Category Archives: Deadly Dungeons

The Cozy Catacombs: A Demonstration of Flux Space

Paris CatacombsA few weeks back, I wrote up an idea that I called Flux Space, which is basically a method for randomizing segments of a dungeon. It helps dungeons to feel more like vast environments, and makes it a little easier to organize your notes.

In the thread about Flux Space on google+, Aaron Griffin asked me if I would post an example. So that’s what I’m doing. The Cozy Catacombs are a small example–just 3 locations and 3 fluxes arranged in a triangle. It’s pretty much the bare minimum size for something like this, but I think it gets across the idea pretty well, and there’s enough here for at least one or two game sessions if you want to try it out.

The Cozy Catacombs

Flux Space DiagramThe city of Sarip is old. Its been inhabited since pre-history, and through the millennia has always lent authority to whomever lived there. Empires, religions, and societies may pass, but Sarip remains. The Immortal City.

Beneath Sarip is a sprawling network of catacombs. Countless generations of bones are stacked along the walls so thick the stonework isn’t visible between them. The catacombs themselves have been out of use for hundreds of years now, at least officially. They’re a popular retreat for anyone not welcome in the city above, with plenty of space to live and work rent free, so long as you don’t get lost.

Area 1: Entrance

Flux Space One1. At the bottom of the stairs is a bronze plaque mounted on a plinth. It’s a recent addition, put up by city officials, warning people to stay out of the catacombs, lest they become lost.

The floor is littered with empty booze bottles and scraps of trash.

2. A small group of homeless folks have set up a camp here, around an old fountain they use as a urinal. One of them has scurvy, and will soon die from it.

3. A group of fresh corpses. They’ve been flayed, and their bones taken. From the scattered equipment, it looks like they weren’t homeless. Probably here hoping to plunder some treasure. Bloody, boney footprints trail off to the south, towards Flux B.

4. A larger group of homeless folks, cooking a stolen chicken on a spit. There are some children running around and playing loudly. Among the group is a well dressed young man, about 20 years of age. He seems to be having fun, slumming it down here, seeing how the other half live.

5. A group of 7 teenage girls. They’ve all got dirty faces, and kitchen knives. They’re arguing about how they should divide the 6 silver coins they found.

Area 2: Necrotic Praxeum

Flux Space Two1. Long benches are arranged next to one another in this room, with rows of zombies standing on either side, polishing old bones to a pristine white sheen. Other zombies with carts move up and down between the tables, handing out dirty bones, and taking the clean ones.

2. A few shelves, and a collection of tomes detailing the history and practice of necromancy. The librarian is a wizened old man named Bu’zaldu. It’s not clear whether he’s undead, or just very very old. He teases the students here with cryptic hints, and there’s a rumor that if you can prove which one he is, he’ll teach you a spell even the headmistress doesn’t know.

3. 12 beds, stacked 3 high, where students are allowed to rest between lessons. There’s very little downtime here, and even less privacy.

4. A well stocked alchemical laboratory, with jars all along the walls containing a variety of exotic items. In the middle of the room is a student who has fallen asleep in their chair, next to a solution that is slowly dribbling into a vial. It’s just about full now. If thrown, this concoction will explode, dealing 3d6 damage, and instantly transforming anyone killed by it into a zombie under the command of the thrower.

5. Most of the students are congregated here. There are piles of polished bones in front of each student, while the school’s headmistress walks around the room, describing the proper method of raising a skeleton from the dead. Students work in pairs to raise each one, which the Headmistress then comes over to inspect. If she approves of it, she’ll congratulate the students, give them some pointers on refining their technique, and give the skeleton some task to perform. If she does not approve, she’ll berate the students, and send their skeleton walking down the path of shame (into Flux C.

She only approves of roughly 1 in every 5 skeletons.

6. The office and living space of the head mistress. Skulls and gargoyles are everywhere you look. There’s a bed, a desk, and a rack for punishing students who perform poorly. On the desk is a stack of wax-sealed letters, tied with a ribbon, waiting to be delivered. If opened, they all contain a list of students who are doing poorly, as well as a brief description of each one’s qualities. The letters are addressed to various peoples: inquisitors, slavers, and a cyclops named “Gorkk Manmuncher.” The implication of each letter is clear: I don’t really want these kids anymore, so I’ll happily part with them for a good price.

