Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 2013
These are just a series of guidelines I actually put to (virtual paper) for designing adventures for the Frayed Knights series. While they primarily apply to Frayed Knights, I think most of them are applicable (or at least bendable) to many other modern computer role-playing games (indie or not). I did it for the benefit of others who were helping me with dungeon design, but I figured I’d share ’em with the community at large.
#5 – Understand each room / area
You should have a clear idea of the context of each room (or area) in the map – how it’s being used, why it was built, etc. That way, even if it’s not fully explained, there’ll still be some feeling to the player that things make some kind of sense – it’s not just random rooms and random encounters.
Granted, this is very much a “guideline” rather than a rule. When I design maps, I’m often more worried about game flow and cool encounters than an attempt to create a practical, believable dungeon. But I think just like having a clear view of the purpose and history of the dungeon / adventuring area as a whole, it’s good to have a pretty clear idea of the hows and whys of each of the parts. This kind of information can suggest encounters, details, descriptions, and – most importantly – gameplay!
#6 – Take Advantage of Vertical Elements
Even with the tiled approach to building dungeons, we have the capability of introducing slopes, ledges, chasms, and pits that span multiple levels. While it’s hard to do with 2D graph paper, try to build cool spaces that take advantage of the vertical element. After all, this is a 3D, first-person game, so we need to take advantage of it. Give them a feeling of vertical space. It doesn’t need to be as extreme as the Pit O’ Doom in FK1 , but do what you can.
Try and think of how vertical layout could improve gameplay and flow through the dungeon. One common element in Skyrim is to have an exit that opened above the entrance. If the game lacks a special means of ascent, this means quick egress but doesn’t allow a “short cut” to the end of the dungeon. Another common technique is to show a goal separated by vertical space that can’t be directly crossed.
#7 – Take Advantage of the trap / lock system
I’m kinda proud of the trap-disarming / lockpicking system in Frayed Knights. Don’t neglect locks and traps! They provide a variation in gameplay from combat. While they may not be appropriate in EVERY dungeon, apply them liberally.
To move this one outside the realm of Frayed Knights to other games… it’s important to take advantage of whatever non-combat, repeatable systems exist within the game. This is especially true if there are skills / items / classes in your game that are specialized for dealing with these systems. For example, a cyberpunk-style game that allows you to be a netrunner or hacker should have lots and lots of opportunities for your character to “go digital” and hack security systems or whatnot – otherwise it’s a wasted specialization.
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