The Dungeoneers (A D&D Minisetting)

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The Dungeoneers[edit]

By Elliot

The dungeoneers is a minisetting for D&D 3.0. It may be more appropriate however to call it a game model as it can be dropped in almost any setting. It combines gritty low level play with a structured adventure model. In short, it’s “Regular Joes die their way through horrifying dungeons”.

This minisetting is broken into two parts. The first part is a section on characters, who the dungeoneers are and what they have mostly. The second part is called Topics of interest and covers a number of subjects relating to dungeoneers and what they do.


In the minisetting, the character choices are quite vast. This is actually to promote disharmony and oddity in the group. Unlike most adventuring parties, most of the drama in a dungeoneers game comes from the group trying to work together as a team, despite their differences.


The only racial requirement is that a recruit must have a pulse, so no undead. In practice though, angels, demons and nonsentients are usually disallowed from the dungeoneers. Stereotypical evil races are fine however; the tension between a goblin and a dwarf PC can be a lot of fun. Some GMs however will prefer to only use the standard races. Most GMs will make sure the party is within an effective level or so of each other as well.


Encourage the PCs to pick the class they want to play. Druids and paladins are usually fairly rare in the dungeoneers, but this doesn’t stop the odd one from joining up. Fighters and rogues are generally the most numerous, followed by bards, sorcerers and wizards. In most games, mismatched race-class characters like kobold paladins seem stupid and absurd, but they would be valuable characters in a dungeoneers game.


I feel it’s generally better to not restrict alignment in a dungeoneers game. Having wildly conflicting alignments can introduce inter-party tension which can make the game a whole lot more rewarding. A party of lawful good elves nervously asking for healing from Danita, their chaotic evil cleric of the slaughter god can make for some very interesting games. Of course, the dungeoneers are not paranoia troubleshooters and the game shouldn’t revolve around the characters trying to kill each other. You may want to advise evil characters to keep their nefarious deeds in area of cartoonish villainy to reduce the chances that other players will stop the aforementioned characters repugnant behavior once and for all.

Background and Personality[edit]

Background is actually less important then many D&D games, but should not be forgotten about completely. Backgrounds should not be long unless the character is weird enough to merit it, a paragraph should suffice.

Backgrounds should provide answers to two questions.

• History: What did you do before you became a dungeoneer?

• Motivation: Why did you become a dungeoneer?

History may be as short as a sentence or as long as a paragraph. All it does it describe what you did before you became a dungeoneer. “I was an orcish scout for the northern tribes.” or “I was a whore working in a brothel in the big city.” are both good backgrounds.

Motivation is the most important part of a background. It should explain why you became a dungeoneer. Money and the need to poverty are good motivations, as is fear. Some join the dungeoneers out of righteousness and community spirit and some just have an enormous death wish.

We have neglected personality so far, but in truth you built the core of your character’s personality with the motivation. Now just take a look at your attributes, class and race and come up with a fun concept that fits them and your background. Remember that many characters who become dungeoneers are not healthy people. It is usually not polite to make a really annoying character, but if you really want to, go for it. Just don’t be too surprised if the party leaves your butt at the bottom of that pit trap. Here are two example backgrounds and personalities that fit the two examples I made earlier in the section.

Krar: Krar was a scout for a northern orc tribe called the blue hands until they were destroyed by a plague of dire wolves. Krar went south to seek his fortune and rebuild his tribe when he got it. Joining the dungeoneers to get rich fast, Krar is a surly and greedy braggart.

Delia: Delia worked as a prostitute in one of the biggest cities in the land. She drunk away all the money she made and joined the dungeoneers to escape the prostitution trade. Delia is jovial and gregarious, hating to be alone. She is hoping to make enough money for her to retire and quit drinking, but she is finding more and more that she likes combat.


Because of the “special circumstances” of most recruits, many dungeoneers start with next to nothing. Most D&D characters start out with halfway decent weapons, halfway decent armor and enough supplies to make it almost anywhere; most D&D characters yearn for magical items and exotic equipment. The dungeoneers is different. By severely restricting the amount of equipment they can have, the PCs will have to make do with what little they can buy and what they can salvage. In short, D&D characters yearn for material excellence and dungeoneer characters yearn for material competence.

