Module: Choose Your Own Dungeon Crawl

This is a module format for running dungeons which are too large to be explored in one delve.  This is a basic, skeletal writeup which should be easy to flesh out and adapt for your game. If you don’t like reading module writeups, stop here!

Concept: In many live-combat LARPs, a dungeon crawl is no more than a linear grind through a series of monster-filled rooms. You rarely get to run a large dungeon at NERO, most likely due to the time and space constraints. This format describes ways to use one room multiple times and create the illusion of a sprawling labyrinth. Multiple parties will have to explore the dungeon to discover all of its secrets.

Props: Dress up the module space to feel like a dungeon. Lighting and music are the easiest ways to set the mood. You can even use lighting and music as clues, or to foreshadow certain events. For example maybe the lights in the rooms adjacent to a boss are always red. Or a certain theme song plays before a particular beast rifts in.

Props like pottery, chains, bones, damaged books, and cobwebs are great to dress up a room like a dungeon.

Compartmentalized Chambers: Each room in the dungeon is isolated, with no doors to other rooms. Once the room’s challenge is completed, a device activates which allows players to choose which direction to explore. They will then rift out and wait in a nearby chamber while the NPCs set up the next room. When it’s ready, the players may rift into the starting spot and begin the encounter.

Movement through the dungeon: There are a number of possible devices the players might use to navigate the dungeon. If the dungeon is more than four or five rooms large, players will probably have to draw a map of some sort.

  • Cardinal Dial –  players may point a dial towards the North, South, East, or West. When players teleport, they will move one room in that direction. Certain directions may be blocked off. Dungeons like this are generally designed like a grid.
  • Bifurcation – In each room, players may choose between two options. For example they can either pull the lever marked “Certain Doom” (which leads to dangerous creatures), or “Relative Safety”, which teleports them back to the start of the dungeon.
  • Power Words – Players may learn special magic that allows them to access later rooms in the dungeon. Certain rooms have a “power word” which players can chant to teleport there. This counts as a “move” as far as how many rooms the players are allowed to access in one delve.

Time Limit: There are two types of time limits you might impose for htis adventure:

  • Overall Time: An clock may be running whenever the players are in a room. (stop it during room setup, while they are teleporting between rooms) After the timer runs out, the next time they teleport, they’ll find themselves outside. This approach forces players to deal with each room as quickly as possible in order to reach later rooms.
  • Number of Moves: Players may only teleport five times. The sixth time, they’ll appear outside the dungeon. This approach gives players a lot of time to think and explore each room. If they spend too long, you can send in more monsters or reduce the number of “moves” they have left.

How Big is the Dungeon? Look at the map and figure out how much one party might explore in one delve. How may delves do you expect to run at this event? Plan the dungeon size around that.

Variations on a Theme: All the rooms in the dungeon are more or less similar, because you’re using the same room to represent each of them. Each room should have a unique challenge, something which makes it stand out from the rest. Each room’s setup should take only a few minutes – you don’t want to keep PCs standing around in the waiting chamber for too long.

It’s essential that you run the dungeon in more or less the same way each time. You can change the monster’s stats to scale for each party, but keep the challenges and room set-ups consistent. Players must talk to each other and trade information about where to explore or how to pass certain challenges.

Dungeon Treasure: During their explorations, the players might find items which are linked to challenges within the dungeon. This treasure cannot leave the dungeon – when players exit, these items will teleport to a chest in the starting room. This means that once a party finds a dungeon item, it will be available to all parties afterwards.

Dungeon Treasure is necessary to solve certain challenges and access certain parts of the dungeon. Think about the Legend of Zelda video games.

