Watch Your Step (Four on the Dungeon Floor)

Last week we looked at the ceiling, so this week let’s check out the floor of our ever-changing dungeon. Unlike the ceiling, I think players (and their PCs) are a bit more cognizant of the dangers that accompany every step in unfamiliar territory. You never know when you might trigger a trap, snap a twig, or stumble across the next clue in an ongoing mystery. That mystery, in my opinion, is the key to a successful dungeon. I don’t think we should make our players so paranoid that they’re afraid to set foot in a new ruin – but I do think that they should expect the unexpected.

But how do we build that sense of the unexpected? Let’s look at four areas out of the myriad possibilities.

First there’s the classic trap. Pressure plates, tripwires, and pits are among some of the most popular. I would encourage you to add some randomness to these common encounters. Perhaps a trap had already been triggered and evidence of the earlier event may be found at the site. Or maybe there’s a chance that a trap may be broken after years of waiting for some poor, unsuspecting victim to come along. Springs, wires, and other things do sometimes wear out. Either of these scenarios might lead to some interesting conversations among your players as they wonder who else may be in the dungeon ahead of them, which will keep them guessing!

Next up we have the odd things left on the floor. Perhaps your PCs will find a stain (rust, blood, oil, or ooze are great options here) or scratch, hinting at something that was there originally. Or maybe they’ll find remains of some sort, whether it is a body, a simple wooden crate, or something else. These remains could hint at events that occurred a short time before the PCs arrived or years before. But random items on the floor in a dungeon, such as a lost weapon or spent ammunition (such as an arrow), can also be fun to offer as props for the players to interpret.

Third we have the infinite possibilities of artistic expression. Imagine if the PCs came across a series of colored tiles on the floor offering a trail to follow. Or a room with a decorative design from myth and legend laid out as a clue to the facility’s original purpose. And don’t forget to play with the layers of dust or dirt that may cover the floors, hiding clues. A design drawn by a dungeon denizen might provide an interesting idea of who the PCs might encounter as they explore further.

Lastly, there’s always the good old monster. A good ooze is always a fun option. Or a trapper lying flat and waiting for its next meal. My favorite option in a dungeon is the good old gelatinous cube, which is a great way to keep the floors, walls, and ceiling nice and clean. Nothing creepier than going through a dungeon you know has been unexplored for decades or longer, only to find it without a speck of dust.

Not every dungeon floor needs a gimmick. Some floors are just that… floors. But you can play with all sorts of things in your attempts to keep your players guessing. These are just a few ideas to explore – and I”m sure you can come up with many more!

Hopefully you’re enjoying this series so far. Let me know if you have other ideas you’ve tried in our own adventures – I’d love to hear about them!

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