Redux: Beneath the Bathhouse, a Planarch Codex Dungeon Example

Originally posted to Google+ in December 2014. I really enjoyed putting this together! I love the Codex’s guide to assembling a dungeon on the fly, and I want to use it for pretty much everything, every chance I get… derelict spaceships, dramatic and complicated social interactions at parties, whatever. Love it.

This was my answer to someone who wanted help figuring out how this system worked. I went ahead and ad libbed kind of a Miyazaki-esque, blue collar, fantasy furnace/plumber sort of thing. I’m head over heels for my own example, and I want to run this dungeon some day:

Spirited Away


All right so let’s say your party is exploring the great interconnected tubes and chambers of an ancient furnace from the City of Brass – its giant, as big as a small dungeon, and buried underneath a prestigious bath house in the city of Dis. Every once in a while something from above ground finds its way below ground and dies or clogs up the furnace and ruins business, so the bath house hires freebooters like you to go spelunking down and clean the thing out.

So, as the GM you name it the Bathhouse Boilers make up 3 dangers, because its bigger than a cave but smaller than a castle.

You think for a second about what is so dangerous about the Bathhouse Boilers… you figure, first of all, it’s definitely Shoddy Maintenance of the metal tunnels and tubes connecting everything since no one ever comes down here to fix stuff. Then you figure it’s Competition because actually some other bathhouse with a resident fire-elemental is trying to sabotage this bathhouse to increase its profits. Then thirdly you go ahead and say  _Fire and Heat_ which will include anything burning down here but also anything indigenous to fire and heat that has moved in.

So you jot down some notes and it reads:

Bathhouse Boilers
Danger: Shoddy Maintenance (instinct: to break at the worst time)
Danger: Competition (instinct: to offer you a deal)
Danger: Fire and Heat

Now, as the players make their way between the major parts of the Bathhouse Boilers, as the GM you have a tool to help you ad lib this dungeon. That tool is your countdowns. The point of countdowns is to help you know when your dungeon is completely laid out, and know what dangers lurk where, and put together a mental image of any given chamber.

If you really wanted to, in fact, you could roll all this up ahead of time and pre-build a dungeon this way. So, for this example, I’m going to do that.

The party enters the Bathhouse Boilers through a disused coal chute in a bathing room that has been shut down just for this purpose. So, the party opens up the chute, casts Light, and everybody goes sliding down the brass tube into the depths of the furnace beneath the bathhouse.

ROOM 1:
I have no idea what the first room is going to be like. I figure it probably won’t be burning, since the PCs could use the chute to get down, so I choose not to roll for it. I just roll for Competition and Shoddy Maintenance. I roll a 9 for Competition and a 6 for Shoddy Maintenance. a 9 means the Danger has a strength of +1, and a 6 means the Danger is not present. I mark off 1 box of my Competition Countdown.

I need to figure out what such a weak display of the Competition Danger means… I decide that its a pair of simple-minded scouts who are spelunking defunct furnace looking for other ways to mess up the Bathhouse. I decide, for my personal amusement, that they’re basically Goblin Abbot and Orc Costello and they’ve gotten lost because they can’t read the map they’ve made of the furnace. I decide they’re not great, and decide a D6 represents their damage. Because they’re only a +1 representation of Competition, if the PCs get into a fight with them, I’ll roll 1D6 for damage. Since their Instinct is “Make a deal,” they’ll be less likely to fight then they are to wheel and deal or run if that fails.

When describing the room, I incorporate that the room is cold (No heat or fire), sturdy (no shoddy maintenance), and my two spelunking fools (+1 competition).

As of now:
Shoddy Maintenance[ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]
Competition [X][ ][ ][ ][ ]
Heat & Fire [ ][ ][ ][ ][ ]

ROOM 2:
Connected to Room 1 is another coal-trap from the neighboring bath up above, I decide. I really have no idea what could be going on here, so I roll for all three Dangers.

I roll a 5, a 4, and a 6. This is incredibly boring, so I decide nuts to that. The room will be a classic trapped room, and I decide to give it a +2 Shoddy Maintenance Danger, which is my right to do. I figure, yeah, the floor is covered in coals from use and the players can see stuff glittering amongst them – rings or something, bits of jewelry lost when people in the Bathhouse stoke the fire. Of course, if the PCs walk out onto the coals to try and get the jewels, they’ll discover the Shoddy Maintenance as they step through holes in the floor and risk the whole bottom falling out of the room. Because of the +2, any twisted ankles will probably be 2d4 damage, and if they take a truly nasty spill it will be worth something like 2d8 damage. The point is: this room is falling apart, thats what a +2 means, so I need to sell that in the description.

Then, heck, again because I’m the boss, I assign a +1 to Heat and Fire and decide to put a flaming Salamander in the room, clinging to the walls. This will broadcast, indirectly, to the players that the floor can’t be trusted since it refuses to get off the walls. It will also distract them and make anyone falling through the floor that much more threatening as their resources get stretched thin. If the Salamander damages them, it will probably hit for 1D8 (or 1D6 or 1D4 if you like tiny tiny Salamander monsters).

