I have originally sent this text to Johnn Four in the far September 2004. That is a crit on d12 years ago.
Unsurprisingly, I see that many of the dungeon maps that appear today (and especially on the so-called professional products) are still, boring, more two-dimensional than ever.
I submit the original text (with some minor adjustment) for whomever it may benefit.
The boredom of the old 10’x10′ square room
I have noticed that dungeons, both in commercial modules and self-made, appear to be very flat; they are composed of a large number of rooms, corridors, halls, secret passages, at the end of which you can find the beloved stairs to the 2nd level. And so on, rinse and repeat down to the Xth level.
Maybe the dungeon is very pretty designed, full of interesting rooms, traps and encounters, but very often it brings no opportunities to outline strategies and tactics during exploration and fighting.
A 3D breathe in the dungeon design
Now try to imagine: the door at the end of the corridor you are walking through opens over a footbridge without balustrade 9 m above the floor of the large 24 m x 24 m hall.
At the end of the footbridge, on the other side of the room, a portcullis apparently closes the way.
On the hall’ left wall, 6 meters above the floor, you can see a human-sized opening, (without door) leading into the dark no-one knows where.
On the hall’ main floor, you notice also a wooden-door on the right wall, with many scratches on it.
Just under the ceiling of the hall, 18 m high from the floor, there is a cornice, 2 m high and 2 m wide, running all over the four walls. (The players can not see, but there is another door just in the same position above the one they arrived from, but on the main floor).
Plenty of room for tactics and strategy
Now how will the PC act? Maybe a PC will try to break the portcullis, while someone else will try to climb the wall to get to the opening, while someone other try to use a rope to get to the main floor.
Let them separate (is this a “party split” if they are still in the same room?), and then… make the gargoyles (or whatever you want) fly out from the cornice, and fight the PC, wherever they are.
Try to imagine the poor cleric, fighting with his mace while clung to the rope with the other hand, 6 m above the floor. To say nothing of the rogue, halfway its climb to reach the opening on the left, attacked by 2 gargoyles (no-one said gargoyles prefer fair-play!!). And what about the dwarf fighter, forced to fight on the edge of the footbridge, with a gargoyle in fly? What if the gargoyle tries to push the dwarf one step back? A 9 m fall is very hard to survive for a low-level PC…
As you can see, encounters in 3D dungeons can be very fascinating, and not only you need flying creatures; you can use also creatures with ranged weapons or in melee. What about a dark elf shooting from the left door with a longbow to the cleric?
Possibilities are so many an encyclopaedia could not be enough.