The Infernal Swarm Hazard and Heads of the Serpent Trap

The Infernal Swarm     Level 7 Obstacle (XP 600)

When you enter the room, you are greeted with the sounds of snapping jaws and a continuous grinding of scales. A long pit dividing the room swarms with dozens of glowing hot drakes. Also, within the pit are three obsidian obelisks covered in runes. Each has matching drake heads carved into its top.

The Setup

The pit is 40 ft. x 35 ft. and stretches the width of the room, barring passage. Above the pit are three rows of six ‘U’-shaped pipes that are embedded in the smooth stone ceiling. On the side of room through which the characters enter are three wooden chests, closed but not locked. The walls and ceiling of this room have been magically polished smooth, inhibiting physical climbing.

Chest 1: Contains twelve 3-ft.-long iron rods hooked on one end.

Chest 2: Contains three small jars of oil-based lubricant.

Chest 3: Contains five pairs of extra-thick leather gloves that can be tightened around the forearm by three belt straps.

The Mechanism

The ceiling pipes are scalding hot and cause 1d10 + 5 damage unless touched by metal. To cross, the players must strap the long iron rods to the leather gloves and used them to hook the ‘U’-shaped pipes in the ceiling. Three of the pipes are trapped: R1L2, R2L3, and R3L5. The row 1 and 3 pipes are unhinged on one end and attempts to use them drop a character into the swarm below; make a +5 vs. Reflex attack. If the character is missed, he or she can move to an adjacent pipe before it moves. Failure causes the character to slide to the end of the rod where his or her hook catches, dangling the character’s feet within reach of the drakes and causing 2d8 + 5 damage before he or she can move to safety. The trap in row 2 pulls down slightly when it is hooked and causes the obelisk to spew fire; +7 vs. AC, with 1d8 + 5 fire damage on hit.

The lubricating oil is a trick and induces an automatic failure on the unhinged pipes in rows 1 and 3 if rubbed on the iron hooks.

The Answer

Cross the pit using the provided materials, excluding the oil, while avoiding as many traps as possible. Moving from pipe to pipe is difficult terrain. Falling into the swarm inflicts 3d10 + 10 fire damage per round and is difficult terrain.

Note: If a drake is attacked, it is destroyed and is replaced by another drake, magically conjured by the obelisk.

Heads of the Serpent     Level 7 Trap (XP 300)

You enter a small room with strange brass piping covering the walls and ceiling. Worked into the system are four large serpent heads. There is a door ornately molded to depict hundreds of coiling snakes and drakes. At the center of the door is a large keyhole. The piping from around the room culminates with six valves, three on either side of the door.

Perception DC 14—The door is locked and does not appear to be trapped.

Perception DC 23—A success reveals that the doors are an activating mechanism of some kind. Failure reveals only that they appear to be connected to the piping in the room and are not trapped.

Perception DC 28—The lock appears to have a separate function beyond barring the door.

Thievery DC 15 (keyhole)—The lock is successfully opened, thus releasing the flow within the pipes and activating the serpent heads.

Trigger—If the lock is opened, then a barrage of magical snake-shaped cinders bursts from the four brass serpent mouths. Each head makes an attack every round until the lock is closed or the trap disabled.

Immediate Reaction; close blast 2

Target: All creatures in blast

Attack: +10 vs. Reflex

Hit: 1d6 + 3 fire damage.

Effect: When the cinder snakes hit any object, they disintegrate.


Another Thievery check (DC 15) can be made to close the lock and stop the attacks, or the brass serpent heads can be disabled with a DC 25 Athletics or Arcana check. The door easily unlocks by opening all six valves.

Puzzles and Pitfalls: The Dragons Maw Puzzle

The following are a set of articles that I wrote up for the Kobold Quarterly Blog and are now putting up here for your personal enjoyment. Fire, is the theme for these puzzles/traps and they are meant to be used either in a the same dungeon together or separately, depending on your level of need for player torture.

Puzzles, traps, and hazards are a common occurrence in deadly dungeons. You might find that it can be quite time-consuming and challenging to come up with these events on the fly. In this series, you’ll find three fire-themed dungeon dangers ripe for plunder.

The Dragon’s Maw    Elite Puzzle Level 8 (XP 800)

A wave of heat washes over you when you enter a long and unusually bright room. A pit of lava as wide as the room blocks your passage. At the pit’s edge stands a four-foot-high stone pedestal with nine dull-gray glyphs upon it. A life-sized carving of a dragon’s head with a gaping mouth bigger than a man juts out from the wall. The rest of its body turns into a tiled mosaic running the length of the wall.

The Dragons Maw

The Setup

Room dimensions are 110 ft. x 30 ft., and the lava takes up a 70-ft. x 30-ft. section of the room. The hewn stone wall without the mural requires a successful DC 25 check to climb. The opposite wall with the mosaic is a DC 27 check, but it also has cracks oozing lava that require a separate Athletics or Acrobatics check to deftly navigate (DC 22).

A closer look at the dragon’s head reveals a pair of boot-shaped impressions upon the tongue, facing out of the fang-laden mouth. Directly above the boot prints are a pair of fist-sized holes in the roof of the dragon’s mouth.

The pedestal is of expert craftsmanship, carved and polished to look like a kneeling paladin displaying a large book. Inlaid upon the pages are nine dull-gray glyphs that emanate a weak magical aura.

History or Religion DC 17: This paladin was consumed by flame in his golden armor while defying the legendary red dragon, Reshkyrn.

