gm designers

D&D Dungeon Design: Flow, Rhythm, and Pacing

image source: World of Warcraft instance map of the Naxxramas dungeon

My last post talked about the concepts of contrast relating to dungeon design. Here I want to explore how sequencing of contrast builds anticipation and then later resolves that anticipation. It’s basically a study in how to create drama in your dungeon. Let’s define a few things first:

Flow: The emotional movement of dungeon encounters/spaces in sequence.

Rhythm: Variation or lack thereof in the sequencing of dungeon encounters/spaces.

Pacing: The changes in tempo/emotion of the rhythm and flow of a dungeon.

When I say dungeon encounters/spaces, I mean that these can refer to encounter difficulty, encounter type, room design, monster types, or anything else in your dungeon that can be put into sequence. Use rhythm, flow, and pacing as abstract concepts when planning out all parts of your dungeon. Now let’s see how these can be used:

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1d10 Shops #TableTuesday
  1. Pet Shop - This isn’t just any pet shop. This pet shop sells only creatures of reptilian origin. Snakes, lizards, turtles, and monitors. Being related to his product, doesn’t phase the lizard-folk shop owner.
  2. Wine Shop - Filled from wall to wall with wines from the ages. Some wines in the shop were created by great lords while others were made by orcs and goblins. The owner is a crotchety old man whose teeth have been stained by years of daily wine drinking.
  3. Hat Shop - Top hat, bowler, beret, bonnet, and turban. This shop has them all. If you need something to cover your head, Miss Wemblmore the halfling has what you need.
  4. Spice Shop - Spices have been an important part of society. These spices have all sorts of uses. Most pertain to flavoring foods, but some can be used medicinally and others magically. The shop keeper hails from far away lands and boasts stock representing her homelands.
  5. Furniture Shop - If you are looking to furnish a hovel, home, manor, or castle, furniture is a must. Making sure that your home has the proper furniture starts with picking the lumber and hiring the proper carpenter.
  6. Bone Shop - Entering a shop that sells bones can be a bit of a disturbing experience. Seeing the shopkeeper can be downright traumatizing. Goblin skulls, orc teeth, horse femurs, and tiefling jaws all find themselves in use in one way or another. Watch your back in the shop, no one knows where the shopkeep gets the human toes.
  7. Fruit Shop - Delicious, juicy, and colorful, this fruit shop boasts all the local produce you would see in a market. In the back of the shop they stock special fruits only found from far away and magical lands. Fruit that comes from living breathing trees, fruit that sprouts wings and flies, fruit that drips with liquid magma when cut open. This shop has it all.
  8. Adventurer Shop - A shop with a single book inside. Within the book is a list of names. Each name corresponds to an adventurer ready to go on a quest, for the right amount of coin. There is no shopkeep and the book mysteriously cannot be moved from its central pedestal. 
  9. Statue Shop - Each statue has been carefully and skillfully carved from dozens of materials ranging from wood to platinum. Perhaps a skilled artist could convince the shop owner of hosting his work in the shop to sell. 
  10. Seed Shop - If you want to start a farm, grow a tree, or observe the process of life, these seed will provide more than enough for your needs. Many seeds are of unknown origin and effect. Take a risk and reap the potential reward of your unknown crop.

What is your gamemaster style. We talk abput three diffrent kinds and the disadvantages and advantages to both

D&D 5E NPC - Maple Abernathy - Martial Arts Disciple

Art by: Saeed Jalabi

Name: Maple Abernathy
Race: Half Elf
Gender: Female
Height: 5ft 4′ / 1.62m
Age: 17
Class: Monk (Disciple)

Level: 1

AC 16 (Unarmoured), Hp 10 (1d8 Hit Die), Proficiency +2, Speed 30ft,

Alignment: Chaotic Neutral

Languages: Common, Elvish, Sylvan,

Ability Scores:
Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 14 (+2) Int 11 (+1) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 16 (+3)

Attacks: Unarmed Strike (+6 to hit, 1d4+4 Bludgeoning damage)

Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Insight, Stealth,

Equipment: Backpack, Bedroll, Costume (Gi), 5 Candles, 6gp, 23sp, 6cp,

Racial Traits: Darkvision (60ft / 18m / 12sqr), Fey Ancestry,

Class Features: Unarmoured Defence, Martial Arts,


Maple Abernathy is a energetic young person who was adopted by a Martial arts Instructor when she lost her mother at the age of four. She spends most of her days training with her adopted father and his Disciples, and most of her nights running the rooftops of the city she resides in. When she meets new and interesting people she comes across as very cheerful, friendly and enthusiastic.

Ideal: My sensei is a wise man but I believe that life should be less regimented and more free.

