Monday, May 30, 2016

Dungeon Cross-Sections (and the clever use of isometry)

So, now that The Shade Isle Campaign has wrapped up, I don't have any qualms about putting up a cross-section for the campaign dungeon, Shade Abbey.  Thus:

But the cross-section doesn't really do this dungeon justice, because the dungeon-levels are not simply laid out east to west; some sub-levels are actually "behind" or "in front" of other levels, in the ±z axial direction if you will (north and south, or in and out of the plane of the page).

So, how to remedy this issue?  Why, isometric graphing paper, of course.  (If any of my current players stumble upon this blog post, kindly avoid reading below the fold while The Heathlands Campaign is still going on.) :-)

The Fiendish Temple
So, about five years back, when I first moved to Omaha, my brother and some of his college buddies wanted me to run some old-school D&D for them.  Of course they grew up in the 2nd/3rd edition days, pre-OSR, when old-school gameplay had been more or less lost and forgotten.  The default mode of play in 2e and 3.0 is the epic quest, not the campaign dungeon.  This was all they knew of D&D.

So I set them up with a simple dungeon and we ran a whole campaign around it for half a  year.  This is a rough isometric schematic of what the dungeon looked like:

It's a bit sparse and shabby, but it was a fun dungeon—your typical "mad wizard's lair", which is a fine excuse to make a "funhouse" dungeon full of inexplicable weird magic.  You never know what could be in the next room, especially on those levels which are essentially great big arcane laboratories with a bat-shit insane magical experiment (abandoned these many centuries) in each room.

Now, for the tentpole dungeon supporting The Heathlands Campaign, I've decided to take my inspiration from this little dungeon I ran way back, a dash of The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Mythmere's "Oldengard Keep".  I want an ancient temple, dedicated to elemental gods, full of laboratories with mad wizard experiments, sitting on the ruin of an old Imperial castrum (think, fortified Roman town in pre-Saxon Britain).

Here's what I sketched up for a side-view cross-section:

But again, it's nigh impossible for a side-view to really do justice to the three-dimension layout I have in mind.  Therefore, isometric grid paper to the rescue!

And now we have this to go on:

Much better.  It really gets the geometry and the geography of the location across.  And when it comes time to map out the individual sub-levels, I'll know exactly how they line up vertically, which clearly delineates where the staircases, pits, shafts, and other points of connection will go.

God damn, I love starting a new campaign.

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to make isometric maps of a few of my prouder dungeon/building designs, and now I want to do so even more. Plus, I won't feel like I'm wasting my time doing it, since I've decided to stop using "the mat" to illustrate dungeons for the foreseeable future.