Saturday, 27 February 2021

The Undercellars - a playable dungeon for Patrick's Dungeon Poem challenge

This is my (characteristically late) contribution to Patrick's Dungeon Poem challenge. It's not especially artpunk, but it is functional. Pdf version available here.

The Undercellars – to be placed beneath the next house your PCs visit the basement of…

(For PCs of levels 2-4)

1: Rotting door in the darkest and least-visited corner of the basement, three-quarters covered in heaps of old junk. Ignored by the current residents, who assume it leads to an old cupboard or something. Crumbling carvings of horned figures and winged animals just visible in the surrounding stonework. Held shut by seven locks, once strong, now rusted almost to nothing. One good kick would smash it wide open.

On the other side are stone stairs leading steeply downwards and a skeleton in rotted rags, arms desperately outstretched. Ancient scratch-marks show it died clawing frantically at the door.

2: Six rusted cages along south wall. Five hold ancient skeletons. The door of the sixth hangs open.

As soon as the PCs enter the room the skeletons animate and begin rattling frantically in their cages, shaking the doors and clacking their jawbones in agitation. (Note that the width of the room means PCs are likely to hear them before they see them.) If their cage locks are smashed they run out of the room, up the stairs, and leave the building via the nearest door or window, attacking anyone who gets in their way. They disintegrate into dust the moment sunlight or moonlight touches their bones.

For each minute the rattling noises continue, or each time a loud noise is made in this room (e.g. a cage door being smashed open), there is a 1-in-10 chance that the beast in 3 awakes. 1d6 rounds later, it will crash through the door to its chamber and begin hunting the PCs.

Rusted iron hooks on the north wall hold the rotted remnants of dozens of green robes. The pocket of one holds a silver necklace set with small garnets (120 GP). The eastern wall is carved with a long list of names – several hundred in all, including the ancestors of many prominent local families. Wooden wreckage fills the middle of the room, warped by time and damp. Rusted iron door leads east to 3. Gaping, dripping hole leads south to 7.

3: The iron door that leads into this room is rusted shut. Bashing it open requires a Strength check. Each attempt made has a 1-in-3 chance of awakening the beast.

At the bottom of the stairs a huge creature lies sleeping, curled up on itself. Resembles an immense horned snake with six clawed legs. A glint of gold can be seen protruding from beneath its bulk: a white gold idol of a bat-like beast (500 GP). The beast can be woken by loud noises, or by taking damage: otherwise it sleeps through virtually anything, including having the idol slipped out from under its coils.

Once it wakes it tracks intruders by scent, patiently pursuing them around the complex. It isn’t fast, but it is very persistent, and once it has cornered someone it will methodically rip and bludgeon at them with its teeth, claws, horns, and sheer scaly mass until they are dead. The only ways to escape are to kill it, to leave via the stairs at 1, or to escape along the river. It cannot swim, so if anyone leads it to the river and then swims or boats away from the shore it will abandon the hunt and return to its lair.

4: Alcove holding heap of rubble that was once a statue. Clawed outstretched hand now the only part still recognisable. Wedged behind it is a rotted corpse in a tattered green robe, with a copper and malachite ring around one finger (25 GP). The present residents of the building above can identify it as having belonged to an eccentric great-aunt who went missing several decades ago.

5: Six stone pillars hung with rusted chains. Ancient bloodstains splatter the floor around each pillar for a range of several feet. Bone slivers wedged between the flagstones.

Clinging onto the ceiling are six black-winged murder-birds, in a state of deep hibernation. They will awaken 1d6 rounds after the PCs enter, and attack anyone not wearing a green robe. If routed they fly off to the river and away, not returning to their roosts until 1d3 days later. The beast from 3 will stop and eat the corpses of any dead murder-birds it comes across during its pursuit.

6: Walls engraved with crude carvings of human figures engaged in improbable-looking sex acts. Floor strewn with rotting pillows and bedding. Rack of cracked white clay pipes in northwest corner, beside a dented copper bowl containing a black tarry sludge, dried-out and unidentifiable. In the northeast corner are broken wine bottles, battered pewter cups, and a still-intact copper flask containing 8 doses of potent laudanum laced with hallucinogenic herbs. (Drinking a dose induces 1d6 hours of deep sleep filled with vivid and disturbing dreams – worth 10 GP per dose to an artist or insomniac. The whole flask at once would suffice to knock out the beast from 3, if it could be somehow tricked into swallowing it.) A shelf on the wall holds two silver goblets engraved For the Champions (15 GP each), and a golden chalice engraved For the Queen (160 GP).

