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October 22nd, 2021, 13:35
RPG Fan posted an article on the characteristics that made great RPG dungeons.

Dungeon Crawlers #1: What Makes a Great RPG Dungeon?

I don't know about you fine folks, but the RPGs I grew up with were chock full of dungeons to explore -- whether they were caves filled to the brim with bats and other nasty critters or traditional elemental dungeons (think lava caves, water temples, and dark forests) filled with traps and puzzles. Dungeon navigation has always been one of my favorite aspects of any good RPG.

That said, most RPGs I've played over the past several years featured mediocre dungeons that left me questioning what makes a good RPG dungeon. This thought experiment led to what you are reading now, the first in what I am hoping will be a series about what goes into making great dungeons. This first feature covers the elements that one might consider when thinking of dungeon design. Subsequent entries may take a closer look at series-specific dungeons, concepts, or other aspects of dungeon design.

Without further delay, let's get to crawlin'!

[…]
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October 22nd, 2021, 14:23
I used to love the cardinal direction (grid-based) dungeons in the early days but I can't play those now. It's just too limiting when you have a monster on a diagonal and can't attack and also not to be able to move just because the engine says so. This has made the pre-MM6 might and magics fall by the wayside for me and I haven't really played any of the newer grid-based games. It just seems like lazy developers to me.
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October 22nd, 2021, 16:37
A great level design.
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October 22nd, 2021, 17:43
It truly has to nail the atmosphere, at least for me. I want to feel the walls closing in, the tactile feeling of being underground, or in an enclosed space. Even if the monsters look shoddy, I can overlook a great deal as long as I actually feel like I'm kind of in an actual dungeon.
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October 22nd, 2021, 18:25
- Immersive (ambiance, mood, music are spot on)
- Meaningful (there is something buried within that's worth finding or unveiling. More meaningful than a high-tier chest with chances for high-tier loot. Something real and unique, hand crafted for that dungeon)
- Challenging (Encounters are well presented, and require good use of your abilities to defeat, without artificial fun-stoppers such as enemies with inflated HP values just to prolong encounters or the same type of enemy over and over)
- Secrets (Things that are not obvious, that are easy to miss, and that require a little bit of something to find. Preferably not based on luck, but on actual perception/thoroughness)
- No dumb puzzles with riddles or random-ass hieroglyphs (No, really. I can pull riddles out of my ass too, but I'm playing a fictional character in a fictional world, if I wanted to answer stupid made-up riddles I'd watch some random TV contest where people lose their dignity repeatedly for 100$. Much more amusing.)
- The 3% (Optional super challenging routes/rooms/encounters for those who really want to go the extra mile and walk away with the good feelings - or the shame of repeated defeat).
- An epic final encounter (The boss needs to be someone or something that feels good to defeat. Like, really good. And has unique, hand crafted loot or major plot relevance to boost the feeling of "Oh yeah, I did this".)

That's what a good dungeon looks like for me.
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October 22nd, 2021, 19:15
… There should be incentives to explore even further. Things like … "what comes next around the corner ?"

And, of course, not all of the time unfriendly encounters.
Friendly encounters are imho like the spice on the meal.
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October 24th, 2021, 05:36
For me it's a good back story to explain why it exists, internal consistency, an engaging environment, challenging adversaries, a decent size, and surprises. Bad walkpath logic can ruin a good dungeon crawl.
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October 24th, 2021, 06:43
As rjshae suggested, an unfolding story that makes you question its origins.
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October 26th, 2021, 02:05
My list:

* Turn based. I want my crawls to be relaxing and not involve reflexes unless they are the… reflexes of the mind.

* Good underlaying system for combat and characters - this doesn't mean "complex" it means "good" in terms of not being complex for complexity's sake. This can mean anything from two ways I've seen "dungeon crawls" done very well in the past year - Solasta's 5E version and Dungeon Encounters bare-bones approach.

* Optional puzzles. Puzzles are fine, but make them optional as opposed to something that breaks immersion. I'd rather not have to look up a solution in a wiki because you thought a colored-tile or lever-pulling puzzle every five steps was fun. I'm looking right at you, Bard's Tale 4. (And thanks, by the way, for finally including a way to skip your puzzles. I finished the game when you did that.) Dungeon Encounters does this well - there are math and map riddles but they give advantages and aren't necessary to complete to "win" the game.

