Troy’s Crock Pot: Great Hall Conundrum

Big rooms. Impossibly big rooms. Rooms and caverns designed for giants to stand upright, for dragons to unfurl their leathery wings wide before letting loose a big blast of their fiery breath. 

Gladiatorial arena-size big.

Running encounters in such places is a rare and special occurrence. And such an expanse comes with its own set of considerations.

It might be the first time as a GM you have to double-check distances and penalties associated with ranged attacks. Characters who run flat out to reach a spot — then what? Breath weapons and area effect spells take on a whole new dimension, because for many of them, you might be able to discern the outer reach of their zone of effect. So, character speed, movement of mounts, and even limited flying abilities might have to be accounted for.

As a matter of organization, this will likely require a crib sheet with different categories of movement, each character’s capabilities listed accordingly. For the GM’s part, NPC and monster abilities, especially abilities that affect areas or great reach, should be tracked the same way.

Just as importantly, GMs should plan for different ways to use such space.

One of the old masters of the genre is Robert J. Kuntz, who played in Gary Gygax’s original Dungeons and Dragons group and even served as his co-Dungeon Master.

Kuntz designed Mauer Castle and updated it for 3.5 in 2004 for Dungeon Magazine 112. His use of the Great Hall, and later, other levels of the dungeon, are instructive. Here are hallmarks of his design that you can copy and apply to your own great rooms:

> Niches and corners and other small areas essentially serve as rooms of their own. “What’s going on over there?” Viewing in detail might reveal partitions, kennels and cells, depressions, dugouts and mounds that went undetected in a broad overview. 

> Elevation is more than opportunities for flyers. Be on the lookout for alcoves, bridges, archways and overhangs. Most often, these are on the surrounding walls. But it could also be structures suspended from the ceiling, like a catwalk.

> Unmarked territories. The player characters may not discern this, initially, but the monsters of the hall might recognize sections of the space as being territory divided between them. These are exploration and discovery opportunities for the characters — though risky discovery opportunities.

> Likewise, there could be dead zones or dampening effects littered across the landscape. Look for ways to incorporate different terrain. Kuntz’ Great Hall has both a pool and an eight-pointed star chiseled into the floor. Why were they constructed? What purposes do they serve? 

Great halls can be set pieces that can serve multiple times, even in the course of the adventure. Remember the welcome hall in Jurassic Park? It was used as a place to introduce all the characters, provide a moment of revelation over melting ice cream, and served as a showdown with a pair of velociraptors and the T-Rex.

Let’s hope you, too, find ways to get such mileage out of your great halls in your adventure games.