Wednesday 1 March 2023

Wow, what a busy month - Weeks 6 - 9

Weeks 6 - 9 (Part 1)

Wow, and like that the month of February has gone! As I write this, it is March the 1st and I have gone through most of February without updating on progress for my Dungeon 23 challenge, despite having such a constant start to the year.  It's safe to say that doing level 2 has proven more of a challenge than level 1 did. The novelty of doing a room a day has been lessened some what and I have been busier with work, leaving me less time to be creative. I may also have picked a theme that was more restrictive for this level than I initially realised, and this has had the effect of hampering the ability to create a new room every day that allowed for a cohesive whole to emerge. However I have managed to stay on target (with a couple of catch up sessions) and now I have started level 3 with both a new theme and a promise to allow myself to deviate from this theme more often if I need a change. 

As this blog is now also playing catch up, what I will do is offer a two part update, both in a short succession to get back on track with updating things.

Week 6 Rooms

 This week is mostly focussed in the south of the complex with some areas that branch off already detailed parts, forming the theme of a mortuary complex for the observatory above, with the exception of one room which moves into the more northern areas of this level, which have a slightly different theme.

The Vault (6)

 In a slight departure from the mortuary theme of this level, this large chamber with a stone (locked) door is the vault of the complex, storing the valuables and wealth of the observatory. Locked since before the fall/abandonment of the level above, this room remains to be plundered, and the orcs above (and duergar beneath if they were to discover its purpose) would love to get into it.

Inside the vault rows of valuable observations of the heavens line the walls, along with religious texts. One or two minor relics of value to the Sky God also reside here unclaimed, along with the meager treasury of the observatory. A ghost resides here guarding the relics, but longing for release, and if someone would agree to carry out a task for them, then they can finally rest. However, if they are here to loot indiscriminantly the guardian will fight with all of its considerable powers.

The rooms for week 6 (except room 7 which lies north of here)

The Bridge Chamber (7)

North of the ossuary is an underground stream which can be crossed in this chamber. Originally a cave, the walls of this room have been smoothed and the space converted into a useable chamber. However, over time the damp of the water has permeated this space and now it is uncomfortably moist, and carries the smell of mould. Iron grates cover in inlet and outlet parts of the stream in this room, and a sturdy (but slick) wooden bridge crosses this relatively deep underground waterway. As the only easily detected way of moving to the north of the complex, the more intelligent undead on this level make sure to secure this room, and hold the bridge, with regular patrols moving through this area.

Standing on the bridge makes it clear that there are bones, coins and other goods lying on the bottom of the stream, but retrieving them may mean going into the cold, fast flowing water.

Shrine to the Undergod (8)

The priests and hierophants of the Sky God dedicated their lives to observing the heavens from the observatory on level one, living and dying in the complex, as well as being buried here with honour. However, they did not conduct these burials and the accompanying rituals themselves, this was carried out by a priest of the Undergod. This priest and his acolytes needed space to worship their own god, as well as carry out services of remembrance and this is the chamber where this happened. 

This black painted room has religious text inscribed on every surface in a silvery-white script, and non-magical light here is dimmed, being absorbed by the same surfaces that are covered in the script. The north-eastern corner of the chamber is dominated by a dais that has an obvious empty throne on its top level. The southern portion of the chapel holds the pews for the congregation to sit on, and there is an altar opposite the throne. An ancient mummy stands watch over this shrine, an eternal servant to the Undergod, who brooks no desecration of this space. 

An exit to the south leads to the quarters of the former high priest who served this shrine.

High Priest's Quarters (9)

 This small but richly appointed quarters served the high priest of the mortuary temple; this room is bedecked in black and gold colours. This room is incongruously clean, and free from dust compared to the state of the rest of this level.

There is a bed here, and a private desk, as well as a thick rug, making this a handy and comfortable place to rest. The desk contains some minor treasures and trinkets.

There are exits in this chamber to the Necromantic Labs to the south, as well as the Gallery to the east.

Necromantic Lab (10)

Not content with simply carrying out funeral services and training apprentices, the high priests of the mortuary temple also had access to this well stocked and spacious lab, as well as materials that they could gather from the complex to the north for their forbidden research (which the staff of the observatory were either unaware of, or turned a blind eye to.