Bond: My sensei is my only true farther however I would like to meet the man who left my mother before my birth and give him a piece of my mind.

Flaw: I must admit I have rather poor impulse control, I find it hard to say no to fun things.

Blogs to Follow!

Hey followers - I’m starting back up from my hiatus here shortly, but before I do I want to get in a fresh supply of blogs to follow! I already follow a number of fantastic, great blogs, but I would love more. So! Please reblog this if you are a blog that fits any of the following “criteria” OR if you don’t, reblog this post and tag blogs that you know of that meet the “criteria”

I am looking for blogs that do ANY of the following

  • Share stories about d&d campaigns or other rpg campaigns
  • Share ideas for campaigns
  • Share ideas for dungeons
  • Share homebrew character classes, monsters, spells, items, etc…
  • Share inspiring art, items, quotes, etc.. for designing d&d/rpg related things
  • Shares funny rpg related material
  • Shares tips for better roleplayin/Player behavior
  • Shares tips for better DMing/GMing
  • Shares ways to develop characters or npc’s better
  • ANYTHING that blogs related to d&d, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Earthdawn, or any rpg systems

Thank you in advance for anything you guys find for me! I want plenty of interesting and great stuff to look at, so I appreciate the help immensely!

Tales From The DM Creating an Adventure Pt. 1

So with the the beginning of October past us; another adventure in my D&D Campaign: Calm before the storm, has come to a close. Usually by this time I would post a quick, unfurnished map and call it a day, but I wanted to do something that would perhaps help other would be GMs to design interesting story ideas, encounters and dungeons. Hopefully in doing so showing how to put it all together into something cohesive and fun for their players. 

I’ll try to do my best to put this into a structured fashion over a few posts, but I’m sure I’ll ramble on once or twice. So sit by the fire, grab that warm mug of mead, and listen to an old GM’s wisdom and musings.

I Present To You

The Forgotten Temple of Tel Dramil Ceilvala 

Primarily, this was an adventure centered around one of the players in my group: an Elven Witch. With that in mind I set out to come up with a basic idea for the adventure that would center on her accomplishing a task for her patron and deepening her covenant with them, as well as revealing to them at the end just who their patron was (Something I had basically held back on revealing since the start of the campaign a year and a half ago).

The Story

So first off, let’s talk about story. The most important part of any adventure, as well as the bedrock for all the other aspects of an adventure.

The Initial Spark: As with most adventures, the idea first comes from an initial spark. That inspiration can come from a lot of places: books, movies, random thoughts while on a walk. One thing I find useful recommend, is keeping a small notebook on hand. I tend to write down plot ideas or story beats that I think are interesting. Even if I don’t use them, it helps to practice creating ideas on the fly.

In the case of this adventure: Patron wants to protect a place -> An ancient Elven Temple -> Being used by human cultists -> Drawing on powers for their dark purposes -> because the temple guards a crossing to the shadowfell.

Once I have that initial plan down, I’ll mull over it in my free time during the week, mostly to see if I find any glaring plot holes or a change that would work better with the plot. In the case of this adventure.

Overall Story: Now, to make sure most of the other elements of the adventure stay internally consistent, I like to write out a ½ page of names and locations I’ll need to have ready (nothing worse than forgetting a name), and a summery of the events leading up to the Adventure (What the bad guys are doing what the adventure hook is, etc. All of this helps to establish the adventure and keep all the additional adventure preparation internally consistent with the story. 

I try to avoid any details at this point that don’t deal with the backstory, or with a clear effect should the party choose not to engage in the adventure, or fail. Writing something like “When the cultists see them enter, they’ll begin to summon undead, sending them into the rooms of the temple” because 1) That’s starting to decide what the players are going to do or how they’ll approach the adventure before they’ve even sat down at the table and 2) If I realize later that the enemies I’ve prepared can’t even cast animate dead, then I’ve written myself into a corner that might wreck the immersion of the players or feel like the world isn’t playing by the same rules they are (Two things I try to avoid as much as possible as part of my preference as a simulationist DM) .

Once I’ve finished compiling all the quick references, notes, and summaries onto a page, the first part of my job is done. 

Here’s a simulacrum of what such a note sheet looks like and what personally works well for me. 

For more narrative adventures, or social adventures, this could be enough to run a session off of easily (though a little more polish and time never hurt, writing out bios, or complex webs of relations). For a location adventure though, now comes the equally important part of creating the dungeon itself, and filling it with all manner of discoveries both beneficent and fatal.

Join me next time, when we’ll be diving into the meat of this particular adventure’s development time: Needlessly fretting about the building standards of Fendris-Kai Sormrill (Wood elves) circa 900 years ago during The age of Banners.

See you then everybody