Friday, July 6, 2012

One Hour Caves

Quite a while ago, January 16, 2011, to be precise, we first read Blair's personal challenge to draw-up a  One Hour Dungeon Map. Being big fans of automatism as one of our all-time favorite techniques, this sounded like something that we just had to take a shot at. But deadlines, commitments and life intervened. The handy little reminder note got buried under a pile of other work-in-progress, like stocking a dungeon map from another creator, re-mapping our old Caverns of Tanch, getting our second set of Geomorphs finished, building custom icons for our new map software...lots of stuff. Tons of stuff. But none of it is any excuse for dropping the ball and letting things lapse for so long. Not by any means.

A few days ago, while re-organizing our main work-area, the old reminder note was re-discovered like a scroll recovered from a dusty old tomb. The Post-It was stuck to an un-used Moleskine sketchbook. One of those un-lined booklets about the size of one of the Little Brown Books, only way thinner.

As it happened, our daughter needed to use the computer for some homework, so it was a perfect time to do a little mapping-by-hand.

It seemed like an opportune moment to take a crack at doing some sort of One Hour Map and break-out of the 'Grid-itis' that comes from mapping on graph paper. Matt Jackson does great things using this approach. Amazing things. His map work is truly inspirational.

My Sharpie was just sitting there. I had an empty Moleskine in my hands and I had some time to spare. So I drew out a simple set of caves. Nothing fancy, no major details, just a very basic rough map. The kind of thing that you'd probably crank out at the last minute while the players bickered over the last bit of loot they found on that dead were-centaur or argued over which direction to go next. It was kind of fun. Then I got an idea. Why not just go ahead and fill the Moleskine with caves? Forty sets of caves, one to a page that was only half the size of a normal piece of paper.

So I did it. I drew out one cave system after another until I filled the little sketch-book, but before I could go back in with a smaller-tipped pen and add some details, I ran out of time. My hour was up.

Some of them are fairly simple, dens or lairs most likely, but a few of these caves are just begging to be further developed.

And that was when it struck me. These caves and caverns could be dropped into one of the adventure area maps I've been working on. Instead of showing the caves and so forth like how we've all come to expect from B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, I could label each of the pages in the Moleskine from 1 to 30, and have ten bonus maps as back-ups just in case. Then all I needed to do was to designate any visible or accessible cave entrances and the like on the main map. Whenever the players find an entrance I can roll 1D30 and assign a cave at that time. If anyone else ever ran the adventure, they could end up with a completely different sequence of caves and encounters. The distribution and position of each cave/cavern system could change each time a party came into the place, which would make them far more malleable than the rather rigidly fixed-in-place 'Caves of Chaos' ever were. I like it.

The first one was a fairly plain thing, but now that I've given it some thought, I'm going to go back over these maps and add in some additional details. I'm also going to make sure that there are connection-points designated for sub-levels, secret-sections, and a few tunnels that lead off into the deeper regions below.

This should make a good testing ground for some of the new monsters, traps and tables we need to play-test before posting.

Now I just need to make time to do a proper One Hour Dungeon...


  1. Simple and potentially very expansive, which is ideal as far as I'm concerned. I like the idea of a weird and shifting honeycombed valley, but also the idea that the unpredictability could come from or be affected by the lack of landmarks or a landscape evolving through eruption or collapse. You could match caves to the range of numbers available not only by page order, but by nature, and/or use modifiers to the roll to play with probabilities of certain caves coming up in a given situation, with the modifiers based on exploration, information found or specific discoveries or events. If multiple groups were in the region - as if in a kind of megadungeon of dungeons - you could really have fun...

  2. I'll see if we can properly scan some of the old megadungeon maps. I always had a folder of unassigned sub-levels on-hand to plug into the main map with a simple note in the log I kept for each group. Players would often break down a wall, break through the floor, or something, so it was essential to have a stock of those sorts of pre-keyed sub-levels ready to go at a moment's notice. Hmmm. Maybe we should do a pdf of that sort of thing. It might be useful to some of the DMs running megadungeons...


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