Monday, September 5, 2016

Filling the Dragonhole

In this post, you get to watch me try to flesh out my dragon hole dungeon.  This is just me spitballin' ideas, in preparation for actually writing the thing.

So we got these six dragons, right?   And a rough idea of their personalities and collections, see?.  Maybe not so much their goals or wants, but I'll work on that later, once I have a better idea of the relationships between them.  That part can come last because it's the part that's most dependent on other things.

Saint-Leonard Underground Lake
Dungeon Layout

The recipe of "ancient X now repurposed by Y" is an old formula, but a good one.  In this case, it's an ancient water distribution system that was later used by a mother dragon and her brood.

There's a huge central shaft going down to a reservoir (or many reservoirs).  Right now my leading idea is a big shaft leading down to a sealed stone building in the middle of a perfectly spherical reservoir, maybe with a couple of pillars running up alongside it all the way to ground level (both as stairwells, but also as places to put ancient machinery and shit).

Okay, that sounds cool.  It also sounds big.  I might need two scales of map: one for the dragonhole itself and the other for the individual lairs.


Once there was a mated pair of dragons.  A knight slew the father.  The mother fled with her seven kids and decided to hide in a big hole in the ground.  She was paranoid and controlling.

Eventually the knight died of old age and her six kids grew up.  One of her kids was killed by the other six (specifically Vulpernia) for breaking her most important rule: don't let people see you.

Then the mother died and her delusional daughter, Emerald Egg, has started turning her into a dracolich.  The other five dragons don't know this last detail, and just keep living their fucked up, egocentric lives in what is basically a subterranean apartment building for emotionally underdeveloped dragons.


The first part of the dungeon is going to be descending down the huge bore into the earth. It needs to be big enough for dragons to take off and fly around inside of it, so. . . maybe 500' across?  That's a big hole.

It's also covered in ivy and flowers, which the surgeongbirds feed on when they can't get proper blood to drink.  The flowers are watered by numerous tiny streams that flow into the circular pit, some of which break off into tiny cataracts, all of which disintegrate into mist before they fall to the reservoir at the bottom.  They grow out of cracks in the stone.

There are "balconies" on the way down.  These are actually just mountings for pieces of machinery that have been long since torn off.  (This site was previously used to pump water up into space, although that fact will never be important.)

PCs climbing down into the dragon hole will have to deal with a swarm of surgeon birds.  (Plate armor is an effective deterrent.  So is just feeding them with bladders full of blood.  So is fire.)

Okay, that's the normal, expected stuff.  What weird stuff can I throw into this balcony-encrusted murder hole?  (I can always trim back the weird stuff later, so it's good to vomit up a bunch of it now.)

Think of this as a menu of oddball shit I can choose from later.

Flower pots.  These belong to Vulpernia.

Maybe a little fairy or something.  Maybe riding in a chariot or hot-air balloon pulled by hummingbirds.  Maybe the fairy lives in a birdhouse.  Maybe they all live in birdhouses.  Maybe all the birdhouses are different, and are famous buildings identical to the ones that Ashrendar has in his lair.

Actually, fairies are lame and being carried by six hundred exhausted hummingbirds is cooler. I'll see if I can find a way to work that in there.

Drakencult berserkers being carried by hummingbirds????!!!??

At least one surgeonbird has tasted some dragonblood somehow (their beaks are long enough to reach a vein, much less pierce a scale).  It's probably bigger and weirder.  Maybe it's the intentional pet of one of the dragons (Vulpernia?) and wears a little collar.

Messenger birds flying through.  Ravens?

Huge, horrifying noises as some reservoir machinery struggles against death.

Garnos' resting balcony.  It's got a water trough, dried blood, cow bones, and a live cow with broken hips.  In fact, that's the sound the PCs will probably hear as they descend down the sides of the hole--rushing water and the bellows of a dying cow.

Maybe the flowers are linked to the birds in a literal fashion, and turn to look at you if you start killing surgeonbirds.  Maybe if you kill a crap-ton of birds, the vines will turn on you.  They'll stop being easy handholds and start falling out of the wall as soon as you put your weight on them.  They might fall on you in long strips (like lumberjacks being killed by huge strips of bark falling on them.)

A warning, like skeleton stuck in the ivy, or the shields of dead knights.  (But maybe this is laying it on a bit heavy and maybe I should save it for later?)

Rainbows from the falling mist.

Beehive growing inside something.  Valuable thing amid the combs?

A huge air current that blows upward every 60 minutes for 3 minutes.  If you had a parachute, you could ride it out of there.

A painted sign, metaphorically.  The draconic equivalent of Home Sweet Home.  (This is a stupid idea.)

Carnivorous flowers?  (Nah.)

Garnos' Drakencult

Before the party reaches Garno's lair proper, they'll need to get past his guys.  These are muscular crazy dudes who used to be dragon hunters.

