|The BIGGEST Henge in the WORLD!|
Today, I am going to elaborate on an excellent suggestion from Realmwright on my previous post. I am going to talk a bit about why ruined locations show up where they do, and how their past might inform their present desolation.
The fantasy genre in general, and fantasy games in particular, spend a lot of time focusing on places from the past. Authors like Tolkien and Terry Brooks build their worlds around elaborate histories of rise and ruin. Characters in videogame and tabletop RPGs spend much of their time poking through lost catacombs and ruined castles. The thing is, all that was old was new at one time, and when it was, these ancient places likely served a purpose.
I have a love-hate relationship with many dungeon maps, especially those which follow an old-school aesthetic. Maps are a lot of fun to look at in general, to imagine what a place or space really looks like based on its top-down representation, and old school dungeon maps have an elegant simplicity about them. The problem is, they often seem to be a tangle of rooms and corridors built for no discernible reason!
|Now, where the heck is the bathroom?|
Sure, the person who dreamed up the dungeon, always says there's a purpose. The map above is clearly a temple of the ancient Blue Oyster Cult. The architecture of Blue Oys is often characterized by its meandering lines and maddening lack of doors in places where they should exist. Archaeologists believe the structure was designed to amplify the sound of the cowbells used in the cult's mysterious rituals.
Seriously, though, who builds like this!? And "insane wizards" is an answer that you can get away with exactly once in your game! I'm looking at you, Undermountain!
This kind of random dungeon layout, while interesting to look at in a circuit board kind of way, really drives me nuts. If you haven't read it yet, Bartoneus, over at Critical Hits has created one of my absolute favorite blog series, called The Architect DM, which is all about creating fantasy designs with a purpose and is a useful way to counter the random dungeon sprawl. I highly recommend you read it, bookmark it, and reference it often when creating your own locations.
When I approach the design of a ruined structure, I always try to start before it was a ruin. I ask myself the following questions:
Why was it built?
|Cathedrals are laid out with Christian symbolism very much in mind.|
In answering this question, you could also apply the exercise from my previous post about picking settlement locations. If the structure was intended to gather and process resources (like a mine) it will need to be near a spot that has, or used to have those resources. A defensive structure will likely take advantage of defensible surroundings, etc.
The trick here is to not let the initial design drive you too crazy. Even a rough layout may suffice. For the elven museum I mapped out last Monday, I started with a basic idea of the various wings. Five rectangles sufficed. One for the main hall with the animals, a wing to the right dedicated to magic, one to the left dedicated to alchemy and preservation, a large gathering and ritual chamber, and an extraplanar library space, where they could store their most valuable items (their books, knowledge and cultural records). I could wait to draw out specific rooms when I was done "ruining" it.
Why is it no longer used that way?
|One of the first dungeons I ran my players through was once |
a water treatment plant from an ancient, advanced civilization
The pattern of deterioration can help give purpose to seemingly random passages and dead ends. In my elven museum, I used collapsed hallways to keep the structure simplified and to avoid having to build out every administrative office and storage room. It let me stick to the parts where adventure was to be had.
Adding randomness through layers
|Seattle used to have a martini bar built into a converted church.|
By briefly walking through the layers of ownership while planning out your location, you can better create ruin with a purpose, and provide a richer experience for your players as they explore. Why does this hallway suddenly dead end? The ceiling collapsed, or the thieves guild blocked it off to avoid unwanted intruders from that direction are much more satisfying answers than because its the edge of the graph paper.
Putting it all together
While these questions are important to keep in mind, you probably don't need to draw out every stage in a ruined location's life, unless you a) have plenty of time on your hands, and b) really want to. Just keeping the above considerations in mind as you rough stuff out should be enough to lend purpose to your final map.
Hopefully you found this advice helpful. If you try this out for your own creations, your players or readers might just find themselves asking questions like the following:
Warning, lyrics NSFW