Dungeon Contractor: Steal from the Best, Swipe from the Rest
The singular most important skill of any dungeon designer is the ability to plagiarize. If you are going to make it to the top in this business, you are going to have to steal as much as you can. Why? Everything you steal is one less thing that you have to think about. It's like that old saying about midgets and giants.
The singular most important skill of any dungeon designer is the ability to plagiarize. If you are going to make it to the top in this business, you are going to have to steal as much as you can. Why? Everything you steal is one less thing that you have to think about.
It is like that old saying about midgets and giants, which has been attributed to just about every famous scientist. Lone brilliance is worthless. The more context that you have, the more astounding sorts of thoughts you will have, regardless of some notion of innate intelligence. It is the only way.
Why is it important to steal? You have a lot, a whole lot, to do in the progress of a single adventure. This is doubly more difficult in a dungeon setting, for when in a dungeon, weird, hard to track details get magnified ten-fold. Marching order generally is not mapped out when the party steps into the local tavern. Everything about the dungeon is risk and trouble, so the physicality counts. And players will get mad when arguments occur over whether or not they were or were not close enough to the trap, or whether they would have walked into what, in retrospect, was such an obvious ambush that there was practically a road sign warning of it. That fact is only the beginning of a considerable list. Included also are things such as the need to bounce numbers, to be ready to take on any surprise that gets dealt by players who like to do screwy things, to be constantly the focus of attention and to wonder if you are getting taken for a ride with the whole salsa thing. You have to be on. It is on you, fair Referee, that all the demands are being placed. It is easy to fall short.
There are two ways out: become better at multi-tasking or start to cheat. I will leave the multi-tasking to the psychic gurus and assembled organizational experts outside, and instead just encourage you to cheat. Steal from the best, steal from the worst, steal from everyone until you can't even remember what you stole. Plagiarize like you're a certain famous historian who tends to write about World War II. Take it and use it.
Okay, maybe I am casting the issue in too serious a light by using words like cheat and plagiarize. I apologize for being inflammatory about it, but the point is so necessary to drive in that it cannot be understated. It is an unfortunate fact that some of the best stuff out there belongs to other people. Some people have time and talent, and it shows. They write mean adventures. And, typically, those mean adventures have some mean dungeons in them. Now, this may seem incredibly self contradictory having just come off an essay claiming that the only good dungeon is one that fits with a plot. A pre-made adventure should be one of the worst adventures. After all, there is no fit to take place with plot. A dungeon stolen remains a hostile organ.
And it is for this reason I see it fit to emphasize the notion of plagiarism and not some more prosaic concept. "Oh, wow, that's a neat idea for an oil trap," robbery is okay and should still be continued, but do not think that such a path is the end. Do not shy away from wholesale appropriation as necessary.
There is no reason that a dungeon cannot be used in whole as long as the proper modifications are made to the dungeon to get it in line with the current plot. Obviously objectives and motives must be considered, but do not forget mood. Mood is as important a quality to change as any sort of mission goal that might be present. The best dungeons are going to evoke something in people. Make certain it is evoking the right sort of thing for the moment in the game.
And remember, this plagiarism does not hurt anyone's feelings or legal status. If it means lifting a dungeon whole hog, then do so. If, however, it means lifting only the first level and redesigning the remainder, do so as well. This latter possibility is, in my mind, more fulfilling, simply because you get to make your indelible mark on the game itself. Besides, then the unused level can become part of yet still another dungeon, getting maximal mileage. Furthermore, it is always a fun twist on players who think they know what is going on because they have read the adventure before, when suddenly the library is not guarded by that cat o' doom.
If you don't cheat? Well, your adventures better be worth your not cheating. It is possible to design well without plagiarism, but with the same amount of effort and plagiarism, you can go even further. Thus I do not see it as a real choice.
However, do not limit your plagiarism to the world of gaming. I am not about to extol trolling around in Russian literature for plot threads, but you could, I suppose. I instead mean the more subtle form of plagiarism that is observation, and more on that next time when we talk to Janice, our stained glass guru.