I’m taking a bit of an interlude to get back to some old-fashioned dungeon crawling. To do this, I’m using Ruins of the Undercity (RotU) by Kabuki Kaiser but running it with Scarlet Heroes instead. These are well-regarded in the solo RPG community and I’m just going to chill out, draw the dungeon as I go, and hopefully get some loot. Some of the mechanics and monsters come from the venerable Labyrinth Lord as well.
Deep beneath the streets of the City-State of Cryptopolis, sanctuary of the lich-thieves and abode of the Red Goddess, sewers and ancient ruins mingle together into a labyrinth of horrors and wonders.
To do this, I’m going by the book (in SH) and rolling 4d6 (drop lowest) in order. I might swap a couple of scores if it looks like that would help. The dice favor me and all my scores are at least 10. Since my highest score is Strength, I will in fact swap my Intelligence and Constitution scores so that I have a +1 Constitution modifier (and 0 Intelligence modifier). I’ll play a human fighter, though that’s not necessarily in-character thought:
Classes are something for you, the player, rather than something for your character’s self-conception. Characters don’t walk around thinking of themselves as “a 3rd level fighter” or “a 5th level thief”. They consider themselves an Eirengarder pikeman, for example, or a veteran Xianese swordswoman.
This is where I use the tables in RotU to see my character’s former occupation: Bowyer/Fletcher. He also has his third eye outlined on his forehead, which fits the sword-and-sorcery setting of Cryptopolis. I need to write three traits for him, plus 2 bonus points as a human: Bowyer, Acute Hearing (2), and Knows Many Thieves (2).
In accordance with the setting, I’m not giving him any equipment yet, just the randomly-determined 70 gp. RotU wants players to start in the city and buy their gear. I decide that the character’s goal is to “build a fearsome mercenary company” and generate a bandit name: “Garrison the Fang”. I imagine that he’s arrived in Cryptopolis from Someplace Else; this isn’t where his shop was, for example.
It will take D4+1 = 3 days “to check all the shops and street sellers in order to find all the items” Garrison needs. Each day has a 1-in-6 chance of a special encounter or event. The way I’m going to blend these is to get the weapons on day 1, the armor on day 2, and the adventuring equipment on day 3.
Day 1: At “Weapons of Yore”, Garrison gets a two-handed spear for 4 gp. They don’t carry much in the way of ranged weapons, so instead he goes to “Siffern’s Bows” for a shortbow (20 gp) and a quiver & 10 arrows (5 gp). He has 41 gp left. No special encounter.
Day 2: Garrison spends some time at “Mungoys’ Leathers” and gets some leather armor for 6 gp, then heads to “The Brass Anvil” for a small shield (10 gp), leaving him with 25 gp and an Armor Class of (7 for the armor, -1 for the shield, -1 for Dexterity). Again, no special encounter.
Day 3: In “Dawd’s Market”, he gets a backpack (2 gp), flint & steel (1 gp), a set of 10 torches (0.5 gp), a bedroll (0.5 gp), and then buys a crowbar (3 gp) at “Brishnan Emporium” and a turban in “Hats of Sycophia” for 1 gp. In case of some difficulties in the dungeon, he’ll buy 100’ of cloth rope in 5x 20’ segments (1 gp total) at “House of the Roper” and a 10’ iron pole (1 gp) in, well, “The House of the Pole”. (Pole dancers cost extra, apparently.) This leaves him with 15 gp. On this last day before descending into the Undercity, no special event occurs.
Garrison starts by finding an ancient sewer entrance and entering the Undercity. I’ll measure things in the traditional 10-minute turns, with a 1-in-6 chance of a random encounter each hour (possibly modified by noise, light, fighting, etc.).
He enters a cross-corridor area with a small room to his west and a few corridors off to his right. That room has a door on the far side. It’s damp and dark and so he lights a torch (9 remaining) which should last for an hour if nothing happens to it. Opening the door carefully, he finds a corridor beyond.
The corridor is dark, with rough masonry walls and a dirt floor. It’s dank & moldy and goes on for 60’. He makes his way carefully and listens for any sounds, but only the echoes of his own steps and the nearly-inaudible crackle of his torch reach his ears.
