I’m going to assume a basic knowledge and understanding of 2D/3D “platform adventure” games for this post — that’s Mario, Donkey Kong, Megaman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Prince of Persia, and so forth. I think you get the idea.

A video game level has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like a good story — and like a dungeon. They don’t go on forever — they have a finite goal. Maybe they even have a little flag for you to grab at the end.

They have rewards — like coins(!) or bananas(!) — periodically throughout.

A good level isn’t a flat, featureless plane — not usually. Nor is it a nightmarish gauntlet of deadly obstacles — not usually. Nor is it overflowing with dangerous, carnivorous beasties — not usually. Sometimes they are, but not always.

If you imagine every dungeon first as a linear progression of “flat planes,” then place some obstacles for the party to overcome, and break it up with a few enemy encounters — all you’ll have to do next is place treasure to entice the party.

Dungeons are not “natural” places, and no matter what your game is simulating — it is also a game. Sometimes you can get away with tricking the players into wasting their time, and sometimes the rewards are play and not XPs and GPs.

Not only does the dungeon not conform to reality — sometimes it really shouldn’t. This is a hard lesson I’ve had to learn more than once. Players want stuff. Stupid stuff that doesn’t matter. They want rewards. They want achievements.

I’ve found that as a player, even *I* want stupid stuff that doesn’t matter — which suggests to me that there’s probably something important behind all this.

So there are some basic tenets that most dungeons should adhere to — periodic rewards, like gold pieces or bananas. Areas that aren’t challenging or difficult, where the party can catch their breath. Regular obstacles and dangers.

It seems like this stuff should be obvious, but at the same time it isn’t.

Maybe it’s too obvious.