As of now: 
Shoddy Maintenance[X][X][ ][ ][ ]
Competition [X][ ][ ][ ][ ]
Heat & Fire [X][ ][ ][ ][ ]

ROOM 3:
Room 3 is the soot trap connected to both of the above coal rooms – it is located beneath them, down a sloping “hallway” that deposits them in a long room full of ash and who knows what. At this point, inspired by the previous rooms, I could choose not to roll for Dangers if I am suitably inspired. Let’s say I’m not and roll.

8, 3, and 10. +1 Shoddy Maintenance, no presence of Competition, and +2 Heat and Fire. How exciting! I’ve got this narrow room, filled to chest height with ash that obscures sightlines and where one is stepping, and apparently the place wants to fall apart, and also there’s a serious example of fire here. Badass. I am immediately inspired.

The Heat and Fire danger will be a monster I decide to make up: it’s a burning spider. It can suppress its flames when it chooses, but it flares up when it is hunting. It’s like a trap door spider, but specifically makes its lairs in soot and ash usually given off by its own burning. So, yeah, this big 2D6 fucko is hiding in the soot trap when the PCs enter. When the Hearth Spider (yeah, i like that name) attacks, the whole room is going to get really hot really quickly (so maybe I’ll assign incidental burns from the walls and such a damage of 2D4 who knows).

Shoddy Maintenance in the soot trap? Let’s say that there are skinny walkways on either side of the actual pit of soot being used by the Hearth Spider to hide. It’s a nice convenient place for PCs to stand and sneak and shoot arrows from if they can stay on it. Now, let’s say that those walkways are going to buckle at the first sign of serious weight and that is our Shoddy Maintenance Danger. No serious damage will come from this, probably 1D4 if we have to, but it will send PCs down into the soot trap to visit the Hearth Spider for dinner.

As of now: 
Shoddy Maintenance[X][X][X][ ][ ]
Competition [X][ ][ ][ ][ ]
Heat & Fire [X][X][ ][ ]

Now notice how I’m filling up my boxes as I roll? That’s telling me how close I’m coming to running out of that particular danger. Soon, it’s gonna be all about the Competition because I will run out of my “allowance” of Maintenance and Fire dangers.

ROOM 4:
I have no idea what the next room should be. What do the PCs encounter after two giant furnace rooms, and a long skinny soot trap filled with fire spider. So, hey, we roll… a 7, 7, 10.  I scope out my Countdowns. +1 Maintenance, +1 Competition, and +2 Fire.

So, as of now: 
Shoddy Maintenance[X][X][X][X][ ]
Competition [X][X][ ][ ][ ]
Heat & Fire [X][X][X][X][X]

Okay, so after this room, we’re all out of fire dangers! And every danger is here, so we should make it cool!

Hey, so the next room isn’t a room per se – it’s going to be a series of interlocking hallways and mini-chambers — the tubes connecting all these furnaces and fires and smoke stacks  lets say – and the problem is that they’re all hot as could be from being used in the Bathhouse above. Lots of chances for heat and fire damage, and lets throw in a bunch of Ember Sprites, a bunch of mischievous baby fire elementals for +2. They’re all over, and they suck. The +1 Competition will be a whole series of demolition crews who have been taking hacksaws and hammers to all of these tubes and smashing and cutting them to bits to wreck the Bathhouse Boilers from the inside. The +1 Shoddy Maintenance will be from the damage they’ve already done and the damage they’re working on right now. Clearly, the Competition has some kind of item or something that makes them immune to most of the Ember Sprite’s attentions… that would be good to have, since the PCs probably don’t want to be pushed, on fire, out of a broken brass tube into the darkness below.

ROOM 5:
7, 10. Notice I don’t roll for Heat & Fire. I am all out of my allowance to place those Dangers, so unless the PCs retread – or I make a move to reintroduce old Dangers – they’re probably not going to run into them again.

Shoddy Maintenance[X][X][X][X][X]
Competition [X][X][X][X][ ]
Heat & Fire [X][X][X][X][X]

Okay, this room is +1 Maintenance and +2 Competition, and this is the first big example of a Competition Danger. It’s gotta be something cool. It’s not a bunch of construction workers, or fools with a map. Let your imagination run wild.

ROOM 6:
In this room, having rolled an 8, I place my last Competition Danger. It’s only a +1, so it could be something light or something serious depending on what die I give out.

And with that, I am all out of Countdowns.
Shoddy Maintenance[X][X][X][X][X]
Competition [X][X][X][X][X]
Heat & Fire [X][X][X][X][X]

My dungeon is complete.

A spicy-looking WoW dungeon.
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3 thoughts on “Redux: Beneath the Bathhouse, a Planarch Codex Dungeon Example

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