a dwarven dungeon


So I've been working on an adventure and is like to build one as forgotten dwarven ruins from the quest for sky and if course fighting orcs. Well, there's a team if folks now trying to excavate said ruins to find an artifact of power the party wants to get to before them whils eliminating this group. Biggest thing I need help with is what is most common with dwarven ruins. So far I have good stonework as well as a few secret doors, statues and decor showing family's and honor to them. And of course a big forge.
Haven't figured out traps yet or creatures in them. I would love to hear any ideas the community can give me

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16

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What I always find helpful when designing a dungeon is working out some kind of history to help guide/justify your choices. How old is this ruin, how recently has it been opened? Why was it empty? Was it abandoned or intentionally left behind? Was everyone inside slain? Why was it sealed? Is it a prison, or did some calamity or collapse close it's doors. What was the ruin used for when it was new? Did people live here? or worship here? Is it still in good repair, or are the tunnels starting to crumble? Is collapse and issue the players should be worried about? What about this artifact, what is it and why is it significant? Was it lost or left behind? Is something guarding it, like a monster or construct or something. Or maybe a Last Crusade style ghost-knight hanging out in there with a bunch of tests and what all waiting to determine the worthiness of whoever comes for it. Have others come for this artifact before? What happened to them? These are all things that can help define what would make sense to be in here

Anything that is unoccupied for a time invariably attracts vermin. Vermin is a nice category of monsters since they cover a good CR range even before you start tweaking them with templates. Depending on how powerful your group is you might be talking about a few small spiders, or gigantic centipedes who fill entire corridors.

Oozes are also great for lost dungeons, since they'll just sit in there, eating bugs until something softer/tastier wanders in.

Naturally the undead also belong in forgotten dungeons, but you can go with a fun dwarfy theme here, like skeletal arms swinging floating axes, or skeletons with flaming beards.

Nick has great ideas. Whether a dwarven home was abandoned or conquered and how long ago will greatly affect the feel.

If abandoned it may have been sealed up and have a breathless stale kind of feel but be pretty free of intruders.

If conquered there should be lots of broken stuff (shattered doors, ruined gates, broken machines, bodies/skeletons left where they fell, etc.)

In terms of Dwarf goodness, I prefer: giant/grand architecture; mines, mine tracks, carts, forges, mechanical devices that you might not see other places like rudimentary lifts or elevators, conveyor belts, mechanical forge hammers, etc. I also like natural caverns, chasms, and underground rivers incorporated into the structure.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 16

And beer! lots of beer!

my ideas are:

- One Vermin, maybe a big one

- Construct, like guardian that you can meet in Skyrim's Ruins

Make sure each room had/has a purpose and has 'something' for the pc's to
Learn/find/fight/socialise with

Make sure the room has something for the players to play 'with' otherwise they may just as well read a novel

I wrote a 200 location AP for AAW and found once you get on with it stuff just rolls out and it all starts to flow together

For each room I had a one liner written as a list so made it much easier to create

Good luck with this. It's on my to do list to make a dwarf themed advenrure

I really appreciate all the info and ideas thus far, definitely going to add some of these to the game. One thing I've been trying to figure out is how to build challenging enough traps/hazards that won't outright kill someone, but not easy to roll right over

The fiery dwarven undead sound awesome, as well as a guardian.
Also what's your suggested average for dungeon rooms? I often find too many is tiresome but too little produces a lack of accomplishment

Silver Crusade RPG Superstar 2014 Top 16

Don't forget the Dragon or the Balrog, errr, Balor. In any event, it's always a fire creature, but YMMV.

Perhaps a Thoqqua?

Mines, treasure vault, armory, multiple smithies, perhaps places where the dwarves actually lived.

What kind of creatures would be able to get in? I would keep away from making the entire thing about orcs and goblins to go for something new. What do you think of wild, underground burrowing creatures or dwarven ghosts? Have adventurers entered the place in the past? That could have multiple effects on the state of the dungeon.

When I think of dwarven society I always think of religion. I would suspect that there would be religious significance to all the statuary and stonework; crypt levels and tombs, ancestor worship, shrines and chapels. As such I'd imagine that any permanent magic effects in a dwarven hold would be divine/profane in nature.

Along that vein I always build magic traps with clerical spells in mind. I also add magic nodes such as shrines where divine prayer/channeling might be more effective. Of course I also like the idea of such areas desecrated/corrupted in some way and since a lot of cleric spells have opposites (cure/inflict spells for example) I add those in.