Area 3: Skeleton Vanguard

Flux Space Three1. An old chapel, with a statue of St Stephen. The pews have been stacked into a circle, which serves as an impromptu fence for a group of skeletons. The skeletons wander around without any apparent purpose, bumping in to one another, falling down, and losing body parts. Whoever raised these obviously did a terrible job of it.

2. Havord, the leader of the skeleton vanguard, is conferring with five of his most intelligent comrades. They’re looking over crude maps they’ve been able to make of the dungeon, and arguing about where they should expand to.The two Flux spaces would be difficult to defend. But Area 1 would expose them to detection from the outside world, and Area 2 would cut off their supply of incoming skeletons. It’s a serious problem, and the argument is getting heated.

Havord himself has a skull 4 times larger than a normal human skull. He is otherwise a normal skeleton.

3. A classroom where a trio of intelligent skeletons try to teach some of the dumb reject skeletons how to think, and perform simple tasks. The program is effective, but frustrating. The curriculum is similar to what you might see in a kindergarden class, but with a lot more discussion of killing the living.

4. A storage room where the skeleton vanguard keeps their weapons, and a bunch of animated skeletons folded into boxes because there’s not enough room for them to move about more comfortably.

5. A 24 hour skeleton dance party. The best way to unwind for off duty skellos.

6. The floor of the room has been dug up in several places, and a frail weave of twigs placed across the opening to 15′ pits. The trap is painfully obvious to anyone with any intellect, but apparently it’s sufficient to trap dumb, wandering skeletons. Even now, scraping sounds carry from several of the pits, where dumb bags o’ bones are trying to claw their ways out.

Flux A.

Description: Small gargoyles and other statues punctuate the stonework. Every so often, when you look away, the bones here rearrange themselves.

Size: 3

1. 2d4 students from the Necrotic Praxeum. They’re either on their way to, or returning from, a supply run in the city above.

2. A door made of pink flesh. A supernatural darkness obscures the room beyond, refusing to allow any light to penetrate. The room beyond can only be navigated by touch. It is soft and fleshy, with a slimy mucus seeping in through the floor and walls. The room is deep, but does not seem to contain anything interesting. Each turn, there is a 1-in-4 chance that 2d20 goblins will come flooding out of this room, and out into the catacombs beyond. If the room is harmed, this flood may be prevented for a few days. If it is harmed severely, the room may be killed, and the goblins will cease to be born from it.

3. The Goblin Market, where all manner of oddities are for sale. There’s jars full of eyeballs, armors, buttplugs, and a whole shop dedicated to selling various styles of 10′ poles. (That last one is having a blowout sale. They’re overstocked). No violence is allowed at the Goblin Market.

4. 2d6 + 4 goblins, which have just finished killing a group of three human adventurers. The goblins are in the midst of organizing the adventurer’s equipment, and slicing off meat from the adventurer’s bodies.

5. A randomly determined member of the party trips. They flail their hands, and grab on to a leg bone that’s sticking out from the wall of the catacombs. Unexpectedly, it turns down, as though it were a lever, and a secret door swings open. Beyond is a room with a plinth in it, and a skeleton wearing golden armor.

The armor is incredibly valuable, but whomever takes it from this place is cursed. Any building they sleep in has a 1-in-6 chance of catching fire in the night.

6. A map to a Vampire’s lair is sketched onto the wall. Next to it are the words “PLEASE KILL ME.”

Flux B.

Description: A green ooze seeps from between the stacked bones, dribbling onto the floor and disappearing into the cracks. Many of the rooms contain abandoned camps. Apparently this area was once more heavily settled by homeless people, which have since left for whatever reason.

Size: 4

1. 2d6 + 5 highly capable troops of the Skeletal Vanguard. One of them is working on a map of the area, while the others are holding weapons at the ready to kill any meat-people they bump into.

2. A little shop, built into an alcove in the wall. It has a bar, some stools, and a sign which reads Durza’s Drugporium! Durza herself is a squat, fat old woman. She’s coy about how she survives down here, and she sells the best drugs you’re ever likely to get your hands on, at cut rate prices.

