Three Quests to Rehabilitate Murder Hobos

So the problem with "Murder Hobos" in D&D is that they tend to ruin games. They don't like to roleplay and typically have 2-dimensional characters who only live to kill and loot things. Hence the term "Murder Hobos". The term has become popular in recent years thanks to 4th Edition and 5th Edition and newer players being rather "murder-y". Older players who emphasize roleplaying and 3-dimensional characters usually don't have this problem.

But it is possible to cure players who have this affliction. The trick is to create quests which have a strong balance of roleplaying and combat.

#1. The Rescue Mission.

The shieldsmith's daughter has been kidnapped by *INSERT MONSTERS HERE* and he wants the PCs to rescue her. He offers to give them a magical shield as payment.

Roleplaying - Find ways to add extra roleplaying in here, not just with the smith's daughter, but also the villagers and even the monsters that they were sent to kill.

Bonus - The local mayor / burgomaster / lord / sheriff / whatever also agrees to pay the PCs X amount of gold coins for each villager the PCs also rescue. So if they say 50 gp, and there is 20 villagers that is 1000 gp.

Effect - The PCs are being encouraged to kill the baddies so they are still satisfying that need to kill stuff, but they need to rescue the smith's daughter and the villagers. The more they save, the more rewards they get.

Added Bonus - Depending on how well the party behaves you should reward them accordingly with the magical shield. If they do poorly, the shield is only +1. If they do reasonably well or quite well, reward them with either a +2 or +3 shield.

#2. The Mystery of the Thief.

So murder mysteries are not a solution as Murder Hobos can still just murder everyone. The goal here is actually much more complex since the PCs have to not only talk to witnesses, they need to identify suspects, find clues that lead them to other witnesses or suspects, interrogate them and find a way to convince the thief to tell the PCs where the stolen item is.

So here goes...

The actual thief is a pixie with 1 hp and they have stolen a valuable key that opens a magical vault, and the key itself is protected from scrying and other forms of magical detection. It is also small and easily hidden. The pixie really only wants something that is in the vault, a vial of pixie dust, but to find that out the PCs need to actually talk to the pixie and make a deal. The pixie will agree to the deal, but warns the PCs that if they betray the agreement that they will suffer the Pixie's Curse (which causes all rolls of 2 to be an automatic failure, just like rolling 1s - and a Pixie's Curse can only be removed by another fairy casting Remove Curse).

Beyond that just make a few witnesses who saw the key floating in midair, a few false leads that go to the stableboy or maid who each have a motive to steal the key, but each of them have alibis and other witnesses who saw them elsewhere. Eventually one witness should tell the PCs that they heard noises in the attic, causing them to investigate and they find the pixie hiding in the attic.

For combat you should also include a fight with some local drunks just for fun, and try to make it slapstick so that even the fight has a comedic / roleplaying element. Murdering the drunks in front of witnesses would be bad...

Bonus - The lord or lady or innkeep (whomever makes sense for wherever this is taking place) may have offered to store the PCs valuables in the magical vault for them, giving the PCs extra reason to recover the key. The same person should also allude that someone (not the pixie) has been stealing things of late but he hasn't been able to prove it yet, thus motivating them to store their things. If they don't store their things in the vault, they get stolen (the butler did it).

Added Fun - Design the layout of the map to look like the map from the boardgame Clue. Or better yet, just use a Clue board.

Effect - This is a roleplaying intense adventure that relies on sleuthing, forcing the PCs to not murder everyone. Trying to engage in combat with the 1 hp pixie just kills the pixie, and the party then NEVER finds the key.

#3. The Night of Endless Nightmares.

The PCs arrive in an abandoned village but are unable to fall asleep. Worse, a dense fog surrounds the village, which causes them to get lost in the fog and when they do walk out of the fog they are back in the village.

As the night progresses they continue to be unable to sleep as they keep hearing strange noises. When they investigate they find one of the following:

  • A horde of juju zombies. Don't get bit, they turn you into a zombie too! Ghouls or ghasts also work well.
  • The wandering shade of a person who was hideously murdered, who tries to lead the PCs to a clue to end the curse. The shades may or may not speak in riddles...
  • A person who is still alive, but traumatized. They might be unable to speak, they might speak but only in snippets, or they might ramble nonsense that emphasizes all the horrible things they saw without a lot of details. With some extra roleplaying however the alive person might give clues as to what happened to the village, but have no idea where the medallion pieces are.

The PCs need to find 5 pieces of a silver medallion, use a Mending spell on it, and then return it to a place in a cursed temple to end the curse. In the meantime however it is the goal of the DM to keep the PCs alive and force them to try and find the 5 shades who will lead them to the silver medallions. Some of the shades will require certain tasks to be completed before they reveal the location of the medallion piece.

Effect - The PCs can only leave this village by removing the curse. Finding the shades is easy, roleplaying is really the only task they need to do. The zombies/ghasts/ghouls are really only there to provide some brief combat - and an opportunity to temporarily turn PCs into undead.

The Finale - Once the curse is lifted, everything goes back to normal. Any PCs who were undead realize it was just a nightmare. The villagers are all alive, but are traumatized from the effects of the nightmare. It is as if nothing had happened now that the medallion has been restored to the cursed temple. (Taking the silver medallion will cause it to shatter and restart the curse again.)

#4. The Crossbow Duel at High Noon.

A NPC becomes slighted by a PCs "Murder Hobo" behaviour and challenges him or her to a duel at High Noon the following day. Other NPCs should immediately start gambling on who might win, chatter should ensue, and the fight is clearly delayed. The PC should feel discouraged to just attack immediately because of the amount of lead up to the fight. Even if they do attack immediately, other NPCs should pull them apart and insist that the fight happen tomorrow.

Following the rules of a duel, the PC and NPC both need a seconder. (The seconder fights if the duelist is somehow unable to fight.) The local sheriff or magistrate etc serves as the judge. A local cleric or druid is asked to serve as the healer.

The rules of the duel are until first blood. Once first blood is dealt, the duel is over. So the goal here isn't to kill the opponent, it is to be the first person to draw blood. Thus rolling initiative and being the first person to shoot will be very tight. Roll d4s for initiative instead. The smaller initiative dice for duels gives the faster person a distinct advantage.

The NPC duelist has at least a 18 Dexterity (and depending on the edition you are playing) extra feats that boost their initiative speed.

On the day of the duel each duelist is provided with a crossbow (light crossbow or hand crossbow). They will each walk ten paces, and then turn and fire when asked by the judge.

During the duel the NPC will taunt the PC and engage in roleplaying, trying to psyche out his opponent. The PC will need to roll multiple saves or Sense Motive checks etc to avoid penalties to either initiative or attack roll. The PC will also be given an opportunity to psyche out the NPC too.

In the lead up to the duel and after the duel, there should be an air of excitement in the town. Almost like it is a festival. These should be purely roleplaying opportunities as the NPCs (and possibly PCs) gamble on the results of the duel.

The PCs could even deliberately bet against their friend and have him throw the fight. (Which could be funny if the NPC duelist also bet against himself...)

While the duel is integral to the plot, it should only last 1 round. Or a few rounds if both duelists are trying to lose on purpose.

Effect - This quest teaches the PCs it is possible to interact with the NPCs without murdering all of them. Even the opponent should not be murdered, as once first blood has been given the NPC should give a speech admitting defeat or praising the PC for their bravery despite defeat.

Other Things That Should Happen To Murder Hobos

If the Murder Hobos in your game refuse to be rehabilitated, here is how you need to deal with the problem.

#1. Alignment Shifts + Associated Consequences. eg. Clerics losing access to spells from their god.

#2. NPC investigators with access to Speak-with-Dead and similar magicks will determine who the murderers are, sparking further investigations.

#3. Bounties on the PCs who become known as Villains, causing good heroes to seek them out for the bounty.