At the end of the corridor, he finds a set of stairs leading down 1 level. However, there’s a trap on the stairs! As he descends, a shocking grasp reaches out to him. The difficulty of the saving throw is 9 plus the dungeon level, so 10 total. In SH, this means rolling 2D8, adding his most relevant attribute modifier (in this case, Dexterity so +1), his highest relevant trait if any (0), and his character level, so 2D8+2 = 16 and he avoids the trap, ducking out of the way as an arc of lightning crackles across the stairs. He lets out a slow breath and reminds himself to be more careful before descending the rest of the way into the room below.
There’s a 10’ square room with an exit on the opposite wall. The room is half-flooded, with the water reaching waist level. The next three corridors, rooms, and chambers will be half-flooded as well. Poking down into the water with his spear, he finds nothing of particular interest, and thus he’ll continue on through.
In the next area, Garrison finds a 10’ diameter circular chamber with no exit. As before, the water is waist-deep here but it doesn’t seem to flow down into the dry well in the center. Scattered around the well are 10 skeletons (fortunately inert as they should be). But there’s another trap here, stones falling down on him! Again, he’ll need to make a saving throw, this time against a difficulty of 11. I decide his Acute Hearing trait is relevant here, so he gets a +2 bonus for a total roll of 2D8+4 = 16 again, taking only half damage. The damage would be 1D6, but interpreted according to SH rules, so D6 = 2 means 1 damage. He’d take half, but I’ll round up on this, so just 1 HP is lost.
But this seems to be a dead end and he’ll need to spend the next turn carefully backtracking.
He returns to the stairs and climbs back up to the previous level, passing the entrance he used to reach the Undercity. There are a couple of other corridors back there that he didn’t explore; his expedition is far from over. He’s listening carefully for any sounds of traps or enemies, but nothing comes at him.
Back on the first level, he finds a corridor leading directly away from the door he opened earlier. It continues on for at least 30’ in the darkness with rubble on the floor, forcing him to pick his way forward carefully. There are wide mold patches everywhere and a side passage to his right opens up at a 45° angle. Garrison lights a second torch as the first one sputters out (8 remaining) and will continue straight for now, still listening for any sounds of danger.
That turns out to be a good choice as he runs into a wandering monster encounter! It’s actually coming up behind him, but since I previously said he’s listening for danger, I’ll have Garrison roll a check to see if he notices in time: 2D8+2 (Acute Hearing) = 13, which is enough.
So the way RotU handles this is to compute the Adventuring Level of the party (adding up all character levels and dividing by 3), but that assumes a group of regular characters, not a Scarlet Hero. I’ve been just using the character level as the AL so far and I’ll do that again. At AL 1, I randomly get a Level 1 monster encounter, which is D12+5 = 16 gibberlings:
Small hunched & naked hairy humanoids. They howl, shout, and chatter insanely. Henchmen roll for Loyalty or flee when meeting them. Shun bright light and fire. Always fight to the death.
Image generated by DALL-E from OpenAI
Round 1: Garrison leaps in with his spear and shield, rolling D20+2 (Strength) +1 (Attack Bonus) +9 (Enemy AC) for D20+12 = 32 >= 20, definitely hits. (This is the equivalent of an AC 11 in many modern systems.) That’s D10+2 = 3 damage, which does 1 point and therefore kills one of the gibberlings (15 remaining) because in SH, damage to non-heroes is dealt directly to the hit dice rather than HP. He also rolls his Fray die, 1d8, for another point and reducing the enemies to 14. Meanwhile, the enemies each have D20+1 (Hit) + 5 (Garrison’s AC), meaning they need a 14 or better on a D20 to hit. Rather than roll 14 times physically, I roll online and 4 of them hit, doing 1, 8, 5, and 5, which translates to 0, 2, 1, and 1, for a total of 4 damage to Garrison and reducing him to 4 HP.
Round 2: Another round like that and he’ll be gone, and he knows that they are not going to turn tail and run, so instead he turns to flee deeper into the dungeon, better to survive and find a way out!
He’s already thrown down his torch (so as to fight with both hands) so he ends up lost in the darkness. I’ll represent this by just putting him in a random place on my graph paper map and starting from there. He doesn’t know the way back, just that he’s fled and will need to catch his breath before figuring out what to do next.
