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3 Things That Make A Great Dungeon Crawl

3 Things That Make a Great Dungeon Crawl

For many players (and GMs with little prep time), a nice, one-page dungeon crawl can be the perfect way to break up an adventure and drop some new loot into a party’s hands. The Eight Elements Dungeon (free download) is an excellent example of a short, compact dungeon that should take up a 2-3-hour session. What are 3 things that make a great dungeon crawl?

1. A Dash of Lore

Built by the cult of Ral’Kath many moons ago in the worship of the eight principal elements of the earth, the temple is rumored to hold a magical treasure. Not much is known about the mysterious cult of Ral’Kath. Some say they were a band of heretical druids, exploring the darkest side of nature’s lore…

Most players like a little bit of story to give some depth and intrigue to a dungeon. In this case, the builders of the dungeon were a group of renegade druids who worshipped someone (or something) called Ral’Kath. You generally want to give players this info ahead of time to start the wheels turning in their head–who is Ral’Kath, what were the druids up to, and of course…what’s this treasure?

2. A Mix of Puzzles and Combat

When jumping into a dungeon, players expect there to be some creatures to fight, some puzzles to unravel, and maybe some traps to cleverly navigate. The best dungeon has monsters and puzzles that are unique to its story and overall theme so that all of its elements fit together. If you find yourself struggling to add immersive details to your dungeons, the Dungeon Discoveries idea prompt cards can be a lifesaver.

The centerpiece of the free Eight Elements One-Page Dungeon is tracking down several elemental sigils and placing them on their respective altars, but this means exploring the dungeon’s many rooms, which hold a variety of magical and monstrous challenges (including a slumbering Frost Elemental). The puzzles strike that all-important balance of being challenging and interesting, but intuitive to solve.

3. A Fun Map to Explore

Who doesn’t love maps? Well-crafted dungeons use their layout to excite and intrigue players, and this one does it by employing magical doors that only open when a new sigil has been placed on the correct statue. This means players get a sense of progress (each new door that opens means a new challenge), but it also means that the party isn’t milling around an interconnected labyrinth from the start. Instead, they have a chance to explore the dungeon in chunks and watch their access to it grow as they solve puzzles.

For some more map inspiration don’t miss out on our Free 25 maps pack download

Ready to Start Exploring?

Want to play through the Eight Elements Dungeon yourself, or study its layout to build your own unique dungeon crawl? You can get it for free right now! If you’re ready to start creating your own unique dungeons, you should also check out the Arcania Modular Dungeon Tile pack, which allows you to create beautiful digital maps for your players.

Christopher Mahon

Chris Mahon is a fantasy writer, speaker, and essayist living in Brooklyn, New York. His non-fiction work has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, SyFy WIRE, Outer Places, The Portalist, and others. He's also spoken at New York Comic-Con, Columbia University, and the Glasgow International Fantasy Convention. In his free time he runs The Occult Triangle Lab, a blog on trigonometry, fantasy, and ungodly amounts of milk.

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