Eyeballs Deep in Scarlet Emerald


The Salamander’s Promise (let's build a dungeon!)

This is the starting list to build a dungeon. I’ll add to it as time goes on. You are open to comment, opine, chide, and make suggestions to modify, deride, and improve upon it, all you opinionated game wizards. Let blood and ink be spilled for want of magic! 

The core idea is simple; see 11 below.

1. the catacombs are very old, dug within an ancient tel under the old city slums, a harsh ghetto filled with desperation, crime, and suffering. There may be food but also a rationing that’s exploited by the upper castes of the city, including powerful criminal syndicates in league with prominent families and merchant companies, along with the gangs employed to run daily affairs on the streets. There’s eating dogs, cats, and rats, so urban hunters, and this is a great place to introduce a city druid controlling pathways and gates on the rooftops as she tends to the high garden terraces and menageries along with night-time guardians (apes, susurrus, leopards, dire feroxes, animated statues, automatons, undead) who patrol the lower lanes and levels of the vaunted high quarter until they are recalled or retreat at dawn.

There can be various reasons for the dungeon entrance (or more likely, entrances, q.v. the Jaquays method, especially if it led to level two+ only). Exploring the various permutations as to why would be interesting and offer twists and turns: the tel has been open for years, perhaps generations. It was opened in the past but then closed when it posed too great a danger, but it’s recently been discovered during a building project. The dungeon maze may just be so large that sealing all the entrances is nearly impossible, since there are collapses and/or the poor break back in, taking the risk for some bauble to buy freedom from the slums – an item for which many would kill.

2. Old fired bricks (blocks, tiles, crumbling/repairable plaster/mud), many come out and often have useful items, messages, critters, or traps stashed behind them, or even inside softer false bricks. Roll 1d3/1d20 each time on triple column list, add variance with item/event quality).

3. Graffiti from adventurers and the humanoids dwelling here, with a varying chance it’s correct, depending on where it is and what language it’s in. Since there are famous adventurers and treasure finds in times past, so too with famed graffiti and clues. There are a few corridors and resting places: one behind a secret door; an entrance accessed from a high terrace pool; a hidden balcony shelf above the dungeon corridors. The chances for equipment, useful plants and fungi, and minor magic items double in these hidey-holes.

4. Certain ghosts and haunts can affect things: spoil food, add properties to things, and so on. They might also be bargained with, perhaps enchanting a weapon or giving light in return for being appeased with gods-wine from the Plateau of the Altars or the freedom of oblivion.

5. Light spells attract the sinister spectral eidola (see 8. below). One of the safest dungeon entrances is said to be in the shadow of a statue lit by such a spell.

6. Factions! Humanoids, an intelligent monster (or item, or possessing ghost), criminal gangs, competing adventuring parties. NPC strays/survivors, freed slaves and prisoners, or a disguised agent. A holy man seeking a powerful mummy inside a sarcophagus sealed with a medallion key which controls the monster. Salamander cultists. A crime boss and his mob (or corrupt watchmen/cleric/official) shaking the PCs down for treasure or some powerful item to destroy a rival mob. The adventurers can bargain with, play off, and attempt to betray these factions.

7. Alternative herbs, fungi, insects, slugs, frogs, and whatnot for healing, harming, magical effects, or modifiers. There will likely be an expert who can help PCs (Corion of Arethusa, ghost, dream, neutral/powerful insect hive), or those who trade these formulae and information, say to kill an enemy monster.

8. Eidolon spirit: specters that appear in reflections and use them as a power focus. At times, they can also animate statues and attack. Some sorcerers and priests use them to stow secret treasures and cult items behind the skein of reflections, or to guard shrines lined with statues so the fickle specter may have its pick. This may be the spirit attracted to Continual Light spells, the magical light actually increasing its power within reflections or in statues via the shadows cast. Funny, because this might be the main secret entrance: a Continual Light is brought before an old statue there, and the shadow cast reveals a secret stairway down into the tel.

9. An insect hive that moves throughout the dungeon, powerful, spell casters among them, deadly as a swarm but neutral and uncaring, harmless unless harmed. The hive can be communed with through a few means (spells, druidic/shamanic, mound pools, royal dust snuff) by just about anyone since the hive is true neutral, acting as labor, carrying treasure one coin/nugget/granule at a time, rebuilding broken walls, stealing a grain harvest overnight, revealing secrets, healing wounds (even regenerating limbs), and driving enemies out of a certain area – perhaps even herding the legendary golden salamander. Communing and bartering with the hive is done by all factions. These insects have a few sensitive areas they will protect, but they usually will not attack unless provoked, or paid to do so – and even this will likely be kidnapping the wizard and carting him off, or some such, on a seeming endless wave of inimical bugs.

10. Treacherous terrain, cave collapses, poisonous and/or flammable gas, flooding rooms, corridors, and pits, bundles of deadly creatures (bag of scorpions, pit/spiders, tail-tied asps hung from a rafter). You can miss a Dex save and slip on slimy algae down an 80’ shaft to your death. Lots of climbing and specialized gear, emphasis on gnomes and dwarfs and the thief for the bonuses they give to fellows with their expertise – and they don’t get to show them once. These folk have to be right there with the party, showing them how to do it, encouraging the jittery cleric, and so on.

11. The greatest treasure in the dungeon is the fabled golden salamander; slippery and lightning quick, immune to hold spells, magic missile, grease, glue, and webs, caught only by hand (or the tail chopped/broken by a weapon) with a natural 20. So powerful and pervasive are the legends of this magical creature to grant wealth and wishes that men will kill for it on sight and go to drastic lengths to get it, even if they don’t know how its magic works. Such is the lure of unbridled hope and promise. It is the X factor, the golden key personified for the desperate.

The golden salamander can be traded to anyone, or its tail can be imbibed (eaten, smoked) for a febrile dream-quest, the save (and/or grim trade) as hard as the thing you want to be rid of and/or gain (adjust roll/save/DC/consequences accordingly, if you like).

Failure means vomiting a jellied mass of salamander eggs, one of which is always golden, followed by a painful poison death. Success means shedding one’s blackened skin, which slithers away, unless captured or destroyed. Solve et coagula, baby.

Additionally, a spellcaster might attempt to keep the golden salamander for a familiar or animal companion. It will not agree but the familiar or companion may be chosen instead of randomly rolled, thereafter gaining some golden feature and 2% magic resistance per level of its master.

As an encounter, the DM should roll a percentile

12. Cool weapons and dungeon pets. Barbed arrows and splintering spears. Irritant smoke bombs. An iron cast net. The porcupine (arbalest needler mounted within a small shield). The hornet’s nest (metsubishi/dart volley blower). A hag’s glove. Sinewy flying hook traps. Creepy hairless crypt dogs. A slime covered razor chute. Acid vials and flaming oil in arbalests. Fucked up shit that’ll make you kill every goblin baby you get your hands on afterward.

13. Maris, a 10th level wizard on the lowest dungeon level (see 6. above). Maris places treasure and messages inside her first few zombies to lure those above into the dungeon and the adventurers into killing the undead. For the next wave, she places horrible vials and canisters on or inside them, so the adventurers will first be struck horribly and then be hesitant to strike them (greasy smoke bombs, pressurized acid, green slime, poison gas, fire bomb, the sour puss trap).