Deep in the dungeon, Garrison lights another torch (7 remaining, relight on turn 15) and looks around. In front of him is a door, made of moldy rotten wood and locked. He’ll try to force it open, though due to its poor condition he gets a bonus (+2) to his roll. Before he does, he listens at the door and succeeds; whatever’s there, he won’t be surprised, although it’s a bit of an open question to me (the player) what that will mean at the moment.
Forcing open the door is easy, but it turns out that the moldy spores cause D6 = 4 => 1 damage to him when he inhales them going through. Beyond, he finds a corridor leading 30’ both left and right. He doesn’t know which way to go, of course, so I’ll roll randomly (since I know where the exit is) and he goes left (ostensibly in the correct direction, broadly speaking).
Garrison proceeds down the corridor, lit only by his flickering torch, stepping on uneven flagstones. He prods carefully with his spear as he goes. The light illuminates crude paintings from whatever people built this place during the time of the Great Empire, long ago.
But the corridor is trapped! There’s a spiked pit trap. Since he’s prodding carefully, I’ll give him a check to avoid it entirely; on a failure, he’ll need to save for half damage. The difficulty is 10, and so he’ll roll 2D8+2 (Acute Hearing) = 10, which is barely a success! He hears the hollow sound of the flagstones under his spear and pulls up short before the stones fall down before him. From here, he can deftly wind his way along the edges of the pit and continue on.
A side passage curves to the right from here. I decide there’s a 2-in-6 chance he takes it, and he does. He won’t be able to see around the curve, of course, so he’s just listening.
The passage leads to a dead end of a plain wall. But since this is immediately off the corridor, I don’t think this takes a full turn and he’ll continue back down that other corridor.
That corridor has a row of torches providing a bit of light; is there something significant here? He’ll continue to prod with his spear and listen carefully as he goes. This section is made of intact marble and alabaster construction, but the air remains dank and moldy. Again, the corridor curves right at 45°. (Perhaps this isn’t going to lead him back to the entrance as I’d surmised.)
Garrison encounters a monster again, this time ahead of him. Rolling on the Monster Level 1 table, I get 3D6 = 13 Mites.
Gray-skinned small humanoids with large heads and evil faces. Since they set and use traps to their advantage, immediately roll on the Traps subtable when encountering them to check the trap you’ve just triggered.
This keeps getting worse! This is a javelin trap, which his listening and prodding won’t help with. Instead, he’ll make a Saving Throw against a difficulty of 10, rolling 2D8+1 (Dexterity) +1 (Character Level) and succeeding as the long projectile flies past him.
I don’t know that they’re going to fight him immediately the way gibberlings do, so this will be a Charisma check (he doesn’t have traits relevant to these foes). That’s a 14, close to the best plausible outcome at 16, so there’s no immediate combat. That’s for the best, given his current state.
To see what they’ll do, I’ll roll on the more specific Reactions table as he asks them to let him pass, with a situational +2 bonus for the roll above. (I might revisit this approach later but that’s the way the text reads to me initially.) The result is “qualified consent”. What’s the qualifier? “Alertness” - they’re going to follow him for a bit and make sure he’s not doing anything they dislike. Unnerving!
Garrison the Fang continues down the corridor, no longer lit by a row of torches (instead only his), as the surroundings return to the rough marble and uneven flagstones. The corridor turns right at 90°; it’s hard to listen with those mites behind him. They’re not reacting to him other than just following him for now.
Around that bend and a short distance down the corridor, he once more encounters wandering monsters. This time it’s a snyad:
Small and wicked tan-skinned humanoids delighting in thievery.
This little fellow doesn’t actually attack him, and in fact it was nearly undetectable (although he did see it, maybe due to some reactions from the mites following behind him.) In fact, he’s not even surprised, so he thrusts his spear at it, D20+3 (Attack) + 4 (AC) = 25, which is a hit, and that skewers it through.
How do the mites react? Another Charisma check is 8, so they’re chattering unhappily. Still, they don’t leap on him.
Garrison relights his torch (6 remaining, relight on turn 21 if nothing happens) and continues down the unlit corridor, noting that it once more returns to that marble and alabaster style. The floor is cracked but this area is otherwise quite featureless. There’s a trap, however!
Another javelin trap, which he dodges before glaring back at the mites. They giggle and skitter about; I think this time he’s probably leaving their territory, and in fact their reaction roll indicates that they’re going to leave him alone.
