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The Cabal of Eight Pt.14: The Under-City Vaults Pt.4

They stood around the smoking wreckage of the animated bronze brazier. The accursed thing had Lesser Chimerablasted them with fire missiles and slammed its metal body against them like a bludgeon. Athfonia (Played by Perla) had taken up the large flanged bronze mace (see Cabal of Eight Pt.12: The Under-City Vaults Pt.2). Fauna (Played by Jenn) and Excor (Played by Cris) had leveled lightning bolts at it but it was finally blasted to bits by Gornix’s (Played by Gil) Chrono-Missiles.  Standing around the ruined construct they realized that they all were “out of spells” and badly hurt. They needed to rest.

They contemplated the wall of force that filled the green arch in the chamber’s west wall. It was all that separated them from their quarry. A dark set of steps that angled down through the doorway in the north but they “weren’t ready for that yet”. The Dungeon Heart’s proximity was wearing on them. They considered a Mini-Portal but realized that even if the spell worked the gem was still too far away. In addition, both Excor and Gornix, the only two left with the ability to cast any spells in that vein, had already spent almost all of their K.O. points to continue casting spells beyond their limits.

Cris: “Man. If I cast another spell I’m down!”

Gil (disappointedly): “Yeah, me too.”

After quite some time they decided to go back to the chamber with the heavy table where the books on it had attacked them (see Cabal of Eight Pt.13: The Under-City Vaults Pt.3)(R12 on the map). They were going to barricade the north passage in that room using the heavy table within.

After backtracking and barricading themselves in, they set down their bedrolls and Fauna applied healing salves to both Excor and Gornix to speed healing. Athfonia used her last few spells to cast Heal Other on Fauna, Excor, and Gornix. They took watch in shifts and slept. Surprisingly they got a peaceful full ‘night’s’ rest. They choked down some trail rations, moved the heavy table aside, and continued north to the dark staircase with renewed vigor.

Fortunately, Gornix was able to discern, by jabbing it with his staff, that the first step was hinged and would give way if more than around 10 lbs. of pressure were applied to it. They continued with Gornix in the lead. He tapped every step so they proceeded somewhat slowly down the first flight. Then arriving on a landing they proceeded by the same method down the next short flight down heading east. Just before he stepped into the chamber before him, Gornix smelled the strong scent of concentrated sewer gas.

Szoosha (pushing past Gornix): “I got this!”

The naga threw flames into the chamber setting the air alight. They could hear the hiss-thump of the fire evacuating into a larger chamber beyond.

The newly singed chamber was barren with a domed ceiling where traces of paint could still be seen. The air was heavy and damp tinged with the stench of sewer water and sea brine. An empty niche lay to the east and a passage lay open to the north. The smooth stone walls were covered in perspiration and exhibited a high water mark at the waist.

They took the north passage finding themselves moving into a large cavern where the southern walls were roughly hewn as was the doorway that exited into it. On either side of the doorway were empty torch sconces still burning with illusory torchlight lending an eerie atmosphere to the natural cavern. The entire north part of the cavern sunk into water, a brackish impenetrable green and pungent mix of seawater and sewage. Before that, a trash strewn gravel beach. Across the water to the far west, they could see torchlight through a doorway atop a stone platform just above the water line.

Gornix decided to “scout out” the shoreline to try detecting any threats. Athfonia figured it a good idea to follow him. A soon as he got close to the water a large lump of blue-green slime slopped out of the water and tried to engulf him.

Athfonia, still wielding the bronze mace, struck the gelatinous thing with some effect. The creature shot out a tentacle at Athfonia but it fortunately missed. Gornix cast chrono-missile at it dealing some damage and then quickened a Ghost Form spell to protect himself. Fauna cast a lightning bolt at it dealing a little damage and Excor hit it with a bolt from his copper spike but it dealt no damage. The creature again tried to engulf Gornix but passed right through his incorporeal form. Gornix then leveled a chrono-missile at it and a lightning bolt dealing a bit of damage to it.

The sea-slime tried to engulf Athfonia but the amazon nimbly dodged it. Excor hit it with another bolt from his spike this time dealing some damage to it and Gornix finished it with another Chrono-missile. Afterwards as the slime melted into the gravel, they realized some of them would be swimming from this point over to the landing.

Gornix: “So. Who goes first?”

Szoo volunteered to swim himself and Fauna (who couldn’t swim) to the landing. He transformed into a large sea turtle, fauna put her cloak into his beak, and they were off. The others watched as they disappeared under the dirty water. It was a little while until they realized the druidess and black-scale naga were in trouble as they failed to surface.

Under the dark waters, a strong current had snatched a hold of the sea turtle and was dragging him straight down into an unknown abyss. The current might pull them out into the ocean somewhere near the harbor or it could drag them down into a deep complex of sea caves where the daylight has never and will never shine. Suddenly, Szoo felt a strong grip on his shell. He and his passenger were pulled up until they finally broke the water’s surface.

Athfonia had dove into the drink and miraculously blindly grabbed (Perla rolled a Natural 20) a hold of the sea turtle and was able to swim them to the platform. Gornix and Excor had already flown over each using the Nature’s Ability spell.

Fauna decided to lead, in part to get the furthest away from the water, and began using her staff to tap her way up the steps into flickering firelight. The steps went up and the passage bent at a landing lit with magic firelight that danced just above empty iron torch sconces. They continued around the bend arriving in an unlighted and barren chamber approximately 10 foot by 15. The painted plaster disintegrated off onto the floor from the sweaty and water-stained walls. There was only a single passage open to the south.

After Gornix searched for hidden compartments and secret doors (he found nothing), he decided to take lead. They moved into the next chamber via a short passageway. Gornix cautiously entered followed by each of the others except Excor. The young mages gathered into a group at the western end of the room leaving Excor in the hallway.

The rusted iron candle sconces around the top edge of the walls burst to light with flickering magic flames that were obviously illusory. The candle flames burned sans any candles and flickered within dense tangles of spider webs without ever setting them alight.

The chamber was startlingly dry with the floor covered in a thick layer of gray dust and cobwebs wafting and dangling from every surface. Above there was a 12 foot high vaulted ceiling and a thick round stone pillar at the west and east ends. Empty niches lined the walls each tall enough for an adult human. At the center of the room sat a large statue similar to another one they had already left behind in the other part of the dungeon. It too appeared as a crouching lion with a scorpion’s tail. However, it was larger and covered in layers of dust and cobwebs so that they couldn’t even determine from what material it had been made. On the floor around it was inscribed a magic circle glowing with uncanny blue light. Beyond that in the east wall was an archway that led into yet another chamber.

Excor curious at the mention of a magic circle moved into the room and identified the spell at a distance. Some sort of suspended animation spell. He was sure it was currently active. Therefore, desperate to check for secret compartments at the other end of the room Gornix circumnavigated the magic circle.

The others began to follow with Excor at the rear. The eerie blue light from the magic circle went out. Suddenly, the room exploded with dust blinding Excor and Gornix. The creature that stood at the center of the room appeared as an ultra-red lion but with a scorpion’s tail and a similarly armored back. Its bulging eyes burned green like fiendish emeralds each as big as a fist. The magic circle had been holding a minor chimera in suspended animation. Their trespass had awakened the guardian creature.

