How I motivate the dungeon crawl

Archer: "Why are we here?" Ax-man: "I'm glad you asked!" "Dungeon" by SebastianWagner on www.deviantart.com

In my DMing, especially in Dungeons and Dragons and its peers, I have always tried to integrate roleplaying into the dungeon crawl, rather than trying to make "roleplaying time" separate from "dungeon time". One of the ways I do that is critically thinking about WHY a group of grown men and women would risk their lives delving into a place that may or may not have treasure.

In this blog post, I will tell you how I motivate the dungeon.

Delving for Hope, Glory, or Money? Your call! "Dungeon" by dead-robot on www.deviantart.com

The Stakeholders

Very first thing I do is I see who is involved in a dungeon crawl. In my mind, there are three different groups of people involved in every delve. One group is the adventurers, of course, but in my games I also often have an investor and the oft-forgotten dungeon owner. Each of these groups has their own reasons for interacting with the dungeon, and the goals of these three groups help frame the reasons for the dungeons existence and motivate the crawl itself.

Dungeon owners

The dungeon owner can be alot of different people. A dungeon owner can be alive or dead, could be one person or a whole nation's worth of people, can be a god or even a peasant. All a dungeon owner needs is 1) something to hide or keep safe and 2) the means to create the dungeon to hide it. Very often, dungeon owners are trying to keep something safe in such a way that only they can get back to it (making the dungeon kind of like a safe). A cult leader may be keeping his cults coffers in a dungeon, armed with traps only he knows how to bypass and locked with puzzles he knows the answer too. Dungeons make gteat underground fortresses and hiding spots as well. 

Dungeon owners can also create dungeons to be more like prisons or tombs, burying something so deep that no one can get back to it. A king may have decided to imprison a vampire at the bottom of such a dungeon, or perhaps a cursed item that was believed to bring disaster upon the land. Mind you, you have to make sure it would not simply be cheaper, easier, or more effective to literally bury the object in the ground, rather than creating an expansive dungeon just to keep people away. 

Dungeon owners may have converted a building into a dungeon, probably into the same reasons. Old dungeons, in the traditional sense of holding prisoners, could be converted to more D&D style dungeons this way. Haunted buildings thus can become dungeons.

The main consideration you have to keep in mind is "What is the dungeon owner trying to protect, why is he/she protecting it, and how is he/she protecting it?"


The Investors are the people who want whatever the dungeon is trying to protect. Many times, the adventurers and the investors are the same people: adventurers want whatever it is for themselves. 

But sometimes adventurers don't have the equipment they need to delve the dungeon, or maybe whatever the dungeon is hiding is of no interest to them, especially if the risk is more than the payout. This is where investors  come in. 

Investors can be wealthy nobles, a kingdom, a church, a god, a BBEG, or anyone that has 1) the ability to pay or provide what the adventurers need and 2) no desire or ability to do the adventure themselves.

Investors are willing and able to supply the adventurers with what they need or compensate them for their time, but ultimately they are only willing to stick their necks out if they get something in return. A king may outfit some adventurers with weapons and pay them a fee, but only if they can get rid of the ghost that is haunting the old fortress that the king would like to use again. A wizard may be willing to undue a curse that plagues a PC, but only if the party can steal back his staff of the magi. A church may be willing to absolve the parties sins for life and elevate the paladin to the next level in the hierarchy, but only if the party can find a way to destroy the ancient buried demon once and for all.

The main consideration you have to keep in mind for your investor is "Why does the investor want whatever is in the dungeon, how much is the investor willing and able to invest, and why can't he/she just do it themselves?"


Most importantly, you must keep in mind what motivates your adventurers. Adventurers can have a great many motivations, based on alignment, background, financial realities, power level, and so on. 

In order for adventurers to choose to risk their lives in a dungeon, there must 1) be something for them to gain from the delve, 2) the risk must not outweigh the reward (or must not appear to outweigh the reward) and 3) they must no be able to get whatever it is that is to be gotten from somewhere else.

Booty: the great motivator. "Dungeon" by olga-idealist on www.deviantart.com

Example Motivations

There are many different things that can motivate all the people involved in a dungeon crawl. Here are some of my favorite motivations.


