A dungeon is a specialized area where exploration and resource management become extremely important.

An Essay on Dungeon Mechanics

Ok, so now that we have entered our third dungeon ever, I think it’s high time for me to stop fucking around as a GM and actually release reliable information on how dungeons will work. So without further ado, I give you: Game Master Adam’s Synopsis of Dungeon Mechanics!

The first dungeon you guys ran through was the one with the giant talking monkey, and all those weird traps. There, I had no plans at all for dungeons to work any differently from any other type of content, or to have any special mechanics that could be considered a standard that the party could expect in each dungeon. The second dungeon was my first experiment with a few ideas on dungeon mechanics, to try and significantly up the danger level of a dungeon and gauge how effective certain gameplay elements were, and how fun they were. With the data from that second dungeon, I believe I have a template for all dungeons from that point on, including the return to the Monkey dungeon that started on Saturday. This template encompasses three concerns that set dungeons apart from other content: resource management, roaming entities, and TIME ITSELF.

The first main idea behind what makes dungeons special is just a matter of resource management. Here’s the premise: dungeons are dark, murky, monster filled mazes complete with traps, deadly magic, and a miasma of death and despair. Even the toughest adventurers and most adept wizards will find that their physical and mental reserves deplete faster and recover slower than usual. With that premise in mind, adventurers entering any dungeon should be focusing on conserving their body’s energy and their pools of magic (or alternative resources). The three main resources to be worried about are health, magic, and physical fatigue.

Health is simple: unlike overworld combat, your health does not regenerate to full after each battle, due to the miasma and unhealthy conditions of the dungeon. Any damage that you take in or out of combat will persist unless you heal using skills, magic, or items. You can expect to be suddenly thrown into combat numerous times in a dungeon. Add on the many traps that frequently plague these maps, and you can bet that your health will rarely be full at any given moment. Obviously, the only character stat that will affect this is your Max Health (which may be directly related to your Strength).

Now you might be wondering, what the issue with managing health when we can just spam our heal spells? That brings us to our second resource: magic. Specifically, I’m talking about each individual person’s pool of magical energy. Normally, when you adventure on the overworld, you have a nice, large pool of magic to utilize for your spells. Within a dungeon, your pool of magic does not necessarily get any smaller, but the oppressive environment and the miasma ruins an adventurer’s focus and link to their magic pools, causing magic consumption to increase drastically. This is similar to the idea that I employed in our second dungeon, but not as insanely difficult. No more losing skills, no more forgetting magic, and no more band members dying (hopefully). When you cast a magic spell, you will slowly deplete your pool of magic, and when you start to run out, magic spells with begin to fail outright, and you can expect warnings from yours truly that you are feeling depleted of magic. The amount of magic depleted by any spell is defined by several different factors. First of all, one fireball is going to deplete less magic than casting two fireballs, so watch how many spells you cast. Secondly, the intensity of a spell is relevant to its magic depletion. Shooting a giant fireball to torch a zombie will cost more magic than lighting a small candle, so take care not to be excessive in your power output. Now, there are two more things that affect your magic pool and its use, in a more general sense. The size of your magic pool is defined by how experienced you are using magic, so it is based off of how many levels you have in classes that utilize magic. For example, an adventurer with four levels in Magician and two levels in a Magician prestige will have a smaller pool of magic than an adventurer with four levels in Magician, four levels in a Magician prestige, and two levels in another class like Spellblade that uses magic. If you are an adventurer who is not particularly experienced in magic, you should take care to use your magic only when necessary. The only other stat that is relevant to the resource of magic is Mind. Characters with higher levels of Mind will use their pools of magic more efficiently, reducing the consumption of each individual spell cast. If you have a particularly high Mind stat, small bolts of lightning will cost a negligible amount of magic. Likewise, if you have a particularly low Mind stat, those same bolts of lightning might quickly deplete your reserves. The exact formula for magic consumption and maximum magic pools is a company secret. Ideally, if you are a character who heavily relies on magic, you should have a high Mind stat and many levels of magic using classes, to combine both a large pool of magic with efficient magic consumption, and you should use your spells smartly and in moderation.

Now, what if you are playing a character that does not use any magic, but relies on physical skills? You do not have to worry about conserving a pool of magic, but you do have to worry about the state of your body. As you take actions and use skills, your body will begin to tire out. In a dungeon, the miasma will make it harder to move around, attack, and use skills than normal. As fatigue builds up performing non-magic skills will get increasingly difficult and one risks the possibility of passing out entirely if warnings are ignored. In a way, managing physical energy works in the opposite direction of managing magic pools. As you use magic, your pool will deplete, but as you use physical actions and skills, your fatigue will accumulate. Strictly speaking, managing the two resources still works in the same manner anyway. Fatigue accumulation is also affected by several factors. Using a skill to attack every enemy around you with your swords will tire you out faster than just using a basic attack. Also, using two basic attacks builds up more fatigue than using one basic attack. Once again, one must have moderation in both quantity and quality of one’s physical actions. The stats that affect fatigue build up vary. Generally, characters that have more physical classes like Blacksmith or Mantis will have more physical energy to use and can build up more fatigue without experiencing adverse side effects. Also, when attacks or skills are executed, the corresponding combat stat will affect fatigue build up. For example, if you attack or use a skill with a bow, having a higher Ranged stat will make the action easier and thus build up less fatigue. The exact formula is once again, a secret. Someone who is a heavy physical fighter should have a high Strength as well as high combat stats for any weapons one specializes in.

