Cave pools

Next entry in the “dungeon locations” series, is cave pools. Which are so stereotypical and classic that in fact players barely react to them.

My players did in fact wander into a large, cavernous space with a knee-high resplendent pool of water. The encounter they had was memorable (a worm drake, defeated with a purify food and water on the pool), but the space itself could have been improved, I feel. In fact, the open nature of the cave kind of dulled the tactical aspect of the combat and did not provide much for the players to hang on to in terms of imagination or narrative.

With that, I got to thinking what descriptions would have improved this type of space, and what would have made the players stop, look and use their surroundings.

This table tries to answer the questions that sessions prompted, so that your cavern pools may provide intrigue, mystery and tactical opportunities. Personally, I would combine it with some of the early spaces of the incandescent grottoes.

Roll 4d10!

DiceOverall spaceWaterWallsAdditional feature
1An opening dotted with stalagtites and stalagmites so large they touch in spots.transparent, clear.Wet limestone that has been smoothed over centuries. Yellowish.The floor of the cave, underwater, is covered in small clams.
2A natural cave with man-made steps leading into the pool. At the center of the space, 6 marble columns are arranged in a circle.Bubbling, sulphur smell in the air.Black volcanic rock, jagged. Easy to climb, but also painful to grab. Many crevaces and hiding spots.feels like being in a sanctuary in a storm.
3A cave with irregular rock formations as a ceiling, making some points hundreds of feet high and others requiring crawlingSilvery, highly reflective, once light is shone on it.20-ft long, 2ft-deep claw marks on the eastern wall left from an ancient giant beast.The water will rise by 1 foot per character entering the pool.
4Sloped floor and celings. Very small entry space, very large pool.A purple powdery substance deposits on the water surface, emitting a glow. Deep in points. Black ivy covers the walls. It feeds on darkness and despair.An opening at the bottom of the pool reveals a rusted mechanical gear covered in algae. More interlocking gears lie deep in the rock.
5A cavernous space with rock formations ensuring a narrow path across.The water is highly viscous and dark, petroleum-like.3 natural cave walls and one made of slabs of flagstone carefully engineered to lie at an angle.The space is engulfed in a magical darkness that may only be dispelled.
6The cave is the shape of an enormous hand, as if a colossus was entombed into a mountain. Broken sight lines.The water is rich in minerals and iron. It will stain the skin.The rock features of the cave walls can slowly shuffle (over hours) to force the party off their path.Depending on the time of day, the water changes colour and properties, roll on the second column every 12 hours.
7More of a large hall than a cave. Perhaps it belonged to some ancient fortress that ended up partially flooded and underground.No pool per se but a wet sandy bottom that releases water when stepped on.A small waterfall runs on the eastern wall. Itreplenishes the pool and hides a deep pit at its bottoom. 1d6 crates of supplies left by a previous party. Some crates are infected by a mould.
8A circular cavern formed around a giant stalagmite in the center, with water dropping from the rock above. Water surrounds the stalagmite.A pool created by a geyser that releases a strong blast of water every few hours.The walls are lined with glowing crystals of various colors and properties.A thick fog rises above the water. In it, will ‘o wisps dance along an ancient path, dangerously illuminating the way
9A long, narrow cave tunnel with high ceiling.Despite being a pool, the water is not still. Strong vortexes and currents are animated by the ley lines in the ground.One of the walls curves in to reveal some kind of natural refuge. The top of this small space has dark marks, as if a fire had regularly been lit under it.One sip of the water wil satiate an adventurer for the day, but cause a mighty headache afterwards.
10A cave lined with cracks in the rock from which earth, mould and worms come through to pollute the water.The water is covered in lilies and other plants that survive despite no access to light.The walls aren’t made of rock, but of chitin.A tombstone lies in a crevace. “Her…li.. Gax… Pois… ro…cer”.
Touching the tombstone will make the grave collapse and open a passage below.

some house rules for old school essentials

After more than a year running OSE games, with a long-running Dolmenwood campaign still chugging along, I thought I’d jot down the house rules I found to improve enjoyment of the game at the table, along with some thoughts.

