Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet

Last week I wrote about the concept of dimensional dungeons. I really like the concept because it gives me a great deal of flexibility when just plopping some random dungeon into the world. A dungeon that seems out of place and doesn’t really make sense to be there suddenly does make sense when you say the dungeon entrance is actually a doorway to another dimension that can pop in and out of existence at random locations. The following is an example of one such dungeon, created to hold a powerful artifact.

Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet is a powerful artifact described in one of the books in the wizard Ugeor’s library. He has never pursued the artifact himself but it has always been a curiosity to him. When the heroes bring a strange rectangular cuboid object to him to be identified he recognizes it at once! It is the key to the dungeon where the gauntlet is interred. He describes how to summon the doorway using the key and suggests doing so a ways outside of the city just in case the guardians within may be let out, then tells you that if you retrieve Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet and bring it to him he will pay a hefty price for it, but warns you that Z’tratlan most likely did not want his gauntlet found and that the dungeon it is kept in would most likely be filled with traps and dangerous guardians. Z’tratlan was a necromancer of considerable renown and he would want protectors that would not age so they would most likely be undead.

The heroes take the key to a secluded location outside of town and begin the simple rite that summons the doorway. As they do so the air grows cold and the light of the sun seems to dim although there are no clouds in the sky. Then the earth rumbles and an obsidian arch rises from the ground. The arch thrusts upwards 10 feet revealing a pair of banded wooden doors covered in an indecipherable writing. In between the doors is a rectangle just large enough for Z’tratlan’s key to fit.

Z'tratlan's Gauntlet
Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet – click map to download.

The following map is a micro-dungeon you can use in your games. It has 5 described rooms, one of them being the trapped hallway. I’d like to try to publish a map on a semi regular basis. I’m still a beginner at making these maps but I really enjoy it so while I know there is room for improvement I think I can do so quickly. I’ve designed this map with Old School Essentials published by Necrotic Gnome in mind but there isn’t anything here requiring you to use those rules. I’ve intentionally left out monster stats to keep this rules and level neutral. I don’t like to use monsters from the book, instead I make up my own but typically will take the stats from something that seems appropriate in the book, swap out the descriptions, and add or subtract abilities. The room descriptions below should be taken only as a suggestion and I encourage you to ignore all of them. You could also use this as a portion of a larger map or draw your own extensions to make this bigger. I’d love to hear how you used this map, and any feedback you have that will help me when creating new maps in the comments for this post.

  1. This first room has a doorway to the East and West. Both doors are banded wooden doors and are locked. The locks are simple and non magical so the doors shouldn’t be too much effort to open either by picking the locks or breaking the doors down. On either side of the doors is a glowing sphere. These spheres are an electrical trap that will discharge if anyone walks between them. The spheres can be easily shattered but should be done from a distance lest they discharge through the player’s weapon.
  2. There is a treasure chest in this room to tempt players, it is locked but again shouldn’t be too much trouble to smash the wooden chest or pick the lock. Before entering the room though, the players will notice a large sphere, very similar to the ones in room 1. This sphere will zap anyone that enters the room and will do three times the damage caused by the spheres in room 1. If the players made it this far though they know they can smash this sphere but doing so will be more difficult. I’ll leave it up to the GM to decide what is in the chest but the players should be rewarded for their efforts in getting to it and opening it. Optionally, if you wish there can be a secret passageway to room 4 which willow the players the ability to avoid the spike and pit trap in room 3.
  3. Stepping into this hallway triggers the trap. A spiked wall will slowly move towards the players. They can easily evade the wall by moving away from it at a normal speed, however there is also a pit trap in the floor here. The players can walk around the pit trap and still evade the encroaching spiked wall if they notice it. When the spiked wall passes by the entryway from room 1, that way becomes closed off and the players must wait for the trap to retract again which it does when it reaches the end of the hallway right before it curves. This can also prevent a hasty retreat since the wall moves very slowly.
  4. This room contains armored spirit guardians. The players may wish to avoid the guardians but one of them contains a key inside it’s armor that is necessary to unlock the chest in room 5.
  5. A mummy warrior guards this room and atop a small dais on the far side of the room is an iron chest. The chest is bolted to the ground and unbreakable, the lock might be picked but would be challenging to do so or it might be more easily opened by magical means if the key is unavailable. The mummy is considerably stronger than a normal mummy and won’t let the players approach the chest without a fight. It will fight until destroyed. The mummy might be stronger than the players but is also weak against fire and can easily be destroyed by it. It can also be turned by a cleric but won’t be destroyed by turning and the effects only last a single round before this mummy is able to shake them off and return to the fight. Inside the chest is Z’tratlan’s Gauntlet.

