- Map the unknown
- Scout enemy outpost
- Pacify area for future development
- Destroy enemy threat
- Visit lost shrine (recover relic, remove curse, etc.)
- Complete quest
- Escape enemies
- Rescue prisoners
- Cross/close/open magic portal
- Locate the lost (lost expedition, lost ancient race, etc.)
- Crypt, tomb, or necropolis
- Temple or shrine (possibly ancient or lost)
- City, town, or outpost
- Castle, keep, or tower
- Caves, cavern, sinkhole, ravine
- Mine, sewers, chthonic settlement
Random Dungeon Room Stocking
After thoughtfully placing unique monsters and treasures, the referee may stock the remainder of a large dungeon area using the following table.
||Trick/trap (no treasure)
||Monster (no treasure)
||Treasure & Monster
||Treasure & trick/trap
Traps and Tricks
Make deadly traps obvious.
What the trap does and its trigger beg investigation, but telegraph its presence to the players.
Foreshadow a room that fills with poison gas, for example, with an acrid smell and faint hissing noise;
players who fail to cautiously pursue those hints (or retreat from the room) can’t complain about a save-or-die roll after they turn the dogging wheel on the opposite door, to find both doors sealed and green steam gushing from nozzles in the ceiling.
Make gotcha traps — poison needles in door knobs or faux floors that drop characters into pits without warning — inflict only minor damage or temporary penalties, like 1–3 hp damage or double-vision for a day (-1 to hit).
Tricks differ from traps in that they befuddle players rather than harming characters.
Tricks might be as simple as a false door, or as sophisticated as an imperceptibly revolving room that opens onto different hallways depending on its orientation.
Tricks include puzzles, riddles, and nonsense, like a sliding tile game built into a dungeon floor that the characters must arrange to show a picture of an open door, or a verse inscribed on a wall that the players complete by following the rhyme scheme.
Labyrinth Lord normally awards one experience point for gold piece looted, plus some XP for monsters killed, divided between the player characters.
Instead, we award XP only for recovered treasure (1 gp = 1 XP)
Reward the following types of things:
- kill, capture, or route all the monsters in a challenging combat
- get a treasure (without killing a monster guarding it)
- talk to a monster they haven’t met before without fighting it
- exchange important information or aid with an NPC
- discover a new dungeon level, wilderness lair, or hidden area
- overcome an environmental obstacle (bridge a chasm, disarm a trap, navigate a trick maze)
- engage with a new Weird thing (“What’s up with the glowing water in this pool? Let’s drink some!”)
Design adventures and place treasures in a way that rewards characters every time they do one of the above things.
Multiply the award value below by the number of characters (or ×5 if we don’t know the number of characters in advance):
||Each XP/GP Award
Wandering Monster List-Making List
- Traveling: 1. Elsewhere on current level 2. Level above 3. Level below 4. Surface 5. Very secret passage 6. By magic
- Escorting: 1. Slaves 2. Enemy captives 3. Friendly VIP 4. Criminals 5. Livestock 6. Diplomatic mission
- Delivering: 1. News (individual notification) 2. News (proclamation) 3. Flyering 4. Tribute (paying) 5. Tribute (collecting) 6. Foodstuffs 7. Threats 8. Weapons 9. Intelligence/maps 10. Raw material (ore, clay, wool, hides, dyes, lumber, bones/antlers, plant fiber)
- Patrolling/hunting: 1. Searching for intruders 2. Searching for lost fellows 3. Hunting food 4. Sport hunting
- Raiding: 1. Property on same level 2. Property on level above 3. Property on level below 4. Freeing of friendly captives 5. Kidnapping enemies 6. Counting coup, pulling pranks, or making mischief
- Labor: 1. Decorating 2. Structural repairs (doors, beams, bridges, stairs) 3. Setting/fixing traps 4. Demolition/renovation 5. Mining 6. Harvesting 7. Cleaning 8. Crafting 9. Cooking 10. Brewing
- Fighting: 1. Enemy from same level 2. Enemy from level above 3. Enemy from level below 4. Among themselves
- Socializing: 1. Race 2. Boxing/wresting 3. Sacrifice 4. Wedding 5. Initiation 6. Funeral 7. Parade 8. Dance 9. Wake 10. Parlor game 11. Negotiation 12. Performance 13. Consecration 14. Commemoration 15. Worship 16. Coronation/award 17. Vote 18. Carnival/circus 19. Bacchanal 20. Trial/execution
When planning a session, especially a short adventure or lair-type dungeon, consider including the following elements:
- Weird/unique/gross monsters (about three new types)
- A small, non-linear dungeon map (about 8–12 rooms)
- A trap or two
- One or more toys that are not clearly beneficial or harmful, but could be either or just strange
- A secret that the characters might or might not discover (secret door, hidden treasure, etc.)
- One or two hooks or hints for further adventures
- Reason to use a funny voice, role-playing opportunity (non-hostile NPC, talking mirror, etc.)
- Something bound to the location that might motivate the characters to return in the future
Setting up a Megadungeon
The type of “lair” dungeons seen in adventure modules is composed of one or two dozen rooms spread over one to three vertical levels, and occupied by a handful of different monster types.
A megadungeon, on the other hand, descends at least ten levels deep — each level more perilous than the one above it — with dozens or hundreds of rooms per level occupied by numerous monster factions.
Such a dungeon acts as the centerpiece of a whole campaign.
Player characters venture from the safety of town week after week to plumb the dungeon’s depths.
- Map and key the first two or three levels before play begins.
- Use non-linear map layouts to let players choose their own path.
- Make dungeon depth a gauge of risk (dungeon level three adequately challenges and rewards a third-level party, for example) but include some exceptionally easy or deadly encounters on each level.
- Remember vertical movement!
- Connect each level to at least one other, besides the levels immediately above and below.
- Use sinkholes, slides, ladders, elevators, wells, waterfalls, and chimneys, not only boring stairs!
- Populate each level with multiple cooperative or antagonistic monster factions.
- Divide each level into sub-areas with distinct features, under the control of a particular monster faction.
- Even for levels you haven’t finished keying, list important items found there, like:
- Most first level spells can be found on levels one and two, on dusty scrolls or in the hands of enemy spellcasters.
- Each level holds one or two magic swords, locked in forgotten vaults or possessed by the local anti-paladin.
- Each level holds one or two major magic items of note.
- Each level houses one or two exceptionally interesting baddies.
- Each session, dole out a rumor about a magic item or monster to the players.
- Include lost, visiting, or raiding monsters from adjacent levels on each level’s wandering monster table.
- Stock enough treasure on each dungeon level to give a party of that character level at least twice the XP needed to advance. The party won’t find all the treasure, and fatalities burn some XP.
- Add several outside entrances to the dungeon going to different levels.
- Decorate the dungeon with its history: graffiti from previous adventuring parties, relics of long-extinct monsters, or changes to the geography (flooded areas, cave-ins, bricked-up passages, etc.).
- Weaponize the environment itself with acid baths, low-lying pools of flammable gas, radiation, and rock slides.
- Make the dungeon dynamic — repopulate cleared areas with new factions, open freshly constructed passages off already-explored hallways, show monsters forging alliances, etc.