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THE HOW-TO GEEK GUIDE TO MINECRAFT / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Exploring Minecraft’s Structures

Minecraft

Yesterday we went on a grand tour of Minecraft’s geography. Closely tied to the biomes we just studied are the structures found within them. From sprawling (and not so sprawling) villages to temples left to collapse deep in the jungles, the Minecraft world isn’t as untouched as it might seem.

Unless you happen to spawn into a new map right on top of an existing structure, the Minecraft world seems pretty empty. You can hike for miles and miles across hills, plains, and mountain steppes without seeing anything that looks like it was touched by human hands.

While most of the structures you’ll interact with in Minecraft are the ones you build yourself, the Minecraft world generation engine also creates structures for you. Finding those structures, which range from rare to extremely rare, is a special thrill in and of itself.

Before we start our tour, let’s define what we mean by structure. Strictly speaking, the term “structure” in Minecraft lingo can refer to both obvious structures, such as a building, and more subtle landscape structures, such as beaches and ravines. For our purposes, we’ll be referring to only building-like objects as structures.

Any references to creatures found in the structures will be further explored in the “Meet the Mobs” lesson that follows this one.

Villages

The largest and most pronounced structures you’ll find on the surface of The Overworld are NPC (Non-Player Character) villages. Villages can be as small as 2-3 buildings, medium-sized with a dozen or more buildings, or sometimes (rarely) sprawling complexes in excess of a hundred buildings. Villages are populated by as you may have surmised, villagers.

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Villages can be generated in Plains, Savanna, or Desert biomes and each village type uses materials from its biome, e.g. desert villages will be composed primarily of sandstone whereas plains villages will be composed primarily of wood and cobblestone.

While simple homes are the primary structure found in villages, you may also find churches, farms, libraries, blacksmith, and butcher shops. Regardless of composition every village always has a well, and sometimes (rarely) you’ll find a village that is nothing but a well with no buildings.

Although you can raid villages for resources (the libraries have bookshelves you can steal, for example) many players leave them intact and even build additional buildings for the villagers.

Two resources you can tap into (without destroying any part of the village in the process) are the chest within the blacksmith shop and the farms.

Look for a flat-topped building with no door and a small pool of lava and you’ve found the blacksmith. Inside you’ll find a small chest that typically has food and tools in it. Go ahead and stock up if you find it. We’re sure the blacksmith won’t mind.

You can also harvest the crops from the farmland (look for raised beds with fertile dirt and a water trench in the center) and simply replant them. Crops almost always yield more on harvest than is required to regrow them so you can scoop up the crops and replant them to keep the village looking pristine, and producing food.

Desert Temples

Pyramid-like in shape with two towers at the front, desert temples are abandoned temples made of sand, sandstone, and wool blocks that feature a hidden chamber in the base rigged with explosive traps. The hidden chamber is always worth exploring as it has four chests full of various randomly-selected loot such as diamond horse armor, gold, and enchanted books.

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Although things can go terribly wrong if you set off the explosive trap in the heart of the temple, the temples are usually completely unoccupied and with careful digging you can get a bunch of loot with very little effort. The amount of loot-to-risk ratio is stacked heavily in favor of the player and desert temples are, in light of this, the most valuable structures in the game.

In addition to the loot hidden in the chamber, the booby trap itself is a type of valuable loot. Early in the game the grid of TNT blocks under the floor of the hidden chamber can be easily harvested without the hassle of actually gathering materials and crafting TNT.

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Although the simplest way to find a desert temple is to simply wander around a desert looking, you can also find them while mining. Desert temples have a column of supporting sandstone that runs dozens of blocks beneath the temple’s main chamber so if you encounter an unusual column of sandstone while mining, you’ll know you’re beneath a desert temple.

While it’s tempting to turn a temple into a base, we’d recommend against it unless you’re near another biome. Deserts are rather unforgiving biomes; there’s no natural source of food unless you want to invest the energy to set up a farm. The only creatures that spawn there want to kill you, and you’ll spend a lot of time hiking to other biomes for resources like wood.

Jungle Temples

If desert temples have an Egyptian influence, jungle temples definitely have a Mesoamerican influence and look similar to Mayan/Aztec ruins. They are composed mostly of cobblestone and mossy cobblestone and appear only in the Jungle biome.

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Like the desert temple, the jungle temple is rigged with traps and features hidden chests with loot. Also like the desert temple, the traps themselves are worth looting as they’re a good source of arrows that require no supplies or crafting.

In addition, the jungle temple is an introduction to redstone, the magical electrical-like substance that serves the purpose of creating circuits and other simple logical/electrical constructions in Minecraft. While the trap in the desert temple is technically redstone-driven, it isn’t a complex mechanism. The pressure plate is a simple switch that activates the TNT beneath when you step on it.

The puzzle traps found in jungle temples are actually complex redstone circuits that feature levers, wires, and mechanical devices like pistons. If you’re interested in studying the redstone circuits then we’d encourage you to carefully dig around all the levers you find in order to reveal the mechanisms behind the walls.

Once the traps are disarmed and the materials harvested, a jungle temple can make a nice little tropical home.

Recall also, jungle temples are the most abundant source of mossy cobblestone outside of the relatively recent addition of the large mossy boulders in the Mega Tiaga biome.

Witch Huts

Witch Huts are one of the simplest building-structures in the game. Witch Huts generate primarily in swamp biomes, sometimes in plain biomes, only rarely in other biomes, but never in deserts or jungles (the same in-game flag used for the Desert Temple and Jungle Temple is used for the Huts so there is never an overlap between their respective biomes). Witches, which spawn inside Witch Huts, are an aggressive NPC (Non-Player Character).

