I ran a dungeon crawler the other day over discord using only theater of the mind and flashcards.
I usually use Foundy VTT to run my games but I wanted to switch things up and focus on the story telling and roleplaying aspect. What I did isn’t a particularly innovative idea, I borrowed a few elements from a few places. The most notable of the sources is little dungeon crawler by the name of One Deck Dungeon. The idea is simple, I grab a bunch of flash cards and design a room on each. A room can be a trap they overcome, a random room with secrets that they players can discover, or encounters. I create other complications such as dead ends or scenarios they have to overcome like a random cavein. Time is important in my campaign so I assign each card a difficulty and time associated for that difficulty. Because mine is a large dungeon, easy is 1 hour, medium is 2 hours, and hard is 3. If the room needs a detailed description, I write it on the back. I then shuffle the deck. The entranced of the dungeon is a good place to set the scene. Then you start drawing cards and playing them out as they go.
I like the randomness of drawing cards but you can have a strict order to follow. The key here is having certain challenges that they have to overcome rather than having them needlessly explore a large dungeon. There isn’t anything wrong with exploration, it’s just that for my table time is limited so exploration is cut out. Not all if the cards have to be encounters, you can add npcs or moments where you can allow for roleplay to switch things up. In one of my rooms, the challenge they had to overcome was to play Pictionary so we played Pictionary for a bit and that was super fun. You know your table so try to design things around that. If you are worried about leveling, that is not a problem. I design the rooms and the difficulty but I don’t include any monsters. That way, I can reuse them down the road and if they happen to level mid dungeon, I can adjust the difficulty.
Be sure to include doors and secret doors so that the players have a choice on what they have to do. At the end of the session, you can piece the dungeon together and see how far they have gotten. If you are doing a multiple level dungeon or if there is a boss at the end, I rolled a 10 sided dice and after that many rooms, I mixed a stairs card and shuffled the deck so when I pull it from the dwindling deck, they move on to the next floor. You can also decide the number when it seems appropriate to the plot. I like a bit of randomness in my games and it makes sense in the context of the game.
Why did I choose to run it this way?
Not everyone at my table has a top of the line gaming rig, I don’t either. Some people have Chromebooks that they use only for streaming and that’s ok. While Foundry is not particularly recourse demanding, we do hit a few issues here and there because of technical difficulties. I have run dungeon crawls online before on Roll20 and Foundry and found that it isn’t worth the trouble for my table. The biggest issue was that the large maps crashed the programs or made them painfully slow. We spent more time resetting and refreshing than on the actual dungeon crawl.
The non-technical issue is that the size of the map made my players to weary. We spent too much time in meaningless rooms and choosing what hallways to go down. Also, some of my players would get antsy and move through walls and ruin the surprise. Or, I would end up moving them to the next plot point and there was no real reason to have all of these hallways and rooms. I could have done a mix of theater of the mind and have maps for the important rooms, but I wanted try something new and I didn’t want to spend the time looking for maps.
Again this is all based on my group, and my group likes to speed run so if you have a group that enjoys the exploration, design as much as you need.
I will go back to using the VTT and actual maps when they clear this dungeon, but I thought it was a good way of giving my players a new experience. Let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: I am not associated with any of the links or products I like to, I just didn’t think I have them for people who want to learn more and the links provide the best explinations. Cheers.