Welcome to Fourtower Bridge

Quick download (.pdf) Fourtower Bridge v1

The home base (town, village, hamlet) is an important element of many fantasy adventures. It provides opportunity for roleplaying and setting the tone for the campaign. The home base also allows the game master to adjust the difficulty of the adventure by deciding what resources are available for purchase, if retainers can be hired and if rumours can give hints about dangers to come. The home base works as a hub, and lets the game master enrich the campaign world by adding lore and side quests.

Despite this, many adventures lack a town, and leaves it up to the game master to create it. That is why I created Fourtower Bridge. It’s a small home base that can be dropped into pretty much any fantasy campaign or adventure, with minimal (if any) work required by you.

This is Fourtower Bridge

Fourtower is located on the moorlands in the outskirts of the realm. The name refers to the bridge itself as well as the small settlement surrounding it.

The fortified bridge provides safe passage across the river for those traveling the old King’s Road. While originally built for military purposes, the fortification no longer serves such a role and civilians have been allowed to build houses around it, forming a small hamlet. While a few farms are scattered across the surrounding landscape, this area is certainly considered the backwoods of the realm.

The bridge construction consists of four towers and thick gates barring passage across a sturdy stone overpass. The fortification was given as reward by the local regent to a party of four adventurers who did the realm a great service many years ago. The four adventurers are now retired and live in the towers. “The Four” collect tolls from those who wishes to cross the bridge, although not from locals.

Sample spread from Fourtower Bridge
Sample spread from Fourtower Bridge

Download “Welcome to Fourtower Bridge” (.pfd)

Welcome to Fourtower Bridge is free to download and print for personal use, but please do not publish it online or in print without written consent by the author.

Top-down town map of fourtower bridge

Dungeon design tips: the balance between flair and function

Sometimes when I post my dungeon maps online I get angry comments pointing out design elements that “doesn’t make sense” because they don’t serve a practical purpose. Such elements can be anything from a simple alcove to a corridor dead-end or more fantastic features such as a bottomless pit or a unpractical trap. The people protesting these elements claim things should be constructed with a clear, practical purpose or it doesn’t make sense and breaks the immersion of the game.

But does everything in a dungeon need to serve a practical purpose? No, it certainly does not.

What is a dungeon?

I will be discussing “dungeons” in a fantasy context like Dungeons & Dragons or sword & sorcery litterature. In this context the dungeon concept is not limited to the prison-pits of medieval and renaissance Europe (although a prison could certainly have non-practical features).

In this broader definition a dungeon can be any type of confined space where the adventure takes place, such as:

  • the underground temple of an evil cult,
  • the cursed mansion of a deranged noble
  • a necromancers dark tower
  • the ruins of an ancient dwarven city
  • the cave-settlement of an orc tribe
  • an old crypt containing the remains of a great general
  • etc.

Why do we build?

Humans have always created things with little or no practical purpose. We do it because we are visual, creative and curious creatures. While we are amazing at creating practical things like the wheel and the nuclear power plant we are also driven by aesthetics and curiosity. This heavily influences the way we craft things. We construct a fully functional fighter plane, but still feel the need to paint shark teeth nose art even though it doesn’t affect the functionality of the plane.

Sometimes we build things just to see if we can. We do it it to prove our exceptional skill and to instill awe. The Statue of Liberty was useless as a lighthouse, but a wonder of engineering and still one of the most famous and beloved landmarks on the planet. Does it serve a practical purpose? Not really. Does it make sense? Yes, to a human it does.

This is not something new. There are cave paintings more than 40 000 years old that likely served no other purpose than decoration or religious expression. Medieval castles were certainly built with a practical purpose in mind, but they are still fitted with decorative and extravagant features – things of beauty and pride. Quite often humans do things just to show off.

The folly of architecture

There’s even a word for this: folly. A folly is a structure, often eccentric in nature, that serves no other purpose than decoration. Like a Roman ruin built in 18th century England or a “Chinese” pavilion in a Swedish palace park. It’s basically a very expensive conversation piece. Another example is the classic garden maze.

And sometimes we fail. Sometimes we build things in a certain way just because we didn’t know better. Not all architects are good at what they do. History is filled with examples of unsuccesful construction. It’s easy to say in hindsight that such a construction element “makes no sense” – but it did to the ones that built it.

In short: while we build things to serve practical purposes we also build for the sake of beauty, curisosity, awe, narcissism, vanity, superstition, faith, love, hate and … folly.

The sense-making dungeon?