The cheddar, the jingle, Mamon, gold, treasure. In my games, this right here is the common denominator of most dungeon crawls. Dungeon owners are simply hiding their money in the dungeon, while the investors want that money for themselves, and are willing to partner with some adventures in exchange for a piece. For example, a petty lord hears about the discovery of a dragon's lair, long since abandoned by the dragon, that has a ton of gold in it. Petty lord then calls for adventurers, promising them land, or high positions in government, or something else in exchange for the gold. He might not really want to offer a portion of the gold, since in theory the adventurers could just steal all the gold for themselves. Of course, the petty lord might try to ambush the party members after they clear the dungeon.

Good adventurers can be motivated by money, especially if they can spend the gold on somethign good, like the poor or an army to raise against demons or something like that. Neutral and Evil characters can just want the cheddar for itself, of course. Chaotic and Lawful people alike can use gold all the same.


Glory and prestige are good motivators for adventurers. Adventurers can gain great renown for daring to pry the Great Hag from her nasty swamp lair, and they may very well go to the local lord to ask him to donate to their cause, in exchange for something else. Investors can get glory too mind you: for example, a Cleric might try to impress his/her higher ups by successfully destroying the local cult hideout (and since he can't or won't do it himself, he hires the adventurers and attempts to take the credit). Dungeon owners may have built a tomb or temple to "glorify" a certain thing or person, and laid traps throughout to ensure no one violates the sacred space.


Alot of your bigger plot arcs involve this one. Investors, especially kings or wizards, may want adventures to bust into a fortress, a castle or a tomb to get a powerful artifact or kill an important person. BBEG love shiny artifacts that blow stuff up, brain dominate people, or are needed for enormous rituals. Religions may be looking for powerful symbols, like a lock of hair from their best saint, to bring in political power to manipulate both mortals and gods alike. Adventurers can be motivated by the same things: a shiny new sword, a great spell book, gloves of ultimate treasure groping, etc. Dungeon owners, on the other hand, are trying to keep that power for themselves, and create the most elaborate, longest, meanest, cruelest dungeons to keep people from touching their phylactery, or their node, or their headquarters.


Don't underestimate human emotion as a motivator. Dungeon owners may have built their dungeon just to protect the body of their spouse, risking life, limb and poverty just to keep the corpse untouched. Some dungeon owner may have wanted to do nothing more than keep people from entering a cavern where the most beautiful cave flowers in the world grow. Some even create dungeons just to make them, to see if they have truly made the unsolvable dungeon. Some even create myths, legends and outright lies just to motivate adventures to go to their certain doom and enjoy the schadenfreude. Investors might just want to prove their love to their spouse by getting whatever it is in the dungeon for them, or want to live vicariously through the adventurers, or want to discover the historical secrets of the ancient tomb. Sentiment can often be the "real" reason for a investor or adventurer to delves, with money or power being the overt reason. Expect goody-goody adventurers to delve by sentiment (we have to break into the Lava Tomb of Grim the Gut-Reaver! We have to save the prince!), but even evil adventurers may delve just to prove how badass they are (see Glory). Some of the most emotion role playing can come from a dungeon delve when sentiment is involved. 

Good example of an "escape" motivation. "Dungeon Delve" by AlectorFencer on www.deviantart.com


Finally, sometimes the adventurers had no intention of even entering the dungeon and will gain nothing from the place. However, if they fail to escape the dungeon, they may die. Dungeon owners may have trapped the adventurers to punish them, kill them, or keep them from interfering with other things. Sometimes adventurers just get trapped in a hostile place, and no one really meant for them to be there. The adventurers are most often the investors here, but if more people than just the adventurers are captured, and some of those people are not as capable as the adventurers, then they can be "investors" of sorts. For example, the adventurers are escorting a king and his family down the road, minding their own business, when suddenly they and the royal family are captured and locked in a dungeon. They all have to escape, but the king and royal family are kinda wussy, so they must be protected. However, if everyone makes it out alive, you bet your buttplate that the king/queen will be rewarding the adventurers (or at least he/she better).

These are only some of the ways you can add a bit of detail to your adventurers, and suddenly turn hack-and-slash into high drama role playing.

What was the best motivation that you ever made for your PCs to risk life and limb in your sadistic dungeon creation?

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