Though I’m still working on the next One Spot, I also have a few other irons in the fire for Moebius Adventures. One of those is a series of products to help inspire more creative descriptions of common elements of dungeon and other encounter designs. The first of these will focus on doors. (This product is inspired by my earlier article – When’s a Door Not a Door?)
Every dungeon has doors. Each door has a story. You might be thinking “What!? A story? That’s crazy!” But it’s true. Every door offers a transition from one thing to the next. Some transitions are easy (no door at all or it’s unlocked). Some transitions are hard (locked or trapped). Some turn out to be dead ends (blocked or jammed).
I’ve pulled together a series of tables focusing on different ways to look at something as mundane as a door to squeeze story out of something traditionally just used as a quick transition from one room to the next. Five different concepts are described in detail: Purpose, Location, Maker, Materials, and Condition. Each offers some detail that may inspire some nugget of creativity in a designer to explore a different avenue and shake loose some descriptive element…
Rather than start by going through each table in detail (though I’ll do that in future articles in this series), I want to show what can be done by going through all of the tables in sequence.
In this example, I’m starting with the front door of a dungeon I’m working on.
Walking through each of the tables in order, I get results something like the following:
- Purpose: After a couple of die-rolls it looks like we’re trying to keep something in for safety’s sake. I’m going to interpret that as meaning that something was locked away for safe-keeping in this particular structure.
- Location: Here the dice are telling me we have a ground-level, triangular doorway. Though that offers some intriguing possibilities, I’m going to re-roll and go with an oval doorway instead. So we have a rounded doorway leading into a secure bunker.
- Maker: For this category, the dice are saying it was a craftsman who made the door for work. But instead, I’m going to change this to work better with the “safety” vibe from the Purpose and select Protection here. Our craftsman felt compelled to lock something away. So perhaps it wasn’t keeping something safe from the outside, but he built it to protect the outside from whatever was locked away.
- Materials: I rolled a few times on the Material table, but didn’t hit upon anything I liked off the bat, so I chose Obsidian as my door material. And the only Construction Type that makes sense here is “single pane” so we’ll say that this giant oval obsidian door is made of one solid piece of stone. As far as the Lock goes, I rolled “Lock and Key,” which does a couple of things for us. It implies that there is a key in case someone wanted to open it after locking whatever inside. And if that key goes missing, it implies that there’s a possibility that the lock could be picked by a skilled rogue.
- Condition: Most of the conditions don’t really fit, so we’ll say the front door is either in perfect condition or stained. Stained has more story possibilities, so we’ll go with that and say the door is stained with blood or other bodily fluids. And the door is Stuck. That’s probably why it hasn’t been opened. Perhaps someone tried to open it before and got gore wedged in the lock mechanism, so there’s some work that needs to be done. Lastly, the age of the door is “decades old.” This door has been here a while.
So with all that determined, I have plenty of details to pull from for my description. I don’t have to use all of them, but each combines to offer a more complete picture of what stands before my PCs:
“The huge oval door before you is made of an old, weathered black stone. In an untidy heap, a pile of bones from poor adventurer lies propped against it and you can see the area around and below the lock is partially covered in what might have been blood at one time. A cursory glance at the lock by an experienced rogue quickly reveals that both the door and locking mechanism are of solid construction. Someone didn’t want anyone to get into this place. Obviously the last person to try didn’t make it in…”
Because of the gore mired in the lock, anyone attempting to unlock the door with or without the key will need to do some careful cleaning before attempting to do so. It’s a moderate difficulty to clean the lock without damaging it. And an easy difficulty with the actual key or moderate difficulty to pick the lock with a set of lock picks.
As you can see, this one series of tables provided enough inspiration to create a more intriguing storyline. I didn’t know where I was going with this dungeon design and now I have some direction.
Next time we’ll look at how to explore the “purpose” of a door!