I was looking through my PDF collection of first edition modules the other day. While I looked through them I had a bit of nostalgia going on and gave some thought to what made some of those adventures so awesome. While I thought about it, I realized that most of them were straight out dungeon crawls. While they were all dungeon crawls that wasn't the sole thing that made them awesome. In fact, just because a module or adventure is a "dungeon crawl" doesn't mean it is going to be any good. A good dungeon crawl has a few things that rise it above a normal or bad dungeon crawl. But what are these things?
As I asked myself this question I decided this would make a good series of blog posts. Not only have I really been in the mode for some old school flavor lately, I have also been wanting to get creative and build something. So here we are at the first post in a series dedicated to how to not only build a dungeon crawl but make it memorable as well.
Step 1: A Memorable Location:
I think the first thing that makes a dungeon crawl memorable is when it is set in an interesting location. If you look at some of the classic adventures like Temple of Elemental Evil, Dwellers of the Forbidden City, and the like, you will notice they had an interesting location. The Temple of Elemental Evil was an ancient temple thought destroyed forever, the Forbidden City was a ruined city in the middle of the jungle that had long been forgotten. These locations made the dungeon unique and memorable. Of course this means that if I want to make a memorable dungeon crawl, I have to come up with an interesting location.
There are a lot of things that go into making a location memorable. While I don't know if I can think of everyone, I do know a few things seem to be true.
1: The location has a story.
2: The location has interesting denizens.
3: The design of the location is interesting
4: The region around the location is also interesting.
These four rules are true regardless of where the location happens to be. The dungeon can be a series of sewers crawling with were rats, or it can be a far away citadel made out of ice. If the location has these for things going for it, chances are it will be memorable. Taking this four rules, I am going to start fleshing out the location for my dungeon crawl.
A long time ago in a remote valley, the baron of the valley wed a very self absorbed woman named Lieral. This woman was obsessed with her own beauty. So obsessed was this woman that she would spend great deals of money to make sure she had the latest fashions from the capitol. While she was without a doubt beautiful the specter of age slowly crept up on the Baron's wife. This of course caused the baron's wife to become even more obsessed with not only staying beautiful but finding a way to prevent aging.
At first the steps Lieral took simply involved spending even more money on creams and other remedies. At first these worked well enough, but after a aging continued to leave its mark on the woman's skin. Growing desperate Lieral began correspondence with several priests and mages. While many of them tried to help her the best they could, there was only so much she could do. After several priests and mages visited Lieral she began to despair of ever finding a way to stop the aging. Then one day a mysterious wizard appeared claiming to have the answer Lieral sought.
At first Lieral didn't believe the wizard could do anything for her and demanded some kind of proof. The wizard agreed and cast a spell that made Lieral appear younger instantly. Overjoyed the Baron's wife asked the wizard what he wanted for payment. The wizard said that he couldn't accept payment but would be happy to serve Lieral as an advisor. Thrilled that the wizard would like to stay Lieral immediately made the wizard her advisor.
Shortly after the wizards arrival the baron himself became gravely ill. At first Lieral insisted the wizard do something to cure her husband, but after the wizard revealed that this was the cost of her beauty, Lieral allowed her husband to die a cruel and wasting death. After the death of her husband, Lieral began to notice that her again had started again. Furious she told the wizard that she wanted him to perform the spell again. The wizard said that he would but that it would cost another persons life. The Baroness did not care and had one of the children from a nearby village sent to her castle because the wizard informed her that children would last longer than her husband had.
For the next several ears Lieral did not age a single day, but the poor child eventually died in the same cruel and wasted way as the Baron. This of course led to another child being taken from a village. The next child didn't last as long as the first one because the cost to keep the Baroness young grew higher the longer the Baroness lived. Over time this led to more and more children being taken by the Baroness.
At first the citizens of the valley simply allowed this to happen. However, as Lieral began to demand more children more often the citizens grew angry. Finally they had enough and gathered together to bring the Baroness to justice. The Baroness was enraged by this rebellion and had her wizard cast a horrible spell that would take the life force of everyone in the valley and give it to her. How the wizard accomplished this is unknown, but the fact is he did and soon everyone in the valley died in the same wasting way. With no one left alive, the Baroness herself also eventually died. Over time the Baroness was forgotten and the castle she lived in fell into disrepair.
One hundred years later new people have started to live in the vale. They do not know the history of the Baroness nor would they have care if they did. The land in the valley is good and they have families that need room to grow. While they may not care about the history of the valley, the Baroness does and the new people coming to the valley have awoken her from her long slumber and once again children have started to disappear...
So there we have it, the story. I believe the story is interesting and something I can build on. I also really think it creates a great mystery for the players as their characters begin to investigate the disappearing children. I still have a lot of work to do but for now I like where this is going. Next post I think I will work on a map of the region and then maybe do one for the now ruined castle. I would love to hear what you have to say... until next time game well, game long, and may your rolls be generous!