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Dungeon 23: First Descent

Dungeon 23: First Descent

Kobold Press has a small, but fierce approach to Sean McCoy’s Dungeon23 project. Throughout 2023, a roster of Kobold Press superstars are working together to create a full dungeon. Each installment contains a few areas that will stack up to a full delve! Catch up on previous articles here.

Dungeon 23 Community Highlight

Our Dungeon 23 is one entry in the broader Dungeon 23 community. This week, we want to highlight another member of that community.

Artist and designer Benjamin Wenham regularly highlights his Dungeon 23 project on the official Kobold Press Discord server. You can also follow the progress on his PWYW itch.io page.

Dungeon Prompts

I’ve been given the seven words to help inspire dungeon design:

  1. Acrid
  2. Transitory
  3. Rich
  4. Bewildering
  5. Sharp
  6. Cobalt
  7. Axiomatic

I don’t need to use any or all of them, but they are cues I can consider using when I’m searching for inspiration.

The Dungeon Map

map by Dyson Logos

This level of the dungeon uses a Dyson Logos map, The Twilight Descent (use this link for a player version without area numbers).

This map provides several chambers for the PCs to explore while pursuing their adventure hook, which they will achieve on the second level.

This installment of the dungeon covers areas 1–3.

Area 1: Fungiculture Chamber

As you descend the long stairs, your nostrils are assailed with the stench of offal and the odor of freshly turned earth. The large chamber is dimly lit by a pair of braziers heaped with burning dung. Half a dozen kobolds work with shovels and rakes, tending beds of dull brown-white mushrooms, punctuated by patches of colorful spotted fungus.

The ceiling is 40 feet high. The stairs from the surface lead to a small landing on the western wall, 20 feet from the floor. A thick, stone door there leads to area 15 with no visible lock.

Two other sets of stairs split from the landing. The northernmost stairs lead past the stone door to area 14, which also has no visible lock. The landing at the bottom of this staircase terminates at a metal door with an arcane symbol on it. It can’t be opened by any means available to the PCs at this time.

The other branch of stairs from the landing curves around a rough stone column. Water trickles in a thin, mucky stream that runs down the southwest side of the column. The stream expands into a muddy puddle at the southwest curve of the chamber.

Once characters step off the stairs into the chamber, their foot sinks a foot deep into loose, muddy soil. The entire floor of the cavern is difficult terrain.

Clusters of mushrooms grow from heaps of mud. Most of the fungus is edible, but a few stray pixie’s umbrellas (see Tome of Beasts 2) grow along the walls of the cavern.

Six kobolds work among the mushrooms. They’ve been assigned this undesirable detail as punishment for laziness. Five kobolds regard the PCs with wary disinterest, while the sixth sees an opportunity to improve her lot. When she notices the PCs, she attempts to sneak to area 3 to report to the overseer. If caught, she begs for mercy in a loud, piteous voice.

The kobolds scatter if they’re attacked. Most attempt to take the stairs leading out of the dungeon, but one or two try to get help at area 3 or escape through area 8.

If the PCs talk, a successful DC 13 Charisma (Intimidation) or (Persuasion) check earns a warning from a kobold about the overseers and their cronies in area 3. The kobolds fears whatever lies to the south in areas 4 through 7, shivering as they whisper of unnatural shadows and an eerie cold.

Chilly vapor drifts from the tunnel leading to area 4, reaching a few feet into this chamber before evaporating.

Designer Insights: Hierarchy of Needs
Even if they subsist primarily by raiding, dungeon denizens need food and water. Areas where these basics are found can serve a secondary function, building tension between competing dungeon factions. This helps the dungeon feel organic while also offering material for the PCs to meaningfully interact with.

Area 2: Worker’s Warren

A short flight of stairs leads up to a chamber punctuated with four niches, two to the north and two to the south. A rubble of stone and ancient bone fragments litters the floor of the chamber. The odor of the mushroom chamber wafts through here.

The kobolds from Area 1 rest in these niches. Each niche holds three bedrolls and a locked chest. The kobolds who sleep in the north niches share a mutual distrust with the kobolds sleeping in the south. Each group has trapped their chests to deter the other.

With a successful DC 12 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools, the PCs can open the locked chests. Both chests in the northern niches have poison needle traps. PCs who trigger a needle trap have advantage on their Intelligence (Investigation) checks to detect the other traps. The chests in the southern niche are trapped with a collapsing roof.

Treasure: Each chest holds clothing, extra bedrolls, a set of mason’s tools, cobbler’s tools, and jeweler’s tools, funky-smelling liquor, and two meals’ worth of rat jerky.

PCs examining the bedrolls who succeed on DC 17 Intelligence (Investigation) checks find a brilliant blue spinel worth 150 gp sewn into one. If the collapsing roof is triggered, PCs who search the rubble and succeed on a DC 14 Wisdom (Perception) check finds a gold-seamed stone worth 55 gp.

Designer Insights: Risk vs Reward
Every locked chest or door doesn’t need to be a payday. Many intelligent creatures value their belongings enough to secure them, and a few are paranoid or malicious enough to trap objects with little or no value. When used sparingly, traps without rewards keep the players on their toes, reminding them of their dangerous occupation.

Area 3: Overseer’s Lounge

As you approach a wooden door, you hear off-key singing and the sound of laughter. Inside, the floor is littered with remnants of a meal, colorful shards of broken pottery, and sock puppets depicting a number of diverse characters.

Unless already alerted, a swolbold (see Creature Codex) watches two kobolds perform a puppet show—a sappy romance—while two other kobolds serenade them poorly.

Upon learning of their presence, the swolbold charges the closest PC, trusting his cohort to support him. Both puppeteers cower near the swolbold’s bed in the northern portion of the chamber, and try to slip out if given an opportunity. The kobold choir turns their shrill voices on the PCs.

At initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), the kobold choir taunts a PC via song. This PC must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or, until the start of their next turn, each time they make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check, they must roll 1d4 and subtract the result from their roll. The kobold choir ceases singing and scatters if either kobold is attacked or killed, or if the swolbold is defeated.

If the swolbold starts his turn with 20 hp or less, he disengages and tries to flee through area 8. If he cannot, he surrenders and begs for mercy. The swolbold knows shadow cultists are performing some dire ritual in Area 4, but otherwise doesn’t offer any information.

A sack under the swolbold’s cot holds two potions of healing and a boozy-smelling potion of diminution.

Delving Deeper

In two weeks, we venture into the chilly gloom of Areas 4–7.

If you’re looking for a notebook to jot down your Dungeon 23 ideas into, check out the Kobold Press TeePublic page!

about Kelly Pawlik

Kelly started gaming after her second son was born in 2012. She delights in worldbuilding and prefers campaigns that contain an abundance of intrigue and romance. Kelly co-founded Dire Rugrat Publishing in 2015 and has worked on many projects with Kobold Press. In 2021 she released the first three novellas in her middle-grade science fiction/horror/urban fantasy series, The Olympic Vista Chronicles.

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