As I am crafting the Dungeons of Thaarl, I am discovering that dungeon design is non-linear and emergent. This is to say that the drawing and keying of the dungeon does not progress in a straight line from (say) Room 1 to Room 8, but rather each detail is created in response to another detail which may have been recorded somewhere else in the design.
Putting it another way, I am drawing and keying the megadungeon with an open minded approach that allows space for new ideas to emerge as I write. My mind is non-linear in functioning – thoughts do not often neatly follow so-called “lines”. I do not ride a train of thought but rather find myself transported by mental portal from one point to another.
The experience is very rich and exciting. I am discovering the shape, form, and purpose of the dungeon as I write and draw it. I started with an idea but am always surprised by the end-point of the design… and then, of course, look forward to what the players themselves will do to disrupt and further change it.
There’s no linear “story” written into Thaarl but one emerges through my play as prepping GM and the actions of the other participant’s play in each session. Similarly, details in one location suggest changes or additions in other areas of the map. Actions taken – by player characters or other creatures in the environment – further shape the design. It’s dynamic and responsive to play.
This is the charm and excitement of dungeoneering for me. The discovery of the place is constant and evolving. There is no static state, no predetermined endpoint, just the exploration of the space and possibilities within it.
I find myself looking forward to each session of prep almost as much as I do the sessions of play. Some things I just don’t expect to find but turn out to be there nonetheless.