Fauna paralyzed and speechless with fear found her inner strength and shook it off. Excor splashed his face with his water-skin to wash out his eyes. Athfonia immediately cast Lightning Bolt at the monster singing its blood red hair black. Gornix stumbling blindly backward away from the creature splashed water from his water-skin into his eyes. Szoosha took no action, as he stood there terrified in the face of the beast. The chimera jabbed Athfonia with its tail stinger wounding and poisoning her.

Fauna swung at the creature with her staff but it bounced harmlessly from its weird hide. Gornix cast neutralize poison on Athfonia. Szoosha also found his inner strength and shook off the horror pulling his superior quality dagger. The monster raked Athfonia with its black claws tearing open a nasty and bloody wound in her side. This forced the Ferenoi to make a recovery check to prevent death. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile wounding it. The chimera snapped its powerful jaws at Fauna whom parried the bite with her staff (barely).

Fauna cast Lighting Bolt on the monster but it resisted the effects of the spell. Szoo slashed at the monster with his dagger notching its hide. Excor shot an electrical bolt from his copper spike but the creature resisted that spell as well. The monster’s deadly tail struck Szoo in the chest. The naga was able to resist the primary effects of its venom. Gornix summoned three medium sized earth elementals their stone bodies rising from the floor as if from smoke. They instantly snatched the beast in their stony grip. The young mages essentially beat it to death after with their staffs.

With the beast dead Gornix immediately ordered his elementals through the archway and into the eastern chamber from which they could see the glare of a familiar glow. The white light of the Dungeon Heart. Meanwhile Excor tried but failed to sever the scorpion tail from the chimera. He was distracted from his work when in the other chamber one of the elementals fell into a trap door at the center of the room.

Gil: “But the other two are fine right?”

Seeing that the other two of his elementals hadn’t triggered any traps. Gornix guided the rest of the young mages into the eastern chamber careful to take the same path.

They moved carefully into the next chamber. It was decked out in all white marble tiling. The only features of note being an empty niche in the north wall and a familiar green marble archway in the south. Through this green archway they could see their prize glittering in the green cell. Fauna used her staff to check to see if yet another Wall of Force would block their progress.

Fauna (stirring the air): “It’s CLEAR!”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.13: The Under-City Vaults Pt.3

Athfonia (played by Perla) lunged with her spear at the monster but missed. Excor (played by Cris), The vault map with each doorwhom was only about 5 feet from it, cast Spook. Fortunately the spell took hold and the creature was loath to approach much less attack him. Fauna (played by Jenn) tried to cast Sleep on the serpent but it was of no use. Gornix (played by Gil) cast Invisible to Sight on himself. Szoosha (played by Isis) summoned forth his flaming naginata and struck the serpentine creature wounding it. The serpent monster swung the spiked mace enwrapped in one of its 3 tails. Gornix parried the blow easily.

Surprised as to the ineffectiveness of his invisibility spell, Gornix drew his short-sword then cast Brighten Blade on it. Szoosha swung his flaming weapon at the monster but it parried the burning blade with its mace. The black scaled naga then took a few steps back to try to get beyond the serpent’s reach. The monster struck at Gornix with its fangs but it missed.

The young wizard replied with his gleaming sword but also missed. Then the creature struck at Szoo with its venomous fangs and sank its teeth deep into the naga’s flesh. Its poison weakened Szoo and made even the slightest movement agony. It then swung the club in another of its tails at Fauna who parried it with her dagger. It then struck at her trying to poison her as well. Fortunately for Fauna it missed.

Its third tail cracked at Athfonia like a bullwhip but the amazon knocked it aside with her spear.

The creature bit Gornix. Excor meanwhile cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo. Fauna tried to cast Throw Fire at the beast but the spell fizzled. Gornix struck despite the venom coursing through his veins hacking a bloody wound into its side. The young mage seemed unaffected by the poison (he had natural 20’d the save). Athfonia cast Neutralize Poison on Fauna. Szoosha stabbed the snake-monster wounding it again. No longer affected by Excor’s Spook spell, the monster swung its mace at him. It missed. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at the creature injuring it. He then quickened another round of chrono-missiles blasting the man-sized snake to bits.

The strange three-tailed snake-thing and its weapons disappeared in a flash of magic light. This was when Fauna realized that she hadn’t recovered her staff. She never picked it back up after fumbling it in the fight with the spiders (see Pt.11: The Under-City Vaults Pt.1).  So she backtracked it to the gallery with Szoo in tow easily finding her weapon in a wall niche tangled in cobwebs and insect husks.

Gornix cautiously moved down the short hallway to the west to peer into the chamber to its south. The room was decked out entirely in polished white marble tiles with an archway in its south wall that presumably exited into a short hallway on the other side. Against the west wall however was a statue.

The statue was of an ancient and stern-faced aged wizard balancing on his staff and though it was just painted marble it had a life-like semblance. Tipping the black lacquered staff in its right hand was a sparkling red gem possibly a ruby. The statue’s left arm was out stretched with his left thumb pointed to the floor.

Gornix and Excor debated as to whether or not the gem or even the staff might be worth the risk of an obvious trap. While they did this Athfonia unilaterally decided to march in there and snatch the gem herself. Needless to say as soon as she got to the center of the room about 5 ft. from Gornix the floor dropped open. Beneath the surprised Ferenoi was a deep pit filled with a pungent mixture of salty seawater and wretched sewer wash. Just above the putrid brine protruded the tips of corroded and rusted iron spikes. Her quick reflexes allowed her to gain a fleeting grip with her fingertips on the edge. Gornix immediately jumped forward and grabbed her wrists helping her up from the foul mouth of the pit.

They decided the room and its potential treasures weren’t worth the risk. The majority of the group was puzzled as to how to bypass the trapdoor room when Excor simply pushed the closed bronze riddle-door open.

Excor: “It only locks from the other side man! Ha ha ha!”

It was then the druid and the naga rejoined the group.

The group backtracked through the room with the ruined bronze armor into the hall to the east of that chamber. They moved through a small square chamber (room 12 on the map) with cobwebs adorning its ceiling and dirt strewn across its floor. Continuing east they moved into a larger chamber (room 13).

As soon as Gornix, who was leading the group now, stepped across the threshold the chamber was magically lit. The chamber was fairly clean with only a marble tile floor, empty niches in the north and south wall, and an open passage continuing east. Dominating the center of the room was a large superior quality red coral statue of a roaring lion with a scorpion’s tail. In each of its eyes was set sparkling emeralds each as big as a fist.

Excor immediately tried to pry out the left eye with his dagger but found he was simply too weak to do so. Fauna was trying at the right but she too wasn’t strong enough. Pushing them both out of the way Athfonia pulling out her dagger gave a try to each but also failed.

Meanwhile Gornix looked into the eastern chamber and saw that this chamber was torchlit with an illusion from the torch sconces so that the long disintegrated tapestry and portrait frame still cast shadows on the walls. There was an open archway to the north. At the center of the room sat a superior quality carved oak table with a high backed chair behind it. Atop the table were set four thick heavy bound books.

