Improvised Dungeon Creation

I am playing a game about misfits exploring a dangerous planet and bringing back loot.
The game has the goal of having to to zero prep for each session or at least as little as possible.

Usually I rely on prepping ideas and facts about a location, event, person and than extrapolate to improvise relevant details during the game.

When actually trying to run an expedition I could come up with individual dangers, treasures and complications fine but struggled to nit everything together into a larger structure or noticed that my combinations became predictable and unoriginal.

Asking players for input works sometimes but not when I ask them to both create and solve their own challenges. (Czege principle, right?)

I want to know if there are any procedures, random tables, games or clever designs that can help me with that. I want to quickly generate details and structure for a dungeon-esque environment without doing any of the boring prep work.

PS: No clue what category this is. Sort of both desing and play advice.

Comments

  • Is the point of play for the players (and not only the characters) to try to defeat the challenge of exploring the place?

    For the game master to show off fun scifi scenery they have come up with?

    For you to improvise interesting scifi content together?

    For the players to feel like scifi explorers?

    The more specific you can be on why people would play/run this game, as opposed to any other, the more useful advice others can give you.

    ...

    If you just want input for improvisation, then maybe create a random generator of this type: http://random-generator.com/index.php?title=Poetic_Destinations . Come up with who created the place, why, and why it is abandoned or otherwise weak (create random tables as appropriate for inspiration). Then connect the obstacles and rewards to these.
  • You are right I need to be more specific.

    The goal is to make the characters intrepid sci fi explorers that go to dangerous and alien places to find loot and bring it back. Both players and characters should be challenged but in different ways. Characters by the sci fi dungeon and players by managing the abilities and needs of their characters.
    I want players to be surprised by the sci fi environment and the GM to be surprised by how players interact with it.

    I want there to be unknowns (locations, dangers, loot) to both the player and the characters that will become known during play. The process of making these things known should be challenging to the characters and the players. The GM should not be solely responsible for defining the exact nature of the unknowns, this should work should between the all players (including GM) and randomness so all players can be surprised.

    Random tables are excellent as input but have to be prepped too. The goal is to minimize prep and still be able to quickly improvise challenging material and discoveries for the players (including GM).
  • Thanuir’s on the money. It all depends on the particulars on what you’re going for. For example, is it acceptable to get some of that information from the players? That could open up some doors for you, if it suits the play style.
  • Do you want a tough environment, with a high "adventure density", so that the challenge is difficult enough and (with random exceptions to provide uncertainty) constant? Or a more open world, "realistic" environment where players can do what they want?

    For example, a choice of trapped room after trapped room on the way to the treasure vault or hunting a monster in a relatively safe place.

    How important for the "big picture" of setting and plot are the random dungeon features? Does the rest of the world represent an input (e.g. since this is dwarf territory, the dungeon will contain dwarf-style excavations) or an output (e.g. if we establish that there are a few vampires in the dungeon, there should be many more in town) of the dungeon generation? The game isn't likely to be all random dungeons, they need to fit with the rest of the rules.

    Finally, what classes of dungeon features would you invest your limited preparation budget on to avoid improvising by yourself? What do you consider more important and more in need of tools? And on the other hand, what are you good at preparing? D&D style large and simple encounter and treasure tables, recursive and combinatorial tables, maps, "encounters" like a neat idea you got for an ambush or Grimtooth-style complex traps?

    For example, preparing a set of geomorphs and assembling them randomly can ensure a very reasonable map topology with the appropriate fraction of open and closed passages and the presence of certain special rooms, at the expense of not helping very much with adding details in each map region; on the other hand picking monsters from a list and figuring out an appropriate place from them ensures variety, special opportunities, and interesting fights with a controlled danger level at the expense of a coherent environment.

  • You might like "The Perilous Wilds" by Jason Lutes. Like the ad copy says, "the baked-in methodology uses randomized results as prompts rather than facts, to be interpreted during play." Quite an impressive inter-connected set of random tables. Especially the "Ask the Fates" section.
    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/156979/The-Perilous-Wilds
  • edited June 18
    If you want to veer more toward the SF side, some of the "DayTrippers" generators might come in handy.
    Planet Generator
    Location Generator
    Lifeform Generator
  • Thanuir’s on the money. It all depends on the particulars on what you’re going for. For example, is it acceptable to get some of that information from the players? That could open up some doors for you, if it suits the play style.
    Player input can be a useful raw material, supplementing random oracles, even if not taken literally enough to suppress surprise. Example techniques:
    • After planting some seeds, e.g. describing landscapes from a distance, ask players what they expect to find in the dungeon given their available knowledge and react to their theories and expectations. For example, if they expect to find cave bears they might find dead cave bears, killed by something even scarier, or unexpected mutant cave bears.
    • Consider the strategic or plot related needs of the characters (e.g. by asking what treasure they would like to find) and satisfy their known and secret needs (e.g. zombies to let a D&D cleric practice turning undead, or valuable treasure because you know it will need to be spent later)
  • Indeed! I’ve fooled around with systems which allow the players to do “research” and make “guesses” about what is there, then with a random (or otherwise unpredictable) factor to throw in complications.