3. A fountain swarming with fairies, all of whom are men. They’ll offer to cure anyone who is injured, only revealing after the fact that they require blowjobs in return. And you’ve gotta swallow, ‘cuz that’s the part that will heal your wounds. To add insult to injury, their vaunted curative abilities amount to a single hit point of restoration.

4. A finely ornamented Victorian parlor, with all the fashionable amenities. There’s a fire going in the fireplace, fresh biscuits on a tray, and several comfortable looking lounge chairs arranged in a conversation circle.

The chairs are alive, and will attempt to eat anyone who sits in them.

5. 2d4 + 2 goblins fighting with 2d4 + 2 skeletons.

6. A very obvious lever, built into the floor. There’s writing on the handle which reads “Pull for treasure!” If pulled, nothing happens.

Flux C.

Description: Apparently there’s an underground river running nearby, because there are fountains everywhere, pumping cool clean water, despite the fact that none of this has been maintained in centuries.

Size: 3

1. 1d4 skeletons who are wandering away from the Necrotic Praxeum. They’re dumb, and clumsy, but do have basic life-destroying instincts, and will try to attack any living creatures they encounter.

2. 2d6 + 6 soldiers of the Skeleton Vanguard. One is mapping, while the rest seek out dumb skeletons to recruit, and fleshlings to kill.

3. If the players found and pulled the lever in Flux B.6, they will a door here, with a plaque on it that reads: “Congratulations, lever puller!” Within is a chest containing two bags, each olding 500 silver pieces each. If its been more than a day since the players pulled the lever, the chest may already have been looted. If the players haven’t pulled the lever at all, there won’t be any door. They’ll just have the vague sense that they’re missing out on something cool.

4. A forge, with a bellows and an anvil. The air his hot, and rings with the blows of hammer against metal. Weapons of war are being forged here by…snakes. Snakes, holding hammers in their mouths, and slithering around with buckets of water on their backs. Thousands of them are here, working together. If the players bother them, they will scatter into little holes in the wall, and wait for the players to leave.

5.Garrison Renuar, a 325 year old Vampire, sitting on the edge of his coffin with his head in his hands. Garrison wants to die. Life is dull, and he doesn’t really like killing people. However, the vampire which birthed him is still alive, and he is incapable of killing himself of his own free will without permission from his ‘parent.’ He will beg anyone who meets him to try and kill him, but is obligated to fight his best to stay alive.

6. A nearby fungus growing into the corpse of a wizard has been mutating out of control for awhile now. Recently (as in, last week), it began to produce a race of mushroom people: squat, 2′ high mushrooms with eyes, mouths, and feet. These new creatures don’t really know what to do with themselves. They haven’t developed a language or a society yet, though they are intelligent enough to do so. For now, they’re just following their fungus instincts, but those aren’t really taking advantage of their new mobility and intellect.

Dungeon Mist

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It might be found in any dungeon. A thick white mist, singed with blue, and so cold it leaves dew on your skin. It rests in every room and corridor like gentle water–rising into little tidal riots anytime a door swings open. The changing level of the floor causes its depth to vary between your knee and your chest.

If you’re short enough to breathe the stuff, it acts as a mild hallucinogen. You’ll see colorful specters of the dead around you, watching with silent, stoic hatred. At least you tell yourself they’re hallucinations. They aren’t, though. Not really.

In some dungeons, things move beneath the mist. Creatures like Goblins, Kobolds, Halflings, Gremlins, and other various diminutive subspecies. The haunting specters are a small price to pay for this perfect advantage against the hated tallfolk. Anything on the short and nasty side gets a 4-in-6 chance to surprise when walking through the dungeon mist. When fighting, short creatures have concealment.

There is a current to the mist. An undertow you may never realize is moving you if you’re not careful. While walking through corridors, you won’t notice it. Nor will you notice it when examining an object within the environment. It’s so subtle that you’ll just naturally shift your feet to compensate, keeping the object of your focus within view. If, however, you find yourself distracted. If you stop to have a conversation, or engage in combat, then the mist will move you slowly. The referee should move the party about 10′ per round / conversational exchange. The current is clever enough to avoid closed doors, and to slip its victims through small or distinct spaces with great subtlety.

Periodically, a massive wave of mist will rise and flow unchecked through the corridors of the dungeon. The best way to represent this is to add this wave to the encounter table.

