Every Dungeons and Dragons group needs a dungeon master. He is in large part responsible for either the success, or the total failure of a game. Understandably, the pressure is high for new DMs, as you are required to be knowledgeable on most parts of the game. Now don’t panic, nobody expects you to be perfect at first try. You will undoubtedly improve over time, but my job here is to give you a little kick start, so you and your friends can have a great time and start the campaign on a positive note. I figured that learning how to build an interesting and dynamic dungeon should be the first step, as it represents the core of the classic D&D experience.
Monsters are people too!
When you start a dungeon, it is easy draw a bunch of rooms and try to fill them with enemies and stuff. While it is ultimately the goal, you want to have some kind of order behind it all. A dungeon is not just a place for players to explore and kill foes, it is also where your creatures lives. With that in mind, each of the rooms in your dungeon should have some kind of function So before drawing anything on that graph paper of yours, here are a few question that should help you get started :
What kind of monster/people live there?
Is it a dragons lair? A bandit hideout? An insect nest?
How many of them are there?
It will affect the size of the rooms and some more details.
Why are they living in this place to begin with?
A monster could be hiding a treasure there, or maybe it is a hiding spot for outlaws. This is really up to you, it is your world.
Where/what do they eat? Where do they sleep?
Do they have a room for storing food? A kitchen? Do they need a place to sleep? What do they need on a daily basis to survive in this place.
Once you have determined all that, you can start drawing rooms with actual functions. For example, you might need a kitchen, a common bedroom, treasure room and so many other things. It really is up to you, blank rooms with monsters gets boring really fast. Note that these questions might not be an exact fit with what you had in mind, but feel free to adapt them to better suit your purpose.
Traps, locked things.
If a group gets too comfortable in a dungeon, you are doing it wrong. Your players, should feel like bad things could happens the moment they drop their guards. It is also a great time for the Rogue in your group to shine, as they tend to be overshadowed by other characters in battle. Make them feel like they are essential to the group, and they will be less likely to steal from other players (hopefully). A great way to do that is to place traps and locked doors or chests in the dungeon, but make sure you place them at places they wont expect! Of course, you need to keep in mind that the hallway leading to the kitchen shouldn’t be stuffed with mortal traps. You need to be logical as to the location of those!… And try not to be too much of a sadist.
Little details matters.
Sometimes, little and seemingly insignificant things can really bring life to a dungeon. It can be whatever fits with the story you want to tell and does not need to be connected in any way to the quest. For example, a chess game that was stopped mid way, a doll with a little girl’s name written on it, or an half eaten sandwich under a bed! The goal here is to make the players feel like the place you are building is worth exploring and is much more interesting than just your average ” Door, monster, loot” dungeon.
Variety in encounters.
Having a few different creatures in the same place is a great way to keep things fresh for both the players and yourself. If for some reason you are limited to only one or two monsters, no worries, there are other ways to spice things up. You can change the weapons your creatures are using. The change doesn’t need to be in the creature themselves. For example, the adventurers could be forced to fight on an unstable wooden bridge that threatens to break at any moment, events like that will force players to adapt and stay focused. In my experience, using the environment to make a battle more dynamic is something dungeon masters don’t do nearly enough, and it really brings the experience to the next level.
Visualize it so your players can.
The players will never imagine the place exactly as you would like them to. Each person gets to create his own mental image of the world and that is probably one of the best aspects of Dungeons and Dragons as a whole. That being that, a good description is never a bad thing, as it serves many purposes. Before writing anything down, make sure you have a very clear image in your head. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Then write it as accurately as you can.
Rewarding loot,but don’t over do it.
You fought hordes of goblins, took your fair share of traps in the face and took down the big bad monster at the end. Experience points are a reward in themselves, but nothing beats a treasure chest after a long dungeon. Be very careful there, for I have seen entire campaigns fall for that reason. Do not give too much loot. You have to understand that powerful loot does not equal more fun. At first, your players will feel great, but believe me when I say; a +1 dagger you worked hard for is a lot more gratifying than an overpowered mythical sword that fell on your laps. People like to feel like they are gradually working toward something epic, cheating is a very short lived thrill and can easily ruin the long term experience. I usually want every player to have at least a little something at the end of a dungeon, as well as a decent amount of gold, but it all depends on the difficulty.
Things you will need.
A must have. For the longest time I have had a paper mat. The fact that I couldn’t draw anything on it definitely made things a lot more difficult for everyone. Don’t be like me and get a decent mat so you can waste less time on trying to explain the rooms and more time on the actual fun parts.
As a player, all you need is a players handbook and you are good to go. As a DM, you will need all of the three core rulebooks. Of course, you can get away with using a PDF version of it, but it is usually much faster and effective to have to real books in front of you.
This one is really optional because you can craft your own screen with little to no cost. But, if you dont want to spend time putting together charts and other quick reference, you might want to consider this one. On your side of the screen are tools to make your life a little easier, such as a NPC generator as well as a few rule reminders. On the other side, it looks great, if that is something you care about.
Oh and bring dices.. lots of them. Your players will forget to bring them, so you might as well be prepared!