Strongholds of Fantasy

Castles, Dungeons, and other Fantasy Lore...

Anatomy of a Dungeon

Dungeons whether they are a location in a story, a gaming terrain layout or a level in a video game, all have common elements to their anatomy.  All dungeons have access points, hazards, decorations, monster aspects, and adventurer objectives. 



All dungeons have access points for getting from one part of a dungeon to another, entering from a basement level of a building, or exiting to the outside wilderness.  

Doorways - Doorways can be arched openings or covered with some kind of solid door.  The door could be made of wood, metal, stone, or a combination of materials.  Some are locked and need a special key for entry or rigged with a spell that could prove deadly to the one who fails to disarm it.  Others hidden dangers around a doorway could be a switch on the floor below or by simply touching the door itself unleashes an unknown trap on the party close by. 

Stairs - Stairs allow the adventurer to go up or down a level within a dungeon.  The steps can be built of wood, metal, or stone.  If a stone stair case is large enough, it might house a doorway underneath that leads to another joining room.  They can be straight, have squared turns, or be spiraled. 

Bridging - Some dungeons have open areas above levels that can be only crossed with some type of bridge or cross way, or catwalk.  All bridges are usually made of either wood, metal, or stone. 

Magical portal - Some dungeon levels have a magical portal which will teleport an adventurer from one point to another when touched.



All dungeons have hazards that are either in plain site or hidden well from the inexperienced adventurer.  These dangers are not be underestimated.  Some are natural in a cavern type of dungeon, while others are constructed with the intent to injure and kill intruding adventurers. 


Pits - Mostly cavernous dungeons have unexpected holes, pits, and chasms.  Some pits, designed to be traps, are usually covered with a flooring that can be triggered to open and allow adventurers to fall through them.  Others may be wide open and yet be lined with long sharp wooden or metal spikes at the bottom.  

Spikes - Any sharp pointy wooden stick or metal rod can be a deadly weapon in a dungeon.  They can be found in the bottom of pits, under floor tiles, and within walls.  Within the corridors of a dungeon certain floor tiles may contain spikes designed to thrust vertically when triggered.  Other walls of a dungeon may contain spikes that thrust horizontally when triggered.  Either trap will impale an unsuspecting adventurer within seconds. 

Sliding walls - These types of walls in an enemy dungeon are set up within a certain kind of room.  As the trap is triggered two opposite walls will slowly close in on the adventurers, like a sandwich, and crush them to death.

Waterways - Any channel of water in a dungeon can provide a barrier to adventurers.  The water could be deep and too swift of a current to cross.  It could be very wide and possibly poisoned, hence not safe to swim across.  A monster could be lurking under the surface, waiting to prey on unwary adventurers. 

Saw blades - Some dungeon floors have tracks that allow spinning blades to run across.  Unless the off switch is found, the party will have to dodge them until they are safely out of the way their path. 

Swinging blades - Massive axes on long sticks swing from the ceiling of the dungeon, like pendulums.  Like the saw blades, dodging will be necessary to survive such a trap. 



No matter how dark, dingy or creepy a dungeon is all enemy dungeons have a decorative style to their layout and have elements to every chamber and corridor whether large or small. 

Treasure Horde - Whether its an entire room full of treasured goods or a corridor littered with discarded trinkets, all adventurers are lured to these piles of sparkly and shiny items.  A treasure horde may contain chests full of gold and silver coin, precious gems and fashioned jewelry, or even possibly rare magical artifacts.  

Torches and their Holders - Torches within their sconces, whether mounted in walls or on metal stands, light the path of dark corridors and illuminate secluded rooms.  Actually, the bracket that holds the torch is the decorative piece and will vary in style depending on the maker of the item. 

Crypts and Coffins - Crypts, which are made of carved slabs of stone, are the resting place of the dead and the undead.  Coffins are used for the same purpose, however they are carved from wood.  Whether in plain site of open lids or sealed shut, skeletons can be found lying at peace inside of both kinds. 

Sewer Drains and Channels - Dungeons connected to a sewer system will have openings in certain walls with channels carved into the stone floors to allow water or some other liquid to flow freely.  And to prevent adventurers from passing through the sewer drains, they will usually have metal bars built in. 

Barred Windows - Some dungeon rooms will have windows with metal bars within some of the walls for whatever reason. 

Obstacles - Most dungeons will have some kind of clutter in the corridors and chambers for there are no cleaning crews to tidy them up.  Walls will fall apart as their mortar between cracks loosens and crumbles, causing chunks of rock or bricks to drop and clutter the floor with debris.  Barrels, crates and trunks could serve as barriers to hinder adventurers as well as entice them to explore for special items.



In most mythologies certain monster races live underground, design and construct a dungeon to suit their needs.  For the adventurer they are a labyrinth filled with hordes of treasure and untold dangers ready to ensnare anyone foolish enough to intrude.  Goblins, orcs, dark elves, vampires, and other dark brethren prepare their lair and take advantage of the many twists and turns within a dungeon.  

Monster Passage Ways - Secret corridors can exist between rooms and main hallways within dungeons to allow monsters to walk freely without being noticed by intruding adventurers.  

Monster Firing Positions - In some rooms and wide open areas there can be turrets, connected to monster passage ways that allow monsters to fire upon unsuspecting adventurers when they come into range.

Monster Ambush Points - Any tight area where escape is limited and cover is slim, is the perfect place for monsters to ambush unaware adventurers.  Whether it is a prime location to receive a volley of arrows or magic or an area that one can be pounced upon directly from any direction is a good indicator of a monster ambush point.   



Usually there are three goals to accomplish in a monster dungeon: seek out treasure, rescue someone, or to get from point a to point b.  In a labyrinth full of rooms, corridors, and hidden dangers there is always the lure of treasure for the adventure to find.  Some dungeon scenarios have a party of adventurers intent on saving a person from the clutches of a group of enemy monsters.  Whether the dungeon was discovered by fate or accident and the party is lost in exploring it, the ultimate goal is to exit the area from where they entered or another way that they find.