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There is perhaps nothing more iconic in fantasy gaming than a perilous expedition into the dark and unknown. Dungeons—be they dank crypts or forgotten temples—beckon to brave adventurers, who descend into the dungeon in order to claim lost wealth, defeat monsters, and achieve glory. Those who are strong, clever, and lucky enough climb out of the hole victorious, laden with gold and drenched in the blood of unfathomable beasts.

Dungeons Have Dangers: First and foremost, a dungeon is a deathtrap. It's a place of danger and terror, where every flagstone and doorway may conceal a lethal trap. The dangers may differ from one dungeon to the next—a cave network might be home to vicious orcs, a tomb could be crammed with poisonous traps and blood-drinking ghosts, and a wizard's tower may be enchanted with magical symbols of death and suffering—but they are always present, always waiting for their next victim.

Dungeons Have History: Dungeons are, for the most part, fallen places. Only lunatics and monsters set out to build a dungeon for the sole purpose of luring in adventurers and butchering them alive. Instead, most dungeons were originally something else, such as massive tombs, elaborate shrines, or labyrinthine factories. A dungeon's original purpose often defines the kinds of perils one might face inside it, and understanding the reason for a dungeon's existence can help a wise adventurer navigate its dark corridors—and uncover hidden secrets.

Dungeons Have Monsters: Dungeons may be abandoned, but they are rarely, if ever, uninhabited. From orcs and goblins to slimes and even stranger horrors, all manner of living beings flock to dungeons. An adventurer must brave the brutish monsters and nightmarish ecologies of the underworld to survive in these places. Worse, dungeon denizens are fighting in their home territory. They know the cramped confines of their lairs, with all those traps and secret passages, far better than adventurers do, and they generally offer no quarter to those who dare to intrude.

With all these horrors, why brave dungeons? There are many reasons, but one is paramount: Dungeons have treasure! A lucky adventurer might find gold, jewels, and magical relics amid the burial goods of long-dead kings or the stolen booty of orc raiders. The lure of treasure has led many adventurers to violent and untimely deaths in dungeons, but so too has it made other adventurers rich beyond reckoning.

Anything could be waiting on the other side of that door. Ready your sword, take up your 10-foot pole, and seek your fortune!

Types of Dungeons

A simplistic definition of a dungeon is a place where danger and reward are intertwined in stone. This definition may sound too simple, and that's because it is. In truth, there are many types of dungeons out there, each with different horrible ways to reward or kill adventurers. Many dungeons fall into one or more of the following categories.

Conquered Dungeons: In a conquered dungeon, invaders have taken over and despoiled a once-civilized place. The remains of a town or castle can become a perilous dungeon with alarming swiftness, especially if the new denizens fortify the place with deathtraps and guardian monsters. Conquered dungeons also often feature haunts or unquiet dead, especially if the former inhabitants were slaughtered during the invasion. For all their perils, conquered dungeons are invariably rich in spoils—some valuable prize drew the conquerors here to drive out the original owners, after all, and adventurers are often more than happy to return the favor.

Fortress Dungeons: Castles, barracks, forts, ramparts—fortress dungeons go by many names. They all once served as the headquarters for a much grander operation or continue to do so in some fashion or another. A fortress dungeon is protected from intrusion by traps and trained sentinels, who are typically either the original builders of the dungeon, conquerors who took the spot by force, or monstrous beings that have claimed the abandoned ruins. Since these protections are usually designed to keep external forces out, the hardest part of exploring a fortress dungeon can often be just getting inside. Stealth becomes paramount, and if its guardians are numerous, simply being detected might spell the end for an otherwise intrepid party.

Guardian Dungeons: These lairs were built to contain or protect something important. A pyramid, for example, is a guardian dungeon made to protect the body of the pharaoh interred at its heart. A treasure vault, protected by a hundred deadly traps, is another form of guardian dungeon. So too is a prison built around a bound demon. In each case, the original designers may have left a safe path through the dungeon, but that secret was likely lost long ago. Guardian dungeons are perhaps the most likely to be protected by a wide variety of traps as well as eternal sentinels like undead, golems, and bound outsiders.

Curious Dungeons: Beyond the traditional dungeons types explored in this section, several other, more extreme varieties exist.