This lab was used to research the nature of life, death and undeath, as well as the creation of ever improved undead. This room is filled with the stench of decay, and has work benches and dissection tables in here as well as a well-stocked glassware section, a small library and a scripting table and wash basin. A giant, stitched zombie stands guard in here, attempting to push out anyone who enters without the correct symbols on their clothes or escorted by someone wearing such.

The only exits from this chamber lead to the gallery to the east and the priest's chambers to the north.

Gallery (11)

Pedestals line the outer wall of this macabre room, along with 2 display shelves in the centre of the room. These shelves contain various body parts and necromantic oddities preserved in glass jars, whilst the pedestals hold statues or larger glass vessels with whole bodies in them. Dotted around the room are odd, disturbing paintings showing scenes of death and unlife (someone with the correct knowledge may be able to work out these show scenes of the plane of negative energy or the Underworld).

One jar contains a pixie's corpse preserved like an animal specimen, and this is the centre of a haunt that affects this chamber, making any who are affected by it experience visions of death, misery and loss (treat as being under the effects of a confusion spell).

This chamber can be accessed from the priest's room, the lab (both to the west) or the summoning room to the north.

The Bone Well (12)

It is unclear what the purpose of this chamber once was but it was clearly once important, based on the exquisite but faded decorations on the walls, and the high quality of the flagstone floor. However, the pit in the centre (which is at least 3 metres deep) is filled with hundreds of bones, covering every inch of the floor of the pit to a depth of at least 1 metre. If one stares into the pit, the bones give the impression of moving, but looking again shows that they are still. There is a large symbol of the Undergod picked out in semi-precious stones on one section of the wall that has been scrubbed clean, but this symbol in turn has been defaced, with pitch thrown over the symbol and several of the stones having been damaged at some point.

A smell of incense covers any other smells in this chamber, and the temperature is uncomfortably warm. A brazier stands in an alcove, but is obviously damaged and no longer lit. This was once used to burn incense but clearly hasn't been used in some time. 

There are archways leading to the Black Pit (17) and the Guard Room (18) in this room, as well as a passageway back to the Chantry to the west.


That brings an end to this quick update of week 6's rooms. I will get the rooms for week 7 up soon!


Monday 6 February 2023

Dungeon23 Week 5 - On to Level 2

Week 5 - On to Level 2

This week we moved into February and so down on to level 2. This meant a change in theme in the megadungeon, but this wasn't an issue as I had already got a clear idea in mind from early in January as to what level 2 would be based around: the undead. I know this is hardly an original theme, but they are some of my favourite monsters to use, so I wanted to get them in early. Between this 2nd level and the vampire stalking the top level, this has been achieved rather nicely I think.

As I moved down a level this week, this also meant drawing a whole new map to start on this week, although due to the deisgn of the level above there were some choices that were already locked in. This was something I was happy with though, as limitations breed creativity and it also means there was a skeleton to start hanging this level on. This does however mean that there isn't much to look at visually this week.


The beginnings of the Undercroft

 This Week's Rooms

The Entrance Cave (30)

This cave in the hillside is the way in to the Owlbear Caves, and is a way for explorers to find their way into both these caves and the Observatory too. The entrance is a large opening in the hillside, with moss hanging down that obscures part of the entrance. The floor is covered in wind blown detritus such as dried leaves and soil. A large amount of small animal bones can be seen poking out of the litter across the floor, and there is a strong smell coming from deeper in the caves which is a mix of rot, dung and mould. This area serves as the perfect nesting area for both vermin swarms and also their larger cousins.

The complete Owlbear Caves


The Gem-Studded Column (31)

This cave is dominated by a central column that serves as a roof support, and is a natural formation. It is studded with semi-precious stones that could easily be mined from this column. However, the floor is covered with the bones of several being who tried to mine these gems. It is unclear if the column is trapped, or if they were killed by another denizen of the Owlbear Caves. These corpses are potentially the sources of the shadow that lurks inside the column, and attacks any humanoid that enters the cave. Oddly, the shadow ignores the owlbears, and never leaves this room to wander the complex.

Chantry (2-1)

The first room one would reach heading down the staircase in room 13 on level 1. Formerly this room was used as a place to mark the moving on of a member of staff of the Observatory or their families. Here priests sang thanks to the Sky God and to wish their departed colleague the best in their afterlife. This chamber was beautifully painted, and an archway in this room marked a symbolic passing point into the afterlife.