Considering the above not everything in a dungeon needs to “make sense”. While there need to be some balance – everything should probably not be silly – adding decoration or eccentric design features makes the dungeon more interesting to explore. It makes for a better game.

An insane (but powerful) necromancer has his minions create a dark underground palace. Would it really be so far-fetched that his megalomaniacal ego would shape the construction of such a site? Does it not make sense that he will create traps that are overly sadistical in nature even if the typical nature of a trap is to deal out instant death? What would his idea of “beauty” be? Probably different than most.

A rich and decadent nobleman builds a castle. Would it not be possible that he’d spend his gold on a folly labyrinth just to show off for his guests? And with all gold spent on the folly, the construction of the rest of the castle took an abrupt end leaving several corridors in dead ends.

When an obscure cult build their temple, their leader gets a vision telling him the ceilings of the inner sanctum may not be taller than five feet. Ridiculous, of course, but people in the real world have come up with stranger religious dogma than that.

Designing your dungeon

When you design your dungeon, keep this in mind:

  • not everything needs to be practical
  • not everything needs to “make sense”

You don’t have to be able to explain everything in a dungeon. People will sometimes build for shits and giggles. If you come up with something cool that you can’t explain – leave it in. There’s a good chance the imaginary dungeon builder did it just for the hell of it. Maybe she had a good reason which is now lost. Who knows? The best dungeon is the one with a mix of practical, predictable elements and elements of art and mystery.

Halberd of the vigilant watchman

Most vigilant among the King’s guardsmen was Ernest Spudfield. His watchful gaze was unmatched, and his loyalty was fierce. Three times he thwarted attempts on the King’s life, and three times he refused to be knighted for his service. Ernest was a humble man who cared little for fame and glory: all he wanted in life was to keep watch.

The king asked the dwarves to craft a masterwork halberd and on it mount the royal seal, and so they did. The Queen tied her scarlet ribbon to the halberd’s shaft. All knights of the realm cut their palms on the weapon’s edge to acknowledge it as well as the man who wielded it as the prime protector of the royal family.

And so it was presented to Ernest Spudfield who gracefully accepted the reward. He carried it for the rest of his life, and over the decades of service his zeal was infused into the halberd. At his death the weapon had become magical, even though no wizard had ever touched it.

Properties of the halberd (rules for D&D B/X or Old-School Essentials)

This +2 halberd grants the following abilities:

Hypervigilance: 2 in 6 chance of being alerted when a hostile creature is within 100 feet

Wakefulness: the wielder of the halberd only needs to sleep once per week

Damage: 1d10+2
Weight (coins): 150
Qualities: Brace, Melee, Slow, Two-handed

The cave of the dark druid – dungeon map

Just a simple dungeon map of the lair of a dark druid and his wicked minions. Click here to download the map for personal use. Here are a few features of the cave:

  • There’s a chain and collar in the first room, this is suitable for some kind of guardian creature/animal
  • Only small creatures can crawl through the narrow tunnels (halflings or smaller)
  • In the northern cave room there’s a shaft leading down to deeper caverns
  • In the northeast cave room there’s a large stone globe that is cold to the touch – bad mojo
  • Southeast cave serves as latrine
  • The southeast room has an iron stove, so is quite warm and cozy
  • Stairs lead down to level 2

The map can easily be used for something else, here are some examples:

  • Bandit hideout
  • Goblinoid camp (hobgoblin leader in the cozy room)
  • Home of an old dwarven mastersmith (smithy on level 2)

The Spudfield Homestead – isometric map

As Dungeon Master you’re responsible for making up interesting and rememeberable non-player-characters (NPCs). It’s easy to focus on the most exciting ones – evil villains and mighty heroes. However, I think it’s really important to also present mundane NPCs to your players.

Creating some friendly and likeable townsfolk can really bring another layer to the adventure. Give the player characters something to protect. Not all adventures needs to be about finding gold and treasure (although that is certainly important as well). If you can get the players to feel for the common folks they will get more invested and put themselves in harm’s way to keep them safe. Can you get them to embark on adventures without any other reward than the gratefullness of the village?

The Spudfields are just those kinds of NPCs. Warm and welcoming, truly friendly an honest people. They don’t have anything more to offer than their friendship and a warm meal – but sometimes that might be just what the adventurers need.

Dunkelmoor Tower – Fighter’s Stronghold isometric map

In early editions of Dungeons & Dragons (as well as in many of their modern day OSR clones) one of the goals of the game is to advance in power and wealth to the point where you can build a stronghold. The type of stronghold your character can build depends on his class; clerics build temples, magic-users erect towers, thieves establish guilds, etc.

