Typography or “How a font can redefine an idea…”
Image via Wikipedia Have you ever noticed that advertising people are totally in love with…
So when’s a door not a door? Obviously when it’s a window… But you don’t find too many windows in traditional dungeon crawls. Perhaps in the dungeons of a huge castle there may be a few high-class rooms with windows – but that’s about it.
Doors and doorways. We’re guaranteed to find at least one in almost every building. (Have to have some way in and out, right?) In the modern world, we’ve settled on a standard size for most of them, but there are still many variations on a theme — wooden doors, metal doors, glass doors…
But do they all look the same? Not usually. In some cases, the door itself is decorated for a particular style or color. In other cases, the door is the central focus of a larger entryway and the entire wall or wall section provides a larger area for visual effect. For some futuristic settings, we might see the standard spaceship door being the same everywhere as well.
Let’s consider how many doors in the modern world and potential futuristic settings are manufactured. For the most part, doors today are made in automated factories that eliminate the potential imperfections created by human artist. Some doors may be created by hand, but the majority are factory-made.
Now let’s go back to a gaming environment. Why do so many dungeon doors look the same in the typical fantasy or medieval setting? In the fantasy case, there may be an assembly line approach with multiple artisans in some places, but usually variations creep in from the tools used, the artists or skilled labor doing the work, materials used, etc.
So when designing a dungeon, we have to look at the big details and the little. Not every door has to have custom details, but it’s nice to sprinkle these details here and there to add a bit of flavor.
First, we’ll consider the materials used for the doorway. Even if your dungeon is a traditional one carved deep into the mountains like those of Tolkien’s books, you’re not likely to find everything to be made of stone. Doorways may be rough-hewn from the surrounding rocks or built of brick or small stones with the skills of a mason, but the doors themselves do not have to be the same as their surroundings.
For instance, let’s take a traditional wooden door. Many different questions may provide some interesting color to an otherwise unremarkable, everyday portal closing…
What about a metal door? Stone door? Glass door?
What type of hardware is on or around the door?
How old is the door?
Who made the door?
Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of questions! It’s just here to spark your imagination a bit. (Please let me know if you have any other questions you think of regarding dungeon doors and construction!)
When I asked a couple of folks to review this article for me, they (rightly) suggested that there had to be some way to make this information a) quick and easy to relate to a player at the right moment and b) something more functional than a long list of questions.
To answer these concerns, I present a two-part mechanic.
Part 1 concerns the PC and player. If neither is interested in the fact that a particular door on one side of a room is ornately decorated with beautiful, yet deteriorating wood moulding and some sort of an ancient story in pictographic form on the door itself… then why go to all the trouble of creating it?
The simplest way to determine if the PC might find something interesting about the door is to ask. What serves as the character’s Modus Operandi for checking out each door? Does the rogue in the party physically examine each square inch of the door top to bottom or simply do a scan for anything out of the ordinary? If the former, you can use Part 2 to create as many or as few details as you would like to share before they go insane. If the latter, you can focus on one or two details as necessary and move on.
Part 2 becomes a simple matter of creating a random table of descriptions. Use some common sense and random rolls to create a few doors. Place them where they make sense or create a table to randomly use when needed.
For example, you might have a set of four or five different descriptive elements…
Door Material (can vary based on location of dungeon/building) – roll a d20:
Construction Type – roll a d6:
Lock/Closure Type – roll a d4:
Door Condition – roll a d6:
Door State – roll a d4:
By using a combination of these tables (or others more suited to your own dungeon design), you could create a simple random table to spice up door descriptions a bit as the party works through the dungeon… Roll a d10:
Obviously no single table will work for all buildings or dungeons. But it’s nice to scatter a few doors that aren’t so ordinary as your usual heavy oak door burned by torches over the years…
Next time we’ll talk about corridors and see if they all really lead to Rome… (Wait, that may be roads…)