On details that matter

“I listen at the door.”
“You hear a (roll roll roll) rattling noise.”
“Whaddya think, guys? Chain golem? Kyton?”
“Probably just random dungeon dressing.”

And the last line of dialogue is correct. Our dungeons don’t do enough to help us out with hints. Huge tables of dungeon dressing detail; no way to tie that back to the game.

Let’s fix that by placing explicit Clues around our dungeon.

Okay. So what does it mean to have a clue?
Noises and smells count. If you can hear a thing by listening for it at a door, that’s a clue. The scent of urine, its unique body odors, or smells it generates via activities: smoke, perfume, machine oil, ozone.
Detritus counts. Spiderwebs, slime trails, rust streaks, warped stone, cast of skin or shells, urine, feces, grave dust, corpses, bloodstains, ruined gear.
Food sources count. Dried rations, hunted beast haunch, mummified victims, fungal grove, or a pool of fish.

An example list of inspiration by key word:
Fire: smoke (smell, visible), soot and scorch marks, coal, crackling, lumber, blackened, barbecue, chemical, hot, glowing.
Lightning: ozone, hair-raising, crackling, flashing, magnetic.
Acid: eye-watering, chemical smell, melted, slag on floor, discolored, scored, bubbling, slime.
Cold: slick, frost-covered, jammed, tinny, fogged breath, gooseflesh.
Poison: blackened, wracked, unblemished, sickening, vomit.
Necrotic: withered, puckered, burned from the inside, spectral, faces, moaning, gooseflesh.

Aberration: Warping, slime trails, victims.
Beast:

Spiders: webs, webbed victims.
Snakes: cast skin/scales, slithermarks.
Mammals: shed hair or fur, urine or odor, food source

or carcass.
Celestial: religious symbols, gear, incense, as humanoid.
Construct (or trap): none innate.
Dragon: as snake or by element.
Elemental: by element.
Fey: dunno.
Fiend: religious symbols, as humanoid.
Giant: spoor, leavings, food, furniture, broken gear.
Humanoid: as giant.
Monstrosity: as beasts.
Ooze: slime trail.
Plant: cuttings, dried plant detritus.
Undead: religious symbols, necrotic traits, as humanoid.

What should you clue?

You should clue any Deadly encounter, placed or random. You should clue the largest treasure hoard. You should clue at the area between factions in your dungeon. You should clue a few arbitrary encounters.

Where do you place these Clues?
Near what they refer to. In particular, before selecting specific monsters in specific rooms, place Clues in 1/2 the empty rooms and 1/3 the rooms without treasure. Those Clues point at which of the rooms contain the biggest monsters/treasure/traps.

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About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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