At the bottom of the pit to the south lounges Dryden, an immortal violet-skinned youth in tattered orange rags, dozing away the centuries on a pile of rotted silk. His long purple fingernails are still immaculate, even after all these years, and he wears a golden bracelet set with topaz jewels (240 GP) around his left wrist. He is beautiful, flirtatious, sexually omnivorous, and utterly incurious, answering all questions about himself and the complex in the vaguest possible terms. (‘It was built by… people… who’ve been gone for… quite a while?’) He would like the PCs to help him escape, but if they don’t then he won’t push the matter. He can always just sleep until someone else comes along.

Anyone who comes into skin-to-skin contact with Dryden will feel temporary elation followed by a strange sense of weakness, and will lose 1 HP per hour for the next 1d3 hours.

7: Irregular tunnel, damp and dripping, rocky floor slick and uneven underfoot. Three spindly pale-skinned proto-humans wedged into cracks in the rock, sleeping – they can sleep through all but the loudest noises, but bright light will bring them stretching and blinking from their crevices, long white limbs unfolding themselves from the walls, pale tongues licking across wide mouths full of needle-like teeth. They have no language, but can be placated with offerings of food – otherwise they will attack the plumpest-looking PC, seeking to drag them off into the darkness and drown them in the river before eating them. If routed they flee south and along the river to 8 – they are unaffected by the ghosts at 10. If the PCs pursue them to 8 they will make a final stand and fight to the death. Their crevices contain a haul of old, cracked bones and a rusted dagger with a large pearl set in the pommel (120 GP).

8: Smuggler’s camp. Corroded lanterns, rotted barrels, a crate of packed with bottles of contraband brandy (400 GP, but far too heavy, bulky, and fragile to carry around while adventuring). A rowboat has been pulled up onto the shore here. Its timbers are warped and leaky: it could be used to travel between this location and areas 10, 12 or 14, but would undoubtedly sink if used on a longer voyage.

9: A bare stone span crosses the river, its wooden handrails rotted to nothing. Ancient clawmarks on the stone. An undead smuggler named Redmud Bill crouches on the bridge, clutching his burned-out brass lantern. He wears threadbare work clothes and a jaunty black tricorn with an opal bead at each corner. Will not let anyone pass, threatening to ‘rouse the river’ if anyone tries it.

Bill’s mind is so eroded that all he can remember is that he came here in search of treasure, and he’s meant to wait here and guard the bridge ‘until his mates get back with the loot’. Nothing can induce him to leave his post, but he will permit the PCs to pass if bribed with treasure worth 100 GP or more. If shown the corpse of the smuggler-chief from 15, he emits a grief-stricken wail and leaps into the river. He will not resurface.

If the PCs attack or push past him, Bill rips one of the beads from his hat and throw it into the river. Moments later, massive blasts of freezing water mingled with stone and bone start exploding upwards, causing everyone standing on the bridge (including Bill) to save every round or take 1d6 damage and be knocked into the roiling, churning water below. Anyone in the water takes an additional 1d6 damage per round from crushing and drowning, and is permitted a Strength check each round to fight their way onto the shore. (If Bill falls into the river, he takes only half damage and automatically clambers back onto the bridge after one round.) The river remains roused for 1d8 rounds, and then falls quiet, though if Bill is still alive and fighting at this point he’ll throw in a second bead to rouse it again.

PCs who obtain Bill’s hat may find it a useful way of getting rid of the beast from 3, as once knocked into the river it will simply thrash around helplessly in the water until it drowns.