Dungeoneer characters start with the following

• The clothes on your back and any personal effects

• One canteen full of water or beer

• 25 gold pieces for buying equipment

• A holy symbol (for clerics)

• Spellbook and bag of common spell components (for wizards and sorcerers)

• 1 Gold Medallion of the Queen’s Royal Squad of Dungeoneers (Do not pawn)

You may have characters buy their equipment separately or as a group. But beware, if you let them buy as a group, they will pool their money and use it much more efficiently. You can also have the characters do their shopping on-screen or off-screen, off-screen buying in generally a lot easier, but it precludes most attempts to steal things.

Topics of Interest[edit]


In short, a town is three things. It is a place to start adventures, it is a place to supply your players with equipment, healing and other services and finally, it acts as a great plot hook. Most small towns have a dungeoneer tower where the dungeoneers are assigned to live. Most small towns also have a wide range of things to sell to the dungeoneers. Towns are often in need of protection from orc hordes, troll bands, demon swarms and a million other evils. Try to pick a flavor for a town and keep it going session, so players come to see the town as a permanent object. Players can buy low grade magical items like scrolls, potions and lesser magic items in town, but must go to the big city if they want powerful magical gear.


Keeps are the base from which the dungeoneers set out to their adventures. Usually placed in or around a town, the keep serves a place to store equipment, a place to sleep and a place to receive orders from superiors. Keeps are not always stone fortresses, but can be wooden tree forts, run down villas and even underground fortifications such as a former dungeon. Have your group of dungeoneers flesh out their place of residence. The dungeoneer’s commander usually dwells here.

The Commander[edit]

The commander is the dungeoneer team’s superior officer. It is they who describe and order the characters into dungeons. It is they who give out commendations and censures, as well as perform the inspections. Commanders are often stone hearted bastards, but the players need to suck up to them to get ahead.

The City[edit]

The city is a large settlement from which the dungeoneers receive their orders. Dungeoneers, at least most ones, do not start out in cities. The areas around the cities have already been cleaned out of dangerous dungeons. The city is the place to go when the dungeoneers find something really dangerous that they cannot defeat without aid. Some cities are happy and boisterous, some are orderly and staid and some are even dens of crime and iniquity. In emergency situations, cities may need protecting. well hells on wheels


Unsurprisingly, dungeons are the foundation of a dungeoneers adventure. They need not be underground, but often are. For this game, a dungeon is a confined space where the adventure happens, it could be a cave, a building or even a town. Some adventures may happen in places that are not confined, such as forests and plains. These “dungeonless” adventures are rarely handed out to the dungeoneers, but are always a good change of pace. Much work has been done on the subject of dungeons (as they are so common), the following work was compiled by the Valorous College of Dungeonography (VCD) in Valorium.

The most common type of dungeon is called an Underground Complex by the Valorous College of Dungeonography. These structures consist of a network of underground rooms and corridors. These structures may be natural cave formations, artificial hallways or even insect burrowed tubes. Never content at just one definition, the VCD has broken the Underground Complex definition into three different labels.

Natural Caves Natural caves are underground areas that have been formed by any number of natural geologic processes. They are quite rarely encountered by dungeoneers simply because they tend to be structurally unforgiving to sentient beings. Floors are highly uneven, ceilings and walls are even worse, tunnels may shrink and widen randomly and there are usually no convenient sources of clean water and air. Natural caves rarely contain sentients, but often contain monsters, animals and the occasional hermit. Sometimes though, natural caves will harbor great finds as many assume that no one will brave their depths. Natural caves that are modified for sentient use become artificial caves.

Artificial Caves Artificial caves are underground areas that have been hollowed out for some reason or another, by sentients or some other life form such as a giant worm. Artificial caves are also natural caves that have been heavily modified for use; in fact, most artificial caves start off as natural caves. Floors, ceilings and walls are usually fairly even (especially in well traveled areas) and there are often convenient sources of water nearby. The theorized underdark is supposed to be a huge artificial cave that connects numerous underground sites into a gigantic network. Artificial caves most likely comprise the bulk of dungeons in the lands.

