Whether you’re exploring a cave system, a dungeon, a jungle, or even an urban landscape, one lesson has stuck with me since playing through my first adventures in Dungeons & Dragons: Look Up. Why? You never know what be crawling around on the ceiling! Whether it’s simply spiders waiting to drop down, wrap you in some webbing, and eat you for dinner, a Lurker Above hanging around in a pool of darkness on the ceiling, or the Piercer masquerading as a stalactite – there’s always something out to get you with a gravity assist.
Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the 1500s and it’s considered one of the monuments of art from the Renaissance era. The ceiling of the Main Concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City depicts an astronomical scene in the 1900s. Why don’t we see more paintings on ceilings in dungeons and other gaming constructs? Such paintings could convey history, observations, myths and legends, or simply offer a beautiful backdrop beneath which horrible or amazing things might be done by monsters and men.
We’ve already discussed the monster problem with ceilings. Some monsters take advantage of the fact that heroes don’t seem to look up and can be easy to kill as fast food. But it might be equally interesting to see places where monsters have dragged corpses along ceilings, leaving blood trails or splatter. Or perhaps the occasional victim has left a message as a warning for the next potential meal, if they would only look up…
Lastly we have the concept of letting natural light into a room once in a while. Perhaps once a year, decade, or eon, the stars align just right and the light of distant stars reveals the secret location of the gods. Or perhaps there’s a giant hole in the ceiling that serves as entrance and egress for creatures but is hidden from view in some way. Such a hole might be a great way for heroes to escape certain doom from whatever may be living inside a particular cave or dungeon.
And obviously I’m not the first to think of evil things to place on the ceiling. Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press came up with a fantastic list of “10 Suspiciously Detailed Dungeon Ceilings” which offers some awesome suggestions. I definitely recommend you check it out!