Fauna failed twice more to pry the emeralds from the red lion’s eyes. Gornix meanwhile tempted by the massive tomes on the table moved into the eastern chamber keeping his eyes open for any obvious traps.

Gornix: “I’m staying alert and walk in but I don’t touch the books!”

Cris (to me, the GM): “Books huh? I follow Gornix!”

Fauna, taking prying at least one gem as a challenge, forced her dagger point into a near non-existent seam between the gem and the red coral. Athfonia backed away cautiously and silently, careful to leave at least 5 feet between her and Fauna. Eventually Fauna, nearly breaking her dagger, broke the right emerald free. The cold gem plopped into her palm and she was struck in the face with poisonous powder.

Fortunately the druidess suffered only some stiffness in her joints and muscles being able to resist the meaner effects of the toxin. Meanwhile in the eastern chamber Excor upon seeing the tomes on the table immediately snatched at the closest one.

Gil (face palming): “You could not resist could you?!”

Cris: “Hey man! We’re wizards! Those’re books! So sue me! Am I right!?”

Athfonia and Fauna stumbled into the room the moment Excor put his hand on a book. Seeing all of the books beginning to stir Athfonia cast a spell.

The Ferenoi cast Throw Flames at the stack of books but the fiery ray missed. Fauna also cast Throw Flames scorching the first book as it took flight. All four books took flight in the air and flapping their covers much like wings sprayed the group with pages and shards of paper as sharp as razors. Excor took some minor damage but the wounds began bleeding uncontrollably. Athfonia managed to avoid the storm of leaves. Two of the books peppered Gornix. He also took some slashes from the enchanted paper and began to gush blood all over the dusty floor.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile blasting the second book to ashes. Szoosha readied in case anything would emerge from the north archway. The first book slammed into Excor bruising him somewhat. A third flew at Athfonia but missed her by a hair. The fourth flew at Gornix barely missing him. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile two more times each time blasting a flying book to pieces. Using his spell-slinger feat Gornix cast a final Chrono-Missile eliminating the final book.

With the immediate threat vanquished Excor tried to perform first aid to stop Gornix’s bleeding but failed. As Gornix saw that he was bleeding out fast he grudgingly cast Close Wounds on himself instantly stopping the blood.

Gil (in response to Jenn): “You know I’m just trying to preserve some spells for the rest of the dungeon.”

Gornix then cast a couple more Close Wound spells on himself as he realized how bad his wounds really were. Gornix then led them under the north archway into a short hallway that ran west for ten feet into another chamber similar in size to the previous (room 15). Again the chamber lit up magically as he stepped into it.

In a niche in the northern wall stood a bronze-wood statue of an Arborean with its hands outstretched and cupped together but with the fingers spread apart. It posed as if pleading for something. Opposite the statue was a marble font with fresh clean water in it that stood in a niche. On the edge of the font was a plain bronze goblet. At the foot of the font was a bucket of loose soil. To the west was a solid bronze door with the same strangely-stern face in relief at its center.

This face however had a right eye of brown agate and the left of sapphire. Just above the face and its jeweled eyes was inscribed the words:

I open for those that feed the beggar.

All but Fauna were puzzled. She took the goblet scooped up the water, poured it in the bucket of soil, and scooped up the mud dumping it into the hands of the statue. The door opened.

Excor immediately went to pry the sapphire from the door but failed. He got Athfonia to do his dirty work and she easily popped the sapphire from its fitting. Surprisingly, this did not trigger a trap. Excor gazed into the next room.

He saw that the room was magically lit with no apparent source and its ceiling, walls, and floor were of polished white marble. At rooms center stood a bronze brazier burning with orange flames. Around its sides were the reliefs of roaring lion heads in all eight directions of the compass. It also had four tall jointed legs that ended in leonine paws. In the south wall was an empty niche. To the north were stone steps through an archway that sank down into darkness. From that passage a pungent and damp breeze blew. To the west however was an archway of familiar green stone. Through it he could see the Dungeon Heart Shinning in its green chamber.

Excor (exhaling in relief): “Okay! I think this is it!”

Before he entered Excor tried to sense if there was any magic emanating from the brazier but his wizard’s sense failed him. He then tried to disbelieve the brazier believing it an illusion. It was real. Gornix in turn tried to sense magic on it and also failed. Feeling a bit impatient Excor just walked in. As nothing happened to him Gornix followed.

While the rest of the group shuffled carefully into the room Gornix cautiously felt out the Wall of Force filling this green arch as well. He looked into the Dungeon Heart’s cell.

Gornix: “There’s another archway we haven’t been to. In the… North.”

As soon as Szoosha, the last in line, slithered across the threshold the orange flames of the lion brazier blazed, its leg joints squealed, and it sprang to life.

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.12: The Under-City Vaults Pt.2

Szoosha the black scaled Naga (played by Isis) continued to lead the group into a smaller chamber The vault map with each dooradjacent to the spider-gallery they had just survived. He burned away the cobwebs that choked this room as well to reveal a roughly 10 x 10 room, barren with a floor strewn with dirt. To the north was another stone staircase winding down.

The naga continued carefully down the steps and around a corner to come to a short hallway which turned west sharply just ahead. Excor (played by Cris) put his lit torch in the iron torch-loop set into the wall at the bottom of the steps before lighting another. There were spider webs covering the ceiling. Szoo set them on fire and after the flash fire a couple of hand sized spiders, burnt crispy, dropped to the floor.

Excor: “HEY! Let us know when you’re gonna do something like THAT!”

Shrugging, Szoosha continued ahead while the rest of the group tried to organize themselves. He saw an open archway to the north from which he could see a constant white light shining from beyond the chamber through it. He could also make out the backlit and squatting form at the center of the room ahead. As that did not move he looked to the west and saw a closed solid bronze door bearing the same strange face in relief at its center. This time the face had two opal eyes.

Having come to a fork in the road the group of young mages debated as to which way to go. The form that Szoo first saw in the other chamber was a kneeling behemoth of bronze plate-mail with a large spiked mace in one gauntlet and a standard flanged mace in the other. The mass of bronze was on one knee and was lacking a head. In place of the neck was a gaping hole rimmed with corrosion that also opened partway onto the chest.

Excor: “If we go that way that thing will get up and KILL us! It’s some kind of construct or golem or something weird. Our magic might not do anything to it!”

Gornix (played by Gil): “How do you know?”

Excor: “Because I do! I know!”

In a similar fashion, they discussed the bronze door to the west, whether to open it and/or pry loose the gems. In turns, they checked the door and trying to sense magic on it. None could get a solid read on it other than it lacked a lock. So they continued arguing about what to do for about a half an hour. Eventually a frustrated Szoo simply opened the door.

Behind the bronze door was a 5 x 5 closet with a shelved alcove in each of its three walls stocked with various vials, jars and bottles. Each sealed with a preservation spell in wax. They found a jar of Mandrake Root, a jar of 6 Blue Lotus Seeds, a jar of 3 Grey Lotus Seeds, a jar of Purple Lotus Seeds, a jar of 8 Mantrap Seeds, a packet of 3 Dragon Teeth, and 4 potions of Healing.

