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Author Topic: Dungeon Building in 4E  (Read 2259 times)

Abyssal Maw

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Dungeon Building in 4E
« on: January 20, 2009, 02:27:53 pm »
This is a partial map of the dungeon I am working on right now. I use Paint Shop Pro and basically just draw it by hand.

The part I want to talk about is the section on the right- it looks like an octagon shaped room with doors, I haven't finished putting in the door to the southern room) and then the sort of octopus-shaped cave up at the top.

The octagon-shaped room is a central chapel with an altar dedicated to Entropy, and the square rooms off to the north, east and south are individual tombs. The caves up to the north are the warrens of a pair of ghouls who have hollowed out an area there. Unshown on the map is a "prison" cave (for 'live catch' food) and a pit cave filled with gnawed bones. Those are off to the north and east.

Ok, so in previous editions, I would have made an entry on my dungeon encounter matrix for each little area- like the tombs would have their individual entries, the big octagon room would have it's entry, the ghoul caves would have it's entry.

In 4E, that whole complex, from the ghoul caves down to the chapel and tombs is one entry. That is my "Area 3". It is dotted out with details- the two ghouls are in the central burrow. There are chillborn zombies and a rotwing over in the chapel. The altar itself is a hazard (it attacks non-undead creatures that enter with random rays of cold, rays that inflict a vulnerability to cold, and rays that immobilize invaders.

The ghouls, you see, don't enter the room when the players do. They wait until the adventurers get in and start fighting, and then they jump out and try to abduct someone, and drag them back to the warrens. The idea is to make the fight go from room to room. If the players enter their area from the warrens without going through the chapel, they get to bypass the chillborn zombies and the altar and just deal with the ghouls.

So you get an encounter that ends up very dynamic with the battle ranging around the complex, from place to place.

It's also interesting to note that you don't have to cluster rooms into encounters like this every time. If you have an area where the monsters are less likely to leave the area.. it's ok to leave it as it's own encounter.

Area 2 is the area at the bottom left. You can see it has 4 sarcophagi, a small letter "y" and part of a large letter Z in there. Z is a Zombie Hulk that has had it's legs rotted off, so that it has to drag itself into battle. The tiny letter Y is a monster I created called a stonewing cherub, (similar to a clay scout)- a sort of mini guardian golem. Area 2 butts up directly against Area 1 (which is the area just to the north, with the staircase, and the U-shaped hallway. The little X's stand for "Watchers of Emrakahn", a variant type of phantom warrior I created. There are also a pair of ghouls in this room hiding near the sarcophagi.

No matter how much noise adventurers make in area 1, the zombie hulk and the stonewing cherub in area 2 aren't coming to join the fray. But if the players flee south, the encounters stack, since the zombie attacks anyone who comes through, and the cherub attacks any living creature that passes through it's archway. The ghouls and phantoms chase any and everything, and the ghouls don't mind fleeing either north or south back to their burrow in area 3.

In retrospect I should probably combine these areas as well.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2009, 02:30:50 pm by Abyssal Maw »
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Abyssal Maw

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Dungeon Building in 4E
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2009, 03:14:32 pm »
Ok, so coming up with the highly variable selection of monsters in each encounter was sort of a challenge. I tried doing this the old fashioned way, but after a while I got stuck in an old habit I had used for AD&D- putting all of the same type of monster together in one encounter.

In 4E you get more out of variation (and they flirted with this type of feature a bit in 3E as well) and combining different types of monsters into one encounter. 4E encourages this a bit because it's easier to set up a multiple creature encounter.

For versatility's sake here's the (basic) formula for doing multiple combatant encounters in 3E: Take any CR creature and make it into two creatures, and you have a CR+2 encounter. Double it again, and it just adds another +2. So if one Orc warrior 2 was CR 1, two of the same orcs are CR 3. And 4 of those guys orcs is a CR 5. (and 8 orcs is CR 7, etc). This formula is most reliable between CR 4 and 12 or so.

The important part is- in 4E you don't think of individual monsters as an encounter by default, you have to think of a whole complex grouping.