Living Dungeons: These places are (as the name suggests) dungeons that are in some way alive, such as the bowels of titanic monsters or a biological city on some sinister plane of existence. Veins and intestines are the corridors of these pulsing lairs, and the inhabitants are parasites or other trapped denizens. Defeating a living dungeon usually means finding a way to kill the place itself.

Magical Dungeons: This category refers to impossible dungeons that can only exist through arcane power or via divine intervention. Floating cloud citadels, towers made of solid fire, and hellish prisons where the very walls are filled with the souls of the living are apt examples of magical dungeons. Even the laws of reality cannot be trusted in such places, increasing their peril.

Megadungeons: The vast complexes colloquially referred to as “megadungeons” are unreasonably large lairs that sprawl across many levels and sublevels. Most consist of hundreds of chambers and countless miles of twisting, unmapped corridors. The sheer size of these labyrinths means that each layer of these indomitable locations often features its own distinct protectors.

Natural Dungeons: Some places are dangerous by virtue of natural geography and ecology. Labyrinthine cave networks, impossibly thick thorn-forests, treacherous swamps, and meltwater tunnels in the heart of a glacier are examples of dungeons that formed naturally and were populated by the local fauna. Wild beasts, monstrous plants, and other unintelligent monsters like slimes and oozes typically inhabit these lairs, and the perils are usually geological or environmental in nature. Nearby communities of civilized people give natural dungeons a wide berth because of their inherit danger, but monstrous beings that seek refuge from the outside world need look no further than these prime defensive locations.

Underground caves provide homes for all sorts of subterranean monsters. Created naturally and connected by labyrinthine tunnel systems, these caverns lack any sort of pattern, order, or decoration. With no intelligent force behind its construction, this type of dungeon is the least likely to have traps or even doors.

Fungi of all sorts thrive in caves, sometimes growing in huge forests of mushrooms and puffballs. Subterranean predators prowl these forests, looking for weaker creatures feeding upon the fungi. Some varieties of fungus give off a phosphorescent glow, providing a natural cavern complex with its own limited light source. In other areas, a daylight spell or similar magical effect can provide enough light for green plants to grow.

Natural cavern complexes often connect with other types of dungeons, the caves having been discovered when the manufactured dungeons were delved. a cavern complex can connect two otherwise unrelated dungeons, sometimes creating a strange mixed environment. A natural cavern complex joined with another dungeon often provides a route by which subterranean creatures find their way into a manufactured dungeon and populate it.

Overrun Dungeons: These are places that were recently infested with dangerous creatures, such as a sewer now home to swarms of evil ratfolk, a necropolis overrun by undead, or a prison conquered by insane cultists. If these pests can be eliminated, an overrun dungeon can usually be reclaimed for its intended purpose. Understanding this original purpose is often vital to navigating the dungeon, since its foul inheritors may lurk in any nook or cranny. Fortunately, these intruders are often the only lethal danger in the dungeon, as overrun places are not often built to house lethal traps. Unfortunately, most of these places also weren't built to house treasure, so the rewards for cleansing these places and returning them to their former dignity take more intangible forms.

Ruined Places: These forgotten locations were ravaged by the forces of time, the elements, or something more sinister, and become dungeons when dangerous creatures come to dwell there. The perils of such ruins are not limited to the resident monsters, since collapsing ceilings, unstable floors, flooded chambers, and rubble-choked hallways can be found at nearly every turn. Ruins have perhaps the widest range of potential threats—adventurers may encounter undead or guardians from the days before the place fell into ruin, as well as whatever vermin and wandering monsters have made their homes amid the desolation in the intervening centuries.

The four basic dungeon types are defined by their current status. Many dungeons are variations on these basic types or combinations of more than one of them. Sometimes old dungeons are used again and again by different inhabitants for different purposes.

Storage Areas: When people want to protect something, they sometimes bury it underground. Whether the item they want to protect is a fabulous treasure, a forbidden artifact, or the dead body of an important figure, these valuable objects are placed within a dungeon and surrounded by barriers, traps, and guardians.

The safe storage dungeon is the most likely to have traps but the least likely to have wandering beasts. This type of dungeon is normally built for function rather than appearance, but sometimes it has ornamentation in the form of statuary or painted walls. This is particularly true of the tombs of important people.

