Books Full of Challenges and Traps for Fantasy RPGs. Dungeon Room Design Part 1.

So, you’ve decided to maybe bump off a few of the PCs in tonight’s game, huh? Well, you’ve come to the right place if you’re using anything in the Grimtooth’s Traps collection. These traps books have been around a while in various forms. Some of us OGs might just happen to have the original Flying Buffalo versions lying around. I prefer the collections because they put all or most of them in one place.

There’s a good reason for keeping some of the old Grimtooth’s Traps (among other) books handy.

Can’t think of traps without good ol’ Grimtooth coming to mind.

So, you’ve decided to maybe bump off a few of the PCs in tonight’s game, huh? Well, you’ve come to the right place if you’re using anything in the Grimtooth’s Traps collection. These traps books have been around a while in various forms. Some of us OGs might just happen to have the original Flying Buffalo versions lying around. I prefer the collections because they put all or most of them in one place.

There is also a 3rd Ed D&D book called the Book of Challenges that comes in handy for designing dungeon rooms, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. We’ll discuss it further in another article. There are countless other resources throughout the years, too many to effectively list here.

Some DMs/GMs shy away from the use of “death” traps. Like they’re afraid of mangling a character or something.

I’ve always had a very light-hearted, easy going approach to traps. I’ve ground up a few characters in them. Not all of them are an instant TPK, but a good number of them do require the attention of a skilled healer afterward. That’s something you just don’t get in the newest incarnation of D&D.

If I’m running a game and I say, “click,” everyone had better be prepared to roll a saving throw of some kind. Mechanical traps are the easy ones. When we start mixing in magic- that’s where things get really exciting. Oh, plus boobytrapped/cursed items. I might have a sadistic streak in my personality? (LOL!!!)

I used to build dungeons around the notion of being a gauntlet of traps with a few creatures strewn in for good measure. Some of those dungeons had some really sweet loot, though. I find that one has to entice the characters and even the players to a certain extent. Gauntlets of Ogre Power, +5 Holy Avenger, +3 Sword of Sharpness, and the occasional +1/+3 Dragon Slayer serve as good treasure should the group survive. (*Back in the day we had a lot of Fighters, Barbarians, and Assassins in the group.)

This is a trap I’ve used before. It’s a meat grinder.

But what about the ones that get squished?

Back in the old days, if a character ate it in a particularly brutal trap, Grimtooth’s or something I made up, we let the player roll up a new character two levels lower than the party. We let the new characters roll for loot plus whatever the group salvaged off of the squished character. Usually the group was pretty cool about helping out if someone lost a character in a dungeon in such a grim way.

Then it was just a matter of working the new character into the party as soon as they left the dungeon to sell treasure or replenish supplies. I recall a few rare occasions when the new characters wandered into the dungeon and rescued the preexisting group. Most of the time cherished, long term characters would miraculously survive certain doom with clever thinking and lucky rolls.

Proper prevention is worth a pound of premade characters.

Of course, the best way to prevent character death was to be on the constant lookout for traps. It was sometimes hilarious watching the group meticulously checking every square for pressure plates, tripwires, shifting floors, subtle inclines and holes in the walls. Sometimes they’d get lucky and find a secret door or a concealed room instead.

I had a player take a dwarven miner into a dungeon once who managed to circumvent several traps and monsters by tunneling straight through the walls of the dungeon. I was caught off guard by this maneuver and really had no counter for it the first time it happened. I’ve also seen high level spells used to flood, gas, or detonate some dungeon areas. (*Note, above-ground structures are particularly vulnerable to kabooms from the sky.)

After death traps really started taking their toll in the game, a couple of players got really smart and started playing Thieves. They’d warm up the percentile dice and then we didn’t see as many characters die in trap dungeons. Monsters, on the other hand…

After 3.5 or 4th Ed, traps fell out of style.

The pillars of adventuring: Grimtooth style.

Dungeons in D&D just ain’t what they used to be. Or at least in 5E people are slightly more attached to their characters. 4th Ed was fun because of the timing elements and the way the action economy worked. 4th also saw a lot of monsters get nerfed pretty bad.

Nowadays players tend to put a lot of thought and careful background planning into their new D&D characters. It makes the DM look bad when someone’s prized Tiefling Bard of Twitch and Instagram fame buys the farm in the most awful corridor trap the DM could find in Grimtooth’s Traps. It would upset the cosplayer/player horribly, and we just can’t have that.

