By popular demand! The great unwashed masses (these are D&D players after all) have long clamored for an example of how The Alt-Right DM preps for a session of D&D, and unlike that perennial tease Peter Del’Orko, I ain’t afraid to lift up my skirts when you toss me a quarter. (Seriously, you guys have been great with the whole Shitlord: The Triggering, and the short stories thing. Selling you something instead of begging for cash is the manly man’s way of doing a Patreon.)
Unlike Pete, who sometime promises to show his prep, but always falls back on excuses like “muh handwriting” and “muh players read this”, your old pal E. Reagan Wright ain’t afraid to edumacate you on how little it takes to prepare to run a chop-socky run-amocky hi-octane session of God’s own version of D&D.
First, we need a map – steal one from Dyson Logos, preferably a nice big fat one with lots of little nooks and crannies and plenty of that sweet, juicy jaquaying in the design. I normally do this next step in colored pencil, but this is the internet, so I took the time to do it digitally – it takes a little longer and makes no difference at the table. I’m only doing this because this is a case study…and because I love you, dear sweet reader.
So what do we have? We’ve got three to five five factions, depending on how you count it: gerblins, lizardmen, undead, a heavy hitter (Big Bruud the ogre and his sabretooth pet), and a weird wizard. We’ve also got a few strange little one-offs tucked into the corners: an ooze in a hole, owlbears that wander the wilderness, even a lost friendly dwarf barricaded inside an inner chamber. As a wild-card, we have an old tomb as well – it will just sit there undisturbed until the players start mucking about up there. The weird wizard is studying the false tomb and suspects the existence of the true tomb, but hasn’t found it. The lizardmen wander the halls from time to time – they leave their cool, ankle deep halls for the warmth of the hot springs. Gobbos gonna do what gobbos gonna do, and the whole thing has just enough exploration and pent-up energy to last for a good many sessions.
Other odds and ends. Each (L) is a locked door. Each ($) is a big treasure horde. These are the real objects of interest. All those critters listed above are chump change in the XP department. A smart party will try to minimize contact with them and focus on hitting those dollar signs to max XP.
With a good idea of who lives in these caves, this gives me a chance to make up a population table for the dungeon. In this case we are looking at the following:
In addition to that census, we can throw in a couple of wandering additions:
- One giant snake
- Three hopping spiders
- Two talking, clever cave apes
- Four bugbears lost and looking for the gobbos
With all of that in place we can generate the all important Wandering Monster Table. This is where it all comes together:
A lot of the dungeon workings are implicit in this table. Lemme spell this out for you. According to this table, certain monsters (the Ooooze, Nerkish’s guardians, the undead) do not wander. The lizardmen retreat to hot springs when they get lethargic and get stronger for a short time having bathed in them.
Note that the wandering monster table operates in conjunction with the Census. As the party kills wandering goblins, the numbers they are likely to encounter in the green rooms drops as well. Once they have been driven out of the dungeon, they will be stripped from the Wandering Monster table, too. (You can only kill Big Bruud once. After that a result of 13 becomes “No Event”, unless something arises to take its place…like skeletons, see below.)
The Special Table is reserved for those big ticket items that change how the dungeon operates. These are fundamental changes that need to be noted on the map, because I’ll never remember them otherwise. The rationales for these events are vague right now, and will depend on what the players have accomplished already. For example, once the seal on the Tomb is broken, the undead will start to wander. If result (1) comes up, that means somebody else broke the seal, and I need to rework the original wandering monster table.
When it comes to those tasty $$$, I don’t have any hordes pre-generated. They get made up on the fly using the following table. The only exception is when I decide to have a multi-part treasure. For example, the Helm, Armor, and Shield of a Historic Warrior might be located in three different places. I love that trick – it keeps the players returning to the dungeon to complete the set.
Oh, wait, the players might want to hire a few henchlings. Time to whip out the old Hireling Traits Table from Telecanter’s Receding Rules.
That’s about it. A map, a half dozen brief notes on static encounters, a population table, two wandering monster tables, and a lifetime of reading classic fantasy tales, and this dungeon is ready to go! Sure, it has a lot of white space left – good! I can add things or improvise them as needed. Those rooms between Nerkish and the lizardmen? Maybe crummy apartments for visitors. Maybe dusty rooms that prove the lizards don’t mess with the Nerk. Maybe
I’d guess that you could get thirty combats, a dozen RP encounters, and at least 60 hours of play out of this little dungeon, or about 15 of your standard sessions. It should carry a party from first level up through most of third level by the time they clear out enough to make adventuring here feel like a trip to the post office*. It took me about 90 minutes to draw all of this up. That’s some serious gaming bang for your creative bucks.
And that’s how it’s done.