I’ve been running most of my D&D set piece locations with
flowchartish diagrams schematics (thanks Redditer Mr_Venom) for at least a decade. I even do this for published adventures, breaking their maps down into diagrams that I can riff off. I did this with all the dungeons in Slumbering Ursine Dunes and with the large dungeon of Death Frost Doom. I do it with cities (to an extent), with wildernesses, even with continents (the point-crawl of the Ultraviolet Grasslands is a diagram overlaid on a stylized maps). One new product that does this beautifully is Sean McCoy’s Mothership: Dead Planet, a horror sci fi rpg that captures the essence of what makes a space ship horror setting tick.
Now, I like a beautiful map. I’ve made a few that I quite like myself. Some of them, I even run semi-regularly. For example, I’ve run the Tower of Down as a dungeon four or five times:
But, mostly maps are a chore for me to run. I like to make notes on my maps, indicate monsters, switch connections, hidden keys, treasures, and so on. If distances are crucial at a certain point, I prefer to have a notation (50′ drop! very dangerous! animated venom0-spitting rats on spikes!). Counting squares to determine distance? Not something I enjoy. A black map background I can’t write on? Not useful. Pretty, but not useful (and yes, I did precisely that on the Tower of Down).
That’s why: schematic diagram.
Red Sky Dead City, Golem Graveyard, Delve 2-iii
This is a simple axle-hub-and-spoke dungeon from my current patreon book-in-progress. It has 11 rooms and is likely more than enough for a 2–3 hour dungeon-delving session. It also has enough space for added notes, placing the results of random encounter checks, and more.
These are the notes that describe the dungeon schematic:
Golem graveyard: An ancient, plain warehouse, half-sunk in sand is covered in small pocks and scratches. It houses the Golem graveyard, a memorial and mausoleum to the great archaics that the Izvoreni once maintained.
- Inside the graveyard are large stone gates, covering deep shafts. Many are trapped with noxious gasses.
- Some still have active auto-defence golem-traps (HD 5).
- One still has a fully-sentient, sleeping archaic named Never-
Rests-Until-the-Deed-is-Sung (AC 15, HD 3, conservative).
And these are the encounters and treasures from the neighborhood:
- 1d8 canny smugglers (AC 12, HD 1, salty) including the ever-tipsy Yeshleht who offers risk-free crossings at 5 shekels a pop, totally safe.
- 1d4 dying maintainers covered in rotting pustules. Infection or 3. curse (Con DC 7), who cares? It’s gross.
- 2d6 determined and resolute legionnaires (AC 17, HD 2, steely) 5. on an Order and Progress patrol.
- 1d12 large scavenging rats (AC 11, HD 1, inquisitive) with emeralds
- Swarm of prowling feral centipedes (AC 12, HD 10, puce with venom).
- The verminmancer Adnigrep (AC 12, HD 3, wizard) and their three humorous stooges (AC 14, HD 1+3, fighters) with a decorat- ed scroll of Akaula’s Control of the Pestilential Vermin.
1d6-4 x 4,000 shekels per delve, 2d4 x 10 per encounter (Note: ok, if you don’t want to be mean, put in something worth 4,000 shekels – maybe the actual living archaic Never-Rests-)
- Lapiz necklace and some knucklebones.
- Delicate, filigree aluminum cabinet full of small collectible dolls.
- Ivory dog figurine painted with ochre.
- Package of hen’s teeth, with a reputable seller’s mark.
- Anklet of river pearls.
- Ornate silver chicken skull delicately incised with flowers and stars.
- Clockwork dancing bear toy with mother-of-pearl teeth and ebony eyes.
- Obscene yet mesmerising depiction of friendship carved from a hippo’s tusk.
I could expand this delve, if I wanted, with a few rolls on the encounter tables and treasure beforehand to figure out what is happening.
Rolling the dying maintainers, the verminmancer, and the legionnaires, a scene quickly presents itself: the verminmancer and his stooges arrived earlier, taking out the workers maintaining the mausoleum, and went deeper inside (so, perhaps they took a the key, locking the door behind them, and one of the dying maintainers can produce a copy). The legionnaires will arrive on a patrol within a few turns, and may well decide to take any loot for themselves. Tossing in some rats never hurts.
With a schematic dungeon, I can simply add all this information to the dungeon, adapting it and making it my own. I can also add new levels and dungeons almost on the fly, and I am not constrained to a square grid. This is the reason I’m building most of Red Sky Dead City out of neighborhoods laced with schematic dungeons like the Golem Warehouse—so that the Referee (or dungeon master) feels more empowered to hack them and rework them to suit their game.
But yes, it doesn’t look as pretty as Dyson Logos’ maps. That’s true.
If you think
diagram schematic dungeons might be a smart hack for shorter prep times, you can support my small contributions to role-playing games by becoming a member of my Stratometaship patreon where I’m working on, Red Sky Dead City, a doom metal inspired sandbox about the murder of a city. And lots of tomb robbing and cultural destruction.