OSR games usually aren’t hampered by such unofficial restrictions, of course. Most of us OGs are used to the possibility of being reckless in a dungeon being the end of a character. A lot of us don’t get overly attached to a character for just that reason. Some GM/DMs are more kind than others, though.

The best advice for handling traps in most games:

Talk about it before characters are made. That way someone might want to make a Thief. The group might want to hire some added help. (Alas, poor Jimmy the Torchbearer, back for more dungeon romps.) Knowing death could be lurking around any corner, the players may wish to brush up on Dungeoneering 101 somewhere. There are some key survival tactics out there if you read up.

On the other hand, if the prospect of traps that can literally swallow a character whole terrifies or slightly concerns the group? Please refrain from using them? Especially new players might be turned off of gaming if one of their characters runs afoul of one of the Grimtooth style character grinders.

The other rule I’ve incorporated into my game over the years is the “Click” Rule. If the DM/GM says “Click!” while the group is wassailing around in a dungeon, we go around the table and each player gets to describe one action before the trap goes off. I forget exactly who came up with this rule, but I love it. It has made traps far more interesting when players do all kinds of crazy, paranoid things because they think the trap is on them.

Remember, as a GM/DM you always have the option to not use traps or nerf them.

You can always select a less lethal option or just omit the trap all together. When I make a Five Room Dungeon, (*See Johnn Four’s Five Room Dungeon Guide for more.) I like to make at least one of the rooms some sort of trap element. There’s also usually a room with a puzzle or special lock.

The idea, of course, is to make the players think on their feet a bit more. If every room has a trap, the group is likely going to get bored. Or start finding ways to set everything off without their precious characters getting greased. (Alas, poor Sparky the Squirrel familiar. May he rest until summoned again.) But, if carefully planned and executed, traps can be a heap of fun.

I hope you found some use of this article. Traps are one of my favorite dungeoneering aspects to any fantasy game. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you. Game on!

Disclaimer: Never build or use any traps in real life. Someone could be seriously injured or worse. In short- It’s just not worth it. Be kind. Talk it out.

DCC Catacomb of the Wolf Lord Room 1-4

This room may seem a little lackluster compared to the others once unearthed.

This room may seem a little lackluster compared to the others once unearthed.

Room 1-4: Much like the door to Room 1-3, this door is caked in mud and earth, taking considerable effort to find. However, once discovered, the door swings into Room 1-2 with considerable ease. It opens to a narrow hole in the packed mud about 3′ in diameter, about enough for one adventurer at a time.

Once a light is shone into the room, the walls and ceiling are caked with thick mud and packed earth. At least half of the room is completely filled in. The glint of gold can be seen a little over 10′ across from the opening on what remains of the stone floor. There is about 5′ of operable space from floor to ceiling within the dimensions indicated on the map. What is possibly a hilt of a weapon or the end of a staff covered in dirt can also be seen. There is also a mud covered goblet and a bowl of a brazier sticking out of the dirt farther into the room.

And then there was trouble!
Once an adventurer enters the room, they can see the corner of a chest buried in the mud next to the coins. If they try to extract the chest, the handle, the goblet or the brazier, or do anything that disturbs the room in any way (Yell, tap the walls floor or ceiling, swing a weapon, etc) a full collapse is triggered. DC 15 Ref Save to get clear in time. The room is filled with earth! Anyone in the room takes 1d8 damage and is buried in the dirt. Suffocation Fort DC 10+1 per round buried, 1d6 Sta damage per failed save. The characters not trapped in the dirt can be excavated from the wreckage. The GM can determine how difficult it will be to dig any given player out depending on how far into the room they are buried.

IF the group managed to befriend or play nice with the elementals, they can excavate trapped PCs with ease and will gladly do so. They won’t help with the treasure, but they will save the adventurers, who clearly don’t belong in their element.

Thanks for stopping in. Room 1-5 is on the horizon. I love old fashioned dungeon crawls.

Catacomb of the Wolf Lord: Room 1-3

Room 1-3 of Catacomb of the Wolf Lord. The group may have found treasure, but is it cursed?

The “Treasure” Room.

The entrance to the Treasure Room 1-3 is concealed under a thick layer of old mud and gravel. In the dim lighting and all of the mud, the door will be difficult to find. If the group “plays” with the elementals, more earth will be caked onto the old mud. Ask the players if/how they are searching.

