Side scrolling dungeons!

In which ol’ Greywulf turns dungeon design on it’s side and reveals ways for computer and rpg games to collide head-on in a way that’ll even have old-schoolers giggling with glee. Or something.

Dungeon design. Nine times out of d10, the end result is something like this:


(I love you, Demonweb Random Dungeon Generator)

Why not, just for a change, design a dungeon like this:


(I love you too, Super Mario War)

No, I’m not suggesting that you colour the walls in garish tones and encourage the players jump on the heads of lowly Myconids (there’s a thought…..). I’m talking about turning the way you think about dungeon design 90 degrees so that instead of designing an overhead map, you look at the layout from the side. You’re still working in two dimensions, but it’s a different two dimensions from before, which means there’s a whole new set of evil and nefarious…. I mean, cool and interesting things you can throw at your victims…. errrr…. players.

By looking at the dungeon from the side, you’re thinking more about where to place terrain features and obstacles. Add in pit traps, collapsing floors, rope swings, multi-level areas, falling stalactites and the like, then populate the area with waves of level-appropriate critters, and you’re good to go.

Just like any other dungeon, even though you’re designing in 2d remember that your environment is three dimensional. A 10′ pit trap isn’t much of a challenge in a 100′ square room so either reserve those for narrow corridors – or better yet have vast yawning chasms that cross the entire room meaning it’s a Skill Challenge to make it across. Award bonus XP for cunning use of 50′ rope, arrow and swinging across. D&D inspired by Donkey Kong? Oh yes!

This design tactic works best when your adventure is set in an are that’s filled with uneven or unstable terrain. Row after row of empty corridor and rooms ain’t much fun, but if the area is an ancient Temple in a jungle, an abandoned dwarven mine, natural cave complex or underwater, then this is for you.

Here’s a quick example.

Drakken Valley
A recent earthquake has uncovered a narrow pass into an isolated valley deep in the mountains to the North. The Imperial Expeditionary Cartographers have offered 1,500gp to the first group which successfully maps the area and returns. Three other groups have entered (one including a relative of a party member), but none returned. Can you explore this untouched realm and return?

I threw together the “map” in 5 minutes flat using Photoshop – it’s three layers using different shades of greyscale to simulate depth plus another for the lake. Use the lasso tool (L) to draw the features, then fill (G) in the colour. Add text. Done.

Level 1

– unstable footing and sudden pitfalls. DC15 Acrobatics/Balance check or take d20 feet falling damage
– multiple ledges which provides several routes (and ambush points!) through the valley. These jut out from the valley walls and some cross the all the way to the other side to form bridges

1. a small tribe of Myconids, frightened by all the loud noises
2. a rugged band of Mountain Gnolls who could become valuable allies of the party
3. fleeing dinosaurs! What are they running from, and why?
4. the spirits and remains of dead mountaineers
5. a small colony of Spiretop Drakes which swoop down and steal belongings
6. a young red dragon who will attempt to push the adventurers into the lake
7. a large lake which is home to a fearsome predator

Further levels feature more jungle terrain, primitive tribes and bigger and more ferocious dinosaurs. In the last level Our Heroes encounter the Big Boss and guy who caused the earthquake in preparation for his grand invasion – The Dino-Demon King!


12 Comments on “Side scrolling dungeons!”

  1. @Chgowiz Glad you like it!

    @CDM and @Andrew Playest coming soon, my friends.

    @Dyson Absolutely! How to Host a Dungeon is a terrific game, and would create a dungeon very well suited to this style of thinking. It zooms out just a little, but pull back in and you’ve got a ready-made setup that just needs traps, etc adding in.

    @Charlie Glad you approve, thanks :D I’m just trying to build a bigger box, that’s all.

  2. funny. a friend of mine drew adventures something like that many years ago, exact number of years withheld but greater than 10. usually based on a tree, with limbs providing places to walk, ropes to move between limbs, concealed breaks as deathtraps, and little treasure parcels all around. we eventually adapted the trees to multi-level spaceships with stairs and killer robots.

    i don’t recall if any of them made it into an actual game, they were mostly just fun to draw.

  3. side-scrolling dungeons. What a hoot! I design mine top down because my art isn’t good enough to support seen from the side. It would be Order of the Stick side-scrolling dungeons. Bwa ha ha! Hey, Greywulf, can I swipe your blog and post it on the trollwalla in trollhalla?

  4. Did someone mention OotS and sideways dungeons?

    I was sure someone would beat me to it with a link to this. All credit to Glug on the GITP boards for his innovate misuse of dungeon tiles.

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