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Dungeon 23: Portal to Hell

Dungeon 23: Portal to Hell

Throughout 2023, a roster of Kobold Press superstars are working together to create a full dungeon for the Dungeon23 project. Each installment contains a few areas that will stack up to a full delve! Catch up on previous articles here.

Dungeon 23 Community Highlight

This week, we want to highlight another member of that community – this time, on a sadder note.

Our cartographer muse, Dyson Logos, recently announced that his Dungeon 23 project has been discontinued. Between health and commissions, Dyson just hasn’t been able to keep up with the project at this time. (Maybe this is an indication that our smaller and more achievable Dungeon 23 project is worth pursuing.)

Dungeon Prompts

Seven words were created to help inspire this set of dungeon rooms:

  1. Sour
  2. Garrulous
  3. Homely
  4. Electric
  5. Dusty
  6. Average
  7. Verdant

The author can use any or all of them. See if you can spot where and how these ideas get used!

The Dungeon Map

map by Dyson Logos

This level of the dungeon, uses Dyson Logos’ map, The Eleint Passages: The Ruined Fane (use this link for a player version without area numbers).  

This installment of the dungeon covers areas 8–11.

Area 8: The Prelude

The rustling sounds of movement echo through the chamber. Small mounds of trash and discarded weapons litter the floor. As you descend into the open room, light flickers across the floor and the grunts of miscreant thwaps cannot be a mistake.

This chamber is an anteroom for the hellforged derro (see Tome of Beasts 3) in the next room. It houses a mix of trash and rusted armament.

A quick run of the room reveals useless, bent weapons. However, a successful DC 14 Dexterity (Stealth) check is necessary to keep quiet during the search. Otherwise, the hellforged derro in Area 9 hear the PCs’ inbound footsteps. Several bottles are discovered among the trash, and while they look like potions, a successful DC 12 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals the m to be filled with the back sweat of a demon. If mixed with turmeric and lemongrass and allowed to settle for a month, each bottle turns into a potion of fire breath.

Designer Insights: Lighter Fare
Players need a mix of experiences to enjoy the game, so some rooms need to offer less than an encounter and more than a bland hallway.

Area 9: The Game is Afoot

A cacophony of grunts and grotesque noises emanates from a game being played by two hellforged derro and two kobolds. The hellforged derro are rolling their kobolds like bowling balls toward the other team, creating dizzy kobolds and amused derro. Neat scratches on the wall indicate an orderly scorekeeping process.

Any noise reveals the incoming party, so each player weighing at least 50 pounds needs to succeed on a DC 14 Dexterity (Stealth) check. A failure reveals the party’s approach, eliminating the potential for an ambush.

The hellforged derro and their kobolds fight to the death, but the derro are willing to let the kobolds go first. However, if one derro can seize a moment to withdraw into the passage to Area 10, it does so.

A brass bugle hangs on the wall in the passage. If a derro has the opportunity in that space between Room 9 and Room 10, it blows the bugle to sound the alarm that intruders are here.

They have nothing of value to protect here other than the passage to the next chamber.

Designer Insights: Fight! Fight! Fight!
Let’s be honest—fighting is why a lot of us like TTRPG. Combat! Encounters! Strategy! It’s all fun and games until a kobold loses his head. Encounters don’t need to be filled with monologues or plot advancement. Sometimes fists can just fly!

Area 10: Loot!

An item on the wall dominates this space—a painting of Hell. Otherwise, the room contains meticulously cared-for junk like cracked tea cups and used bottles of perfume. Dried flowers hang from the ceiling, but they do not hide the sulfurous odor coming from the painting.

Hellforged derro are ultimately creatures from Hell. Their madness and obsession with things beyond the understanding of this plane are not to be mistaken or discarded.

A successful DC 16 Intelligence (Investigation or Arcana) check reveals the painting is a portal to Hell. Any derro from this level who has lost at least half thier hit points can use it to escape back to their plane. If you don’t want to prepare anything to do in a Hell, consider inserting a key somewhere later in this level to keep players corralled until you’re ready. But if the players do want to go through, be sure to give them the opportunity!

The room is full of broken junk, but it is not trash. It’s more about the hoarder tendencies of the hellforged derro. PCs who inspect closely make a successful DC 14 Intelligence (Investigation) check can reasonably conclude that all of these items are intended to be used to scry into other planes of existence.

Designer Insights: Conclusions
The purpose of an encounter can be integral to plot progression, but it can also be just an entertaining player experience. This encounter was designed to advance the background and history of the hellforged derro. This allows the players to explore another plane of existence if they like. Talk about splitting the party!

Area 11: Descent

Steep, jagged stairs separate you from the next room, and the darkness casts unusually treacherous shadows across the floor. 

This narrow passageway between chambers is a deathtrap for those without darkvision or other light sources. The terrain is rough, and each PC must make a successful DC 14 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to pass without injury. On a simple failure, a PC’s speed is reduced by 10 feet until they complete a short or long rest. On a failure by 5 or more, their speed is reduced 20 feet.

Designer Insights: It Shouldn’t Be Easy
Dungeons are strange combinations of experiences from hefty encounters to the joys of fighting over loot, but the allure of making every stone a trap is tedious and can stagnate gameplay. Sometimes, you just need to let the terrain humble the players.

Delving Deeper

In two weeks, we approach the northern half of this dungeon level.

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

about H.H. Carlan

H.H. Carlan is a published TTRPG writer and novelist. Her credits include work for Kobold Press, MCDM, Goodman Games, and Wizards of the Coast. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she writes novels on her lunch break. 

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