I’ve notice, when looking through various adventures, both old, OSR, and Torchbearer specific, for the Gulf that a good number of them include stairs, ravines, cracks, holes, or other points of access to a lower level of dungeon that is beyond the scope of the adventure. On one hand, this can be a bit inconvenient because your players can just decide to see what’s down there and suddenly you are off your prepared map and have to come up with something.
Personally, I generally am a low prep GM, I might think about the game between sessions, and if good ideas come to me, great, but if not I am fine with just winging most of the session. I do, however, like to have a keyed map when running an exploratory dungeon crawl. To me, it’s not even about the quality of the content (although high quality content is preferred). To me, when the focus of the game turns to exploration of a space, if that space isn’t already defined, it’s hard for the PCs to make meaningful choices within that exploration. I could go into this further, and why I think other game styles don’t have that problem, but that’s better suited for another post.
Ultimately with these ways further down, you have three options:
- Sketch out about as far down as you think the PCs will reasonably go. Not on accident, most of these ways further down are typically fairly deep in the dungeon, so, likely when you factor in the amount of content they consumed GETTING THERE, doesn’t need to be very far. Still, if you are using a module it can be annoying to have to fill in the gaps yourself.
- Seal it off. Make the way down a dead end, a rockslide, an impassible magic seal, or what have you. You can even make this not a permanent roadblock, like say requiring a magic passphrase to break the seal that the PCs could learn later, and then, by the time they do learn it, if they decide to come back, you know what’s down there.
- Just hope the PCs don’t go that way, wing it if they do.
In my experience? Option #3 works most of the time. Generally your PCs came to this place for a reason (even if that reason is to kill things and get loot), and often because the passage deeper down is not needed to complete that objective, they’ll rather not risk it. If they do, there’s nothing wrong with asking for 5 minutes to sketch a quick node map of a cave system or deeper levels of dungeon, or even just running a linear section with baddies that will either scare them back to know territory, or kill time (or them).
Still, I like these areas, the existence of a undefined area Deeper Down provides answers to plenty of useful questions. Where did the extra kobolds come from after the PCs nearly exterminated them last time? Deeper Down. Where to the wandering monsters live when not ambushing the PCs? Deeper Down. How can I reincorporate this dungeon but still provide new challenges for PCs that have mapped it? Make them go Deeper Down. Because of the story leading up to this module I have a side quest that I would like to stick here without changing things too much, where should I put it? Deeper Down.
Not to mention, if you take these areas that go Deeper Down and begin to connect them for multiple nearby dungeons (or not nearby if you invoke magic or make the underground a connected mystical world), you have the the makings of a megadungon with multiple entrances.
While I won’t go as far as saying that every dungeon could use a path to an undefined Deeper Down, I know I certainly will be considering it as a design element in my future dungeon designs!
Current PaDC score: 22/31