Characters might be granted a single round of movement to attempt to dive for safety, or possibly just a save versus Breath to grab onto some nearby object. Otherwise, they will be picked up and tumbled along with the wave, until you are cast off from it in some completely different part of the dungeon. The new location should be determined by whatever the referee finds most amusing, and the mist is under no obligation to release each character in the same place.

Being carried off by the mist will also affect a character’s mind for a time, causing them to suffer a brief madness:

  1. When you close your eyes, instead of blackness, you see another world. You’re standing over the rotting corpse of a murdered child. The body is in a little hut on the edge of a forest village, lit only by candlelight. If you keep your eyes closed you can look around this world, and if you move you will see yourself moving through this world (though your body is still bounded by whatever environment you’re actually present in).
  2. You have been clapped in irons. None of your companions can see your restraints, they might insist that you’re imagining it, but your companions are wrong. If your restraints were fake, you would be able to move your hands more then a foot apart from each other. You’d be able to take strides that covered more than a few inches at a time. Your companions must be the ones who are crazy!
  3. You hear the overwhelming sound of dozens of wailing babies. It drowns out any other sounds you might want to hear (or not want to hear, as the case may be).
  4. Suddenly everything becomes clear. Fragments of conversation connected to brief moments of wakefulness half-remembered after you laid down to sleep last night. Your companions stayed up late to meet in secret. Specifically intending to exclude you and only you while they shared a delicious cake. Your favorite kind of cake! They laughed about it too. About what a fool you were, and how happy they were that you would not have any of the cake. Well…you’ll show them! YOU’LL SHOW THEM!
  5. You are a cat. You have cat concerns, and cat thoughts, and will pursue cat pursuits.
  6. Apparently while ya’ll were trapped in that stupid mist, all of your friends decided to put on scary masks. You do not like them. They are scary. You should tell your friends to take them off. If they refuse, well god damn it, you should just pull the damn things off.

    (Your friends are not actually wearing masks)

    (You just don’t like their faces.)

    (I wrote this entire thing while drunk.)

    (I should probably wait to post it so I can edit it while I’m sober, but I’m not gonna do that.)

Deadly Dungeons 30 / Magical Marvels 29: The Treasure Chest Card

treasurechestcardThere are two rooms, empty, with identical features. They share a ~3’ thick common wall. The only entrance to either room is on the wall opposite the common wall. Ideally, there should be no obvious path from one to the other. After players find the first room, they should need to pass through several unrelated areas before they can reach the second one.

The common wall between the two rooms has a slit in it. It’s 1’ long horizontally, and 2” wide vertically. Big enough for an arrow to fit into perhaps, but not an arm or a spear. The slit goes all the way through to the adjacent room.

When characters look through the slot, there appears to be a chest sitting in the center of the other room. However, when they reach that room, they’ll find it just as empty as the first room was. But if they look through the slot from this room, they’ll see that the same chest now appears to be in the opposite room. If there are players in both rooms, they’ll both see the chest in the room opposite the one they are in, but will not be able to find it in their own room.

Spells such as “True Seeing” or “Detect Magic” will reveal nothing, because there’s absolutely nothing magical about any of this. The chest is a sophisticated, but completely mundane, optical illusion. In the center of the slit between the two rooms is a tiny card with a chest painted onto both sides of it. If the card is fished out and examined, the ‘lid’ opens like an envelope. Inside is a 2” x 3.5” white card. In bold printed letters it reads “This card is proof that the task has been completed.”

If the card is given to anyone who has assigned a task to the players, that person will accept it as incontrovertible proof that the task was completed. No amount of logic will ever convince this person that the players failed. Their brain will fold over on itself to find ever more ridiculous explanations for evidence to the contrary, and they will go completely insane rather than believe the task remains incomplete. Further, anyone they show the card to will similarly agree that it incontrovertible.

If the king points to his adviser standing 5’ away and says “I want you to bring me my adviser’s head on a plate,” and the players instead hand the king this card, the king will say “Excellent! My adviser’s head on a plate! Exactly what I wanted. Here’s the reward I promised you.” All the while, the adviser is still standing 5’ away shaking in fear. If this is pointed out to the king, he’ll assume he’s seeing his adviser’s twin brother, or his adviser’s ghost. He may be annoyed that he now needs to hire a ghost hunter, but that’s not really the PC’s fault, now is it?