So, they dress like ex-dragonhunters.  One dude armed with a bladed grappling hook, wearing only a loincloth.  Another dude with a turtleshell shield that's large enough to hide under (+8 to save vs dragonbreath, but not very useful otherwise).  One chick wearing nothing but a dragon-headed helmet, carrying an extremely long spear.

So these guys, they worship Garnos and watch his back.  What are they like?  Probably like warboys.  Or ork boyz.  They probably have at least one guard post-type thing.  But what else do they do?

Probably at least one or two crazy-as-fuck things.  Like jumping off the balcony down into the reservoir, 1000' below.  Or jumping through a ring made of swords (Garnos is the one with an insane weapon collection, remember?) where jumping too far or too short results in severe injuries.

Or maybe there is a room with spears sticking up out of the ground, and they stand on top of them while wearing steel boots with leather glued to the soles, like in those kung-fu movies.  Falling over usually means getting impaled.  And you can fight down among the standing spears, all cramped.  (Rules for confined places, plus non-thrusting weapons get another penalty to hit.)

They poop inside buckets inside a treasure chest (to minimize the stink) and then dump it over the side.  Therefore, at least one room will have treasure chests containing shitty buckets.

Stupid armor, like a helmet made entirely from swords.

Stupid weapons, like a huge sword-tree made from smaller swords.

Some ridiculously large guy (stats as ogre) who can wield these ridiculous things in a way that is suddenly not ridiculous any more.

Garnos probably has a bunch of captured dragon-killing weapons, like ballistae and catapults.  The drakencult uses these to execute people (sort of like how Kim Jong-un supposedly executed a general with a mortar).

A barracks and a private room for Third Fang, Garnos' lieutenant.  These dudes probably think of themselves as dragons-to-be, so they probably emulate Garnos to a lesser extent.  Some of them probably keep miniature hoards of their own.  Maybe tiny berserker dolls.

A pile of grappling hooks and rappels.  If they're Garnos' private SWAT team, they need a way to navigate the dragon hole quickly.

A back tunnel that connects to one of the vertical shafts, which is both illuminated and protected by ancient Elvish ashakka.

Berserker dog, also mad on dragonblood.

Under a sheet, Garnos' war helmet, designed to help him kill dragons.  His siblings would be very disturbed to learn of its existence.

A shrine where they can actually worship Garnos.  Probably just a platform with some kneeling pillows arranged around it.  This is probably where he also feeds blood to his loyal dudes.  Dragons are armored all over so he probably has to cut the inside of his eyelid, and then the berserker just drinks the blood out of the cupped flesh of his lower eye while Garnos just stares at you.

It's creepier when you remember that Garnos basically never talks.

How To Talk To Garnos

You make declarative and interrogative statements.  If Garnos hears something that he disagrees with, he bites you, or maybe just breaks something.

Thief: . . . so you see, Vulpernia needed someone to fix the plumbing.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: So, if you can let us pass, that would be great.

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Are the pipes in this direction? (points in wrong direction)

Garnos: (whips his tail behind him, cracking the wall)

Thief: Uh, down this other hallway then? (points in proper direction)

Garnos: (silence)

Thief: Then we'll take our leave, Oh Incinerator of Cattle Herds.

Garnos' Lair

Every dragon shapes reality around them, making it more like their own expectations.  (That's part of the reason why they're such confident jerks.)  This happens in a way that a dragon wouldn't notice.  A dragon remembers (falsely) that a coin in scuffed, and next time he checks the coin actually is scuffed, confirming what the dragon thinks he already knows.

This is why dragon fear is so potent.  Dragons assume all humans are cowards.  After all, nearly all the humans they see are fleeing.

It also effects the environment.  You could think of it as psychic emanations subtly warping the environment (since that explanation has the same effect) but its really more like reality fluffing the pillows to make things more comfortable for the most valued guest.  (Dragons are more real than other things around them.  They are the Most Real Things.)

In Garnos' lair, this basically boils down to two things.

1. The first time a person is injured in Garnos' lair, they flip out and enter a rage like a barbarian (it is difficult to exit the rage).  Afterwards, they can enter the rage whenever they want, as long as they remain in Garnos' lair.

2. Once the party starts fucking with Garnos (stealing significant things, killing his warboys) reality begins to act against them.  Any source of fire will begin acting against them.  Torches will start throwing embers onto flammable stuff, lanterns will sputter out and die when you need them most.  Etc.  This won't happen more than once every 10 minutes.

Garnos' Hoard

This would be a good place to put a hallway lined with the shields of the would-be dragonkillers.  Bent, charred, bloodied, and each insignia unique.

The first thing that Garnos hoards is brave heroes.  He has nothing but respect for the steady stream of men who arrive to kill him.

So, there are a few dudes scattered around his lair.  A paladin with broken ankles, placed on a high shelf (30' off the ground).  A starving, dehydrated valkyrie at the bottom of a 20' hole.  A psychotic wizard under a 5000 pound hemispherical reactor vessel, trapped like a beetle under a shot glass.