Stemming from that angle you can also add things like duergar (dwarves cursed by profane energies), undead, haunts and aberrations. I like the idea of aberrant creatures rather than orcs since for one they're already subterranean and also they could easily be the result of corrupted divine rites or energies.

Sovereign Court

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You could have multi-layered defensive hallway systems; even if the enemy gets in they'll have to fight for every room. And the rooms all have arrow slits and murder holes, and only the dwarves remember which room threatens which room. So that even if the dwarves can't actually station every room, if the enemy can't occupy them all, the dwarves will be continually moving around to rooms that give them an advantage over the enemy's current position.

Next, food: what do dwarves eat? If they trade for food, expect vast granaries or even something more advanced, like meat lockers or other cold storage systems to preserve food for decades, by cooling, salting or drying it out. Maybe the dwarves hunt on the surface or have goat herds in the mountains; they'll need access shafts for that. Maybe they cultivate rice or corn using mountain terrace agriculture. Maybe they have vast underground rooms dedicated to getting just the right tint of weird purple magical light and the right dampness to grow lots of mushrooms.

Plumbing: how do the dwarves stop the lower levels from flooding? Is there running water in dwarven homes? Do they pump around water to clean the place? Can they even flush levels to clear out enemies or filth? And what about air - is there a ventilation system? Can they blow poison gas through it to drive out enemies from select areas?

Heating: there could be a system of hot air piped to warm the floors, or to just warm up tunnels. But frugal dwarves may have figured out a way to only heat some tunnels, when needed.

Storage: dwarves are cautious and will stock EVERYTHING. Probably in a highly efficient way, too. Expect lots of cranes and lifting technology to use the full 3D storage potential. Maybe in-mountain canal systems to move bulk cargoes cheaply.

Magical energy, warding: if ley lines are a thing, dwarves will take advantage of it. There might me macro-architecture to turn the entire city into a vast magical diagram to channel magic energy to either ward the city or do other things, like empower magic weapon factories.

Trade: a bazaar-like 3D trading area strikes me as fitting here. Remember to include weighing stations, where imported goods are weighed and tariffs are applied.

Education: dwarves should value education because it's an investment that lasts a (long) lifetime. There could be big university classrooms as well as vast libraries.

Military: all the infrastructure is built to be able to efficiently mobilize tropps. There will be training rooms and parade grounds. Since every dwarf has military training (Weapon Familiarity), there should be arms lockers all over the city, magically keyed to open up to any citizen.

Government: courthouses, legislative assemblies..

Artwork: lots of it. Depicting glorious dwarven history as well as the personal family histories of the residents, celebrating high craftsmanship and whatnot. However, unlike fragile human art, this is built to last. Uses stone and metal, not things that pass away within one or two centuries like paint or wood.

Bathhouses, with more warm and cold baths and saunas than you can imagine possible.

Crypts: with niches for holding the bones of ancestors. The crypts are continually being expanded downwards; burying someone means going all the way to the bottom, passing by the graves of all your ancestors.


has paizo done a dwarven compound or skycitadel yet? I've really wanted a good quality dwarven dungeon crawl. but the size of the project intimidates me. you could do a whole campaign retaking the entire citadel piece by piece and defending your claims.

I loved the ideas about magic nodes or shrines and overarching magical archetecture to the entire citadel.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There was a similar question some time ago... Hm.

I still think, nothing beats the old boxed set Dwarven Kingdoms of Krynn.
Searching the interwebs might net you even more, I guess.


dotting, I'm a big dwarf fan

gated demiplanes for food production?

This is a great plethora of information, I'll be trying to use as much as possible. Heck I might even make this an entire multilevel society during my deployment and send it up to paizo and see if they can use it for one of the lost cities during the battles either during or after the quest for sky

Sandbox wrote:
gated demiplanes for food production?

This could be brilliant. What if the entire place was set up with massive, layered defenses. Once you get through all of them and battle your way to the "treasure vault" - it is a gate to a plane with rolling plains of wheat under a mild sun.

This place provided all the beer-production ingredients the clan would ever have needed. A treasure beyond measure.

You could even have some powerful entity have taken up residence in this bountiful demi-plane that served to block production of ale and thus the place was abandoned as useless.

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Velos wrote:

I really appreciate all the info and ideas thus far, definitely going to add some of these to the game. One thing I've been trying to figure out is how to build challenging enough traps/hazards that won't outright kill someone, but not easy to roll right over

The fiery dwarven undead sound awesome, as well as a guardian.
Also what's your suggested average for dungeon rooms? I often find too many is tiresome but too little produces a lack of accomplishment

Remember, don't be afraid of empty. One of the design philosophies of 1ED that I still follow is the concept of empty rooms. Players need places to rest don't they. Not every room needs an encounter and several to many rooms (depending on size of dungeon) with only a brief description are perfectly fine and in my opinion necessary.

