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Dungeon 23: Undeath and Dying

Dungeon 23: Undeath and Dying

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

Unlike many Dungeon 23 projects, the father and son duo behind the YouTube channel Weird Games (link) have been livestreaming their Dungeon 23 project. Watch some of their design considerations come out practically in real time as they design an abandoned elven city for PCs to reclaim!

Dungeon Prompts

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

  1. Festive
  2. Sparkling
  3. Itchy
  4. Picayune
  5. Shaggy
  6. Tangy
  7. Vacuous

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 a Dyson Logos map, Wylgarak’s Hole (use this link for a player version without area numbers).

This map offers diverse paths for the PCs to explore while pursuing their adventure hook, which should resolve in Area 18.

This installment of the dungeon covers areas 12–14 of level two.

Area 12: Swarm of Death

This hallway opens into a small chamber. A gentle hum tickles your ears as you step through the narrow opening. Dim shadows flutter across the stone walls. The strong odor of decay hits like a wall as the vibration gets louder.

Area 12 hosts the decaying corpse of a demonic dog and the eventual death butterfly swarm (see Tome of Beasts 2) that feasts nearby. When the characters advance into Area 12, the swarm descends through the opening at the top of the area.

A PC who makes a successful DC 16 Intelligence (Nature) check identifies both the strong odor as that of a corpse and the gentle hum as a sound of a swarm.

The swarm doesn’t retreat from battle, but it prioritizes undead over living targets. If the characters can distract the swarm with something related to undeath or necromancy, the swarm gravitates toward that creature or item. However, the swarm is not motivated by anything other than feasting on decaying flesh. They cannot be dissuaded from this goal.

Designer Insights: Swarms Are Deadly
Employing unusual monsters is an absolute goal of TTRPG design. Encounters can feel familiar, expected, and monotony can destroy morale at the table. Crits against the unexpected enemy are some of the best crits in the game. (Editor’s note: Crits aren’t just for the PCs—check out Monstrous Crits on PDF!)

Area 13: Apothecary, Undead

The clanking of breaking bottles echoes down the hallway. The next chamber opens onto shelves full of bottles filled with unknown liquids, jars fermenting the heads of creatures both organic and compounded, and the discarded notes of a scientist.

Area 13 is the small library of a kobold scientist who is currently in Area 14. The notebooks and specimens reveal an interest in reanimating undead. Every aspect of his scientific inquiry is motivated in the rejuvenation of kobold armies as undead resources.

PCs who spend 10 minutes inspecting the library can make a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check. Those who succeed can salvage medical tools and supplies, such as extensive suture kits, expensive instruments like scalpels and bone saws, and four potions of greater restoration.

Designer Insights: Motivation
A common mistake in design is to assume that the players don’t want a narrative framework. Dungeon crawls notoriously throw together a loose plot and let the players hack and slash through. Players need a reason to invest though, and throwing in narrative devices and NPCs who can advance the plot help maintain narrative integrity.

Area 14: Dr. Mirin

The sounds of weeping comes from up the steps. In a darkened room, a kobold huddles on a broken bed frame. Wearing rags, hands stained with ink, the kobold lifts his head and stares at you. “Have you come to kill me, too?” He extends his arms. “Go on, then. Get it over with!”

Dr. Mirin is the scientist whose projects were previously discovered. He is not threatening and does not attack even if provoked. In fact, he acts as if he encourages a dispute.

Unlike other characters in the dungeon, Dr. Mirin has had a difficult life in service to the other kobolds. His experiments have failed, and he hasn’t been able to produce the undead army he promised to “the drake upstairs.” If asked, he cries as he explains how he feels so close to a breakthrough that somehow eludes him.

If treated well, Dr. Mirin whispers secret information to the players. The “secret” doesn’t need to be revealed now, but let players know that one future Wisdom (Insight) check in this dungeon will have advantage due to Dr. Mirin’s whispered lore. The story can backfill from there!

Designer Insights: Disappointment Is Hell
Not every room has to kill a character. Not every NPC has to be redeemable. Breaks from combat are essential in building buy-in with players. Dr. Mirin draws on historical scientists and the deep disappointment brought only by failure. The characters cannot help him. They can’t solve his problems. But if they can show him kindness, he can share information that will benefit them later.

Delving Deeper

In two weeks, we ascend further into this wing of the level, and eventually meet the brains behind this whole operation.


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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