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Where We're Going We Don't Need Walls

This month's RPG Blog Carnival topic is "Let's build a dungeon" hosted by Plasic Polyhedra. Now I could go all old school and bring out Appendix A of the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) and randomly generate a D&D dungeon or I could hypothesise about how any environment can become a dungeon with the right lens.

Welcome to the Jungle

The basic concept of a dungeon crawl is that the party are busy travelling between rooms and encounters walking along corridors and circumnavigating barriers and traps which have been set to test them. The likelihood is that once they have reached their ultimate goal (the heart of darkness) that they will defeat it and find their way out again.

This concept lends itself well to any environment not just dark dungeons.

Savage Worlds Vietnam

I am currently toying with the idea of running a game set in Vietnam using the Tour of Darkness setting. If you are like me and a fan of Tour of Duty, full Metal Jacket or Platoon you will realise that a big part of these shows was going on patrol through the jungle.

Tour of Duty
Tour of Duty

This to me sounds awfully like a dungeon crawl.

Walls, Corridors and Rooms.

Instead of stone or rock walls there is impenetrable dense mass of jungle trees and shrubbery. Cutting through these with a sword or a machete is impossible and if anyone were to try to slip between these they would soon be cut to ribbons by the sharp leaves, branches and thorns and bleed to death or worse get lost. It's a much better idea to follow the trails.

The corridors of the dungeon can easily be replaced by trails of varying sizes that are either naturally occurring, made by the locals or wildlife. Secret corridors can be revealed by parting vine walls or by judicious use of a machete. There is plenty of opportunity for you to create any number of barriers or traps using the the natural vegetation and geography. The Viet Cong were also well trained in the use of lethal booby traps.

Rooms tend to be where most large encounters occur and these can be easily simulated by having various sized clearings or even structures such as jungle villages or the infamous underground bunkers. Don't forget that the natural hilly terrain of vietnam has a big part to play in every patrol "up country". Your GIs will almost certainly be traversing trails which lead up and down steep hills, through and across gorges, ravines and mountain streams. Use this to your advantage and throw in an abandoned rope bridge crossing or wading through a crocodile infested river.

Travel Between Encounters

The big difference will be the distance travelled between "rooms" and encounters. In traditional dungeon design we tend to be working at an architectural scale of 5 feet per square and rooms tend to be close together seperated by walls and surrounded by corridors or other rooms. When designing your Jungeon you will probably want to be more flexible with the distances between clearings and consider the amount of time it takes to patrol down a particular trail. For example a short trail might connect two adjacent clearings but take 2 to 3 minutes to traverse whereas another might take 30 minutes to walk down. Just make sure that your players know this when they begin down the next trail, especially if you are going to let them split the party.

Boredom and Tension in equal measure

Travelling through the jungle can be a terrifying experience. Everything is trying to kill you if you let your guard down, but it can also be intensely boring as one piece of trail looks exactly like the next piece. This is a perfect opportunity to use the cat scare trope to scare the bejesus out of them or to lull your group into a false sense of security and hit them with an unexpected attack.

The trick is to keep it varied and don't overuse tropes so that you become predictable.

To Dungeonmorph or Junglemorph?

To make my life easy I would love to be able to create a series of junglemorphs so that I can generate battlemaps ahead of schedule and on the fly if necessary.

I could do this with a combination of a random table/dice which dictates what junglemorphs get played. Is it a corridor or a clearing, is there an encounter, what type and which Junglemorph do I use?

This is all sounding like a dungeon, am I right?

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thomas homer
thomas homer

Definitely sounds like a dungeon to me! Distance is an interesting point here, as you could make a "dungeon" where each room was miles from any of the others or group them closely when more density is required.

Interested to hear/see more on the geomorphs too...

Antony Brotherton
Antony Brotherton

Hi Thomas, you are absolutely right elastic distance/time between the rooms is an advantage I intend to exploit when I work this up fully. I’ve a little experience in the geomorph department as I contribute to the davesmapper project which is an excellent resource and well worth checking out.

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