Dungeons

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Of all the strange places that an adventurer might explore, none is deadlier than the dungeon. These labyrinths, full of deadly traps, hungry monsters. and priceless treasure, test every skill a character possesses. These rules can apply to dungeons of any type, from the wreck of a sunken ship to a vast cave complex.

Types of Dungeons

The four basic dungeon types are defined by their current status. Many dungeons are variations on these basic types or combinations of more than one of them. Sometimes old dungeons are used again and again by different inhabitants for different purposes.

Klosterruine Heisterbach im Winter. Öl auf Leinwand. 47 x 62 cm. Date 19th century Van Ham Kunstauktionen circle of Wilhelm Steuerwaldt (1815–1871) Klosterruine Heisterbach im Winter. Öl auf Leinwand. 47 x 62 cm. Date 19th century Van Ham Kunstauktionen circle of Wilhelm Steuerwaldt (1815–1871)

Ruined Structure

Once occupied, this place is now abandoned (completely or in part) by its original creator or creators, and other creatures have wandered in. Many subterranean creatures look for abandoned underground constructions in which to make their lairs. Any traps that might exist have probably been set off, but wandering beasts might very well be common.

Occupied Structure

This type of dungeon is still in use. Creatures (usually intelligent) live there, although they might not be the dungeon's creators. An occupied structure might be a home, a fortress, a temple, an active mine, a prison, or a headquarters. This type of dungeon is less likely to have traps or wandering beasts, and more likely to have organized guards—both on watch and on patrol. Traps or wandering beasts that might be encountered are usually under the control of the occupants. Occupied structures have furnishings to suit the inhabitants, as well as decorations, supplies, and the ability for occupants to move around. The inhabitants might have a communication system, and they almost certainly control an exit to the outside.

Some dungeons are partially occupied and partially empty or in ruins. In such cases, the occupants are typically not the original builders, but instead a group of intelligent creatures that have set up their base, lair, or fortification within an abandoned dungeon.

Safe Storage

When people want to protect something, they sometimes bury it underground. Whether the item they want to protect is a fabulous treasure, a forbidden artifact, or the dead body of an important figure, these valuable objects are placed within a dungeon and surrounded by barriers, traps, and guardians.

The safe storage dungeon is the most likely to have traps but the least likely to have wandering beasts. This type of dungeon is normally built for function rather than appearance, but sometimes it has ornamentation in the form of statuary or painted walls. This is particularly true of the tombs of important people.

Sometimes, however, a vault or a crypt is constructed in such a way as to house living guardians. The problem with this strategy is that something must be done to keep the creatures alive between intrusion attempts. Magic is usually the best solution to provide food and water for these creatures. Builders of vaults or tombs often use undead creatures or constructs, both of which have no need for sustenance or rest, to guard their dungeons. Magic traps can attack intruders by summoning monsters into the dungeon that disappear when their task is done.

Wojciech Gerson (1831–1901) Title Wladyslaw the Elbow-high near Ojców. Wojciech Gerson (1831–1901) Title Wladyslaw the Elbow-high near Ojców.

Natural Cavern Complex

Underground caves provide homes for all sorts of subterranean monsters. Created naturally and connected by labyrinthine tunnel systems, these caverns lack any sort of pattern, order, or decoration. With no intelligent force behind its construction, this type of dungeon is the least likely to have traps or even doors.

Fungi of all sorts thrive in caves, sometimes growing in huge forests of mushrooms and puffballs. Subterranean predators prowl these forests, looking for weaker creatures feeding upon the fungi. Some varieties of fungus give off a phosphorescent glow, providing a natural cavern complex with its own limited light source. In other areas, a daylight spell or similar magical effect can provide enough light for green plants to grow.

Natural cavern complexes often connect with other types of dungeons, the caves having been discovered when the manufactured dungeons were delved. a cavern complex can connect two otherwise unrelated dungeons, sometimes creating a strange mixed environment. A natural cavern complex joined with another dungeon often provides a route by which subterranean creatures find their way into a manufactured dungeon and populate it.

Dungeon Terrain

The following rules cover the basics of terrain that can be found in a dungeon.

Walls

Masonry walls—stones piled on top of each other, usually but not always held in place with mortar—often divide dungeons into corridors and chambers. Dungeon walls can also be hewn from solid rock, leaving them with a rough, chiseled look. Still other dungeon walls can be the smooth. unblemished stone of a naturally occurring cave. Dungeon walls are difficult to break down or through, but they're generally easy to climb.