This room is now a far cry from its former glory, however. Signs of battle are obvious here, and areas where fighting hasn't taken place are thick with dust. Numerous undead assemble here and have then assault up the staircase to try and over run the orcs in the level above. It is unclear what or who is driving the undead to attack the orcs. In turn the orcs have tried to explore and find the source of the undead but with little success. What is worse, those orcs that died in these expeditions later return as zombies to attack the living orcs.

There are 4 exits to this room, one in each of the compass directions. The door to the north stands open, whilst the others are generally closed.

Embalming Chamber (2-2)

When followers of the Sky God died in his service, they would end up here, being prepared for their final resting. This chamber has a stone bier that the body of the deceased would lie upon, and this would allow morticians to work on them. 

Now this room acts as a strange lure to any corpses that have been reanimated as zombies (if they have not been given other orders). They often cluster around the bier, standing silently, motionless next to it. 

The rest of this chamber is mostly undisturbed, with the cupboards along the walls containing embalming supplies that have mostly mouldered away. The walls are all covered in black tiles, and the floor to this chamber is a smooth well-set flagstone one, in contrast to much of this level This room has a double door exit to the west and another to the north. Both of these doors are thick, iron shod wooden doors.

Cold Store (2-3)

West of the embalming room is this large cold store. This semi-circular room has 6 stone slabs in it, which stand at a height of 3 ft. The room is supernaturally cold, standing at a constant -20 degrees Celsius. This is caused by a tiny but permanent portal connection to the frozen wastes to the north. This constantly blows frigid air into this room, and could conceivably be used to pass something small through to the wastes. 

Upon opening the chamber, it is clear this room hasn't been opened in decades, and the bodies that were left here have since reanimated, attacking anything that comes through the doors.

Divination Chamber (2-4)

A large, square, open chamber dimly lit by black candles (one in each corner). These candles shed a cold grey light, making this a very gloomy room. This gloom is only pierced by the ruby red light that comes from the ritual circle that is picked out in the black flagstone floor. It is hard to make out the three doorways in this room (in the west, south and east walls). 

This room was used to contact the dead, often used to speak with dead or to seek out particular souls to communicate with. This link to the dead and necromancy has meant that two shadows were attracted to this chamber, where they remain now, attacking any living creature that comes in here.

Ossuary (2-5)

North of the Embalming Chamber lies this ossuary, which consists of a long chamber set with alcoves along the eastern and western walls. All of these alcoves have been filled with bones, and the walls, doors and archways have been set with bones too. The whole of this area is under a desecrate effect, and this in turn has animated the bones in the walls in some kind of skeletal creature, with limbs reaching out from the walls to claw at the living. 

Grave goods were placed in the base of the alcoves, and these now lie scattered across the floor, offering a tempting target to would be thieves that come across this room. Trouble is, this puts them directly in reach of the sharp bony claws of the wall.


That's it for this week, a bit of a shorter one. It's been a busy week and for the first time in this challenge, I have had to try and make time for drawing and detailing the dungeon rooms. However, what did stand out to me was the desire to do just that. It would be on my mind that I needed to do my room for the day, so I guess that means it must be forming a habit!

Sunday 29 January 2023

Dungeon23 Week 4

Dungeon23 Week 4

Wow, week 4 already! This week I said goodbye to the front portion of the megadungeon's first level, the observatory, and moved into the rear portion: the owlbear caves. This section takes on a different character to the front half as we are now dealing with caves rather than a complex built by hand, with purpose. This section allowed me to build a sublevel right into the first level, as well as allowing a way in for characters who chose to explore the surroundings of the complex.

In this week's post I will once again look at the rooms I have drawn and what is going into them, but I also want to talk about my habits when it comes to stocking dungeons, and in general when it comes to creating antagonists for fantasy RPGs.


The Owlbear Caves (incomplete)

This Week's Rooms

As this sub-level was something I already had fixed in my head over the last two weeks, the outline of the map developed pretty quickly. I knew there would need to be a connection to the observatory, and there also needed to be a connection to the outside world. In between I had already named the caves the Owlbear Caves in my mind so that quickly became a theme I wanted to use. The rest of the design fell into place pretty quickly, as there needed to be more than one route through and I wanted to add more options for ways down to lower levels so the underground river was added too. This simply left me filling out what was in each chamber!