In D&D B/X from 1981 (as well as in it’s outstanding modern clone “Old-School Essentials“) the fighter is the only class save the halfling without a level restriction for establishing such a stronghold, although they still need to raise the funds somehow. This is my vision of a typical fighter keep, this one located in secluded Dunkelmoor which is a backwater part of my campaign world.

For more information on strongholds, check out the system reference document for Old-School Essentials.

More peculiar paths – check out the latest blog posts:

The Old-School Armory – weapon illustrations

For some reason I’ve never outgrown weapon illustrations in roleplaying games. As a youngling I usually flipped right to the equipment chapter when picking up a new game, fantasizing about gearing up for adventure.

Some of the early versions of D&D (as well as some of it’s modern clones) sadly lack weapon illustrations. Therefore I took it upon me to hand-draw a chart for dungeon masters to print and hand out to their players.

I hope you will enjoy this onepager, illustrating all the weapons in the equipment list of D&D B/X, released in 1981. Of course it should serve as inspiration for any quasi-medieval fantasy roleplaying game. I myself intend to use it for Old-School Essentials which is an amazing B/X close.

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All content on this website is free to download for personal use, and I intend to keep it that way. Sometimes I get the question if there is anyway to support my art, so if you’d like to leave a tip here’s my PayPal account: paypal.me/niklaswistedt

Please note that tipping is appreciated but absolutely not expected!

The House of Withered Flowers, thieves’ guild townhouse

Forget the romantic idea of thieves as roguish scoundrels, daring swashbucklers and charming tricksters. The townhouse of the thieves’ guild is a sombre place, it’s labyrinthine hallways filled with tragedy, deceit and greed.

There is no honor among thieves, only ruthless ambition and a long trail of suffering. Sooner or later this trail always lead to the House of Withered Flowers.

More peculiar places:

The Blacksand Bastion – desert stronghold

The Blacksand Bastion is the main stronghold of the Emerald Edge mercenary company. Experts at desert survival, the Emerald Edge is the only free company in the Ossuan desert. They are regularly employed as guides and caravan guards by rich merchants. The company are also able to muster larger battlefield formations when such a contract is secured.

Blacksand

The stronghold of the Emerald Edge is named after the region of the desert where it is located. Blacksand is a stretch of desert known for it’s coarse, volcanic sands and rocky terrain. It is an almost lifeless wilderness and the Blacksand Bastion is located on top of one of the few sources of water. While the Opal Trail runs through Blacksand, few caravans stop here to make camp unless absolutely necessary.

The stronghold

The Blacksand Bastion consists of two main structures: the keep and the tower barracks.

The keep houses the leadership of the Emerald Edge company; the Ra’id (major, company master) Abbad, his chief lieutenant Hazem and the master-of-arms Salman Salim. The company train new soldiers in Blacksand so there are usually around 20-50 recruits stationed in the ground floor of the keep. The keep also houses the company armory, commonly refered to as “the thousand spears”, as well as kitchen, library and treasure chambers. There is a large bath house in the keep cellar.

The fifty men of the elite Qalb unit is permanently stationed in the tower barracks. They are lead by veteran lieutenant Sol-Zaluum nicknamed “the Scorpion” by the Emerald Edge and “the Death Stalker” by their enemies.

Did you enjoy this? Discover more peculiar places:

The Ghoulshaft – ancient desert crypts

Barzoum – or the “Ghoulshaft” is an infamous dungeon located off the Opal trail, deep in the Blacksand region of the Ossuan desert.

The tombs of depraved aristocracy

A place of great evil, the ancient burial place of Barzoum is constructed vertically and descends almost a mile into the black earth. Here rests sleepless the souls and corpses of the depraved and murderous noblemen, priests and necromancers of the old Koparan empire. The minds and acts of the Koparan aristocracy was wicked beyond comprehension during the years of the empire, and their ill deeds finally led to the destruction of the great city Amun-Shar – the jewel of the east and the capital of the empire.

The Ghoulshaft today

Over the centuries, the surface structures of Barzoum have withered and crumbled in the strong desert winds. Left are only gaping mouths, and winding stairs descend into the inky blackness of below. Alcove-tombs pepper the walls, some contain monetary as well as occult treasure. Others contain curses and undead abominations. While some of the alcoves are shallow and houses only a single grave, others stretch further into the desert bedrock forming vast catacomb labyrinths. An example of such a catacomb is the SVART GRIFT, or “Black Grave” of the dread necromancer Khamul.

Explore more peculiar places: