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.