On the left side of this corridor he finds another of those moldy and rotten doors. He notices it’s unlocked and fashions a bit of a mask in case of spores, but this time he’s lucky and the door remains intact.
Beyond the door is a spiked pit trap in a room! I don’t think his hearing helps him here, so he’ll just make a Dexterity saving throw, 2D8+3 = 6, which is not enough. He takes D6+D8 = 3 damage, which translates to 1 point.
This is when I remember there’s a healing rule for SH:
Every hero can take a few minutes after battle or another injury to bandage their wounds and catch their breath. At these times the hero can heal up to 2 hit points of damage inflicted in their most recent fray or misadventure. This healing can’t mend older wounds, damage inflicted by Defying Death or other taxes on their luck and vitality.
So he spends this turn climbing back out of the pit and bandaging his wounds, healing the 1 HP he lost (Back to 4). He can look around at the room, though. It’s 10’ x 20’ with no obvious exits. It’s damp and moldy here, with nothing of interest beyond this trap.
He’s going to check for secret doors here, as it seems odd to have a room like this. I decide there’s a 1-in-6 chance on each 10’ section of wall, but no. This is a dead end. However, it’s a safe place to spend some time resting a bit more, so he’ll do that. It’ll take several hours, and I’ll need to make wandering monster checks in the meantime.
In fact, an hour later, something does creep up on him: 14 jinxkin:
Cowardly and diminutive humanoid tunnel-dwellers with pointed heads and lumpy skins. Since they set traps, immediately roll 5D10 on the Traps subtable when encountering them to check the trap you’ve just triggered.
That means just pit traps, which don’t make sense in this case, so they just come upon him. They’re extremely difficult to detect and anyway he’s asleep, but he’s actually not surprised despite the 5-in-6 chance they have. This isn’t necessarily a fight, so he lights a torch (5 remaining, relight on turn 25 if nothing intervenes) and tries to parley with them. A Charisma check of 13 means they’re not immediately hostile.
So why are they bothering him? Rolling on “Oracular Adjectives and Motivations” says they are “Incompetent”, and so he’s just going to offer them a bit of his remaining treasure (1 gp) and try to go on his way, rolling a reaction: 7, “Considered refusal”. Sighing, he opens up his purse and gives them a few more (2 gp), and this time the reaction is 9, “Persuadable”, so after a bit more discussion he goes back into the corridor and moves on.
Dark as ever, the corridor’s masonry is in better condition here, although there’s a dried blood patch on the floor. It curves slightly to the right and continues a full 60’ in the darkness. His acute hearing is tuned to the silence, listening for any indicators of danger, tapping softly in front of him with his spear. His shield is strapped to his back for now.
The corridor leads to a grate with another section of corridor beyond. He’ll roll a Strength check (with a +2 bonus from his crowbar) to get through it versus a difficulty of 11, and he does so with ease. The next section of corridor is barren, with a dirt floor, but it turns right at 90°.
This section of corridor is much the same, albeit with mold patches on the walls. Garrison would like to find something valuable or maybe an exit, having been down here for nearly 4 hours now.
There’s another of these old doors on the left, but with no locks or spores this time. He puts his ear to it and hears nothing (failed check) so he opens it. Inside is a 10’ square room without any obvious exits. There’s an unlit fire pit in the center and a few broken pieces of pottery. Again he’ll check for secret doors, and this time he finds one on the left!
Beyond that secret door is a dark corridor to the right with masonry in better shape. But it’s trapped - with mummy rot powder!
He needs to make another saving throw at a target of 10, rolling 2D8+1 (Character Level) = 7, failure. Garrison therefore suffers “cursed as per mummy”:
Mummy rot is a powerful curse, not a natural disease. When under the effects of the curse, characters are unable to receive the benefits of any form of magical healing. Characters heal naturally at 1/10th the normal rate. This magical disease may be removed with the spell remove curse.
(Labyrinth Lord p. 89)
This means that, until the curse is lifted, he can’t recover HP with short rests and even long rests will only get him 1 HP per night. The acolytes of the Red Goddess in Cryptopolis can remove the curse, but at a steep cost which he cannot possibly afford right now.
I decide to use the Defy Death rule from SH, which allows him to “avoid the consequences of a failed saving throw or escape a situation of otherwise certain catastrophe”, at the potential cost of some damage and an increased difficulty to do so next time he wants to do this during this adventure.
