Here’s a Sudoku grid, typical of the countless billions that exist online, on your Nintendo DS and in print form from all good booksellers everywhere. And, for that matter, all the bad ones too.
What I want you to do is stare at it and scrunch your eyes up. Yes, just like that. A little bit more. There. You got it. Wow you look funny!
Do you see what I see?
It’s a dungeon map! There’s even a key too. We just need for work out what it all means.
And that, dear reader, is where this blogpost comes in. In the best tradition of Playing Card Dungeons, I give you… Sudoku Dungeons!
Each Sudoku puzzle (or, as I like to call them “Little Maps of Doom”) is made up of a 3×3 grid. Each square in that grid is a room, and each room contains numbers that tell you something about its contents. As just having nine rooms in grid is boring, delete some of the lines to join the rooms together in interesting patterns. I’ll show you how to do it in a moment.
But before we do that, it’s worth knowing where the doors are and what the numbers mean. Here’s a quick crib sheet:
If there’s a number in a Door square, there’s a door (well, duh!). If you’re lucky and there’s a door on the adjoining wall then it’s a simple through-through entranceway – a wooden door, open archway or whatever.
If there’s a door on one side of the wall but not on the other then it’s a Secret Door. The players can make a level/system appropriate Perception check to find it. For 4e D&D I suggest DC10 for 1st-3rd level dungeons, DC12 for 4th-6th, etc as per Moderate skill checks, DMG pg 42.
Walls where there’s no doors on either side can be removed if you wish. For example, I could go as far as turning the sudoku grid above into this by removing all the “non-door” walls:
If you’re lucky there will be doors on the outer wall of the dungeon. If so, make one of them the starting point for the adventure. If not, just pick a room to begin play.
The number in the top-left corner of each room reveals that there’s monsters in the room. If it’s a low number (1-3) then it’s an encounter below the party level. If it’s high (8 or 9) then it’s higher. Otherwise, it’s an encounter that’s equal to the party level. Create a random encounter table and stick it on the front of your Sudoku Book (it’ll confuse the heck outta your mom/partner/granny) or choose something from the 4e Monster Manual Encounter Table.
This does mean that some “rooms” will have multiple encounters inside them – such as the large centre room and the Big Secret Room in the example above. Perhaps the adventurers have wandered into an ongoing conflict, or are about to bite off rather more than they can chew. Good luck with that.
If there’s an NPC/Puzzle then there’s a non-combat encounter of some kind. Exactly what it is largely depends on what else is in the room. If there’s monsters there too it might be innocent captives (lightly broiling in salt water). If there’s a Feature, it might involve a Skill Challenge to deal with. Use your imagination. You do have one, don’t you? :D
The sample randomly selected Sudoku above is a case in point. That centre room has two Encounters, one at either side, and an NPC/Puzzle on the left. Maybe the PCs have stumbled on a delicate hand-over of hostages between two warring parties. Can they smooth over negotiations (Skill Challenge!) without incurring the wrath of either side? Personally, I have my doubts.
Then there’s Features. If there’s a number in the bottom left then there’s some kind of terrain element or Large Bulky Object (LBO) in the room. It might be a Statue, bridge, obstacle or even change in the environment such as fog or blood dripping from the walls. Nice. If you want to go completely random, here’s a list:
4 Pentacle on floor
6 Long-rotten dead bodies
7 Manacles (empty)
9 Blood on Walls
If there’s a number in the centre square of the room, there’s a Trap. If there’s a Feature, it might be what is trapped. If there’s Treasure, THAT might be trapped. If there’s a Secret Door… you get the idea.
Back to that Centre Room. The Right-Hand Party has erected a makeshift barricade to protect themselves if negotiations don’t work out as planned. In the centre of the room is a Spiked Pit Trap prepared by the Left-Hand Party, for much the same reason. Typical trade negotiation setup, then.
Finally, there’s Treasure. If you’re using the 4e D&D the number could be the Treasure Parcel reference from the DMG pg 126. Alternatively, high=good, low=paltry. Back to that Centre Room and both groups have bought something to trade with. The Left-Hand Party has a 100gp gem and 200sp in a rotten leather sack, while the Right-Hand Party has brought along a 3rd level Magic Item. Considering they’re desperate to get the hostages back, that’s probably wise.
Once you’ve got the hang of reading the numbers and visualising the layout of the dungeon with missing walls, you’ll be able to run dungeons right off the Sudoku grid. A $1 Sudoku pad containing 250 puzzles makes Dungeon Delve looks like a flimsy 16 page pamphlet in comparison. How cool is that?!
So now, solving the Sudoku doesn’t require a pencil and brains. It requires a pencil, brains and dice.