Artificial Complex This is what most people think of when they hear the word dungeon. They think of corridors filled with traps, connecting rooms filled with harrowing monsters. While artificial complexes are somewhat rare, they are the most common dungeon in dungeoneer missions. This is simply because artificial complexes are easier to control, easier to defend and are valuable to all that can control them. This means that the ownership of an artificial complex will change somewhat frequently, and these changes often bring dungeoneer teams.

Dungeon Creation[edit]

As a gamemaster creates a dungeon for the group to explore, they should remember a few things. But these things could most likely be summed up as “Create interesting and dangerous dungeons for this dungeon based game.” Here they are in further detail.

1. Random Dungeons Firstly, resist the temptation to create random dungeons. I know it seems in keeping with the spirit of the minisetting, but it often creates very boring dungeons. Since this game is going to be about exploring dungeons, you need them to be interesting.

2. Interesting Environments This brings me to my next point, interesting environments create interesting adventures. Dungeons can harbor almost any kind of terrain; use this to your advantage as a gamemaster. You could have the entire dungeon laid out along an underground stream. Or you could map the dungeon vertically like an anthill and have the players struggle to climb up and down the deep shafts common to such installations.

3. Plausibility Plausibility is something that you can stretch very far in a dungeoneers game, but be careful not to break it entirely. It’s perfectly alright to have a bunch of weird things in your dungeons, but try and explain why they are there, at least a little bit.

4. Proper Antagonists Proper antagonists will make or break a dungeoneers game. Find a theme and then run with it. It doesn’t really matter how serious or comical you play this up (within reason), as long as you have a theme and stick with it. You may want to have a wacky dungeon full of disparate monsters, or you may want just a bunch of sly kobolds or just about anything. But once you have the sly kobolds, don’t just drop in a beholder without an explanation why it’s there.

5. Size of the Dungeon The size of the dungeon will largely determine how long it takes to play through. This is completely up to you. I find that the smaller kinds (10-20 rooms) are more appropriate to dungeoneer adventures as they are quick to get through and retain more of a “Series of missions” feel to them. But larger dungeons have more options and feel like more of an accomplishment. Make dungeons the size you want them to be.

Adventure Order[edit]

Dungeoneers adventures are rarely spontaneous and usually follow an ordered path. This is one of the defining parts of the dungeoneers and it is the thing that players will come to expect. However, you should feel free to break this structure every once and a while, just to keep players on their toes.

1. First Inspection The inspection is the first part of a dungeoneers adventure. The players are presumably in their keep when they are rudely awakened by their commander. The commander inspects the keep and the players for rules violations, manners and cleanliness. This step is often skipped or done only once in a while in most dungeoneers games. Pay is also distributed at the end of this stage.

2. Orders and Information This is the first real part of a dungeoneers adventure. The superior gives them their orders and any information they have about the dungeon in question. This probably includes a description of the dungeon, its history, its inhabitants, why the dungeoneers are needed and the how to get there. This information is often slightly inaccurate and less often completely false. The commander may also supply the dungeoneers with a map of the dungeon, although these maps are usually less accurate then the rest of the information. This map may be the map the players made last time they went to the dungeon and died.

3. Buying Supplies in Town In this stage, the players get their gear and head out to town to buy any supplies they need. This may include rations, weapons, armor and other tools that may be useful in the dungeon. Follow the equipment guidelines and the town’s flavor to determine what is available. This stage is also a good time to get rumors and warnings about the dungeon from the townsfolk. Although sometimes very correct, these rumors are often as not wrong and even sometimes deliberately misleading. Some pre-made adventures will have a rumor table on them.

4. The Dungeon This step encompasses the travel to and from the dungeon and the dungeon itself. It is the most important stage and almost always contains the narrative thread of an adventure. This may be as long or as short as you want. Adventure design is detailed elsewhere so I will not dwell on the adventure stage here.

