I’ve built several modular dungeons using hirst arts molds over the years (you can use the search engine to find them). My first was straight out of Bruce Hirst’s manual: 3″ wide hallways with high gothic walls on one side and short ones on the other. I eventually went to fieldstone because I thought they looked more versatile, but realized that when I built rooms, I was “locked” into that room’s dimensions, doorwars, etc. In short, it wasn’t particularly modular.
So I went with a 3″ by 3″ modular layout, with each square having a corner, wall, hallway, or nothing at all. It was good in theory but also meant that every room had dimensions of units of 15 feet and took a long time to set up. I also started getting a little frustrated with the ideas of walls that made it hard for players to see the action and would occasionally chip the paint on minis with outflung swords.
My latest version was my Descent set, which didn’t have walls and could be set up fairly easily. If it hadn’t been for my move to 4E, which tends to have much larger rooms than earlier editions, I might still be using it. Instead, I now use a Chessex wipeable graph mat, which is quick but lacks something in terms of detail.
A few days ago “Caveman” on the Hirst Arts forum posted his thoughts on modular dungeon use. If you don’t want to click the link (and you should, because the photos are very good) he basically outlines his modus operandi.
- for wandering down hallways, he just describes the layout
- when the PC’s encounter something of note (a wandering monster, a door, a room, etc.) he lays out just the floor tiles, much like my own Descent set
- if the encounter will take longer than fifteen minutes (e.g. more than a giant rat) then one of the players, called the dungeon builder lays out the modular walls and corners while the DM collects his notes, asks for initiative rolls, etc.
The dungeon builder becomes another player role, like quartermaster or cartographer, and speeds along gameplay. Caveman does a nice job of showing the progression from description to walled-in room with photos, and it is worth a look.
It’s such a good idea that I’m strongly considering stealing it and bringing my Descent set back into the game.