#4. NPCs recognize the PCs as Villains and refuse to help them.

#5. Villains begin approaching the PCs to hire them to do evil deeds, because their reputation has become so bad.

#6. Villains betray the Murder Hobos and hand them over to the good guys in exchange for a pardon and the bounty.

#7. When the Murder Hobos kill innocents, make the combat boring and whatever they find to be commonplace and boring. Don't even bother with attack rolls. Just let them murder them outright so that they don't even get to roll dice.

10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Caravan Guards.
#2. Summoned by Royalty or a Noble.
#3. Everyone meets in a Tavern or Inn.
#4. The Town or City is attacked, thrusting the party together mid combat.
#5. Everyone has Amnesia.
#6. Shipwrecked.
#7. Call for adventurers on a Wanted Poster.
#8. Everyone is kidnapped / captured
#9. Everyone is teleported against their will.
#10. On a ship, which is attacked during the voyage.

10 Better Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Festival or Holiday. Possibly with gift giving.
#2. Natural Disaster, eg. Flood or earthquake.
#3. Wedding. All the PCs are put at the misfit table.
#4. Funeral. All the PCs somehow knew the deceased and are named in their will.
#5. At a large contest. Eg. Jousting tournament, archery, wizardry, etc. It could also be something low key like a fishing derby.
#6. At the signing of a treaty, ending a long war.
#7. Public Bath House or Hot Springs. Could actually be quite funny...
#8. Marketplace during a sales event. Everything is 30% off.
#9. During a refugee crisis, PCs are fleeing the horrors of war.
#10. PCs are conscripted into an army against their will.
If you use your imagination you can come up with a number of different ways and places the PCs could meet.
  • Hospital
  • Brewery
  • Weapon-Smithy
  • Forest Fire
  • Public Execution or Trial
  • Royal Visit to the local village
  • Strange Chasm or Rift cuts a major road apart, causing travelers to seek an alternative route together. Or to possibly attempt to build a bridge together...
  • Etc
Whatever more imaginative thing you do, it will doubtlessly be better than the old "you all meet in a tavern" cliché.

The Superboss in Dungeons and Dragons

A Boss with his Nightmare steed.
First lets start with a few definitions so you know what the difference is between a Boss and a Superboss, within the context of Dungeons and Dragons.

The Boss - A big bad monster or person that is central to the plot of a D&D game. They are typically scaled to a level or HD appropriate to the levels of the group of adventurers. Completing the adventure usually requires that you defeat the Boss in what is typically called a "Boss Fight".

eg. Strahd, Zuggtmoy, Acerarak, Vecna, etc are all bosses because they are integral to the plot.

The Superboss - An optional monster or person who is so powerful they make the regular Boss look weak in comparison, but the good news is that the Superboss is completely optional and is not integral to the plot. Superbosses are also typically insanely powerful, with the ability to one-shot a character or temporarily disable them, tonnes of hit points, and PCs really need to be on their toes to defeat one.

Note - Superbosses are not just found in D&D. You can also frequently find them in video games. Including D&D-based video games.

A Few Examples

#1. The Mummy in The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

So the original module HHoE is appropriate for levels 1 to 5 and contains a wide variety of monsters to fight, and half the dungeon is left blank for the DM to add whatever they want in there - typically monsters and traps which are level appropriate.

The Mummy however is ridiculously powerful in comparison to the standard fare for the dungeon. It is possible to defeat the mummy, but the party should be fully rested and come prepared for a serious fight. The Mummy is also infamous within the game as many games have ended in a party wipe, wherein the Mummy kills everyone. Hence the infamy. This is why the Mummy is a Superboss. You aren't actually meant to fight it, but if you do then you had better be prepared.

Worse, when the Mummy does appear the PCs can often be caught off guard, so it is often like you were basically ambushed by the dang thing.

#2. Flamewing in The Tower of Doom.

So Tower of Doom is an old D&D-based arcade game set in Mystara, but Flamewing is an excellent example of an optional superboss. Your main goal in the game is to defeat an Archlich named Deimos and his three lieutenants, which include a troll, a black dragon and a shadow elf.

Flamewing is the quintessential "bonus dragon" in the dungeon. They basically added it to the game because it was Dungeons and DRAGONS and they figured there needed to be at least one huge dragon in the game because the smaller dragon wasn't really much of a challenge.

In the game Flamewing has the ability to munch on characters and knock them to the ground, temporarily disabling them. Later Flamewing drops rocks on the PCs, and since this is an arcade game you are expected to insert coins if you want to revive your character. Thus Flamewing is a Superboss basically designed to suck money out of you by killing the PCs again and again. You can watch gameplay in the video below:

Did you count the number of times they died before they finally defeated Flamewing? I did not, but it was a good number of coins.

#3. The Balrog.

Okay, so it isn't a Dungeons and Dragons example, but consider the situation in the Fellowship of the Ring. They don't need to fight the Balrog. Indeed, they run away from it and only Gandalf dares to stand his ground. The goblins run away from it too. The Balrog is essentially an optional Superboss and is not important to the overall story of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf could have just as easily fallen in a chasm and showed up in the second book anyway, but Tolkien clearly thought a fight between the Balrog and Gandalf would be more interesting. Which it is.

But should you use a Superboss in such a manner in a D&D game, just for a minor point in the plot so you can shift the too powerful NPC wizard out of the picture? Probably not. Or maybe it is the only solution you can think of.

So what makes for a good Superboss?

Right from the beginning it should be pretty clear that the Superboss is optional. The PCs should be given a clear method of escape to avoid the fight if they wish to, even if ambushed. If not an ambush, the Superboss should be located in part of the dungeon/wilderness that is unnecessary to explore as part of the plot. The local goblins or whatever might even have warning signs indicating that the Superboss is in that direction. Skulls on pikes. Old dried blood and lots of it. The PCs exploring in that direction should have clear warnings that danger is ahead.

Warning or no warning? There are pros and cons to this. If the PCs go to a swamp said to be the home of a huge green dragon, the locals should probably warn them to stay away. The PCs are like "Oh, we are only going to slay the ogre. We will stay away from the dragon, don't worry!" Alternatively, going to an ancient fortress to slay an ogre and not knowing there is a dragon there makes for a nice ambush. The PCs won't be expecting it when it happens.

Side Note - What if the ogre is kicking the party's butt, they are all about to die, and suddenly the dragon shows up and eats the ogre - and captures the party for snacks later on. So then the party has to choose, just escape... or escape and try to kill the dragon? The ogre is dead after all. Killing the dragon is optional.

Whatever the boss is, the Superboss should be roughly twice as hard to defeat. Or possibly harder. Now that doesn't mean it should have double the hit points and deal double damage, that would technically be 4 times harder to defeat. Also note that this could still mean that the Superboss might still be vulnerable to instant kill spells...

Thus a Superboss should be immune to various types of spells that kill instantly. So spell immunity to a wide variety of such spells, including spells like Polymorph. Many types of dragons, demons and undead fall into these categories and thus make a good potential Superboss.

The Superboss should be resistant to both combat damage and magical damage. Magic Resistance is a given.

Multiple different types of deadly attacks. Think outside the box for this one. True, the listing in the Monster Manual lists the normal attacks for that monster, but what if the Superboss has come up with some unique attacks they can do using their surroundings or perhaps unusual spells it created?

Multiple attacks per round. So for example a dragon might do claw, claw, bite, breath weapon, an innate spell at will, and a tail attack all in one round. Some players might call foul on this. Especially if the dragon casts Haste.

No underlings. A Superboss shouldn't need underlings to fight for it. A normal Boss fight should have underlings, but a Superboss should never have them for they are merely a distraction from the main fight. So for example a Boss could have a mount, such as a Nightmare to ride (see image way at the top), but a Superboss wouldn't need a mount because they can just fly or teleport.

