Having finished running through my 4E conversion of Chris Perkins' adventure Lich-Queen's Beloved, I've learned a few lessons about dungeons and adventure design. One of these is the importance of the architectural environment and the very elements of the dungeon itself. In Lich Queen's Beloved, the environment of the dungeon takes on an interesting role and challenge in and of itself in the adventure, namely in the types of doors that are encountered. Doors, I feel, are an oft overlooked source of hazards, terrain effects, challenges, and provocative dungeon dressing. At the end of this post, I also briefly touch upon a way in which we can all design dungeons with better (ie. more fun) secret doors.
What I'm trying to say is that we simply need more doors.
In Lich-Queen's Beloved, there were three principal types of doors that interacted in meaningful ways with the adventurer's; ectoplasmic doors, stitched-flesh doors, and gray mist doors. These portals began in the adventure as a challenge and adversary. They stood in the way of the dungoneers, corralled their explorations, and were a major source of trepidation and harm. In time, however, the party discovered how best to deal with these entryways. By the end of the adventure, they were using these entryways to their own advantage in helping slow down, isolate, and ultimately defeat their enemies.
The following is a list of interesting doors, with suggestions for the earliest tier they should be showing up in your dungeons. All of them present different challenges and solutions to overcome, making the players think about their environment and become immersed in it. Instead of the door functioning as a lowly demarcation between short rests, it is now part and parcel of the dungeon exploration experience. Many doors have listed suggestions and examples for "trumps", items uncovered in another part of the dungeon that makes the door much easier to bypass, encourage exploration within the adventure, and give a feeling of positive progress to the dungeoneers.
All door types at paragon and epic tier are immune to the knock ritual.
Simple Door (Heroic)
A basic wooden door. An adjacent creature can open a door as a Minor Action.
Hanging Curtain (Heroic)
A simple sheet of cloth strung between two walls. The curtain does little to hide sound and can be torn down with a Standard Action or pushed aside with a Minor Action.
A curtain of water forms a sheet across an entryway. The waterfall cannot be easily negated or avoided and provides cover to combatants on opposite sides of the water. The sound of rushing water muffles most noises.
Stuck Door (Heroic)
The door is jammed shut and requires a solid blow to open as a Standard Action (no check), or a Minor Action with a successful Moderate DC Strength check.
Locked Door (Heroic)
The door is locked shut and must either have the lock picked with a Thievery check or be broke open with a Strength check. Both checks are part of a Standard Action and are a Hard DC.
Trump: ring of keys
An iron portcullis with sharpened tips lies either open or shut when first found. A nearby chain and pulley mechanism opens the portcullis as a Standard Action and the portcullis grants cover to combatants fighting on opposite sides when down. An adjacent creature can lift the portcullis overhead as a Standard Action Moderate DC Strength check, and the portcullis remains open for as long as the creature holds it up. The chain and pulley mechanism can be used to slam the portcullis down quickly as a Minor Action, attacking any creatures in the area with its sharpened tips; Level + 5 vs. AC; High Normal damage and the target is prone and restrained (escape DC High).
Trump: an artificer's automatic pulley device, a pole to jam the portcullis open
Web Door (Heroic)
This sheet of giant spider webbing must either be hacked or burned away (AC 10, Fortitude 20, Reflex 5; 30 HP; vulnerable 25 fire).
Trump: wand of burning hands
Stone Door (Heroic)
A heavy door or stone that must be lifted vertically to be opened. This door can only be opened with a Standard Action High DC Strength check. An already uplifted stone door can be held up as a Standard Action with no check.
Trump: staff of stone shape
Door of Thorns (Paragon)
Barbed vines grow wildly in this chokepoint, acting as a gate. If the door takes any damage (AC 10, Fort 10, Reflex 5), the vines shrink back and clear, but magically regrow at the end of the next turn. Alternatively, a character can charge through the vines, treating the area as difficult terrain and taking Minion damage.