The card only works once. If the players endeavor to steal the it back, then whomever they give it to next will still view it as proof of whatever first task it was used for. So if the players were to give it to a farmer who needed his lost child rescued from orcs, he would be horrified when the players handed him the royal adviser’s head on a platter.

Deadly Dungeons 29: The Weathered Door

Weathered DoorOf late, I’ve been trying to work on creative tricks and traps which don’t rely quite so much on magic. Which isn’t to say I don’t like magic. A look back through previous deadly dungeons posts will show just how much I love the idea of insane wizards making fucked up nonsense because they don’t have anything better to do with their immense power. But I feel as though I’ve relied too heavily on magic as a crutch in my game design, so I’m trying to push myself to create interesting challenges which could be crafted by thieves, or primitive peoples.

This door will probably make the most sense if it is in a windswept, possibly sandy location. Somewhere that wood would be stripped without being damaged to the point of being structurally unsound.

This is a wooden double door. It is clearly dilapidated, the wood has deep grooves in it and splinters easily, but is still quite sturdy. Each of the two doors has horizontal metal handles. On each door, above the handles, are two vertical strips which are clearly discolored from the rest of the door. It’s obvious something was once there but is not any longer.

A cursory examination of the handles will reveal that there is blue paint on the parts of it which are protected from the weather. Closely examining the discolored vertical lines on the door will also reveal small flecks of blue paint there. They are small enough that a person would need good light to see them, and cannot be rushed.

If pulled, the handles do not open the door. In fact, they are not even connected to the door. They are instead fitted to small panels in the wood. These panels are well crafted enough that only a successful search roll will find them. Once removed, the panels release small gas canisters which instantly blast anyone standing within 5ft of the door, requiring them to make a save versus poison. Fortunately, this gas is very old and should have been replaced long ago. On a failed poison save, roll 1d6 to determine the effect:

  1. Death.
  2. A permanent 1d6 reduction of a random stat (roll 1d6).
  3. A permanent reduction of 1 to a random stat (roll 1d6).
  4. The character becomes violently ill, and becomes completely incapacitated for 2 weeks. After this time, no ill effects are suffered.
  5. The character spends 10 minutes being violently ill. The noise, and the smell, attract a nearby monster.
  6. The victim’s body actually reacts well to the aged poison, and they heal 1d6 damage.

If the characters instead turn the handles before pulling them–so that the horizontal handle is instead vertical, the panels will lock in place. This will allow characters to open the doors safely. The fact that the handles can turn is not immediately obvious, as the pivoting point has become jammed with debris. But once the characters decide to make an effort to turn the handle, it can be done with only minor difficulty.

Deadly Dungeons 28: Ladder Conundrum

LadderCrankIf it isn’t clear, this is a vertical map. Also it is not to scale.

The first thing the players are liable to notice in this room is the crank. It’s large, with a bit of rope wrapped around it. The end of the rope disappears into a hole in the floor. If the players choose to look around, they’ll discover a fairly obvious trap door. It’s much too small for a human, or even a halfling, to fit through, and there is no easy means of opening it. (Though a bit of prying will yield results).

If the players are able to screw up their courage to fiddle with the mysterious crank, and turn it, it will pull more rope out of the ground. Simultaneously, a ladder will begin to rise from beneath the trap door. The ladder is made of wood, and wobbles a little, but will not break unless put through undue stress.

The crank can be turned until the top rung of the ladder reaches a height of 200 ft–just high enough for it to be equal with a small alcove high on the wall which leads to other areas of the dungeon.

Unfortunately, while this alcove is normally open, turning the crank below causes a heavy sliding door to descend from the ceiling. This door has no handholds, and is flush with the walls around it. Players on the top rung of the ladder will find no purchase for a grappling hook. And lifting the 300lb door while standing on the top rung of the ladder would be a feat of exceptional difficulty.

The door and the ladder move relative to one another, so that the door is not completely open until the ladder is all of the way down, and it is not all the way closed until the ladder is extended to it’s maximum height. The door, however, is only 6ft tall. So when the ladder is at half-height (100ft), the door will only be open 3ft; when the ladder is at three-quarters height (150ft), the door will only be open 1.5ft; etc.