Sometimes, however, a vault or a crypt is constructed in such a way as to house living guardians. The problem with this strategy is that something must be done to keep the creatures alive between intrusion attempts. Magic is usually the best solution to provide food and water for these creatures. Builders of vaults or tombs often use undead creatures or constructs, both of which have no need for sustenance or rest, to guard their dungeons. Magic traps can attack intruders by summoning monsters into the dungeon that disappear when their task is done.

Common Dungeon Features

The following sections discuss the most common features found in a dungeon or other subterranean area. They are broken into the following categories:

  • Walls
  • Doors
  • Floors & Ceilings
  • Stairs


Masonry walls—stones piled on top of each other, usually but not always held in place with mortar—often divide dungeons into corridors and chambers. Dungeon walls can also be hewn from solid rock, leaving them with a rough, chiseled look. Still other dungeon walls can be the smooth. unblemished stone of a naturally occurring cave. Dungeon walls are difficult to break down or through, but they're generally easy to climb.

Types of Wall Construction

Table: Walls
Wall Type Typical Thickness Break DC Hardness Hit Points1 Climb DC
Masonry, standard 1 ft. 35 8 90 hp 20
Masonry, superior 1 ft. 35 8 90 hp 25
Masonry, reinforced 1 ft. 45 8 180 hp 20
Stone, hewn 3 ft. 50 8 540 hp 25
Stone, unworked 5 ft. 65 8 900 hp 15
Iron 3 in. 30 10 90 hp 25
Paper Paper-thin 1 1 hp 30
Wood 6 in. 20 5 60 hp 21
Magically treated2 +20 ×2 ×23
1 Per 10-foot-by-10-foot section.
2 This modifier can be applied to any of the other wall types.
3 Or an additional 50 hit points, whichever is greater.

Masonry Walls

Dungeon walls are most commonly in the form of masonry and are usually at least 1 foot thick. Often, these sorts of walls sport cracks and crevices, and sometimes dangerous slimes or small monsters live in these areas and wait for prey. Masonry walls stop all but the loudest noises. It takes a DC 20 Climb check to travel along a masonry wall.

  • Superior Masonry: Sometimes masonry walls are better built (smoother, with tighter-fitting stones and less cracking), and occasionally these superior walls are covered with plaster or stucco. Covered walls often bear paintings, carved reliefs, or other decoration. Superior masonry walls are no more difficult to destroy than regular masonry walls but are more difficult to climb (DC 25).
  • Reinforced Masonry: These are masonry walls with iron bars on one or both sides of the wall, or placed within the wall to strengthen it. The hardness of a reinforced wall remains the same, but its hit points are doubled and the Strength check DC to break through it is increased by 10.

Stone Walls

  • Hewn Stone: Such walls usually result when a chamber or passage is tunneled out of solid rock. The rough surface of a hewn wall frequently provides minuscule ledges where fungus grows and fissures where vermin, bats. and subterranean snakes live. When such a wall has an “other side” (meaning it separates two chambers in the dungeon), the wall is usually at least 3 feet thick; anything thinner risks collapsing from the weight of all the stone overhead. It takes a DC 25 Climb check to climb a hewn stone wall.
  • Unworked Stone: These surfaces are uneven and rarely flat. They are smooth to the touch but filled with tiny holes, hidden alcoves, and ledges at various heights. They're also usually wet or at least damp, since it's water that most frequently creates natural caves. When such a wall has an “other side,” the wall is usually at least 5 feet thick. It takes a DC 15 Climb check to move along an unworked stone wall.

Iron Walls

Iron walls are placed within dungeons around important places, such as vaults.

Paper Walls

Paper walls are placed as screens to block line of sight, but nothing more.

Wooden Walls

Wooden walls often exist as recent additions to older dungeons, used to create animal pens, storage bins, and temporary structures, or just to make a number of smaller rooms out of a larger one.