The three “big ones” have been so helpful both in refreshing the game for veterans, and in bringing along the 5e crowd, or true beginners, in one-shot games. In my experience, they smooth out and modernise some of the B/X kinks, help the DM make rulings faster, and give the players more tension when they roll dice.

Perhaps this helps someone.

The big ones:

  • Advantage and disadvantage: clearly the best idea in 5th edition. In OSE, I use it in a slightly different way. When making ability checks, do not give the +4 or -4 threshold modifiers. Instead, roll with advantage if the check is easy, and with disadvantage if the check is hard. More dice=more fun! Of course you may also use advantage if someone is helping someone else, but crucially, do not introduce the concept of a help action! Whenever this has been present in games I’ve run, or been a part of, players shrink from roleplaying and just say “can I help him/I take the help action” and so on. And that is lame. So help=advantage should not be instituted as a mechanical thing and should not be automatic. I have used advantage and disadvantage in hundreds of rolls, but only a handful have involved help.
  • “luck roll”. Similarly, as more dice=more fun, use open dice rolls with 50-50 chance to determine some narrative aspect relating to NPCs, or certain things that may or may not be in the world. Here’s what I mean. The party ambushed a group of sleeping kobolds, and assassinated all but one of them, whom they chose to interrogate. After searching a tent in the kobold camp, they found a pouch full of trinkets clearly used by the now-defunct shaman to perform some kind of ritual. In the interrogation, it became apparent that the kobold they kept alive was the cook. They asked him whether he knew what the shaman used those trinkets for. Poor Kamon the cook probably had seen them used, but whether he knew what they were for was indeed up to luck. So this was determined by having the interrogator roll 1d20. There was a genuine moment of tension around the table. When the player rolled a 9, and the kobold convincingly blurted out “I am only the cook! Trinkets are not in my recipes!”, the fate of Kamon the cook was sealed.
  • “Find secret doors” doubles as “spot hidden” and I will occasionally have a PC roll this if they cross something that they have an off-chance to notice without actively searching. It is essentially a very weak and light passive perception. This happens less than once per session. In general, be mindful of not having perception rolls: the players tell you where they look, and you tell them. I use “spot hidden” to for example give the off chance that an enemy hiding in a bush may have made some noise, or that the character looking over a lake accidentally notices the mist rising over a particular spot, and so on.
  • All rolls are open, I have almost no “screen” (thanks runehammer). Only secret roll is random encounters and rolls related to exploration (if they get lost, they won’t immediately know it).

The mechanical ones:

  • Declare spell in combat: have the caster declare that they will cast, but not what. Less punishing than “spoil your fireball”, but still somewhat balancing the very powerful OSE spells.
  • Fighter moves: from 2nd level, if a fighter rolls 15+ and hits, he can do a move (e.g. pin, grapple). Brought to the table by one of the players.
  • I do not use encoumberance, but rely on a “please let’s not be ridiculous” system. The party has to be able to move the amount of miles per day written on their character sheet.
  • Character creation: roll 3d6, but reroll 6 and below.
  • Hirelings are controlled by the PCs, but they have ethics and rules. They are people. Besides the loyalty check, they will also actively do things if the party behaves in a way they fundamentally disagree with. This has come into play with a friar the party hired…
  • XP: Combat is relatively rare (once every 2 sessions I would say), though danger is certainly not. XP is as a number, not as milestones, and characters level as described in the rulebook. BUT:
    • Monster XP doubled
    • 1gp looted=1 party XP, no XP for magic items
    • story milestones or figuring out puzzles results in big party XP. I levelled them very fast to level 2 (1 character death), now they go much slower.
    • Characters that die are replaced by chars of equal XP but not necessarily level.

We are on something like session 20 and characters are betwen 3rd and 4th level. I find it is important to get out of 1st level between session 2 or 3, but then players are more relaxed and advance along with the story. It helps that I have amazing players that don’t care much about stats, and the loot is interesting.

And finally:

  • Run morale, evasion and pursuit as written. Just a point of emphasis here, I cannot stress how important using monster morale, retreats and pursuit properly is to the whole feel of an OSE game. It gives the game such a dynamic feel.


