Saturday, March 1, 2014

What is the "Sweet Spot" For Dungeon Size?

I've been knocking out some random mini-dungeon maps, and it got me thinking as to what the ideal size of a dungeon was. Not so much as in levels, but rooms and encounters (not every encounter need be with monsters or adversaries either).

I suppose it depends on how many sessions the adventure should last - one, few, some, many or a whole campaign.

How many encounters does your group "encounter" in a usual session?

How many sessions can your party last in the same dungeon adventure before getting antsy (this is probably very group specific, as some are one and done, some can spend years exploring Rappan Athuk and most probably fall somewhere in the middle)?

Does it help if the "dungeon theme" changes as your group explores different levels? Would that "keep it fresh"?

Inquiring minds want to know...


  1. I've been wanting to actually get involved with the Barrowmaze open table over at roll20 ... but that's a different story.

    For me, I like three or four levels, with between seven and twelve areas on each level. For variety I enjoy seeing the "newer" civilization building on top of the older and how new species moving in can change things (Gully dwarves in DoAT for insistence).

    While I like the idea of megadungeons I have found that I get lost in them after a while and everything just seems the same.

  2. I thought the mini-adventure from Tim Shorts' Manor #3 was perfect for a short adventure. It took us, what, 3 hours to clear it, and was basically 8 rooms? Seems like that is more or less 2 encounters per hour times number of hours in a typical session. Doesn't have to be a combat encounter, either.

    If you want to be able to clear a level in a game session, then Tim's entry from Manor3 is exactly right for a 4-hour session. Bigger and it'll take you longer.

    Which is to say that Johua De Santo's thoughts would dovetail with mine: 3-4 levels with 7-12 areas to clear would be about 3-4 game sessions of 6 hours long to move through the dungeon. If you up that to one epic fight per level as well, you're likely talking 6-8 sessions for an entire complex of that size.

    Unless you're purposefully running a megadungeon, that would be 2-4 months at typical play frequency. Enough for the GM to come up with the next challenge, not so much that the players get bored.

  3. Typing from my phone - sorry in advance for any typos.
    I am not a pure OSR gamer and I seldom make a whole adventure take place in a dungeon. Me and my players enjoy smaller dungeons - maybe around 10 areas and not all of them have encounters.
    I keep my dungeons interesting by making each room/area having some interesting detail. So, one room might be the a goblin meeting ground, with fireplace and finger paintings. Another might be empty, apart from a pit with some long dead critter inside.
    I think, what I am trying to say is that I try to make each of my dungeons tell a story.

    for size etc, I use some video game guides for inspirations (mostly MMO and newer rpgs) - it was an idea that one of my players gave me and I used it ever since.

  4. I have always preferred shorter dungeons with an enveloping adventure. I like to have a 'out of the dungeon' lead up to the actual dungeon as I think this creates a more full environment for the players. Douglas' "3-4 levels with 7-12 areas to clear" would be a megadungeon for me and my players.

    1. Note that by and large I agree with you - if dungeon play is the thing, I'd rather have something plot related that takes 1-2 sessions to deal with. Anything bigger is an entire story arc, or (like Peter Dell'Orto's Felltower) the entire point.

  5. Meant to comment but ended up sharing it (which is a pointless with one of Tenkar's posts).

    First; a mega-dungeon isn't necessarily OSR nor is it all we gamed in once the game got going in the early 70's. Second; the sweet spot is what is sweet for an individual DM and players. Third; I can't see a third point to this question. (There wasn't even a second point but I tossed in a response to one of the comments).

  6. I've played a few megadungeons, but it's not my thing anymore.

    The biggest complete dungeon I've run through on the player side of the screen was 16 sheets of graph paper in size. We played it every Saturday for 16 hours for slightly over a year.

    I would not enjoy it today.

    I also DMd Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. The crater-ridge mines are huge, too much to keep consistently fun, but at the same time each section felt different, which made it survivable. But by the time we finished running those mines, the players in the party were fed up.

    I've published two dungeons with 100 areas or so in each - Dyson's Delve and Erdea Manor (both free on my blog, or available in Dyson's Delves I). Dyson's Delve has 11 levels and most of them are very different from each other, which keeps it feeling fresh. Erdea Manor has a more consistent theme, 90 areas, and 4 levels, but I find it to be a bit more of a grind.

  7. I like one session adventures, should take about 3-4 hours. Within that time frame though I do try to incorporate other elements in addition to a dungeon crawl. Maybe a short hex crawl or some sort of RPing in a village or inn.

  8. I think that the answer depends very much on the purpose of the dungeon. IMHO, a campaign milieu can easily support one or more dungeons large enough to never be fully explored, even if most of the gaming action occurs elsewhere. These megadungeons serve as places the characters can "dip into" when the players have no better idea, or simply don't want to follow hooks that seem blatantly suicidal. Knowing that there are always alternatives is a good thing.

  9. I think the mega dungeon concept is more interesting to read, write, and ponder than to play in practicality.

    In my corner of the universe, we play once every two weeks, with occasional breaks and absences that tend to kill momentum. So running a twelve level adventure with forty plus rooms is just an inevitable situation begging for an early death.

    I'd say for us, 3 - 4 "encounters" per session
    3 - 4 sessions per adventure
    and 3 - 4 adventures per campaign.

    We've occasionally switched up DMs mid campaign in order to bring in fresh energy and ideas and that sometimes works well.

  10. I'd stick with what LegerdemainGloggMachina said. 3-4 encounters per session are good. I found out that I could go as far as ... eight encounters before I'm out of my creative/narrative stamina.

    As for adventure/ dungeon design, we could use 3d6 as in for attribute rolls. There would be 3d6 levels and 3d6 rooms in each level. ...

    Cheers! :)

  11. I enjoy a large dungeon and have discovered if going large going. Really large is the way to go. If it feels so big its and environment that can't be cleared folks will focus on adventures and discoveries within that environment.
    I've discovered no ideal size or magical formula, I've been gaming with many of the samee folks for decades now and in a single evening of gaming we can cover anywhere from an encounter to dozens of encounters.
    One benefit of a larger dungeon is it provides and environment players can become familiar with and make use of that knowledge. If every adventure is a handful of encounters in a disposable environment discoveries are almost meaningless thus rendering exploration to be insignifigant and close off many approaches to fantasy adventures.

  12. We play a pretty consistant 5-7 encounters/rooms per session. That seems about perfect for our group. We use BareBones Fantasy, so that halves the time of combat compared to more crunch games.


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