If the group finds the door and excavates it, it opens into Room 1-2. Beyond the door, there is a 5’x5′ unlit hallway leading to another door. Across the way, is a wrought iron bound locked door. The lock is trapped and will drop a 1 ton granite block on the trap victim and blocking the hallway. (Detect Trap DC15.)
Pick Lock DC 18. 8d6 damage from the block + being pinned. Reflex Save for no damage.

If successful, the door opens into a magically lit 15′ x 15′ room, domed ceiling with a faint glowing light in it, with a magical circle drawn on the floor. Inside the circle are four items. The first is a dagger (athame) in an ornate wooden box. The second is a leather bound book with a lock and key. It looks to be very old. The third is a gray fur cloak with an ornate wolf’s head clasp. The fourth and final item is a wolf’s fang.

Once the first character fully enters the room, a ghostly wolf appears. It speaks clearly to the group. It points to each item with its nose and states, Cleric, the dagger; Wizard, the book; Thief, the cloak, and Fighter, the tooth. Read the following aloud:

The ghost stares at you, or possibly through you. It points to each item and states clearly a second time Cleric, the dagger; Wizard, the book; Thief, the cloak, and Fighter, the tooth. Choose wisely. You make only keep one. Bring it to my final resting place for your real reward if you are so worthy.The rest are cursed.

It sits and says, “I’m waiting for your answer. You may ask one question of each item if you wish. One I shed. One was my end. One was my life. One is my gift to you if you are worthy.”

The ghost, a spirit messenger of the Wolf Lord, will answer truthfully one question of each item within reason. Its answers will always be cryptic and vague. It won’t try to encourage or discourage the group from choosing any of the items. It might also answer a little more about itself.

The Wolf Lord wasn’t always a wolf. It lived for a while as a man to better understand men. He took an elven bride and had two children: Koga and Kei. Koga became feral and ran away at a young age to join a wolf pack. Kei grew up to be a refined elven lady. (Current whereabouts unknown.) The Wolf Lord eventually rejoined his spirit pack and left his mortal family behind.

After many centuries, the great animal lords were forgotten. In turn, each returned to a sacred place where a coven of followers put their bodies to rest and sealed them away from the mortal world.

*Note: If any of the cursed items have the curse removed, the item is rendered permanently inert.

A) The athame is a cursed dagger +1. It radiates strong magic. The wielder must feed it one hp per day or lose 1 Stamina each day the hp requirement is not met. The wielder may not give its own hp.

B) The Coven’s Spellbook: The Coven’s Spellbook is a cursed antithesis of all that is Lawful or Neutral. Any mage who opens it will automatically become Chaotic, and will turn more toward being un-dead with each page read. Any/all spells copied or cast from the book with automatically backfire. Any creatures summoned automatically turn on the caster. It was never meant for the world of the living.

C) The Cloak of the Gray Wolf: At first, this cloak appears to not be cursed. It offers a +1 Agility bonus to Stealth and +1 bonus to AC. Once per day it allows the wearer to shapeshift into a normal wolf. All items become part of the new form. Mental stats stay the same.

Wolf, common: Init +3; Atk bite +2 melee (1d4); AC 12; HD
as wearer; MV 40’; Act 1d20; SV Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +1;

The ability resets at sunrise.
But the cloak is cursed. At the first full moon after acquisition, the wearer transforms permanently into a wolf under the control of the GM until the curse can be lifted.

D) The tooth is a regular tooth. It is not cursed, nor is it terribly useful yet. However, it is the key to unlocking the real treasure in Room 2-2, the Wolf Lord’s burial chamber.

While the Wolf Lord is considered a demigod and will grant certain spells to his followers, this is clearly not the book to do it with. The Wolf Lord will be available as a Mage Patron and as a Demigod to be detailed elsewhere.

Once an item is chosen, the rest vanish along with the circle and the lights in the room. The eerie outline of the spirit can still be seen, but it will not interact after the choice is made.

That’s it for this room. It’s obvious the other party never made it to this room. The journal makes no reference to tests or treasure beyond a vague mention of some kind of treasure believed to be buried with the bones of the Wolf Lord himself.

Thanks for being here! I appreciate you. Can’t wait to see what happens in Room 1-4 and 1-5? Hang in there. They’re coming soon.

DCC Catacomb of the Wolf Lord Room 1-1

Over a century ago, the physical bones of the Wolf Lord were lay to rest. A sword of legend and other riches lay within the tomb.

This is the first room of my new dungeon.

Room 1-1 and the hallway leading to the dungeon. What mysteries lay within?