The other face of ritual and alchemy is of course, curses. The ones presented here are easiest put on NPCs, seeing that DMing some of these may be quite challenging. But deployed in a way that makes narrative sense they may forever alter a PC in a very compelling way.

As always, I strive to provide plot and interactivity, so let’s hope this is useful for someone (besides the party I DM for that is about to run into one of these eheh).

Sample result: “the cursed individual has a venomous snake slowly consuming his insides. This appeared after the bite of a wild animal. The curse may only be lifted by undertaking the risky pilgrimage to the holy city of Merissa and having an audience with the head priestess of the temple.”

Roll 3d10!

DiceCurseMode of creation/caused byLifted by…
1Swap face with a known criminalDrinking from the fountain of MazrakRepeating the unknown curse words into the mouth of a cave
2Never be able to hear music againMurdering a holy man/bard/poet etcGifting one’s most prized possession tothe elusive satyr Narim
3Plant lymph will flow through veins, bark will replace skin over yearsAn elderly man sacrificed a lamb in a nymph poolWalking three times through holy fire
4Will betray a faithful friend or relativeA parent has bargained with an evil being in order to conceive a childClimbing mount Neversummer to bring a tribute to the goddess of the high rock
5The land around his or her home will be divided by a chasm from the rest of the worldA bite or scratch of a cursed animal spreads the curse like a diseaseA pilgrimage to the holy city of Maressa and an audience with the priestess
6Unable to move through forests without awakening wild wolvesCarrying a weapon in a forbidden holy forestEating the bitter root of the Foddil tree, which only grows where blood was spilled in a duel between valiant men
7The cursed will be able to fly, but will have to perform sacrifice to do soTrapping the souls of three travellers in a gemstone encasted in a ring bearing the cursed’s nameThe loss of what is more precious than gold
8Ravens will haunt the cursed’s dreams and will travel alongside him or herDaring to predict the future in the presence of a godWhisper the magical words in the ears of a dove
9Every object held in the cursed’s hands will have a hole in it (including weapons)The alchemist Galef was commissioned a curse ointment by a rival of the cursed. The curse works like poisonImposition of the hands by a king
10A venomous snake will slowly (over years) grow inside the personA crone using a lock of hair of the cursedThe love of a long-lost friend

Simple alchemy

Somebody has to make a potion, a ritual, enchant a weapon, produce a device. It is clear, it will need some specific ingredients, and the appropriate instructions (barely legible on a mouldy anciant book) should be followed.

Newer D&D editions have mechanisms for DC checks based on what needs to be done. As always, “old school”-type systems eschew DC checks for an opportunity for player interaction and story telling. No matter the system, it should be fun to perform medieval chemistry.

I include ingredient columns, though one has to be careful not to reduce or overblow them them into fetch quests. Acquiring them should be either trivial or a matter of fun and consequence. They are best placed along the path of other adventure. An ingredent may always be found on some corpse of somebody trying to perform the same procedure, in someone else’s collection, or to be traded for a favor on behalf of somebody else.

Roll 1d10 per column! Some of the unintended consequences are “a bit over the top”, so use or skip as appropriate!

DiceIngredient 1Ingredient 2InstrumentProtocol specificsUnitnended consequence
1A sacrifice that causes regretA feather from a birdA chondrometeroutcome depends on lunar phaseA hand turns to stone
2A hood worn by a monster shamanDust from the trail of nomad tribesCauldronMust be performed in a ritual circleA vampire/ elemental etc can revert the incantation
3Holy waterPure copperThe canvas of a painting used as a surfaceCan only be performed by a man/womanThe caster will get 2 glimpses of the futre, a truth and a lie
4Wine aged more than 10 yearsA mirror that has reflected an injusticeA fireplaceThe ingredients should be added piece by piece, slowly as they are consumed, taking daysSomeone learns the location of the party
5A knife that has pierced a lycanthrope (or another monster)The horn of a monsterA distilling apparatushas to be performed outside on a rainy dayDaylight disappears for 24 hours
6Sawdust from a ship that has survived a stormExotic tea leavesA large water hourglass where the ingredients are deposited in the top halfA lost song must be sungThe caster of the ritual will hear voices of previous enchanters trying to speak to him or her
7The voice of a domestic animalThe tip of a stalagmite from a caveA press, squeezing the ingredients to extract their essenceA priest/ priestess of a particular god has to be involved in the ritualA human performing the ritual will turn into another race, another race will turn human
8A star-shaped white mountain flowerAir that is lighter than airAn oak tree from which the ingredients have to be hungThe ritual should be performed while sleeping, in a dreamTeleport the caster to a random location 1d20 miles away
9A drop of blood of a particular blood lineThe root of a tree infected by verminMortar and pestleSpeak a specific tongueA building will shatter
10A weapon that is dear to the partyThe cap of Skyshank mushroomsA ceramic crucibleThe ritual has to be concluded with a flash of light produced by true magicThe caster will be impaired in its ability to discern truth
I am not paying copyrights for line 9

