So let's start with this post by Mike Mornard on RPGNet, and a follow-up here that clarifies what exactly he's talking about. This is what I'm calling integrity: the concept that the fictional world in the game exists independently of the characters who are going to adventure in it. This is important, because various types of fudging and "modernist" rules can violate this integrity. It's also crucial for game design, because once you embrace world integrity the idea that, frex, things should follow a CR system go out the window. There were trolls on level 1 of Castle Greyhawk. They were there whether you were 1st level or 12th level, because they were there in the fictional world. So there's that.
So that's a picture of Gary Gygax, with his dungeon binder open. It's a tremendously complicated series of rooms, but Gary just has a single page of handwritten notes, one line per room at the maximum. That's all he needed to run his games. I've talked about this before, but I'm bringing it up in the context of Mike's quote: what Gary had on his paper, that's what was written in stone about his world. The rest was a living thing that came about in play through memory and winging it. Which brings me back to the living dungeon.
This really hit me about modules when I sat down to write the Caverns of Temeluc (the Dungeon Crawl #2 adventure). Specifically, I had an environment where it didn't make sense to me that the inhabitants would sit in one particular cave/room and not be moving about. So I took it to the maximum and had the monsters and treasure be dynamic and based on the referee, with some of them doubling as wandering monsters. I liked that approach, but I'm thinking it went a step or two too far, and that there may be a middle way. (Which I'm planning to experiment with in my Dungeon Crawl #3 adventure.)
One of the things I would have preferred in Temeluc was to have the treasures in fixed locations. It just allows things to be much more interesting; a treasure hidden in a weird part of the room, a puzzle, a loose stone - whatever it is, there are great places to stick a treasure in a dungeon. I also want the next dungeon I put out to have more of a sub-region feel where different monster types tend to congregate, with a "monster roster" of total creatures that are encountered between four or five rooms, and in random encounters, etc. I've used the same subsystem before and it lets you have a neat mechanic specific to certain areas.
How I'm thinking this will work is as follows:
- The module will be keyed with treasure, immobile objects, and a few single-room monsters in the main key.
- The map will be divided into 3 areas, each consisting of 10-15 rooms. Each area will have a separate list of, let's say, 10 potential encounters.
- The referee will pre-populate 5 or 6 of these encounters per area. The remaining 4-5 encounters will go into the wandering monster list while in that area.
- The wandering monster chart will have 6 "global" wandering monsters and the rest will direct the referee to use local monsters.