Quest Master – How to Make Best Dungeon

What We Can Learn from Tabletop / JRPG Dungeon Design

By SirAston.

While they certainly are different beasts, any aspiring dungeon dungeon for Quest Master would do well to keep core lessons from other media about dungeon design in mind, finding what is applicable, what is not, and what works surprisingly well with some adjustment. Considering the game will allow for couch co-op, guides for tabletop games may offer more insight than one might think…

The Three M’s

  • Motive: Now this one can be safely skipped for now, at least until we know that the devs are cooking for the Overworld system. But this can be replaced with its cousin, theming. Having a strong theme goes beyond picking a neat tileset, it also involves deciding on a core element or gimmick for the dungeon and making it the centerpiece of dungeon design. The games that inspired Quest Master don’t do it much differently after all, why reinvent the wheel?
  • Monsters: This is pretty straightforward at first glance, but the purpose of monsters in a dungeon is also to reflect upon the motive, or theming, of the dungeon. It’s best to limit yourself to a small core pool of monsters to give the dungeon an identity instead of plunging all avaible enemy types into the rooms. Note that I’ve said “core pool”, nothing stops you from having the occasional surprise monster as long as they are introduced or telegraphed properly. An example would be using teleporters to create a “two worlds”-style of dungeon where the “other world” features a different core pool of monsters. A good twist and a strong theme remains.
  • Map: Now that’s what we’re primarily here for. But even here, the layout of the rooms and how they flow into each other, including decorations, should reflect the motive and theming of your dungeon. The most major tip I can give here is: Never make filler rooms. Give each room a purpose in some way. A combat challenge. A puzzle room. A dedicated treasure room. A central hub. A corridor visibly separated from a major point like a treasure chest to raise anticipation. Even a short decorative corridor with no enemies, puzzles or traps can be given purpose as a “breather” room when there has been a series of exhausting rooms.

Miller’s Law

Named after George Armitage Miller, Miller’s Law is stating the average limit of the human short-term capacity. Basically, the average human is capable of keeping seven different types of information in the short-term memory.

With that knowledge, the perfect number of core entities, elements repeatedly present throughout the entire dungeon, is, you guessed it, seven. Entities meaning enemies, items and common obstacles. Wanna utilize moving floors in several rooms? That’s a core entity. Is your dungeon Cobra City? That’s another core entity. Do you love your fire bars? You guessed it, core entity. Bombs? All player items can be considered core entities. While levers and switches usually don’t count since they’re normally single-room entities, if you wanna utilize color switches or multiple switches/levers affecting different rooms, those will definitely occupy the short-term memory.

Note that there are two exceptions from the rule of seven. The first is the sword, which is an omnipresent tool in most dungeons and relegated to muscle memory. Another exception is the final boss and potentially the mid-boss, since the final boss is at the end of the dungeon, thus it can safely override the memories of core entities.

The F.A.T.E. Principle

Map design features many theories, and for aspiring catacomb constructors, I recommend doing F.A.T.E., which stands for First Impression, Addition, Twist, and End.

  • First Impression: This is the first room or first rooms of the dungeon, which should serve the primary purpose of introducing to the gimmick and theming of the dungeon. Start with a simple puzzle to introduce the core gimmick, start with the easy enemy types within your core pool. This could be the very first dungeon a future Quest Master player might play, so don’t skimp on the First Impression. Even veteran players can utilize these starting rooms well to get a feel for how the rest of the dungeon might play out. Example switch puzzle: A single lever that, when flipped, lowers a raised pillar, opening the path forward.
  • Addition: Called such because it expands upon the established gimmicks. It’s where you’re showing that your dungeon has some teeth, and also a great place to really delve into the motive and theming of the dungeon. It’s also likely the best spot to introduce a hub room if your dungeon features one. Example switch puzzle: The path is obstructed by a number of raising pillars, and only the right combination of activated levers makes all the pillars sink into the floor.
  • Twist: This is where the fun starts. Iterate on established gimmicks and remix them to challenge and surprise the players. Have them think outside the box for puzzles, and use unusual room designs and enemy combinations to spice up combat challenges. Example switch puzzle: The levers will lower certain pillars while raising others, so players will have to ponder about the sequence of action to utilize if they wish to advance.
  • End: Guess when you will incorporate these kind of rooms. This is the place where you will throw in your most complex puzzle and your most devious enemy setup, which includes the dungeon boss. Think of this as the “final exam” your dungeon offers to the player. Example switch puzzle: Even this guide will challenge you at the End by encouraging you to think about how to combine levers and raising pillars into a mini maze…

Designing with F.A.T.E.

For this principle, it’s best as a labyrinth laborer to start simple and straightforward. Build four rooms, your F, your A, your T, and your E, in sequence. That way, you already have an idea that the core route is possible. From there, create more rooms that branch off from these core linear rooms and include progress blockers (like key doors) between said core rooms and progress enablers (like keys) at the end of your branching paths.

Due to the nature of branching paths off the core rooms, you ensure that players will face your core rooms first and in sequence, basically making them good signals that the dungeon will shift gear at that point. It also introduces a certain flow to the dungeon as the players will inevitably return to a core room to go to the next core room once they got a key, making those four core rooms kinda act like invisible hubs.

Graduating from F.A.T.E.

The F.A.T.E. principle is always useful, but as your expertise as a maze manufacturer expands and grows, so will your toolbelt and theoretical understanding of game design. While the idea behind F.A.T.E. should never be ditched, changing up the layout so a core room flows into an “interim” room before entering the next core room can be effective as long as the interim room has a clear purpose and doesn’t confuse the player’s sense of map layout. Once you’ve learned the rules, break them with care to offer more varied and variable dungeons.

But always show your players the motive and theming of your dungeon. It’s the glue that keeps players and your dungeons together and you don’t want to get stingy on that.

Volodymyr Azimoff
About Volodymyr Azimoff 945 Articles
I turned my love for games from a hobby into a job back in 2005, since then working on various gaming / entertainment websites. But in 2016 I finally created my first website about video games – Gameplay Tips. And exactly 4 years later, Game Cheat Codes was created – my second website dedicated to legal game cheats. My experience with games started back in 1994 with the Metal Mutant game on ZX Spectrum computer. And since then, I’ve been playing on anything from consoles, to mobile devices.

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