Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Classic Runequest Dungeon Format

When Runequest was at its height under The Chaosium, before the disastrous link-up with Avalon Hill, I always thought that the "dungeon" adventures had the best format of any of the modules out there, whether from TSR, Judges' Guild, Games Workshop or any of the others. Every room or encounter area had a set format, and it was so well-designed a GM could basically run the adventure straight out of the shrink-wrap, although in most cases this would have missed the really cool things about the work. Paul Jacquays adopted it for his Judges Guild Runequest adventures like Hellpits of Nightfang and Duck Tower. For the sake of those who haven't come across it before, here it is.

Each room description is organized as follows:
INITIAL DIE ROLLS: This determines the occupants of the room. Most Chaosium dungeons were living places, with the inhabitants moving between rooms, catching up on the latest news, going for a meal or sleeping. So the initial die rolls would determine where the inhabitants were. Most GMs that I knew did these in advance to work out what the inhabitants were doing. Earlier rolls took priority, so a monster/NPC could not be in two places. Occasionally, the roll would have some special happening in them (for instance a room that had spirits in it might have the spirit attack someone the instant they set foot in the room, but would otherwise be peaceable until attacked).
FIRST GLANCE: This told the players what they knew about the room the first instant they set foot, like dimensions, obvious features and, in a cave for instance, what sort of rock the room was carved out of.
CLOSER LOOKS: This would include all the significant elements of the room beyond a first glance, some of which, it was noted, could be misleading or unimportant - and boy, did people fall for those.
EXITS: By listing the exits from the room, it was easy for a GM to keep the players informed without drawing a map for them or anything. Several of the Chaosium dungeons were mapping challenges. They would also note where any keys were located.
HIDDEN SPOTS: Chaosium Runequest 2 had a specific skill for Spot Hidden items. This section also indicated how long it would take for one person to search the area, and also the chances of a Found Item being there (I'll come on to Found Items later).
TRAPS: Being old school, traps were common in Chaosium dungeons. This section would describe the trap in full, including any mechanics and how to circumvent it.
DENIZENS: Whatever monsters or NPCs live in the room, if they aren;t of the meandering type normally favored.
TREASURE: What it says on the tin.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Anything that didn't fit in elsewhere went here.

As said, I think this format worked really well. I'm currently designing a MRQ2 dungeon - which I don't do very often - and I'm using this format, remembering The Alexandrian's excellent description tips too. So I've added a section under closer looks simply called "Three Senses and Two Cool Things."


  1. Great post, the layers of detail approach was a brilliant design choice.

  2. An excellent format for dungeons! Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

    I wish that the old Chaosium RQ adventures like 'Snake Pipe Hollow' were available for sale in pdf. Some old Judges Guild RQ adventures are available; indeed, I recently picked up 'Hellpits of Nightfang' over at RPGnow.

  3. I also am an old RQ player who loves this way of describing dungeons: it feels very naturally to do it this way, with very little searching, and the character's questions are easy to answer. In SPH I particularly liked the description of the stone in every room. As room as something changed, it cold faze the party for minutes, while they decided whether this was significant of something or just ornamental.

  4. What a great format! I'm definitely going to have to incorporate this approach into my next MRQ2 campaign.