Creating a Definitive Dungeon for Training both Players and DM


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So I was thinking about creating a simple campaign with a very large magical dungeon.

Let's call it the "Test of the Tesseract" or something. Names not important.

Basically it would be a super dungeon of sorts. There would be 5-levels to the dungeon, each level also represent a Level of the characters.

Basically 4- level 1 characters on the first level. Second level they would be level 2 and so forth and so on.

The idea of the campaign isn't really to set up some expansive story, but mainly to help the Players and the DM both get familiar with the extensive rules of Pathfinder and all of it's glory.

The main idea is that, at the end of this dungeon, you would be able to cleanly run any of the standard adventures with no problem because your players would be familiar with all of the rules and you as a DM would be familiar with not only the rules but how to keep a game flowing.

Simple rules for the terms of creation would be.
Level 1 should keep the idea that this is to help introduce new people to the game as well as help more experienced player truly polish there skills.

Each level is "magical" so if the main things to learn on that level is "mass combat" (like a battlefield) then that level could easily become a battlefield.

What do you guys think? has this been done already? Could you guys help me out with it?

Liberty's Edge

I've been considering a similar idea and would be interested in contributing. My email addy is in my profile.

Thanks for the offer, I will be taking you up on your generosity.

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All right. I've thrown around some ideas for the levels:

L1 - Basic Dungeon Exploration (should introduce them to concepts like simple straightforward combat [goblins, etc], locked doors and simple mechanical traps [perhaps on a chest?], basic navigation, carrying light sources and so on)

L2 - Advanced Dungeon Exploration (concepts like creatures with unique resistances [zombies and skeletons are good, easy ones for L2's], special abilities [like a spider's poison - you can also teach them about active uses of skills like Heal here], vertical dungeon design [climb checks anyone?], destructable environments [a door with a jammed lock, but that can be easily bashed down], and coping with more advanced/elaborate traps)

L3 - Towns and Diplomacy (throw in a sphinx to force them to get past by guile or conversation? Have them wander around a "settlement" in the dungeon, completing simple tasks and teaching them about where the best places to find information in a town are, and who they ought to be befriending in each settlement they come to)

L4 - Mass Combat & Bosses (only in here because I'm strapped for ideas and you already mentioned it. Make them work together - not only with themselves but with a group of NPCs - to take down a group they otherwise couldn't. Then do the same with a single large boss-type figure)

L5 - Synthesis (Combine the previous levels into one "minicampaign". You could have a session or three here. A few small settlements, some quests, nothing fancy - just your run of the mill heroic story arc)

Thanks Fluffykins, That's a good basis to work with. I agree with idea and separation just need to make sure we cover all the rules in these 5-levels.

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dont forget terrain. water and swimming rules are good to know.

GAH! Thank you, I really would have forgotten that. Probably wise to make sure I Include the skills in the early levels as well. things like climbing and such.

NPC wizards with problematic spells. Flying, invisible, mass summoning, the works. My Pathfinder DM doesn't like casters, so we are far more likely to do this to him than to receive.

NPC parties with a setup that almost guarantees they are surprised. And some with a setup where they probably won't be surprised (eg they buff ahead of time).

Tips for when the party retreats too early. The next set of encounters should be harder, but how much harder?

I'm starting to think about doing the same thing for 4e.

Some things to make sure the group hits on to ensure that you at least get a glance at the rule are the various types of Combat Maneuvers (especially grapple!) So if you are using something akin to Fluffykins' advice, have the Boss on Level 4 make use of grabble or something along those lines. But don't forget about some of the other Combat Maneuvers throughout too.

Also, something else my group of fairly proficient players and GMs always have to double check is mounted combat. Maybe have a small encounter where it would be best to at least START the PCs on mounts. So that those that might not want to be mounted are at least familiar with the rules of getting off a horse in a hurry. (I'm running Kingmaker and with all of the exploration my players all ride mounts, but most of them dismount right away once combat starts)

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there are plenty of good monsters to introduce a mechanic at lower level before it becomes common.

lizardmen- aquatic rules
trolls- regeneration
kobolds- traps
goblins- ambush (they have a net +10 stealth out of the box)
wolves- trip
vermin- poison and disease
shadows- incorporeal, ability drain
zombies and skeletons- undead (channel, holy water, DR, ect.)
grick- DR (low attack, slow and DR 10/magic, a good learning experience)
ettercap- a good starter boss: traps, minions, affliction, and lair

be sure to issue the kits from the Equipment book, they give a decent set of tools for low level.

