Dungeons need not be a collection of mismatched monsters and slapdash snares. Some dungeoneers pride themselves on creating unique works of deadly art. Dangerous Scales is such a dungeon. Every room, every encounter, and every solution depends on balance-- be it weight, alchemy, or something else. Adventurers will need more than heart and a keen eye to best such this treacherous dungeon.
What is Dangerous Scales?
Dangerous Scales is a puzzle-focused dungeon with a few traps and combat encounters. It can be added to extend any underground dungeon you want to run or stand on its own. The themes, rooms, and encounters work for any system with a fantasy setting.
Dangerous Scales was lovingly crafted by u/PantherophisNiger (Seesaw of Doom!), u/DragonbornDoug (Creating a Solution), u/RexiconJesse (Underlying Tension), and u/Fortuan (The Balance of Nature)
First Challenge: Seesaw of Doom!
The tallest characters must stoop low to cross the threshold of this dungeon’s entrance. Though, once inside, they will find that the ceiling has been constructed with tall creatures in mind. The entry hallway is about forty feet long, and only five feet wide.
The air in this room is thick, stale and musty. As though nothing has been disturbed here for decades. At the far end of the hallway, an arch that curves to the east, and away from your gaze. On the far wall is a small, indistinct shrine in an alcove. Gold coins, Several shining trinkets, dried flowers and old, mouldy incense sit on the altar in front of the alcove.
This entire room (except for the alcove shrine) are on a sort of seesaw. Imagine the floor of this room is the flat plane of the seesaw, and the altar is holding the floor level (by keeping the seesaw from rising up into the ceiling). Depending upon the race/class makeup of your group, the seesaw of the room should come unbalanced as more of the group approach the altar. The tipping point of the seesaw should be ~20-25 feet into the room. Do your own handwaving/calculations to determine how much weight each party member should count for.
As soon as the seesaw begins to tip, tell the players that a wave of sweet, foul air assaults their senses. Then, have everyone roll initiative.
Each player may use their move action to make a difficult acrobatics or athletics check and move 5-15 feet towards the door they came in through. If they succeed by more than 5 points, they may use their dash action to move an additional 5 feet. You cannot move through another player’s space without causing them to slip, or using up an extra 5 feet of movement. On initiative count 0, the seesaw tips further and everyone should slide backwards 5-10 feet. As the incline of the seesaw increases, the difficulty of success should also increase. A character that fails by 5 or more should “slip”. A character that has slipped should roll their next acrobatics or athletics check with disadvantage. If enough characters cross the pivot point of the seesaw, and put enough weight on the “entrance” side, then the seesaw will begin to pitch towards a level incline on initiative 0.
A character that slides fully down the seesaw will fall on sharp metal spikes below. There are several other “former adventurers” impaled upon these spikes, in various states of decay. Assign damage as you please, and offer explanations for the severity of the injury. (IE: the player fell and only impaled their arm or hand, as opposed to a vital organ). Anyone who gets impaled should suffer a moderate amount of poison damage, and suffer from the effects of being poisoned (these are rusty, gore-covered spikes after all).
To solve this puzzle, the players will need to find some way of adding enough weight to the “entrance” side of the room, so that they can all proceed through to the archway. Alternatively, a series of ropes (so that nobody actually falls on the spikes) may work. If your players come up with other options that seem logical, then go for it.
Second Challenge: Creating a Solution
Upon crossing the threshold of the room, a brisk seaside breeze hits your face. You are suddenly at the end of a long pier with a large grandiose sign that says “Welcome to Balance Cove”. There is a bungalow to your left and to your right. The left room is labeled “Room 0” with a scratched sign stating “------ Amenities”. The right room is labeled “Room 14” with a sign stating “Basic Amenities”. Behind you stands a lone doorway in the middle of the pier, the one that you entered through. Once everyone is on the pier, the doorway’s contents dissolves into an empty frame. The rest of the island has been ripped away by a great storm and singed at the edges. At your feet are eight idols of various monsters.
- A Rust Monster
- An Ankheg
- An Owlbear
- A Kobold
- A Basilisk
- A Gray Ooze
- A Neolithid
- A Black Dragon
Both rooms are identical except for the sign outside. A DC 20 (Intelligence) Investigation check reveals that the first word of the scratched sign is “Acidic”. A creature with proficiency in scribe’s tools has a DC equal to 20 - their proficiency bonus. Both rooms are identical except for the sign outside. Inside each room are four pedestals whose bases match the bases of the idols. Once an idol has been placed, the pedestal sinks a couple of inches and clicks.
