A dungeon in a role-playing game is a self-contained, typically maze-like location in the game world that contains the following elements:

  1. danger for the player characters (e.g. enemies or monsters who will engage the PCs in combat, traps);
  2. discrete rooms or other areas that may contain distinct encounters;
  3. one or more goals for the players characters to achieve (e.g. to complete a quest they have been given, to gain some treasure, or simply to escape); and
  4. one or more potential rewards (e.g. treasure or equipment, or narrative progression).

Adventuring in a dungeon may be called dungeon crawling (or dungeon delving), especially if the primary purpose is to kill monsters and recover treasure (see also hack-and-slash).

Purpose of dungeons[edit | edit source]

Dungeons are common locations in scenarios, either as the setting for the climax of the scenario or as a location that the party pass through before reaching the climax. Some particularly large or complex dungeons (megadungeons) can even be the setting for an entire scenario or campaign.

Because dungeons are dangerous, players will usually use up player resources while their characters are inside. In order to recover, the player characters may need to leave the dungeon and return to a place of safety, and will return to the dungeon to continue adventuring after they have recovered.

History of dungeons in role-playing games[edit | edit source]

Dungeons have been an integral part of the role-playing hobby since the first modern role-playing game in 1974, to the extent that it was partly named after them: Dungeons & Dragons.

Types of dungeons[edit | edit source]

Dungeons are often depicted as labyrinthine underground complexes of stone rooms connected by empty corridors, and they are typically found in fantasy action-adventure games. However, dungeons can exist in other forms and in many other genres. Any location can be a dungeon if it is isolated and meets the criteria. Space ships, dense woodland, modern buildings, city streets, and cave systems can all be considered dungeons, to name a few examples.

Visual representation of dungeons[edit | edit source]

When a group is playing in a dungeon, the most common approach to representing it is by means of a map. Such a map may be drawn either by the GM (if it was designed by the GM), in which case it can be assumed to be accurate, or by one or more players who are drawing based on what their characters perceive, in which case it may contain errors.

Because dungeons are made up of rooms (or similar discrete areas) that are connected to each other, it is also possible to represent a dungeon using a mathematical graph, i.e. a diagram of nodes (or vertices) connected by edges. If the dungeon has only one entrance, then it can be represented by a connected graph with the number of nodes equal to the number of rooms (one of which is marked as the entrance). If the dungeon may have multiple entrances, then it can be represented by a connected graph with the number of nodes equal to the number of rooms +1 (one of which represents the outside world). Graphing dungeons is most useful during design rather than play. Graph theory can be used to determine how many possible formulations there are of dungeons with a given number of rooms, among other things.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

  • Boss Keys, a series on YouTube about video game dungeon design, with concepts that can apply to tabletop role-playing game dungeons as well.
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