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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dungeon Shorthand: A Quick Reprise

I had several blog posts in the back of my mind, but I waited far too long, forgot most of what I wanted to write, and felt the rest was no longer strongly relevant. So instead, I'll respond to a recent call-out on G+, where someone recalled I had been working on ways to turning text into dungeons.

There were actually a couple such projects, with different goals, but the main one was something I called dungeon shorthand. This was both a way to represent a dungeon as text and a way to take arbitrary text and turn it into a dungeon. It wasn't necessarily about a computer program to turn text into dungeons, although that was always in my mind as a possibility. It was mainly about using the huge volume of already existing text on the internet or in ebooks as a source for dungeon designs.

I made a couple different forays into this, each time trying to simplify things while simultaneously increasing the variety of dungeons possible. Here is a summary of my current thinking on how to do it.

1. Every word is one room. Spaces and punctuation separate one room from the next.
2. The length of a word is the width of the room west to east, ten feet per character.
(Rooms are square, by default. Word length = room size. The word "room" would be a 40-foot square room.)
3. Every line of text is one "line" of rooms, arranged west to east.
(So the first word of the next line is a room placed south of the first word/room of the previous line. Poetry or text with word wrap applied to limit the line length will fill up a dungeon level in a more or less traditional manner. What you do with long lines is up to you: Apply word wrap first? Just make a dungeon that is extremely long from west to east?)
4. Every paragraph is one dungeon level.
(Paragraphs, here, mean blocks of text separated by blank lines. Position of one level compared to the next is not strict; you can line up the first room in the upper left of each level, or you can line up based on any stairs or shafts indicated in the levels.)
5. Changes in case divide rooms into sections, making rectangular or irregular rooms.
(Each string of letters in all upper case or all lower case counts as one section. In other words, think of "BIGrig" as two words/two rooms with no wall between them. By default, the south wall of each section lines up. "BIGrig" is thus a rectangular room, 30 feet north/south, 60 feet east/west. "bigROOM" would be irregular, a 30-foot square merged with a 40-foot square to the east. I picked the south wall so that the word would visually resemble the shape of the room.)
6. Some letters change default directions of a feature. If no feature is specified, it's an exit.
Letters N, S, E, W are standard compass directions. A and U are Above/Up. B and D are Below/Down.
(The only feature I've mentioned so far has been the room sections of Rule 5. By default, the second section is west of the first section: "bigROOM" is a 30-foot square followed by a 40-foot square to the west, but "tinROOM" is a 30-foot square room merged with a 40-foot square region to the north, with the western wall of each area lined up. The last letter of each section indicates the direction of the next section.
Direction letters in the middle of a word or section indicate exits, which by default are doorways. "GIANT" is a 50-foot room with an exit in the north wall. Since each letter represents ten feet of wall, you can place doorways based on counting letters before/after the direction letter. Double letters, like NN, are double-wide doorways.
If a direction letter is followed by a symbol, then the letter indicates the direction of that feature. A hash symbol/number sign represents bars or a grate, for example, so "on#ly" is a 40-foot square room with a grate in the north wall.)
7. Commas, periods, colons, and semicolons are doors, hyphens are hallways.
(No distinction is made here between types of doors, but you could assign different descriptions to each symbol: a comma could be an ordinary wooden door, a period could be an iron door, semicolons and colons are twice as thick.)
8. Numerals are also hallways, but the value of the number is the length of the hallway, in feet.
(This assumes the number isn't preceded by another symbol. "-35" is still a 35-foot hallway, but "#35" is a 35-foot long line of bars.)
9. Quoted text is treated as a group, as is any text marked with a punctuation pair.
(Like a math operation, you return to where you left off before you started interpreting what's in parentheses. So, "thinking (maybe) not" would start with an 80-foot square room with two exits in the north, with a 50-foot square room connected to the first exit and a 30-foot room connected to the second exit of the first room. The eastern exit in the 50-foot room does not necessarily lead to the 30-foot room, or to any room that follows it.)
10. Slashes represent diagonals or  45-degree turns.
(The slash in the middle of a word is treated like a case change: "X/Y" is a 10-foot square region followed by another 10-foot square region cut in half diagonally SE to NW, so the total length of the north wall is 20 feet. "/XY\" is a triangular room with a 20-foot south wall.
Using slashes in pairs rotates a square room so that it is oriented diagonally compared to the rest of the dungeon.)


  1. This is really tempting me to make a dungeon from one of Vance's stories. Maybe when I get some free time

    1. You'll probably just want to do an excerpt, not an entire story. Remember, every paragraph is one level. A short Vance story might turn out to be a 20 or 30-level dungeon.

    2. Yeah, I was thinking just dozen levels or so (never actually designed a dungeon, believe it or not, so I have no idea how much work that'd be). There are quite a few shorter paragraphs for dialogue that might make nice sub-levels. My first thought was to use Turjan of Miir, but Mazirian's Maze sounds like a nice dungeon name :D

  2. A possibly cool idea would be to, say, use OD&D with "Gods, Demigods & Heroes" to design a Celtic-themed dungeon based on text from The Mabinogion, a Finnish dungeon from the Kalevala, or a Greek dungeon from the text of The Odyssey.