"This room is empty and dusty apparently a laundry or storage or armory but all that is left is rust and wood shavings, etc"

People smarter/more experienced than I reminded me of this when I was designing my first published dungeon.

The Exchange

4 foot ceilings so Elves would have to tuck in their ears and crawl.

If the dwarves could have created a demiplane to provide sunny fields, why would they have made a quest for the sky?

No, I'd think a bit more low-magic.

Personally, Each room should have at least 1 thing to interact with even if it's mundane....like an empty tankard with a serpent motif, a couple of dull metallic dice, a broken axe etc....just ' something' rather than pure boxed text


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thenovalord wrote:

Personally, Each room should have at least 1 thing to interact with even if it's mundane....like an empty tankard with a serpent motif, a couple of dull metallic dice, a broken axe etc....just ' something' rather than pure boxed text


I concur but not everything should mean something or be useful to the adventure. You might come into a chamber and find a child's toy discarded in the corner. It's not a construct monster, a cursed item, the key to a secret door or the answer to a riddle. It's just a doll left behind in the mad dash to evacuate the tunnels for the surface.

Of course, when the sirens begin sounding and the Darkness comes melting everything into the Nightmare World the toy might THEN be something significant, since its the focus of Pain and Loss to the Left Behinds trapped in the Darkness, but that's another thing entirely.

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You should check out How to Host a Dungeon "a solo game of dungeon creation where you build a dungeon through its history from the dawn of time. [...] When you complete your game, you have a dungeon history and map suitable for a dungeon crawling role-playing game or just your own enjoyment."

Also a google image search for dwarven dungeon turns up lots of nice maps.


Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Sandbox wrote:
has paizo done a dwarven compound or skycitadel yet? I've really wanted a good quality dwarven dungeon crawl.

Parts 1 & 3 of the Season 4 Glories of the Past PFS trilogy explored a couple different Sky Citadels, and there'll be another one towards the end of Season 5.

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A quick suggestion: Get yourself Dwarf Fortress and play it for some week, then remap your castle to the grid - there you have your mountain caslte!

Ok, Ascalapus had pretty good points, some to add:

Gates: Dwarf Cities are easy to defend usually, so besides lockers all around the city, there might be massive doors to be shut and sealed, possibly even by dropping massive stone blocks down the path that are wider than the tunnel they are in - and have been fitted in by tricks long forgotten. Or are the main gates of the city in the size category as the black gate of Moria as seen in LotR?

Special Rooms: Do some halls have a special purpose? Like did the dwards built massive halls with a tiny door to the next room, but a giant entry to the outside, to lure dragons and trap them there for slaying (think about that tower of Dragonlance)? Or is there a huge spherical hall without any decoration but odd lines at the roof and a lamp in the center to cast a recreation of the stars to it (think the astrolabs in Skyrim&Oblivion)? Huge, empty theatres with perfect acoustics, which also serveed as a meeting place for the senat/gerousia or the ecclesia/apella (think those in Athens) or are they arenas where people fought for honor?

Art & Decoration: Dwarfs love it simple - while the walls and floor are decorated abundently, each plane showing the glorious history, there is little stuff without function. Statues to honor gods, ruler and anchestors are much likely the only sort of non-usable decoration besides the reliefs - and even then they solve the purpose of remembering.

Also dwarfs have a different mind on the value of items. In a mountain abundently rich of Mithral/Gold, they might have gotten a nickname like 'Moonsilver/Sunlight Caverns' for the city gates from the material or for they inlayed the streets with it. Actually Dwarven Cities should have at least a handful nicknames, possibly referencing to historic events - Fort Stormbreaker, Dragon's Demise, City of Obsidian and Morgeham might all be the same place! Possibly those decorations are ling gone by now, the decorations removed by wheeping dwarfs in their last stand to forge swords, the gates broken out by the orks after they moved in, but the story of such remains.

Lighting: What did they use to light the City? Torches in the mines, lamps in the urban areas? Or magic stones? A single, glowing orb over the city center/palace which creates light like the sun, which gets reflected by a complicated set of mirrors to illuminate the whole place (and can get turned 'off' for huge areas from a contol room)?

Symetry: Did the dwarfs build the city planned with symetry or did it just grow as it came? If there is symetry, is it just mirrored around one axis or several? Are structures to be found at returning points of the city, like a small market every quarter mile along the main roads? Maybe it is built like a clock?

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