Finding that they had only one way left to go and perhaps emboldened by the extra healing juice they continued north. The chamber before them was about 15 feet by 15 feet with a thick round stone support pillar in each corner. To the west in this room was another bronze door with the same face save the glittering ruby eyes. In the east lay an open but dark passageway. To the north was an archway from behind which a brilliant light source blazed into their eyes. The source, a large blood-red ruby on a white marble pedestal.

Szoosha began to move past the squatting armor towards the brilliant archway. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he caught some movement from within the neck hollow. He leapt to the side. The thing that burbled and oozed from the corroded hollow appeared as a semi-gelatinous blob of blood red slime with several dark patches over it akin to scabs. It was a Red Ichor, a type of slime monster (see MMII).

Athfonia (played by Perla) readied her spear to jab at it if got close to her. Excor shot a bolt of lightning at it with the copper spike to some effect. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile dealing some damage to the strange creature. Fauna (played by Jenn) moved past the squatting armor hoping to be out of the ooze’s path. Szoo threw a blast of fire at it reducing it to a crystalized heap of granules.

Afterward, Excor looted the solid bronze maces with Szoo volunteering to carry one in his pack. Fauna wandered over to the archway. She saw runes carved into the greenish stone all around the edges. After a group-inspection they worked out a constant Wall of Force with no apparent way through filled the archway.

Through the impassible archway they could see their prize, the so-called Dungeon Heart only a few feet away. The chamber where the treasure rested was diamond shaped. Its floor, walls, and domed ceiling were constructed of a polished green marble. There were other archways possibly leading into it to the north, east, and south but in between these were large bronze reliefs of the same face with open, gaping mouths.

After some belly-aching, the group decided to inspect the bronze door in the west wall leaving the dark passage for another time. The door was the same as the previous doors save for the ruby eyes. It also visibly lacked any locking mechanisms but shut tight. It also seemed warded against any kind of magical attempts to see through it or “ghosting”. However, there was a riddle inscribed on it in Ivoran:

I consume all that I touch, without a mouth I roar, by my black touch only I may open this door.

Szoo solved it immediately and conjured some fire, touched the flame to the door, and it opened just as quickly. Szoo slithered into the dark room beyond. It instantly lit up with a magical light its source not readily apparent. The chamber walls, floor, and ceiling were covered in polished white marble tile. An empty wall niche laid to the south, to the north another bronze door, and in the west a narrow short hallway continued west with empty niches and an archway opening north lay at its end.

They inspected the bronze door recessed into the center north wall. It was solid bronze with the relief of the same face though this time with sapphire eyes. In addition, this door was also shut tight with no apparent locking mechanism. The riddle inscribed on it read thusly:

A proper guest knows how to open me.

So Gornix tried to talk to the door receiving no response. Excor used his Social Aptitude skill but to no avail. They stood there for a while trying to figure out the riddle. Still perplexed Gornix then tried to charm the door open. They were truly stumped this time.

The players sat there for a while scratching their heads until Cris excused himself from the table to go to the bathroom. Isis, Jenn, and Gil threw out a few wild guesses before falling into quiet contemplation.

Cris (on his way back to the table from the bathroom): “KNOCK on it! I KNOCK on the door!”

The door swung open after Excor’s rapping.

Cris: “Ha ha! It came to me while I was standin’ there pi$$!n’ ‘We should knock on it!’”

As a group, the young mages moved north into the newly revealed chamber. This chamber was very similar to the previous as its walls, celling, and floor were of white marble. It also lit up with magic light as they entered. To the north was a small empty niche in the wall and to the west, a short hallway that opened to the south. However, to the east was a recessed archway through which blazed a familiar white light.

As soon as the last mage in line, Excor, stepped over the threshold, the door slammed shut and a strange creature materialized at the center of the brightly lit room. This creature was a large serpent whose body split at its rear into six separate tails. Two of these were wielding a club and a spiked mace. The others were lashing the air like whips.

Isis: “What the HELL is that THING!?”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight – Pt.11: The Under-City Vaults Pt.1

The Underlings, after a confusing and circuitous route, led the young mages to the goal. They were in a large sewer tunnel on a narrow walkway above a flowing river of filth. They showed the mages a small hole bored through the slimy brick and mortar wall. Beneath was a thick oak double-door its bronze hardware severely corroded. Fortunately the ratlings had also tunneled through the moldy wood.

The mages also noticed a bricked up archway in the same sewer wall about 5 feet over. Shrugging all climbed through the ratlings’ hole. Beyond was a 10 ft. wide hall. It was damp and smelled of a strange mixture of foul sewer gas and a dry mustiness. Offset from each other and along either of the western and eastern walls were verdigris covered bronze faces with gaping mouths from which orifices dangled spider-webs and streams of slime dripped.

The bronze faces were a stylized representation of a human (the mages hoped) with a strangely blank, stony expression. Ahead of the group at the other end of the hallway was a set of bronze double-doors scaly with green corrosion and each with the same strange face on it though the mouths closed into a straight stern line and fist-sized diamonds set in the eye sockets. However, the face on the left door was missing one of its precious eyes. The damage on the old bronze was obviously new. As a result of the mages noticing this, the ratling leader felt the need to speak.

Dusk (the ratling gang-leader): “One of ours did that. He tried to pry the gem. It’s just cut glass filled with acid. It broke and destroyed one of his arms. Leave the gems alone.”

Excor (to Dusk): “You SURE there’s no traps here?”

Dusk: “Oh yeah, don’t touch the door, a lightning bolt killed another of ours.”

Cris (Excor’s Player)(in a mocking tone directed at me the GM): “Oh yeah, huh? Forgot to tell us about THAT huh!? Yeah I bet damned little ratling.”

So, the mages carefully studied the doors. They were airtight, and shut-tight with no evidence of any locking mechanism. However, they did find an inscription on each of the doors that read:

Often silent, sometimes gentle, and others a hurricane, cities fall to me and only I can open these doors.

Of course, they easily solved the riddle. Athfonia (played by Perla) cast Wind Rush blowing the doors open. It was as the group began to move over the threshold that Excor remembered that he was still badly wounded from the previous two skirmishes. Consequently, he took the center position within their group formation.

Gornix (played by Gil): “Well that was easy.”

Cris: “It was supposed to be. Just keep a lookout. You never know what could happen!”

Szoosha the Black Scael Naga Fire Elementalist (played by Isis) conjured a flame into his palm for light since Excor had lit a torch. They moved into a small 10 by 10 chamber with an empty alcove in the north and eastern walls. In the west was narrow archway opening onto stone steps going down. The floor was a thick layer of dirt and dust possibly over stone. The room choked with dusty cobwebs that dangled from the domed ceiling.

Cris: “Spider webs huh? So there’s giant spiders down here huh?”

Gil: “How do you know?”

Cris: “There’s always spiders.”

The noses and eyes of all of the mages began to burn due to the swamp gas that had collected in the small room possibly over centuries. Suddenly, Szoo’s flame and Excor’s torch exploded with a blinding blast of flame.