 The Fungi Cave (23)

This cave links to the passage through to the observatory, and has two other exits linking to different caves. The floor of this cave is rough and uneven, with clusters of stalagmites in the eastern part of the cave, and rock columns in the west. There is a large patch of edible fungus growing in the south-eastern corner of the cave. Although this cave is uninhabited, it is clearly regularly visited as the fungus is tended to and nurtured.

Rooms 23 and 24 up close

 The Druid's Shrine (24)

The home of Kozdil the druid. A troglodyte druid resides here, tending to the caves throughout the first few levels, keeping an eye on the health of the flora and fauna that reside here. Kozdil is an outcast from his kind, as he is willing to deal with other races (although he is still unpleasant by human standards). Characters may be able to bargain with him for information or help.

Kozdil's home has a small shoreline along the river, as well as a small rock ledge in the north of the chamber that serves as his sleeping quarters. There are clusters of stalagmites here, as well as farmed mushrooms in stone planters near the river. The centre of the cave is dominated by a circle of mushrooms the size of a stool, which has a crude stone altar in the middle of it.

The Underground River (25)

This cold, shallow, fast flowing stream cuts across the cave complex running east to west, vanishing down a sinkhole at the western end, which offers passage to some of the lower levels for those brave or foolish enough to use this route. The flow here is enough to make it a slight challenge to swim in, but the water is only waist deep on an average human.

 There is a bend at the eastern end with a shallow area. Here a hidden cache of long-lost plunder sits in crates, just waiting for someone to discover it.

Owlbear Nest (26)

This cave has a ledge running all the way around it, at a height of 10 ft, allowing one to avoid the filth and squalor of the owlbear nest on the floor. Bones litter the floor, the remains of hundreds of meals for the owlbear male that lives in this nest. There is a strong preference in the skeletal remains for large felines. The stench here is overwhelming, and there is a chance of contracting a disease such as filth fever if the nest is messed with. The owlbear is of course, immune to this filth.

Male Owlbear's Nest

 Riverine Beach (27)

This large cave runs down to the river, with both the north and south side of this room sloping, and both end in a mixed stone and sand beach at the riverside. The whole cave is cool and moist thanks to the presence of the river, and there is junk washed up in and amongst the stones on the beach, chiefly the bones of small animals. From the southern shore the cache of loot can be seen at the eastern end if enough light is brought to bear on it.

On the southern wall of the cave there is a slight recess that contains a well hidden secret door that allows access to the Hidden Shrine (28). This door operates on a counter balance system, and can be opened by the use of hidden latch that can be found near the door, at head height.

The Hidden Shrine

The Hidden Shrine (28)

This split level chamber serves as two purposes. Firstly it is a hidden shrine to the god of murder, with areas for services, summonings and sacrifices in a relatively small space. These are all located on the lower level of the chamber. The upper area serves as lodgings for cult members who need to stay or need some place to hide. There are some basic supplies in crates on the upper level as well as a decently furnished room against the western wall, which also has a privacy screen to allow the occupant to sleep at any time.

This shrine is now mostly disused, the cult that founded it dead or scattered. However they left behind a guardian to watch over the site, and keep their treasures safe. A shadow is released from the summoning circle if any living being enters the chamber. The shadow recognises symbols of the dark god that is worshipped here but will attack all others who violate the shrine. 

The shrine can be accessed by secret doors in both the western and eastern walls. The eastern door is still easily accessible, but the western door is inside a large chamber that is now used as a nursery by an owlbear and her mate.

Some Musings

Some years ago one of my gaming group made a joke about me using clerics and demons as antagonists in games, along with cockatrices. I was shocked, because I had in my mind that I was quite varied in my opponents to the characters, and voiced as much. This triggered much mirth around the table as all the players were in agreement that I very much had stock patterns for opponents. This though came to my mind as I was designing the Hidden Shrine this week. I had somehow managed to add two religious sites right next to each other, without even realising it!