The Superboss might know when to leave in a hurry. You don't get to become a Superboss in the first place by taking silly risks around adventurers. A smart Superboss should know when to cut their losses and teleport out of there. Or maybe they are so close to winning they decide to take the risk. Or maybe they have a phylactery hidden somewhere and the dragon is actually a dracolich, in which case now is a good time for the DM to practice their evil laughter...


One last thing. A DM should never apologize for having a Superboss in their dungeon. It is optional after all and the PCs should never feel obligated to fight it (not even the Lawful Stupid PCs should feel obligated). The Superboss is there to remind PCs that there are things that are too big for them to take on, and that caution / running away is always an option. If they don't heed the warnings, that is not your fault.

The Superboss doesn't need a steed.

Types of Fantasy Writing

Every day BookBub (a free service I am subscribed to) sends me a suggested Fantasy ebook on Amazon Kindle which is currently on sale - or sometimes even free.

Today BookBub also sent me an email titled "Improve your BookBub Deal Recommendations", suggesting that I visit a website and refine what kinds of fantasy books I actually want to receive suggestions about.

Or at least that is what I thought it was.

Here is the list of categories:

  • Bestsellers
Mysteries, Thrillers, Action
  • Crime Fiction
  • Psychological Thrillers
  • Cozy Mysteries
  • Historical Mysteries
  • Thrillers
  • Supernatural Suspense
  • Action and Adventure
  • Contemporary Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Romantic Suspense
  • New Adult Romance
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Erotic Romance
  • Dark Romance & Erotica
  • Time Travel Romance
  • American Historical Romance
  • Historical Fiction
  • Women's Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Chick Lit
  • Christian Fiction
  • LGBT
  • African American Interest
Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Horror
Teen and Young Readers
  • Teen and Young Adult
  • Children's
  • Middle Grade
  • Advice and How-To
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • History
  • General Nonfiction
  • Cooking
  • Science
  • Christian Nonfiction
  • Politics and Current Events
  • Religion and Spirituality
  • Parenting
  • True Crime
  • Business
  • Humor

Now do you see the problem that I am seeing?

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror are all lumped into ONE CATEGORY, and they don't mention the separate genres within sci fi, the separate genres of fantasy, and the separate genres of horror.

Lets take Fantasy for example... Fantasy is actually a very broad topic and includes the following sub-categories:

  1. High Fantasy (lots of magic or monsters)
  2. Low Fantasy (very little magic and few or zero monsters)
  3. Children's Fantasy (eg. Alice in Wonderland, etc)
  4. Teen Fantasy
  5. Historical Fantasy
  6. Fantasy Romance / Romantic Fantasy
  7. Space Fantasy (Star Wars, John Carter of Mars, etc)
  8. Sword and Sorcery (Conan the Barbarian, etc)
  9. Funny Fantasy
  10. Farciful Fantasy
  11. Dark Fantasy (blending things like werewolves / vampires / etc with other fantasy elements, not to be confused more classical horror or ghost stories)
  12. Fairy Tales
  13. Fables
  14. Mythology
  15. Magic Realism / Modern Fantasy (the movie "Big" starring Tom Hanks is an example of Magic Realism)
  16. Urban Fantasy (the Highlander film series and "Bright" starring Will Smith, etc)
  17. Heroic Fantasy
  18. Medieval Fantasy
  19. Detective Fantasy

And so on.

My point is that even with Fantasy, there are lots of sub-genres.

So when BookBub sent me that email I was like "Oh cool, finally I get the chance to refine what style of fantasy I am looking for!"

Nope. Got my hopes up.

Instead every time they send me a suggestion that is Fantasy Romance I have to read the description, and then delete the email. Arg! (Seriously, way too much Fantasy Romance books out there on Amazon.)

Now what I like about BookBub is that once in awhile I get a free ebook from an author I had never heard of before and I really enjoy their book. Someone I would not have normally had a chance to read anything they had written. So it introduces me to new authors.

For example I recently read:

How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis - Book 1, by V. Moody.

Very entertaining book and I would not have normally read that style of book. Some day I hope to read other books in the series.

 Some of the books I get via BookBub / Amazon Kindle, I read the first 5 pages and I get bored of it. The writing is poor, nothing is happening, or the plot is just not interesting to me. As a parent I don't have much time these days so if I am making time to read something, it better have some Conan the Barbarian style action in there, a good plot or at least be funny.

I think there is a market for a funny version of Conan... just saying. For people like me who just want to be amused/entertained and don't have much time. Robert E. Howard is a great fantasy author, but he was sometimes long winded and formulaic. (Howard did get paid by the word and probably discovered that if he followed a specific formula that his stories sold better.)

Anyway, if BookBub really wants people to narrow down and refine what they are looking for... add more fantasy, sci fi and horror categories to choose from!

How are we supposed to refine our interests if BookBub doesn't refine and narrow down sub-genres that we can pick?


Devil Worshipper Mountain in the Troll Lands - Mini Adventure

Okay so years ago I got a series of Dungeons and Dragons dungeon tiles that interlock and are interchangeable for creating dungeons and outdoor environs. They are double sided with one side showing the interior of a dungeon and other side showing a wilderness area.

If I recall correctly they came with one issue of Dragon Magazine, which years ago I had a subscription to. Or maybe not. I am not really sure where they came from, I just know I got them for free and I don't recall a friend giving them to me.

Whatever, here is what they look like (complete with camera flash):

Now I would like to find and buy more tiles like these, as they are useful and I have used them a number of times... but most of the time they just end up collecting dust.

But since I have thus far been unable to find compatible dungeon tiles, I have resolved instead to make a "Mini Adventure" which can be used while traveling, visiting family, etc. (It works well that my wife, sister and brother-in-law all play D&D - and sometime in the future my son will too. No choice. Our family plays a lot of board games in general.)

So recently I was watching a YouTube channel called Carpetbagger and saw a video he did about a place called Corpsewood, and he said that the locals referred to it as "Devil Worshipper Mountain" (see if you want to see the video in question).

Hearing the name "Devil Worshipper Mountain" I got an idea. That sounds like a great name for a dungeon adventure, which I later decided worked well as a Mini Adventure because devil worshippers do tend to be small in number.

Creative juices started flowing, and the rest as you know is history...

So here goes...

Devil Worshipper Mountain

The Setting

Now I have chosen to set this in my world in a mountainous region known as the Troll Lands, which is dominated by trolls (obviously) and a variety of other monsters. Demon and devil worshippers have also been known historically to hide out in such places. The Troll Lands has no humanoid civilization, except for one fort known as Trollhaven - which contrary to its name, is actually a haven from trolls and sports a strong number of archers ready to rain burning arrows down on any trolls who attack the fort. Trollhaven guards a trade route between the Holy City of Kost and the elven city of Sylvania. (For more details on this setting, visit

DMs running this adventure could base it in a similar location, close to mountain

The Hook

The party starts the game at Trollhaven, where they overhear the following from an elderly prospector. They could overhear him speaking in a stables, in the street, in a tavern, at a temple... the location doesn't matter.

The elderly prospector is speaking to a young man, who also appears to be a prospector - although not as advanced in years clearly. It is encouraged that the DM really enjoy doing their best old man voice when saying the following lines. Or even better, try imitating a North Dakota accent for fun.

"Stay away frum dat mountain, ye hear me. Sure, dere be plenty of gold there, but dere be demons afoot as well. And cursed mind ye, ta boot! A place where ye will surely be dying a slow and agonizzzzzzing death!"
The young man listening seems to be paying attention, but his interest peaked at the mention of gold. He responds by saying:

"Sure Old Timer, I will stay away from that mountain. Where is it again so I know where to avoid it?"