10: Graveyard. Along the side of the river stands a row of uniform grey headstones marking the graves of illegitimate children, secret spouses, disowned relatives, and murdered rivals, engraved with cryptic symbols meaningful only to the hands that carved them. The ghosts of those buried here are desperate for acknowledgement, but over the centuries their stories have all become jumbled together, an endless tangle of scandals and secrets without beginning or end. Anyone approaching them will find their mind filled with pleading whispers, and must save or stand, transfixed, listening to the stories of the dead until they are physically dragged away. Anyone left among the graves for more than an hour will be possessed by a confused composite ghost, and will flee the scene on an impossible mission to prove that they were covertly murdered by their illegitimate father who was also secretly their wife, or something of the sort. This possession lasts for 1d6 months, or until a Bless spell is cast on them.

11: The river is slow-flowing, icy cold, and deep enough to swim (or drown) in. The riverbed is covered with drifts of ancient bone – several hundred skeletons worth in all. Diving beneath the surface with a waterproof light source (e.g. a Light spell) will reveal light glinting off a suspiciously pristine greataxe still clutched in the hands of a skeleton encased in rusted armour, its copper haft engraved with astrological symbols. This is the axe Starshine, which normally functions as a Greataxe +1, but serves as a Greataxe +4 when wielded in starlight beneath the open sky.

12: A lone proto-human (as room 7) sits here, singing wordlessly to itself in the dark, casting nets woven from the sinews of strange subterranean beasts. If approached by PCs bearing lights it abandons its nets and dives into the water, swimming rapidly downriver. Its nets are especially effective against winged creatures such as those in 5 and 15, which if hit with them must save or crash, wings entangled, to the floor.

13:  Tattered parchments nailed to the walls in flapping sheets, bearing mostly-illegible genealogies and family trees stretching back through the centuries. Warped wooden tables heaped with dried-up inkwells and mouldy parchment. Skeleton sprawled on the floor in rotten green robes, its skull staved in by a blow to the back of the head. A wide flight of stairs leads eastward down to 14, strewn with the remains of another two hacked-up skeletons in green robes.

A huge coffer made from beaten black iron stands in south-west corner, packed with centuries worth of accumulated blackmail material: documents bearing witness to false marriages, forged inheritances, land grabs, rigged elections to civic offices, etc, etc. Most are so old as to now be of only historical interest, but a patient sift would yield enough material to ruin 1d6 prominent local families if revealed. All would be willing to kill to prevent this information becoming public.

14: Three crudely-carven statues of horned figures. Those to the left and right are male. The one in the centre is female. All are enfolded in drapery and depicted reaching outwards with long, clawed hands. Bronze bowls at their feet, stained by centuries of offerings in wine and blood.

Anyone pouring wine or blood into the bowls before the male figures gains +1 strength permanently, and is filled with belligerent and vengeful urges. If they ever back down from a fight, or fail to avenge a slight or wrong done to them, then the next time they sleep they are tormented in their dreams by terrible horned figures, gain no rest, and suffer 1d6 damage. This curse can only trigger once per day.

Anyone pouring wine or blood into the bowl before the female figure gains +1 wisdom permanently, and is filled with impulses of pragmatic cruelty. If they ever make a decision that causes material disadvantage to themselves in order to benefit someone to whom they are not directly related by blood, then the next time they sleep they are tormented in their dreams by terrible faceless beings, gain no rest, and suffer -1 to all saves for 7 days. This curse can only trigger once per day, but it does stack with itself, to a potential maximum of -7 to all saves.

A Bless spell removes both the positive and negative effects of these blessings, but the recipient takes 2d6 damage as the dark forces within them burst bloodily out of their body, leaving gory stigmata.

In the southernmost corner is huddled a skeleton, its once-green robes black with ancient blood. Its bony hands clutch a silver talisman engraved with a horned figure (10 GP).

15: Immense vaulted subterranean hall, the product of incalculable labour. Rotting divans litter the floor. Walls engraved with bass reliefs showing robed men prostrating themselves between a horned female figure. Floor strewn with ancient corpses spitted upon one another’s swords, some in the drab clothes of dockworkers, others wearing rotted green robes. Corpse of the smuggler-chief lies at the foot of the stairs to 13, rusted cutlass still clutched in one skeletal hand. His leather backpack contains a miscellaneous tangle of looted coins and jewellery worth 370 GP. Before him lies a sundered skeleton in a green robe, a heavy gold chain glinting around its neck (140 GP).