Shadow Lodge

I've actually been working on this exact concept. The idea is to create a dungeon which tests every aspect of the game, cycling through each skill and creature type over every three levels. I also plan on running the gambit of a variety of other factors, such as those listed in this thread.

The Dungeon is called Jacob's Tower, and it will run 20 levels for 20 character levels.

You may find the first level here: Jacob's Tower: Level 1

Is this what you are looking for? I'd love to hear input.

The original Keep on the Borderlands had a lot of these features (Outdoors and dungeon), plus a nearby town to explore and sell, restock in, etc. Not sure how high of a level it was, its been a few years.

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If you want to teach combat tatics to folks that are new to pathfinder then do it. Do not tell them, show them. Run the fight so they learn as players.

Attack them with Skeletons and Zombies to show the different types of DR.

Attack them with wolf to show flanking and tripping.

Attack them with Minotaurs to show Bull rush.

Attack then with a Swarm of wasps to show they need boom power.

Attack them a Manticore to show the power of 3D and flying shooter.

Attack them with a Shadow to show the power of incorporeal

Attack them with elementals to show them DR - and whirlwind power

Attack them a hellhound to show breath weapon.

Attack them with the ghouls' pack attacks and paralysis (hell add 2 levels of rogue and make it CR 3 and see how nasty it is with with 2 plain ghoul friends)

Attack with a Troll to show the power of regeneration and rend.

Note all example are core monster with CR of 5 or less so they should be fine for APL 2.

Hell add 2 or 3 trap and that should be enough exp to get party of 4 or 5 players form level 2 to 3. It may be littel undead heavey but it would be fun night or two.

Again the whole list is classic monster to fight that I have fought over and over again.

So, in a deep want to push forward with this. It's time for a creation movement.

We need 2000 exp on level 1 to get us to level 2. (this is kinda a duh moment)

What are your guys' "Must have basics" for beginning players. Traps, monsters, and other exp gaining events that will get the basics through to my young noobs.

I'm pretty sure Zombies, Skeletons, and Goblins will all make a wonderful appearance in this first level.

But this first level is a basic MUST KNOW list.

what do you guys have for me?

I'm GM-ing my first game in a couple of weeks and my first thing works on a similar principle (though it's for dungeon world, not pathfinder).

I call it "mystery dungeon" and it's pretty much a random collection of rooms put in any order the GM desires. It's basically to allow me to do a simple one-night game, while still allowing diversity.

I want to keep an eye on this thread because it could help me out a lot if I ever decide to try to GM pathfinder.

What I can think of as important at first level is:

Traps: relatively inoffensive, but just dangerous enough to make them nervous

Basic fighting: Show the the fighter he need to whack, the rogue he needs to sneak (some forget this), the wizard (at first level at least) needs to act as support. Avoid complicated classes (like summoner).

Basic resistances: The guy who said zombies/skeletons is definitely right. I'd also add some non combat demonstrations of immunity (like an Div walking out of a pool of lava).

How to use basic items/cantrips: Basic items (like rope, candles, etc) and cantrips can be exceedingly useful if used creatively. That needs to be learned early.

This is what I've gathered after about a month of playing pathfinder. There's probably more.

Note: My favorite dungeons ever are from the baldur's gate series of video games, Durlag's tower and Watcher's keep are the best examples of dungeons I know of. Definitely worth checking out for inspiration. Depending on your level while playing, they can come pretty close to 1 level per floor.

Depending on your playstyle, things such as cover, concealment, etc. will need to be covered as well.

It also never hurts to have an encounter your players are better off finding, running from, and finding an alternate way to proceed (this screams "Intro to Secret Doors" to me).

Oh, lighting rules as well. A low CR creature with darkness (drow?) should give your PCs a challenge.

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Okay, so the first room I was thinking about doing something very simple.

They start at the top of a 40ft platform, in complete darkness. Their goals are to create a light source, then climb down from the platform to the floor below.

On the floor below they will come across a door that is locked with three magic locks. The locks will open once a riddle is answered.

The idea for this room is pretty basic, get them to work together, start thinking outside the realm of reality, use their tools wisely, and to start actually role playing.

I figured the fighting could start in Room Number 2.

Good idea to delay the fighting.

One thing I want to include to show them to be "wise" is to include some phantom armor/hollow helm combos. Just to make sure they control their greed.

williamoak wrote:

Good idea to delay the fighting.

One thing I want to include to show them to be "wise" is to include some phantom armor/hollow helm combos. Just to make sure they control their greed.