Placing the idols in the room as shown below. The order in each room does not matter, only that the idol is in the correct room.
|Room 0||Room 14|
|An Ankheg||A Rust Monster|
|A Gray Ooze||An Owlbear|
|A Neolithid||A Kobold|
|A Black Dragon||A Basilisk|
If the idols are placed in the correct rooms, light envelops each of the idols and bursts through the roofs. The light falls down as glowing snowflakes and attaches to the party. Each creature gains 2d12 temporary hit points and the spell lesser restoration is cast on them.
If the idols are all placed, but not in the correct rooms, the pedestals sink further into the floor, disappearing from sight. Acidic sludge floods the rooms and acid rain falls from the sky as the clouds darken. Each creature that ends its turn in the acid takes 2d12 acid damage.
Once all the idols are placed, either correctly or incorrectly, the doorway on the pier manifests a room behind it.
Third Challenge: Underlying Tension
As you enter the room, a harsh, chemical smell assaults your senses. You enter an enclosed room with no light. Before you, a 16 x 32 ft hole sits in the center of the room. The hole slopes from 3 ft deep near you to 8 ft on the far end. A narrow walkway surrounds it on all sides. On the opposite side of the room, you see a door set into the stone wall beyond the hole, and on the far end of the hole, a narrow hallway burrows into the wall.
When the party enters the room, a backdraft of acid overwhelms them. They must make a moderately difficult roll to fight against its effects
- Pass - The smell is powerful, but you cover your mouth and nose. Slowly, you get used to the smell and it does not harm you
- Moderate failure - The smell overwhelms you, causing your eyes to water and your nose to run. You take a penalty to any perception-based actions.
- Severe failure - The smell rushes up your nose and into eyes. Your mind falters under the pain as it feels like something is trying to dissolve you from the inside. You take a penalty to all actions requiring thought or concentration.
The room is the poolroom for what was once the home of a dungeon dweller. The hole is the pool, but it is filled with severely caustic liquid instead of water due to the automated cleaning never ceasing after the owners died. The acid dissolves anything that touches it, leaving the acid impossibly clear. It requires a moderate perception check to perceive there is anything in the pool. Any light makes this check easier due to reflection. Anything that touches the acid instantly sizzles and begins dissolving. If an object is immediately pulled from the acid, the damage is only cosmetic. Flesh that touches the acid takes minimal damage if removed quickly. Continuous exposure results in severe damage.
The hallway in the pool leads to the next room. What to do with the acid blocking the way is a challenge, and draining the pool is the first balancing challenge. The pool contains approximately 20,000 gallons of acid.
The weight of the liquid acid pushing downward balances with the hydrostatic pressure under the pool pushing upward. If the party removes the acid, the hydrostatic pressure will push the pool upward (this is called “pool popping” when people improperly drain inground swimming pools). This causes the pool to leap from the ground and crumble, collapsing the narrow hallway. If this happens, the only way to exit is through the door.
To properly drain the pool, they must find a way to relieve the hydrostatic pressure beneath the pool. The simplest way is to dig a whole next to the pool twice as deep as the pool’s lowest point and then drain the pool slowly.
If the party manages to neutralize the acid and turn it back into water, they can swim through the hall. It should be a moderately difficult swim due to the narrow hole restricting movement and how long they must hold their breath.
If players go to the door above the pool, they see a simple-looking lock keeping the door locked. This is an Alchemy Lock. This enchanted lock is only moderately difficult to pick. Anyone with experience picking locks could get it with a bit of time. However, the enchantment requires an exchange when unlocked. As the door unlocks, something close by must lock, even if it does not have a lock on it.
For example: if a character unlocks the door, then their backpack might magically seal or a nearby sword will lock in its sheath. Every time they unlock whatever the Alchemy Lock’s magic has locked, it moves to another nearby object and locks it. Likewise, if the players break the door, disassemble, or remove the door in some way, then the alchemist lock will break, disassemble, or remove something close respectively.
The lock can never be fully disenchanted. If they disenchant an item that has been magically locked by the alchemist’s lock (a difficult task), then the enchantment will revert to the original door and lock it.
If the party opens the door with the Alchemy Lock:
The open door reveals the dusty remains of someone’s home. Furniture weakened by time and clouded by cobwebs lays about the room. A bed sits lopsided on the floor, the legs that once supported it crushed under its weight. Pottery, mirrors, chairs, and other fine-looking items that speak of wealth lay broken and shattered on the floor.
A moderate perception check, or an easy perception check with someone who knows the signs of domestic struggles, notice these are the signs of a fight. Those who pass the check are not surprised. Those who fail are surprised.
Three ghostly kobolds burst into the room, an ethereal chain connecting them all at the wrists. Two are manic while the third lacks behind seemingly lifeless as the actions of the other two pull it around.
