Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Let's Build a Dungeon! The Start and The First Level

I've previously moaned about the difficulty of finishing projects, even of getting real material out. Well, I've decided, no longer! At the very least, I'm going to put out something. So I started making a dungeon with Swords and Wizardry. Here's the first level. It's just 15 rooms, good for a couple sessions of play, with some decent jaquaying, a mix of traps, combat, and lots of custom, detailed treasure.

Also, this is totally not playtested. This is the work of about four days, during which time I have certainly not run it, and very likely won't have the chance to do so in the near future. I'm publishing this as soon as I finish writing it and check for errors.

You can also download this as a much better looking PDF.

The Beginning

I started this project by doodling a Melan diagram with a few loops. Afterwards, I started filling it in on a simple mapping tool, and ended up with these fifteen rooms.

Alright, not a bad start. Now, to populate it. I use the method described by JB at B/X Blackrazor here. Running the random rolls through a Discord bot, we end up with this:

1. Empty, Treasure
2. Special
3. Trap
4. Empty
5. Empty, Treasure
6. Monster
7. Special
8. Monster, Treasure
9. Monster
10. Trap
11. Monster, Treasure
12. Empty
13. Trap, Treasure
14. Trap, Treasure
15. Monster, Treasure

That's 4 empty rooms, 2 special rooms, 4 traps and 5 monsters, with 7 treasures between them.

Now, let's put in some treasure. I decided the first level is meant for a second level party (why second and not first? No idea. Just go with me), so assuming 5 members, we want them to get halfway to level 3 if they find every scrap of treasure. Is that good design? No idea. But I'm doing it anyway.

Taking an average between the MU's and Thief's XP requirements, times 5, and....

7500/2*5=18750/2=9375gp, to be distributed among 7 areas.

Let's distribute it the way JB describes, taking half aside, then half again, then again, until we end up with two small parcels of equal size.



Adjust the values around to be cleaner and easier to work with....


Aaaand these are our treasure parcels, to be distributed in 7 of the first level's fifteen rooms.

Now, we come to the hard part, the actual creativity. I can't guide you through this part of my process, just show you the results. If it's schlocky and a bit gonzo, that's what I'm here for.


(working title)


In the southern reaches, where the dark jungles loom large and the locals dare not venture far from their paths, something strange stirs. Dinosaurs! Velociraptors have been spotted filching from the town of Dewhill, carrying off livestock, eggs, and even valuables! Oh, they also took priest Bartleby, but nobody minds.

With these strange thefts, stories have resurfaced that elders had though they had forgotten. In the jungles beyond, a sorcerer used to make his home, and was said to have resurrected long-dead creatures! He disappeared seventy years ago, and the town quietly forgot him. Hot on the heels of these stories, a party of adventurers came to town last month: three men and a halfling trailing a long entourage. They attended a local wedding, wrecked the place and left to find the source of the attacks, and were never seen again.

An overgrown stone complex juts out from the jungle, hidden under a thick canopy. The door stands wide open, inviting the daring and foolish to enter...


On the roof: Climbing up to the roof of the structure, 20' in the air, the party can quickly find three entrances: a fragile section of roofing leading to 12 Empty Vault, which can be widened with two turn's work, soot-blacked windows leading to 5 Parlor, which can simply be shattered, and the open-air 7 Amber Grove, which can simply be rappelled into or descended by climbing down a tree.

1. Entrance. (40'x30') A larger-than-life stone bust of a narrow-faced, goateed man sits on a pedestal. Dusty tapestries depicting impossible creatures hang on the walls. The western door hangs ajar, a faint trail of straw leading to it. The eastern door is spiked open. 
  • An inscription on the bust reads: To enter my chambers, speak the name of magic. Speaking any 'magic' word, like Abracadabra, or Hocus-Pocus will cause the eastern door to groan, trying to open further.
  • On an end table by the eastern door sits a rotten, dried up pineapple in an ornate silver pineapple holder (130gp).

2. Guest Hall. (30'x30') A greeting hall, dozens of colored glass spheres hang from the ceiling. Each contains a gigantic torchfly, curled up and dead. A book lies open on a stand.
  • The book is labeled: Guests. A great variety of names are listed, with dates between eighty and seventy years ago. At the bottom, an entry with last month's date reads, in a flourish: The Groomsmen.

