Monday, April 14, 2014

The Narrow Tread

I usually go through great pains, when designing dungeons, to make corridors that are at least 5' wide, and often include many that are 10' wide. The logic, of course, is purely gamist and has nothing to do with the considerations of the structure of the buildings. I want fighters to be able to fight.

All that is about to change. Moving through medieval structures in Florence has given me a better appreciation for the size of rooms and stairwells. Indeed, most medieval buildings don't have corridors at all, but rather rooms opening onto other rooms. However, I preserve them for dungeons on the grounds that most of these places are built in a substantially different style to the "modern" world of the setting. That being said, chokepoints conveniently occur at doors and stairwells in medieval buildings.

Now, stairs... I have never imagined a stairwell or a corridor of less than five feet would exist in a medieval building. I had never been inside the winding, twisting, crazy path of the Duomo stairs. They are easily 3' at their widest and continue upwards for 462 steps. The walk is grueling, and the space is suitable only for grappling and stabbing. Even a pike or spear would have a hard time being used in such confined quarters, as the stairs turn and turn and turn on themselves, leaving no room for the butt-end of the weapon to trail or be set.

So you'd better believe that narrow design is having a comeback. Roofs that are too low for standing up (like the excavated crypts and church below the Florence Baptistery, which is a great model for a dungeon), floors that are sharply canted, and all other manner of architectural nightmare should soon find its way into the 10th Age. Farewell to the spacious, simple, rectilinear dungeon design. Hello, ancient and medieval architecture.


  1. I, too, always make my dungeon corridors at least 10' wide to allow characters to move around and come to grips with opponents in a fight. Nothing is more boring than forcing everyone but the character at the front of the file to sit the battle out.

    Of course, this does contrast wildly with reality. The Roman and Norman castles in Wales that I have visited have all been pretty claustrophobic, with staircases so narrow that I had to angle myself slightly while ascending to avoid rubbing my shoulders against the walls. I've always imagined that dungeons would be terribly expensive in both labour and materials, so I imagine the builders would be economical; I still stick to the 10' wide corridors, but I do eschew dead-end corridors and weirdly-shaped rooms that serve no real purpose except to drive mappers crazy.

    1. I'm going to do a few experiments in my upcoming game to see if they can be used (the narrower corridors, that is) without sacrificing too much in the way of gameplay. I'll let everyone know how it turns out.

  2. I've played in one module with tiny corridors, and I've designed and run one dungeon in which the kobolds had tiny access tunnels that they used to run ambushes.
    It sucked for game play in both cases.
    Now, we had a large group (8 or so) which exacerbated the problem that only a small portion of the players could be active at any time.
    But it still would have been a problem.
    For my own choices, I won't be using tiny corridors unless they are both purposeful and short to minimize the amount of time that the game restricts how many can be active.