The ghostly kobold’s wail and attack the party, screaming the entire time. If anyone in the party speaks kobold, they can understand the conscious (above 0 HP) kobolds are arguing with each other.
The three chained kobolds are the children of the owner of the pool and this house. They argue over the others having more than them, such as inheritance, wealth, and attention from their parents. The players can reason with the kobolds, but it is a difficult challenge to make the bickering children listen. In addition, the children only speak kobold. A party member who is familiar with the undead will have a slightly easier time conversing with the kobolds.
The kobolds attack using their teeth, claws, and hitting the party with the slack of the chain between them. They can also use the chain to choke or restrict party members as well. Because of their ghostly figures, they are difficult to hit and can bypass physical armor when they strike.
The party cannot defeat the kobolds by normal means. When one kobold loses health, the other two kobolds gain health equal to half the damage dealt. If a kobold hits 0 HP, it falls limp and cannot take actions. The other two kobolds drag it around, paying it little mind. The kobolds cannot go below 0 HP.
Three basic ways to defeat the kobolds:
- Restrain one or more of the kobolds and runaway (though they will eventually escape)
- Banish or destroy them (though they always reappear in 2d4 rounds)
- Equalize their HP
When all 3 kobolds have equal amounts of HP, they will stop yelling at each other. They will calmly begin discussing the affairs of their house and of good times they’ve had with each other. They will talk to the party if they share a language and the party member speaks to them first. Otherwise, they will ignore the party.
Fourth Challenge: The Balance of Nature
As you push aside a heavy stone slab a rush of fresh air blasts forward. When stepping inside you see a lush jungle full of lively plants and a small shallow brook winding its way across the room. In this small square room is a path leading ahead to what one can only assume is the next room blocked by another stone door with a giant Leaf. The babbling brook and slight rustling of plants can be heard clearly. On the wall above the door are 3 clear words glowing green in Sylvan.
If one knows the language it is an easy task, however, if not one can discern the phrases from left to right read, The creator, the destroyer, and the giver. Beneath these symbols on the wall is basin of water. On the ground sits 3 stones one with the likeness of a deer, the next of a beetle, and the third of a Tiger. If the puzzle is solved by placing the stone within the correct basin the door opens to the next room.
The next room is that of a desert. The room waves with heat but only feels warm. Cacti and stones litter the room with the sound The same 3 words and the same 3 basins of water with 3 different stones. The door has the symbol of a Snake. The stones are that of a Vulture, a Kangaroo Rat, and a Cactus.
The final room is the ocean. A foot of water covers the room and the rumble of being underwater is clearly heard. Streaks of light as if in underwater waver lighting the room in a beautiful scene. Fish swim around the room but are floating in the air. Corals sprout from the floor and stalks of seaweed gentle wave. Once again the 3 words are on the wall, with their basins, and the stone door has the symbol of a Fish. The stones are that of Sea Weed, A Sea Slug, and a Shark.
The idea is that the creator, destroyer, and the giver is an obtuse way to describe the roles animals and plants play in the balance of nature. The 4 positions are that of the Plant, the Herbivore, the Carnivore, and the Decomposers. The Symbol on the door represents the origin in which the language implies the relationship. When the symbol of the correct role to the word is placed in the basin the door slides open to the exit. The Creator gives life to the symbol. The destroyer eats the symbol. Finally, the Giver takes from the destroyer to make the creator.
It is important to note that simply binarily placing the stones in the water until the right combination works is indeed possible. If this seems to be their method I could see 2 ways of preventing do below for wrong answers
- A) Cause a fight
- B) Trigger a Trap
- C) Mix the symbols (IE the words above change order)
Below are the solutions to each room.
Jungle: This one is purposefully tricky to throw off the players a bit as most would assume the Predator is the destroyer
Door: Fern (Plant)
Creator -- Beetle (decomposer)
Destroyer -- Deer (Herbivore )
Giver -- Tiger (Carnivore)
Desert: While they may have accidentlied themselves into the solution this one challenges based on the ROLES and not necessarily a strict food chain as kangaroo Rats do not eat cacti but mostly seeds and sometimes cacti Seeds so it’s a bit of a jump to make it challenging.
Door Snake (Predetor)
Creator -- Kangaroo Rat (Herbivore)
Destroyer -- Vulture (Decomposer) technically a scavenger but it works
Giver -- Cactus(Plant)
Ocean: This one is particularly ambiguous thanks to the many roles that the fish play in the food chain. However, this is the most straight forward as far as perceptions go with the predator being the destroyer.
Door: Fish (Herbivore)
Creator -- Sea Weed(Plant)
Destroyer -- Shark(Carnivore)
GIver -- Sea Slug(Decomposer)