Wall Type Typical Thickness Break DC Hardness Hit Points1 Climb DC
Masonry 1 ft. 35 8 90 hp 20
Superior masonry 1 ft. 35 8 90 hp 25
Reinforced masonry 1 ft. 45 8 180 hp 20
Hewn stone 3 ft. 50 8 540 hp 25
Unworked stone 5 ft. 65 8 900 hp 15
Iron 3 in. 30 10 90 hp 25
Paper Paper-thin 1 1 hp 30
Wooden 6 in. 20 5 60 hp 21
Magically treated2 +20 ×2 ×23

1 Per 10-foot-by-10-foot section.

2 This modifier can be applied to any of the other wall types.

3 Or an additional 50 hit points, whichever is greater.

Masonry Walls

The most common kind of dungeon wall, masonry walls are usually at least 1 foot thick. Often, these ancient walls sport cracks and crevices, and sometimes dangerous slimes or small monsters live in these areas and wait for prey. Masonry walls stop all but the loudest noises. It takes a DC 20 Climb check to travel along a masonry wall.

Superior Masonry Walls

Sometimes masonry walls are better built (smoother, with tighter-fitting stones and less cracking), and occasionally these superior walls are covered with plaster or stucco. Covered walls often bear paintings, carved reliefs, or other decoration. Superior masonry walls are no more difficult to destroy than regular masonry walls but are more difficult to climb (DC 25).

Reinforced Masonry Walls

These are masonry walls with iron bars on one or both sides of the wall, or placed within the wall to strengthen it. The hardness of a reinforced wall remains the same, but its hit points are doubled and the Strength check DC to break through it is increased by 10.

Hewn Stone Walls

Such walls usually result when a chamber or passage is tunneled out from solid rock. The rough surface of a hewn wall frequently provides minuscule ledges where fungus grows and fissures where vermin, bats. and subterranean snakes live. When such a wall has an “other side” (meaning it separates two chambers in the dungeon), the wall is usually at least 3 feet thick; anything thinner risks collapsing from the weight of all the stone overhead. It takes a DC 25 Climb check to climb a hewn stone wall.

Unworked Stone Walls

These surfaces are uneven and rarely flat. They are smooth to the touch but filled with tiny holes, hidden alcoves, and ledges at various heights. They're also usually wet or at least damp, since it's water that most frequently creates natural caves. When such a wall has an “other side,” the wall is usually at least 5 feet thick. It takes a DC 15 Climb check to move along an unworked stone wall.

Iron Walls

These walls are placed within dungeons around important places, such as vaults.

Paper Walls

Paper walls are placed as screens to block line of sight, but nothing more.

Wooden Walls

Wooden walls often exist as recent additions to older dungeons, used to create animal pens, storage bins, and temporary structures, or just to make a number of smaller rooms out of a larger one.

Magically Treated Walls

These walls are stronger than average, with a greater hardness, more hit points, and a higher break DC. Magic can usually double the hardness and hit points of a wall and add up to 20 to the break DC. a magically treated wall also gains a saving throw against spells that could affect it, with the save bonus equaling 2 + 1/2 the caster level of the magic reinforcing the wall. Creating a magic wall requires the Craft Wondrous Item feat and the expenditure of 1,500 gp for each 10-foot-by-10-foot wall section.

Walls with Arrow Slits

Walls with arrow slits can be made of any durable material but are most commonly masonry, hewn stone, or wood. Such a wall allows defenders to fire arrows or crossbow bolts at intruders from behind the safety of the wall. Archers behind arrow slits have improved cover that gives them a +8 bonus to Armor Class, a +4 bonus on Reflex saves, and the benefits of the improved evasion class feature.

Floors

As with walls, dungeon floors come in many types.

Flagstone

Like masonry walls, flagstone floors are made of fitted stones. They are usually cracked and only somewhat level. Slime and mold grows in the cracks. Sometimes water runs in rivulets between the stones or sits in stagnant puddles. Flagstone is the most common dungeon floor.

Uneven Flagstone

Over time, some floors can become so uneven that a DC 10 Acrobatics check is required to run or charge across the surface. Failure means the character can't move that round. Floors as treacherous as this should be the exception, not the rule.

