by Mike Shea on 17 October 2011
Wizards's latest Organized Play program, Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan, includes an interesting twist: dungeon-wide effects. This single-encounter adventure includes dungeon-wide effects that hinder the PCs across the entire encounter. While not something to use all the time, dungeon-wide effects are a tool we might use to increase the challenge and improve the theme of our own dungeons. Today we'll talk about some of the ideas behind these dungeon-wide environmental effects and show some examples.
Good dungeon effects are built around the theme of your dungeon. They reinforce the story behind the dungeon with certain effects. The deep necrosis of a crypt might strip away necrotic resistance and halve the amount of healing one receives. Fiery corridors might increase all fire damage by 5 per tier. Twisting halls of insanity might result in unstable teleports that send teleporting characters into a maze of madness.
Like encounters themselves, well-designed dungeon effects should start with the story of the dungeon and work outwards to the mechanics.
Dungeon effects are an easy way to increase the challenge of a dungeon. These dungeon effects can off-set the high power of higher-level PCs. We need to be careful, however, to ensure we aren't simply negating a PCs abilities. Simply removing damage resistance isn't fun but adding some elementally-themed damage vulnerability gets a similar effect tied to the story. An arcane laboratory might give players a choice of saving their item powers or taking 5 damage per tier in arcane feedback every time they activate a magic item's power. Dungeon effects that offer choices are always worth while.
Dungeon effects also offer ways to speed up combat. Give PCs a vulnerability to damage but an increase in damage output and you'll see much faster combat. Make it challenging for PCs to use encounter and daily effects and they might stick to simpler and more direct at-will attacks.
Let's look at a few example dungeon effects:
For a far-realm or abyssal theme, consider the potential dungeon effects of the Dungeon of Screams. The wailing of lost souls pierces through the halls of this twisted dungeon. It is all those within can do to keep their sanity as they explore these tormented halls. While in the dungeon, PCs are exposed to the following effects:
Evil cultists have sacrificed a thousand mortals in this dark hall. The brutality of the demon worshipped by these cultists has filled the entire dungeon with unrelenting bloodlust. Within the dungeon the PCs are subjected to the following effects:
These effects make for very fast and lethal combat. PCs may end up taking significant amounts of damage but have the potential to dish out even greater amounts of damage themselves.
The lair of a powerful white dragon is filled with a chilling cold and the mists of the beast's breath. Within these cold chambers, the PCs are subjected to the following effects:
These are just a few examples. Look for two or three simple effects you can wrap around your own dungeon to give it a unique flavor and challenge your party.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You might also take a look at the Dungeon Master's Kit and my favorite book of monsters, the Monster Vault. If you're looking for some good dungeon maps, take a look at the flip maps sold by Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.