The elderly prospector then describes a route that goes north, straight into dangerous the Troll Lands, and several landmarks along the way until a person reaches an ancient and crumbling stone bridge that is over a wide and steep gorge, with rapids below:

"But don't be going over dat bridge during the evening, night or morning lest ye be willing ta fight da troll that be living near it. He seems ta sleep during the midday, so dat is da only time dat is safe to cross it. Once you are across "
The young man seems to be making a mental note of this and then says:

"Right, don't cross the bridge except at midday. Well, good luck to you Old Timer. I will be sure to stay away from that mountain."

The young man then rushes off, seemingly seeking to leave the fort in a hurry.

The elderly prospector disappears into a crowd (perhaps off to find a toilet).

It is assumed the average party then takes the adventure hook, but some might also ask around town for information in which case they learn the following information:

"Devil Worshipper Mountain? I heard they all committed murder suicide. The priest murdered all of his followers and the gold mine has been cursed ever since."

"Oh, I've heard of Devil Worshipper Mountain, yeah sure. The one with the weird hex symbols outside? I'd steer clear of that place."

"Devil Worshipper Mountain? Isn't that place cursed and haunted? They pissed off a devil prince or something and he turned them all into toads."

Various things like that. Basically you want to emphasize the words gold mine, hex symbols and devil prince.

The Background Story

Okay so the real story of Devil Worshipper Mountain is that of a high priestess named Luna, who did indeed go crazy but not immediately. She fell in love with a foreigner named Gustavo, but Luna had a problem... she was a worshipper of a demon named Galzebub - a balor prince - and she didn't think Gustavo would approve of her chosen religion.

So Luna was seeking a way to possibly introduce Gustavo to her religion slowly, like seduce him with magical power so that he would become power hungry like other priests of Galzebub typically are. But Luna made a mistake, a fellow priest named Bismarck found out about Gustavo and decided to abduct Gustavo. Bismarck held him for ransom with the threat of sacrificing Gustavo to Prince Galzebub, but he gave Luna the following conditions to secure his release:

  • Luna must give up the title of high priestess.
  • Luna must pass her title to the priest Bismarck.

However Bismarck made a fatal mistake, he told Gustavo who Luna really was and that she was a worshipper of Galzebub, thus ruining any chance Luna had of being with her beloved.

Luna of course gave up her title and formally named Bismarck the new high priest, but she suspected a double cross so she poisoned all of the food at the ceremony.

After the trade was made, the mouth gag was removed from Gustavo and he rejected her. This is what drove Luna over the edge of insanity. She stabbed Gustavo in the heart and murdered him in the named of Galzebub, cursing poor Gustavo to become a wandering shade.

She then began murdering all of the demon worshippers (the name Devil Worshipper Mountain is a misnomer thanks to rumours and people not knowing the differences between demons and devils). Because everyone had drank poison they were in a weakened state and the task of murdering everyone was relatively easy, but the new High Priest Bismarck did not go down without a fight. He managed to injure Luna and cursed her too, and cursed the entire underground temple.

After everyone else was dead Luna committed suicide by stabbing herself in the heart with the same dagger she had used to kill Gustavo.

Where to Place What

Honestly, you may notice below that I don't talk much about where individual things are like specific skeletons, bones, the altar to Galzebub, and any traps, pits or obstacles. Placement is really up to the DM to decide, as is the total amount of gold ore to give out with the treasure.
The Three Curses

So if you were paying attention there is actually three curses at play here.

#1. Gustavo's Curse

Gustavo is a cursed shade, basically he is a harmless spirit. In life he was a ranger and traveled to many distant lands, so he should be dressed as a ranger with spectral arrows. His bow is missing and he will sometimes talk about looking for it. In life Gustavo hunted demons and undead.

He can speak to people in ominous and vague tones and give them clues as to how to lift the curses, but he cannot have cogent conversations and behaves like he is lost and confused by his continued undead existence.

It is possible to speak to Gustavo normally, but you need to cast Speak with Dead on his bones to do so. He will tell what he knows about the temple and cult to Galzebub, but he doesn't really know much. If asked about hunting demons and undead, he will impart some of his ancient wisdom to anyone listening - giving them a +1 permanent bonus to damage rolls against undead and demons. If the players don't ask about this however then don't mention it to them.

To remove Gustavo's curse his bones needs to be found and he needs to be removed from this place and taken to a temple of a good deity where they can be blessed. Only then will his shade be released unto the afterlife.

Gustavo will say vague things like "Find meeeeee..." or "Bless meeeee... at the templeeee..." which to the DM sounds very straightforward, but PCs might think he means the altar to Galzebub, which is not what he means at all.

Gustavo cannot be freed by a standard "Remove Curse" spell. His bones needs to be consecrated with a Bless spell at a temple or shrine to a good god. That is the only way.

Alternatively, it is possibly to Resurrect Gustavo from the dead. He has been dead a long time so Raise Dead won't work. If the party does this, Gustavo offers to become a member of their party. His ranger level should be 1 level higher than the party's is, but he is severely out of touch with modern society and speaks in a very formal and antiquated way.

#2. Luna's Curse

Luna has a more complicated curse to solve. She is now a keening spirit, an insane banshee who moans about her lost love. While she can be defeated in combat, doing so won't destroy her permanently. She will just reappear in 2d10 minutes anyway, but that doesn't mean she attacks immediately. Sometimes instead she will take actions to try and prevent the party from removing any curses, such as only attacking a person trying to remove the bones of Gustavo.

Depending on the party level you might decide to modify how powerful Luna is and make her a "Weak Banshee" variation so that she is easier to defeat than a standard D&D banshee. Up to the DM to decide how weak to make her, but keep in mind the group might have to defeat her multiple times.

To get rid of her curse, one must first defeat her in combat, find her bones and then cast Remove Curse on her bones.

However Luna will deliberately appear (if she has regenerated) each time the party tries to remove any of the three curses, causing the party to have to pause and defeat her. She will focus her attacks on people moving the bones around and anyone announcing plans to cast Remove Curse or destroy the altar of Galzebub.

#3. The Curse of Devil Worshipper Mountain

This curse covers the immediate area outside the temple, the temple itself, and the abandoned gold mine below the temple. The curse has multiple effects:

  • The cursed area is hard to see in due to a thick black fog that clings to everything and will not dissipate with wind.
  • Casting Detect Magic in the area is useless, as the fog detects of magic and it is effectively like trying to see through thick magical soup. Trying to use Detect Magic makes the person temporarily blinded by the "thick soup of magic".
  • Casting healing and various kinds of restoration spells in the area do not work. This only effects spells that are 5th level or lower, such as Raise Dead, Cure Critical Wounds, etc, but does not effect more powerful spells like Heal.
  • Various kinds of Divination magic also might not work. Up to the DM to decide what doesn't work, but basically this would include any spell that would allow the party to figure out how to remove the curses instead of trial and error guessing. Basically this is to prevent the players from cheating using Divination spells like Augury/etc.
  • All bodies in the area are undead and will rise up and attack intruders who come within 15 feet of them.
  • Undead creatures in the area will regenerate after 2d10 minutes. They cannot be permanently destroyed even if disintegrated.
There are some ways around this however. If someone leaves the area of the fog outside the temple, they can use Detect Magic, healing magic, etc all normally. Bones of skeletons can be carried outside of the fog and will cease to regenerate.

Removing the curse requires destroying the altar of Galzebub and removing all the bones from the area surrounded by the black fog. The bones should preferably be buried, but this is not a requirement. Once both tasks are completed, the black fog will lift.

The Traps

Bear traps are hidden outside the temple under dirt and fallen leaves. Stepping on one deals 2d10 damage and traps the person in place until they manage to remove the trap with a Strength check.

Inside the temple the DM may at their option add pit traps in corners, explosive runes and similar traps. Really up to the DM to play with this and decide what is necessary.

