I mentioned a diagram in my last post.

On my diagram, I wrote “doors, traps, and loot.” I left “monsters” off the list initially because I had this weird intuition that told me monsters shouldn’t be considered part of the dungeon. Doors are important because they represent choice. Traps represent potential danger. Loot represents potential rewards.

I looked at my diagram and realized my first problem.

Each of the items on my list — doors, traps, and loot — represented something which was “taken away” from the dungeon. Triggering a trap typically ends its danger, whether you survive or not. Collecting loot removes some of the reward for continuing the exploration of the dungeon.

Opening a door removes “mystery” or “risk” from the dungeon.

Why does it matter that these things are “removed” from the dungeon? It’s difficult to quantify. Elements the players “remove” from the dungeon also reduce the special-ness of the dungeon — that isn’t how I want to phrase it exactly. I mean, it’s like the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources.

It’s kind of like, every time you remove something from a dungeon, you change it. Well, every time you add or change something, you change the dungeon. I guess my point is more something like, “if you stock your dungeons with stuff that can be taken, the players will only take things.” But that sounds circuitous.

How do you get players to add things to the world?

I figured I’d start by figuring out how to design an adventuring location that was stocked with “renewable” exploration potential. It would be a kind of stasis — no matter how PCs interact with it, the dungeon retains its mystery and lethality.

So I started my list over again, using what I had figured out initially as the basis for the new diagram. First, it meant using “hazards” instead of “traps.”

Hazards don’t have to be reset like traps. There are no monsters of course, because monsters can be removed from play and without “respawn” shenanigans or some other plot contrivance, they’re effectively gone.

It also meant using “hallways” instead of “doors.” Traveling down a hallway is in many ways similar to opening a door — you don’t know what’s at the end, but it also isn’t as important as the journey, which you must make both ways.

Already, this sounds kind of like a game. “Hazards & Hallways.”

Some kind of reward has to be there though, or else why would anyone return? I mean, the idea of a largely static dungeon probably doesn’t appeal to many people, unless there’s clearly something to gain from entering at all. Actually, a renewable reward would probably be fantastic here…

…Like the Fountain of Youth of something. 3e had “Planar Touchstones” that characters could attune themselves to, in order to receive power. You could use touchstones as a renewable reward, complete with hazards and such.

But then, why adventure anywhere else? Why not “grind” the touchstone dungeon? I suppose as the heroes advance, the rewards diminish. And I suppose there could always be bigger and better touchstones to find.

I think this is probably a place to start — but definitely not the end.