This dungeon will remain in place once summoned unless it’s key is removed. It can be summoned in any location, but the locals might not appreciate it’s gaudy entryway within their town. Once the gauntlet is taken out of the dungeon it will disappear and cannot be brought back. Anything left inside the dungeon will be lost for good. All players should be allowed to leave the dungeon before it disappears, but if I were running this and felt that loophole was being taken advantage of, I wouldn’t have qualms with stranding a player.

Dimensional Dungeons

I’ve been thinking about dungeons and how random dungeons in the middle of some woods can be kind of silly. Why would they be there with nothing else around them, what purpose would they serve? It just doesn’t make sense that you’d be miles from civilization and there is just some dungeon in the middle of nowhere. Or does it? I want the things in my world to make sense, to have purpose, not just be randomly placed set pieces for player characters to trip over while wandering aimlessly through the woods. So I have been thinking about what reason these dungeons might have for existing out in the woods at seemingly random locations, or possible even a location that players have been to and there wasn’t one before.

Actually these dungeons are quite literally placed randomly on the map. I roll some dice, look at a table and depending on what I roll, a dungeon might be at the location. I just don’t want it to feel that way. So I came up with the idea of the dimensional dungeon, which is essentially a pocket dimension containing a dungeon. These dungeons can appear anywhere and may only exist in the world that the player characters are exploring for a brief period of time, or they may be permanent doors to another world, a world that is only the size of the dungeon contained within. They might have been created to house some artifact, imprison some particularly nasty monster, or as a place for a wizard to study and experiment in a solitude that cannot be achieved on the prime plane. The dungeon’s purpose can give it its interior characteristics. The dungeon meant to house some sort of powerful artifact or imprison someone or something is likely to be filled with traps and contain guards meant to last a very long time. A wizard’s laboratory would likely be filled with weird creatures not found anywhere else, and perhaps even the wizard. Then again, maybe his dungeon entrance can only be found because he is in town shopping for ingredients that he needs to complete his work.

The dimensional dungeon can come and go from this world as well. It might only appear when the proper astral alignment is in place, or when it has some need for an entrance on this world. The wizard’s lab is probably cut off from the material plane most times unless the wizard has some need for it to be revealed. One of these dungeons may exist in a location one day and be gone the next. A dungeon holding a powerful artifact might cease to exist once its reason for existing in the first place has been removed. Also, I think as a rule players should never be trapped within a dimensional dungeon. The exit should always be available to the players; however, once they leave, there should be no guarantee that they will be able to re-enter.

The best part about the dimensional dungeon is that it doesn’t quite have to fit the landscape. You have a story element that gives a randomly appearing dungeon a reason for being there. I think it’s always better if your dungeon is a good fit for the surrounding area, but sometimes you are in a hurry or you might have some other reason for needing to place a specific dungeon someplace that it doesn’t quite seem to belong. So go ahead and put that ice cave dungeon in the scalding desert.

Corpse Medicine

Grave robbing is a huge component of fantasy tabletop role playing games. Exploring ancient crypts, tombs, and catacombs are perhaps more fundamental to a game of Dungeons and Dragons than the dragons! The dungeons can be many things, but whatever they are, more often than not, they contain the dead. Typically, a gang of dungeoneering adventurers will loot the bodies and then leave them where they are. In this post, I want to provide incentive for characters to not only want to take the treasures entombed with the corpses, but the corpses as well!

I won’t go too much into the actual practice of corpse medicine, which was used in the 16th and 17th centuries. I have only done a modicum of research on the topic and from what I can tell, it was widely practiced at that time. There was also a certain logic to it that I think makes it easy to incorporate into the tabletop experience. The thought was that tinctures and potions made from the dead contained a bit of that person’s spirit, which imbued the remedy with it’s power. You would take ground up skull for a headache, or use blood to cure an ailment that effected the blood.[1] While we now know that most these “cures” don’t work, some of them actually do! [2] In a fantasy world with real spirits and magic, corpse medicine would certainly be an effective form of medicine, and one’s mortal remains could ask a high price!