Birds and civilization

Did past me actually say a random table a week? What a naive thing to say. Truth is, I haven’t run out of stupid ideas, but rather, real life came for me and my spare time. But I hope I am back, or at least sufficiently free to post regularly. Where were we? Right, birds.

Flocks of birds have fascinated people for millennia of course, providing core aspects of people’s life, and especially marking the passage of seasons and time. For the romans, the behaviour of birds provided hints into whether a future endeavor would find success or fail, in the practice of augury. A specialised class of magistrates, the haruspexes, were tasked to look at (and dissect) birds to tell whether the gods were looking favourably at the task at hand or at the person interrogating them. Until extremely recently, the migration patterns of birds remained a complete mystery to us, and to some extent the phenomenon is still not fully understood. We can rule out the 18th century hypothesis that birds migrate to the moon in winter, at least.

Birds of prey, migratory birds, flocks of passenger pidgeons. Hitchcock horror bird attacks, George R.R. Martin messenger ravens, Poe premonitions… one can go on and on with birds playing key roles in fantasy settings. And yet, they somehow often end up neglected in homebrew settings or D&D play as a whole, only thrown in as the occasional monster encounter.

So – here is a table to give a species of birds a role in your world! KWAAAK!! Roll 1d12 per column!

DiceBase birdAdditional FeatureCivilization’s opinion and/or useCognitive feature
1ravenOne-eyedits migratory paths mark safe overland trade routescan comprehend human language
2owlHave flesh feetcivilization ferociously hunts them, believing them to be bringers of bad spiritsits songs cause a deep sense of longing for home
3magpiecan change colourthey are dissected and the anatomy of their liver is interpreted as prophecyhoard and steal small magical items and amulets
4parrotwing feathers made of jadethey can be domesticated by skilled trainers and used to relay messages between the wealthyburrows in the edges of cliffs, leaving impressive structures
5woodpeckercan hypnotise other creatures by waving its patterned crestNests are held in the vaults of temples and tended to by a specialised order. They fly off and come back with golden branches gathered from mysterious locations.all birds of this species gather once a year under a gargantuan oak tree. Some say this “bird council” ritual lets the birds see the future.
6bearded vultureonly flies in the shadeits feathers are ground to produce a traditional healing pasteUpon their deaths, these rare birds are reborn into guardians standing by their corpse
7white finchflocks of it gather rain and stormskept on ships for navigation because of its innate wayfindingvultures on corpses that have died of murder
8craneskeletal wingsused for hunting and tracking large beasts, as they gather up above them will use songs to warn other birds of adventurers’ true intentions
9Multicoloured tanagertail leaves a purple trace in the skythey are trained to remember secrets and code wordsif fed a red berry, will recall events that happened in the distant past
10Bearded helmetcrestpoisonous beakThis bird is a delicacy sought after by the cooks of royal courtsthey can only be domesticated by magical means
11turacoits chest hides a carapace knight tournaments are held where combatants are tasked with capturing one of these birds alive from a woodbuild nests out of parchment and scrolls
12bluethroatits wings can shoot out spikes from their jointsthese birds form flocks so dense they obscure the sky. Towns have been wrecked by their passagewill bring stolen objects to their rightful owner or his or her tomb
time to go attend what is surely a safe vote in the senate

Fisherman village encounters

I need to construct a random encounter table for a fisherman village my players are currently in. They are in the village of Dreg, in Dolmenwood. The village is ridden with crime, and is mostly not a fishing, but a farming village. Nevertheless, I have changed some things around, so I needed a table with more people to run into to supplement what has been so far released in the Dolmenwood handbook snippets.