A couple of farm kids accidentally excavated an entrance to an ancient burial mound deep within the ground. It is perfect for adventurers who want to make a name for themselves exploring the tunnel and beyond.

The tunnel is long and unlit. The walls are mostly made of packed earth and stone with the occasional very old wooden brace. Those familiar with the earth may make a check to notice the grade of the floor. The long tunnel goes down about 3′ for every 5′ square. There are torches sunk into the walls every 30′ of the 120 foot tunnel.

The walls are old, but have held up exceptionally well over the years. The whole place smells earthy and musty. It is obvious no one has passed through here in many years.

Room 1-1: At the end of the long tunnel are 6 alcoves, 3 on each side of the wall with what at first may appear to be dirty old bronze or iron statues. Closer inspection reveals they are actually zombies that activate and attack!

6 Zombies: Init -4; Atk bite +3 melee (1d4); AC 9; HD 3d6; MV
20’; Act 1d20; SP un-dead; SV Fort +4, Ref -4, Will +2; AL C.

After the battle, the party will see two huge iron banded thick wooden doors. Both are locked. In front of the door are the corpses of what appear to be two dead adventurers. The bodies are very old, perhaps a century or more. There is little more than scraps of cloth and bones. Closer inspection will indicate the doors were closed by the adventurers before they succumbed to their wounds.

Loot: Rummaging through the deceased adventurers will yield a Silver Dagger, a pristine set of Thieves Tools, a scroll with the Level 1 Spell- Ropework, a solid staff, a Level 2 Enchanter’s (Neutral Wizard) spellbook with 7 First Level Spells, and a journal with entries regarding the Wolf Lord. (See Bevin’s Journal.)

The two large stone doors are locked. The lock is centered between the two doors. A large bronze carving of a wolf’s head is above each door. The lock is DC 15 with a Poison Needle trap within that triggers when the lock is opened with anything other than the proper key. Trap DC 15 to detect/disarm. The poison is the equivalent of Asp Poison Fort Save DC 20 1d3 Agi/1d6 Agi. Normal healing.

Once the doors are opened… To be continued.

Birth of a Dungeon Crawl?

DCC/MCC project is intended to be a work in progress. I’ll be posting one or two dungeon rooms at a time here on my blog, useable in OSR games. I’m also looking at popping out some items, spells, classes and races for both DCC and MCC.

I’m contemplating a new series of articles.

I recently got turned onto Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) and Mutant Crawl Classics (MCC) by Goodman Games. DCC has been around in its current form since 2012, but its roots extend back to the good old 3rd Ed D&D days. (*Editor’s Note: I still have many of the old modules and treasure them dearly.) DCC in its current printing is very much in the vein of Old School Revival (OSR) as it looks a LOT like old B/X D&D. (*Editor’s Note: I’ve written more about it here.)

MCC is a little newer (2017?) and is a throwback to Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World in so many ways. It also reminds me a little bit of Palladium’s Rifts with its mix of magic and technology. DCC and MCC are fully compatible with one another, which is awesomesauce when designing creatures. While I’m not huge on post apocalyptic genre games in general, I like MCC because of its old school charm and simplicity. It also uses the same character funnel 0 Level play as DCC only AD Terra style.

One thing that really jumps out at me about both DCC and MCC is the incredible amount of third party support that exists for both games. Goodman even goes so far as to list many of them in their books. I have not begun to dig through the various websites to look for what am looking at creating. I have ideas for several character classes/races. Much like other OGL endeavors, I’m certain anything I come up with is going to resemble material that already exists somewhere.

It will be a work in progress.

Similar to my Power Rangers RPG campaign, my DCC/MCC project is intended to be a work in progress. I’ll be posting one or two dungeon rooms at a time here on my blog, useable in OSR games. I’m also looking at popping out some items, spells, classes and races for both DCC and MCC. Anything I put on the blog is always free to use anywhere. I might eventually cobble together an entire book for pdf publication on DriveThruRPG or my Ko-Fi Page.

My plans from there in regards to OGL endeavours is to either do more on DriveThruRPG or possibly consider starting up something on Patreon. There are a staggering number of RPG startups out there. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going to set my work apart just yet, but I’m going to do it anyway. Because DCC/MCC are an OGL venture, I may eventually veer off into other systems such as D&D or ICRPG.

What can I say? I love RPGs. I love monkeying with different systems.

Thank you for being here. I appreciate you. More to come. Take care. Have a great week. Game on!

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