5. Commendations and Censures After whatever issue in the dungeon is resolved by the players, they will return back and report their work to the superior. Their commander assesses their success (or failure) and distributes to the players, commendations for excellent behavior and censures for substandard behavior. See the Commendations and Censures section for more details. This last stage wraps up the adventure and provides closure. It also gives you a chance to praise (or berate) player characters on their (in)competence.

Commendations and Censures[edit]

These are the rewards and punishments that commanders dole out to dungeoneer groups based on their performance or behavior. Since commanders can’t usually spy on dungeoneer groups in the field, most commendations and censures are based acts that the commander can see. There are both minor and major commendations and censures. Try not to use these too often, they are ways of pushing the players into doing good things (or not doing bad things).

Minor Commendations and Censures
Bringing in an enemy alive: 10 gp reward per enemy, 20 gp for important enemies.
Helping an ally not related to the mission: 20 gp reward.
Destroying a monster not related to the mission: 20 gp reward.
Rudeness to mission related persons: 5 gp penalty per infraction.
Insolence: 10 gp penalty per infraction.
Keeping dungeon loot for personal use: Confiscation of loot plus 5 gp penalty.
Letting mission related persons come to harm: 70 gp penalty.
Sloppy equipment: 5 gp penalty.
Deliberately injuring teammates: 10 gp penalty.
Deliberate cruelty to enemies: 20 gp penalty.
Slaughter of noncombatant enemies: 50 gp penalty.

Major Commendations and Censures
Acts above and beyond the call of duty: 100 to 1000 gp bonus or magical item.
Single handedly completing the entire mission: 400 gp, celebration.
Defending many innocents from certain death: 200 gp bonus, celebration.
Saving nobles unrelated to the mission from certain doom: 500 gp bonus, celebration.
Directly interfering with mission objectives: 50-200 gp penalty.
Besmirching the name of the Dungeoneers: 100-200 gp penalty, red body paint.
Letting mission related persons die: 500 gp penalty, a week in the stockades.
Inaction resulting in the death of team members: 100 gp penalty, a week in the stockades.

Dungeoneer Rules[edit]

Like most organizations, the dungeoneers has a number of rules that must be followed by its members. These rules are in place to ensure the organization works, to give power to the hierarchy, and finally, to protect the reputation of the dungeoneers and the kingdom it works for. There are many rules, but they can be summed up into three main points. This gives the GM a lot of freedom to add new rules or define existing ones to complicate the dungeoneer’s lives.

Death and Destruction The dungeoneers are not supposed to cause undue death and destruction where it is not warranted. This might just say that dungeoneers are banned from killing random beings unrelated to the mission, or it might mean that all but the worst enemies should be brought back alive.

Loot The dungeoneers are supposed to turn over any and all loot they find in a dungeon to the proper authorities, including potions, magical items, coins and other things. This one is sure to annoy players and it will cause much drama as they try to sneak loot out of the dungeon and past their commander. This is the reason the penalty for trying to keep loot is so low. Most spell books and scrolls are exempt from this loot rule.

Authority The dungeoneers are supposed to listen to all superior officers and do their utmost to complete the missions their commander assigns. This rule also covers general manners.

Rule of the Dice[edit]

The rule of the dice is an important feature in a dungeoneers game. GMs should endeavor to follow the lead of the dice most of the time. The challenge a GM faces is to provide an interesting story around the results of the dice. However, sometimes the dice conspire to completely rob a game of fun. In these situations, the GM should intervene secretly to save the story, just make sure the players don’t find out.


It may seem on a first read that a dungeoneers game is devoid of heroism, this is utterly false. Heroism is alive and well in any good dungeoneers adventure and it comes from two basic sources. The first is simply the fact that a dungeoneer is less likely to live as long as a normal D&D character, it would follow that most players are going to be less attached to them and more willing to engage in risky behavior. The second is that while a dungeoneer party may not be saving the world, they are engaging in incredibly dangerous work. Heroism of some level is almost required; it just may not look like the traditional kind.

--Elliot 11:33, 18 May 2005 (PDT)