Special Types of Walls

  • Magically Treated Walls These walls are stronger than average, with a greater hardness, more hit points, and a higher break DC. Magic can usually double the hardness and hit points of a wall and add up to 20 to the break DC. a magically treated wall also gains a saving throw against spells that could affect it, with the save bonus equaling 2 + 1/2 the caster level of the magic reinforcing the wall. Creating a magic wall requires the Craft Wondrous Item feat and the expenditure of 1,500 gp for each 10-foot-by-10-foot wall section.
  • Walls with Arrow Slits: Walls with arrow slits can be made of any durable material but are most commonly masonry, hewn stone, or wood. Such a wall allows defenders to fire arrows or crossbow bolts at intruders from behind the safety of the wall. Archers behind arrow slits have improved cover that gives them a +8 bonus to Armor Class, a +4 bonus on Reflex saves, and the benefits of the improved evasion class feature.
  • Bone Walls: A common feature of necromancer’s lairs and ancient tombs, bone walls are designed to frighten away the superstitious or gullible. They have hardness 3; hit points 15; DC 5 Break [stuck] or 8 [locked]).
  • Mithral Walls: These walls are often in themselves works of art. They have hardness 15; hit points 90; DC 35 Break.
  • Adamantine Walls: Exceedingly rare, adamantine is used to both awe their viewers and protect items of surpassing importance. They have hardness 20; hit points 120; DC 40 Break.


As with walls, dungeon floors come in many types and construction.

Types of Floor Construction

  • Flagstone: Floors Like masonry walls, flagstone floors are made of fitted stones. They are usually cracked and only somewhat level. Slime and mold grows in the cracks. Sometimes water runs in rivulets between the stones or sits in stagnant puddles. Flagstone is the most common dungeon floor.
    • Uneven Flagstone: Over time, some floors can become so uneven that a DC 10 Acrobatics check is required to run or charge across the surface. Failure means the character can't move that round. Floors as treacherous as this should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Hewn Stone: Rough and uneven, hewn floors are usually covered with loose stones. gravel, dirt, or other debris. A DC 10 Acrobatics check is required to run or charge across such a floor. Failure means the character can still act, but can't run or charge in this round.
    • Smooth Stone: Finished and sometimes even polished, smooth floors are found only in dungeons made by capable and careful builders.
  • Natural Stone: The floor of a natural cave is as uneven as the walls. Caves rarely have flat surfaces of any great size. Rather, their floors have many levels. Some adjacent floor surfaces might vary in elevation by only a foot, so that moving from one to the other is no more difficult than negotiating a stair step, but in other places the floor might suddenly drop off or rise up several feet or more, requiring Climb checks to get from one surface to the other. Unless a path has been worn and well marked in the floor of a natural cave, it takes 2 squares of movement to enter a square with a natural stone floor, and the DC of Acrobatics checks increases by +5. Running and charging are impossible, except along paths.

Special Types of Floors

  • Transparent Floors: Transparent floors, made of reinforced glass or magic materials (even a wall of force). allow a dangerous setting to be viewed safely from above. Transparent floors are sometimes placed over lava pools, arenas, monster dens, and torture chambers. They can be used by defenders to watch key areas for intruders.
  • Sliding Floors: A sliding floor is a type of trap door, designed to be moved and thus reveal something that lies beneath it. A typical sliding floor moves so slowly that anyone standing on one can avoid falling into the gap it creates, assuming there's somewhere else to go. If such a floor slides quickly enough that there's a chance of a character falling into whatever lies beneath—a spiked pit, a vat of burning oil, or a pool filled with sharks—then it's a trap.
  • Trapped Floors: Some floors are designed to become suddenly dangerous. With the application of just the right amount of weight, or the pull of a lever somewhere nearby. spikes protrude from the floor, gouts of steam or flame shoot up from hidden holes, or the entire floor tilts. These strange floors are sometimes found in arenas, designed to make combats more exciting and deadly. Construct these floors as you would any other trap.

Common Features of Floors

  • Slippery Floors: Water, ice, slime, or blood can make any of the dungeon floors described in this section more treacherous. Slippery floors increase the DC of Acrobatics checks by 5.
  • Grates: A grate often covers a pit or an area lower than the main floor. Grates are usually made from iron, but large ones can also be made from iron-bound timbers. Many grates have hinges to allow access to what lies below (such grates can be locked like any door), while others are permanent and designed to not move. A typical 1-inch-thick iron grate has 25 hit points, hardness 10, and a DC of 27 for Strength checks to break through it or tear it loose.
  • Ledges: Ledges allow creatures to walk above some lower area. They often circle around pits, run along underground streams, form balconies around large rooms, or provide a place for archers to stand while firing upon enemies below. Narrow ledges (12 inches wide or less) require those moving along them to make Acrobatics checks. Failure results in the moving character falling off the ledge. Ledges sometimes have railings along the wall. In such a case, characters gain a +5 circumstance bonus on Acrobatics checks to move along the ledge. A character who is next to a railing gains a +2 circumstance bonus on his opposed Strength check to avoid being bull rushed off the edge. Ledges can also have low walls 2 to 3 feet high along their edges. Such walls provide cover against attackers within 30 feet on the other side of the wall, as long as the target is closer to the low wall than the attacker is.
  • Rubble, Light: Small chunks of debris litter the ground. Light rubble increases the DC of Acrobatics checks in the area by +2.
  • Rubble, Dense: The ground is covered with debris of all sizes. It costs 2 squares of movement to enter a square with dense rubble. In addition, dense rubble increases the DC of Acrobatics checks by +5, Stealth checks by +2.