I would roll on this table for a non-combat encounter. It is for simple flavour, though there are some entries with plot hooks. It mostly focuses on the area that would be the docks and the market. I also use a separate table for night encounters which are more “dangerous”, or for combat encounters. But those are more easily done as simple city encounters, e.g. from the OSE manual, or from any number of other sources.

Anyways, it’s a simple one for the return from the holidays. Roll a d20!

11d4 fishermen, tugging a boat in harbor. They are coming home nearly empty handed. They curse the donations made to the temple, which clearly did not help.
2Marlow, a cleric for the local temple, preaching forgiveness in the most crime-ridden area of town.
3Reena, a fishmonger who is after the freshest product. She is in fact a witch enchanting the fish: consumers are charmed to do her bidding.
4Connor Candleswick, a rich merchant who runs shipping expeditions. He is stuck in this town as his galley awaits repairs after being attacked by a sea monster. He is secretly smuggling magical herbs into the town.
5A crowd forms in the harbor. At its center, the corpse of Gundar, a veteran sailor, lies washed ashore. Its arm was mangledby a terrible beast.
6A hooded figure is seen disappearing into a wall after following the party around. A seemingly normal house is an illusion.
7A pair of elderly ladies, scaling fish. They tell stories of an ancient sea fairy who fell in love with an evil pirate to a raptured audience of small children.
8Carla, a short woman carrying several scrolls under her arm. She is an inspector for the local lord, keeping tabs on the comings and goings of ships. She is looking for smuggled cargo.
9Angus, an enterprising young kid who is sure to have found a treasure map. He asks the party to go check out the location.
10Vanda, the owner of the local tavern, out to retrieve new casks of ale. Strangely, the last batch was bad…
11Smilne, a seclusive scholar who is said to be compiling a tome on all water monsters. He is locked in a bitter academic dispute with the court historian over the first recorded appearance of sea snakes.
12Cairn, a bard/musician/jester who also dries and pickles root vegetables and sells them on the street to make ends meet.
13A group of guards passing by, mentioning that “the crazy old man in the town prison is clutching to an oyster and talking to it day and night! I could swear that oyster was smaller yesterday…”
14Nimo, once captain of a mighty warship. Ostracised for fleeing a decisive battle, he is manning his own fishing boat.
151d4 farmers from further inland, on their way into town to look for a missing child. They are convinced a witch is involved.
16Thatrout, a mercenary passing through town, travelling to a bigger city to find employment.
17Fastrada, a halfling, sitting outside a hut smoking large batches of fish, to the dismay of the neighbours.
18Timo, a beggar, walking through the street asking for small coins in exchange for a blessing. He is fond of foreigners, whom he calls “free ones”, no matter where they are from.
19Menvan, the blacksmith. He mostly produces fishing spears. He knows old legends of infusing the spirit of the sea into an anvil, and is obsessed with finding how to do it.
20A group of guards arrives on the scene and wants to search a boat or a person for contraband.
Yes, I have watched Luca. We don’t have vespas here.

Tavern rogue NPC gallery

You need some shady characters in a tavern in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Roll 1d12 per column to generate characters and backstory!

