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.
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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.
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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.
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 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.
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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.
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Travelling along the Opal trail under the scorching sun of the great Ossuan desert is not pleasant business. The route stretches along hundreds of miles of rolling dunes and there are few places where one can seek shelter from excruciating heat and relentless sandstorms. Still, there are such places; the Far Oasis inn being one of them.
The Far Oasis inn is located in the valley of devils (named after it’s population of desert lizards, not actual devils!) by the dry riverbed of the old Kazuun river. It provides rest and shelter for many caravans as well as the occational adventuring band in search of ancient tombs to explore and rob.
The inn has a reliable water source and is surrounded by some vegetation, earning it its name. The innkeeper Khameer took over the establishment from his father many years ago. Khameer’s wife Aala and the couple’s seven children take great pride in providing the best possible service for weary travellers and their beasts of burden. The Far Oasis inn has an excellent reputation.
Since the inn is all but crucial to anyone crossing the desert, patrons are usually very well-behaved. Getting banned from the Far Oasis could have severe impact on future expeditions.
There are two rooms for hire, however most visitor’s bring their own tents. The food is excellent, and Khameer is famous for his cold, sweet cactus-wine. Spending the cool desert evening at the terrace, sharing a keg of wine and a hookah is something travellers long for.
Not only is this trap designed to harm the victims physically, it will also teach an unfortunate tomb robber the true meaning of loss and despair.
How the trap works
The three trapdoors opens when (and only when) pressure is applied to all three simultaneously. This means that the trap will trigger only when there is a victim on top of each trapdoor, dispersing them in one pit each. Two of the victims will fall into the lairs of giant dungeon centipedes (feel free to switch to other monsters if you wish). The third one will have to helplessly watch through the iron bars as his comrades perish.
All hope might not be lost, though! Perhaps the adventurers falling into the monster lairs are mighty warriors able to fend off the abominations. Perhaps the trapped man or woman in the middle can lay down fire support by spell or missile weapon? Maybe after all there is treasure and glory at the end of this nightmare?
More dungeon traps
This trap is part of a series of isometric dungeon maps of deadly design, check out the others:
Click here for a larger version of this map. Feel free to download it and use for your personal campaign, but please din’t publish it online or in print without my consent.
Do not fall into the pit, and if you do: do not pull the lever. When the three-hundred metric tonne dormant golem “LORD SLABATHOR” comes crashing down he’s not getting up again. There is little that could save you from spending eternity in this dark tomb.
This is a one-time trap, and you need to a be a special kind of stupid to trigger the full severity of it. How curious are your players?
Click here for full a size image.
For more nasty dungeon traps, check out Boulder Dash and Leap of Faith.
Someone, or something, has ripped the doors from the hinges and killed all the guards at the Rosehip Gatehouse. Do you stay and investigate, or push further into the keep? What horrors await in the dark castle corridors?
Just a small isometric map of a castle barbican. Suitable as hand out to the players.
If you want a larger castle map, feel free to check out the Medieval Castle Map I drew earlier this year.
Would you like to try drawing your own isometric maps? Have a look at the isometric map tutorial.
Yet another unfair and deadly dungeon trap to make your players hate you. The “Leap of Faith” trap consists of two pits with spiked floors. The first one is easily spotted and likewise easy to jump over unless you are encumbered or wearing heavy armor.
The other pit, however, is more sinister as it is covered by a trapdoor that is activated by pressure. Jumping over the first pit and landing on the other side will therefore trigger a nasty surprise.
The mechanism of the trapdoor can be locked by turning any of the two torches 45 degrees clockwise. This is apparent for a character examining the torch holders. Turning the torch will temporarily deactivate the trapdoor and make it safe to stand on for one turn (10 minutes) as the torch slowly moves back to its upright position. The trapdoor mechanism makes a sound when the torch is turned. The characters may hear this sound if the party is otherwise quiet. The mechanic sound could give a careful party a hint about the trap.
The Dungeon Master should probably place some treasure at the bottom of the covered pit trap. Perhaps the remains and equipment of a not-so-lucky thief?
A word of warning on traps in roleplaying games
Keep in mind that some of the traps like this one and the rolling boulder trap will almost certainly kill characters that walk into them. You might want to consider the experience level of your players (players, not characters) before implementing them into your own dungeon adventures.
Players experienced in old-school dungeoneering are usually careful when exploring. They have a decent chance to find or forebode the traps. OSR games (Old School Reinassance, clones of early eighties D&D) ususally doesn’t have rules for spotting or avoiding traps, but relies on the players figuring it out.
Less experienced players, or players used to later versions of D&D, might find such traps extremely unfair and get turned off if their characters die an instant, gruesome death.
To tone down the difficulty of this trap, you as a Dungeon Master can choose to:
- roll skill checks to see if the characters can spot the trapdoor,
- allow for saves or ability checks to avoid or mitigate damage,
- substitute the spikes for water
Traps should be unfair, deadly and combined. The poor sods triggering the boulder trap (by opening the doors) will get a chance to dive into the alcoves for cover. Too bad for them the alcoves are really pit traps.
Depending on your playstyle, you can either let players roll suitable saving throws (such as reflex or vs. breath) to avoid the different traps, or you could go for the more grim approach of OSR games – “no saves, if you didn’t look for traps it’s on you”.
You could also reward clever, quick and creative thinking, spellcasting, etc.
Players who approach this situation carefully, examining the alcoves, should be able to find the pit traps, and perhaps realize something sinister awaits them on the other side of the door. I would probably not allow the mechanism of the rolling boulder trap to be found, but that’s really up to you as the dungeon master.
I didn’t have a specific reward in mind for surviving this situation, but if you want, there could of course be a hidden cache or an important inscription behind the boulder.
Option: you could also decide that the boulder is an illusion, and enjoy watching the player characters needlessly throw themselves into the pit traps 😀
Draw your own maps!
Would you like to draw your own maps? It’s a lot of fun! I’ve done several tutorials to help you get started. Check them out here!