Doors in dungeons are much more than mere entrances and exits. Often they can be encounters all by themselves.

Doors come in three common types of construction (and several more fantastic types): wooden, stone, and iron, and can be single or double-doors.

Door Construction Materials

Most doors are made of wood and sometimes reinforced with iron bands, but in places where wood is limited or nonexistent, stone or other more exotic materials are sometimes used.

Common or Standard Door Materials

  • Wooden Doors: Constructed of thick planks nailed together, sometimes bound with iron for strength (and to reduce swelling from dungeon dampness), wooden doors are the most common type. Iron hinges fasten the door to its frame, and typically a circular pull-ring in the center is there to help open it. Sometimes. instead of a pull-ring, a door has an iron pull-bar on one or both sides of the door to serve as a handle. In inhabited dungeons, these doors are usually well-maintained (not stuck) and unlocked, although important areas are locked up if possible.
    • Strong Wooden Door: These sturdy doors can take some punishment before breaking. Good wooden doors are rarely double doors, however. Strong wooden door typical stats: AC 3; hardness 5; hit points 22; DC 16 Break [stuck] or 18 [locked])
    • Very Strong Wooden Door: These wooden doors are often bound with iron and often guard important areas. Very strong wooden door typical stats: AC 3; hardness 5; hit points 30; DC 23 Break [stuck] or 25 [locked])
  • Stone Doors: Carved from solid blocks of stone, these heavy, unwieldy doors are often built so that they pivot when opened, although dwarves and other skilled craftsfolk are able to fashion hinges strong enough to hold up a stone door. Secret doors concealed within a stone wall are usually stone doors. Otherwise, such doors stand as tough barriers protecting something important beyond. Thus, they are often locked or barred. AC 3; hardness 8; hit points 90; DC 28 Break [stuck] or 28 [locked]) are difficult to break through. They are a feature in dungeons built by deep-dwelling races such as dwarves and drow.
  • Iron Doors: Iron doors are hinged like wooden doors. They are usually locked or barred.

Uncommon or Special Door Materials

  • Bone: Bone doors are a common feature of necromancer’s lairs and ancient tombs. Bone door typical stats: AC 3; hardness 3; hit points 15; DC 5 Break [stuck] or 8 [locked]) are designed to frighten away the superstitious or gullible.
  • Mithral: These light, silvery doors are much easily worked than adamantine doors and are often in themselves works of art. Mithral door typical stats: AC 3; hardness 15; hit points 90; DC 35 Break.
  • Adamantine: Exceedingly rare, adamantine doors are used to both awe their viewers and protect items of surpassing importance. Adamantine door typical stats: AC 3; hardness 20; hit points 120; DC 40 Break.

