Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Five Room Dungeon: Bottom of the Oasis

I've actually been there before.
I haven't done one of these in a while, so let's do one of these! I want to do some underwater hi-jinx because it's a bit exotic. I'm not sure if it comes up often/too much/not enough or whatever, but it's new to me! And there is a lot of support for such an idea in the raw materials, so it seems like an untapped well. Ha, untapped. It's like a pun. How devastatingly hilarious. Let's see where this goes, my friends.

Background Information

So what books are needed or recommended for this dungeon?
For the environmental theme, here are a handful of good monsters to consider using, starting with resources from published books:
  • Man-Eating Great White Shark (GURPS Horror p. 63, OR = 38, PR = 37, CER = 75)
  • Gill-Man (GURPS Horror p. 153, OR = 22, PR = 26, CER = 48)
  • Slugbeast (Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 p.27, CER = 63)
Geeze, all these things seem a bit strong, we need a few weaker monsters!
  • Foul Bat-Fish (Dungeon Fantasy 2 p.23, Like Foul Bat, but lives underwater! CER = 36)
  • Salamander-Man (Dungeon Fantasy 2, p. 11 Dinomen, but they live underwater! Give them a reach 1 harpoon with 1d+1 impaling instead, and now they have a CER 14)
Now, for stuff we can find for free online, from the Natural Encyclopedia
  • Alligator (p.6) CER 35
  • Altamaha (p.6) CER 21
  • Barracuda, Great (p.10) CER 16
  • Boiler Fish (p. 14) CER 33
  • Colloth (p. 19) CER 33
  • Crab, Giant (p.20) CER 32

So, we got some weak encounters, and some really strong ones. And some are pretty unique. now that we have a decent mix for a party of 4, totalling CER 160, let's do this; let's create a five room sunken temple.

The Entrance

The challenge is discovering the location, and then trying to figure out a way to get in. Perhaps there are rumors about the treasure going around because an explorer just tried and failed to explore it. Maybe the oasis is newly discovered. Whatever! Have players look for a plot hook like any standard plot hook according to Finding a Quest on p. 4 of Dungeon Fantasy 2. That's not the trick of the entrance. The trick is figuring out how to get inside.
The Freshwater Blue
Bubble Bell grows along
the shores of freshwater
springs. It produces so much
oxygen from its roots,
it chokes out other aquatic
plants. This dangerous
adaption however make for
beautifully clear water
without much organic debris.
My suggestion is a bit of alchemy. Page 216 of GURPS Magic has a Water Breathing potion. Look it up for details.An Artificer can make one with Quick Gadgeteer if he can find the stuff to make it, and for the price given, it is about a -3 penalty to both the search and creation rolls. To make it, one needs to grind up the petals of a Freshwater Blue Bubble Bell, which incidentally, and very conveniently grows near the oasis where this sunken temple lies. Knowing where to find it takes either an Area Knowledge roll or Naturalist roll, but might be discovered by searching for rumors too. Innkeepers might like it for adding carbonation  (oxygenation?) to drinks, and doctors might use the plant as a type of semi-magical iron lung.
The other challenge is weighing themselves down enough to walk on the bottom of the vast spring of the oasis. Perhaps wearing weights? In any case, it probably behooves the GM to consider underwater to be a type of unfamiliar terrain, and players suffer move and DX penalties... unless they are somehow members of an aquatic/amphibious race. Good for them.
While in town and hunting for rumors, the following might be interesting things to let the player know:

  • There is a maze of caverns at the bottom with amazing treasure but how can you see in a dark cave underwater?
  • The oasis is known to the locals as the blue cauldron because of the pure water, all of the blue-bells, and how bubbles rise to the top.
  • Their are some extraordinarily powerful beasts in there, it's a freshwater spring, but I swear there is a monstrous shark that swims its depths at times.
  • An ancient cult of fishmen worship the beasts. They pray to one day become as strong as the beasts.
From whatever town the temple is discovered in, it is as many days of travel away as is interesting to you and your players.
The party might find themselves attacked by many things on their descent, save for the Gill-men and the Killer Great White. Compose interesting encounters from the lists in the previous section. Anything that normally walks or crawls on land, treat similarly. Anything that swims, treat as if flying.
Maybe one to three battles here depending on how much your party enjoys fighting. I think the important thing here is to set a certain type of ambience. Talk about how light sparkles and contorts from the waves as the beams penetrate the crystal clear nothing. Schools of fish, both mundane and spectacular are seen. Besides the long and deep roots of the Freshwater Blue Bubble Bells, plant life is next to nill. Bubbles spurt periodically from said roots and curiously trace their way upwards to the surface. Allow your players to enjoy the trip, and try not to make the battles too difficult.

The Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge

So if you reached this point, are heroes are probably not so much worse for wear after the adventure Obscure 2, if that matters, friend and foe alike are affected.
to the sandy depth of our oasis. We are at the mouth of a grotto of some sort, that would be messy with seaweed but instead is pretty clean. Long thick roots bubble madly, but not dangerously at this depth, but obstructing vision. Consider this are to be under the effects of visual and auditory
Your challenge is to put into words
this picture for your players.
The puzzle here is that the players need to navigate a confusing mess of underwater caves. It is very dark, and fire doesn't work, because it is underwater, and mapping doesn't work because paper and all that... unless your adventurers thought to bring waterproof paper and appropriate writing implements. Someone with Eidetic Memory or Photographic Memory or Absolute Direction might be able to remember their way around. If you are like me, and bad at creating labyrinths, try using a maze generator. If you use that one, try using a very small size. This is a pretty annoying combination of special limitations! Slogging through bad terrain, probably on a timer for their oxygen supply, not being able to see very well, and not having any way to chart a course. Make it even worse by having moderate encounters! Know that encounters will be just as encumbered as the party. After any encounters, throw in a roll on Treasure Tables, even knowing that some things just won't make sense underwater, or might be completely irretrievable
Hopefully the party makes it through alive. If not, either alert them that their potion is running low and hopefully they can find their way back, or perhaps they can find a dome of trapped air somewhere in the underwater complex.

The Trick or Setback

After emerging on the other side of the maze, the players find themselves in a dark underground cave, but on dry land.They can breathe natural oxygen again. In fact it is especially pure, with much higher concentrations than natural air with its atmosphere and nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
But there is a smell, a smell of decomposition and blood. If somehow someone figures out a safe way to take a look at their surroundings (maybe it isn't pure oxygen? Maybe fire doesn't react with pure oxygen the way I think it does?) They will notice in this room that there are fish flying. You realize this isn't pure oxygen, but water so deeply saturated with oxygen in such an unearthly way, one can breathe it in without drowning, and one can light a torch without it dousing immediately.
Unfortunately, that also means that the party can make out the flying shape of a man eating shark. It is being worshipped by two Gill-Men, and a cadre of 11 Salamander-Men.

Climax, Big Battle, or Conflict

Yum yum.
The CER 160 party can fight the man eating shark, two gill-men, and the 11 Salamander-Men however they like. Treat the salamander-men as Fodder that can be beat in one hit, the Gill-Men as worthy foes, and the Shark as a boss. See pages 27-28 of Dungeon Fantasy 2 to refresh what this terminology means. Some special tricks for this fight:
  • Treat all opponents as having flying for high maneuverability, but also everyone has an extreme vulnerability to fire with the oxygen making torches burn more intensely. You can cut the range of magical fire attacks in half as they consume themselves too quickly and roll at a penalty with failure meaning potential weak burns. Someone with an Alchemy skill or similar might be able to have this rolled secretly for them to realize this.
  • The shark has a berserk rage that kicks in with the scent of blood. Purposefully inflicting bloody injuries on the fodder to draw its attention might be helpful.
  • Likewise, the Gill-men can throw harpoons, which if someone catches one with their body, this can be extremely dangerous. as this might aggravate the shark towards that player. It will take an injury more severe elsewhere to catch its attention once it becomes focused on one injured party.
  • The shark is huge, so having small alcoves it cannot fit into on a battlemat can be an appreciated breather. If players decide to camp out though, have the shark break through.