DiceCharacterLooksSkillLast JobBond/employerKeeps..
1Cornelia, a bounty hunterWears foreign clothes, tries to avoid conversationCan open any common lock in secondsEscaped a prison by digging a tunnelAn evil fairy who controls him or herA small hourglass pendant.
2Wan, a ruthless burglar with no moral code Bolsterous, plays cards, wears expensive jewelryCan hit a target with a crossbow from 200 yardsOrganised raiding a merchant caravan in broad daylightA sibling who is an honest citizenA lucky silver coin
3Kalin, a bodyguardStrong, tall, military background. Stands straightMaster of disguiseInfiltrated a noble household as a servant and stole a precious necklaceA friend in a political movement who asks occasional favoursA special tool to open locks
4Red, a theater actor with a double lifePlays a aurdy-gurdy, rebel spirit, traditional clothesKnows secret passages and tunnels in the city/areaPretended to be a cleric and stole a rate ancient tome from the templeA vampire who promised to make him or her one of their ownA letter from a former lover
5Grimmo, a scam artist with a penchant for impersonating peopleStinky, scarred, mud-stained. On the run from someone?Has a secret library of lost artefactsRan a tavern as a front for a criminal gangA merchant with shady business practicesA knife won at a card game
6Butch, a bandit from the wildernessProsthetic hand, finely dressed, appears of noble backgroundCan prepare poisonsLived off of petty crimes in some of the poorest areasMember of a thief guildA waterskin of extremely high value elven wine
7Lena, a pickpocketer who struck it bigWears unassuming clothes, blends in background, yet somehow charismaticCan charm people into revealing informationCarried a package of unknown content for a shadowy wizard across a desertA foreign diplomatA silver earring. Is it whispering something?
8Double-hit Sam, burglar known for hitting the same people over and overTall, slender, always drinking and yet always aware Can be extremely scary and intimidatingWas a sailor on a pirate ship that terrorized the kingdom’s navyA rich collector of rare itemsA ledger. This person earns but also spends an insane amount of money
9Fain, a corrupt city guardTireless, fidgety, nervous-looking. Always playing with a small knifeUncle is a very important person and this can open many doorsIntimidated farmers into giving up crop or animalsA necromancer looking for lost or hidden secret recipesA ring etched with the icon of a noble house
10Delven, an illusionist scammerIntimidating grimace. Scar on the cheek. A belt with notchesCan hide in the shadowsSmuggled dried herbs used to make illegal potions across the borderA larger criminal gang running all sorts of crime in the cityA flask of red goo
11Thorsten, a courier for “special” packagesShort and thin, very young. Wears stolen clothes of the wrong size. Babbling, eagerImpressive sleight of hand, card cheat etcKidnapped a rich merchant to obtain ransomA monster from the woods seeking to hoard richesA magnifying glass
12Gemma, a marksman assassin Grizzled, wrinkles on the face. Moves gracefully at his or her own pace. Relaxed, experiencedSetting up ambushes, traps, only fights with the advantageWas a rogue on a mercenary adventuring bounty hunter partyA priest convinced he has a mission from godA cat

Animal Companion Exploration

Two of my players have animal companions. An owl and a dog. The players want the animals to be able to explore. This table is for them. We will roll it whenever their companions are used in exploration in a dungeon or the wilderness.

DiceOutcome when in wildernessOutcome when in dungeon
1-10The animal companion wanders off and is distracted by a small animal. It makes loud noises and alerts nearby creatures.The animal companion wanders off and is distracted by a small animal. It makes loud noises and alerts nearby creatures.
11-50The animal will report on what’s on the path ahead, but nothing more.The animal will report on what’s on the path ahead, but nothing more.
51-60The animal will make crisscrossing paths around the area and round up on its own. It will report on what’s ahead and what’s behind.The animal will make crisscrossing paths around the area and round up on its own. It will report on what’s ahead and what’s behind.
61-70The animal is particularly alert, and during his or her reconnaissance will alert the owner on the position of any ambush or trap within 300 yards of the party.The animal is particularly alert, and during his or her reconnaissance will alert the owner on the position of any ambush or trap in the next room.
71-75The animal picks up a smell, and will be able to report on anyone of interest who passed through in the past 2 days. The animal picks up a smell, and will be able to report on anyone of interest who passed through in the past 2 days.
76-80The animal scouts the area ahead, and comes back with a prey in his or her mouth (1 day ration),The animal scouts the area ahead, and comes back with a piece of what’s in the next room in his or her mouth
81-85The animal scouts the area around the party. He or she will be spooked by any non-natural magical presence. They will be able to indicate the direction of the nearest wizard or artefact.The animal scouts the area around the party. He or she will be spooked by any non-natural magical presence. They will be able to indicate the direction of the nearest wizard or artefact.
86-88The animal enters a dogged pursuit of a monster or creature for a few minutes, before returning and alerting the party.The animal enters a dogged pursuit of a monster or creature for a few minutes, before returning and alerting the party. Noise will be made though.
89-92The animal forgets all about scouting, but dig up a small treasure or artefact from the ground or from a treeThe animal digs up or finds a secret passage if there is one.
93-96The animal will perform a thorough scouting of the 500 yards surrounding the party. He or she will happen to find a good place to sleep for the night.The animal will scout the next 2 areas and go completely unnoticed.
97-99The animal will perform a thorough scouting of the 500 yards surrounding the party. He or she will find traces from anyone who crossed the area in the last 2 weeks.The animal will scout the next 2 areas and go completely unnoticed. It will also give a bonus to stealth to the party.
100The animal companion discovers the location of an enemy camp or of a wandering monster (avoid/change a random encounter) and comes back with some treasure in its mouthThe animal companion discovers the location of a wandering monster (avoid/change a random encounter) and comes back with some treasure in its mouth

