You may have run across a few of them in various RPG adventures, such as the official Xanathar's Guide introductory adventure "Underworld Speculation".
I'll just keep adding new maps to this thread as I go. Let's see how big it gets!
In Search of the Unknown is one of my favourite modules of all time. But there are times that the map annoys me as the main level is more hallway than rooms (and that’s with 38 rooms on that level). So today we get to explore an alternate version of that venerable dungeon. I ended up splitting this level of the dungeon into two maps - the main level and an upstairs section. I included the room numbers from the original adventure, and lettered rooms are those added in this particular set of maps.
There are tunnels and passages that lead deep under the land to the ever-dark homes of the various so-called “deep races”. These descents are typically marked on the rare maps of these underlands as either primary, secondary or tertiary passages.
These passages lead on for miles and thus only their general routing is typically mapped, but of course, the underdark is not a place you wander expecting to never encounter anything or anyone. Thus we have sample sections of these passages mapped out to provide more detail when running into drow or sverfneblin patrols
Here are five sample stretches of Primary Passages – these passages generally have fairly even flooring, with ceiling heights of 20 to 50 feet (averaging at around 35 feet) and widths generally of 30 to 40 feet. Some portions of these passages are worked to make travel easier, but they are mostly natural and generally fairly straight.
The original Descent into the Depths of the Earth was published 40 years ago and included one sample stretch of each of the three sizes of passages. The original primary passage example has been reproduced here (the second from the right), with four more drawn to add variety to the encounter options.
While most traffic into the depths of the earth tries to stick to the primary passages, there are those who wish to travel either to less-ventured places off the main passages, or those who wish to avoid running into major patrols of the various races down below.
Secondary passages are generally 20 feet wide and have fewer worked areas than the primary passages. The roof varies from 15 to 40 feet above the floor, with 25 feet being usual.
In addition to being smaller and less worked, secondary passages often have more obstacles than the primaries, as the “civilized” denizens of the underdark have had less reasons to build over or around them, or have stopped using the tunnel completely because of the obstacles.
The original sample secondary passage from Descent into the Depths of the Earth has been redrawn on the far left, and is now joined by 4 additional sample passages.
When travelling the depths of the underdark, there are passages and caves that most “civilized” denizens ignore because they are small, narrow, and fraught with obstacles. These “tertiary” passages sometimes make for useful escape or access tunnels and these have their connections to the primary and secondary passages concealed behind secret doors or other hidden access points.
Tertiary tunnels are usually about ten feet wide with ceilings between 8 to 25 feet with an average of 15 feet or so. While drow still patrol these passages, encounters are more frequently with monsters such as xorn, lurkers above, trappers, mind flayers, and various underdark vermin.
This set of tertiary passage geomorphs includes a redraw of the original from Descent into the Depths of the Earth (on the far left), along with four new example passages for use when handling encounters along these nearly abandoned and secret byways.
It is the end of the month and time to head back into the older maps and dig up a few to re-release under the free commercial license, all thanks to the awesome patrons who support my cartographic wanderings via Patreon. Today we are bringing back “the Ruins under Axehead Mound” from four years ago. The versions being released today have been upgraded to 1200 dpi and an optional grid has been added.
My default assumption for old school dungeons is that you’ve come across the ruins of something huge and underground – something like the ruined cities of the Elderlings buried in the swamps in the Rain Wilds stories by Robin Hobb. It’s the basis I use for all my “random dungeon” rolling.
Here is a small dungeon level set up exactly along those premises – the ruins under Axehead Mound have two entrances – one a collapsed wall section that leads into a chamber, the other a pair of ruin-cluttered stairs that lead into the ruins from a ruined above-ground building.
This map was originally drawn almost exactly four years ago in a single draft using Sakura Microns (a 03 for the walls, and a 01 for the hatching).
Aie! It is already May and I’m still catching up on the backlog from April! Today we are bringing back one of the sillier named maps and re-releasing it under the free commercial use license thanks to the awesome crew that support my work through my Patreon campaign.
It is time to return to the Rhinoceros Containment Caves of the Iron Overlord!
