“Dungeon” generation procedures

Looking for procedures for generating interesting-yet-coherent “dungeons”, either on the fly or prepped in advance.

Consider “dungeons” here to be any adventure site worth exploring in play.

Procedures I’m well-aware of include;

  • “Plumb the Depths” in The Perilous Wilds
  • John Wick’s Dirty Dungeons
  • @jasoncordova’s Labyrinth Move
  • The Five Room Dungeon
  • Goblin Punch’s “Dungeon Checklist”
  • Jacquaying the Dungeon (from the Alexandrian)
  • Flux space in dungeons (can’t remember the source off hand)

Ideally looking for systems/procedures that are light-weight, easy to use quickly at the table or with a relatively short amount of prep, and that generate “coherent” locations (as opposed to gonzo).

What do you got? And why do you like recommend it?

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You could do worse then the generators in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s guide - they sort of drill down to relatively minor detail and while they tend towards randomness they have the advantage of being scalable and if I remember well the details are general enough to encourage reskinning to whatever is appropriate.

Another alternative would be a full scale dungeon/underworld generator like “How to Host a Dungeon” which makes less of an individual location and more of a mythic underworld with multiple potential sites that are only vaguely sketched.

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Something like the Mothership, Dead Planet’s d6 ship generator could fashioned into an interesting dungeon generation tool. A little bit of conversion work would need to be done though.

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Could you tell us a little more about the generator and how it works? What about it could make it work well for generating dungeons?

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I was working on a dungeon crawl game a long, long time ago. I never quite finished it, but I’ve used the quick-and-dirty dungeon design notes I put together for myself a few times, and always enjoyed the results. They’re for prep - not to done at the table, unless you’re really quick on your feet - but they don’t take too long.

They’re my own notes, not edited or formatted, but they should be pretty clear:

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There’s some good tables in various OSR type products as well - often free on Drivethru

In procedural generation news:

  • I’ve found my Overdrawn Draft process a really useful one for cresting coherent geographical regions and adventure sites.

  • Goblin’s Henchman has a procedurally generated dungeon called Carapace that has both a traditonal mapping system, the labyrinth move, and a hexflower abstraction.

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For sci-fi dungeons I use Dead Names: Lost Races and Forgotten Ruins by Kevin Crawford. Not useful on the fly but produces a very coherent feel if you take your time (or you just roll randomly and live with the tension). I like that it first defines the lost civilization, why it vanished etc. and then it allows you to incorporate the themes into the dungeon.
For fantasy I use the tables in Maze Rats which are inspired by Freebooters / Perilous Wilds but are a bit more compact and easier to use at the table.

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If you can do it ahead of time some great examples would be the town/inhabitants generator from Scenic Dunnsmouth where you get a sheet of paper and roll a handful of dice over it and that becomes th map of the town with the dice sizes and numbers telling you what the locations are and then uses a deck of cards to tell you who lives there.

Last Gasp Grimoire generalized it a bit here:

https://www.lastgaspgrimoire.com/welcome-to-scenic-whereverthefuck-if-you-lived-here-youd-be-caught-up-in-drama-by-now/

They did one for a full city as well but I’m having a hard time finding it…

Something of a smaller scale is something in one of the 2019 One Page Dungeon entries that uses pregenerated tables combined with playing card draws and placement to build out the location:

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There are a number of tables (surprise!) all keyed to d6s. You roll a bunch of d6s and then kinda push them together as makes sense based on how they land to make a mass that kinda looks like space craft. Each die is a “room” of the ship based on the roll. Then there are rules about air duct links between rooms based on adding numbers together. It’s really damn slick.

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I’ve been experimenting with the Hex Flower procedural method from “In The Heart of the Sea”. I like that it is random but ensures that rooms/areas aren’t unreasonably different from one to the next. It gives a progression that seems more natural than truly random tables.

Free Drive thru link: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/274573/In-the-Heart-of-the-Sea--A-Procedural-High-Seas-Hex-Crawl

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You could use Wildnerness of Mirrors to have the players essentially create the dungeon.

It’s a spy game and, when you’re starting off, all the GM shows up with is a 1 sentence mission description. First part of the game is the players describing what they’re doing on the mission. As they do so, the GM puts dies of different sizes, depending on the difficulty, into a pool that’ll be split up to be used during the game.

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I’m working on a device that uses a thermal receipt printer to generate various gaming aids, including things like overland maps and dungeons as well as NPCs, names, fortunes, etc.

The impetus is that I find screens at the gaming table really distracting but wanted to be able to take advantage of how quickly computers can perform these kinds of procedures. The solution is a box with a “generate” button as well as some knobs and switches to control what kind of thing to generate, and a Raspberry Pi powering the whole thing (but without any kind of screen).

I’ve tested this a few times. One interesting advantage is that you can paperclip the “receipts” that get generated to various pages in a notebook to consult later, or even hand them to the players if appropriate. The biggest downside is that it’s obvious when you’re printing something (most by-hand procedures do require a bunch of dice rolling but it’s more ambiguous what’s going on there).

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Folks haven’t mentioned Emmy Allen’s 'Gardens of Ynn" yet, which is a book of tables for procedurally generating a weird Fairyland made of haunted/haunting gardens during play.

I believe she’s also done some other similar projects for different setting?

Might be very inspirational - sort of the opposite of most dungeon generators in that it tries to generate a highly specific singular dungeon rather then generalize.

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GoYnn is really neat because of how “deeper” is basically further from reality, and implies progressively cranking up the strange.

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Please tell us more about this, ideally with pictures of the device and its output!

While I’m interested in learning more (I think it’s pretty cool), I’d recommend @calris starting a separate thread. The goal of this thread is to collect procedures that can be stolen or adapted by other GMs or designers, and while I think the idea of a thermal “receipt” printed dungeon is bad-ass as hell, it’s not exactly a something the average GM can pick up and use.

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That’s fair. As penance, I’ll offer a few suggestions! :grinning:

I assume you’re familiar with Jonathan Walton’s Dark Heart of the Dreamer but if not, it’s got a great system for creating abstract but coherent dungeons that you should definitely check out.

This might also be one you’re aware of, and it’s definitely too big to use at the table or for quick prep, but if you’re looking for design inspiration, Tony Dowler’s How to Host a Dungeon has a lot of nifty procedures that produce a dungeon with a rich history.

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Oh, one more — not sure if this counts, but Bluebeard’s Bride has some clever ways of generating rooms on the fly while maintaining the game’s very specific tone.

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Oooh. That’s one that I totally would not have thought of! Nice.

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