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There is never any loot inside Witch Huts, but there is almost always a crafting table. Although not as interesting as other building types, an empty Witch Hut can be used as small ready-built shelter with the addition of a door.

That said, low-level players should avoid Witch Huts as the Witches found inside can easily overwhelm the underequipped.

Abandoned Mineshafts

Although the world of Minecraft is wide open and largely devoid of other people (save for those rare villages you run into), you’d be wrong in assuming you were the first person to swing a pickaxe and descend into the depths of the stone looking for loot. The world is littered with Abandoned Mineshafts.

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Abandoned Mineshafts are a fantastic find as they spare you the hassle of digging elaborate tunnels yourself (and you can easily branch off of them in search of ore) and they’re full of materials you can harvest such as fence posts, wood blocks, and mine cart rails. Additionally, you’ll frequently find abandoned mine carts with chests full of food and loot; even the cobwebs can be harvested.

Although all it takes to be an Abandoned Mineshaft according to the game code is an entrance area (usually “caved in” and long since buried) along with some corridors and intersections, the game engine typically generates many Mineshafts together in elaborate underground structures. You can easily spend hours and hours exploring and looting a single one of these mega complexes and adjacent caverns and underground structures.

Mineshafts also intersect other things (caverns, ravines, Dungeons, Strongholds, etc.) with a high degree of frequency. Even if you’re not interested in looting the Mineshaft for supplies, it’s worth exploring because it allows you to rapidly move through the stone layers of the map without digging.

One thing you’ll notice while exploring Abandoned Mineshafts is that you’ll frequently find exposed ore veins. Depending on the depth you’ll find coal and iron, as well as even gold and diamond. We have a burning question about the Abandoned Mineshafts: what exactly were the miners digging for that was so valuable they were willing to keep on trucking right past piles of diamond and gold? Clearly, they were on a mission!

Dungeons

Although the term dungeon calls to mind sprawling video game lairs that require lots of time to explore, Minecraft dungeons are actually simple structures that are between 5×5 and 7×7 blocks wide. These simple underground structures house 0-2 chests as well as a monster spawner (a small cage-like block that generates monsters every few minutes).

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Dungeons are notable in that they are the only place in the game you’ll find music discs in loot chests. In addition you’ll usually find gold, iron, food, and various seeds in the chests.

Although you might be tempted to destroy the monster spawner immediately, we’d actually encourage you to place torches around it and wall it up. Monster spawners can be invaluable sources of renewable loot and experience (we’ll discuss the idea of “farming” a spawner in a later lesson).

Dungeons are the third and final place, besides mossy boulders and Jungle Temples, where you’ll find mossy cobblestone.

Strongholds

Strongholds are underground fortresses and are the most castle-like structure found in Minecraft. They’re also incredibly rare; only three Strongholds spawn per map. They are extremely difficult to just stumble upon them and, unless intersected by a ravine, cavern, or Abandoned Mineshaft, the only way to find them is by using an Eye of Ender, a piece of end-game equipment.

Speaking of Abandoned Mineshafts, remember our puzzlement over why the miners would blow right past diamonds and keep on mining? One of our pet theories is that whoever these long gone miners that preceded us were, they weren’t mining to find the riches of gold and diamonds, they were mining to find the extremely rare strongholds.

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The structures are worth seeking out for two reasons. They make very secure homes that are filled with a wide variety of loot like gold, enchanted books, swords, and diamonds. They also always have a “Portal Room” which features a portal the player can activate in order to pass into The End, the final dimension of the game where the Ender Dragon lives.

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Although the structure of the Stronghold is randomly generated the Stronghold will always include, as previously mentioned, a Portal Room, and typically includes a large library, store rooms, fountains, hallways, small empty rooms, and prison cells. If you’re looking for a super-secret bunker that comes with everything short of a mini fridge, you can’t go wrong converting Stronghold into base.

The Importance of Persistence

If you have the luck to spawn into the game right next to some interesting structures, that’s great. Realistically spawning right next to a village is rare and you’ll be hiking to find one. When it comes to finding neat things in Minecraft, you really need to put your hiking boots on and explore far and wide.

For example, let’s reference this Minecraft map (we created it using a neat tool called Amidst, which we’ll be exploring in our Advanced Minecraft series later on) to emphasis how structure finding is highly location dependent.

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Let’s say you spawned into the world where the red X is located in the lower-right corner of the map. Surrounded by snowy hills and forests for thousands of blocks in every direction you’d have no chance of finding a Village, Temple, or Witch Hut on the surface as they don’t spawn in those biomes. Yet if you had spawned in the upper middle portion of the map, you’d be practically swimming in Villages and Temples because the Desert and Plains biomes both support Village spawning (and the Desert biome also has Temples).

If you want interesting surface structures like Villages (and you’re in a biome that doesn’t support them) you’d better be prepared to hike. If you want to explore structures but you don’t want to go on an epic adventure just yet, you can always start digging.

Note, although not shown on our map, the subterranean world of Minecraft is packed with extensive caverns and Abandoned Mineshafts.

Next Lesson: Meet the Mobs

The world of Minecraft is slowly looking a little more populated. We’ve explored the terrain, we’ve learned about the structures that dot the surface (and depths) of The Overworld, and it’s looking more like generations of people have actually lived in the world.

The next stop on our Minecraft safari is an overview of the creatures, known as “mobs” in Minecraft lingo, which populate the world.

For your homework, see if you can find any of the structures we outlined. In Creative Mode it’s easy to find villages by hiking/flying around at night as the torchlight of the villages really stands out in the dark countryside.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/12/14