The Iron Overlord (a sorcerer of some power who is never seen outside of his full plate armour) maintains this hillside structure where the rhinoceroses are experimented upon with the goal of producing a breed of brutal war rhinos. Most of the time the place is fairly quiet, observing the four rhinos in their two enclosures. But sometimes the rhinos are magically tranquilized and carried up the sloping corridor to the lab. The room adjoining the lab to the east is also twelve feet above the lab, allowing the Iron Overlord and any guests to oversee the work being done to the rhinos without getting their hands bloody.
The whole facility lies just outside the great city. Most of those who work within the small complex (cleaning and feeding staff) live on the outskirts of town and walk here to work while the surgeon who does the major work lives in the offices behind the viewing room. The Iron Overlord himself travels here standing upon a floating disk summoned for that purpose by his apprentices.
Once the basement of a small fortified temple, Lockhart’s Delve has been home to a variety of creatures and groups since the destruction of the temple proper. Some maps of the old temple of the moon god show two entrances into the lower levels – one into the basements and another into the connected crypts. But some fifty years ago the crypt entrance was completely filled with stone and earth under the orders of Short Terog, an ogre adventurer who made this her home for a time.
Most recently, the Blackguard Lockhart has used the structure as barracks while assembling their forces to cross the dark barrens and assault Oceansong Harbor. Since the fall and subsequent recapture of Oceansong Harbor, the dungeons have seen little use except by the shadows of the kobolds who came here looking for their clanmates.
Cut into the cliffs near Terrek’s Wall is a solitary sealed doorway. Beyond it is the vault of the famed Lapis Monk, entombed for long centuries. The vault has lain undisturbed for ages – the doorway secured both in construction and by magic.
But time has her way. A portion of the cliff face has fallen, exposing an internal passage within the vault. Trapped chambers lay in both directions to those who would explore via this new entrance – but since when did common sense and traps prevent a little bit of dungeoneering?
Emperor Tauneskalis III created the viridian beacon which to this day marks the centre of the Blue Empire. The Great Pyramid is the seat of this incandescent blue light, said to be the mark of his divine potence.
Standing 260 feet tall the pyramid is the base for the viridian light which in turn beams straight up into the sky, visible for hundreds of miles around as a needle-like green-blue line that stretches up to the clouds.
The main level of the pyramid is the only area ever open to visitors and celebrants, with access to the upper levels concealed by secret passages or guarded by imperial security forces watching for those who would defile the pyramid by scaling it.
Soldiers come here prior to deployments to bask in the light of the beacon – at other times you will find farmers here with a sack of their best grain to have it touched by the light prior to planting; expectant mothers hoping to bless their children; and even businessmen hoping for the light to aid their new ventures. Pacing around quietly are priests and administrators of the realm offering advice and counsel.
(details on the upper levels to come later this week)
The upper levels of the Great Pyramid of Tauneskalis III are dedicated to worship of the divine family and observance of the great incandescent blue-green beacon that reminds all within the Blue Empire of their divine potence.
The main worship level of complex is dedicated to the history of the Empire and the Imperial Dynasties – with statues of the six emperors of the Tauneskalis family along the Green Hall on the north side. Access to this level is either by the secret staircase behind the statue of Tauneskalis III himself, or via the not-very-secret passage that exits on the west face of the pyramid. The path up the west face has been well worn by the many people that have climbed up and down this way since the pyramid was built.
The upper levels contain archives of the empire – stored in the crypts, tombs and niches constructed on these levels that have never held a body. At the very top level, a sloped chamber leads up to a balcony that faces east that is still used to this day to make imperial proclamations in the early mornings a few times a year.
Cut into the foggy clefts of the Steaming Mountains, the Maze of the Storm Witch must be navigated (or the whole mountain climbed over) in order to reach the Pale Divide. Unnatural mists fill these passages, obscuring the already confusing twists and turns.
The maze is also specifically designed to prevent the most common method of exploring such a space – if an adventurer uses the “left hand rule” (or even the “right hand rule”) they will not find the way through, but will instead eventually find themselves back at the entrance instead.
