[Editor’s Note: Welcome to Sunken Treasure, in which we turn our eyes towards classic adventure modules, campaign settings, core books, supplements, and more. Enjoy these commemorative strolls down memory lane together with us.]
25 years later, a look back at Grimtooth’s Dungeon of Doom: A Complete Dungeon of Traps for any Role-Playing System by Jim ‘Bear’ Peters and Steven S. Crompton
Written by John Enfield
“Ah, so glad you could make it,” The king says, with a slight hint of a chuckle in his voice. “It has come to our attention that you seek an incredibly important artifact. You have indeed come to the right place, for we know where it is. Unfortunately, we do not have it in our possession. It lies deep within the Dungeons of Malbalestrom!” Crickets, crestfallen faces … then come the groans from both the adventurers and their players. “Oh, no! Not a dungeon! Dungeon crawls are so boring!” Uh oh, you’ve got a whole stack of dungeon crawl encounters prepared, but are they deadly cool enough to change your players’ tune?
Luckily for you, Jim “Bear” Peters and Steven S. Crompton have you covered. This is no boring list of stuff to dig through, hoping to find anything useful for your campaign. This is an entertainingly written game supplement that, once you add a little ‘crunch’ from the game system of your choice, can provide enough traps to keep your players happily occupied with trying to stay alive, through their characters, for many game sessions to come. The Tomb of Evinrood The Water Wizard can, in fact, become an entire location in your game world that you can customize to fit your story. Since the traps in this book are presented in context, there is a map showing one way that they all could all fit together in a ready-made locale.
The book itself is fun to read because it is written so that you are being told of this Dungeon of Doom by a deliciously devious fellow named Grimtooth. You may even find yourself reading it straight through in the voice of the Crypt Keeper. The text has funny little jokes here and there as well, such as a Wizard named Evinrood, which brings to mind a certain brand of boat motors.
Steven S Crompton’s artwork is traditional fantasy stuff drawn in an old school comic book sort of way that may remind you of Jack Kirby. It’s also filled with unexpected bits of whimsical jokes that may make you chuckle, such as a bendy straw in Grimtooth’s skull goblet. Many traps have humorous illustrations with little sight gags and puns, yet are still detailed enough to explain how they work.
This book is for any role playing game system, so the deadliness of the traps, described in game mechanics or ‘crunch’ terms, is fairly generic. The saving throws are in percent so that they can be rolled with a 100 sided die (d100) or two d10s. The challenge that each trap poses to the players is described by Grimtooth with Level One posing little difficulty to anyone but a raw recruit to Level Four being out of the question for beginners, even somewhat dangerous to the really high level characters. These especially deadly traps can be tweaked if you suspect that your heroes won’t level up before they get that far. Finally, the damage that each trap might deal to a character is described in the number of D6s that the DM should roll against the health of the character(s) in jeopardy. Grimtooth says that you are free to adjust each of these mechanics to the game system of your choice, though they seem perfectly suitable ways of figuring traps for most RPGs. Grimtooth’s four skull rating also helps point out the traps’ potential.
Most of the traps seem to be based on sound physical principles and may even work in real life. There’s even a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning in the book. Many have a fantasy element to them, though, with mythical monsters, mind-altering gasses and such to augment them. Taking such elements out, if you wish, may require a few tweaks to make them a bit more deadly. Playtesters came up with a few adjustments, especially for creatures involved in these traps, for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D), Warhammer and Tunnels and Trolls. These are described in the Appendix as examples of how to adjust these traps for your favorite RPG.
All the traps are great, but you may find Trap #7 to be a favorite. It is delightfully devious in that the delvers unwittingly power it themselves in their desperate attempt to climb the stairs. They’ll find it even more difficult than trying to walk up the down escalator at the mall in real life, especially since the edges of each step are razor sharp. Should anyone give up climbing, they’ll wind up at the bottom of the stairs into a huge slicer powered by anyone still trying to climb out. It may be the first mechanical escalator your players will have encountered in a dungeon.
If that’s not enough, it also features one of everyone’s favorite little tricks, the gradually lowering ceiling ready to crush the hapless adventurer flat. They will make it worse on themselves as they try to climb the stairs because the escalator powers the ceiling lowering mechanism. The harder they try to escape, the worse things get. If they somehow make it to the top of the stairs, they are right into the runaway elevator of Trap #8. If they try to go back, they are bombarded by air elemental driven sand and gold dust again from Trap #6. Cue maniacal laughter!
Grimtooth’s Dungeon of Doom is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. However, if your players are okay with the possibility that their character might not live happily ever after once the campaign ends and if you, as DM, are not reluctant to inadvertently arrange their character’s introduction to whatever afterlife(s) your game setting has, then this is a must have. Used separately, in groups or all together, these traps are equal parts humor and horror turning a ho-hum dungeon into a carnival of carnage. It doesn’t get any better.