D&D General The Grand List of Dungeon Challenges

Every now and then us Dungeon Masters suffer a moment of designers block when creating our dungeons. Our dungeon seems to be missing something... an interesting obstacle, or a simple puzzle to spice up that boring maze of corridors and rooms. If only there were a thread with ideas, ready for use.

The rules of this thread are simple. Describe one or more simple dungeon challenges in a way so that any DM can easily insert it into their dungeon. The challenge can be limited to just one room, or span across multiple. Try to also think about ways in which the players might try and break the challenge (for example, with magic). Is this allowed or not? Illustrations of the challenge are optional. The challenges can be presented independently of system or edition. If you want to provide DC's for elements of the challenge, you are free to do so, but it is not required.

I'll start us off, but anyone is welcome to add their ideas.


The Crevice of Creatures

This challenge revolves around two rooms, separated by an old iron portcullis. The players must attempt to open a set of heavy steel doors in one room, but in order to do that they need to get into the other room to reach a heavy lever. Unfortunately the portcullis is broken, and the mechanism to lift it seems to be long gone. But there is a hidden crevice behind a bookshelf that also leads into the room with the lever. This crevice is just large enough for a medium person to squeeze through, where upon they are attacked by vermin. While squeezing through the crevice a character is unable to swing their weapon effectively (it is either impossible, or the DM may give a severe penalty). A succesful perception check may reveal the sound of insects near the crevice. The players can also use magic to overcome this obstacle. A simple Knock spell will lift the portcullis, or open the steel doors.

Repairing the Statues

Two stone statues hold a set of stone doors closed. The statues contain a hidden mechanism that allows them to open and close the doors whenever someone kneels onto a pressure plate in front of the doors. A stone engraving on the wall shows a monk kneeling on the pressure plate, saying a prayer and the doors opening. Unfortunately currently several body parts of the statues are missing and the statues will not operate unless they are complete. The players must search the rest of the dungeon to recover the missing pieces, as well as find the text of the prayer (found on a stone tablet elsewhere in the dungeon). The stone doors are warded against magic.

The Flooded Corridor

A tunnel descends towards a dead end where the tunnel is partially flooded and has collapsed. The murky water reaches up to the players' neck and hides an underwater corridor from view that allows the players to bypass the rubble. The players must dive underwater to see the corridor. The rubble is too heavy and plentiful to clear by hand, although an explosion might clear the blockade as well.

Forging a new Gear

The players encounter a large door operated by a mechanism of gears and a large winch in the floor (which must be operated by multiple people). One of the gears is missing. The players must locate a forge elsewhere in the dungeon to make a new gear. Optionally, they may need a mold to make the gear, which could also be elsewhere in the dungeon. The door is warded against magic.

The Bridge of Hymns

The players must cross a deep ravine. If the players sing a specific hymn, magical stone platforms start to float upward and form a bridge. Elsewhere in the dungeon, a stone carving shows singing priests walking across the ravine via the floating platforms, as the players are expected to do. Religious characters may already know the hymn, or the players may need to find it elsewhere in the dungeon. If the players are expected to find the hymn first, it is best to place it in a logical location, such as a church or shrine.

The Scorched Priest

Above a pool of sulfuric acid dangles a steel cage, suspended from the ceiling by a rusty chain and just out of reach. Inside the cage are the remains of a dead priest. The cage was originally used to allow the priest to inhale the sulfuric gasses to receive spiritual visions, but this priest seems long deceased. He carries with him a key item that the players need. This key item does not melt in acid, should the players completely bungle this challenge. A counter weight keeps the cage at its current height, although any added weight will cause the cage to descend into the acid. The players can use a Spider Climb spell to reach the cage, or they can jump to the cage. Another player can hold onto the counter weight, to keep the cage from descending. Alternatively, if the key item is light enough, the players may use a mage hand spell to acquire the item.
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Divide And Conquer
Admittedly an old one, but tried and true. The PCs are either traveling or being pursued down a corridor. There is a pressure plate in the floor that causes a wall or porticullis to drop some distance behind the triggering PC (I prefer approximately 10').

The plate also causes secret doors on both sides of the porticullis to open (I prefer 30' from the porticullis), which are filled with aggressive monsters (preferably ageless creatures without biological requirements, such as undead).

The party must now fight on a divided front, adapting their tactics accordingly. There are levers in both secret rooms that will reset the trap, raising the porticullis. Barring that, a sufficiently strong character may be able to raise the porticullis, or magic (teleportation, passwall, etc) might be used to circumvent it, if available.