Smart resource management will help you get through the dungeon without worrying about the adverse side effects for a while. Using healing spells can directly transfer the magic resource to the health resource, for example. However, with each character managing its health, its physical fatigue, and likely its pool of magic, it is common for these resources to be depleted during a dungeon run. Eventually the party will be forced to rest for some time in order to replenish these resources. Making camp and resting in one hour intervals will slowly regenerate all three resources. Each hour spent resting corresponds to a recovery of 1 health point and a portion of one’s physical energy and pool of magic. Simultaneous hours of rest will continue to recovery 1 health point each, while magic regained and fatigue eliminated will have diminishing returns (those two regenerate a lot within the first few hours, but to completely eliminate fatigue and fill your magic pool will take many hours, making it relatively easy to have a decent amount recovered but relatively hard to completely recover). Resting is thus an important mechanic in the dungeon exploration process. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that is doubly true in a dungeon. The two main costs to resting are dealing with the dangers of roaming entities and using up precious time, which brings us to our next two gameplay mechanics in dungeons.

Roaming entities are just like the party themselves in the sense that they also explore the dungeon just like the party does. Every time the party spends some time doing some action, whether it be moving from room to room, engaging in combat, spending time thinking about puzzles, disabling or escaping traps, and most importantly, resting, roaming entities will take that time to take their own actions as well. A dungeon could have any number of roaming entities, which could be roaming individually or in groups, and these entities might have specific goals in mind or might be entirely mindless. The party could at any time run into one of these roaming entities or a group of them, or a roaming entity or group might run into the party. They pose a particular threat to parties that are resting as well, because the party is not moving and thus does not have the chance of moving out of a room that a roaming entity or group is entering each hour. Roaming entities are usually extremely dangerous or at least relevant to the party’s considerations, and they may or may not be subject to the same limitations that the party is subject to. Roaming entities also come in various types.

Combat entities are relevant to the party because they will usually engage the party in combat when the party comes across them. These could be sole entities or groups, of varying strength. For example, a mini boss might be prowling the dungeon, or it could be a horde of small zombies. Depending on the nature and physiology of the entities, they might not have to worry about getting rest or saving energy (i.e. the undead, demons, etc.). The intelligence level could also vary. The entity might be dumbly wandering the hallways of the dungeon with no specific goal in mind other than killing any foolish humans who come across their path. On the other hand, the entity might specifically be looking for an item, or guarding a specific set of rooms, or actively hunting down the party, or any number of intelligent goals. Resting thus becomes a risk that is taken in order to remedy one’s resource depletion, a risk that could get one in more trouble than before.

Rarer are non-hostile entities. Occasionally, you might have an entity or group wandering the dungeon that will not immediately engage in combat with the party upon meeting it. They could be allies looking to aid the party with support in combat, merchants looking to sell their wares in an area with no competition, creatures that will try to run away from the party, and most importantly, characters that are significant to the overarching story of the dungeon or the campaign, amongst other things. The effect of running into one of these entities or groups could be positive or negative to the party’s chances of survival. Of course, these non-hostile entities also could be killed by hostile entities they run into, so resting might end up losing you the chance to find them before someone else does.

Finally, when the party is exploring a dungeon, the goal should be timely completion of the dungeon. Using up time deliberating on what to do or resting could have effects on what occurs to the party and in the overarching story. For all you know, you could be racing against the clock to complete the dungeon. What if you take too long, and the boss you expected to find at the end has already moved on to its next goal? Or maybe some lurking danger within the dungeon will become more apparent and more prevalent the longer you take to finish the dungeon? Whatever the motivation may be, you can bet that managing one’s time effectively will always be important in every dungeon. You will not have the luxury of spending large amounts of time thinking out your plan or resting like you do on the overworld. Every dungeon will have some sort of time related gameplay mechanic to worry about.

Of course, all these resources, groups, and all the time spent will be tracked by me, your dungeon master, and their effects will be factored in accordingly in real time as sessions spent in dungeons continue. It is recommended that the party discuss how they will manage their resources and time most effectively, and make decisions within the dungeon quickly and logically while considering all the special gameplay mechanics that the dungeon has to offer. As for the rewards from dungeons, you can usually expect to receive one or more advancement points for finishing the dungeon, as well as an additional point for full dungeon completion. Like I said earlier, these guidelines for dungeon design will persist throughout all the dungeons you will see from here on out, and as your dungeon master I reserve the right to change, add, or remove anything. Now with that explanation out of the way, I hope that this system for dungeon design proves to be both enjoyable and challenging for all players! Good luck!