A wise man once said that knowledge is power. One of the principles of successful adventuring is reconnaissance. Knowing what the party will face before they face it enables the heroes to purchase the right equipment, memorise the correct spells and even hire appropriate henchfolk and hirelings. Clever and wise characters start their reconnaissance before they even enter the dungeon!
You should be able to answer these critical questions about the dungeon:
- Who built the dungeon?
- Why was the dungeon built?
- What is the dungeon called?
- How did the dungeon get its name?
- Why would the party want to explore the dungeon?
- What significant events have occurred in the dungeon?
- What legends and rumours are associated with the dungeon?
- Does the dungeon have more than one entrance?
- Does the dungeon have any notable features or locations?
- What secret(s) does the dungeon conceal?
- What general perils lurk in the dungeon?
Knowing the answers to these questions enables you to provide the appropriate information at the appropriate time. (Instead of revealing too much or making hasty choices that lead to confusion later on). Of course, not all the information the characters gather will necessarily be true and accurate. Sources can be deliberately wrong or merely misled. Others can provide correct information but from their perspective. For example, a lowly man-at-arms who sees a wizard cast a ﬁreball might describe that worthy personage as an archmage.
Sources of Information
But from where will the clever characters gain this information?
- Sages and other scholarly folk
- Adventurers who have been in the dungeon
- Escaped slaves and prisoners
- Ancient and not so ancient documents (journals, diaries, maps and so on)
- Current rumours
- Talkative (or easily bribed) dungeon denizens
- Divination spells
So those are the general kind of questions your characters will (or more accurately should) before they delve into a dungeon's depths. Knowing the answers enables you to reward their clever play and consistently design and portray the place. Having the whole make sense is a fantastic aid for the players in helping them suspend their disbelief. Given that ours is a game of the imagination, that can only be a good thing.