What’s in that cell?

Sometimes, the party ends up in jail and they need to escape. Or tour the prison section of a dungeon. Or peek into a cell for some reason. In those times, roll on this table do determine the result of the ever-burning (ok, maybe not) question:

what’s in that cell?

Roll 2d8, will ya?

DiceAppearanceyea, but What’s in that cell?
1A barren stone cell with a latrine in the floor. Up on the wall, chains dangle with broken manacles. Coagulated green blood stains the floor. The blood can be used in potions.Under some hay, the notes of a prisoner, written in a foreign language. Observations on the guards, arguments about innocence. The prisoner (perhaps a spy) was still hoping for a fair trial.
2A table in the center of the cell has a pair of mugs and a bottle of ale. A religious icon or simbol of authority dangles from a wall. The cell was used by the guards as an interrogation room.1d4 Rusty weapons, long abandoned, lie in a corner. Although currently beyond use, one of them is magical and could be restored by expert craftmanship.
3An apparently empty room reveals, under a stone slab, a short tunnel. The tunnel is short, but it digs directly under somewhere important… if the party feels like digging some more. A vial of “mind fog”. A drop of the viscous liquid may confuse someone into revealing something, a cup will cause a permanent spotty memory. May have been used in interrogation, or smuggled in by a prisoner to forget something.
4The cell is in good condition. It has a bunk bed and a table, on which some manuscripts are laid. Someone important was imprisoned here at some point.A shivering old kobold, abandoned on the floor, long forgotten there. He recalls a lot of details about the place, but they are several years out of date.
5The empty room has a small window with bars to the outside A wooden stool lies at the center of the room, with a ring placed on it. Is this a mimic?
6An oubliette cell. A shaft where prisoners were lowered into and left there. Bones lie scattered on the floor, 15 feet below.The cell is extremely damp and moldy. Spores of a dangerous fungus fill the air. Writings on the wall clearly show this cell or its air have driven people mad.
7A cell populated with various torture devices.A small fountain occupies the floor at the center of the cell. Laying against the fountain is a book of holy scripture. Reading the book will open a communication with the the last prisoner or his or her spirit.
8An empty room, with signs of fangs and struggle on the wall. An (illusory) stone bench. Dispelling the illusion reveals an evocation circle used by a wizard to summon creatures to dispense of the guards.A guard is imprisoned here right now! Someoene escaped.
Short one this week – please don’t throw me in one of these!


Today I went for a long walk and passed through multiple graveyards. Each one similar to the others, and yet different and unique in its own way. One was an area with ordered trees and even-cut grass where you could feel the atmosphere of respectful quiet. Another cemetery was a park, with wild grass, old tombs, looking completely different from plot to plot, and lots of buidings in the park that had nothing to do with the cemetery itself, as if a community was in communication with the dead in the park. Finally, I also saw some churches with the small number of very old, near-illegible tombstones in the grass around them.

I have to say I have yet to use a cemetery in D&D as other that the location for the “spooky set piece” with undead. And that’s on me. I take the blame. So, to make up for it, here is a table generating a graveyard for a small village or medium sized town with some features and hooks.