In the centre of the room a huge brass brazier hangs suspended from the ceiling on an iron chain, and on this brazier the Winged Guardian – a great leathery bat-like beast with a single huge yellow eye – dozes over the bones of its dead masters. It will not attack PCs who hold up the idol from 3: otherwise it launches itself up with an ear-splitting shriek and assails them, buffeting them with its wings while spraying them with the searing, tar-like venom it drools continually from its maw. It will pursue fleeing PCs as far as the river, but not beyond. If routed it flies up to the ceiling and clings to the roof, but if the PCs continue to persecute it with missile fire it flies back down and fights until slain.

The Winged Guardian and the beast from 3 are mortal enemies, and if they ever encounter one another they will fight to the death.

Three pits in the east lead down to 16, coils of rusted chain heaped next to each one. In the south-west corner stands a broken-down divan: a green-robed skeleton sprawls beside it with a crossbow bolt wedged between its vertebrae, clearly shot in the back in the act of trying to crawl underneath it. Beneath this divan is a concealed trapdoor leading to 17 – anyone opening this can look down onto the Queen’s bier without awakening her, potentially allowing a round of surprise attacks.

16: Dank dungeon scattered with rusted chains, slumped skeletons in rags fettered to walls, a faint smell of ancient human waste. Two mutant shame children lurk here, wordless and feral, too warped to die, their mottled skin dotted with patches of scale and hair. Skilled trapmakers, they have set up a line of hidden snares across the room that snap taut when triggered, entangling victims legs in lengths of weighted chain: the children then leap forth to garrote their immobilized victims. If routed they run and hide in dark corners. Child-like in intelligence, they respond positively if shown any kind of affection, and will loyally follow anyone who feeds them or treats them with kindness.

17: Here the Horned Queen sleeps through the centuries on her bier of bones, resplendent in shimmering robes of green silk embroidered with golden thread (120 GP if intact, 12 GP if hacked and stained). She wears a golden circlet set with three cut emeralds (950 GP). Her two champions lie curled up on the floor beside her like dogs, naked save for a few rags of clothing, huge rusted greatswords lying on the ground beside them. All three are horned and clawed, their bones clearly visible through their leathery grey-brown skin. Their yellow fangs are very long and very sharp. On a stone table next to the bier stands an engraved silver flask (30 GP) containing nine doses of dreamwine, which – if swallowed – place the imbiber in a dreamlike and disorientated mental state for the next 3d6 hours, during which they are extremely suggestible. (Trying to make someone do something heinous or self-destructive allows them a save to break the effect.) Dreamwine is worth 50 GP per dose to criminals or cult leaders.

If the PCs enter the chamber the Queen will awaken instantly. She is unaware that her followers have perished while she slept, and will assume that the PCs have come to worship her if any of the following are true:

·        The PCs are all wearing green robes.
·        The PCs all have blessings from the statues in 14.
·        The PCs come bearing offerings of blood and/or wine in the goblets and chalice from 6.
·        The first PC into the room holds up the silver talisman from 14.

If the Queen believes the PCs to be worshippers, she will enquire after the state of her followers: whether their numbers are growing, whether their bloodlines are strong, whether their secrets remain secure, etc. If the PCs give plausible-sounding answers she will bestow a ritual blessing and dismiss them before returning to her sleep. (They can then attack with the benefit of surprise, if they choose to do so.) She will become increasingly suspicious if reawakened by the same group of ‘worshippers’ more than once. PCs who tell her that the complex is under attack may be able to trick her and the champions into a trap. She is unaware of the snares in 16, and will blunder straight into them if lured there.

If the Queen does not believe the PCs are here to worship her, she gives them a stark choice: follow her or die. PCs who submit will be relieved of their weapons, and required to drink one dose of dreamwine each: they will then be subjected to a nightmarish initiation by ordeal, which they will never subsequently be able to remember except as a confused nightmare of scorching flames, icy waters, and monstrous faces looming out of the dark. Any PC who is affected by the dreamwine for more hours than their Wisdom score will succumb, and become a dedicated cultist of the Horned Queen. Others may save once per day, with a cumulative -1 penalty for each day that passes: success means they emerge from their fugue state of terror and trauma for long enough to try to escape. Cultist PCs who are rescued from the Queen may eventually recover after 1d6 months of systematic deprogramming.