The references below contain some fascinating inspiration, however, I believe it is simple to incorporate this morbid medicine into a game. Each part of the corpse is used in a cure corresponding to that particular part. So a hand would be used to cure an ailment on one’s hand, perhaps numbness or a rash. Intestines could be ground up and used to cure an ulcer or other stomach ailment. Furthermore, the bodies of demi-humans might also have different characteristics based on the characteristics often associated with those demi-humans. For example, the hand of an elf may grant extra potency in magic. The heart of a dwarf may grant a bonus to constitution or strength. Even a tincture made from the remains of a non-humanoid would possibly be of value, swiftness from the hooves of a unicorn, resistance to cold from the teeth of a yeti. Allow characters to take whatever remains they desire, and make some use of them. Use this simple logic to determine what the effect should be and grant it an efficacy based on the challenge of obtaining the ingredients. I also recommend that you are tracking encumbrance, dragging every single corpse the players find back to town should not be possible.

I’ll be incorporating this into my games, and if my players go for it I’ll hopefully have some great stories to tell about it in future posts. If you decide to implement corpse medicine into your campaign be sure to let me know in the comments how it goes!

[1]The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine
[2]  New Morbid Terminology: Corpse Medicine
Mummies and the Usefulness of Death

Resurrecting the Blog

Writing is hard, there are many constraints to writing but I think most of them are mental. I’ll circle back to that in a future post, because obviously the mental issues are the most important challenges but I want to get the other stuff out of the way. For now I just want to talk about finding the time to write. I plan to use this blog that I’ve had for years (but very seldom updated) as a space for my creative writing. The following, is my plan for this blog and how I hope to keep it updated on a regular basis when I haven’t been able to before.

Time, at least for me, is probably the biggest non mental challenge when it comes to my own writing. I want to write but I have so many other responsibilities. How on earth do I find time to write when work, family, my home, and everything else that takes up my time fills up my day? Time is elusive, I think we all have time to write, we just aren’t able to find it. I’ve started carrying around a notebook with a fountain pen attached to it so I can write down ideas. What I’ve discovered is that even when I have time and realize I have time, it can feel like I don’t. I will think to myself, “I have 10 minutes to write,” then I experience all the mental road blocks that a writer often faces, suddenly that 10 minutes is all used up, and I have written nothing. Still, carrying around that notebook has helped. I’ve resorted to just trying to write down simple ideas, just the bullet points, which I would eventually want to copy and flesh out when I get to a computer anyway.

Another thing that helps is thinking about why I want to write. Understanding one’s goals when it comes to writing helps a great deal. Finding time, very often involves finding the little bits of time spread throughout a busy day. In order to properly utilize those bits of time you need to break down your writing into chunks that fit into those small increments available to you. I have several reasons for writing, the first is to come up with new adventures to run for tabletop role-playing. The second is to eventually write a novel. Each of these can be broken down significantly enough to fit into those tiny time slots we have throughout the day. Here is how I’ve determined to do so.

Both of those goals involves world building, which is the main thing you will find on this blog. World building is not something you do all at once, although you could, I think it benefits from thinking about it over a long time. Adding, changing, and growing the world organically. World building tidbits are things that can be created over a 10 minute span of time and fleshed out later if necessary. I can write as much or as little about a person, place, or thing within the time I have and then add it to my world as is, modify it, or dispose of it. Eventually, the world building vignettes posted here might be compiled into a complete story. The main thing is just to create. This blog will serve as my main proving ground for world building. Most of what you’ll see here will be written in a stream of consciousness format, with probably very little editing. The blog posts may never be referenced again or they might be edited into a finalized form, made into something publishable, and published. The goal is of course just to write. I’m going to set a goal of creating a minimum of two drafts per week with the goal of publishing once a week. That way I should have a nice backlog. It also takes some of the performance pressure off. I can write something I might never want to share with the world and that is OK. That isn’t to say I’m going to promise high quality every time I publish to this blog, these posts should be considered rough draft brainstorm sessions and I’m sharing them more for myself than the reader. I believe it will help motivate me, the benefit to others is that they can see my creative process, and I think it will be helpful to gauge which writings people do and do not enjoy before creating a more formal publication outside of this blog.

Well, I’ve used up all my ever elusive time. My goal for this week is to write two more drafts. Hopefully at least one of them will be something worth sharing on here, if not I have other writings I can make into blog posts. I really enjoy doing character creation and have a hand full of those writings that I could and will eventually share. I haven’t decided what I want the schedule to be for this blog so it might be a little irregular until I get that figured out but keep checking back, I want to find a good and consistent schedule. I think I can keep this up now that I have a real plan for doing so.