Monday, September 22, 2008

The Wandering Chamber Table

As I mentioned previously, a lot of the layout of the upper levels of the nameless dungeon have been created using a variant of the Random Dungeon Generation tables from the back of the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. The random method goes along great with not only capturing the classic D&D spirit, but it also ties in nicely with the Winchester Mystery House theme I’m using. The first few levels are big, with lots of weird angles, abrupt dead ends, and chambers of odd shapes and sizes. I’m very pleased with the results so far.

My problem lies with my need to know a room’s purpose before I can elaborate on it. If I know what a room is, or used to be, before the monsters moved in, I have an easier time fleshing the room out in my notes. While a bare 30’ x 30’ room might have been perfectly acceptable in 1974, it just doesn’t quite cut it now that our expectations as gamers have grown a bit. Anti-old school thinking? No, just a logical design process.

When looking at the results of my random design, there are rooms that just don’t “pop” for me, meaning I draw a complete blank about what function these rooms might have served before the monsters moved in. The rooms are either just too plain or too weird to suggest something to me. I end up staring at the graph paper until beads of blood appear on my forehead.

That is, until I rigged up a stopgap solution the other night.

If I’m already using the random Dungeon Encounter tables to determine monsters, why not take it one more step and use a similar table to determine the room?

Turning to page 138 of the Monster Manual II, I dug out the guidelines for creating your own random encounter tables, wherein Gary suggests using the following table:

2 – Very Rare
3 – Very Rare
4 – Very Rare or Rare
5 – Rare
6 – Rare
7 – Uncommon
8 – Uncommon
9 – Common
10 – Common
11 – Common
12 – Common
13 – Common
14 – Uncommon
15 – Uncommon
16 – Rare
17 – Rare
18 – Very Rare or Rare
19 – Very Rare
20 – Very Rare

Results are determined by the sum of a d8 + a d12. Simply plug in the monsters based on their frequency and – viola! – instant random encounter table.

Instead of monsters, I’d just plug in room types. All that was necessary was to determine how common or rare certain types of rooms might be. Obviously sleeping quarters would be found in greater numbers than throne rooms, so after a few minutes of dickering around with the types of rooms possibly found in dungeons (p. 220 1st ed. Dungeon Masters Guide) and adding a few of my own, I had this:

Common Rooms
Bedroom, Average
Dining Room
Guard Room
Waiting Room

Common/Uncommon Rooms
Training/Exercise Room

Uncommon Rooms
Meeting Chamber
Reception Chamber
Sitting Room

Uncommon/Rare Rooms
Bedroom, Elite
Cell, Monk’s
Dressing Room

Rare Rooms
Cell, Prison
Game Room
Meditation Chamber
Music Room
Robing Room
Torture Chamber
Trophy Chamber

Rare/Very Rare Rooms
Audience Chamber
Banquet Chamber

Very Rare Rooms
Conjuring Room
Court Room
Divination Chamber
Hall, Great
Throne Room

A very rough ratio of Common to Uncommon to Rare to Very Rare is 5:3:2:1. Depending on your own dungeon, the frequency of certain rooms may vary.

Another three minutes of work produced this:

Table One (1-3 on a d6)
2 – Treasury
3 – Library
4 – Audience Chamber
5 – Game Room
6 – Bedroom, Elite
7 – Salon
8 – Meeting Room
9 – Bedroom, Common
10 – Barracks or Guard Room
11 – Dining Room
12 – Bedroom, Common
13 – Storage
14 – Workshop
15 – Kitchen
16 – Study
17 – Music Room
18 – Shrine
19 – Harem/Seraglio
20 – Special*

Table Two (4-6 on a d6)
2 – Special*
3 – Chantry
4 – Banquet Chamber
5 – Classroom
6 – Shrine
7 – Kitchen
8 – Pantry
9 – Dormitory
10 – Dining Room
11 – Bedroom, Common
12 – Storage
13 – Waiting Room
14 – Study
15 – Armory
16 – Bath
17 – Meditation Chamber
18 – Amphitheatre
19 – Crypt
20 - Laboratory

* Special – Trick/Trap or just plain weird

With the roll of a d6, a d8 and a d12, I could now harness the oracle powers of the dice to help break a case of DM’s Block. And it worked! My first result with a room that I hadn’t any clear idea for produced “Dining Room.” With that in mind, it seemed logical that this smaller room over here would be a kitchen. That room there would be a lounge where guests would gather before the meal and this small cave close by was obviously a natural “cool storage” pantry. In fact, this whole section off of here was a support wing, which would make this larger room a servants dormitory and common area!

I had gone from a complete blank to a fully fleshed out dungeon wing in just under a half-hour. While I wouldn’t determine the function of every room in the dungeon via this method, it certainly worked to loosen the mental log-jam that I’d developed.

When in doubt, trust the dice.


James Maliszewski said...

Very nice! You should submit this table to Fight On!.

Michael Curtis said...

I've been meaning to check out Fight On!...

Mayhaps after I get a gander at an issue I'll clean this up for submission.

grodog said...

Hey, someone who likes dungeon dressing and The Winchester Mystery House!---I've gotta read more :D

FWIW, Mike, I always thought that RJK's Dark Chateau (for Castle Zagyg) should have been designed at the Winchester Mansion meets Hearst Castle, but Rob said that would be just too big for the book....


Michael Curtis said...

I like dungeon dressing a lot. Even if there are just a few clues left over from whatever the room once was, I feel it gives the dunegon personality, without getting heavy into "a realistic dungeon" and the constraits that that imposes.

I haven't had a chance to examine Dark Chateau (or any of the more recent old-school products from Troll Lord or Pied Piper), but hopefully I'll be able to correct that in the near furture. Between a birthday and Christmas maybe I can hint heavily to friends and loved ones and see what surprises me in the mail.