08 June 2024

Tribute to Collaborative Dungeon Creation

tl;dr: trying to recall a genius blogpost on collaborative dungeon creation as 'forces of nature'

This is an attempt to replicate a genius blogpost I found years ago and has eluded me since. Hopefully the original author will rock up and go 'hey, thats my idea' so I can finally link it. In the absence, let me tell you a tale of a genius idea, gather round the campfire comrades... The inestimable DIY & Dragons questioned if it might be Tom Dowlers "How to Host A Dungeon" - and from that tip I found the post I was thinking off - Dyson Logos doing a test of How to Host a Dungeon. So I am actually mis-remembering this as a multi-player experience which perhaps could be another way to do it. Anyway, all that follows was written before I found this out, please view it in that light.

Fado, fado, there was an idea that if you were a DM with access to multiple pools of players, you could use some of them to set situations that would then serve as challenges for others.

The original post addressed dungeons but in the hope of appeasing Joesky's ghost I am going to generalise it a bit to make it a tool for any setting.

So breaking that down into a procedure:
1. Kick it off by picking a base location type - a temple, dungeon, cavern, etc. Sketch out some part of that to get things started.
2. Everyone around the table then chooses to act as a force that has altered the space over time - dwarven miners, burrowing dragons, lava flows, a wizard (there is always a wizard).
3. Go around the table adding to or modifying the base location in a way that matches thematically to that force.
4. Repeat #3 until you have a sufficiently large or interesting location

Show by doing - say the base location is an underground cave and we have our four proposed forces above we could have three rounds.

The Dwarves dig out a mining gallery, the dragon dumps their hoard in the centre of the cave, the lava tube player things they got an un-fun force to play and sticks a river of lava off to one side. The wizard decides to stick a portal in an offshoot cavern.

The dwarf player has a false start then decides to bridge the lava river to a big honking underground gate. The dragon digs a giant pit of spikes in the other entry to their hoard-cave. The lava player brackets the cavern system with another lava river. The wizard decides to infest the mines with skeletons.

The dwarf player decides to stick another bridge over the second lava river. The dragon player decides to make it that their hoard sits on a pillar in the cavern. The lava player decides to flood the cavern with lava. There is some argument about how the lava player should have been given red. Everyone agrees it is too late now. The wizard fills the lava flows with salamanders to make up for it.

Roughly, that is how this is supposed to go. The original was more elegant, more beautiful and probably had some useful tables. I do think the methodology is good for any type of setting and is a good way for a DM to get an unexpected dungeon with a lot of interesting features fast. Even if they subsequently extend it, the bones of it worked up with this technique will make it something more than the DM would have come up with alone.

The secret ingredient to this technique over other collaborative worldbuilding I have seen is the relatively dense pass-and-re-pass over the same terrain that different player/forces made, barnacling the location with overlapping features like a real place and giving a sense of the places evolution with some things pre-dating other things.

To paraphrase Tenacious D - this is not that genius blogpost, this is just a tribute, but I hope it helps propagate what looked like a really great idea.

[To close out - find some examples of 'How to Host a Dungeon' being used in action by those with a far greater talent for art on Chaudron Chromatique]

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