Fortunately, no one was injured perhaps though slightly singed. They waited for a few seconds and sniffed at the air before relighting their lights. Meanwhile Gornix lit the crystal on his staff (the crystal being enchanted with the Torch Light cantrip) ‘just in case’. They elected Szoo to lead them for the time being. The naga’s Detection skill was the highest of the group, which wasn’t saying much. Needless to say Szoo was a bit reluctant.

Szoo: “Me!? What about the ratlings!?”

Dusk (waving from the hallway): “Ha! Yer on yer own. We’ll wait for ya here for a couple a’ days before leaving!”

Isis: “What!? They’ll just leave us here!”

Cris: “No. If we don’t come back they’ll assume we’re dead and they won’t come down and check.”

Isis: “Oh. That makes sense.”

After some prodding Szoo reluctantly began to lead the group down the long case of stone steps that sank down into darkness. The room that dimly unfolded before him had a 12 ft. high vaulted ceiling and four thick stone columns standing along its center. There were multiple empty wall niches and a thick netting of dirty spiders’ webs strewn over the whole drastically obscuring his vision. The room also stank strongly of sewer gas.

Isis (Szoo’s player)(referring to the spider webs): “I set them on FIRE! I like to BURN things!”

So of course Szoo threw fire at the cobwebs and not only did most of the webs in the room burst into intense blindingly bright flames but a pocket of sewer gas exploded as well. Szoo was slightly injured by the blast. Webs continued to veil the vaulted ceiling and the far corners of the room however.

The other mages moved into the room one at a time until all of them gathered at one end of the gallery. They slowly began to move forward to the other when Gornix spotted something and alerted the others. It was a large spider’s egg suspended and pulsating between the second and third pillars at about the center of the room.

Excor: “$#!t! BURN it! BURN it now!”

Excor glanced at the niches in the walls nervously. All the while something in the webs above crept over them. Suddenly, a giant black spider dropped onto Szoo’s shoulders sinking its fangs into the naga mage’s scaly flesh. The spider’s venom paralyzed Szoosha as well injuring him.

Szoo: “Um. Guys? I’m a little HURT here!”

Gornix cast Illuminate lighting up most of the room and revealing two more giant black spiders scuttling on the ceiling towards them. Athfonia cast Neutralize Poison on Szoosha in time to negate both the paralysis and the damaging effects of the venom. The third spider leapt at Gornix biting him injecting its paralyzing toxin into his bloodstream. The second spider leapt at Excor but failed critically falling to the floor injuring itself. Excor blasted the second spider with his copper spike further injuring it. The first spider grappled with Szoosha. Szoo tried to shape-shift out of the grapple but failed. Fauna cast Neutralize Poison on Gornix.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at number three. It tried to dodge but got hit anyway suffering moderate injury. The second spider flipped over and sank its black verminous fangs into Excor paralyzing him. The first spider maintained its grip on Szoo and tried to bite him but missed by a hair’s breadth. After that scare, Szoo was able, just barely, to break the grapple and throw the thing off of him.

Gornix let loose more chrono-missiles at number three horribly wounding it. In response, the creature spat webbing at the salt-lotus mage but missed. The second spider crawled onto Excor’s boneless body and number one spat webs at Szoo fortunately also missing its target.

Gornix (using his Spell Slinger feat) cast more chrono-missiles at the third spider. Its verminous body bursting splattering custard-colored crud everywhere as a result.  Its black legs curled and it crumpled into a hideous black ball.

Gornix then cast Neutralize Poison on Excor. Fauna dropped her lantern and whipped her staff at the nearest spider. The staff flying from her hands to clatter into a niche. Spider number two grappled Excor as he tried to move. Spider number one tried to grapple with Szoo but failed to gain a grip. Szoo called forth his flaming naginata. Athfonia pierced the first spider’s abdomen with her spear. Excor tried desperately to break spider number two’s grip.

Cris: “Man, if that thing bites me one more time I’m dust!”

Gornix cast Chrono-Missile on number-two wounding it badly and drew his scimitar. Spider number-two tried to gain a grip in order to try to bite but failed (N1) and fell from Excor. Spider number-one bit Szoo after the naga failed to dodge paralyzing him with its venom his fire weapon fluttering out of existence. This caused Szoo to make a recovery roll to prevent from being killed by the damaging effects of the spider’s poison.

Finally Gornix stepped into the fray and slashed at the second spider hacking the already badly wounded spider in two with his sword. Athfonia lunged at the last spider with her spear impaling it through its abdomen killing it. She pulled her viscera greased spear from its still twitching corpse.

With the battle over Excor cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo and Close Wounds on himself. Athfonia cast Heal Other on both Excor and Szoosha. After first aid, their attentions turned towards the pulsating giant spiders’ egg still in the room. Surprisingly it hadn’t burst during the commotion of the fight. Apparently, it was not yet ready to hatch and release its swarm of deadly young spiders.

Szoo: “I should set it on FIRE!”

The rest of the group (collectively): “NO!”

Therefore, they left the egg unmolested and continued on with a somewhat disappointed Szoosha in the lead. The rest kept their eyes glued to the ceiling as they proceeded.

To Be Continued…

Dungeons

Skulking carefully through a web-choked and shadow-drowned passage, a thick grey sheet of dust over the flagstone floor and the scattered bones probably those of other adventurers hopefully of a lesser skill, watching where you step and hoping the next is not your last propelled onward by the dream of snatching the promised treasure and escaping with your life. This should be familiar to any avid roleplayer even those who’ve only had a cursory experience with the hobby as a description of the prototypical Dungeon Crawl. In these games mazes are crawling with strange and often bizarre beasties for the players to battle and treacherous with traps and pitfalls to impede their progress as well as studded with treasures to tempt them. These mazes are most often constructed of various chambers linked by a confusing network of passageways and corridors not to mention stairwells.

Dungeons, ever present in roleplaying games and sometimes the sole focus of a game, imprison their inmates within a complex or maze of rooms often peppered with an assortment of puzzles/riddles, traps, hazards, treasures, and monsters. In my gaming experience dungeons are always, even if not by intention, a confusing conglomeration of chambers meant to serve as a playing field where characters test their mettle and the players test their cunning against that of the Game-Master or the author of the dungeon. The well-designed fantasy dungeon demands players work as a team, cause characters to take on the roles to which they’re best suited, and pit the Game Master directly against the players though allowing some distance between responsibility and any lethal results within the game. The modern conception of the roleplaying dungeon is not just the fantasy of fulfilling greedy impulses and living out dreams of glory but the path of its evolution and its pedigree down through history makes the fantasy dungeon much more. It is however, a modern invention inspired and informed by certain historical facts, myth, and ideas presented in fiction.

‘Dungeon’ is a colorful word that delivers certain images, sensory information, and can carry certain connotations by its mere mention. It brings to mind not only the medieval justice system but conjures into the imagination skulking enemies, deep and dark chambers dripping with slime and moisture, and such iconic objects as chains & torture collars and hidden treasures. The word itself begs for at least a brief exploration of its etymology. The English dungeon has an etymology that rises from the French donjon (which translates to keep or great tower) but is more akin in usage and meaning to the French oubliette which means literally “forgotten place”. It is probable that since an often small and high chamber in the keep was used to house a prisoner that dungeon became, eventually, synonymous with ‘prison’. Fiction and horror movies would later alloy the imagery of the torture chamber to ‘dungeon’ also adding to its connotations and power of imagery further making it inevitable that the word and the ideas/images that it carried would find its way into fantasy roleplaying games not to mention the use of the word as an indictment of a cramped and/or damp isolated room in which many tabletop gamers would be accused of incessantly playing their games in.