3. Fountain. (40'x30') The flagstones give way to soft soil. In the center of the room, an ornate fountain contains piles of gold coins in murky water. 
  • The fountain is, in reality, a giant plant, and the water is a digestive fluid which strips everything except gold. Touching the fountain or reaching into the water causes the fountain to snap up the offending character. The fluids deal 2d6 damage per round, and the character may escape by succeeding a Save at -2, cumulative. It can be dispatched from the outside with relative ease, and contains 295 gold pieces.

4. Mage's Rest. The corpse of a Magic-User wearing a full armor helm lies on the ground, decomposing. The left side of his torso is gone, as if taken out in a single, giant bite. There are numerous humanoid tracks crossing the room. A blood trail leads to the western door and into the grove.
  • A journal remains on the corpse. The name within is 'The Omniscient' with 'Most' inserted between the words. It details a long journey through a castle of the mad dead in the far north, and rumors of ancient creatures in the south. A note in the margins of an early page reads: What does irresistible rondeau do?
  • A skilled tracker could decipher four sets of tracks coming through from the north, then one set coming back from the west, ending with the body.

5. Parlor. (50'x20') An abandoned parlor, long tables, lounge chairs and an overflowing fountain. Windows are set in the roof, long since blackened by thick soot. An end table hosts a gilded birdcage, silver hairbrush and a jeweled cosmetics kit (the cosmetics within have decayed). In the cage is Merrytwinkle, a foul-mouthed pixie who has been trapped for seventy years. 
  • The cage itself is worth 20gp. The hairbrush is worth 30gp, and the cosmetics kit, set with pink diamonds, is worth 100gp.
  • Merrytwinkle's term of servitude is long since over, but if freed quickly and without ultimatum, will be reasonably well disposed. He may be hired on as a barber-surgeon for an appropriate wage and supplies. He is skilled in first aid, amputation, hair styling and fashion (though his ideas are seventy years out of date), and can easily hide in a character's clothes or hair. If the players attempt to haggle or make demands before releasing him, he will escape at the first opportunity with a jewel or other small piece of treasure. 

6. Storeroom. (30'x'20') A messy storeroom, filled with crates of fossil remains. On the north wall, a scorched frieze depicting three disfigured men in contorted positions. These are Fossil Vampires, stirring on approach and awakening fully with a single drop of blood. They are ravenous, and utterly insane.

Fossil Vampire: HD 3; AC 3 [16]; Atk 2*claw 1d6 or grapple and bite 1d10 and level drain; Sav 16; Spec climb at full speed, 1d6 Hp/round in sunlight; ML 9; AL C; CL 3.

7. Amber Grove. (100'x70') An overgrown jungle grove, shaded by the canopy. Searching the jungle will reveal wild nutmeg and cinnamon, mango and toxic calabash trees in full fruit. In the north, a tree dripping resin is fenced off. A greenhouse stands in the center of the grove, windows fogged. Six tall blocks of amber sit along the walls, displaying preserved prehistoric creatures. The fourth from the east swings open with difficulty, hiding a secret passage.
  • The tree drips resin into overflown buckets. Given a few million years, it would crystallize into amber. Valued by alchemists and enchanters, a total of 150gp.
  • A trail of dried blood leads to the door of the greenhouse. A broken sign by the door reads: Beware of...
  • The amber blocks each contain the preserved body of prehistoric megafauna. From east to west, a saber-toothed rat, a giant wasp, a scaled ape, a short-faced bear, a juvenile proto-dragon, and a giant myconid.

8. Foggy Greenhouse. (20'x30') The greenhouse's windows are totally fogged from the inside, and visibility within is limited to 10'. Dozens of unusual plant specimens grow here, healthy and full. This is the domain of the Fogling, an aggressive bound spirit that cares for the plants. A locked cabinet opposite the door contains alchemical reagents and potions made from the plants
  • The plants within are all previously extinct specimens, including a giant flytrap (large enough to eat rats), various prehistoric fruiting trees, and a cactus with wrinkles resembling an angry face. Worth 200gp to curious botanists. 
  • The Fogling is invisible in fog, and prefers to open its attack by separating an intruder from the group. It can knock over items and faithfully imitate voices it has heard in the last hour. It will not chase intruders outside the greenhouse unless they steal an item.
  • The cabinet contains a thick, gelatinous potion of plant control, and a cool, alcoholic frozen concoction. In addition, there are piles of alchemical ingredients, including ruby dust, dragon eyeballs, and a live golem beetle, worth a total of 800gp to an alchemist.
Fogling: HD 5; AC 4 [15]; Atk chomp 3d4; Sav 10; Spec invisible in fog, mimicry; ML 12; AL N; CL 6.
Hp    23

