Dungeon Dressing – What’s a dungeon anyway?

When you see the term “Dungeon” – what comes to mind? I typically think of a few different things…

  1. The great TSR gaming magazine published for from 1986 to 2007.
  2. A board game published in 1975 by TSR to simulate some aspects of Dungeons & Dragons.
  3. A place where people were imprisoned or tortured.
  4. A series of connected rooms containing possible encounters or combat opportunities.
  5. A power metal/thrash band from Sydney, Australia from 1989 to 2005.

Though I still have a few issues of Dungeon magazine squirreled away in boxes and a copy of Dungeon! the board game, I can truthfully say I’ve never heard any music from Dungeon the thrash band. That said, let’s focus on #4 because we can kind of roll #3 into it.

We often encounter dungeons when we play roleplaying games. Adventures like the Temple of Elemental Evil come to mind when I think of dungeons and dungeon crawls where you enter with your friends and try to survive as many levels and encounters as possible to escape with your loot.

But if you look at the general description, a dungeon in gaming terms is just a bunch of rooms connected by corridors. That could describe just about anything, couldn’t it?

A while back, Johnn Four raised the concept of “5 Room Dungeons”, which are awesome. Just enough space to create a unique situation for a group of players. But what I loved was that they weren’t all underground in medieval settings. Sure, some were. But mixed in were temples, swamps, islands, and other locations that didn’t have to be underground. What a concept! (You can download many of the 5 Room Dungeons at Johnn’s Roleplaying Tips site.)

So we know about dungeons in the medieval sense. Usually these were sets of rooms that existed under existing castles, keeps, or other buildings to house criminals, political prisoners, torture devices, and so on.

What about other places? Why can’t a modern building be a dungeon? Think about a modern hospital. Aren’t the floors in a hospital designed in a manner similar to different dungeon levels?

What about…

  • Spaceships or naval vessels?
  • Laboratories?
  • Office buildings?
  • Cave systems used by freedom fighters or terrorists?

Aren’t they all dungeons of a sort? Multiple rooms connected by corridors. Each room may or may not have “stuff” in it. Each room may or may not have guardians or traps.

So as we go through some other topics in this series, keep in mind that dungeons don’t have to be in fantasy settings or historically-based adventures. A dungeon can be any set of rooms connected by corridors.

Think about that the next time you walk through your house, your school, or your office building.

Next time we’ll talk about doors and what you can do with them in various settings.

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