I'm not sure I'm familiar with these, could you explain them briefly to give me a better idea?

Basically, they're empty, possessed armor. They look like plate armor, and behave like plate armor, until you put them on. Then the grapple you while you're inside them. They can also act like ordinary (weak) monsters.

The idea is, put a few in a room, make them look like they're part of the scenery (like in sconces or something). If they're noticed, and someone puts them on, I'd wake all of them up to give them a fright! Plus, the person who tried one on would be severely hampered. They're weak enough that I think a few (3-4) would be a decent, but not insurmountable challenge.

KillerGlitch wrote:
williamoak wrote:

Good idea to delay the fighting.

One thing I want to include to show them to be "wise" is to include some phantom armor/hollow helm combos. Just to make sure they control their greed.

I'm not sure I'm familiar with these, could you explain them briefly to give me a better idea?

Not to ninja the conversation, but think RotRL, where the obviously expensive, easily seen set of full plate has a number of swarms within it that only attack once someone has physically touched the armor. Swarms which are just plain nasty for the unprepared group.

A more benevolent way to approach this would be to have the illusion trigger a trap once it is interacted with.

EDIT: Looks like I got ninja'd instead, and with the wrong idea. Goes to show I should keep my nose out of concepts I'm not familiar with. :)

There's no swarms, they're just really weak undead. But yeah, death is still a risk.

williamoak wrote:
There's no swarms, they're just really weak undead. But yeah, death is still a risk.

Swam are # 4 on the list.

Tom S 820 wrote:
williamoak wrote:
There's no swarms, they're just really weak undead. But yeah, death is still a risk.
Swam are # 4 on the list.

I think he meant there are no swarms within the items he was describing. not within the dungeon entirely.

Shadow Lodge

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I've completed the first three floors of Jacob's Tower, my take on the Definitive Dungeon. You guys seem to have a great handle on what the definitive dungeon needs, so tell me what I've missed (if anything).

Level 1: Classic: A warm up romp featuring traps, haunts, undead, animals, and a gambit of lesser used abilities such as knowledge and profession skills.

Level 2: Marble and Glass: The PCs both ambush and get ambushed in semi-traditional fights against the backdrop of riddles and a caged beast far above their pay grade.

Level 3: Corridors and Chasms: A sprawling maze of tight hallways and pits with four ghosts to test each of the social skills.

Level 2 Room 8 of Jacob's Tower:
Furthermore, the rune is not active and will not register as magical. Thus, this “healing” rune does nothing, and anybody stepping on it will instead be greeted with a javelin to the face.

It might just be sleep deprivation, but I simply cannot stop laughing at this. Very well done, Zenith. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the Tower. If nothing else it will see a limited reincarnation once I start DMing.

Oh, I nearly forgot: Constructs. We never once mentioned constructs in this thread. It could be a nice primer on effective use of alchemy (acid and weapon blanches immediately come to mind) to tackle problems they wouldn't be able to with brute force alone.

KillerGlitch wrote:
nifty stuff

Dotting this because I am also GMing a group new to Pathfinder in the next few weeks and was thinking of planning a preparation fight in an urban campaign. Plus,since I have not GMed that often myself and (as a player) am weak on combat rules, it also tells me what I need to read up on :)


Shadow Lodge

For those of you keeping track, I've created levels 4 and 5. Take a look, tell me what you think!

Level 4: Bernard's Prison: Our heroes find themselves locked in a strange prison, and must make their way throughout the level with only minimal gear.

Level 5: Runewall: An obsidian maze set in a starry abyss, characters will face a number of magical maladies, such as having their minds switched with fellow adventurers and being teleported to random squares on the level.

More coming soon!

Good intro traps are simple things like arrow/spear traps that just do 1d6 damage, or simple pit traps. I really like the pit trap, because it also means the PCs have to use the climb skill to get out. You could also have the first few rooms be simple non-combat challenges.

For example, room two could have a trapped chest with a riddle explaining how to disarm it (like a hidden switch, or maybe the location of the key in the room). This allows the players to try different approaches to solving the problem, which is also important for developing players to realize there are multiple approaches.

Also, if you go after the model fluffykins suggested, I would suggest having the town/diplomacy level be level 2. That way the party has a chance to buy supplies they may have forgotten/neglected to think of when they first rolled their characters.

Also, being a "beginners" dungeon, are you planning on making all the PCs play humans? Core Races? Feature/Uncommon? Because if you start having dwarves and elves in the group, then you'll want to touch base on what Low-light and Darkvision can/can't do.