The Monsters

  • The shade of Gustavo.
  • The banshee of Luna.
  • Bismarck's skeleton wielding a magical mace (see Bismarck's mace further below).
  • Skeletons of the dead worshippers. How many is up to the DM.
  • 1 or 2 lesser demons that are summoned by standing on one of the hex marks.
  • 1 troll.

With the demon(s) you have to decide how many is suitable for your party and how powerful the demon should be. There are also 4 hex marks to choose from. If you are not sure, I recommend rolling a 1d2 to determine the number of demons to use and then determine randomly which hex marks will summon the demon in question. It should never be the first hex mark they stand on, the goal here is to lull the players into a false sense of security and then suddenly make them paranoid when a demon appears when they step on the hex mark.

Unlike the undead, the demons can be killed normally but they should provide a reasonable challenge. They are not the boss monster however, that honour falls to Luna.

The Treasure

The Rule of Exponential Gold: How much loot is up to the DM, but most of it should be gold ore that the party finds. No coins, no gems, no magical items. Just lots of gold ore.

So for example they might find 10 lbs of impure gold ore - it is mostly rock with strains of gold visible.

The next time they find 30 lbs...

Then 90 lbs...

Then 300 lbs...

The goal is to weigh down the party with as much gold ore as possible, and also to lure them further into the dungeon with ever increasing amounts of gold ore.

Smelted down into gold ingots each 10 lbs of ore only makes 1 lb of gold (which depending on what edition you are playing is worth either 10 gp or 50 gp).

And then there is magical loot...

Luna's Sacrificial Dagger +1/+3 vs Humanoids. Depending on the edition you might decide to make it a Bane weapon vs humanoids or something similar. Luna's dagger is found with her bones, stuck inside her ribcage where her heart would be.

Bismarck's Mace of Bloodletting +1 - People injured with it bleed 1 hp per round until they receive a heal check or some form of healing. Bismarck's mace is found on his skeleton and he will attack with it when someone comes with 15 feet of his bones.

Gustavo's Penobscot Longbow +1 - Penobscot bows are pretty awesome (see the Battle of the Bastards from Game of Thrones) and have the ability to be adjusted in terms of the amount of power they achieve. In D&D terms this translates into variable damage. The user can take 1 minute to unstring/restring the bow and change its cable settings so that it is either a 1d6, 1d8 or 1d10 weapon. However to use the 1d10 setting the user must have a minimum of 14 Strength. Furthermore unlike standard bows in D&D which uses Dexterity as its primary attack modifier, the primary modifier for the Penobscot bow is always Strength (just like real bows do real life).

Beyond looting the place, there is also the gold mines to consider. The mine is perfectly usable and does have a substantial amount of gold in there, but it is old and needs all new equipment to mine it properly.

A single miner can expect to find 1000 lbs of gold ore per month in the mine, which equates to 100 lbs of gold ingots worth approx 1000 gp (or 5000 gp depending on the edition).

After 82,000 lbs of ore is removed, the gold mine runs dry. There is no more gold to be found here.

Due to cramped conditions only 5 miners can work the mine at once, and they will be expecting to be paid 30% of all gold removed from the mine.

However there is a problem, because the mine is in the Troll Lands and the region is extremely dangerous any miners who agree to work there will want DOUBLE the normal rate - so 60% of all gold they remove.

If the party decides to mine it themselves, they will need at least 500 gp of tools, equipment, food and supplies to restart the mine. 5 miners can find 5000 lbs of gold ore per month until the mine runs dry in 16.4 months. At the DM's option the PCs can mine it faster if they spend more on equipment, like installing wagons on railway tracks to move ore faster. This will cost an additional sum that is up to the DM.

If they try to stake a claim and then sell their claim no offer should exceed 8000 gp to buy the mine. Roll 2d4 x 1000 if they try to sell the mine this way.

The Return via the Trollbridge

Regardless of what time the party passed over the Trollbridge during their return, the troll will be awake and active this time around. He will demand all the gold they are carrying as payment and attack if his demand is refused.

Oh you thought the fighting was over? Oh well. Time to fight the greedy troll.

If the party does fork over their gold ore and later returns, there is a 50% chance the troll has moved on to a new place to attack people. Exploring his cave could be a whole separate adventure... Perhaps a poorly drawn map to his cave - because trolls get lost easily. Wait long enough and a different troll might lay claim to the cave and the bridge.

Return to Trollhaven

There is a smithy in Trollhaven that can refine the gold ore and smelt it into gold ingots. The process takes 1 day for each 1000 lbs of ore and the smith charges the PCs 10 gp per day to use his smelter. Or for free if one of them offers to marry his daughter...

But that is another adventure for another day... And involves rescuing his pregnant daughter from an ogre.

When they visit the ogre, the ogre demands that they kill some trolls for him and holds the pregnant daughter hostage.

Party kills the trolls, gets the girl, and she later gives birth to a half-ogre baby...

Have fun with that!

Why Star Wars Fanboys have blinders on, even when it comes to the Phantom Menace

I spent an hour today arguing with a Star Wars Fanboy who was under the delusion that George Lucas was a great storyteller and that Quinton Tarantino was not.

George Lucas... the maker of horrible but profitable films like The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Quintin Tarantino... the maker of masterful storytelling films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Hateful Eight, Jackie Brown and more.

Clearly you can see which side of this argument I was on.

Now we should note that earlier in his career George Lucas did make some good films, back when he was more collaborative and less worried about maintaining his creative control. But later in his career he started to go downhill and started making films with horrible plots and his storytelling ability basically dropped off a cliff into a chasm of confusion and created lines like...

"I don't like sand."

And it created horrible characters like Jar Jar Binks.

George Lucas's lack of ability to create a cohesive story was basically being weighed down by his desire (greed) to have toy merchandising by introducing useless characters that were there just to sell toys to children... and bore no relevance to the plot.

Think back to Episode I, the Phantom Menace. Imagine how much better that film could be if they cut out Jar Jar from the plot completely.

And yet try explaining this to a Star Wars Fanboy... Oh boy...

So the whole argument began on Facebook when someone was talking about Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi.

And I commented with the following:
I would compare Last Jedi to Kill Bill 2 in that a large part of the film was about Rey and Luke and their master/student relationship.

Interesting that in both films the SPOILER SPOILER and SPOILER SPOIL near the end of the film.

And then of course Luke does his Jedi Master thing and SPOILER before that, proving that he is still amazing.
To which a friend from high school responded:
I would not compare Last Jedi to Kill Bill 1 or 2 because both those movies were piles of Terentino crap and Star Wars is far better than anything from that director. Even the Ewok and prequel movies were better than Kill Bill. In my opinion.
 To which I posted the following GIF.

Because frankly that was so much nonsensical bullshit (and bad spelling) it deserved a GIF.

And he responded:
Kill Bill movies were terrible
 And I returned with another GIF...

 And he responded:
i would rather watch the star wars holiday special again than ever watch kill bill
 And so another GIF came out...

 And he goes:
I have not enjoyed a single Terrentino movie with the exception of Resivour Dogs. He is a hack that doesn't deserve the credit he gets.
maybe the holiday special was worse than kill bill but the prequels and ewok movies were definitely better than Kill Bill
 i will spell this out for you Quinton Terrentino is bad. Not Uwe Boll bad but definitely up there

i am going to stop this pointless arguement because we clearly have different views.
I followed with this GIF and the comment below:

No seriously, are you high? You misspelled both Tarantino and Reservoir. 
And argument.
 And then this argument went on for another hour (slightly more than that).

I tried to explain how good plots can be summarized in a single sentence and asked him to explain the plot of Phantom Menace in a single sentence.

Which he could not do. He eventually gave up and said the following:

you can't explain a star wars movie in one sentence because so much shit is going on. Unlike the shit that is Kill Bill. One Sentence. An unnamed woman goes on a revenge murder streak against her former lover and his friends after being left for dead.