Hewn Stone

Rough and uneven, hewn floors are usually covered with loose stones. gravel, dirt, or other debris. A DC 10 Acrobatics check is required to run or charge across such a floor. Failure means the character can still act, but can't run or charge in this round.

Light Rubble

Small chunks of debris litter the ground. Light rubble adds 2 to the DC of Acrobatics checks.

Dense Rubble

The ground is covered with debris of all sizes. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with dense rubble. Dense rubble adds 5 to the DC of Acrobatics checks, and it adds 2 to the DC of Stealth checks.

Smooth Stone

Finished and sometimes even polished, smooth floors are found only in dungeons made by capable and careful builders.

Natural Stone

The floor of a natural cave is as uneven as the walls. Caves rarely have flat surfaces of any great size. Rather, their floors have many levels. Some adjacent floor surfaces might vary in elevation by only a foot, so that moving from one to the other is no more difficult than negotiating a stair step, but in other places the floor might suddenly drop off or rise up several feet or more, requiring Climb checks to get from one surface to the other. Unless a path has been worn and well marked in the floor of a natural cave, it takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a natural stone floor, and the DC of Acrobatics checks increases by 5. Running and charging are impossible, except along paths.

Slippery

Water, ice, slime, or blood can make any of the dungeon floors described in this section more treacherous. Slippery floors increase the DC of Acrobatics checks by 5.

Grate

A grate often covers a pit or an area lower than the main floor. Grates are usually made from iron, but large ones can also be made from iron-bound timbers. Many grates have hinges to allow access to what lies below (such grates can be locked like any door), while others are permanent and designed to not move. A typical 1-inch-thick iron grate has 25 hit points, hardness 10, and a DC of 27 for Strength checks to break through it or tear it loose.

 

Ledge

 

Ledges allow creatures to walk above some lower area. They often circle around pits, run along underground streams, form balconies around large rooms, or provide a place for archers to stand while firing upon enemies below. Narrow ledges (12 inches wide or less) require those moving along them to make Acrobatics checks. Failure results in the moving character falling off the ledge. Ledges sometimes have railings along the wall. In such a case, characters gain a +5 circumstance bonus on Acrobatics checks to move along the ledge. A character who is next to a railing gains a +2 circumstance bonus on his opposed Strength check to avoid being bull rushed off the edge.

Ledges can also have low walls 2 to 3 feet high along their edges. Such walls provide cover against attackers within 30 feet on the other side of the wall, as long as the target is closer to the low wall than the attacker is.

Transparent Floor

Transparent floors, made of reinforced glass or magic materials (even a wall of force). allow a dangerous setting to be viewed safely from above. Transparent floors are sometimes placed over lava pools, arenas, monster dens, and torture chambers. They can be used by defenders to watch key areas for intruders.

Sliding Floors

A sliding floor is a type of trap door, designed to be moved and thus reveal something that lies beneath it. A typical sliding floor moves so slowly that anyone standing on one can avoid falling into the gap it creates, assuming there's somewhere else to go. If such a floor slides quickly enough that there's a chance of a character falling into whatever lies beneath—a spiked pit, a vat of burning oil, or a pool filled with sharks—then it's a trap.

Trap Floors

Some floors are designed to become suddenly dangerous. With the application of just the right amount of weight, or the pull of a lever somewhere nearby. spikes protrude from the floor, gouts of steam or flame shoot up from hidden holes, or the entire floor tilts. These strange floors are sometimes found in arenas, designed to make combats more exciting and deadly. Construct these floors as you would any other trap.

Renaissance-Portal eines Patrizierhauses. Öl auf Leinwand, 43 x 34 cm Date by 1941 Robert Breyer (1866–1941) Renaissance-Portal eines Patrizierhauses. Öl auf Leinwand, 43 x 34 cm Date by 1941 Robert Breyer (1866–1941)

Doors

Doors in dungeons are much more than mere entrances and exits. Often they can be encounters all by themselves. Dungeon doors come in three basic types: wooden, stone, and iron.

Wooden

Constructed of thick planks nailed together, sometimes bound with iron for strength (and to reduce swelling from dungeon dampness), wooden doors are the most common type.

Iron hinges fasten the door to its frame, and typically a circular pull-ring in the center is there to help open it. Sometimes. instead of a pull-ring, a door has an iron pull-bar on one or both sides of the door to serve as a handle. In inhabited dungeons, these doors are usually well-maintained (not stuck) and unlocked, although important areas are locked up if possible.