Along with the fact that the Observatory is in fact nothing more than one big temple dedicated to the god of the sky, there are 3 religious buildings on level 1 of the dungeon. With this in mind I am now going to make it my mission to add at least one temple or shrine to every level of this megadungeon. I want to see if I can cover a wide variety of gods and themes, and also see if I can add links to other temples throughout the complex. One of the things I will also work on is why there are so many temples in this one dungeon? What draws followers of the gods here, and why are most of these temples now abandoned? Leaning into my own games tropes seems like a good way for me to stamp my own unique games mastering style onto this megadungeon, and when all is said and done, isn't that what this project is about?

Sunday 22 January 2023

Dungeon23 Week 3

Dungeon23 Week 3

3rd week, and the train keeps rolling! I have passed a milestone that I set myself this week with Dungeon23, and that was to finish the map of the observatory that makes up the first level of my megadungeon, or at least the northern half of the first level. As I type this on Sunday the 22nd of January, I am preparing to move on and map the southern portion of this first level, which will provide the first change of pace for me when it comes to drawing the map and coming up with inspiration for room contents. I am already starting to consider the deeper levels, which I am taking as a good sign!

Complete Observatory map

This Week's Rooms

This week was spent filling in the remaining rooms on this part of the map, which meant that the run of rooms down the eastern side of the dungeon got completed, as well as the large room in the south-west corner. These rooms were where I tried to make add a little of the mystical and magical into the complex, as well as adding another unorthodox entrance/exit to the dungeon. I will talk more about this later in this post.

Lair of the Dire Badger (16)

Last week I filled out the first of the rooms on the eastern fringe of the dungeon with the lair of the bugbear mercenary Zhark. This week's first room lies immediately to the south, and like Zhark's room, is formerly a priest's cell. However, this room has had its ceiling collapse, allowing earth to fill a large part of this room, although there is still room for the door to open into the cell. This mound of earth has now become home to a dire badger that has dug its set into the soil. This slope of soil also provides another way for intrepid explorers to enter and exit the whole complex, possibly avoiding the orc's defences... if they deal with the vicious animal that is currently using this space!

Divination Chamber (17)

A chamber that lends itself to the more mystical side of the observatory's work, this room has been mostly ignored by the orc invaders, and lies in a state of dusty neglect. A large circle has been traced on the floor in coloured tiles, and a large pentagram is contained within the circle. Symbols relating to the elements surround the pentagram, picked out in tiles of different colours. There was previously an orrery here, but it has been violently destroyed at some point, with the jewels that served as the planes having been wrenched from their positions in the delicate mechanism. Some residual power remains in the circle and summoning spells are cast at a level higher inside the circle if they are summoning elementals.

The Fountain Room (18)

A large stone fountain dominates the centre of this chamber, which features an odd-looking fish as its spout. Strangely, whichever way this fountain is observed from the fish appears to be pointing towards its observer. This fountain continues to supply cool fresh water constantly thanks to its small connections to the elemental plane of water built into the fish, and then drains through an equally small connection in the base of the pool. The priests who built this complex used their magic to ensure they never had to worry about their water supply!

The fountain room contains two large wooden barrels which are used to replenish the standing water supply in other chambers around the complex.

Gospel of the Sky God (19)

This room is unusual as its floor, walls and ceiling are all pitch black, and seem to absorb a portion of light that falls upon them. The room itself contains 9 columns that reach from floor to ceiling. The columns all have a glowing white script scrawled over them, the gospel of the sky god that this observatory was built in service of. 

Across the walls, murals are drawn in the same glowing white colour, depicting scenes of religious significance. One of the murals appears to have been deliberately defaced, perhaps by an axe. Closer inspection reveals that the scene shows an avatar of the sky god using his power to repel an invasion of the surface world by several humanoid races from the deep caverns of the world, although none of these invaders appear to be orcs.

One of the columns (the central one) contains a treasure that can be located by careful investigation and tracing the correct word in the script. This word relates to the defaced scene on the walls, and is spoken by the avatar as he repels the invaders.

Slave Pens (20)

A very large chamber located in the southern part of the complex, this room has been turned into the quarter for the slaves that the orcs hold. Several large cages are found here, where the slaves are held when they are not working for the orcs. Many of these slaves are captured goblins that the orcs dominate and bully, but some are of the common surface races, and they languish in miserable conditions, constantly taunted by the orcs they are forced to serve.

