build RPG dungeons

Is This the Best Way to Build RPG Dungeons?

There are tons of ways to build dungeons for your sessions of Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, from randomly generated maps to complicated computer software, but this method might just be the best way to build RPG dungeons you’ll ever find.

I’m a visual, hands-on kind of guy. I love playing with LEGO, painting miniatures, and kitbashing. It’s my meditative place, where I’m not deeply inside my head or thinking about anything particular, just enjoying the flow of the moment.

There’s a practical side to this too, one which overcomes the limitations of a computer.

I do my best writing on paper. Even though it takes time to type up my scrawl afterwards, I don’t see it as wasted time, because my writing is that much better when the first draft is analogue.

There’s something about the real feeling of things, about being able to scratch, tweak, modify, and scribble, without keys interfering.

That’s why I like building out my dungeons with bits of homemade scenery.

Prisoners
“Just what kind of dungeon is this?”

The Process

I’ve made lots of terrain for my wargaming, much of which I’ve shown in the Mini Monday archives. This took me a fairly long time to collect, but now that I have it I find that it inspires all sorts of ideas, just from playing with the pieces.

The dungeon, in effect, has become a toy, and building the dungeon is the game.

You can do the same thing with dungeon tiles, or with a pencil and post-it notes. You could even use LEGO, or use books to represent rooms, anything you can easily move around and change.

The physical, impermanent nature of your tool is important.

Things to Think About

What will make this dungeon, or this room, this trap, this encounter, more interesting? How do these rooms relate to each other? How else can the players achieve what they need to achieve here? What reasons do they have to go into this room, interact with this object, talk to this NPC?

Think about these things as you shift walls and doors, add furniture and traps, or put down monster minis for each encounter.

And then, when you’re finally happy with things, draw out your map, or go to the mapping software. I promise, you’ll have better ideas to work with than if you jumped straight into making the map.

RPG Blog Carnival

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is hosted by Plastic Polyhedra, who picked the theme “Let’s Build a Dungeon!” Be sure to check out their site and the linked post for more dungeon design ideas.

rpg blog carnival logo

3 thoughts on “Is This the Best Way to Build RPG Dungeons?”

    1. Thanks Gonz!

      I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple, which comes from doing lots of editing work. A lot of RPG writers like to be longwinded, which was my own issue for a long time.

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