The 4E DMG provides a neat bit of procedural advice for generating encounters in the form of the random dungeon generator near the back of the book. I highly recommend getting some index cards and playing around with that, and developing encounter decks based on a cast of likely inhabitants to a dungeon you design.. it does an interesting thing by recombining the individual monsters into cool groupings, and then you can sort of springboard/brainstorm ideas about why this group is working together, or perhaps they are both stuck in a clustered section of the map.

There's a free online version of this tool here: Asmors 4E Random Encounter Generator.

Here are a couple of sample encounters that seem unlikely that we could build into clusters:

Level 1 Encounter:
3   Zombie Soldier (DDI)  Level 2 Soldier
1   Stirge (DDI)  Level 1 Lurker    
3   Ice Warrior Shardling (DDI)  Level 1 Minion

This one is pretty straightforward: the zombies are bodyguards to an evil spellcaster. The elemental warriors enter the encounter when a planar ward in the wizards lab is set off. The stirge just happens to live in the area (perhaps it is kept as a pet)- it can't feed on either the zombies or the ice warriors so it sees the adventurers as an opportunity meal.

Level 3 Encounter
1   Duergar Theurge (DDI)   Level 5 Controller
1   Gnome Arcanist (DDI)   Level 3 Controller (Leader)   
1   Faerie Dragon Flitterwing, Adult (DDI)   
6   Pack Zombie (DDI)   Level 2 Minion

This one is much bigger and much more confusing: But I see it as this: The gnome and the fae dragon are adventuring companions despoiling the dungeon. The Duergar directs the pack zombies. No matter which group the PCs encounter first, the other group is sure to come along soon afterwards. I can see the adventureres fighting the duergar and his pack zombie mining crew, and then having the gnome and his fae dragon pal showing up secretly and playing pranks all through the encounter.  '

Level 5 encounter
2   Dire Boar (DDI)   Level 6 Brute
1   Kobold Wild Mage (DDI)   Level 5 Controller
2   Rotwing Zombie Level 4 Skirmisher

This one is also pretty simple: The kobold wild mage controls the two dire boars as his pets- I can see them as a mobile encounter, perhaps patrolling on a path in the dungeon or adventure location- he might even be riding one of the boars. The rotwing zombies are either wandering or guarding a separate clustered area on the map. Alternately the kobold wild mage directs the rotwing zombies. The two boars are kept in a nearby pen..or they are free and wander into the area in search of food.

Level 7 encounter
2   Lost Wraith (DDI)   Level 8 Lurker    
2   Lasher Zombie (DDI)   Level 7 Soldier    
1   Shadar-Kai War Witch (DDI)   Level 5 Controller
3   Duergar Miner (DDI)   Level 5 Minion

Another simple one: The Duergar miners are an independent group, doing some deep mining, but they are allied with the War Witch who lives nearby. The Shadar-Kai War Witch has bound the zombies as her bodyguards.
The lost wraiths both haunt the collapsed tunnels. They are attracted by any sounds of battle.
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Dungeon Building in 4E
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2009, 10:58:04 pm »
See, on the one hand I do find this pretty cool. On the other it highlites why I don't like 4e; it seems more like prepping up for a game of Warhammer Fantasy Battles than a roleplaying game to me.  When you have to worry to that degree about the "point build" of your monsters and treat them all like one big army placed in "strategic locations" in "areas", its just not how I like making Dungeons.

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Dungeon Building in 4E
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2009, 03:21:58 am »
AM> I notice you're not reskinning anything? I took to doing so immediately with 4e, and it made designing encounters a lot easier. I just pick the mechanical profiles I like and describe them as whatever I please. My PCs fought a giant psychedelic praying mantis last game that was actually a young white dragon where the word "cold" was replaced with "psychic" in the profile. Its breath weapon was madness-inducing vapour.
The Pernicious Light, or The Wreckers of Sword Island;
A Goblin's Progress, or Of Cannons and Canons;
An Oration on the Dignity of Tash, or On the Elves and Their Lies
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