    It can be as simple as having each player/character make three guesses about what the form, contents, or layout of the adventure is, and then rolling a die:

    1 - Completely false: in fact, quite the opposite is true
    2 - False
    3 - False, but with an element of truth
    4 - Technically true, but with a major twist
    5 - True, pretty much as they think
    6 - What they think they know is just the beginning... it’s more true than they realize!

    At the other end of the spectrum, this person ran a campaign using online random generators: it may inspire you in some way.

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/18249/the-osr-in-vivid-colour-an-actual-play

    It sounds like a lot of fun! The comedy gloss helps make it palatable.
  • You might like "The Perilous Wilds" by Jason Lutes. Like the ad copy says, "the baked-in methodology uses randomized results as prompts rather than facts, to be interpreted during play." Quite an impressive inter-connected set of random tables. Especially the "Ask the Fates" section.
    https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/156979/The-Perilous-Wilds
    "The Perilious Wilds" is fantastic. It has actually been the impetus for me wanting to play this sort of game. But in practice I felt like the tables where slowing down the game too much when used mid-session. I am also pretty self-conscious about having to slow down. "When everyone looks to you to find out what happens" even a minute or two of finding dice, random table and interpreting results feels like an eternity.
    I want something snappy that takes a look and a die roll create something useful.
    Maybe that is a unrealistic demand and the problem has to be solved in a different kind of way?

    On the topic of player input.
    Taking ideas and subverting them always feels a bit iffy. Like I am plagiarizing them or creating "gotcha" moments. Maybe that's me wanting cake and eating it too.
    I want players feel like everything flows from the game and not GM fiat. Like a PbtA move, where you get to detail the next room but on a 7-9 the GM gets to subvert it.

    More details about the game
    The core loop I have in mind is that there are 3-4 "megadungeons", but they are more like regions or areas with several smaller dungeons that are connected by one ecology and theme. Every session the players venture into one of them, try to find loot, bring it back and sell it off in town. Theme and ecology for each area remain the same but the "dungeon-of-the-day" is somewhat different every time.

    Maybe a solution for my problem is hiding my mid-session prep behind player downtime in the town? Nevertheless I am still interested in other solutions.

    PS: I am a slow writer and new to forums but this is surprisingly effective in forcing me to be clear what I actually want and have. Thanks y'all!

  • What does "no prep" mean to you?

    Is ten minutes fine? Can we assume a sheet of paper or an internet connection, or should we go with completely spontaneous play without either?
  • Good stuff, BabyToad. You’re right that you might be setting unrealistic expectations, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming and seeing what comes of it.

    I’m confused by this, though:

    On the topic of player input.
    Taking ideas and subverting them always feels a bit iffy. Like I am plagiarizing them or creating "gotcha" moments.

    [but then you say:]

    I want players feel like [...] a PbtA move, where you get to detail the next room but on a 7-9 the GM gets to subvert it.
    I hope you can understand why that’s confusing! :)

    Theme and ecology for each area remain the same but the "dungeon-of-the-day" is somewhat different every time.
    What this says to me is that you spend some time setting up a collection of random tables, seeded with that “theme and ecology”, and roll or pick from them each session to fill the “dungeon of the day”.

    If you’re clever enough with the design of the tables (or whatever other procedure), it could work consistently, quickly, and repeatably.

    (If you want it to be really coherent, too, some kind of semi-random procedure might be best; something that generates a set of prompts and then lets you pick or detail.)
  • Also, Thanuir’s questions are right on!
  • I like the combination of the donjon (https://donjon.bin.sh/d20/dungeon/) or wizardawn (https://wizardawn.and-mag.com/rpg_fantasy.php) dungeon generator plus the random tables in Godbound and the Godbound supplement Broken Towers. Kevin Crawford really does a phenomenal job at random tables that come together as on-the-fly story seeds, including tables for "ruins." Most of the core Godbound book is available as a free download on DTRPG, so you can check out the tables at your leisure.
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