You did it one sentence earlier for Episode IV. It is easy...

Luke and his friends rescue a princess, join a rebellion, and blow up a powerful spacestation that destroys planets.

I will do it again...

The Bride wakes up from a coma to find out her baby is gone and she goes on a revenge spree killing all the people she holds responsible.


Proof that good films have easy to summarize plots.

And every time he realized he was in a losing argument he tried to claim he was stopping arguing, but kept coming back for more.

i am not continuing this conversation. As bad as the prequals were at least they weren't the equivalent of a fighting video game drawn out into two 2 hour movies like Kill Bill. At least when I play Street Fighter or mortal kombat the fights don't drag on for 20 minutes to a half hour each.

He tried that multiple times, but kept coming back.

i say again, I am stopping this argument. Sorry to everyone who has had to endure this.

I am not showing the full hour worth of messages he sent in which he kept trying to claim that Tarantino is horrible - never with any actual evidence - and kept sticking to his guns that Star Wars is always amazing and that George Lucas is a wonderful storyteller.

Okay so here is the problem with Star Wars.

It, like many other forms of good storytelling, is ripped off from other source material.

Here is an example.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope is just a rip off of The Hobbit.

Luke-Bilbo gets whisked away on an adventure by Gandalf-Obi-Wan and joins a group of miscreant dwarf-smugglers, and encounter space monster trolls/spiders/etc on the way. The get captured by imperial elf stormtroopers, having a daring escape and later Luke-Bard shoots the dragon-deathstar in the weak spot in its armour. The dragon-deathstar is destroyed, a lot of dwarf fighter pilots were killed, and Bilbo-Luke gets to ride on a Falcon-Eagle. He is showered with gold and medals.

The end.

See and now I just ruined that film for you forever. Maybe. Maybe not. It is still an awesome story.
 And that is just the way it is.

Some people point to the idea that there is a monomyth, that all stories are basically derivative of the whole good vs evil plot and that there are only so many versions of the good vs evil story. Episode IV is ripped off The Hobbit, samurai movies and a variety of other sources. In terms of detailed plot points, The Hobbit is closest to the actual plot.


But that is what makes Quintin Tarantino films interesting. Instead of one plot they sometimes have multiple overlapping plots. Pulp Fiction and Hateful Eight are good examples of this.

And it takes a master storyteller to make overlapping plots like that work together as a cohesive unit.

George Lucas doesn't have the brain cells to even attempt such complexity... and yet... when asked to describe the plot of a Quintin Tarantino film, it is rather easy to do.

Pulp Fiction - Two hitmen working for a mobster have a series of misadventures, as does a boxer working for the mobster who ends up later rescuing him from rednecks.

Hateful Eight - Eight people, most of them strangers to each other and yet have reasons to hate each other, gather in a cabin during a storm where bloodshed ensues.

See? An accurate summary of the plots and yet anyone who has seen those films will know that they are far more complicated that what I just said.

So here is the thing...

Quintin Tarantino films do very well with critics and fans alike. Pretty much everyone likes them. My friend from highschool is clearly the exception to the rule.

But Star Wars films...

They are not that good typically.

Star Wars has had 3 horrible plot films out of a total of 9.

Episode I = BAD
Episode II = BAD
Episode III = BAD
Episode IV = GOOD, but ripped off from The Hobbit.
Episode V = GOOD
Episode VI = GOOD
Episode VII = GOOD**
Rogue One = Good*
Episode VIII = GOOD

So 3 out of the 9 films were bad. That is not a great batting average (yeah, using sports analogies when talking to nerds!)...

* Some people really don't like Rogue One, although I am okay with it. So if you consider it to be bad, then 4 out of 9 were bad.

** Some people also didn't like VII, but those people are clearly on crack.

But here is the things... those are not the only Star Wars films... if you included the 2 Ewok films and 1 Star Wars Xmas special... and unfortunately my friend from high school kept bringing those up, so I guess we should include them.

So if we include the 2 Ewok films + Xmas special then 6 or 7 out of the 12 films were bad. Depends whether you want to include those, but I guess you can blame my friend from high school who doesn't know when to not mention horrible films.

George Lucas himself hates the Christmas Special so much that he has gone out of his way to try and find and destroy every copy of it. Unfortunately with the internet it is now very easy to find.

Quintin Tarantino meanwhile has never been so embarrassed about one of his films that he has gone out of his way to actively destroy it.

Now if only George Lucas would realize his folly and destroy every copy of the Phantom Menace, etc.

Except there is one huge problem...

Star Wars Fanboys don't like to admit when they are wrong. They have blinders on when it comes to all things Star Wars.

Remember above when the Fanboy claimed that the Ewok films were better than Kill Bill...? Yep. He said that.

And the Ewok films were seriously bad... But don't take my word for it, let us look at some Rotten Tomato scores...

1984 - An Ewok Adventure = 25% on the Tomatometer. 44% of people Liked it.
1985 - The Battle for Endor = So bad that the Tomatometer is Not Available... 51% of people Liked it.
2003 - Kill Bill Volume 1 = 85% on the Tomatometer and 81% of people Liked it.
2004 - Kill Bill Volume 2 = 85% on the Tomatometer and 89% of people Liked it.

Clearly there is no contest between the films.

And yet you if you try to explain that or anything else to a Star Wars Fanboy you get anguished replies of denial...

Wizard, the Card Game

So I learned a new card game today called "Wizard". It is very similar to the game "Bugger Bridge", but has 8 extra cards and some additional rules. (Wizard and Bugger Bridge is similar to another card game called "Oh Hell", which I should probably try sometime.)

Here are some notes...

Assuming a person already knows how to play Bugger Bridge, here are the changes.

8 extra cards, 4 Wizards and 4 Jesters.

The Wizards are wild cards. They can be played even if you would normally have to follow suit and will automatically take the trick - unless someone else played a Wizard first during that round. Thus you really want to be the first person to play it, because then you are guaranteed to take that trick. The only time someone would use a Wizard after one has already been played is if they are trying to get rid of it.

The 4 Jesters are completely worthless. They can be played even if you would normally have to follow suit, and they can NEVER take a trick, even if led during a round. This means they are usually used to protect yourself from accidentally taking a trick. They are "safe cards" to lead and also safe to throw away during a round. If everyone throws a Jester in a single round, then nobody takes the trick - but the person who dealt it has the lead. (Such an occurrence is very rare.)

Now because of the way Bugger Bridge is played, the 8 extra cards have some extra rules with respect to what is trump, what happens when it is led, etc.

Wizard as trump = the dealer decides what is trump before the bidding begins.

Jester as trump = the first player to the left of the dealer decides what is trump before the bidding begins.

If someone leads a Wizard during a round, it doesn't really matter what is trump because that wizard takes everything anyway. Thus this is an opportunity for other players to discard their junk or get rid of cards they don't want.

If someone leads a Jester during a round, the person to their left can play any card, and that is the lead card for that round. (Unless they also play a Jester, in which case the next person to the left repeats the process.)

Scoring is also different from Bugger Bridge.

Each round players get a minimum of 20 points. If they bid 1 trick, they will get 30 points if they success in taking the 1 trick.
No tricks, 20 points
1 trick, 30 points
2 tricks, 40 points
3 tricks, 50 points
However if the bidder does not take their desired number of tricks, they lose 10 points. (This is similar to an optional rule found in Bugger Bridge.)

Since there is 60 cards total in a Wizard deck then 5 players can play 12 rounds... and during the final round there is no trump. If there are 4 players, they can play 15 rounds... and again during the final round there is no trump. 3 players = 20 rounds. 6 players = 10 rounds.

If there is 7 players then you can only play 8 rounds, 8 players = 7 rounds...