That is, if the storm witch’s blindsighted grimlocks don’t get you first.
This map was specifically drawn to show how a 3D structure can easily break the “left hand rule” for navigating a maze. It was also originally called the Labyrinth of the Storm Witch, but regardless of every dictionary disagreeing with them, there are those who feel it is important to point out that labyrinths are ONLY unicursal in design.
This hex sits to the lower-right of Baraloba and is mostly a forested hex cut through by the road that leads from Baraloba to the distant Citadel on Sabre Lake.
Along the road we run into a few classic items for a D&D game – there’s a large farm near Baraloba itself , a trail leading off to an abandoned logging camp to the north, and finally Strickson’s Auberge, a traveller’s inn roughly 9 miles outside of Baraloba (about three hours travel time). North of Strickson’s Auberge is another of the ancient giant’s towers overlooking the inn and valley, now slowly collapsing.
Southwest of Strickson’s Auberge is a clearing in the woods with a single massive tree at it’s centre. A trail leads deeper into the woods from the tree, probably to another town, or perhaps the base of a small group of humanoids who host their religious activities at the tree.
After cutting through the Badlands of Slate, the Hewbank meanders through the slate hills to the east of Baraloba. This stony environment has the Hewbank meander significantly and form into small lakes where small valleys present themselves between the hills.
Another of the old giant watchtowers sits overlooking farmer’s fields on the east side of this area, and another smaller druidic farming community is nestled between forest and lake in the middle of the hex, only a few hundred yards from a massive set of standing stones that acts as the “anchor” to their community. The druids and the farmers both make use of the trading opportunities in Baraloba and generally don’t see much in the way of visitors to their own properties.
At the south edge of the map is Small Cheese Lake which was once good for fishing in, but in the last thirty years the fishing has died out here – forcing the two trolls who live in the secret cave nearby to head southeast to find more food (as they avoid both the Druids and Baraloba because they know they don’t have the trollpower to take on either settlement).
I've also included a map showing all five of the existing Baraloba hexmaps linked together.
This is the setting for the Sugar Shack Slaughter, one of the two adventures in “The Scenario from Ontario“. Written by the remarkably Kiel Chenier, the adventure takes place in the area around Quebec City presented here.
Each hex in the map is 1/4 mile across – so if sticking to good terrain an adventuring party could travel 24 hexes in a day. Which just goes to show how big modern cities are – the location marked “Maple Ooze” on the map is actually within modern Quebec City (pretty much at the intersection of Boulevard Valcartier and Rue de la Riviere Nelson – there’s a convenience store there and I bet they have those gooey maple sugar cones that are ubiquitous candy throughout the region).
As a fantasy cartographer, it is always kind of intimidating to tackle a real world location in a map. You KNOW you aren’t going to get it perfect, and with real world locations people might actually notice what’s wrong as opposed to thinking that you did it that way on purpose. Mark Richardson (who draws the maps for the 7th Sea RPG as well as for the Government of Canada) aimed me at a database of topographical maps of Canada that really helped with this piece.
Over on the blog I’ve included a second version of the map with the sugar bush and maple ooze banners removed, although the ooze and its path are still visible (since I drew them on the map in ink as I was making it unlike the banners which were added in photoshop afterwards). Printed at letter or ledger size, the map looks great and will help in running the adventure in question, or can easily be repurposed for any other settlement along a major river.
Temples and churches are a fairly common sight in a city, but few maintain a standing military force without having a massive structure or complex to house them in. In the case of Keegan’s Temple, the finances were not available to build a massive church / temple / armoury complex. Instead a smaller temple was built in a walled compound donated to the church.
The compound has a main gate and a smaller postern gate for servants and deliveries. Wooden structures along the walls serve as stables, kitchens and barracks. The temple itself is often busy and also fairly exclusive to the order of lawful warrior-priests who reside and base there, so a smaller shrine has been built into the south wall for those who wish to give thanks to or petition the god of this temple without entering into the compound proper.
Beneath the temple itself is a small reliquary and crypt where fallen soldiers and aged priests have been interred and commemorated.