Friday, April 18, 2014

Should Dungeons go "Wide" or "Deep"?

Dungeons, especially the large ones, seem to be built in one of two manners:

wide - spreading out to the edges of a sheet of graph paper or

deep - smaller levels with stairs and chutes to lower levels

Back in the day, I was very much a "wide" style dungeon mapper. I was easier (and cheaper) to build a large singular level for a dungeon than to spread multiple levels onto multiple sheets.

These days, I find I prefer smaller levels with vertical progression - mostly having the PCs delve ever deeper into the dark depths, but occasionally climbing to higher levels of the "dungeon" environment.

Of course, mid-sized dungeon levels with a handful of levels works fine too.

So, "wide" or "deep" or somewhere in between? What say you?


  1. I was all about "the deeps" until my horizons were broadened by the Barrowmaze.
    Now it's not so much about length as girth. Um, I mean depth as breadth. Yeah.

  2. I think it should be whatever makes sense for the premise. For example I am running my own mega dungeons called the Majestic Fastness at my game store. The basic layout is a series of levels above, underneath, and along the side of a large cavern that is very long and narrow relative to its length.

    As the ruins of a dwarven fastness (like Erebor or Moria) this is what to me make sense for the layout. Another megadungeon with a different premise may call for yet a different layout.

  3. I don't see why it has to be an either-or proposition. Castle of the Mad Archmage, for instance, is wide and deep. But Rob makes sense; wide is good in some instances, deep is good in others, and a combination of both can be useful. I would like to mix it up in my campaign, too; if every dungeon is designed with the same philosophy, it might get boring.

    Unless, of course, you use that as a clue to the original builder of the dungeon, which in turn might give you a clue that could be used later on. If all dwarvish dungeons are narrow and deep, you might be more likely to find the Axe of the Dwarvish Lords in one that looked like that, rather than a wide and flat one. "No stairs down? This can't be the place..."

  4. This sounds like a different question in a different setting. I always answered, if you got both, you don't have to choose.

  5. I would think different 'builders' would have different preferences and that helps make each dungeon a bit different.

    I think of Dwarves as hollowing out ore and then turning the hole into a vertical home. Orcs might exploit limestone caverns which would be horizontal

  6. I like deep because I love the concept of going down into the depths.

    But I love both.

  7. Both.

    Parties should not usually be able to or even WANT to 'finish' a level off.

    When they do that, they tend to want to move in, especially if they know that they're going to be adventuring there for a while. And when that happens, it can (not will, there are ways to deal with it, of course), it can take some of the mystery and sense of danger out of the dungeon. There's less rationale for the dungeon to be inimical to the players.

    The only times I've ever encouraged parties to 'occupy' a dungeon were when they cleared out the Gnoll section of Caves of Chaos with such speed and alacrity that quite frankly, the only response from the rest of the inhabitants was overweening awe.

    The other times I do so is when I want to give them a home base, but then, I usually put in some really big f'ing clues to that sort of thing: I've got a party who cleared a lair of Cyborg-bears, found some secret locations, a huge cache of treasure and a (reasonably) frendly A.I. along with some charging panels for their power-cell using equipment.

    1. End note: The party that moved into the Caves also took out the Mad Minotaur with his GINORMOUS glowing mono-filament axe in one round, outside, in full view of the rest of the inhabitants. Yeah.

      They then bargained with the Kobolds to help flush out the Owlbear with smoke and took HIM out in one round too.

      The rest of the dungeon, with the exception of the necromancers in the lower left, are now allied with the players and provide them with henchmen and guards for their home (in the mad minotaur's cave, no less, where a mutation trap right up front keeps the locals from getting curious).

      They're busy clearing out the necromancers and are about to discover the entrance to Thrumi'Zud in that corridor that's blocked off with rubble and instructions to the effect of "hey DM's, put some cool stuff here" .

  8. For me it comes down to how often do I want the players to revisit the place. Not that every romp will be limited to one level, but I like a huge place of depth and girth that they can keep coming back at vastly different levels for multiple story reasons. Mega-level dungeons don't define my game but they are prominent.

  9. "Dungeons Deep and Caverns Old"

    Of course, I think they should be as huge as possible.


  10. Wide or Deep both work fine. Folks should know the further from the enterance (and the mundane) they get the strangeness and danger will build.
    Dungeons can also go up.

  11. Dungeons should be few and far between, and the floorplan should be based on the intentions/needs of the original builders. I find haphazard dungeons annoying, especially when it seems insane people built them all over the place for no apparent reason.


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