Saturday, April 14, 2012

Dungeon Part 2 – Theme

Back again for some dungeon creation.
Last time, we looked at the goal of the dungeon. I chose to add in treasure (a set of weapons) and a minor story preview.
[As a sidenote, I hope you've chosen a goal as well for your own personal dungeon. This sort of thing works best when you follow along.]

In this part, I'll be talking about the theme of a dungeon. See the theme as something that makes the general feel of the dungeon. It ties into a lot of things that'll come later on and ties into the goal as well.
Let's get started with choosing one.

Choosing a theme
If you're choosing a theme, some people take a look at the surrounding area to make it fit in and while this isn't a bad approach, it's not what I do. While it might be interesting to tie the dungeon completely into the story and determine it like that, you usually have a lot more freedom in your side-dungeons.
Moral of the story:
 -for main quest dungeons, you usually want to have the story provide a theme.
 -for side-treks, do whatever you want and bend the lore to fit.

Whether your dungeon is an active volcano, a mining shaft or the floating fortress of the wizard-king, one thing that you'll find out is that it's usually better to make things more original.

Spicing things up
Having a basic theme is all nice and well but it's usually not that interesting. That's why I've broken up 2 methods that'll help us make our dungeons less forgettable.

1) Shifting the theme
 This is making your theme more interesting by slightly (or completely) shifting it. This might be difficult to grasp and kinda weird for me to explain so I'll just give an example.

    Volcanoes are more than lava if you think about it. You could swap out the lava for pools of boiling stuff                  
    (water, tar, whatever). This slightly shifts the focus of your dungeon. Instead of fire items/monsters/... you 
    have oil/tar/... versions. Or you could go all the way and change it into an ice volcano, though you'll have 
    to get the logic part right. How did the ice get under the crust? Or is the entire planet's core made of icy 

2) Mixing themes
Having multiple themes can be interesting. It's easy to just brainstorm and go wild. Make a list of themes and try combining them. Consider tar (from the previous method) and add ghosts to it. Tar ghosts. Haunted tar volcano. See how interesting it can be?
Technically, you could go and make one big super dungeon with all the themes, but unless your dungeon is the world or some elemental chaos, that doesn't make sense and might be silly. For a normal dungeon, I wouldn't go higher than 3 different themes.
As a note to a later post: Different themes sometimes means different factions. Tar monsters versus ghosts?

    Screw the surroundings, that volcano's going into the air. 'Sure why not?' But try to find a logical 
    explanation for your flying volcano. Question 1: Where does the lava come from? (Some ancient core 
    device?) Question 2: How is the shape affected? (A more orby shape with multiple craters?)

Example dungeon
Initial theme choice: ice
Shifting it: glass
Adding more themes: Ancient ruin
This means I can make my goals concrete:
  -Ancient non-breaking glass weapons.
  -Potions and other stuff that is useful treasure and might've survived some time
  -Coinage (but not modern ones!)
Story event: A look at the history of the Daban kingdom.

Now I'll also tell you where my dungeon is situated as I have to make it fit into the story and logic.
It's a grass plain outside the major commerce city. 'Wait' I hear you ask 'How the hell did glass get into a place with no sand and no major heat?'
Well, here's what I say: 'A long time ago, a comet crashed down into the earth. By the heat generated from atmospheric friction, part of it turned into glass. After it crashed down, a tribe of Dabans built a small town into it and that's what our dungeon is!' I didn't really plan for all those details, but as you make dungeons, you'll have to fill in these details, making your world a bit more complex and interesting each time.

I'm getting some ideas towards the gimmick and monster factions, but that'll have to go into the next posts.

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