If you search the collective consciousness (and the insane number of idioms we have in the English language), you can find some interesting sayings or phrases focused on walls…
- Being a fly on the wall
- Having your back to the wall
- You are climbing the walls
- The writing is on the wall
- Beating your head on a wall
- “This place is a hole in the wall”
Or, as Pink Floyd put it, “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.” But where am I going with this?
When your party enters a dungeon of any type or even just a room, there are at least two walls to contend with – possibly as many as four. As designers of player experiences (PXs), that offers a lot more canvas with which to paint our scenarios.
Let’s start with the obvious things.
- Chalk marks
- Claw marks
- Blood splatter
Now let’s look at a few of the less obvious ones…
- buttons or switches
- hidden doors
- differing construction
- materials change
But how do we actually apply this to a dungeon design?
Honestly you could take any of these ideas in the above lists and use them directly as inspiration. For instance, an actual fly on the wall could hint that there’s decaying bodies somewhere in the dungeon and probably not too far from where the PCs happen to be. Or a series of chalk marks (arrows, glyphs, lines, etc.) could hint that the’re not alone – someone else also may be clearing the dungeon or was here before the PCs arrived. Are they still around?
If you know me however, you know there’s probably a random table or two to help…
If I go with “scarred/uniform” I might get something like:
You notice a set of matching scrapes along the walls at an almost even height on both sides. It’s almost as though something large, with claws, walked down this hall, arms outstretched, marking the walls or sharpening its claws…
Or maybe “stained/uneven” leads to:
A few feet down this hall you find blood spatter on one wall. Something or someone was hit with a lot of blood and left a void behind…
I might tease “mosaic/collapsing” into:
Your torchlight dances along what might have been a beautiful tile mosaic at one time. Hundreds of tiny tiles glint in the dancing flames, but you can’t see the pattern. Though some of the tiles remain on the wall, too many have hit the floor, scattered up and down the hall in both directions. Perhaps, with time, you could discern enough of the artist’s subject to determine its purpose…
Each of these can be used to hint at something else, deeper in the dungeon, or even provide hints as to the current plot. Nothing says every descriptive encounter or player experience has to be a grotesque one – I like to throw in the occasional thought experiment as well. 🙂
Hopefully this gives you some ideas to explore for your dungeons! Let me know if you do – I’d love to hear how it turns out!