The Queen is utterly ancient, and believes in little save the sanctity of bloodlines and of secrets. In battle, her champions attack with their greatswords, while the Queen uses her curses. If her champions are killed, the Queen will offer the PCs her circlet and dreamwine in exchange for her life. If they refuse this offer, she fights to the death. 

Monster Stats

5 Skeletons (room 2): 1 HD (3 hp), AC leather, claw (1d3), morale NA.

The Beast (room 3): 8 HD (37 hp), AC plate, move as dwarf, morale 9. The beast has enough teeth, claws, horns, and coils to attack everyone adjacent to it every round for 1d8 damage. Its blood is deathly-cold and horribly poisonous: anyone wounding it in hand to hand combat must save to avoid being splattered, suffering crippling, burning agony (-4 to all rolls) until the venom is washed clean. Characters with no exposed skin are immune to this. (The robes from 2 may be useful, here.) If the beast is killed, 2d10 doses of blood may be collected from it, usable as blade venom or contact poison.

6 Murder-birds (room 5): 1 HD (4 hp), AC chain, beak and claws (1d4), morale 6. Anyone wounded by a murder-bird just keeps bleeding, losing 1 HP per round until they take a round to bandage their wounds. Magical healing instantly ends the bleeding.

Dryden (room 6): 2 HD (11 hp), AC unarmoured, poisonous fingernails (1 damage, but save or take 3d6 damage when the poison kicks in 1d10 rounds later), morale 5. Regenerates 1 HP per hour unless dead. Between 0 HP and -5 HP he will look dead, but will actually continue to regenerate until fully restored – only at -6 or below does he actually die.

Proto-Humans (3 in room 7, 1 in room 12): 2 HD (8 hp), AC unarmoured, bite (1d6), morale 6. If two proto-humans hit the same target in the same round then their victim has been swarmed and grabbed. They may make a Strength check to break free – if this fails they will be yanked off-balance and dragged off helplessly into the darkness.

Redmud Bill (room 9): 3 HD (13 hp), AC leather, rusty hatchet (1d6), morale 8. Has three Beads of River Rousing, which, if dropped into a freshwater river or lake, rouse it into furious, churning waterspouts for 1d8 rounds for 1 mile in every direction.

Winged Guardian (room 15): 5 HD (21 hp), AC chain, wing buffet (1d6), morale 8. Whomever the guardian is currently attacking must save each round or be seared by the rain of sticky, burning venom that pours constantly from its mouth, taking 1d8 damage – this damage is halved (rounding down) if they have a shield to shelter under.

2 Shame Children (room 16): 3 HD (11 hp), AC leather, chain garotte (1d8 – if max damage is rolled the victim passes out for 1d10 minutes), morale 5. Experts at hiding and sneaking – if you lose sight of them, you’ll never find them. Attack only from ambush.

2 Horned Champions (room 17): 4 HD (17 hp), AC chain, greatsword (2d6), morale 10.

Horned Queen (room 17): 5 HD (23 hp), AC chain, teeth and claws (1d6), morale 10. Once per round can call down a random curse on a PC, who must save or suffer (roll 1d4: 1= blindness, 2 = fear, 3 = madness, 4 = paralysis) for the next 1d6 rounds. Anyone wounded by the Queen starts bleeding secrets, and will uncontrollably start confessing whatever they most want to keep secret for as long as the blood continues to flow from their wounds.


  1. A nice layering of secrets: prisoners then smugglers then boudoirs then graveyards then cults....

    Functionality confirmed.

  2. Love the repeating themes of sleep and dreams

    1. It's tagged 'literalised metaphors' for a reason!

  3. Yeah, really like this. At a mechanical level I particularly like the interactivity between the parts and the hints to the GM about it.

    1. Thanks! It's hopefully sufficiently clear that the it's possible to get almost all the treasure without fighting anyone, especially if the PCs take advantage of the cups from room 6 to offer the Queen and her champions spiked drinks...

  4. Is Redmund Bill a subtle Bill Gates reference?

    1. Alas, no. It's the recycled name of an old vampire NPC.

      (Dryden, meanwhile, is a willfully obscure nod to the old 1980s Roguelike 'Omega', which featured a brothel where characters could engage the services of an incubus named 'Dryden the Defanged'.)