Take any dungeon map, say from a generator like
or from an old module or off the web. As an example I’ll use
then treat the passages and rooms as flow chart.
1) So in this case the players starts the flow chart in (1) and say the mission requires something in (16). This makes the whole area from (2) to (7) a red herring. In the adventure you could either
– have some obstacle in (1) which requires a key of some kind in (7)
– or if fail a skill check in (1) – maybe information gathering – the players follow a wrong clue to (7)
– the path to (7) is a dead end but it does contain some useful but optional item or information which will help defeat the obstacles in the correct path.
2) Rooms that the players have to pass by but don’t have to go through are optional encounters. If the players successfully complete some task – represented by the door – they avoid the encounter – represented by the room. Alternatively if the door is a secret door the room contains something optional but useful and failing the check means the players miss it.
3) Rooms that the players have to pass through represent an encounter that has to be defeated in some way to progress further.
4) Stairways are plot hooks to other adventures.
5) Two optional doors opposite each other represent a double strength optional encounter.
6) Multiple rooms behind an optional door imply a red herring / false lead.
Going back to our example
Say (1) is an obstacle that requires a key – in this case an NPC demands an item from (6) or (7) to give the players some needed information.
(2) is an optional encounter – say some guards that the players can potentially sneak past
(3) is a fixed encounter with an optional one (4) attached and a second fixed encounter (5) directly ahead. This could also be a stealth scenario again except in this case requiring the silent taking out of a guard in (4) or else other guards in (3) are alerted and come running (as do the possibly sneaked past guards in (2)). Also on a failure the obstacle in (5) is alerted.
(5) is another fixed encounter which may be alerted or not depending on what happens in (4).
(6) could be the location of the key being sought but a failed skill check of some kind may lead to the players going to (7) first.
Say it was a Cthulhu adventure. (1) could be a voodoo priest who wants a talisman off another priest. (2) could be some cultist guards who can be sneaked past. (3) could be a cultist lieutenant who can be taken out by stealth. If the players fail at this the zombie guards from (4) come and maybe the guards from (2) also. After raising the alarm the lieutenant runs into (5) and across a rope bridge over a chasm which he cuts after him trap leaving the players on the side with the zombies. After defeatign the zombies the players would still need to get over the chasm. (6) would be the priest – concealed somehow – and if the players somehow miss the priest the first time they end up at (7) which could be a pit where the cultists throw victims to the shoggoth below.
The players bring the NPC what he wants and he gives them the information they need to get to (16).
As (8) leads to another room and is guarded by a trap that implies a failed check leads the players to investigate something they didn’t need to, leading to encounter (8) and then (9).
(10) (12) (13) are all fixed encounters that have to be defeated.
(11) is a secret door room so the players need to succeed at something in encounter (10) to get access to something very useful for the final encounter.
(14)(15) being mirrored could represent a double strength obstacle – perhaps this is where the reward from (11) could be used.
(16) Final encounter.
So back to Cthulhu version, say (16) is a sorceror who has a lair in his own pocket plane beyond a gate and the NPC in (1) tells the players they need to find the path and gives them a book.
(8) could represent the players mistranslating the book or a clue / riddle given in the book. This leads them to investigate the lair of an unconnected swamp cult involving a trap and some inbred cultists. Surviving that leads to a temple guardian of some kind in (9). The players get something generally useful out of this but it’s not directly related to the main investigation.
Translating the clue from (1) correctly leads to (10) where they have to get some information from a ghoul. Say the ghoul carries the information so the players can get it by killing him but if they persuade him instead they get the information and a clue to some useful item for later.
The ghoul gives them the location of the wizard’s coffin (12) containing his spell book in a grave yard frequented by hostile ghouls.
Obstacle (13) could be successfully reading the wizard’s book and learning the location of the gate to the wizard’s lair and the spell that triggers it – avoiding the various curses and traps put on the book by the wizard.
(14)(15) are a further doubly dangerous trap. The gate doesn’t go to the wizard’s lair it goes to a place of wraiths trapped by the wizard as involuntary guard dogs. The wizard has a protective talisman. The item from behind the secret door in (11) is a spare. The exit gate to the actual lair is opposite the entrance gate. If the players have the talisman the wraiths are held back if not they have to run for the other gate.
(16) Wizard’s lair in the Dreamlands to encounter the sorceror.