Denizens in the Dark

We’ve talked a bit about the physical properties of dungeons, but what happens when we need to populate those structures with inhabitants? Last week I brought up the idea of the original “purpose” for the dungeon and I’d like to expand on that a little. Let’s take the history of an old dungeon as an example…

If I have a dungeon that was first a cave system that was then turned into a tomb and is now a hidden temple, there have been a few denizens over the years. The trick is to figure out what’s in use when the PCs get there, what may be hidden from immediate view, and who might be living in the various parts of the complex.

Let’s create a cave system using Guzzy’s Random Cave Map Generator


A natural cave system might have a few denizens. We can use the random 5e encounter generator at donjon to come up with some ideas there… (Plus my handy 5e Monster Manual). A quick spin on donjon comes up with a few possibilities. I want to keep this pretty wild, so we’ll go with some of the less intelligent monsters to keep things more natural. Some Myconid Sprouts (MM, p230), Shriekers (MM, p138), and a Giant Spider (MM, p328) called this place home. And eventually there were some cave-ins to block off access to those areas.

In the next incarnation, we’ll say that this complex became a tomb for an undead warrior retreating from the world. Again, using the donjon generator we’ll spin it up to get a few ideas. He’s a Death Knight (MM, p47) and has a few Skeletons (MM, p272) and Hell Hounds (MM, p182) guarding over him as he waits for some prophecy to come to pass or sign it’s time to re-emerge. He had the skeletons bring down some strategic walls to block access to his portion of the complex when he settled in for his long sleep.

And now the place is a temple to Kurtulmak and infested by Kobolds (MM, p295) and Winged Kobolds (MM, p295). These are fanatics to their Lost God, making offerings to help him retrieve a trinket from Garl Glittergold, god of gnomes. Should any gnomes enter the temple, the place will erupt in madness, which will begin to awaken the rest of the cavern’s denizens.

guzzy-caves-colorsThe decorated map shows a few lines denoting where the cave-ins (red lines) and deliberate blockages (blue lines) have occurred.

The idea is that by exploring a particular structure in different historical eras of its existence, you might get some intriguing ideas on what the PCs may find. And it’s quite possible that the older denizens are nothing more than dust by this point, but any items or treasure they may have held could still be valuable in those parts of the areas not readily accessible.

Who knows whether parts have been blocked up deliberately or accidentally over the years… and who knows how those same blockages might come undone. One natural cave-in can be undone by another. And explorers have been known to poke their noses where they should not be.

This cave now has some possibilities for story (what prophecy is the Death Knight waiting for and what might the myconids or spiders be hiding in their lairs?) as well as immediate danger (a mess of dedicated kobolds!). Would be fun to explore with a party!

Can you see this approach being useful in your own campaigns? Let me know!

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