I’ve been thinking about dungeons and how random dungeons in the middle of some woods can be kind of silly. Why would they be there with nothing else around them, what purpose would they serve? It just doesn’t make sense that you’d be miles from civilization and there is just some dungeon in the middle of nowhere. Or does it? I want the things in my world to make sense, to have purpose, not just be randomly placed set pieces for player characters to trip over while wandering aimlessly through the woods. So I have been thinking about what reason these dungeons might have for existing out in the woods at seemingly random locations, or possible even a location that players have been to and there wasn’t one before.
Actually these dungeons are quite literally placed randomly on the map. I roll some dice, look at a table and depending on what I roll, a dungeon might be at the location. I just don’t want it to feel that way. So I came up with the idea of the dimensional dungeon, which is essentially a pocket dimension containing a dungeon. These dungeons can appear anywhere and may only exist in the world that the player characters are exploring for a brief period of time, or they may be permanent doors to another world, a world that is only the size of the dungeon contained within. They might have been created to house some artifact, imprison some particularly nasty monster, or as a place for a wizard to study and experiment in a solitude that cannot be achieved on the prime plane. The dungeon’s purpose can give it its interior characteristics. The dungeon meant to house some sort of powerful artifact or imprison someone or something is likely to be filled with traps and contain guards meant to last a very long time. A wizard’s laboratory would likely be filled with weird creatures not found anywhere else, and perhaps even the wizard. Then again, maybe his dungeon entrance can only be found because he is in town shopping for ingredients that he needs to complete his work.
The dimensional dungeon can come and go from this world as well. It might only appear when the proper astral alignment is in place, or when it has some need for an entrance on this world. The wizard’s lab is probably cut off from the material plane most times unless the wizard has some need for it to be revealed. One of these dungeons may exist in a location one day and be gone the next. A dungeon holding a powerful artifact might cease to exist once its reason for existing in the first place has been removed. Also, I think as a rule players should never be trapped within a dimensional dungeon. The exit should always be available to the players; however, once they leave, there should be no guarantee that they will be able to re-enter.
The best part about the dimensional dungeon is that it doesn’t quite have to fit the landscape. You have a story element that gives a randomly appearing dungeon a reason for being there. I think it’s always better if your dungeon is a good fit for the surrounding area, but sometimes you are in a hurry or you might have some other reason for needing to place a specific dungeon someplace that it doesn’t quite seem to belong. So go ahead and put that ice cave dungeon in the scalding desert.