Dungeons with Dimension
After a while, the 10-footwide corridors of traditional dungeons can become constricting. PCs avoid barriers with spells like fly and dimension door or cut passages through rock walls with stone shape and disintegrate. Before denying players their toys or throwing up your hands and deciding that the dungeon is dead, you should consider moving the dungeon experience to a different venue.
A trench dungeon is a maze that has been cut into the ground with no ceiling. Characters can climb on top of the walls to survey the layout of the dungeon around them and levitate or fly to gain the high ground during a fight. The top of the walls and bottom of the trenches allow for three-dimensional combat inside the dungeon. The battle can shift back and forth between the two levels as characters maneuver to gain an advantage. For more information on multilevel combat, see “Lairs with Flair” in DUNGEON #114.
Complications Walls made of packed sand might collapse if characters climb them, while walls of packed mud or magically shaped water might be permeable, allowing ambushers to hide inside them. Aerial predators, such as wyverns or dragons, might make flying or climbing atop the dungeon walls a risky proposition. And some dungeons might have several levels of trenches, cut progressively deeper into the ground with bridges and pits forming a massive multi-level labyrinth.
Example Trench Dungeon The Maze of the Mad Pharaoh is cut into sandstone cliffs which rise from the desert. Its walls are 30 feet high and always at least 5 feet thick. Over the years, drifts of sand have blown into the depths of the maze, completely filling some passageways and making others difficult to traverse. A blue dragon patrols the sky overhead, and swoops down to hunt characters that climb out of the trenches.
Whether they rise out of the ocean, climb the slopes of a mountain, or are sus pended high in the air, floating dungeons are without walls or ceilings. The only barrier separating one “room” of such a dungeon from the next is air, water, lava, or something more sinister. Walkways may span the gaps between platforms, or characters may have to use magic or skills such as Climb, Jump, or Swim to move through the dungeon. No matter what the obstacle, the threat of falling is omnipresent, adding an additional element of excitement to an already dangerous situation.
Complications Aerial, aquatic, or incorporeal enemies can attack the party as they traverse the gaps between patches of solid ground. Foes might try to bull rush characters off ledges, while attackers from a nearby platform pepper the party with spells or arrows across the intervening void. Since there are no walls to divide the dungeon’s inhabitants from each other, creatures in adjacent rooms often form a single encounter.
Example Floating Dungeon The Obsidian Ziggurat is built on a foundation of cloud, five thousand feet above the plains of Ur. To reach the Ziggurat, one must climb the Stair of Ten Thousand Steps and negotiate its nine landings. A different faction competing for the favor of the Lord of the Ziggurat inhabits each landing. Those who would explore the ziggurat must defeat these guardians, turn them against each other, or somehow bypass them before they can hope to ascend the ziggurat’s many tiers.
Most dungeons are laid out horizon tally, built by people that walk from one room to the next. Some creatures, however, construct dungeons by connecting rooms or areas that are vertically adjacent. A beholder lair, with its rooms stacked on top of one another, is a vertical dungeon, as is the ramp spiraling up the inside wall of a quarry or a cylindrical tower. Vertical dungeons often contain pits or chimneys that connect multiple levels, ledges and overhangs, ramps and staircases, and high ceilings. Combat in a vertical dungeon tends to move up and down as much as side to side, giving characters with magical flight or good athletic skills a chance to shine.
Complications Many of the complications and encounters found in floating dungeons also apply here, but the enclosed nature of a vertical dungeon makes effects like levitate and spider climb particularly powerful. If characters become too focused on the vertical axis, it can be fun to ambush them from horizontal side passages.
Example Vertical Dungeon The Giant’s Flute is a shaft almost a mile long, rising vertically through the heart of Frost Mountain. Those who explore its depths or use it as an escape route must navigate a broken-down spiraling ramp that rises the entire length of the shaft. As they travel, the party must pass through chambers inhabited by creatures that can float or cling to walls, such as giant spiders and beholders. Every so often a stone bridge connects the ramp to a tower floating in the shaft’s center with no visible means of support.
In bizarre dungeon spatial relationships don’t follow the usual rules, gravity fails or becomes strange, or transit from one area to the next requires teleportation or planar travel. Dungeons shaped like mobius strips, hypercubes, or coiling through the bowels of an immense monster add a bizarre touch to a campaign, as do dungeons that make extensive use of teleport traps and illusory walls. The only requirement for a bizarre dungeon is that it must be some combination of weird, creepy, and cool.
Complications Anything your imagination can come up with fits right into a bizarre dungeon. The Manual of the Planes, novels, movies, video games, and published adventures are great places to look for ideas. The intestines of a demon lord might contain lava hazards, poisonous gas, and pits that spawn minor demons, while an illusory jungle might conceal buildings and real vegetation in addition to pit traps and monsters.
Example Bizarre Dungeon For 5 miles around The Squashed City, the sky is a solid object that hangs 30 feet above the ground. Those who approach the Squashed City by air find themselves flying just beneath the sky itself when they enter the anomaly. Inside the city, a soft breeze blows ever inward toward the city’s center. People who make it that far find the sky has been smashed open, leaving a gaping rift. Those who approach within 30 feet of the rift must make a Strength Check (DC 18) to hold onto a nearby building or be sucked into the rift and delivered to a destination of your choice.
BY ALEC AUSTIN
ILLUSTRATION BY UDON WITH JIM ZUBKAVICH