Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Frayed Knights: Dungeon Creation Rules, Part 2

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 25, 2013

After our bit discussing general guiding principles for creating adventures in Frayed Knights, I’m now knee-deep in discussing detailed rules (well, okay, still guidelines) that I use for map-building. While not hard-and-fast, they do have explicit requirements that we’re trying to follow. While I wrote this document for the benefit of people helping me with dungeon design, it also serves as a reminder to myself of what I need to do to make sure the quality and style stays consistent in the game. While the principles are sometimes fuzzy goals, these are somewhat more specific requirements.

Why am I sharing them? Well, in part, so you’ll know where I’m going and why I’m doing what I’m doing. Obviously, part of it is to get you excited about the upcoming sequel. But I also wanted to share my thought process for others who might be interested in RPG design. I am not going to pretend that these are the perfect rules – even for the kind of game I’m trying to make this time around. But to me fellow RPG designers out there – and those that aspire to be so – I might suggest that coming up with your own lists like this, stating measurable objectives, might help you as you are designing content. What I don’t want – in my own games, or when playing other people’s games – is missions or dungeons that have the feel of having lots of filler, and not much meat. I want each little quest, each adventure, to be exciting enough to stand on its own, not to feel like just part of the treadmill. These “rules” are tools I’m using to avoid that.

You can read part 1 of the dungeon creation rules here.

You can read the general principles –  part 1 here, part 2 here,  part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, and part 6 here.

#4 – Avoid more than two similar encounters in a row
Frayed Knights
is not a linear game, so it’s impossible to know in advance exactly in what order the player may face encounters with enemies. And they can luck out with patrols or random encounters. So it’s going to happen. But let’s face it – while battling the same group of enemies may be a little different each time (due to different resource levels, different player party states, health & energy levels, etc.), it can get pretty old pretty fast.

But when the player is following a likely path, the fixed encounter layout should be set up so that the likelihood of encountering very similar encounters more that twice in a row are minimized. Avoid putting more than two similar encounters in a row along the optimal or likely path. Ideally, you should avoid even two highly similar encounters in a row. For example, if they’ve had two fights with melee-oriented guards, the next encounter should be a trap, or a puzzle, or a combat against wizards, or something along those lines. Here are some further suggestions:

  • Try to avoid having even two encounters in a likely row if they are at all similar to random encounters or patrols.
  • It’s okay to escalate a similar encounter, up until a point. For example, if you have a (likely) preceding encounter with two warrior thugs, and then two priests, then a third encounter with two thugs and a priest would be acceptable, as it forces the player to adapt to dealing with both combat styles simultaneously. Similarly, you can have a special situational event that makes things more complicated – battling in a magical snowstorm that affects certain spells and ranged attacks, for example.
  • Combat can be repetitive even if it is totally different creatures with similar tactics. While battle a pair of wolves may be different from battling a bear, they are still pretty similar, physical melee oriented fights.
  • Again – it’s best to take advantage of all the system has to offer, and try to avoid having even three combat encounters in a row of any kind. Use traps, puzzles, dialogs, or other “encounters” to mix things up and keep things from feeling stale.


#5 – Interactive Puzzles
Not including traps or locks, dungeons should have one or more ‘interactive puzzles.’ Medium dungeons should have at least a couple of these, and large dungeons should have at least three. It’s highly encouraged even for smaller dungeons.

If the puzzles are mandatory for progress, they should be either very easy (with lots of hints) or able to be bypassed. “Very easy” puzzles may be of the basic lock-and-key variety – not including literal keys with pickable locks! But things like learning a password, building the protective suit to bypass the death-field, pulling levers in sequence, or whatever will work to remove an obstacle.

Classic adventure-game type puzzles work well here. But harder (optional) puzzles work well, too. This is again a way to vary the gameplay, and shouldn’t be super-difficult.

Remember, puzzles can be verbal in nature, too. Convincing someone to help counts towards this requirement.

#6 – Number of Hidden Treasures
Dungeons should have at least one ‘hidden’ stash of treasure that must be found through searching (either directly or behind a secret door), or by poking around on at out-of-the-way object. (As a simple example – the broadsword sitting on the shelf in the southern guardroom in Pokmor Xang would count in FK1).

If the stash is mandatory or extremely useful for progress in the game, it should be hinted to and have several clues to its whereabouts. If it’s purely optional (most are), it could be completely hidden and only discovered by deliberate searching… but don’t rely too heavily on this. Most of the time, there should be at least a subtle hint that there’s something to be discovered should a player start poking around in a particular area and circumstances.

Most hidden treasure should be a small bonus to players to help them feel clever when they go poking around the dungeon (or dug through a strategy guide). Be sure and get creative with this, too. For example, you can have some kind of triggered event that creates the treasure based on some kind of player interaction, or something that transforms a simple item into a magical one.

Mini-dungeons should have at least one hidden item / stash. Medium dungeons should have at least three. Large dungeons should have at least five.

Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Anon said,

    I agree with all points and have only one thing to add to this point:

    “Most hidden treasure should be a small bonus to players to help them feel clever when they go poking around the dungeon (or dug through a strategy guide).”

    IMHO it’s very important to give more gold or stuff to the player when it was *extremely* well hidden.
    If he does a thorough search he should well rewarded and not get some generic small treasure or a healing kit.
    In addition to the loot the player character should – if possible – get some experience points or another kind of reward like a perception increase.
    The best CRPGs are those that allow for player progression without fights but other deeds like clever dialogues, stealing or – in this case – exploration.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I agree, it should be – the efforts should be rewarded appropriately. But the problem with this is that if it is a REALLY big deal, it ceases to be considered optional.

  • Anon said,

    True – but don’t underestimate the amount of players going for such stuff!
    It’s also a highly interesting topic for walkthroughs and FAQs (just see Gamefaqs for secrets lists).
    One should strongly distinguish between secrets and eastereggs, though, as the latter often break immersion and won’t really help the player.
    A secret is more like an optional treasure that could or could not be hunted – and it usually doesn’t break immersion.

    What I like to find as a player and give as a designer are “mighty” weapons or artifacts, that have some sort of drawback to balance things: They work only once (a potion or a glass sword) or only against certain enemy types (“Orc Slayer” sword, special ammunition or a specific interface chip). I like the Bioware way of things with supplying a short anecdote for each and every special item that is completely optional to read.

    Simply giving the player a boatload of gold is more risky: It’s a) too “flexible” and b) more generic (an orc slayer sword next to corpse and some fire marks and ashes of a dragon attack is more atmospheric and would even tell a “microstory”).

    Giving him only a small amount of gold could be even more risky: The player may decide not to explore in-depth again and only do “drive-by” looting in the future while he follows the plot.
    The same applies for generic stuff like a low-value potion (weak healing for example): Low incentive.

    Also blind alleys in a dungeon should always contain stuff (I think this was established in an earlier post).
    A regular, “visible” blind alley may yield the player only a small trinket (a small gem in a mine shaft, for example) but hard to find secrets in blind alleys (behind secret doors & compartments…) should be more worthwhile.