A Brief Respite
When adventuring parties delve deep into peril-ridden dungeons, they frequently suffer heavy damage or even significant losses. Dungeon Masters face a challenge every time they put together a new dungeon for their party: how to make the dungeon seem dangerous while at the same time giving your party the chance to survive its challenges intact. The solution is not necessarily to reduce the difficulty of the challenges or tone down the monsters they fight, but rather to give them a chance to step back and catch their breath, expend a few healing spells, and prepare for the next challenge.
One of the best ways to give a party a chance to rest is to provide them with a safe locale in which to do so. The solution is the creation of a safe room, or sanctuary, within a dungeon that can be used as a temporary base of operations regrouping point throughout the adventure. These sanctuaries come in many forms, from an abandoned barracks to a holy shrine, and allow the DM to grant the party a moments rest without making it seem like he is going easy on them.
PLACING YOUR SANCTUARY
The first step in designing an appropriate. sanctuary is figuring out exactly where the sanctuary goes within the dungeon. Many pre-designed dungeons from published adventures have at least one or two rooms that serve no higher purpose than to throw yet another challenge at the party. Most DMs should have little trouble converting such rooms into sanctuaries, especially since it means that they need not change the overall layout. of the dungeon. When doing so, be sure to note whether or not there are elements to the room being replaced that come into play elsewhere in the adventure, If the adventure relies on the characters getting a key to an iron gate from the room being replaced, that key must be moved to another room or placed within the sanctuary. If no room suitable for replacement exists, the DM may choose to simply add a room to the dungeon map, in which case he must make sure to place it in a logical location. After all, it does make much sense to have the shrine placed between sleeping quarters and an armory, or to have an infirmary at the bottom of a mineshaft.
Dungeon designers should take care to select an appropriate theme for the sanctuary. The above examples of barracks, shrines, and infirmaries are all good choices that fit into many dungeons. Additionally, the design should take into. account the needs of the party; a party without a healer might need a room full of bandages and healing salves, while a group whose weapons have been eaten away by slimes might need an armory instead. Based on the nature of the dungeon, the DM should consider what the party needs, the dungeons overall theme, and what challenges are in the immediate area.
When designing the sanctuary itself, the DM should keep in mind several factors that can help make the sanctuary an effective place to rest. The first consideration is how long the party will stay in the sanctuary at one time. If the adventure is short and the dungeon only contains a few levels, the room can be small and only slightly off of the main path through the dungeon, since the party’s stay will likely be only fora few minutes or hours.
If, instead, the journey through the dungeon could take many days or weeks, the sanctuary should be able to accommodate the party for a longer period of time. Such a long-term sanctuary should have a place for the characters to sleep, perhaps provide food and fresh water, and should be far enough away from the more heavily populated portions of the dungeon that it makes sense that the party could go undisturbed,
Sanctuaries should be easily defensible, in case a wandering band of enemies should come upon their hiding place. Sturdy wooden or iron doors are quite effective at keeping dungeon denizens out, and a metal portcullis can protect the door from being bashed down by creative enemies, Good sanctuaries have only one entrance and exit, usually no more than 5 feet wide; this prevents the party from being flanked should enemies enter the room, and creates a bottleneck that prevents large quantities of opponents from entering the sanctuary at once.
Additionally, as bodies begin. to pile up at this entrance, the DM may call for Balance checks (starting at DC 12, and adding 43 to the DC for each subsequent body in the doorway) to move through the entrance without tripping on a fallen corpse. Although it may be necessary to flush the party from the sanctuary, in doing so the DM should not negate the purpose of the sanctuary by grievously injuring the party in the process. Providing ample cover, from pillars, tables, and alcoves, also gives the party the chance to withstand an assault and yet at the same time gives them a sense of urgency that encourages them to move on.
While sanctuaries should not be bland, most sanctuaries will have few secrets, if any. Placing traps inside a sanctuary defeats its purpose, and even. hidden passages and secret compartments can give the party the impression. that they are not safe. If the purpose of the sanctuary is to give them a chance to rest and avoid many of the dangers of the rest of the dungeon, even pleasant surprises can put the party on edge and keep them from taking advantage. of the down time.
Once the sanctuary has been designed, placed, and given a motif, the DM should be sure to place some adornments within the sanctuary in order to make the room stand out from the rest of the dungeon in the players mind. There are many different ways this can be accomplished, some very general and some specific.
Aesthetic adornments are the easiest to place in a sanctuary because they frequently don’t have any mechanical repercussions on gameplay. These visual adornments should simply serve to make the sanctuary more accommodating to the party. These can include torches so the wizard can read his spell book, beds for rest and tending to wounds, and clean water for drinking and cleaning wounds.
Additionally, these adornments should help make the room stand out from the rest of the dungeon: if the dungeon is an old, run-down dwarven mine, perhaps the sanctuary is decorated with lavish furnishings that belonged to the mine’s overseer.
One easy way to give the players a safe (and logical) place to rest is to conceal the entrance to the sanctuary with a blending door. A blending door is entrance that is concealed not by magic but rather by simple design; they require a Search check (DC 20) or a Spot check (DC25) to locate and blend in by looking like their surroundings,
The healing fountain is especially useful when a party of adventurers do not have a magical healer. This fountain appears as any other fountain would, but drinking from it is the same as drinking a potion of cure light wounds.
Dungeon Masters may wish to improve the potency of the fountain depending on the seriousness of the party’s injuries and the danger presented by challenges later in the adventure.
BY RODNEY THOMPSON
ILLUSTRATION BY UDON WITH JIM ZUBKAVICH