* Don't go crazy on the last level. I am squarely looking at you here, Pathfinder Kingmaker. That last weird level you had that required basically a teleportation puzzle combined with an item riddle was more annoying than fun. Underrail did this at a point with some portion of caverns and I think the original Vampire game did this too in the sewers - everything is fine up until the point the developers go, "Let's include a MEGA dungeon with scant access to resources and force the players to get through it in order to complete the game, even if it totally messes with the fun and pacing they have encountered so far." - Challenges should be interesting and challenging in dungeon crawlers but not suddenly toss you in a maze just to have a "challenging" last level. And if you do, make it optional; again.

* Secret sauce. I don't know what this is entirely, but it's the magic that makes good dungeon crawlers good and the curse that can ruin other ones. It could be story, like with Pathfinder or Wrath - they combine story, a tabletop system I love, and secret sauce in a way that makes me love those games DESPITE the bugs and overly complex puzzles and weird last levels. It could be Dungeon Encounters with it's beautiful simplicity. It could be Might & Magic X's simply well done whole package of a grid-based system, cool character options, decent graphics and a cohesive if not necessarily memorable story. It could be Planescape Torment's incredible tale of redemption. It could be Baldur Gate 2's complete magic despite it not being fully turn based.

Cool question.
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October 26th, 2021, 02:08
Originally Posted by Alrik Fassbauer View Post
… There should be incentives to explore even further. Things like … "what comes next around the corner ?"

And, of course, not all of the time unfriendly encounters.
Friendly encounters are imho like the spice on the meal.
Interesting point - random encounters in old-school D&D often included neutral or friendly groups that you could avoid fighting and instead trade goods or information with. Or just ignore and walk past. Not every "encounter" needs to involve blood; as was evidenced in the very excellent CRPG Age of Decadence, one of my all-time favorite CRPGs. You could - and indeed, it was easier - play the game as a merchant that basically never got into combat once. Or you could play a bloodthirsty merc, it was up to you.
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October 26th, 2021, 02:15
Some really good answers so far, I enjoy reading them, and agree with much of what has been posted.

Regarding excellence in dungeon design, I would say look at Icewind Dale, in terms of dungeons I still remember how they were amazingly fun and well designed. Each one had a different and distinct ambience and feel to it, and lots of variety in monsters, great graphics, not too long of dungeons and not too short.
Pretty much a masterpiece of how to do dungeon design in a crpg, if I recall.
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October 26th, 2021, 22:29
With puzzles I have a particular aversion to ones where the solution is arrived at purely by trial and error. I especially loathe teleport puzzles because they tend to combine the trial & error aspect with required backtracking / redoing things.

I'm not opposed to have a clever puzzle that offers the chance to get something special. However, arguably in a cRPG player skill shouldn't determine whether I can progress anyway. I think a nice approach would be to get hints based on your character stats / skills. If I've got a character/s like a super genius wizard or a very perceptive thief, the character ought to notice something that helps us solve a puzzle, instead of just sitting there twiddling their thumbs.
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October 26th, 2021, 22:43
Hmmm, I remember really liking the first dungeon Alloy?, the girl in the HZD game, explored. I remember all the video recordings that slowly showed the people dying off. I hated that game in general but thought the dungeon design was really cool. So there's a recent example of what I like in a good dungeon.

I also love the hidden passage type dungeons that require a certain skill to succeed. It rewards somebody who isn't just a brainless basher and takes a more patient path through the site. I like things like the perception skill in Might and Magic 6-8.
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October 26th, 2021, 23:23
Back in the late 80' s and mid 90's I use to play tabletop D&D's, and no matter what RPG game I play today the experience does not even come close. Must be an age thing.

As no RPG has made me feel the excitement or terror of a live game.
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October 26th, 2021, 23:26
Originally Posted by Arkadia7 View Post
Regarding excellence in dungeon design, I would say look at Icewind Dale, in terms of dungeons I still remember how they were amazingly fun and well designed. Each one had a different and distinct ambience and feel to it, and lots of variety in monsters, great graphics, not too long of dungeons and not too short.
Pretty much a masterpiece of how to do dungeon design in a crpg, if I recall.
I think all the IE games, with the exception of PS:T, have really good dungeons. Durlag's Tower, Watcher's Keep, Severed Hand, Dorn's Deep, etc. I have to mention The Temple of Elemental Evil as well.
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