribe bound a great evil spirit in the depths of their city, and that's part of the reason their spirits cannot rest. Hmmm. It's a classic, been done to death, really, but there's a reason it works. I'll have to keep playing with this one.
Use interesting terrain to make things more memorable and more challenging.
Between the chimneys and chutes, the columns to support larger rooms, and the murder holes, about the only thing I really need now is an underground river with a rickety old rope bridge across it.
Provide a mix of intelligent opposition, to vary the player experience. At least one encounter should provide a tactical challenge, and thus become interesting through their choice of actions.
The different factions and how they interact with one another should provide the basis for some tactical challenges. Specifics will evolve as the room layout falls into place.
If monsters are not intelligent, make them interesting. Slimes are more interesting than low-level undead because we've seen so many of those.
The warping effects of the Great Evil trapped below should give me a great excuse to introduce some interesting unintelligent monsters here.
Provide at least one setup that can be exploited in combat by tactically minded players, such as a bottleneck, a ledge, a bridge, a fortified position, etc.
See the rope bridge idea mentioned above.
Provide an opportunity to spy on enemies for the stealthily minded players, such as a murder hole, a grate, a tiny tunnel, a scrying ball, etc.
See murder holes mentioned above.
Introduce memorable magic items. A rod of thunder and lightning is better than a +1 sword.
Perhaps a Seven Spirit Bag or something similar with an appropriately Native American flavor? I'll dig around in my old Legends & Lore.
Provide stuff to interact with for players who like to experiment. Add suggestions for possible reactions.
I'm honestly at a loss for what to put here. I will have to consider this element separately. About the only thing that comes to mind at first blush would be a trapped demon who bargains with them in an attempt to game freedom.
Introduce traps that address the potential for classic PC sneakiness, such as using amulets to emulate membership in one of the factions, to encourage thought and consequences.
Aside from the use of robes and masks to infiltrate the diabolists, I can't think of much in this direction off the top of my head. This might make for another interesting blog topic in the future.
Provide an opportunity for long-term change to the player characters, such as earning a title of nobility, finding a magic throne or fountain that permanently changes someone, etc.
Aside from the demon that could grant wishes, I can easily imagine the Great Evil trapped on the bottom floor providing opportunities for long-term change, such as membership in a secret society that fights the minions of the Trapped One, mutations via warping energies, and so on.
Provide useful room descriptions (probably using the format for Lairs from our earlier discussion on Hex Content templates). Use bolded text sparingly, to help with reading the important elements of an entry.
This will be evident in the text I create to describe the rooms. This one is pretty much a technical issue, not a creative one.
Usable map, with in-map notes to make it easier to run at the table.
Easy enough to work out, as the elements come together. Again, this is a technical issue as opposed to a creative one.
Multiple entrances and exits. (Think tunnels, shafts, chimneys and crawlways.)
For starters, we have:
- A ventilation shaft leading to the top of the mesa, disguised as wells for a ruined settlement above.
- A natural cave entrance.
- Two steep sloped passages connecting to the second level.
Despite the first run through on the list, it's obvious that I have a few areas to work on:
- Opportunities for PC experimentation
- Opportunities for PC sneakiness
- The Map
- The Room Write-Ups
My next post or two on this subject should wrap up the Caverns of Lakoma first level write-up, as I go into these elements and build up the One Page Dungeon for my notes on the Egyptian Great Plains mini-setting.