Stone

Carved from solid blocks of stone, these heavy, unwieldy doors are often built so that they pivot when opened, although dwarves and other skilled craftsfolk are able to fashion hinges strong enough to hold up a stone door. Secret doors concealed within a stone wall are usually stone doors. Otherwise, such doors stand as tough barriers protecting something important beyond. Thus, they are often locked or barred.

Iron

Rusted but sturdy, iron doors in a dungeon are hinged like wooden doors. These doors are the toughest form of nonmagical door. They are usually locked or barred.

Breaking Doors

Dungeon doors might be locked, trapped, reinforced, barred, magically sealed. or sometimes just stuck. All but the weakest characters can eventually knock down a door with a heavy tool such as a sledgehammer, and a number of spells and magic items give characters an easy way around a locked door.

Attempts to literally chop down a door with a slashing or bludgeoning weapon use the hardness and hit points given in Table: Doors. When assigning a DC to an attempt to knock a door down. use the following as guidelines.

DC 10 or Lower A door just about anyone can break open.
DC 11–15 A door that a strong person could break with one try and an average person might be able to break with one try.
DC 16–20 A door that almost anyone could break, given time.
DC 21–25 A door that only a strong or very strong person has a hope of breaking, probably not on the first try.
DC 26 or Higher A door that only an exceptionally strong person has a hope of breaking.

For example, wooden doors typically have the following DC's to break:

Simple doors (break DC 15) are not meant to keep out motivated attackers.

Good doors (break DC 18), while sturdy and long-lasting, are still not meant to take much punishment.

Strong doors (break DC 25) are bound in iron and are a sturdy barrier to those attempting to get past them.

Doors
Door Type Typical Thickness Hardness Hit Points Break DC  

      Stuck Locked
Simple wooden 1 in. 5 10 hp 13 15
Good wooden 1-1/2 in. 5 15 hp 16 18
Strong wooden 2 in. 5 20 hp 23 25
Stone 4 in. 8 60 hp 28 28
Iron 2 in. 10 60 hp 28 28
Portcullis, wooden 3 in 5 30 hp 25* 25*
Portcullis, iron 2 in. 10 60 hp 25* 25*
Lock 15 30 hp
Hinge 10 30 hp
* DC to lift. Use appropriate door figure for breaking.

Locked Doors

Dungeon doors are often locked, and thus the Disable Device skill comes in very handy. Locks are usually built into the door, either on the edge opposite the hinges or right in the middle of the door. Built-in locks either control an iron bar that juts out of the door and into the wall of its frame, or else a sliding iron bar or heavy wooden bar that rests behind the entire door. By contrast, padlocks are not built-in but usually run through two rings, one on the door and the other on the wall. More complex locks, such as combination locks and puzzle locks. are usually built into the door itself. Because such keyless locks are larger and more complex, they are typically only found in sturdy doors (strong wooden, stone, or iron doors).

The Disable Device DC to pick a lock often falls within the range of 20 to 30, although locks with lower or higher DCs can exist. A door can have more than one lock, each of which must be unlocked separately. Locks are often trapped, usually with poison needles that extend out to prick a rogue's finger.

Breaking a lock is sometimes quicker than breaking the whole door. If a PC wants to whack at a lock with a weapon, treat the typical lock as having hardness 15 and 30 hit points. A lock can only be broken if it can be attacked separately from the door, which means that a built-in lock is immune to this sort of treatment. In an occupied dungeon, every locked door should have a key somewhere.

A special door might have a lock with no key, instead requiring that the right combination of nearby levers must be manipulated or the right symbols must be pressed on a keypad in the correct sequence to open the door.

Stuck Doors

Dungeons are often damp, and sometimes doors get stuck, particularly wooden doors. Assume that about 10% of wooden doors and 5% of non-wooden doors are stuck. These numbers can be doubled (to 20% and 10%, respectively) for long-abandoned or neglected dungeons.

Barred Doors

When characters try to bash down a barred door, it's the quality of the bar that matters, not the material the door is made of. It takes a DC 25 Strength check to break through a door with a wooden bar, and a DC 30 Strength check if the bar is made of iron. Characters can attack the door and destroy it instead, leaving the bar hanging in the now-open doorway.