A guard is always assigned to this chamber day and night, although they often bore of this task and can be found gambling and drinking in guard room to the east. If the guard is not in the room to the east, they are usually sat at the table in the eastern portion of the room entertaining themselves with drink or games. The western half of the hall holds a pair of long benches where the slaves eat every meal, chained together and miserable. Warmth is provided by a large hearth set against the north wall, between two doors that lead to the garbage pits and the kennels.

This room has a sturdy door in the south wall that is kept barred from this side because it leads to the owlbear caves, which eventually lead back to the outside on the south side of the hill this whole dungeon is built into.

There is a secret door in the north wall on the very western part of this chamber which is currently unknown to anyone in the complex. It can be opened by pressing a dummy brick in the wall to the left of door (in the corner where the western and norther walls meet).

Old Storeroom (21)

This unusual room is significantly colder than any other part of the complex, and a rime of frost coats every surface of this room, as well as the scatter of random boxes and barrels that are left in this room. There is little sign that the orcs have made much use of this chamber, and they appear to have not noticed the corpse that can be found in the south-western portion of the room, behind the stack of crates. This body appear old and very frozen, as well as undisturbed. Perhaps its pockets contain some treasure or trinket?

The Statuary (22)

This room is dominated by a large and exquisitely carved statue of the sky god, who is stood majestically on its pedestal. Along the eastern and western walls there are 10 more statues (5 on each) of a mixture of men and women. 9 of them stand with their arms by their sides, one stands in a pose with its arms outstretched (the same pose as the avatar depicted in the murals in room 19). Three of the statues appear to have been decapitated on purpose, their heads lying damaged on the floor of the chamber.

There is a secret door hidden behind the smaller statue with its arms outstretched (on the western wall), which can be accessed by pushing down on the outstretched arm. There is a very narrow gap at the bottom of statue, which is very hard to spot but serves as a way for the vampire to access its chamber in gaseous form without opening the secret door directly.


Using the Jaquays Technique

One thing I want for this megadungeon is make sure that there are always multiple ways in and out of the dungeon, and to make sure there are connections between different levels of the dungeon. On top of that I want some of these connections to give access to multiple levels, so players can move more than one level at a time if they wish. With this in mind I have been working to make sure I thoroughly Jaquay my dungeon, with there being 9 different connections in this first section of the megadungeon, some of which are far more obvious than others. The very obvious front door, and stairs down to the next level serve as the obvious path, whilst the barred door that leads to the owlbear caves is perhaps a less obvious means of egress that could be discovered by curious players before they tackled the front door if they went looking for an alternate entrance. Along with these means of moving in and out there is also the crevasse which allows players and dungeon denizens to move between the first level and others further down. 

There are several chimneys and smokestacks that link to the outside world in this complex. All of these emerge into the light on the top of the hill, hidden by grass and other plant life, or covered by thin turf that has grown over in the intervening years. These smaller entrances are complimented by the ability to open the roof of one chamber from within, and the fact the ceiling has collapsed in on one room, which now has a dire badger living in it. The garbage pit provides a way down to the level beneath, even if this way is rather limited and somewhat dangerous.

All of these entrances and exits serve to create connections with other parts of the dungeon. Smart or curious players will be able to find lots of ways to sneak about or bypass guards should they look, whilst the crevasse offers options to even the least curious adventurer. Moving forward into the owlbear caves, I will keep offering ways for players to move up and down through the megadungeon as well as advance through it. 

First look at wandering monsters


 Looking Ahead

The next week will be starting to map out the owlbear caves, as well as thinking more about the levels beneath, as well as how they connect to the already existing ways to move up and down. I may attempt to start sketching a vertical map of the levels to help visualize the dungeon more and how each level and sub-level relates to one another. 

Other things to look at will be wandering monster entries. I want there to be risks to players who dawdle or make too much noise and the humble wandering monster seems to be a good way to do this. Each small table will be an opportunity to bring the dungeon to life, so I want some thought to go into each table. This picture above is the first look at a wandering monster table for the observatory. I may yet refine it, but I doubt I will make it much bigger, as there will be one created for each sub level. Lets see what I can come up with for the next sublevel, although I am pretty sure the name already suggests some ideas!

If you want to see regular snippets of progress for this dungeon, follow me on Twitter @pertinax_rpg. Feel free to comment with your thoughts on progress so far, or if you are attempting your own Dungeon 23 challenge.