I’m curious to experiment with this room. It clearly works best as a low level challenge, since high level characters will have access to spells and ability which will make overcoming this room child’s play. However, I honestly can’t think of a good way for 1st or 2nd level characters to overcome this challenge.

Anybody have any ideas?

Deadly Dungeons 27: Undead Disposal Chamber

Undead Disposal ChamberThere are two entrances to this room, but the players are extremely unlikely to find the alternate entrance. It is usually obscured from view and out-of-the-way, intended to be found only by those it ensnares. It is much more likely that players will find the entrance to the termination chamber–a place this room’s designers enjoyed frequenting themselves to drink beer and laugh at the undead who fell into their trap.

In the center of the main room is a large pillar of green gelatin, with several dead bodies deteriorating within it. The stench of it fills the room with an acrid smell, like burning plastic. This pillar is completely and infallibly fatal to all undead creatures. Even a creature who can normally escape mundane destruction cannot escape the doom of the pillar. For example, if a lich were destroyed here, their phylactery (wherever it might be) would burst into flames.

Spaced around the pillar are four magically animated ropes, ending in lassos. They are attracted to movement, and will pounce like coiled snakes on anything which moves within the room. Those who are targeted must make a save v. palatalization, or be tangled by the lasso. Once tangled, the character must make a strength check each round to avoid being drawn 10′ closer to the pillar. The ropes have 15hp, are magically hardened, and self-repairing. They can only be damaged by slashing or cutting weapons (piercing or bludgeoning weapons are ineffective). The ropes ignore 2 points of damage from any attack, and heal 1d4 hp each round–even if completely severed. It is unlikely to come up, but the ropes are also partially ethereal, allowing them to tangle incorporeal creatures.

To the side of the room, a ramp leads down to a small secondary chamber with railings along the walls perpendicular to the ramp. (On my map, these are the north and south walls). Embedded in one wall is a skull carved from a massive ruby, with a strange black liquid flowing over its surface in defiance of gravity. Living creatures who stand in the presence of this object immediately become ill, and must make a saving throw versus poison or vomit on the spot. It is a powerful talisman of negative energy, and provides an irresistible draw to any undead creature which passes within 100 miles. Opposite this talisman is an iron door, standing open, leading out into a cave.

The floor of this room is a very sensitive pressure plate. Whenever it detects any weight, the iron door will close automatically, and seal itself until the room no longer detects weight. Once closed, the wall opposite the ramp will begin to move, forcing whatever is in the room to move out onto the ramp, and within range of the lassos.

The various devices and traps in these rooms are likely to give players a clear impression that the pillar of gelatin is deadly. However, this is only true if you’re an undead creature! For the living, the pillar produces mostly positive (if unpredictable) effects. Roll 2d6 for any living player who ends up inside the pillar:

2. The next time your character would die, they are instead returned to full health, with any of their ailments removed.

3. You, and every ally within 100ft of you, gain a +2 bonus to saving throws.

4.  The next time you would be level drained by an undead creature, you instead gain one level. This only works once.

5. Undead of 5 HD or less will always cower before you.

6. Your maximum hit points is permanently increased by 10 + your current level.

7. Any undead creature you touch (with your flesh, not your weapons) takes 1d8 damage. This damage is applied if undead deal damage to you with their hands / mouths / other body parts.

8. You become entirely immune to disease.

9. 8 hours of sleep will always be enough to completely restore your HP. It will not heal other ailments.

10. By giving an undead creature a hard stare, you force it to make a save versus magic at a -4 penalty, or cower before you.

11. You begin to age in reverse. You will regress back to 15 years of age (one year at a time), then switch back to normal aging again. There are no negative physical or mental effects of the age regression.

12. Undead creatures who touch you must make a save versus magic or be destroyed. You still take damage as normal, but suffer no ill effects from the creature’s powers or abilities. Note that there is no effect if you touch the undead. They must touch you of their own volition.

An unfortunate side effect of the gelatin is that it produces cancerous tumors in living subjects. Fortunately, these tumors grow very slowly, and will take 100 years to kill someone. Each subsequent use of the pillar after the first, however, divides the number of years by 4. (25 on second use, 6.25 years on third use, 1.5 years for the third use, and so on). It is left to the GM’s imagination what toll the cancer should take on the player.

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