Here is some feedback I’m offering for keying maps, since we have an opportunity to make a real difference as the project continues.
I would like to see rooms and areas keyed with a focus on enduring features. When the key describes something going on RIGHT NOW that’s only good once, and events elsewhere in the dungeon may make it irrelevant before anyone finds it.
Instead, I think it would really help me to have description of the room, then suggestions for stocking and treasure. The room is going to change a lot less than the critters in it. What are the odds that what’s in the lowest levels is going to still be there, static, when you get all the way there?
I’d much rather see the areas further from the entrance be handled more with factions and random tables than having individual rooms stocked with things that are most likely not going to be there by the time you’ve adventured to that depth.
Tell me orcs patrol the area including (set of keyed rooms.) Don’t tell me there are 5 patrolling orcs in room 6. Tell me the medusa’s lair is in room 18 and she prowls her section. Don’t tell me no matter when I show up, she’ll be seated at her table reading a book. For that matter, I’d rather have a table to indicate the state of readiness and the morale of a group I can split between rooms, than have a room by room description I have to pull that information from.
I think in something of this scope, focusing on beefing up how random encounters are used will trump putting specific creatures in specific rooms doing specific things in the room key.
What do others think?
For Beastmen in dungeons, I’ve been keying their lairs with rosters broken down into individual gangs, numbered so they can be rolled randomly. Then I key other areas witn notes like “this area is usually patrolled by one gang of lizard-people randomly chosen from the roster in room X.”
Keying a dungeon like this is a difficult thing. My original notes are sparse and I added to them as I played through the dungeon with my group. In translating those notes into a finished product, I was torn in several directions about how best to present the information and one of the options I considered was something similar to what you’re suggesting.
However, I quickly realize that, for a lot of people, that approach wouldn’t be very satisfying or useful. What I opted for was something that I hope is a “middle of the road” approach between too much and too little information. One thing I will say is that, I will be including notes on the various factions associated with each level, outlining their activities, goals, patrols, etc. in order to aid referees who want/need that kind of information.
“Tell me orcs patrol the area including (set of keyed rooms.) Don’t tell me there are 5 patrolling orcs in room 6.”
Is this something that a well constructed random encounter table can handle? For example:
1d6 (Pretend with me that this is the entire table)
1-2: Gelatinous Cubes (All of them)
3-4: 2d4 Kobolds from the tribe in the south caverns
5: 2d4 Orcs patrolling from their foothold in the western rooms
6: The Chimera from room 135, out hunting for food.
You have to provide alternate results over time. For example, once you wipe out the orcs you’ve got to replace that result. Well, the module can easily replace that result with whatever will take the Orcs’ place. Rats, centipedes, what have you. Something less dangerous than what came before. On the other hand, for the example of the Chimera, you’d want to say that that becomes “No Monster.” The absence of a big monster like that means the players have made a level very manifestly more secure.
I’m of the opinion that, within the contract of DM prep, nothing in the dungeon exists until it enters play, or play enters it.
If the module says there are 6 orcs playing cards in room 5, then that’s what’s there and that’s what they’ll be doing until the PCs kick in the door, or until something else happens in the dungeon (still probably instigated by the PCs) that would make card-playing orcs improbable.
The whole point of an adventure module is to lessen the load on the GM, so I’ll use what the authors give me until I absolutely can’t justify it anymore.
In a recent dungeon I wrote myself, a party of NPC adventurers were determined to be in a certain area, under certain circumstances, doing certain things. Turns out that the PCs had to take four or five trips into the dungeon to even get to those NPCs. However, since there had not yet been any indication of the NPCs, and nothing that would invalidate their continued presence, they stayed there in suspended animation until something did happen. (In this case, a high-level wandering Fighter cleared out the first level while the PCs were away.)
That’s just my opinion, of course. It seems like a shame to waste perfectly good preparations.
That said, factions and resources and goals are totally a good idea.