Dungeons in roleplaying games seem to encompass three central ideas which are essential to their composition. These basic ideas are imprisonment, puzzlement (like a physical riddle, a travel puzzle), and exploration (what’s around the next corner). These three ideas also relate very closely to the idea of the maze or labyrinth. Whereas dungeons contemporaneous with tabletop RPG’s are a very new idea the concept of the maze/labyrinth dates back thousands of years into antiquity and definitely has contributed to the modern concept of the dungeon. Mazes themselves do adhere very closely to the three core ideas of dungeons and it is no surprise that many modern dungeons resemble them. The maze as a symbol lends some of its meaning to dungeons and that is the circuitous route of a human life represented in its twisted corridors with dead-ends aptly named.

Inspiration for the titular roleplaying dungeon can be found throughout history and in ancient myth but cannot be pinpointed to any singular instance or structure though several instances carry very obvious components of the modern dungeon. The roleplaying dungeon has its roots in the Egyptian tombs, the European and English hedge-mazes, the myth of the Cretan labyrinth, and the medieval bottle-prison, the oubliette. The Egyptian influence especially where it comes to traps and maze-like tombs is nearly self-evident. The ancient Egyptians employed false rooms, secret doors, and simple traps such as concealed pits, hematite powder (if inhaled it shredded the lungs causing the tomb-raider to drown in their own blood), and used huge granite blocks to secure tomb entrances occasionally inscribed with a death-curse, mostly for effect. The Egyptian tombs fit perfectly in with the idea of Exploration and add a sense of danger and risk to the idea of the fantasy dungeon due to the traps laid for and the cyclopean security measures as proof against tomb-raiders. Not to mention such history-based stories as the Curse of Tutankhamen in modern myth contributing an air of mysticism and mystery to the sense of danger.

As Egyptian tombs carry the idea of exploration, hedge-mazes bear the idea of puzzlement, and the medieval Oubliette carries the core idea of Imprisonment. In the Black Tower of castle Roumeli Hissar, built probably by Alexios Comnenus about 1100 A.D. – “[a] dark passage near the head of the stairway leads to the crown of a deep circular oubliette, which is constructed in the thickness of the wall and has no window or any other entrance than this passage. [A] prisoner impelled along the passage and pushed through the opening would fall in utter darkness to the bottom of the chamber 13 ft. below. This is probably one of the earliest examples of a true oubliette, of which there are very few.” (Toy, Sidney. 1939. Castles: Their Construction and History, 1984 Reprint. New York, Dover Publications Inc. pg.83, Emphasis Mine.) These rather infamous “bottle-prisons” so named due to the bottle-shape of their interiors were probably historically used more for storage than serving as imprisonment as most medieval justice involved execution or fines rather than prison sentences. “Important prisoners, such as members of the nobility, were sometimes held for ransom […] in a castle’s dungeon.” (Cantor, Norman F., ed. 1999. The Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Penguin Putnam Inc. Prisons and Punishment) As a prison these could serve as pretty inescapable cells though they were dirt floored and situated at the base and in the foundations of castle towers making tunneling somewhat impractical.

Hedge-mazes, a particular example being that which figures in the English myth of Fair Rosamond, which existed in Europe and England for hundreds of years, also figure into the evolution of the idea of the modern fantasy dungeon. Though most archetypical RPG dungeons are subterranean and built of stone the maze that was used to keep King Henry VI’s indiscretions with Rosamond hidden from his jealous queen is considered (probably mistakenly) as a maze of evergreens but the fair treasure, often symbolized by a rose, at the center is a key idea which has carried over into the modern concept. The hedge-maze brings with it the puzzle aspect, a puzzle that must be solved and the established goal reached. That English maze concealed not only a prize as it were but also served to keep a secret only available to those who were either cunning or treacherous enough to solve it. Of course, Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, did eventually solve it using a spool of thread to the doom of his young and beautiful mistress very much like Theseus in the maze of the Minotaur but there it was the triumph of the hero and the death of the beast. The Cretan labyrinth, that which contained the Minotaur, probably served as the core inspiration and model of the English myth as it like King Henry’s maze was cleverly built by a master builder, Daedalus but who unlike Louis of Bourbourg, the architect of the English maze, was later forced to escape from a tower prison with his unfortunate son, Icarus. These labyrinth-myths bring to the modern concept the idea of a central prize and that of an occupying monster.

Inspired by history the roleplaying dungeon has been equipped with the imprisonment capability (and escape fantasy) of an oubliette, the complexity of the Cretan maze, and the deliberate dangers of an Egyptian tomb with the puzzle and the game aspect of the hedge-maze. However, it is apparent with a little investigation that the current concept of a roleplaying dungeon is inspired by history but historically a ‘dungeon’ was not existent in its current form even as a prison cell and most probably originated in the Italian Renaissance becoming synonymous with torture chambers and being shaped into the archetypical medieval prison in the gothic novels of the nineteenth century. It seems a modern idea which evolved within the context of the roleplaying game, at least the idea of the treasure-trap laden monster haunted gauntlet certainly is.

The fantasy RPG dungeon’s history can be followed and is somewhat well-documented. The idea itself evolving with the early years of roleplaying games emerging at around the same time as fantasy gaming from the War-Gaming hobby where an opposing army would mine its way under the fortifications of the castle they are sieging into unexpected lower chambers and storerooms which then developed shortly into deliberately constructed gauntlets for heroes to traverse. At about the time of the evolution of roleplaying games from the primordial soup of war-gaming the idea for dungeons began and one of the major influences of course was popular literature especially that authored by J.R.R. Tolkien, namely Moria the Black Chasm. “Some spoke of Moria: the mighty works of our fathers that are called in our own tongue Khazad-dum…too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled.” (Tolkien, J.R.R., 1994 (1966 ed.), The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin Company, SFBC edition. pg.234) No doubt mines have become a type of dungeon within the modern incarnation of roleplaying games among others but they definitely, at least in my mind, are an early inspiration in the development of dungeons in roleplaying.  Of course, that comes with the popular knowledge that Tolkien’s shadow looms large over the early roleplaying games not exclusively involving dungeons and the trend in fantasy fiction of that time (the early to mid-1970’s) so it should be no surprise that the mines of Moria could have added to the concept at its earliest stages. “[T]he creators of D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] were inspired by the empirically detailed fantasy texts of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Lieber and others[.]” (Saler, Michael. 2012. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. Oxford University Press. pg.101) “One of the peculiar developments in the past few decades has been the rise of the “Dungeons & Dragons” and “Magic” industries. These role-playing games are derived directly from epic fantasy. They owe everything to the original writers like [Robert E.] Howard and Tolkien.” (Moorcock, Michael. 2004. Wizardry & Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy. MonkeyBrain Books. pgs.146-147)