Then Garnos has his main hoard--weapons.  Just picture a room covered in them and then keep adding more weapons.  Take a realistic number of weapons and then multiply it by 100.  Sword chandeliers.  Arrowhead mandalas.  A tunnel lined with daggers, all of them pointing at you.

Of course there are some magic weapons just lying around the place.  Maybe they're buried under a pile of other swords, but the PCs can find them because they're emitting light or crying out (audibly or psychically).

The most common twist is that the sword is evil and cursed, but not entirely useless.  That's a cliche for a reason, and so that one stays on the table.

What about two rival magic swords?  Each one will only agree to let you wield it as long as you fight the other magic sword in a duel to the death.  The opponent must be of equal skill, there must be no cheating, and the losers (sword and wielder) must be killed (beheading and sundering).

The last thing that Garnos hoards is alcohol.  He's a little bit ashamed of this vice, and so he doesn't put it out in the open.  It's probably semi-hidden in his lair somewhere.

Anyway, it's just an alcohol collection that would make Nero jealous.  This is Garnos' bed, and it is where he sleeps.

Perhaps the floor is covered with broken glass.  It's too small to pierce Garnos' skin (to him, it's just rough sand) but the chunks are huge enough that the room is basically caltropped.

The floor is definitely covered with oil.  Garnos is fireproof, and he loves to burn things.  If anyone attacks him in his own bedroom, the first thing he's going to do is set the floor on fire.

He's not immune to smoke (though he is more tolerant than a human would be).

Quick Ideas For Magic Swords

A sword that can turn into dust, and then you can cut anywhere in the dust.

A sword that can cut anything 1/day (ignore armor).

A sword that can shatter non-magical swords.

A sword whose cuts don't take effect until you kiss the pommel.

Idea for the Treasure Curse

All dragon treasure is cursed.  Remember how Smaug's gold caused greed?  It's basically canon, dudes.

All of Garnos' treasure is filled with his arrogance, rage, and love of combat.  Anyone who wears or uses any of his treasure hoard must take a barbarian level the next time they level up (unless they already have at least one barbarian level already).


  1. Firstly, are we getting one of these for every dragon? I salivate at the prospect. And secondly, in the first post you mentioned that Garnos "will probably tell you that everyone is trying to kill him, then ask you if you are here to kill him". Is this superseded by his dislike of conversation?

  2. Are you planning to publish this?
    I'm really liking it!

    Take a look at brazilian caves. There is some weird ones like the "Abismo Guy Collet" which is a hole atop a lonely mesa (tepui) in the middle of a rain forest.

    What about throwing cultists using gliders with catapults and ballistas?

    Maybe Garno does not need to cut itself, it just spit blood by its eyes like that lizard:

    There are fruits so sweet that they become alcoholic easy. These fruits grow in trees and is bigger than a human heads. Sometimes they fall en masse. Cultists prove their valor being in this rain and not getting smashed.
    Search Google for the fruit "jaca".

    Water streams carry fallen those fruits into a secret reservoir where they ferment and distill even more. This place are where Garnos gets its booze.

  3. Having basically run the first part of the dragonhole numerous times (e.g. The Fetid Pit) things that make it run better:
    A) Weird lighting that dims the further down you go. It's hard to figure out how to climb with a torch.
    B) Side chambers - I started just randomly generating them from a table of ideas and 4 or 5 little 3-5 room maps.
    C) A table of treasures for the hole, a table for monsters, a table for weird sights etc, so that something notable could be said every 20' or so of climbing, because the players will be tense the whole climb down and one wants it to be a journey.
    D) Mechanics for falling to one's doom and for fighting clinging one handed to the side.
    E) More then one way down. Stairs, chains, a set of rooms with shafts on one side. Basically alternatives to the dangerous climb that take the party past specific areas of interest.

  4. Good note on cursed dragon hordes, but Tolkien borrowed that from the Norse (see Its way more metal if you are enough of a greedy dick you turn into a dragon.

  5. I really like a lot of the stuff here - it's very evocative, as usual - but did want to point out that Garnos might not want to have his oil-covered flame trap be in the same room as his priceless alcohol collection. Sounds like a setup that's guaranteed to sacrifice the hoard, albeit in a spectacular fashion.

  6. In the first post on this you'd mentioned "surgeonbirds that feed on the dragons the same way that mosquitoes feed on humans". This one mentions that maybe a single bird has fed on dragon blood, though.

    What if only some of the birds have taken dragon blood, and those have attracted "cults" of other birds to themselves? Then the hole becomes a microcosm of the expanse below. A party might even get a chance to practice their draconic negotiation skills among the petty bird-lords.

  7. When I run the Dragonhole, it will turn out that Garnos has named himself after his most famous/skilled dragon hunter captive. Who may now be a very old drakencult berserker, or just be kept under special lock and key. Or who finally retired to live with the droggin?