Common Methods of Protecting Doors

  • Locked: Dungeon doors are often locked, and thus the Disable Device skill comes in very handy. Locks are usually built into the door, either on the edge opposite the hinges or right in the middle of the door. Built-in locks either control an iron bar that juts out of the door and into the wall of its frame, or else a sliding iron bar or heavy wooden bar that rests behind the entire door. By contrast, padlocks are not built-in but usually run through two rings, one on the door and the other on the wall. More complex locks, such as combination locks and puzzle locks. are usually built into the door itself. Because such keyless locks are larger and more complex, they are typically only found in sturdy doors (strong wooden, stone, or iron doors). The Disable Device DC to pick a lock often falls within the range of 20 to 30, although locks with lower or higher DCs can exist. A door can have more than one lock, each of which must be unlocked separately. Locks are often trapped, usually with poison needles that extend out to prick a rogue's finger. Breaking a lock is sometimes quicker than breaking the whole door. If a PC wants to whack at a lock with a weapon, treat the typical lock as having hardness 15 and 30 hit points. A lock can only be broken if it can be attacked separately from the door, which means that a built-in lock is immune to this sort of treatment. In an occupied dungeon, every locked door should have a key somewhere. A special door might have a lock with no key, instead requiring that the right combination of nearby levers must be manipulated or the right symbols must be pressed on a keypad in the correct sequence to open the door.
  • Stuck: Dungeons are often damp, and sometimes doors get stuck, particularly wooden doors. Assume that about 10% of wooden doors and 5% of non-wooden doors are stuck. These numbers can be doubled (to 20% and 10%, respectively) for long-abandoned or neglected dungeons.
  • Barred: When characters try to bash down a barred door, it's the quality of the bar that matters, not the material the door is made of. It takes a DC 25 Strength check to break through a door with a wooden bar, and a DC 30 Strength check if the bar is made of iron. Characters can attack the door and destroy it instead, leaving the bar hanging in the now-open doorway.
  • Magically Sealed: Spells such as arcane lock can discourage passage through a door. A door with an arcane lock spell on it is considered locked even if it doesn't have a physical lock. It takes a knock spell, a dispel magic spell, or a successful Strength check to open such a door.

Special Types of Doors

  • Secret Doors: Disguised as a bare patch of wall (or floor or ceiling), a bookcase, a fireplace, or a fountain, a secret door leads to a secret passage or room. Someone examining the area finds a secret door, if one exists, on a successful Perception check (DC 20 for a typical secret door to DC 30 for a well-hidden secret door). Many secret doors require special methods of opening, such as hidden buttons or pressure plates. Secret doors can open like normal doors, or they might pivot. slide, sink, rise, or even lower like a drawbridge to permit access. Builders might put a secret door low near the floor or high in a wall. making it difficult to find or reach. Wizards and sorcerers have a spell, phase door, that allows them to create a magic secret door that only they can use.
  • Magic Doors: Enchanted by the original builders, a door might speak to explorers. warning them away. It might be protected from harm, increasing its hardness or giving it more hit points as well as an improved saving throw bonus against disintegrate and similar spells. A magic door might not lead into the space behind it, but instead might be a portal to a faraway place or even another plane of existence. Other magic doors might require passwords or special keys to open them.
  • Portcullises: These special doors consist of iron or thick, iron-bound wooden shafts that descend from recesses in the ceilings above archways. Sometimes a portcullis has crossbars that create a grid, sometimes not. Typically raised by means of a winch or a capstan, a portcullis can be dropped quickly, and the shafts end in spikes to discourage anyone from standing underneath (or from attempting to dive under it as it drops). Once it is dropped, a portcullis locks, unless it is so large that no normal person could lift it anyway. In any event, lifting a typical portcullis requires a DC 25 Strength check.
  • Double Doors: Double doors are much rarer than normal, single doors (except sometimes in dungeons designed for Large or bigger creatures) and as such can offer clever explorers vital clues to what might lie beyond.

Common Features of Doors

Hinges: Most doors have hinges, but sliding doors do not. They usually have tracks or grooves instead, allowing them to slide easily to one side.

  • Standard Hinges: these hinges are metal, joining one edge of the door to the door frame or wall. Remember that the door swings open toward the side with the hinges. (So, if the hinges are on the PCs' side, the door opens toward them; otherwise it opens away from them.) Adventurers can take the hinges apart one at a time with successful Disable Device checks (assuming the hinges are on their side of the door, of course). Such a task has a DC of 20 because most hinges are rusted or stuck. Breaking a hinge is difficult. Most have hardness 10 and 30 hit points. The break dC for a hinge is the same as for breaking down the door.
  • Nested Hinges: these hinges are much more complex than ordinary hinges, and are found only in areas of excellent construction. These hinges are built into the wall and allow the door to swing open in either direction. PCs can't get at the hinges to fool with them unless they break through the door frame or wall. Nested hinges are typically found on stone doors but sometimes on wooden or iron doors as well.
  • Pivot Hinges: Pivots aren't really hinges at all, but simple knobs jutting from the top and bottom of the door that fit into holes in the door frame. allowing the door to spin. The advantages of pivots are that they can't be dismantled like hinges and they're simple to make. The disadvantage is that since the door pivots on its center of gravity (typically in the middle), nothing larger than half the door's width can fit through without squeezing. Doors with pivots are usually stone and often quite wide to overcome this disadvantage. Another solution is to place the pivot toward one side and have the door be thicker at that end and thinner toward the other end so that it opens more like a normal door. Secret doors in walls often turn on pivots, since the lack of hinges makes it easier to hide the door's presence. Pivots also allow objects such as bookcases to be used as secret doors.

