Musty dungeon corridors set with uneven flagstones whose walls are daubed in goblin graffiti are infinitely more interesting than “a dungeon corridor.”
Dungeon dressing is one of the most important things a GM can do to bring his dungeon (and campaign) alive. Sadly, because it’s not a crucial aspect of dungeon design – it’s not as important as stat blocks, for example – most GMs don’t have time to dress their dungeons. That’s a shame as there are many great reasons to dress a dungeon:
- World Building: If you waffle on about the ancient style of dwarven mining or the fascinating intricacies of goblin art the players will likely switch off and go to sleep. If you casually mention the intricate locking mechanism of a stone door, the players immediately want to know more.
- Verisimilitude: Dungeons are not sterile, unchanging environments; explorers and inhabitants all leave signs of their presence. Crude graffiti daubed on the walls, skeletal remains, carven pillars and more all add a sense of realism to the place which helps players maintain their suspension of disbelief.
- Story Telling: What happened in the dungeon before the PCs got there? Dungeon dressing can give the players some of the answer. Were the orcs slaughtered by something large and obviously powerful or are the signs of flooding, earthquake or other calamity everywhere?
- Foreshadowing: Are the dungeon denizens working toward some evil scheme? If they are, the PCs will be able to find signs of their work throughout the dungeon. Does the dungeon periodically flood? If so, signs will be evident throughout the complex and give canny players a warning that something bad might be about to happen.
A Final Thought
When dressing a room (or entire dungeon), don’t go mad with detail. Adding too much detail creates confusion and eventual apathy in players; in effect, they don’t see the wood for the trees. Instead, concentrate on a couple of interesting features in each area.
Help Fellow Gamers
Do you have any other dungeon design tips related to this topic? If you do, please leave them in the comments below and help your fellow GMs design better dungeons today!
This article is part of Dungeon Design Fortnight. Dungeon Design Fortnight celebrates Raging Swan Press’s upcoming release of GM’s Miscellany Dungeon Dressing – a huge 336-page tome dedicated to all aspects of dungeon design and dressing. This article, along with loads of other useful information, appears in the book. I’m insanely proud of GM’s Miscellany Dungeon Dressing and I hope if you are thinking about designing dungeons you check it out.