9. Cattle Pens. (50'x30') The dingy, dirty smell of livestock fills the air. A pair of barred pens hold malnourished, terrified, moaning cattle. The carcass of another lies, half-butchered on the ground opposite. Three velociraptors hide inside the carcass, interrupted in eating the entrails. 
  • One will pop out, and warn off intruders. If not heeded, the other two will pop out in ambush. If they suffer a casualty, they will dash under the southern door and join the raptors in 11 Were-raptor Lair.
Raptors (3): HD 1; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2*talon 1d4; Sav 18; Spec surprise 1 in 2; ML 7; AL N; CL 1.
Hp    5    7    3

10. Geysers. (30'x50') The floor here is littered with the mouths of geysers, which erupt scalding air constantly. Metal hooks are driven into the roof, leading to the western door. A Thief could swing across them quickly with a Climb check, as could others if they took a turn to do it carefully. The secret eastern door lies wide open, though if closed it would be flush with the wall and difficult to locate.
  • Being hit by a geyser deals 2d8 heat damage, Save for half. Running across the room yields a 1:2 chance of being hit for everyone. Taking a turn to examine the pattern and move slowly yields a 1:3 chance for a random party member. The hooks are safe, but slow and characters caught up there by an encounter are vulnerable. 
  • The western door leads to 11. Were-raptor Lair, and is decorated with cattle blood and raptor feathers. It is locked, but there is a pit in the stone at knee level, and a thin, pointed object, such as a claw or lockpick can be used to turn the hidden lock.

11. Were-raptor Lair. (30'x80') Maxim the were-raptor dwells here with his velociraptor pack. The lair is part nest, part treasure room. A makeshift cell holds Bartleby the Scripturist.
  • Regardless of his reaction, he demands intruders lay down their weapons. He wants to continue living a comfortable life of banditry, and given a chance, he will propose an alliance with the party. If his pack is killed, he will beg for his life, offering knowledge of the secret passage in 7 Amber Grove and the riches in 15 Amber Tomb, without mentioning the dangers within.
  • Hidden in the nesting material is a clutch of six raptor eggs. Properly cared for, they will hatch in a week, and make for energetic companions.
  • Treasure includes a chest of assorted coins totaling 170gp, a fizzing blue potion of gaseous form, a jade necklace worth 120gp, gold armbands worth 200gp, and a carnelian cameo of a woman looking over the sea, worth 160gp.
  • Bartleby is not cared for by the town, and attempts at ransoming him have been unsuccessful. Maxim has not decided what to do with the priest, besides gagging him to stop the preaching.
Raptors (5): HD 1; AC 6 [13]; Atk 2*talon 1d4; Sav 18; Spec surprise 1 in 2; ML 7; AL N; CL 1.
Hp    2    5    8    7    4

Maxim the Were-raptor: HD 4; AC 4 [15]; Atk talon 1d6, dagger 1d6+1; Sav 12; Spec controls raptors, only hit by silver or magic weapons, lycanthropy; ML 9; AL C; crystal dagger; CL 5.
Hp    19

Crystal Dagger: A dagger +1 with a blade of cloudy crystal. Within is a dose of deadly venom. On a natural 20, the tip breaks and the venom is injected (save vs poison or 2d6 damage). 