Broken Zenith - I've skimmed a couple of them, and I am loving your Jacob's Tower levels! My son is in an after-school Pathfinder club at his middle school (lucky boy...), and there are lots of kids eager to learn to play. I'm going to provide what you've written to the guy who runs the club, and may volunteer to run some kids through it as well.

What you've put together is clear, fun, well-written - and funny. And the little details are excellent, like the scroll in level 4 that explains the combination to the lock. Really great work.

Have an alchemist early on. Then, let the pile of things they find in the alchemist's lair help with all of the future challenges.

Teaches use of consumables...

The beginner box does some of this: you may want to start with the skill check obstacle course.

The general idea of actions per turn, and the d20 backbone are present, but it's simpler than combat and therefore useful to teach first.

At some level they should learn to camp and set watches. And deal with sleep interruptions.

Interrogating a captured enemy for vital info?


Much like the Phantom Armor suggestion, at some point you should include a Mimic in the dungeon. Every player should approach treasure with a healthy degree of suspicion. Perhaps a minor cursed object that can be removed/resolved very soon within the second level of the dungeon?

Shadow Lodge

@ Mortag - Yup, there are a few traps that do minimal damage. No pit traps thus far, but plenty of opportunities to climb. I'll probably make a pit trap in the next level.

@ Khelreddin - Thanks! I'm glad you like it, and I'm glad you appreciate some of the humor! Yeah, Jacob's Tower is designed to be easy to run, fun, and quick. Perfect for an after school club. Let me know how it goes!

@ Anonymous Visitor - I try and give the PCs consumables every level, to teach them about that. Lots of little potions of fly, jump, invisibility, for when they really need it. I make sure that skills are heavily used - every skill in the book is used every three levels.

@ Advanced Template - Yup, every level has something that happens if they PCs try to sleep. Most are monster ambushes, but 4 is the simple threat of running out of food and water without gear and 5 is the growing insanity from bizarre dreams. There are a few places where the PCs need to intimidate, bluff, or diplomance information out of enemies, at least once every three levels.

@ MrRetsej - Mimics are great, and I've included one in level 3. There is also a cursed item on level 2, and a cursed item on level 5. Both are fairly minor inconveniences, but get the point across!

Thanks for the feedback! Other thoughts?

So are you the GM, telling your players about how to approach these challenges or leaving them to their own devices? Personally I've always thought the charm of Pathfinder was in the multiple approaches.

Add to this not all classes have access (or want) all the skills that might be needed for an approach.



A heavily armoured (but weak hitting) cleric who needs to be taken down with flanking and sunder/tripping. Players need to disrupt his heals using delayed actions to prevent the fight taking too long.

An evil slaver who has surrounded himself on all (9) flanking squares by children and using a reach weapon. Players can't melee with close range or shoot him with ranged weapons (for -4). Players have to sunder the chains, use reach or spells to take the man down.

A sleeping dragon guards treasure, players have to sneak past or steal his wares! If they wake him they have to pass knowledge checks on his trivia or use diplomacy to calm the dragon.

A fight in an alchemy lab with an Alchemist using a potion/spell of flying. Using Perception checks, players can search the lab for potions/alchemicals/creations to use in the battle. Additionally they can use cover against the tables to make it harder for the alchemist's bombs to hit. Items hidden among the tables are tangle foot bags, smoke sticks, alchemists fire, resistance potions, healing potions, invisibility and so on.

A trap room platform with stone guards, getting close gives them an attack of opportunity so players need to disarm or sunder their weapons. The last statue at the end of the hall periodically throws out flames at waist height so players will need to time themselves to go prone before it activates. The either need to disable device or bull rush the last guard off the platform.

Shadow Lodge

@ Deadalready: Jacob's Tower provides a series of challenges. How the heroes overcome or fail them is completely up to the players. I also like those ideas! I may use one or two of them in future levels!

Shadow Lodge

Level 6: Gauntlet: A relentless wall of spikes pushes the party through a gauntlet of traps, encounters, enemies, and challenges. This level is brutal, deadly, and unyielding: Either our heroes will make it - or they won't.

I really wish to contribute to this. I can't say how much but it's somethign very much in line with what I've been attempting to accomplish on these boards. Right now my plate is fairly full as I'm working on finishing up the machinesmith stuff to send tonight as well as getting started on another project and bugging an editor about mroe projects etc. etc.

Shadow Lodge

When you get the time Tark, I'd love to hear any ideas you have!

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