I also have consulted a local cleric, and she has invoked the power of her god to make sure that no undead lurk in this blog post. Give your players something unexpected: all hooks do not feature undead. In a graveyard! Have I gone mad?

Roll 1d8 per column!

DiceLocationStyleNotable gravesHistoryNon-undead hooks
1A hill with a gentle slope among the farmland surrounding the town.Green grass. Popler and similar long, thin trees, scattered around the grounds.Thronil, the dwarf warrior who defeated Kraggar the Ogre not far from hereEstablished 200 years ago to bury those lost in the great migratory march across a desert.One of the graves contains sealed histories of the region that reveal the illegittimate children of local lords. Someone wants them.
2In a large plot of hand adjacent to the manor of the local nobility.A majestic, imposing dome-shaped clay-hut, containing row upon row of urns of cremated remainsMaster Branford, humble carpenter who became an acclaimed leader of the townSomething else created the graveyard. It existed long before the town that uses it. Some of the most ancient tombs are said to house unspeakable creatures..The graveyard is a meeting point for a secret society that conspires to overthrow the local lord/burgermaster etc
3In the land next to a church or temple in the town centreAn oak forest, with tall wild grass growing around the tombstones.Allison Garlen, the great record keeper. Some said she lived to be hundreds of year old, and her histories are actually first-hand accounts.A local graveyard established by early settlers. Its early purpose and size was superseded when a plage struck the community.4 people were buried last week alone. What looked like a plague actually could be an assassination campaign that used a very rare choking poison.
4A plot of land on cliffs overlooking the local river or coast.A mausoleum for important families, surrounded by grass with graves of common folk. Earendil, an elf. Famed for his magical prowess, he fell to a pack of werewolves.The local church oversaw the establishment of this graveyard and keeps local records.Every month, a person with a hidden face visits one of the graves. Everybody is wondering what he or she is up to…
5A plain where a battle was once fought. Rusted swords, the bones of majestic mount war beasts, and wrecked siege weapons are still lying around.Yellow, ever-growing hay fields.Kara, a mage, who is buried here with her faithful small wyvern familiar. Some say the secret of domesticating wyvern died with her.300 years ago Theridios, secretly a mad necromancer, established the graveyard as a way to harvest bodies for his army. He died before his plan could come to fruition.Some local ruffians have taken to grave robbing. What seems like regular crime however turns when it is revealed they are robbing components for a ritual…
6An island at the confluence of three rivers.Burial sites stretch deep underground in steep, mine-like tunnels. The deeper, the more prestigious.Dannet the Conqueror, military general who pushed the borders of the country far up north. He mercifully granted independence to a foreign city-state, and is now an enemy in his own land.Historically, only men (or women if appropriate) were buried here, with their partners by their sideA group of foreigners has made a very long pilgrimage to visit a particular grave. Some of them say that opening it would confer a blessing. The locals refuse.
7small hill mounds rising from a swamp.An abandoned fortress, partially crumbled and overgrown with ivy. Caskets are placed in the ancient thick walls, and closed by a tombstone. Hawkmoor, druid who swore to the forest. When the forest was corrupted by human settlement, he put a curse on the forest and committed suicide. The cemetery was established by a minority in the community (e.g. a non-human race) to bury their own. It is patrolled to this day by guards looking out for disrespectful outsiders.A plant is magically growing out of one of the graves at an incredible rate. Soon, it will engulf the graveyard and the town if it is not stopped.
8Underground catacomb tunnels under a temple or townhall.A magical vortex or portal in the ground, nourishing on the bodies and souls of the dead.Yeonna, a refined local noblewoman in the settlement who died in infamy after being discovered as a foreign spy.The cemetery is largely ruined or spoiled due to a vampire sect gathering here decades ago and the subsequent fightback.Someone killed somebody. He then made up a story about undead and ghosts to cover it up…
Non-undead hook 9: the undead took control of the town 10 minutes ago. You guys have to dig for people that have been buried alive in the graves that were previously filled with dead people that now aren’t dead. Any takers? No?

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