There are probably hundreds or more slick, fun, useful ways of generating dungeons, and populating them for fast, great use at your table.
This is not one of those, but I'm bored, so here goes.
There's one method we practised at work one time during team building (that we never used again, probably pretty typical for team building workshops) that had you constantly ask "Why ..." five times in a row to a given statement. For instance, you start by describing a simple problem, then you ask "Why is X causing Y" or "Why are we XYZZY?", and you get an answer, and then you reiterate with another "Why are we ...." based on that answer.
This has probably been used in RPG map making before, but I wanted to try it anyway, and I wanted to infuse some strange randomness into it whole by utilising my bookshelf in the process.
But first of all, I need a map. I'm thinking simple since I don't have all night for this post:
So my main idea is this:
- Pick something from the map above
- Formulate a question on the form: "Why is X there?"
- Pull out a book at random from the bookshelf
- Flip to some random page, choose a sentence at random - that's the answer
- State a new question, using answer in 4
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 (maybe occasionally 3, 4 and 5) until there are three or more WHYs and answers regarding that object
I'll quote whatever sentence I find, but I'll need to (badly) translate them from Swedish so sorry about that.
STATUE IN FIRST ROOM
(book: DIKTER by Karin Boye )
Q: Why is there a STATUE in the first room?
A: "Säg mig, dis från Kunskapsbrunnarna" --> "Tell me, haze of Wells of Knowledge" --> Because it grants access to the Wells of Knowledge through a haze
Q: Why would someone need access to the Wells of Knowledge?
A: "Jag läste i tidningen att någon var död, någon som jag kände till namnet" --> "I read in the newspaper that someone was dead, someone I knew by name" --> Because it can answer questions about deceased people using only their names
Q: Why would someone need answers about deceased people?
A: "ty dagen är du" --> "because the day is you" --> Because it enables someone to be that person for a full day
CLOSED DOORS IN FIRST ROOM
(book: DOKTOR GLAS by Hjalmar Söderberg )
Q: Why are the doors closed?
A: "Jag skulle aldrig ha väntat något sådant av honom" --> "I would never have expected something like that from him" --> Because there is a man that can't be trusted behind the doors
Q: Why can't the man be trusted?
A: "Han var ännu gråare i ansiktet än vanligt" --> "His face was paler than usual" --> Because he is dying
Q: Why is the man dying?
A: "Ljusen brunno med smutsröda lågor mot den grå gryningsdagern" --> "The candles are burning with dirt red flames against the grey dawn" --> Because he performed a ritual involving red candles that affects daylight
Q: Why did he perform that ritual?
A: "Mina sinnen vaknade först sent, vid en tidpunkt, då min vilja redan var en mans vilja" --> "My senses awoke late, at a point, when my will were already that of a man" --> Because he needed to mend his body and mind
Q: Why did he need to mend his body and mind?
A: "Vad var det för folk där?" -> "What kind of people were there?" --> Because his mind was shattered and shared between multiple persons
PASSAGE THAT ENDS IN WATERFILLED CAVES
(book: PETTSON FÅR JULBESÖK by Sven Nordqvist )
Q: Why are the caves filled with water?
A: "Gubben gick och la sig." --> "The old man went to bed." --> Because someone fell asleep on the job preventing the caves from flooding
Q: Why did someone fall asleep while preventing the caves from flooding?
A: "Han stönade och jämrade sig medan han kravlade upp ur snön." --> "He moaned and wailed while he crawled up from the snow" --> Because he was buried in snow and started hibernating
Q: Why was he buried in snow?
A: "Han var tvungen att göra sina bästa konster för att de överhuvudtaget skulle titta på honom" --> "He had to perform his best tricks to even get them to notice him" --> Because he tried to cast great illusionary spells to impress some gods
Q: Why did he try to impress some gods?
A: "Men det var en bit att gå" --> "But it was a bit of a walk" --> Because he wanted to reach them but they were out of reach
(book: SAMLADE DIKTER by Edith Södergran )
Q: Why is there a pit trap in the hallway?
A: "Människor, det häver sig i mitt bröst" --> "People, my chest is rising" --> Because the spikes are growing like plants in this pit
Q: Why are the spikes growing in the pit?
A: "Några sista stjärnor lysa matt" --> "Some last stars shine dull" --> Because they yearn for moonlight
Q: Why are they yearning for moonlight?
A: "Jag sörjer så som hade jag förlorat en sagokrona" --> "I mourn as lost a crown of fairytales had I" --> Because the spikes are lost ornaments to a great fairy crown
* * * *
Did this produce the most exciting dungeon ever in existence? Nope, but it got me thinking about things not visible on the map, which got me thinking about the map, and so on.
Using an overly simple map was intentional, and I think - if you for some strange reason decide to try this yourself - one should ask questions about the most mundane things in the map, because that gives the most flavour; I mean, I put a statue or two in there, of course they're going to indicate some special thing, so asking WHYs about them is not that very exciting. But let's say you ask WHYs about an ordinary wall, or the ceiling, or just a door frame - mundane things that NEEDS to be there anyway - what could this method bring forth?
(And my apologies to the authors above for thrashing their penmanship with my horrible translations.)