Magic Seals

Spells such as arcane lock can discourage passage through a door. A door with an arcane lock spell on it is considered locked even if it doesn't have a physical lock. It takes a knock spell, a dispel magic spell, or a successful Strength check to open such a door.

Hinges

Most doors have hinges, but sliding doors do not. They usually have tracks or grooves instead, allowing them to slide easily to one side.

Standard Hinges: these hinges are metal, joining one edge of the door to the door frame or wall. Remember that the door swings open toward the side with the hinges. (So, if the hinges are on the PCs' side, the door opens toward them; otherwise it opens away from them.) Adventurers can take the hinges apart one at a time with successful Disable Device checks (assuming the hinges are on their side of the door, of course). Such a task has a DC of 20 because most hinges are rusted or stuck. Breaking a hinge is difficult. Most have hardness 10 and 30 hit points. The break dC for a hinge is the same as for breaking down the door.

Nested Hinges: these hinges are much more complex than ordinary hinges, and are found only in areas of excellent construction. These hinges are built into the wall and allow the door to swing open in either direction. PCs can't get at the hinges to fool with them unless they break through the door frame or wall. Nested hinges are typically found on stone doors but sometimes on wooden or iron doors as well.

 

Pivots: Pivots aren't really hinges at all, but simple knobs jutting from the top and bottom of the door that fit into holes in the door frame. allowing the door to spin. The advantages of pivots are that they can't be dismantled like hinges and they're simple to make. The disadvantage is that since the door pivots on its center of gravity (typically in the middle), nothing larger than half the door's width can fit through without squeezing. Doors with pivots are usually stone and often quite wide to overcome this disadvantage. Another solution is to place the pivot toward one side and have the door be thicker at that end and thinner toward the other end so that it opens more like a normal door. Secret doors in walls often turn on pivots, since the lack of hinges makes it easier to hide the door's presence. Pivots also allow objects such as bookcases to be used as secret doors.

 

Secret Doors

 

Disguised as a bare patch of wall (or floor or ceiling), a bookcase, a fireplace, or a fountain, a secret door leads to a secret passage or room. Someone examining the area finds a secret door, if one exists, on a successful Perception check (DC 20 for a typical secret door to DC 30 for a well-hidden secret door).

 

Many secret doors require special methods of opening, such as hidden buttons or pressure plates. Secret doors can open like normal doors, or they might pivot. slide, sink, rise, or even lower like a drawbridge to permit access. Builders might put a secret door low near the floor or high in a wall. making it difficult to find or reach. wizards and sorcerers have a spell, phase door, that allows them to create a magic secret door that only they can use.

 

Magic Doors

 

Enchanted by the original builders, a door might speak to explorers. warning them away. It might be protected from harm, increasing its hardness or giving it more hit points as well as an improved saving throw bonus against disintegrate and similar spells. A magic door might not lead into the space behind it, but instead might be a portal to a faraway place or even another plane of existence. Other magic doors might require passwords or special keys to open them.

 

Portcullises

 

These special doors consist of iron or thick, iron-bound wooden shafts that descend from recesses in the ceilings above archways. Sometimes a portcullis has crossbars that create a grid, sometimes not. Typically raised by means of a winch or a capstan, a portcullis can be dropped quickly, and the shafts end in spikes to discourage anyone from standing underneath (or from attempting to dive under it as it drops). Once it is dropped, a portcullis locks, unless it is so large that no normal person could lift it anyway. In any event, lifting a typical portcullis requires a DC 25 Strength check.

 

Walls, Doors, and Detect Spells

 

Stone walls, iron walls, and iron doors are usually thick enough to block most detect spells, such as detect thoughts. Wooden walls, wooden doors, and stone doors are usually not thick enough to do so. A secret stone door built into a wall and as thick as the wall itself (at least 1 foot) does block most detect spells.

 

Stairs

Stairs are the most common means of traveling up and down within a dungeon. a character can move up or down stairs as part of their movement without penalty, but they cannot run on them. Increase the DC of any Acrobatics skill check made on stairs by 4. Some stairs are particularly steep and are treated as difficult terrain.

Common Dungeon Hazards

There are many hazards possible in dungeons and caverns including cave-ins, slimes, mold, fungi, and others. A large list of potential hazards commonly encountered is listed on the Traps & Hazards page.

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