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D&D 5E Help Designing Shrinking Dungeon

Trit One-Ear

Explorer
Hey all,

My heroes are making their way towards my latest dungeon, and boy do I have a fun concept for this one.

The dungeon is fairly run down, and initially involves a series of seemingly simple challenges, all of which feel pretty underwhelming. The heroes arrive at the McGuffin they're seeking in the inner chamber... only to find it is an illusion. Instead, they are cursed and shrunk down to about 1/12th their normal size!
They must now progress back through the dungeon, facing the same challenges, now much more threatening.

Great concept! In execution... I'm having some trouble. Here are some of the ideas I've had so far:
  • Reskinning high-level beasts and monstrosities as various insects/vermin they can ignore on their way in.
  • Things like puddles or small streams become lakes and raging rivers.
  • An animated chess board changes from a logic puzzle to a battlefield between two golem armies (and our heroes are caught in the crossfire)
  • I think the final boss will be a "gigantic" goblin (or similar), which will be a Shadow of the Colossus style epic showdown.
I have two main concerns.
1 - This is not enough to fill a whole dungeon
2 - My party is fairly high level (will be 12 by the start of the dungeon), and many of them have flying capability. Many of the fun obstacles I could think up rely on non-flight movement for them to be... actual obstacles. Would it be a hugely negative feeling to have those abilities "shut off" by something in the dungeon for the sake of the gimmick?

Any inspiration, insight, criticism, or other ideas y'all have are welcome!

Trit
 

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Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
Love this concept and what you already have...
Maybe they just need to get across 2-3 human size rooms, instead of back through everything.
Also, you could potentially have them moved (trap door opens with chute or something). It might be cool if you do move them to not tell them that they have been shrunk, they have to figure it out.
Ants can look like Ankhegs.

Here are some more ideas:
  • Ant Lions
  • Someone going through and sweeping a room.
  • Anteater
  • Rats
  • For flying, you can mention that there are lots of mosquitoes, bees, and dragonflies as they go in. And BATS. If they plan to fly, they will meet mosquitoes that can suck their blood out in a jiffy, bees that if they get stung, the poison may be brutal or deadly; and dragonflies - pretty nasty (but could make cool mounts if they can figure out how to get them on their side). Oh yeah, and Bats just LOVE little flying things.
  • Oh wait, 1/12th is about 6" (15cm). Maybe insects aren't such a big threat. Although maybe they are. I guess if I was 15cm tall, a 1-2cm honey bee is about the size of a possum or badger to a human. That's pretty scary if it's flying at you with nasty venom.
  • Steps are a challenge when you are only 15cm tall.
  • Who set this curse/trap? What is their purpose? Maybe whomever it is has need of some small folk; or likes to eat them; or something else - perhaps they could be getting chased by whomever that is.
  • Since they are small, at least they can hide better. Perhaps they get ADV on Hide checks against creatures of Small or larger size if they have at least half cover?
 



AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Lovely, purring cat on the way in. "Awww....isn't he cute...."

"Looks like there's a collar with a bell on this table. Should we put in on him?"

"Why on earth would we do that?"
Because of this?
1630551172875.png
 


el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Look for Chadranther's Bane from Dungeon #18 (July/August 1989) - not a dungeon setting but same basic idea (heroes shrunk down). One of the most memorable adventures I have eve run - there is an encounter with a weasel that is essentially a dragon from the perspective of the tiny PCs!
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
How many hours of gameplay do you want out of this dungeon? The way I see it, you don't need much to get the point across. Maybe 3 or 4 encounters.

You've got a flying problem. No big deal. One of the encounters could be a flying battle. The heroes are 6-inches tall so an owl might be a good opponent. Or maybe a hard-of-hearing, half-blind old woman with a broom and a serious fear of bats.

You can mitigate the flying with a simple closed door. It's too heavy for them to open and they're too big to squeeze under, so they're going to have to brave one of the many rat holes to circumvent it. At that point, you've got them on the ground and you can challenge them with rats, snakes, and scorpions, maybe cockroaches too. And of course, at the other end of the rat tunnel awaits the old lady's cat who is attracted by all the ruckus.

But that's a lot of combat. Maybe an initial conversation with the old woman where they try and convince her they're not just talking bats; or worse, house faeries plotting to steal her shoes. Maybe a mousetrap, maybe not. Maybe, when they reach the maguffin, it's sitting as bait in a "giant" mousetrap. This would be the first clue that something strange is going on.
 

Lakesidefantasy

Adventurer
I would suggest using something I call 'impressions'. To hammer home the fact that they are small and the normal-sized creatures are huge, I would suggest painting the cats, rats, old lady etc. as slightly grotesque and sinister. Depending on your point of view, things make a different impression on you.

I did this in a game where we were transformed into tiny, anthropomorphic, animals like foxes and squirrels. The bird of prey we observed before our transformation was just a bird. After the transformation it became a raptorial murder-bird with red eyes and slavering jaws. I even described puffs of smoke emanating from its razor-sharp beak.