Walls, Doors, and Detect Spells

Stone walls, iron walls, and iron doors are usually thick enough to block most detect spells, such as detect thoughts. Wooden walls, wooden doors, and stone doors are usually not thick enough to do so. A secret stone door built into a wall and as thick as the wall itself (at least 1 foot) does block most detect spells.

Using Doors in Combat

Doors are bottlenecks in dungeons and doorways are often the setting of desperate battles. Clever combatants can use them to their advantage.

  • Cover: A character being attacked diagonally through a doorway has cover (+4 AC, +2 Reflex saves).
  • Line of Sight: A closed door blocks line of sight.
  • Line of Effect: A closed door blocks line of effect.
  • Hearing-Based Perception checks: A closed door increases Perception check DCs to hear sounds emanating from beyond by +5. If the door is particularly thick and heavy (perhaps if it is of stone construction) increase this penalty to +10.

Locks & Protections

Many double doors have one or more locks, to stymie explorers and such areas of importance are normally protected by good (or better) locks, traps and even magical wards on occasion. Attempting to open a lock takes a full-round action.

Non-magical Protections for Doors

Magical Protections for Doors

  • Alarm spell: The alarm spell creates a mental or audible alarm when a creature touches the door.
  • Arcane Lock spell: Arcane lock adds 10 to the Disable Device check required to open the lock.
  • Hold Portal spell: Protecting a door with the hold portal spell adds 5 to the DC to force open the door.
  • Magic Mouth spell: A magic mouth appears and speaks a pre-programmed message (probably a warning or threat of the intruder’s fate should it go through the door).

Breaking Down Doors

Doors might be locked, trapped, reinforced, barred, magically sealed. or sometimes even just stuck. All but the weakest characters can eventually knock down a door with a heavy tool such as a sledgehammer, and a number of spells and magic items give characters an easy way around a locked door.

Attempts to literally chop down a door with a slashing or bludgeoning weapon use the hardness and hit points given in Table: Doors. When assigning a DC to an attempt to knock a door down. use the following as guidelines.

  • DC 10 or Lower: A door just about anyone can break open.
  • DC 11–15: A door that a strong person could break with one try and an average person might be able to break with one try.
  • DC 16–20: A door that almost anyone could break, given time.
  • DC 21–25: A door that only a strong or very strong person has a hope of breaking, probably not on the first try.
  • DC 26 or Higher: A door that only an exceptionally strong person has a hope of breaking.

For example, wooden doors typically have the following DC's to break:

  • Common doors (break DC 15) are not meant to keep out motivated attackers.
  • Strong doors (break DC 18), while sturdy and long-lasting, are still not meant to take much punishment.
  • Very Strong doors (break DC 25) are bound in iron and are a sturdy barrier to those attempting to get past them.
Table: Doors
Door Type Typical Thickness Hardness Hit Points Break DC
Stuck Locked
Simple wooden 1 in. 5 10 hp 13 15
Good wooden 1-1/2 in. 5 15 hp 16 18
Strong wooden 2 in. 5 20 hp 23 25
Stone 4 in. 8 60 hp 28 28
Iron 2 in. 10 60 hp 28 28
Portcullis, wooden 3 in 5 30 hp 25* 25*
Portcullis, iron 2 in. 10 60 hp 25* 25*
Lock 15 30 hp
Hinge 10 30 hp
* DC to lift. Use appropriate door figure for breaking.

Door Condition

Not all doors are created equal. Some may have been damaged by previous explorers while others are as good as new.

Use the following table to determine a door’s general condition:

Condition Perception DC 1 Hardness HP Break DC
Dilapidated 2 +1 -4 -50% -4
Poor 2 +3 -2 -25% -2
Average +5
Good 3 +7 +2 +25% +2
Excellent 3 +9 +4 +50% +4

1 Only to hearing-based Perception checks.
2 Dilapidated doors – and those in a poor condition – often do not fit very well. At the GM’s discretion, a character may be able to peek under or over a door to gain a limited view into the area beyond.
3 Doors in good or excellent condition fit the doorway well; they rarely have enough of a gap for an explorer to see the area beyond.