The evolution of the roleplaying dungeon can be marked as beginning within the game of Blackmoor written by Dave Arneson. “Arneson…shifted the game from the battlefield of traditional war games into large indoor settings such as castles, caverns, and mines. In one of Arneson’s most successful games, the characters were sent to infiltrate Blackmoor Castle through its sewer to open the gates. … To reach the gate, the character had to traverse the castle’s dungeons, which were full of various guards and monsters. … Similar scenarios became standard for fantasy roleplaying games. The indoor environments of the games were known as “dungeons” regardless of the actual nature or purpose of the space. In 1972, Arneson attended Gen Con in Lake Geneva and ran his Castle Blackmoor scenario for convention goers.” (Laycock, Joseph P. 2015. Dangerous Games. University of California Press. pg.41)  Soon after its debut Dave Arneson would refine and expand his design. “The second issue of the [Blackmoor] Gazette [and Rumormonger], which details events of the late spring of 1972, provides the first mention of the counterintuitive but seminal notion that the “dungeons” beneath Castle Blackmoor were a place where “heroes went looking for adventure and treasure.” By this point, [Dave] Arneson had mapped, on a pad of graph paper, a dungeon six levels deep beneath the castle, with each level containing progressively more formidable adversaries.” (Peterson, Jon. 2012. Playing at the World. Unreason Press LLC. 2012. pg.68) Not soon after a participant in a Blackmoor game would take the idea of the RPG dungeon and run with it.

“[A] Minneapolis local named Louis Fallert attended one of the University of Minnesota Military History Club meetings and there joined a Blackmoor dungeon expedition.” (Peterson. 460) “After playing in Blackmoor, Fallert felt an irresistible urge to adapt and reinvent it for his own use[.]” (Peterson. 460) Mike Wood, who attended the meetings where Fallert unveiled the Castle Keep game writing a commentary of the foray he witnessed: “[He] was directing […] a couple [of] people in a game he’d just put together, sort of a simulation of intrepid heroes wandering around in a dungeon seeking to find treasure and avoiding death at the hands of trolls, orcs and other perils.” (Peterson. 460-461) Again the idea would course down to other players within the gaming community and begin to spread as rules were codified and roleplaying games began to roll out. Craig van Grasstek was one of the three original players that Louis Fallert let into his Castle Keep in 1974 in Minneapolis. Grasstek decided to write down a set of rules, his Rules to the Game of Dungeon (1974). “The problem seems to have been one of standardization: “since there are so many different mazes, run by so many […], there are bound to be many discrepancies and idiosyncrasies among them,” Grasstek writes in his foreword.” (Peterson. 485) Not long after the standardization of the roleplaying dungeon was a fixed play space within the imagination of gamers everywhere. The idea also began to expand into other game realms which were themselves in their infancy. The precursor to all computer adventure games, Adventure, merged spelunking with the maze and elements already codified in the early roleplaying dungeons alloying the meaning of the word in most gamers if not people’s minds. It was developed in 1975 and 1976 by Will Crowther for the enjoyment of “non-computer people”. He created it as a fantasy recreation of his caving; he was an accomplished caver, mostly as a game for his daughters. It was influenced by “some aspects” of the game Dungeons & Dragons which he had been playing. (Montfort, Nick. 2003. Twisty Little Passages. The MIT Press. pg. 10) “[I]t requires the exploration of a secret dungeon (which most likely would force most players to take up cartography to navigate) where one defeats adversaries and escapes with treasures.” (Peterson, Jon. 2012. Playing at the World. Unreason Press LLC. 2012. pg.620) Will Crowther was however heavily inspired by a roleplaying game titled Mirkwood Tales as told by Barry Gold in an article entitled “Computers and Fantasy Gaming” for Alarums #30 in January 1978 (Peterson.616). The Mirkwood Tales roleplaying game was a Tolkien themed variant of Dungeons & Dragons authored by Eric S. Roberts around 1977 set in the world of Middle-Earth and adapting the races found in the Lord of the Rings as Player Races: elves, dwarves, and hobbits though “Tolkien is relegated to the second credit” in the Acknowledgments section of the game manuscript. “It moreover relies on underworld exploration, combat and treasure to drive an engaging narrative.” (Peterson. 617)

Of course with the codification of the modern idea of the dungeon it wasn’t long before those that were too well designed or deliberately made to be unfair to players became common enough to garner the moniker ‘Dungeons of Death’. A Dungeon of Death being a “dungeon that is considered extremely difficult, in which few characters survive.” (Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. pg.29) Even with these bumps in the road dungeons infiltrated and soaked into fantasy roleplaying becoming ubiquitous even in fiction. They could be found everywhere with any kind of subterranean environment becoming a dungeon. “Dungeons are the first thing to be built when anyone is planning a large BUILDING. Even Town Halls tend to have them. The Rules state that Dungeons are damp and small and a long way underground. […] If the Dungeon is a pit of the type called an oubliette, on the other hand, you are justified in slight melancholy.” (Jones, Diana Wynne. 2006. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Revised and Updated Edition. Dungeons) Roleplaying groups are often wont to find and discover dungeons to explore sometimes exclusively setting out to crawl through such constructs in a style of play referred to as “delving” or as “delves” as in dungeon-delving or more commonly engaged in what is called a Dungeon Crawl.

A ‘crawl’ can refer to anything from breaking into a tricksy guild-house (esp. thieves’ or assassins’ guilds), a mages’ tower, invading a dragon’s lair, or wandering through a cave system. It presents the players and their characters with a challenge which begs to be met as well as granting them bragging rights after meeting that challenge and (hopefully) conquering it. Within the context of a roleplaying game a dungeon serves a couple of major purposes. The first is to provide a pretty straight forward thrill-packed section of a game campaign. The other major purpose of a dungeon is to provide a stretch in the game which can endure anywhere from one to many sessions where the Game Master just has to rely on the material (hopefully) already written giving them a little break other than running the game itself and having to deal with off-the-cuff bits which dungeons accomplish, mostly, by limiting the wandering scope of the player characters. “Arneson explained: A dungeon is nice and self-contained. Players can’t go romping over the countryside, and you can control the situation.” (Laycock. 41) While the running of a dungeon has certain advantages when it comes to the GM’s role they also come with some caveats on the GM’s part as well.

The designing of dungeons demands a particular set of skills and an eye for detail. The Dungeon-Master must know the players that will be entering the dungeon (their ‘delvers’), be familiar with the design of mazes, and a penchant for engaging the delvers within the dungeon. The design of a dungeon requires a certain level of cruelty, ingenuity, and the ability to come up with or adopt details and puzzles that are appropriate to the player group. The minimum components required to qualify as a ‘dungeon’, at least in my opinion, are a few passages twisted about at least a single room with a minimum of one tricky door, a single trap, and a single monster with maybe a puzzle or riddle thrown in for good measure. Note also a well-designed dungeon should have a balance, but not a particularly predictable, scattering of traps, hazards, obstacles, treasures, monsters, and puzzles which are hopefully not beyond the ability of both the players and their characters.