The Mechanism

To activate the glyphs, a character must be standing in the mouth of the dragon and reach up into each of the holes and grasp the handles within. This act simultaneously binds the character magically by his or her hands and feet, and causes the glyphs to become functional, glowing brightly.

The glyphs are letters from an old dialect of Draconic that can be read easily by a character who speaks Draconic, uses the Comprehend Language ritual, or succeeds on a History check of DC 18. There are nine letters in a 3 x 3 grid.

Row one: S-L-O;                   Row two: P-E-D;                  Row Three: R-K-A

When a glyph is pressed, it glows red, and a corresponding set of stone platforms rise out of the lava to form stepping stones detailed within the diagram. Only four glyphs can be lit at any given time. The platforms are barely big enough to hold one Large humanoid; platforms 2 squares apart require a DC 30 Athletics check to jump (+5 per additional square apart). Characters can safely move between platforms that are only 1 square apart. Falling in the lava inflicts 2d10 + 8 damage per round spent in the lava.

When the first four glyphs are pressed, the dragon mouth jerks closed partially and a fire builds in the back of its throat. After these first four, a glyph must be pressed again to be deactivated before a new one can be pressed. Every two newly initiated glyphs causes the mouth to close further and fire to grow.

Glyphs Pressed Four + Two + Two + Two Final
Effect No damage 1d10 + 2 damage; heat begins to build in the dragon’s throat 2d10 + 5 fire damage 2d10 + 10 fire damage 3d10 + 5 damage with ongoing 10 damage, no save*

*The dragon’s mouth stays clamped shut, inflicting 10 damage per round until released.

The Answer

There is only one combination of four letters that provides a safe and passable path across the lava pit. If at any time the four letters S-E-A-R are all pressed, the paladin’s head lowers and the glyphs become locked from changing, indicating success. On the far side of the lava pit, the tile mosaic of the dragon’s tail protrudes from the wall, forming a movable lever. This releases the character from the dragon’s mouth and returns the mouth to its original starting position. To reset the puzzle and platforms, the paladin’s head or dragon’s tail can be physically moved back into place.

Overcoming this puzzle could involve your players trying to randomly guess the correct combination of letters or thinking through plausible solutions. During this time, they may seek more information or clues. The GM can decide how much to reveal and when about the mechanism:

Perception DC 15—Based on the fact that only four glyphs can be pushed, it is likely that the solution is a four-letter word.

History DC 18—Reshkyrn was a ferocious red dragon who was known for dwelling near active volcanoes, roasting would-be dragon slayers. He was overwhelmingly narcissistic.

History DC 22—The paladin portrayed here, Elrik, was avenged by his two siblings, Sym and Alana.

NOTE: The letters, backstory, answer, and hints of this puzzle can be changed to suit the needs of a campaign by swapping the letters out and modifying the story.

The next article for this series I will post tomorrow: The Infernal Swarm Hazzard

Puzzle Cube: The Runes of the Shadow Chain Dwarves

If it were up to me all games would have some type of puzzles to them. The more interesting, complex, reliance on observation and association the better. This is why I pounded my players with my most devilish device yet.

Background/History: A subset of the Glintshield Clan known as the Shadow Chain Dwarves hold the secrets of the Glintshield clan and of their home Stonefang Pass. In the underbelly of the Pass there is a secret passage which opens to a large cavern. Here the heroes found orcs which had snuck in and hunted down the Shadow Chain dwarves. At their camp there was a small chest inside contained a number of stone blocks inlaid with Dwarvish Runes.

At the end of the cavern there stood a large 16 paneled door. No locks no handle of any kind just just panels.Four of the panels have pictures engraved in them the others are all blank.  Above the door was an encrypted inscription which once decoded read: First to the Two, Then Input the Three. 

The Details: The door is a small puzzle which then opens the ‘key’ hole which happens to be the shape of a cube.

Here is what is important about the cube. The players must assemble it from the blocks in the precise orientation in order to activate its inherent magic which will open the door. This is the fun part. See picture below for reference:

Made from various size wooden blocks and a permenant paint marker.

Note there are 2 inch cubes, 1 inch cubes , and (in the top right hand corner) even 0.5 inch cubes. Getting sizes that fit to from the correct shape of the object is important otherwise you’ll end up with all the wrong proportions. I had 6 2″ blocks, 7  1″ blocks and 8 0.5″  blocks to make up a single 4″x4″ cube.

On the cubes are written dwarven runes. You can search google to find the specific rune set you wish to use or make up your own. A couple of the PCs spoke dwarven so once they had the cube pieces they immediately set out translating each individual letter. A good idea. You can fit sixteen runes on one face of the cube. To have things make logical sense I wrote a short phrase that I wrote out starting on one face and moving down the cube like it was scrolling down until it filled up the four faces on the vertical plane, leaving the two sides blank. It took a few moments thought to come up with something which fit precisely the number of letters I needed AND made sense with the story but it was manageable. For the two outside faces of the cube I decided to use just two repeating words to make it just a smidge easier.  Thus the long phrase read in dwarven runes:

“From Below From the Earth, Father of Salt and Stone, Upon a Molten Throne, Beware”

with the sides reading: “Bind Pray, Bind Pray”

In the context of the story it worked out as it was referencing the ancient Earth Titan bound within the mountain kept there by they efforts of dwarves who worshiped Moradin and Torog.

Once the players have translated all the cubes and placed then in the correct orientation, the cube snaps together and the runes glow a dim silver. The players will be able to read the message of warning and begin to wonder what they have gotten themselves into. The cubes magic is easily percieved, but what to do with it?

As I said before the Cube is a key to a 16 paneled door. Which of course contains a riddle and a puzzle. That will be my next post.