Eagle 1.png
 



Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
I'd be tempted to shrink them all the way down to one inch tall, just so that you can lay out the battlemap and minis and say "yeah, this is actual size."
Which gives me the idea to have the layout of the dungeon EXACTLY match the layout of the room in which you are playiing. And then when they shrink down, you move their miniatures to where-ever in the room it is and say "you have to get from here to front door..."
 

MarkB

Legend
Which gives me the idea to have the layout of the dungeon EXACTLY match the layout of the room in which you are playiing. And then when they shrink down, you move their miniatures to where-ever in the room it is and say "you have to get from here to front door..."
And if the cat walks in and sees them, it's just a random encounter.
 



DeviousQuail

Explorer
Anti-flight idea 1) a prismatic spray disco ball hanging from the ceiling. At normal size it feels like a slightly warm light. At mini size it feels like 10d6 points of damage every round. Don't forget to litter the floor with miniatures that happen to be people who got hit with beam #7. Perhaps some small piles of goo, ash, or bits of ice as well. The beams only target things that are a foot off the ground. Let them learn that the hard way.

Anti-flight idea 2) the room is under the effects of an anti-transmutstion spell. No fly spell as well as feather fall, jump, polymorph, wind walk, telekinesis, water walk, gaseous form, haste, and more. This school has a lot of insta-win spells for overcoming physical obstacles. Take that away and watch the players squirm!

Bonus idea) shrink them in the place they are standing. Now they have to find each other before escaping. Even better if you make the room quite big or the shrinking even smaller. Just put a bunch of interesting things to look at around the room.
 

Trit One-Ear

Explorer
Thanks everyone for so much awesome feedback. I've been caught up in work since posting this, but I'm revisiting it now and wow y'all have some great ideas and advice.

  • For flying, you can mention that there are lots of mosquitoes, bees, and dragonflies as they go in. And BATS. If they plan to fly, they will meet mosquitoes that can suck their blood out in a jiffy, bees that if they get stung, the poison may be brutal or deadly; and dragonflies - pretty nasty (but could make cool mounts if they can figure out how to get them on their side). Oh yeah, and Bats just LOVE little flying things.
I'm loving this conceptually and mechanically. Just outright banning flying or handwaving reasons it doesn't work feels bad, but adding threats that they can choose to engage with or to avoid is much more satisfying. Bats and dragonflies sound perfect for the setting (jungle biome), and the idea of the non-flying PCs being able to hop on a dragonfly, especially for the gigantic boss fight at the end is too good to pass up.
  • Oh wait, 1/12th is about 6" (15cm). Maybe insects aren't such a big threat. Although maybe they are. I guess if I was 15cm tall, a 1-2cm honey bee is about the size of a possum or badger to a human. That's pretty scary if it's flying at you with nasty venom.
I went for 1/12th size so that feet = inches when calculating spells etc. I could probably not worry about that and make the characters smaller, just using rough estimates of spell distances etc. They're not going to really care that their range is now 60 inches vs. feet, as we use a battlemap, so as long as squares = squares we're fine.
Look for Chadranther's Bane from Dungeon #18 (July/August 1989) - not a dungeon setting but same basic idea (heroes shrunk down). One of the most memorable adventures I have eve run - there is an encounter with a weasel that is essentially a dragon from the perspective of the tiny PCs!
I did find this a while back when doing some searching -thank you for reminding me it existed! If I remember, it relied on the dungeon being a little more populated than the ruins I'm envisioning for my dungeon, but there were some good ideas in there that I had forgotten to incorporate!
I would suggest using something I call 'impressions'. To hammer home the fact that they are small and the normal-sized creatures are huge, I would suggest painting the cats, rats, old lady etc. as slightly grotesque and sinister. Depending on your point of view, things make a different impression on you.

I did this in a game where we were transformed into tiny, anthropomorphic, animals like foxes and squirrels. The bird of prey we observed before our transformation was just a bird. After the transformation it became a raptorial murder-bird with red eyes and slavering jaws. I even described puffs of smoke emanating from its razor-sharp beak.
Ooh I like this - I think I would have done a some of it by default (I like to think I'm pretty evocative with my narration) but actively leaning in to it and describing the "normal" creatures as monstrous will definitely add to the atmosphere.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I was just thinking about how amazing Peru's Sacsayhuaman is for the way water was managed on the site. If I remember right, some of the walls had integrated water delivery / irrigation elements. That could make for an interesting sort of "miniature jungle water slide chase" with the PCs floating on broad-leaves or debris through this water chute that is intermittently open-air and intermittently closed off by stone. Could be a bit like a miniature version of that ridiculous barrel-riding scene in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit, but with an added "we need to operate the mechanism" to divert the water this way and not that way.

I also love the idea of their 6" size granting them access to places they wouldn't normally have access to.
 
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