Of course you can also roughly double the length of the game if you progressively go back down to 1 card again, which is what my family usually does when playing Bugger Bridge. However as the woman teaching the game today informed me "That would be if you wanted to play a really long game." Which we were not.

Personal Notes about Strategy

While it is perfectly acceptable to play it safe in Bugger Bridge and bid none on a regular basis, in Wizard the scoring system encourages you to try for more tricks in an effort to reap the benefits in points.

I won today's game because I had an edge from 27+ years of playing Bugger Bridge. I ended with a score of 280 despite screwing up the last round and losing 10 points. The second highest scoring person was the woman who taught the card game (she got 270 points), and my impression was that she was used to winning and was not expecting a beginner to figure out the strategy of the game so quickly. (Like I said, 27+ years of playing Bugger Bridge gave me some insights as to strategy...)

I played it safe during quite a few rounds in the beginning of the game, bidding none regularly and only bidding 1 or 2 when I felt I had no choice but to take a few tricks. (eg. If you get a Wizard, you are pretty much guaranteed to take a trick and you would only not take that trick if you decided to get rid of it by waiting until someone else plays a Wizard first and then getting rid of yours.)

By the end of the game I was regularly bidding 2 or 3 tricks because I realized I was in a race with the woman who taught the game. I needed extra points to beat her, and also to maintain my lead.

During the final round I bid 3, but probably should have bid 4 or 5. I ended up accidentally taking 4 tricks because in the 2nd last round I played a Wizard when I should have waited. I should have discarded my lowly 7 of Diamonds during the 2nd last round, but sadly I made a whoops. I realized my mistake as I dealt it and immediately wanted the card back, but it was already played...

And then during the final round I took the trick with a crappy 7 because nobody else had trump cards and all the kings had apparently been played, and nobody had a higher diamonds. (If I had been card counting I would have remembered that all the kings were already played.)

The addition of the Kings and Jesters makes the game more chaotic in my opinion, but also allows for more strategy and skill on the part of the player. Players with little experience in such games tend to cause more chaos (and lose as a result) as the rounds go by, but veteran card gamers like myself can more or less predict what will happen. eg. I knew I screwed myself during that 2nd last round, but I still won the game so oh well.

Final Note

So I went on Amazon and ended up ordering a deck of Wizard cards and two other card games. I am hoping they arrive before xmas... My family loves card games so the card games will be well used in the future.

Old School Dungeon Design Tricks and Tips

Old School Dungeons like Tomb of Horrors and The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar sometimes have quite a few design features that are similar, and help to make "Old School Dungeons" more entertaining than some of the more modern adventures which are designed to be more hack n slash.

Warning! Because I cite examples of these designs, there are spoilers ahead. I will be frequently mentioning designs from Tomb of Horrors, The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar and others. You have been warned.

#1. The Joke or Private Joke

Sometimes the Dungeon Master or dungeon designer will add something to the dungeon that just doesn't make much sense and is there purely for the sake of it being funny.


The chain in The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. PCs tug on it and cannot figure out what it does. It doesn't do anything, but creator Ed Greenwood probably got a laugh out letting players waste time tugging on it before cracking a joke about them yanking on his chain.

"Private Jake" in the Stormreach Waterworks in Dungeons and Dragons Online. The whole point of Private Jake is that you don't know what the joke is, except for the obvious pun of his name.

The teleporter in Tomb of Horrors that takes people's gear and/or turns them into the opposite sex. Always good for a laugh.

#2. The Trap with No Saving Throw that Characters have to Choose to Set Off

In 1st/2nd edition AD&D traps did not have a saving throw. They just went off and there typically was no way to avoid them unless players were smart about it. Some traps took it a step further however and gave players the choice of whether to press the proverbial button and see what happens.

I ran into one of these recently in a game. There is a rope dangling from the middle of the ceiling, similar to the chain mentioned above. You yank the rope and the whole floor collapses. No saving throw. Everyone in the room falls, including the rope.

The beauty of the trap is that characters have to choose to set off the trap by pulling the rope. If you just leave it alone, nothing happens.


The blank door in The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar that drops a giant stone block on you if you open the door.

The demon mouth with a Sphere of Annihilation inside it, within Tomb of Horrors. PCs who make the mistake of sticking their hand or other items in there, have their hand/etc cease to exist. The proper response is to use a 10 foot pole and you lose part of the pole before realizing that you should just leave it alone.

#3. Details, Details, Details

A smart dungeon designer should sprinkle the dungeon with clues about the story of the dungeon itself. Clues about who created it, who may have lived in it in the past, and who might be living there now.


Wide slime trails in "The Keep of Koralgesh" indicating that there is a giant slime monster in the dungeon somewhere...

Books and notes left in various rooms which tell tidbits of the story of the dungeon.

#4. The Possible Henchman

You don't usually see henchmen in 3rd or 5th Edition games, but in old 1st and 2nd edition AD&D the dungeon designer would sometimes add a possible henchman to the dungeon which could be rescued and could possibly join your team.

I have written previously about The Rarely Used Henchman and I contend that they are an excellent roleplaying device for DMs to be using to add more flavour and interest to their games.


Tomb of Horrors has a female sirine in a cave that if freed is available to join the party.

Haunted Halls of Eveningstar has two possible henchmen. A female wizard (Estrel) who lies dead on a table can be raised from the dead and can join the party, and a 2nd female wizard (Miior) lies in stasis in a closet in a different room and if woken from stasis is also available to join the party.

#5. Environmental Health Hazards

There are many ways to do this.
  • The whole dungeon could be teaming with rats (diseased ones) that sometimes bite the PCs.
  • Parts of the dungeon could be icy or greasy, and thus slippery.
  • Narrow ledges or bridges.
  • Heat or cold dealing damage over time.
  • Lack of oxygen in the air causing exhaustion / fatigue.
  • Poison in the air.
  • Poisonous spores (see The Temple of Elemental Evil).
  • Lava chasms in the ground (see The Keep of Koralgesh).
#6. Mix Monsters of Different Types

A common thing that started appearing in 3rd edition and continued in 5th edition is to mix a common type of monster (eg. kobold) and make their leaders something like a kobold cleric/shaman or a kobold barbarian, etc.

In Old School Dungeons however this never happened. Instead if a group of kobolds had a leader it was likely a lizardman or a human necromancer. A group of orcs with an ogre leader. An army of undead led by a demon. That sort of idea.

It is way too easy to just have a single monster and then just make their leader the same monster but with spells. The Old School method makes the boss monster something bigger and more terrifying. Kobold shamans might have spells, but they don't have the physical presence of an ogre.

Or if you really want the boss to have spells, make it an ogre magi.

#7. Not all Traps are Traps, some are Ambushes

A common theme in Old School Dungeons is to give the baddies some advantage. An ambush with a surprise round is one way to do this. Having the PCs fight in an unfavorable situation where the baddies have higher ground, have cover, have mounts, have useful weapons, have annoying pets, etc.


The stirge in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar that ambushes the PCs on slippery moss covered stairs. Sure, it is only 1 stirge, but it puts up quite the fight with the PCs having difficulty just moving on the stairs.

The kobolds in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar that have crossbows with sleep poison bolts - and attack from behind a wall with arrow slits while the PCs are in a room full of corpses (some of which are undead).

#8. The One Combat that the PCs have to Strategize or choose to Avoid

In Old School Dungeons there is usually 1 room with something so big in it that the party would be better off just avoiding it. Sometimes there is a monster so big it is just there to get PCs to realize that running away is an option.

Typically however that one monster will also have some really nice loot and it is worth the risk and the extra effort of strategizing how to take it down.


The mummy in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. It is way too powerful for a low level party, but if they are rested and prepared (with fire spells) they can possibly take it down.