Rewards, Revelations, or Plot-Twist

The room is a temple to the shark so valuable treasure should be found inside, consider any amount of rolls on the treasure tables, I'd say at least 3, and one reroll if it all turns out pretty boring. You should probably roll these ahead of time. Along with that, One especially shark themed treasure I can think of is a special Shark Tooth Pick Axe

Shark Tooth Pickaxe (Power Item: 15 FP)

Can you feel it salivating?
It quivers with a strange vitality to the touch, it almost feels alive, indeed. However, the pick is fragile and breaks easily when it strikes an opponent, but the Gill-men guarded it jealously and with extreme reverence. It is an instrument that allows them to come into communion with their primal god.
  • This is a pickaxe with the same stats as a nominal fine quality dwarven (see p. 26 of Dungeon Fantasy 1)  Pick from Basic Set - Characters, p.271 But instead, it doesn't get stuck when it strikes a target, and does impaling damage but no extra damage as it leaves the wound.
  • Brittle, but Vital: The tool behaves as a pick for at most one attack per hour, before breaking. Until the axe has time to rest for an hour, the jagged stump makes the pickaxe perform as a normal quality dwarven axe. After an hour of regeneration though, the stump of a tooth falls out and a new tooth grows in restoring the original pick. If the pickaxe is ever broken, for example, because it parried an extremely heavy blow, it can regenerate and become usable again in 1d days.
Weight: 4 lbs. Required ST 11.

[The price of this item is calculated using the Chimerical modifier from p.33 of Pyramid 3/72 as a template  (though this version has some pros and cons over that version) along with the Dwarven and fine modifiers. This price was used to calculate the value as a power item. The number I came up with is $4,120, which I then correlated to the Power Items chart on p.28 of Dungeon Fantasy 1 to ge 15 FP.]

The plot twist here is that if the party has run out of breathing potions, they cannot leave the cave the way they have come. They must discover a natural cave in the cavity containing the temple to the shark, and find a new way out of here.

Other Thoughts and Closing

I like the idea of an underwater adventure so much, but for some reason, it seems really difficult to enable. It requires a big investment in magical solutions that players don't seem to want to invest in. Maybe I just need to offer something more enticing to get players to want to go somewhere murky, dangerous, and scary?
Also, I am looking for recommendations for software to make hex maps for future five room dungeons if people have any. Would you guys like future posts to include maps?
Also, the shark does a ton of damage. This can be extremely dangerous for players. Death is a possibility, going into negative hit points isn't unlikely. You might want to pare its attack power down. If you are afraid of making the fight too easy,  add in some more Gill-Men or Salamander-Men to fill out the ranks if you want to lower the damage to something more reasonable.


  1. Other blog (Tenkar's Tavern and Game Geekery) have commented on and have good things to say about Other World Mapper ( It's still in Beta, but you can buy into it now and get the final product when it's released.

    I've personally tried Campaign Cartographer 2, 3 and 3+, and Wilderness Mapper and neither have really grabbed me. I may wind up buying into the OWM Beta myself.

    BTW, if your oasis has a grotto behind the waterfall, this map might be for you (terms of use apply):

    Anyway, I really enjoy your blog. Keep it up! It is hard to believe you've only been playing GURPS for a year or so.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I did hear good things about Other World Mapper, but I wanted to get a good consensus before plokking down the cash.

      And yup, first campaign started January 2015, so, about a year and a halfish? I think I just come off as experienced because I figure I'll just confidently say whatever is on my mind, and wait for someone to correct me if it is wrong. I think the confidence though tricks people into thinking, "well, if he's so sure, then it has to be right!"

    2. I particularly admire your enthusiasm for statting stuff. XD

      I'm more footloose and fancy-free in order to keep from killing my players' characters too often. Some very creative creatures you've come up with to keep things on the lighthearted/silly side. I'm looking at you, Dust Bunny, et al.

    3. To clarify, I don't set my players against overwhelmingly powerful encounters on purpose, but crit happens.

    4. Ha! I like systems and rules that work like tools for helping creating things, it is probably one of the reasons I like GURPS. I think it takes a bit of experience before you can totally start winging mechanics, but until I reach that point, I like that there are lines to color inside of so that I have some kinda barometer for whether or not something is (grossly) overpowered.

      And still, just because there are stats and metrics, there are still also those three types of lies:
      Lies, d*ng lies, and statistics, so it still requires some kinda brain to tell if the numbers are misrepresenting the content.


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