Dungeon Montage – Collaborative Dungeon Design
~ Inspired by John Wick’s video on Dirty Dungeons and his article in Play Dirty 2~
Welcome to the Dungeon Montage. J-M has used this technique multiple times in a variety of games and swears by it. One of the great things about 13th Age is its collaborative storytelling, drawing the players into the design process normally reserved for the GM. Backgrounds, One Unique Things, and Travel Montages all work together to support this collaborative process. But what about the dungeons of the Dragon Empire?
The Gamemaster, being the prepared person that they are, will have foreshadowed the group’s journey to a dungeon, living or otherwise. For the great curse can only be broken there, the item forged in the 3rd Age which holds the key to slaying the grand evil was buried there, a dragon load of gold is horded there, you get the idea. All that’s needed is for the group to travel there and clear it out. Well that and the Gamemaster needs to design it first.
The Dungeon Montage operates under the assumption that the characters are not the first people to delve any dungeon in the empire. After all, the empire goes back 12+ ages. Bards tell tales of the ancient crypts. Wizards pack libraries full of lore of the previous ages. And taverns are full of NPCs who were adventurers just like you, before they took a trap to the face. All of these provide avenues for characters to do their research and prepare for the delve.
To use the Dungeon Montage, you’ll need to set aside an hour or so of your game session, preferably a session or two before the characters will arrive at the dungeon, to allow them to do their research. Much like a travel montage, each player will add a piece of lore that their characters discovered, collectively crafting the dungeon. One player may add the rumor that the dungeon is guarded by constructs of the Dwarf Lord from the 7th Age. Others may turn up tales of a magic spring which provides sanctuary to delvers. Round and round the rumors go, adding to the group’s knowledge of the dungeon.
The rules are fairly simple. Each round, the players are each allowed to add one piece of information concerning the dungeon. It cannot contradict another player’s or the Gamemaster’s ideas, but it may build on those ideas. After each idea, the Gamemaster rates the danger of the addition:
- Cosmetic ideas are worth 1 dungeon point.
- Foes or traps or interesting set pieces are worth 2 dungeon points.
- Really cruel or interesting choices might be worth 3 dungeon points.
You can keep track of these points in different ways; J-M uses poker chips, adding them into a bowl with each addition. The Gamemaster should dutifully record the rumors (and if they are cruel, the name of who created them).
At the end of every round, the Gamemaster adds one black chip to the pool. We will get those chips later. Play continues for any number of rounds the Gamemaster or group decides. Two to three rounds will generate sufficient information for a small set of encounters, perhaps even a full heal-up’s worth. Eight to ten rounds will give the group enough to explore for a whole level. Once the montage is complete, the players total their dungeon points. These represent the abstract understanding of the dungeon that the characters have gained through their research.
While in the dungeon, the points may be spent as follows:
- X points to add +X to a hit roll. If you rolled a 1, too bad. No amount of dungeon points can help you.
- X points to add +X to a skill roll.
- 5 points to gain a free recovery
- 10 points to gain and spend an immediate icon relationship
Players have final say for all dungeon point spent. If they feel a spend is too costly, put it to a vote. The majority rules.
The Gamemaster, at the end of this, should have a list of great ideas for their dungeon, as well as a number of black chips. The black chips serve two purposes. The first is that there are a number of false rumors equal to the number of black chips. The Gamemaster gets to choose how to twist and turn those rumors to their own nastier specials. Additionally, they function in the same way dungeon chips do for players, but for NPCs. J-M recommends adding –
- 3 points to steal the escalation die for a round
This method, much like many of the above-mentioned mechanics, adds player buy-in to the dungeon. It is no longer just a dungeon they have to delve, but one which they already know and are prepared for. At the end of this montage, the players have done much of the design of the dungeon. So, when the balor jumps out to attack the 4th level party of adventurers, it is not your fault as the Gamemaster. No, it is Christopher’s fault for adding it in.
For more inspiration and advice, J-M highly recommends purchasing John Wick’s Play Dirty 2.