So he rolls D4 = 1, no damage, and avoids the curse. Next time, though, he’ll roll D6 instead, increasing the chance of taking damage. And if the damage would reduce him to 0 HP, he instead goes to 1 HP and his attempt to avoid the curse (or whatever bad thing is happening) will fail.
Garrison needs to relight a torch (4 remaining, relight on turn 31) and continue another 60’ down this corridor before encountering an octagonal chamber, 10’ on a side. There are two exits, to the left and right, both with doors and the chamber is curiously empty. He checks the room carefully for anything of interest before going right.
The door on this exit isn’t in any better shape than the last few. He does check it carefully for traps, though, but there aren’t any. On the other side is a 20’ x 30’ room with a single exit to the right. The room is half-flooded with a statue from an ancient civilization here! The next 4 corridors, rooms, and chambers will be half-flooded as well.
More urgently, though, this room has a monster and treasure. There are 6 giant draco lizardfolk here with several sacks of treasure.
The giant draco has a length of 6’, and is capable of gliding in the air due to large skin flaps below its limbs. Although they live primarily above ground, they do occasionally venture underground to seek shelter or look for a meal.
(Labryinth Lord p. 84)
I’ll have Garrison roll his Charisma check and get an 11, which is fairly middling but shading slightly positive, so they’re wary.
These are fairly formidable opponents, actually, having 4 HD each. It’s a good thing they’re not hostile, because he would almost certainly lose any fight against them right now. (Really, this is a Monster Level 2 encounter?)
In any case, he doesn’t make any threatening moves and just edges away from them as he avoids eye contact, heading for the exit on the other side.
Beyond that room is a half-flooded corridor with a now-muddy floor, lit by clay lamps in alcoves. Dried blood - possibly from the lizard folk or their prey - can be seen on the walls. He can see an angled side passage to the left but decides to continue straight for now.
A single torch lights this corridor as the water level finally starts to decrease somewhat. The floor turns to flagstones and the walls are standard masonry, but the corridor is otherwise not remarkable. It curves left at 45° and continues another 30’ in the darkness past the flickering torch light.
Deep in the dungeon, Garrison finds 3 wandering fire beetles. Normally they aren’t hostile, but he places his torch down carefully, dons his shield and spear, and prepares to fight them. If he can’t find a way out of here soon, he’ll need their light-producing organs.
Round 1: With his total to-hit bonus of 3 and their AC of 4, he needs to roll 13 or better to hit: 2, which is a failure. Their tough exoskeletons resist his jabs. I’ll roll his Fray die and he is able to take one of them down, but the other two will still come at him. One of them bites him and deals a total of 2 damage, reducing him to 2 HP.
Round 2: He spears one through with his primary attack, and his Fray die helps him defeat the second.
While there’s no treasure from this encounter, he does have the light-producing organs of the fire beetles, which he’ll use when his torch runs out. Each of them will last for D6 days, and I roll 1, 3, and 4, so he’s got 4 days of light left and I’ll stop tracking torches for the remainder of this expedition.
However, I have to seriously consider having him Defy Death to get out of here. He hasn’t found any treasure and he’s down to 2 HP. At a D6 Defy Death roll, he has a 5-in-6 chance to succeed, and I think that’s worth the risk, because otherwise he could be in an even worse position later and lose all his gear and remaining gold.
I make the roll and so he loses 1 HP in the process, but is able to find a way back up to the surface. Those glands won’t be so useful after all.
He didn’t find any treasure to sell, so that process won’t apply here. While talking with other adventurers, somebody offers him the chance to join a performing troupe; this holds precisely zero interest for him, though.
Before trying to venture back down, he’ll need to rest for 8 days, but that will be in the next play session.
I didn’t mind the mapping so much this time; rather than thinking of it as tedium, it’s part of the joy, these acts of rolling and imagining spaces and tracing them out on paper. I’ve thought about doing it electronically as well, but for now there’s a bit of nostalgia in just holding a pencil and doing it that way. I did eventually leave off from cross-hatching the walls, though.
I suspect some of the procedures will need some tweaking at some point. However, for now I’m still getting used to it and waiting to change things until I understand better how the various systems are intended to interact.