Trump: feywild crown of thorns, primal evocations
A sealed door forms a magic mouth demanding answers to riddles, either as an illusory spell or as a transmutation effect on the door itself. Each door has a single riddle it knows, devised by the Dungeon Master. Answering a riddle is a Free Action. Answering a riddle correctly opens the door until the end of the encounter, however answering falsely prevents any other creature from opening the door until the next extended rest.
Barbed-Chain Door (Paragon)
A spindle of demonic barbed chains forms a web across the opening between two walls. The chains provide cover to combatants on opposite sides of the web. The chains are interlocked with each other and must be untangled with a Standard Action Hard DC Dexterity check. Creatures failing this check are attacked by animated, whipping barbed chains; Level + 5 vs. AC; High Normal damage and ongoing 5 damage per tier (save ends).
Trump: mask of the kyton
Ice Door (Paragon)
This sheet of solid ice must either be chipped or burned away (AC 10, Fortitude 20, Reflex 5; 100 HP; immune cold; vulnerable 25 fire).
Trump: wand of burning hands
Fire Door (Paragon)
A roaring fire covers this entrance. The fire cannot be easily negated or avoided and provides cover to combatants on opposite sides of the flames. The crackling sound of the fires muffles most noises. Creatures starting their turn or moving through the fires takes Low Normal fire damage.
Trump: potion of resist fire
Flesh-Stitched Door (Paragon)
An oval portal filled with stitched together, rotting flesh. A flesh-stitched door instantly peels open when an undead creature is adjacent to it. It can also be forced open or closed with the expenditure of any channel divinity prayer. The door quickly heals itself when damaged and has regeneration 25 (AC 10, Fortitude 20, Reflex 5; 200 HP). Flesh-stitched doors are soundproof.
Ectoplasmic Door (Epic)
An oval portal filled with a translucent mass of rippling ectoplasm, reinforced with writhing magenta veins. Each ectoplasmic door sheds dim light into its connecting rooms. Creatures within 3 squares of the ectoplasmic door can either make a Hard DC Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma check as a Move Action to open the door, or expend a psionic power point as a Minor Action to automatically open the door. Once open, the door can be sustained open as a Move Action. Creatures failing the check are attacked by a viscous pseudopod of thought-stealing ectoplasm; Level + 3 vs. Reflex; Normal High damage and the target cannot use daily powers or action points until the next extended rest.
Trump: potion of psionic power
This portal filled with opaque, silvery-gray mist. The mist blocks all sound and cannot be dispersed or dispelled. Any living creature that passes through the door suffers horrible wounds as the fabric of time tears apart its will and exposes the creature to grievous injuries suffered in the past; Level + 3 vs. Will; Limited necrotic damage; Miss: half damage.
Trump: scroll of deathly shroud
Hyperactive Teleportation Circle (Epic)
The rooms in this dungeon are separated completely from each other, perhaps existing on entirely different worlds. Instead of a traditional doorway, creatures must blindly step forth into a teleportation circle to be whisked away to another room with no means of communicating back what dangers they may have uncovered.
Lastly, a quick word about secret doors. Like traps, I find that keeping secret doors out in the open and easily detected is best. That may fly in the face of conventional dungeon design, but I stand by my convictions. Follow my logic here, if you would.
An obvious secret door is hidden in plain sight. The dungeoneers don't need to tediously poke and prode every square foot of the dungeon, that kind of activity is boring and rarely fun for anyone. When the secret door is found, it is often described with just a hint to its existence, but something obviously seen. For example, glowing blue Elven runes upon a stone wall; or the thin, crack-like outline of where the door meets the wall.
Finding the secret door is easy, opening it is the challenge and the fun. Secret doors operate as asort of puzzle, the dungeoneers trying to divine what kind of mechanism is required to solve the riddle. Here are some ways that obvious secret doors can be placed in your game.
- A wall rotates around a central axis when one end of the secret door is pressed
- A secret door opens when the correct object is pulled or tilted, such as a book from a library shelf, a torch, or a statuette.
- A simple password opens the door. "Say friend and enter."
- The secret door is held firmly shut with an unpickable lock. A vault-like rotating combination lock is in place on the center of the door, the correct answer only able to be deduced through interacting with the dungeon or its denizens.