Excerpts Archive | 4/19/2012
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Dungeon Survival Handbook Dungeon Makers
Bart Carroll

Black passageways stretch out in all directions. The still, stifling air swirls gently with each cautious step forward. The clank of armor and the crunch of footsteps on gravel are the only sounds in the deep chambers, but their soft echoes seem deafening.

Around the next corner, faint lights are visible down the corridor. With no way to gauge distance in the darkness, they could be anything: far-off torches, nearby glowing fungi, or the eyes of a lurking beast reflecting the flame. After sharing a glance with the others, the party leader lifts the shutter of the bull's-eye lantern to reveal what lies ahead. . . .

Dungeons hold everything an adventurer could want: untold riches to plunder, new areas to explore, dangerous beasts to challenge, and strange societies to interact with. An ordinary adventurer accustomed to a soft life in the surface world might get a short distance into a dungeon and consider it a glorious victory.

But hardscrabble Underdark natives and veteran delvers know just how difficult survival is down there in the darkness, and that the tunnels keep descending into realms of ever greater danger.

A dungeon adventure is all about huge risks and even greater rewards. You (as well as your character) need careful preparation, problem-solving skills, nerves of steel, and a healthy dose of good luck to take on a dungeon crawl and succeed. Around every corner is some unexpected threat, deadly mystery, or never-before-seen Underdark horror. If you can't step up to the challenge, you'll never make it out.

In today's preview of the Dungeon Survival Handbook: Into the Unknown, numerous races call the Underdark and its dungeons home, though many of them are monstrous or hostile.

Their distinct ways of life are adapted to the harsh realities of underground existence. Though they are viewed with suspicion or hatred by other races, these dungeon dwellers can be every bit as heroic as their surface-dwelling counterparts.

  • Goblin: Pint-sized rascals that infest dungeons the world over, goblins are endlessly curious.
  • Kobold: Small and weak, kobolds depend on their traps and each other to survive in the Underdark.
  • Svirfneblin: Many believe these mysterious Underdark gnomes to be only a fable.


Kobolds overrun dungeons and caverns, relying on vast numbers and wicked traps to make up for their deficiencies in size and strength. Their ability to survive among the bigger and tougher monsters of the world shows just how well their tactics have worked. Kobolds gather in large tribes, reproducing quickly to replenish their numbers. Group pressure and the dictates of charismatic leaders compel all members in the community to work together toward whatever ends they need to survive. No matter what an individual kobold feels or believes, the community expects obedience, and every kobold in the tribe tries to behave in the expected way. Some kobolds have good hearts, but their chieftains believe only ruthlessness will keep the tribe strong. Thus most kobold tribes commit evil acts, or at least self-serving ones.

Kobolds have few illusions about their place in the world. They are scavengers and thieves. They do not grow their own food and would rather deprive others of their goods than craft anything. They lurk on civilization's fringes, raiding farmsteads and ambushing caravans. They settle in old ruins and dungeons, choosing places they can readily defend and fortify. Even with their great numbers, kobolds know they cannot hope to protect themselves against a determined attacker. For this reason, most tribes raise monstrous allies for added muscle or give in and become servants of dungeon rulers.

Of all the monstrous allies kobolds can make, dragons are best of all. Dragons are everything kobolds are not: enormous, majestic, and powerful. They are gods to the kobolds, their idealized selves, and thus are worthy of worship and service—should any dragon accept the little creatures. Any sign of a dragon sends the tribe into a flurry of activity. The kobolds track it to its lair and present it with sacrifices, pageants, and anything else they think it would like. Of course, a dragon presented with so many willing victims indulges its appetite and gobbles up as many as it can. But death by dragon is no deterrent to the kobolds' efforts. They see being eaten by a god as a great honor, and clamor for their chance to climb into the dragon's maw.

Older dragons see kobolds as nuisances. A quick blast of a breath weapon suffices to eliminate an infestation. The trouble for the dragon is that the kobolds do not give up and might try to serve in secret even if rejected. Younger dragons, however, might see the advantage in a loyal clan of guards and attendants to protect their hoards and warn of adventurers who come calling. Once a kobold tribe installs itself around a dragon, everything they do serves their god.

A kobold's life is unpleasant to say the least. Very few kobolds live to reach old age. Attrition claims most before they get too far into adulthood. Hunger, thirst, and want are constant companions, and even the dimmest kobolds learn to watch their backs. Kobolds are subject to the same greed as dragons, though far less intense. Most of them keep small stashes of coins or other treasure secret from the tribe, even though they know they're duty-bound to pool such resources.

Kobolds understand that they are stronger together than they are apart. All grudges are forgotten when the tribe faces an outside threat. Kobolds demonstrate surprising cunning when dealing with intruders, as evident in the traps they design to level the playing field. Kobolds' skill in trapmaking is amazing. With only minimal supplies—mostly junk—they can fashion crafty snares and clever alarms. Even intrepid explorers know that entering a kobold warren invites disfigurement and death.

The harsh reality of kobold existence demands absolute obedience to the leader's demands. Kobolds who lack the killer's instinct, show any weakness, or disobey orders are shunned and driven to the tribe's periphery. If not devoured by a passing predator or sacrificed to a bloodthirsty god, such exiles might seek their fortunes beyond the tribe. Survival is by no means assured, but such action at least gives them a chance to survive.

(624 Kbs PDF)
Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.
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