Examples of dungeon items:

  • A Handheld Mirror, which can be used to reflect laser pointer light at a target
  • A Magic Rope, which when used as a circle, allows the party to use a power word and teleport to a certain room.
  • A Silver Flute which, if played, ends the berserk rage of certain dungeon creatures
  • The Circlet of the Diplomat – needed to communicate with certain NPCs in the dungeon
  • The Mask of the Trickster – when worn, NPCs in the dungeon are very gullible regarding the wearer’s lies and tricks. This can be used to pass a room nonviolently if the trickster is cunning enough.
  • The Sword of the Hero – the only weapon able to affect a certain NPC
  • The Sash of the Traveler – if a PC wearing this sash activates the teleporter, they get one additional “move” before being kicked out of the dungeon.
  • The Eye of Secrets– you can peer through this gem to find a secret door in certain rooms.
  • The Book of Stories – this book is filled with indecipherable writing. Once per delve, an adventurer may consult it to ask a specific question about the dungeon. (what’s in the next room? How do we pass the mirror? Who is imprisoned behind the gate?)
  • The Claws of the Beast – this necklace allows one person to grow body weaponry while within the dungeon.
  • A Runed Hammer which is needed to strike a certain bell or destroy a lich’s bottle.

Clues: There are two ways the players can get clues about how to pass through the dungeon.

  • Outside the Dungeon – players might talk to other explorers or read tomes about the dungeon itself. Make sure everyone has equal access to these resources – perhaps it’s a book that’s chained to a table in the tavern.
  • Inside the Dungeon – players can encounter helpful NPCs within the dungeon. Some rooms have coded clues written on the walls. Use a cypher or other light crypography to make the clue a challenge in itself. If you go with this method, people who are good at codes and ancient languages will be in high demand by adventuring parties.

What’s In the Rooms? Each room has a specific challenge that the players must complete before the teleporter begins to function. Here are some ideas:

  • Monsters and traps, obviously
  • Physical challenges like Jumping Stones
  • Mental challenges like puzzles and riddles. Some of these will require clues which can be found inside or outside the dungeon.
  • Special monster challenges – monsters will only die in a certain order. Monsters respawn until a panel is depressed for 60 consecutive seconds. Lights shift from red to green- monsters are only vulnerable while the light is red. Or monsters are immune to spells while the light is green and weapons when the light is red.
  • Social challenges, like convincing a dungeon denizen to give you clues or directions.
  • There are dozens of chests and pots in the room, but only one of them holds the key the players need.
  • A small card with a keyhole drawn on indicates a “secret door“. These are often hidden and will probably only be spotted if you’re thoroughly searching a room. If a player finds one, they can use it to teleport the party into a bonus treasure chamber.
  • A Graffiti Room has paper on the wall which players can mark. They can read notes left by other parties who made it to this room, or leave notes for the future. Sometimes these rooms contain a strange clockwork device which will instantly draw a portrait of the party. These rooms are often a challenge to access – hanging your portrait in a graffiti room is bragging rights for years to come.

What’s at the bottom? Put a variety of things in the dungeon to find. Try to cover the spectrum of player motivations. Some may come seeking treasure, information, or power. Famous beings could be imprisoned in the dungeon – players can visit, release, or execute them. The weekend plot may require resources which can be found in the dungeon.

The players shouldn’t be able to explore the whole dungeon in one delve. There should always be something more they will want to return to check out. One delve should only whet their appetite.

Players may want to visit certain “key” rooms multiple times. These rooms might contain NPCs they need to talk to or resources they need to control. These rooms are often the climax of the delve. In these rooms players will often face an important choice. (see also: Emergent Plot) For example they might find a shrine of elemental balance, an creature which they can either help or destroy, or a crystal ball which lets them spy on an enemy NPC.

Decentralize the Information – this type of module holds many rewards for people who are good at collecting an organizing information. Often someone will get a good sense of how the dungeon works, and will then be invited on every journey. This is okay! They have taken the time to learn the in-game information that makes them valuable.

On the extreme side, you might feel like a player or players are monopolizing the dungeon,  hoarding the information, or limiting other player’s exploration. You should encourage these people to communicate their info to the other players. One way to do this is to restrict people from entering the dungeon for a period of time after they had last gone. Perhaps there’s an odd quality to the dungeon air that makes you sick if you breathe too much of it. This forces a fresh party to go in every time.

  1. #1 by laraqua on December 30, 2015 - 1:36 am

    These modules are really amazing. It’s great to see what goes on at NERO events. I hope to see more in the future!

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