There are plenty of pre-generated dungeons out there in the ether for purchase or free, known as “Dungeon Modules” taking the hassle and fairly involved work of designing and generating a dungeon off of the GM save for the minor alteration usually needed to work the module into the current campaign and maybe even some modifications to fit it into the game system that the GM may be using at the time especially with those modules written for specific systems. Of course there are a lot pre-gen modules that are “system neutral”. Actual dungeon design is a time consuming endeavor with map-making only the tip of the ice burg though I find that it works better to begin with the map.

Initially you should probably decide on a rough number of rooms to work with and try to keep the number well within that you are confident you can spend the amount of time needed on the design (and decoration) of each depending on the level of detail required per individual chamber. It can get pretty boring when the players are wandering around from empty room filled with detritus to empty room with a pile of rubble or trash strewn over the chamber floor. Not diminish the use of empty rooms especially when the players have become justifiably paranoid and finally happen upon an empty chamber then take painstaking measures to be careful while making their way through it not to mention the expressions on their faces after they’ve gotten through and have realized it was indeed just an empty room. After deciding on how many chambers you’re going to use you should also know already if the chamber for any reason will require a specific shape or modifications on the map especially when it comes to areas or other rooms outside of that chamber. This is very necessary when dealing with Trap-Rooms, rooms that are designed as giant traps which are often elaborate and should be used sparingly as these can be particularly deadly. Other map considerations are the support systems and architecture required for certain features such as pools of various types of liquids which would require a source and a drain along with some valves somewhere that can be opened or closed as well as pipes/piping but an inlet and a drain are the most necessary in this particular situation also when dealing with flooding chambers or passageways which also require the addition of an air vent for the escaping air. Also do not discount mechanical and gear-box areas on the map that may be located above, below or adjacent to a trap/trap-room as well. There are also other considerations that could come into play such as air-vents, sky-light type openings, the floor which can be stone, covered in tiles or flagstones, or be compacted soil etc. Support pillars are a minor consideration but can be useful when there are enemies adding in nice places for cover and to use for ambush and should be placed where it’s obvious that they may be needed for structure but when it comes to a fantasy dungeon the latter use is preferable as you don’t need to be an architect to draw a dungeon map unless the details start to knock on the delvers’ suspension of disbelief.

The second step in this process would be to draw the map and arrange the rooms in a way that serves your purpose maybe even making use of labyrinth or maze logic when it comes to the passageways connecting the individual chambers. You should after or just before this stage figure out the obstacles you’re going to throw in the way of the player characters especially doors, collapsed areas, and large bits of detritus, and simple traps which should be mapped. Of course simple traps and doors could be placed in afterwards if they don’t require complex mechanics or support structures that influence the area on the map around them. Doors can be simple roadblocks, such as a locked iron door or a barred wooden one, or be somewhat complex with special traps and devices built into them. Another thing to keep in mind even while drawing or building the map are the monsters/enemies found wandering within the dungeon and/or occupying certain chambers. Unless there are special circumstances (namely magic, special devices, or super-science) they will need living quarters and the necessary amenities: food, water, etc. Probably why most dungeons, even those that are not tombs, have a lot of undead and golem type monsters wandering about them as well as the seemingly ever-present rodent and insect-based creatures whom can be relied upon to provide for themselves in the filth of the place also don’t overlook monstrous fungi which may be feeding off of certain bits of the structure of the dungeon itself not to mention the remains of its victims.

After your map is done you can place the smaller components doors, traps, monsters and then come up with the individual matter (writing for the narration) for the chambers which should be a short couple of sentences setting the general atmosphere of the room (scent, sight, and temperature) along with the play components/features within the chamber. Each of those may have a brief description attached to them as well as the general physical description of any readily apparent enemy within as well. Combined together this matter is what composes the entirety of the room description. A room description is what the GM will narrate to the players when their characters either look into the chamber or when they enter it all based of course on what the characters can logically see at the time based on their positions and point of view. Voila! You have a functional dungeon. The basic steps in designing a dungeon are: Decide on the number of rooms, decide what extra support features will need to be mapped, draw the map, come up with and place the smaller features such as traps/doors, come up with and place enemies keeping in mind the amenities they will need to survive (also known as Dungeon Ecology), and then come up with the details/descriptions needed for each chamber not discounting those for the smaller components as well as enemies. Note also that a well-designed dungeon should have a balanced, but not particularly predictable, scattering of traps, hazards, obstacles, treasures, monsters, and puzzles which is hopefully not beyond the ability of both players and their characters.

Dungeons are a common and even archetypical dare I say cliché scenario found in contemporary roleplaying games and is a mode of play that may also dominate the type of play in which certain ‘dungeoneering’ groups will participate. In roleplaying the term is associated with scenarios involving a map which can be simple or complex with chambers and passages populated with traps, hazards, enemies, and treasures to be had applying to anything from the under-passages of a castle or city sewer to a cave complex, dragon’s lair, or even the interior of a wizard’s tower. Dungeons never quite existed historically in the form the word is now associated with though it still carries some of the historic weight and imagery associated with the word given it by history and literature. The modern dungeon was inspired and influenced not just by history especially due to the evolution of RPG’s from historical war-gaming but by popular fiction, possibly more so, especially J.R.R. Tolkien and the mines of Moria featured in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. The mythological/historical inspirations range from the hazardous tombs of ancient Egypt to the decorated hedge-mazes of 16th and 18th century Europe and Britain not to mention the raging-bull in the room of the Cretan Labyrinth. In some ways dungeons are directly linked to such ideas as mazes/labyrinths and make use of other ideas with equally as long lineages such as riddles, magic, and monsters. It was developed at the birth of roleplaying games not solely invented by a single person but evolved by the contributions of early roleplayers and their ‘referees’ one of the central figures being a prime contributor to the birth of roleplaying, Dave Arneson. His Blackmoor campaign is of central interest where concerning dungeons and the refinement and spreading of the dungeon scenario by such individuals as Louis Fallert, Craig van Grasstek, and Will Crowther. Within the context of a roleplaying game session a dungeon can help the GM maintain control by limiting the scope of the game into a finite self-contained space and limit the range of the player characters whose imperative it is to wander. It also adds in some action and thrills to a campaign with little effort due to the nature of such scenarios. For these two reasons the dungeon has become a central part of the roleplaying experience not to mention they can also be fun to design and populate. Designing a dungeon can be as fun as delving and is definitely an exercise in creativity but it can be rather time-intensive. Fortunately there are dungeon-modules galore that can be had for free or purchased via multiple outlets.

A dungeon presents the puzzlement and symbolism of the maze, the potential to trap and imprison like the oubliette, the thrill of exploration as the tombs of ancient Egypt, and the power of mytho-historic imagery and the clichés presented by fantasy fiction stirred into the pot. With it a dungeon drags the connotations of reward and danger as well as the test of cunning to escape and bypass the traps, the strength to overcome resident foes, and the intelligence to solve its puzzles. Even the word ‘dungeon’ itself has the weight of history and color of imagery associated with it that which transcends the gaming table and adds a certain power to any maze-like challenge dubbed as such. Due to the ease of acquirement as well as the ease of design of dungeons along with the fun to be had while delving should leave no questions as to why dungeons are so popular in the current state of roleplaying games.