Dungeons that are Suite

When I design dungeon crawls, either for publication or for my home game, I often think of modern apartment buildings.


Generally, neighboring apartments don’t connect in an appreciable way, except for the occasional utility access (heat and air ducts, laundry and garbage chutes, for instance).  For the most part, this subset of dungeon rooms are self-contained, with only the occasional forgotten passage, hidey hole or secret door  between.

Unlike an apartment, however, each suite of rooms in a dungeon are arranged in in a different assortment of sizes and shapes — to maintain the element of surprise, and thus, encourage continued exploration.

Designing dungeons with this approach does two things:

  1. Provides the adventuring party with genuine choice. They choose the doorway they wish to enter and the order and the means by which they explore the three-to-six rooms beyond.
  2. Allows the designer the opportunity to add thematic elements according to each suite.  Each “apartment” has a different interior decorator, so to speak.

Goblins: Menace or Misfits?

Goblins are much on my mind lately. This staple of fairy tale villainy is the focus of an adventure I am designing.

There is a duality about goblins that is hard to capture on paper.

In one way they are the purest, more vile, of menaces. They are skulking creatures, who emerge in roaming bands from the shadows of fey forest and craggy highlands to do murder upon innocent, unsuspecting folk. I’ve always thought the 1985 Ridley Scott film “Legend” correctly conveyed this aspect of goblin nature with a spine-tingling revulsion and fascination.

prepared coverBut goblins are also misfits. When they attempt to cooperate on anything other than kill from dark corners, their efforts unravel in hijinks and humorous misfortune. There are many adventures that do it well, Jon Sawatsky’s “The Impregnable Fortress of Dib” for Prepared! is a recent addition to the canon. The makeshift goblin fortress is a delight. Despite the absurdity of the situation, the goblin threat is always there with hot oil, spear thrusts and sharp teeth that gleefully sink into human flesh.

What’s hard to nail down is goblins’ legendary cowardice — and how it works with these two aspects. They murder in secret because they are afraid. That fear is born from knowledge: Goblins know their small stature and fragile bodies make them poorly suited to a stand-up fight. Poison and a blade in the dark do the work just as well. And no matter how they plan or execute an assault, even when they are mounted on fearsome dire wolves and wargs, fleeing in the face of a capable combatant is their first instinct.

The thing is this: Done well, goblins never cease to be a fun and engaging opponent for a roleplaying encounter.  Born with cruel, murderous natures, they cannot be redeemed. For the adventuring party, there is only one answer: They must be slain.



Stop Tiamat and Restore the Realms

Fifty pages of supplemental material to assist any dungeon master running Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat adventures.

This DM’s Kit includes:

14 player handouts, including decoded messages from Harper agents, correspondence from key NPCs, “newspaper” broadsheets providing reports on the Lord’s Alliance, and a battle plan with map detailing the adventurers’ climatic assault on the Well of Dragons!

For the DM: A printable deck of Alpine Chase cards, a printable DM screen to track delegates at the Council of Waterdeep, side quests through Baldur’s Gate and Waterdeep, and a short adventure detailing a cross-county journey astride a wyvern.

On the Trail of Tyranny also includes advice on running sections of the adventure, helpful tables and other charts.