Funny Note

If the DM has a room filled with vampire rust monsters (level drain + they destroy your metal gear) then the team should probably avoid that room anyway. The DM was being silly when they designed those monsters anyway. Also if the DM actually ambushes the party with vampire rust monsters, clearly they want a more "DM vs Players" kind of game, which isn't really fun any more. It is just completely silly.

#9. Traps that can be avoided with a 10 foot pole

Thieves and rogues are really optional in old school dungeons. Smart players can solve or avoid a trap using wits.

Assuming that players are seasoned at dungeon delving they may have figured out a long time ago that many traps can be defeated with a 10 foot pole... and some chickens.


Most of the traps in Tomb of Horrors can be defeated with either a 10 foot pole and chickens. (Or Sticks to Snakes.) All the players have to do is be extremely cautious and test everything with a sturdy pole or a chicken to see if it safe and they will avoid 90% of the traps.

#10. A Puzzle or Riddle that cannot be solved with dice

I did this recently with a teleporting puzzle where each 10 x 10 section of the room teleports the person when activated. There was clues in the dungeon that help solve the puzzle, but if the players take the time they can solve the puzzle without needing the clues. It works well for low level PCs, but would not work against a higher level party with access to Dimension Door or Teleport.

Sometimes a puzzle will also have a riddle element to it, or a timer (like the room is flooding) or traps within the puzzle to discourage wrong guesses.


The Keep of Koralgesh has a nice lever puzzle in it which when solved unlocks something. The lever puzzle is actually ridiculously simple, but in my experience players think that it is more complicated and end up spending more time on it trying to solve what they think is a complex puzzle when it is actually really simple.

#11. The Physical Obstacle or Old School Dungeon Hazard

A good Old School Dungeon should have some kind of physical obstacle to overcome, at least one - but the players have to use their brains to figure out how. It could be something simple like building a bridge over a chasm, or something more complicated.

For extra challenge the obstacle might be very dangerous - and have a monster lurking near it. Like a watery tunnel that they have to swim through... and it has man-eating fish inside it.

The Old School Dungeon Hazard is things like green slime. Which is not a monster, but it is a deadly fungus.


The Keep of Koralgesh has a number of fissures in the ground with lava flowing further below. They can easily be avoided with wood to make a quick bridge.

The green slime in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar... it is a potential party wipe if the players have no clue how to get rid of it. (Burning the entire room of slime before entering works well.)

#12. The Permanent Change

There should be something in the dungeon that does something that is either a benefit or a detriment. Or both simultaneously. Or it is all random. Whatever the case, the effect should be permanent.

It could be a magic or cursed item, place, monster, or trap that causes a permanent effect: Crosses gender, changes race, raises/lowers hp, raises or lowers stats, and can even change their alignment or age.


The teleporter in Tomb of Horrors that takes people's gear and/or turns them into the opposite sex.

The Fountain of Youth - no explanation needed.

My own little ideas...

The party finds a magical tome that boosts one RANDOM stat. You don't know which stat is effects until after they read it. Watch the party fight over who gets it.

The Gambler's Gambit - The device has a 60/40 chance of raising or lowering 1 stat. Roll a d10 to determine whether the stat goes up or down. Roll d6 to determine which stat is effected. The item only works twice for each PC. Trying to use it a 3rd time causes it to drain half the user's current hp (no save) and takes away 1 point of their highest stat permanently. (A smart player will use divination magic like Augury before attempting to use this item.)

#13. One piece of cursed treasure

Any more than that would feel like you are punishing the players. Just 1 however teaches the lesson that players need to be careful about treasure, because sometimes the treasure IS the trap.

Yes... I totally picked #13 on purpose.

No examples this time. Lets not spoil that one.

#14. The Faux Climax

The false climax is a way to trick the players into thinking that the dungeon boss has been defeated. And then later springing the real dungeon boss on them later. If the PCs fall for it, the real boss fight will turn out to be a real surprise and a challenge. Wise players should realize that the fake boss was too easily defeated.


The fake lich in Tomb of Horrors when the real demi-lich is further into the dungeon. Along with other fake copies of himself.

#15. Something that disorients the PCs

Floors and hallways that move, random teleports, getting trapped in a mirror dimension, becoming trapped inside a monster or a maze (or a monster that is a living maze). Gravity doesn't work properly, time travels at different speeds, etc.

#16. Low on Resources

The party should lose things along the way. There should be something that causes them to lose their food or water, or all their torches, spell components... they might even start running low on air to breathe. Or weapons or armour.

The quick and easy way to do this is to ambush the party with rust monsters. A spell that ages them 1 year also ruins all their food. All their torches are waterlogged and useless. Spell components ruined / rotten.

#17. The Giant Valuable Thing that is impossible to carry...

There should always be one thing that is really valuable, but too big to carry the whole thing. And possibly attached to the wall or floor.

Alternatively, they can carry it - but it leaves the party vulnerable to an ambush.


A giant silver statue, worth over 10,000 gp - but it is impossible to carry.

The old "Bunny on a Stump" trick.
#18. The Sneaky Shapeshifter

There should be a monster of some kind that is not what it appears to be. Like a potential ally who is actually a villain in disguise. Wolves disguised as sheep.


The mimics in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. Any of them... there is multiple.

The doppleganger disguised as a statue in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

#19. Unique Monsters not found anywhere else

Or rarely found anywhere else. Something very rare and unique, like a new type of slime that has its own rules.


The flying daggers inside Irongard, a quest made by Ed Greenwood. Similar flying weapons are to be found in some other quests also by Greenwood. To my knowledge they are not found in any other quests except Greenwood's.

In the town of Eveningstar there is a type of flying cat (not to be confused with the Catowl below) called a Tressym. Tressym are really only found in the kingdom of Cormyr in Forgotten Realms, and no where else. They apparently make good familiars for wizards or companions for druids.

The Catowl. Not all unique monsters have to be scary. But it is on a stump...

#20. Something that makes no sense at all

This is there just to boggle the imaginations of the players. It should be inexplicable and it is left for the players to argue over possible meanings as to why.


The pile of old rusty adventuring equipment, some of it still in good condition, waiting within the foyer of the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. When touched a magic mouth speaks, warning the visitors that these items belonged to those who came before them.

Or the above mentioned chain, which doubles as Ed Greenwood's private joke that has players "yanking his chain". It has no meaning really, but is worth a laugh.

#21. The dungeon should have an Awesome Name
  • Tomb of Horrors
  • Haunted Halls of Eveningstar
  • Temple of Elemental Evil
  • Keep of Koralgesh.
  • Etc
So seriously, come up with a good sounding name. Often the creator uses a bit of alliteration to create a dungeon that flows nicely, but sounds scary or mysterious at the same time.
  • The Catacombs of Chaos
  • The Dungeon of Infinite Death
  • The Fortress of Finality
  • The Garrison of Ghouls
  • The Hundred Haunted Hills of Hillcrest
Clearly I am just going down the alphabet here and just having fun coming up with names. Having an "of" in the middle of the name is optional, but it does perhaps help to make the name sound more impressive.


Just because there are 20 things on this list does not mean you have to use all 20 to make an "old school style dungeon". You might only use a wee number, like 5 of the things and still have a pretty awesome dungeon.

You can mix and match items. eg. The unique monster could be disguised as something else, and it could be the faux climax too. Players might thing that monster was the boss monster because it was disguised as the boss monster...

One of the common themes within bad dungeon design is to use a single theme, such as undead or traps. But the hallmark of good dungeon design is actually having a variety of things in there so it never becomes boring.

"Oh look, another room filled with undead."

A good dungeon should mix things together that you might not normally think work well together... like plants and undead. The plants don't care about the undead, and the undead don't care about the plants. But put them in the same room and suddenly the plants provide hiding places for the undead to lurk behind... and the plants turn out to be "disguised monsters" who add extra spice to the conflict.

Have fun!

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