Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Method of Room Description Layout, for Dungeons in Adventure Modules

Disclaimer: I am relatively new to the world of published adventures so I am far from an expert on this subject. This post is merely my opinion on how adventure modules could improve their layout, based on the handful of modules I have read so far.

Last weekend I ran Kiel Chenier's 'Blood in the Chocolate' for some friends. The adventure is really well written and the layout of the book is done in a very thoughtful way, with ease of use at the table in mind. One problem I found myself having was that I had trouble finding the information I needed upon entering a room, and had to stop and skim through until I found stuff that needed to be told to the players. I also have similar concerns about the way dungeon rooms in Patrick Stuart's 'Deep Carbon Observatory' are described (I am preparing to run this adventure in the near future). I have come up with some ideas for how to improve on this and make modules (particularly dungeons) easier to run.

For descriptions of dungeon rooms, the following is my suggestion for how to lay them out

Room number and Name (in bold)
What the players see when they first enter the room. Important features are written in bold. Anything in italics can be read aloud to the players.
Exits: List what directions (north south east west, ceiling, floor) there are exits and if they are unusual (e.g. locked, stairs, ladder)
Connections: List what rooms are connected to this one and if the connection is unusual (e.g. locked, stairs, ladder). Written in the same order as the corresponding exits.
  • Important Features. These are described in more detail in dot points. The most important information is in the lower level dot points,
    • while more trivial information is in the higher level ones.

I also suggest using abbreviations for certain things and having an easily accessible key to tell the reader what they mean.
Below is an example of this method using the first two levels of a dungeon I am designing.

1, 2, 3, ...
Level number starting top going down
a, b, c, ...
Room number starting south going clockwise
North, East, South, West, Ceiling, Floor

1a. Entrance Hall
A cosy corridor with a staircase leading down. The wall directly to the East is decked with large oil paintings.
Exits: C [l], W, N, F [s]
Connections: Roof [l] (0a), Wardrobe (1b), Guest Room (1c), Hall Two [s] (2a)
  • Paintings. These paintings all depict mages working miracles, except for the one farthest from the ladder which depicts a centaur. The centaur painting covers up a small, barred window into the Pre-Op Cells (1d).

1b. Wardrobe
This room is filled with racks of clothes. There is a huge wooden cabinet on the north wall.
Exits: E
Connections: Entrance Hall (1a)
  • Clothes. There are 10d6 items of clothing in this room excluding the cabinet. They range from exquisite and expensive looking to plain and cheap. About 80% of the clothes are made for women, while the other 20% are for men or unisex.
  • Cabinet. The cabinet contains around 20 fur coats made from various animal skins. On the floor there is a small vial of blood with a label. It smells bad in here. The label has the name of a random animal on it, and contains this animal's blood. The fur coats are enchanted so that their wearer appears as the animal they are made from.
    • To activate this magic, the coat must be bathed in the blood of the relevant animal. While worn, onlookers will see the wearer as the animal, but this is an illusion. Touching the wearer causes the illusion to break. The coat must be washed in blood once every day to continue working.
  • The back panel of the cabinet can be easily folded out to reveal a secret area behind. This holds coats made from spliced-animals.
    • They work the same as the other coats, but require the blood of the relevant spliced-animal.

1c. Guest Room
A decent sized bed chamber.
Exits: S
Connections: Entrance Hall (1a)
  • There is a bed, bathtub, desk (with stationary) and dresser (empty) in here. Not much else.

1d. Pre-Op Cells
This room is divided up into cells with iron bars. There are skeletons in some of them.
Exits: F [s]
Connections: Splicing Room [s] (2c)
  • Cells. The skeletons are of animals.
    • These cells were used to hold test subjects prior to splicing. There are 6 cells and they are all locked. The key to the cells is in the Splicing Room (2c).
  • There is a small barred window on the west wall. It is covered up from the outside. The window is covered up by a painting in the Entrance Hall (1a).

2a. Hall Two
A simple hall with a staircase and one door on the west wall.
Exits: C [s], F [s], W
Connections: Entrance Hall [s] (1a), Workshop [s] (3a), Tailoring Room (2b)

2b. Tailoring Room
There is a man-sized wooden construct in this room. There is also equipment for tailoring in here, including some tables, a mannequin, and various tools and thread.
Exits: N [x], E
Connections: Splicing Room [x] (2c), Hall Two (2a)
  • Wooden Construct. The construct has three legs with wheels for feet. For hands it has scissors and a needle with a spool of thread attached. This is a Wood Golem designed to aid Phoebe in her fashion projects. It is non-aggressive unless provoked.
    • It knows where the key to the Splicing Room is but will not leave its station to fetch it.
  • The north door leading to the Splicing Room (2c) is locked. The key is found on the Bone Golems in the Workshop (3a) and the Guards in the Guard Room (4a).

2c. Splicing Room
(If entering from east side) There is an archway opening up to a large room, where you can spot a construct built from bits of organic tissue. There is a window in the outer wall with a sink underneath it. (If entering from west side) This is a large room containing medical equipment and two large wooden tables. There is a construct in the corner and it is built from bits of organic tissue. In the very centre of the room is a queer cage.
Exits: S, C [s]
Connections: Tailoring Room (2b), Pre-Op Cells [s] (1d)
  • Construct. The construct looks like it is comprised largely of human body parts stitched together. It has long bony fingers. This is a Flesh Golem designed to aid Phoebe in splicing operations. It is non-aggressive unless provoked.
  • Window. The window is for disposing of dirty water from the sink. It is just big enough that someone could climb in or out of it.
  • Sink. There is a bucket of water and some soap nearby. This is for sanitation before operations.
  • Medical Equipment. Located on shelves mostly. Scalpels, bandages, saws, sutures etc. can be found here.
  • Wooden Tables. These are used for operating. One of them has the key to the Cells on level 1 lying on it.
  • Cage. It is made out of iron and has an unlocked door. In the middle are two thick cables that attach to a wheel on the ceiling of the room and disappear into the floor. This is a mechanically operated lift. It is not able to be used right now as the mechanism that drives it is disconnected and located in the Engine Room (5b).
    • The cables are able to be cut, sending the lift plummeting down into the ground floor.
    • When the lift is operational, speaking the number of the level you wish to travel to will make the lift take you there.

Compared to just a block of text, this layout is easier to read, and makes it easier to find the information you need. I'm sure there are further improvements that can be made to this method, and I'm sure there are lots of adventure modules out there which have much better layout than this, but this is just my best attempt at cleaning things up.

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