Making a grand entrance

“After three days travel you make it to the dungeon entrance. What now?”

“Uhhh….. we go in, I suppose.”

Not very inspiring is it? The dungeon entrance (whether it be a real dungeon, ancient crumbling castle or temple of Evil) is your player’s first impression of the place they’re going to let their imagination roam for the next few hours. But it’s more than that; a good dungeon entrance is a promise. It says to the players “I’m going to satisfy your need for adventure and leave you wanting more. Come inside…….”

At the very least, the Entrance should be given the same amount of descriptive detail as an other location in the dungeon – and preferably more. Time spent describing the entrance to the dungeon is time saved spent detailing later on, as the player’s minds eye will carry your description with it, changing only when you describe a room differently.

For example, say that the Entrance is “hewn from huge angular rocks of granite pitted and moss coated with age”, and the players will visualize the rest of the dungeon in the same style. That’s a very different impression than if you’d said that the entranceway was “delicately formed from sandstone, apparently untouched by age. Fine carvings of filigree adorn every surface”.

DAZ Studio, no postwork.

Visual detail gives the players clues to the age and original purpose, and that in turn could set the theme for later encounters. In the first example above, it’s likely this dungeon was dwarf-made, the product of some ancient dwarven empire. Expect heavy stone block traps and incursions of Goblin, Orcs and Duergar! The latter is probably an Elven or Eladrin creation – is there a portal to the Feywild inside? Perhaps :D .

Don’t just use sight as the only sense though; our brains are more receptive to scent and sound, so describe the echoes from within, or – worse yet – the curious absence of sound. I described a dungeon entrance in one of my sessions as “smelling like a troll’s foul breath”, and it immediately became known as the Trollburp Dungeon by my players. I can’t even remember my original (probably pretentious) name for the dungeon, though Trollburp Dungeon will live with us forever. Darn, now I’ve got the aching to make a 4e “Return to Trollburp Dungeon” scenario…….

Dungeon entrances.

Don’t sell ’em short!

2 Comments on “Making a grand entrance”

  1. Hm, interesting post. Most of my dungeons, since half the time I’m stuck for a real description anyway, start with the way you start up top. “Ok, you’r ethere, there’s a staircase leading down.”

    Hardly exciting.

    I think for my next campaign, I’m going to end up with a megadungeon anyway, so the entrance is important, mostly because I intend on the party coming back aboveground fairly commonly, in order to resupply.

    Maybe some sort of fortified defenses around the way down… hm.

    Anyway, good article. I like “Trollburp Dungeon”.

    Davids last blog post..Strongholds and Serfs

  2. @David For megadungeons, why not have the entrance change over time. Maybe there was a flood from heavy rain, or a concession stand pops up, or a cave-in.

    Keeps ’em on their toes :D

    Glad you liked it!

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