12. Empty Vault. (40'x50') Formerly a treasure vault, filled by moldering coin sacks and empty chests. A single sapphire ring gleams on a pedestal, illuminated by sunlight coming through the cracked roof. As soon as the party notices it, a Microraptor jumps up to the pedestal, picks it up in its beak and dashes down the spiral staircase to the lower level. 
  • The Microraptor makes its nest in one of the lower levels, where it has accumulated a great deal of valuables. Ideally, your party will want to strangle the little thing by the time they reach its lair.
Microraptor: HD A; AC 8 [11]; Atk none; Sav 20; Spec runs very fast, flight; ML 4; AL N; CL A.
Hp    1

13. False Tomb. (20'x50') A cramped sepulcher, friezes on the walls depicting crude, gory tableaus of death and torture. A standing sarcophagus shaped like a roaring demon occupies the southeast corner. The door to the south is a trap: the handle pops out when pulled, letting in the poison gas from the next chamber, dealing 2d6 damage per round, Save for half, filling the entire room in two rounds. It settles and the room is navigable in three turns.
  • The sarcophagus bears a message: Go no further, or join me in death. If a character crawls inside and shuts the lid, the back falls out, opening into the corridor to 15 Amber Tomb.

14. Boiling Pit. (40'x30') A 10' diameter pit descends 20' into the earth, reinforced by smooth metal walls, surrounded by a drain grille. A key hangs from a rope over the pit. A treasure chest, weighing 30 pounds, sits at the bottom. A parchment stuck to the front reads: Don't get wet
  • The key is on a hook, and an athletic character could easily jump to it and swing on the rope to the other side. Unfortunately, the rope is part of a pulley system in the ceiling, and will come loose with a character's full weight. Their trajectory will take them directly into the wall, and from there to the bottom of the pit, Save or 1d6 damage.
  • Inside the chest are a dozen tablets carved from moonstone, each weighing 20 pounds. They contain arcane secrets, old stories, and three of them are spell scrolls for clairvoyance, lightning bolt, and water breathing. The chest sits on a pressure plate, and if the weight falls below 200 pounds, boiling water rushes into the pit, filling 5' per round, dealing 2d8 heat damage/round to anyone caught within. Each tablet is worth 200gp. 
  • Filling the pit to the brim reduces the danger of 10 Geysers, to 1:3 when running across and to 1:6 when moving carefully.

15. Amber Tomb. (50'x30') This tomb is covered in a thick layer of dust. In the walls on either side are figures preserved in amber: A young wizard, a scantily dressed concubine, a small dog, all expressing shock. A fourth lies against the far wall, an elderly wizard inside, peaceful. An inscription reads: Here lie I, Khorbus the Mighty, eternal in strength. Disturbing any of the amber tombs rouses the amber sarcophagus at the far wall, which is actually an Amber Golem.
  • Each of the preserved figures wear various treasures. Opening an amber sarcophagus requires an exploration turn and appropriate tools, such as hammers and pickaxes. Without those tools, the time for each is six turns. When released from containment, the bodies fall to the ground and begin the normal process of decay.
  • The concubine wears a mountain of jewelry, including an emerald toe ring (320gp), a necklace of jade and agate beads (540gp), stained glass earrings depicting two ancient gods in miniature (220gp), a loose gold-chain shirt (180gp), a diamond-studded diadem (300gp) and holds a pouch of 10 platinum coins (100gp).
  • The young wizard wears a wrought iron ring of protection +1, and holds a wand of cold carved from reindeer horn, with 10 charges remaining. He also carries a metal tube on his back. Inside is an original landscape painting by one of the ancient masters, long thought destroyed, worth 800gp to a knowledgeable and discreet buyer.
  • The dog wears a jeweled collar worth 140gp inscribed with the name: Sparky. Additionally, it guards a hoard of 200 platinum coins (2000gp).
  • Khorbus wears elaborate wizardly robes, but no treasure. The wizard's body is actually a wooden mannequin, expertly painted and dressed to appear real. In the folds of his robes is a gear-toothed key and a note: Well done! Now if you're ready for real riches, not the peasant's sum before you, follow me below. The key fits into a slot where the amber golem previously sat, opening a stairway down to the next level.

Amber Golem: HD 8; AC 7 [12]; Atk 2*fist 2d8; Sav 6; Spec hit only by magic weapons, slowed by fire and cold spells, immune to most spells, redirect lightning; ML 12; AL N; CL 12.
Hp    40

And that's the first floor. I'll be right at work on the second, and then the third, probably as many as five 'levels' or distinct areas in total.

If you like what you're reading and want to rip off something you find here, please do! If you end up runnign it, please let me know! I'd love to hear what you think in the comments below. Until the next post, I wish you all well!

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