Stairs are the most common means of traveling up and down within a dungeon. a character can move up or down stairs as part of their movement without penalty, but they cannot run on them. Increase the DC of any Acrobatics skill check made on stairs by 4. Some stairs are particularly steep and are treated as difficult terrain.

Stairs come in many different shapes and sizes, including steep, gradual, precipitous and spiral. Stairs in dungeons don’t even have to be made of stone – some can be of wood, bone or other magical or fantastical substances.

Staircases are important parts of most dungeons, enabling easy passage between the various levels of the place. In occupied dungeons they are often one of the areas which sees the most traffic as the place’s denizens emerge to fight, hunt and trade. They are therefore perfect places for a GM to place hints, clues and other interesting features that highlight what lurks in the connected dungeon levels.

This section presents the basic characteristics of different kinds of stairs; use the information here in conjunction with that in later sections to breathe life into your dungeon’s stairs.

Gradual Stairs

Gradual stairs are easy to move on and have the following noteworthy features:

  • No Running: Characters cannot run on gradual stairs.
  • Acrobatics: Gradual stairs increase the DC of Acrobatics checks made on them by 4.
  • Higher Ground: Characters fighting on gradual stairs gain a +1 bonus on melee attacks made against opponents below them.

Natural Stairs

Natural staircases are just that – the result of natural processes and are not crafted by intelligent creatures. They are rare in dungeons, but relatively common in natural caverns. Natural stairs can be gradual or steep, but are rarely spiral in nature.

Precipitous Stairs

Precipitous stairs are particularly steep and perilous to traverse:

  • Difficult Terrain: Precipitous stairs are difficult terrain (it costs 3 squares of movement to enter such squares).
  • No Running: Characters cannot run on precipitous stairs.
  • No charging: Characters cannot charge on precipitous stairs.
  • Acrobatics: Precipitous stairs increase the DC of Acrobatics checks made on them by 6.
  • Higher Ground: Characters fighting on precipitous stairs gain a +1 bonus on melee attacks made against opponents below them.

Steep Stairs

Steep stairs can be perilous to traverse:

  • Difficult Terrain: Steep stairs are difficult terrain (it costs 2 squares of movement to enter such squares).
  • No Running: Characters cannot run on steep stairs.
  • No charging: Characters cannot charge on steep stairs.
  • Acrobatics: Steep stairs increase the DC of Acrobatics checks made on them by 4.
  • Higher Ground: Characters fighting on steep stairs gain a +1 bonus on melee attacks made against opponents below them.

Spiral Staircase

Designed as defensive features, spiral staircases provide cover to defenders against attacks originating either from above or below them (but not both). They can be gradual, steep or precipitous and have the following additional characteristics:

  • No charging: Characters cannot charge on spiral stairs.
  • Right Spiral: A staircase spiralling to the right provides cover (+4 to AC, +2 Reflex) from attacks originating below.
  • Left Spiral: A staircase spiralling to the right provides cover (+4 to AC, +2 Reflex) from attacks originating above.

Stairs Construction

In dungeons, stairs are most commonly constructed of stone but on occasion, adventurers may discover stairs of wood or even bone. In deep dungeons, they may even find stairs constructed of more outlandish materials such as magically hardened glass.

The statistics below represent individual steps of a stair.

Stair Material Hardness Hit Points Break DC
Bone 3 50 20
Glass* 2 50 20
Iron 10 90 30
Stone (Hewn) 8 90 50
Stone (Masonry) 8 90 35
Stone (Natural) 8 90 65
Wood 5 60 20

*magically treated

Going Down?

In many dungeons, stairs simply lead between two levels, but there is nothing to stop you designing a staircase that links several different levels. The characteristics and features of such stairways can change between the connected levels; remember to add several different dressings and features into such a stair.

Section 15: Copyright Notice: Dungeon Dressing: Stairs © Raging Swan Press 2012; Author: Creighton Broadhurst.

Common Dungeon Hazards

There are many hazards possible in dungeons and caverns including cave-ins, slimes, mold, fungi, and others. A large list of potential hazards commonly encountered is listed on the Traps & Hazards page.