The greatest risk is that the PCs discover the pressure plate and do not trigger the trap, which is why it should be well concealed, but not impossible to find for attentive players. Perhaps they notice by default that in the area where the porticullis is designed to fall, the floor is scuffed. If they look up, they notice a cleverly recessed area in the ceiling designed to look like a shadow to the casual observer, from where the porticullis will fall. Even if they do discover this, they must still locate the trigger and figure out how to circumvent it. But a lot of this latter portion will be handled in varying ways based on DMing approach; these are just a few ideas for one possible way of adjudication.

Jumping the cages

In a tall room several steel cages hang from the ceiling, filled with the corpses of former prisoners. A staircase leads up to a higher level of the room, making it possible for the players to easily leap onto one of the cages (which happens to be empty). The cages form a perfect path to the other side, giving the players access to another balcony on the other side of the room, and there by to a different level of the dungeon that would otherwise be unreachable. There is a catch however. As soon as the players are halfway, the corpses in the cages spring to life and start going crazy. They scream and rattle in their cages, making jumping across the cages a bit more difficult (increase the DC of jumping from cage to cage accordingly). For added difficulty, you can have some of the corpses escape their cages and drop to the room below, and attack any players that stayed behind.

Sewer exit

A small square room descends into a deep pit, with a vile stench emanating from below. A strong jet of brown water exits from a stone pipe that is about 15 ft. high in the wall and dropping down into the murky pit below. On the other side of the room is a doorway leading further into the dungeon. A thin ledge surrounds the room which is level with the floor. The players can attempt to leap the 20 ft. gap. Alternatively, they can attempt to shimmy along the small ledge to reach the other side. But the floor is quite wet and slippery, so they may struggle to keep their balance on the ledge. The ceiling of the room is quite high, about 40 ft. above from where the players are standing. Should the players fall into the pit, they'll drop 40 ft. down and land in the sewer water below, where they must make fortitude saves or risk exposure to a disease/poison. A rusty pipe along the side of the pit allows them to climb back out.

The Kennel

The players find a rectangular room filled with rectangular cages that line two of its walls. In the cages are about 12 angry dire wolves, snarling, drooling and howling. Another dire wolf is chained to the back wall, with a ring of keys hanging next to it from the same wall. The keys open doors elsewhere in the dungeon. The players can use their skill at animal handling to safely grab the keys. They can also kill the wolf or attempt to distract it, so another player can quickly grab the keys. Alternatively, the players may be able to pacify the wolf with some tasty meat, if they happen to carry some on their person. The wolf's chain has a length of 10ft. The wolves in the other cages are just to scare the players and aren't actually any threat. The noise of the wolves may attract the attention of nearby guards though.

The Dividing Daise

In a lone round room is a round raised platform. In the centre of this platform is a stone pillar, with 4 (or more) dragon heads with open gaping maws. Below each maw a circle has been edged into the daise, as if marking a location for a person to stand. Inside each maw is a heavy copper ring that can be pulled to activate an internal mechanism. However, in order to do so a person must reach inside a maw to pull it. The moment a person pulls a ring, the maw closes around their hand, and they descend into a room below, effectively separating them from their party, where upon they are released again. The maw does not come back up, so the player is on his own. This set up is perfect for setting the party up for challenges that they must complete on their own. Alternatively, you could have multiple rooms, each with only one dragon head, if you want to separate the players even more and want to avoid trickery.

Murder Holes

The players enter a short corridor (which is actually a disguised gatehouse) with a 15 ft. high curved ceiling, leading into another room (room B). In the ceiling of this corridor they can see two wooden portcullises that can close off the gatehouse on both sides. They may also spot the murder holes in the ceiling, allowing its defenders to shoot down on any intruders (such as the players). The moment the players step inside the gatehouse, both portcullises drop down, locking the players inside. Crossbow men will start firing down at the players, who are difficult to hit due to their cover. To make this encounter even more difficult, the attackers could also pour boiling oil down on the players. Players struck by the oil take 4d6 damage and catch fire. To escape the gatehouse a player must climb up to the murder holes and operate the winch that raises the portcullises. A staircase from this upper level leads back down to the next room (room B). It may be possible for a player to try and dash past the portcullises as they drop. To rule on this, simply make an attack as the portcullis with a +10 bonus. The portcullis deals 3d6 melee damage if it hits and then pins the player underneath it. Lifting the portcullis requires a high strength check.

The sliding block puzzle

This puzzle is best introduced by starting off simple, and then having it reappear in subsequent rooms. Basically all the players need to do, is slide stone blocks (about 5ft. high) across a track on the floor of the room. Each room contains a number of these blocks and each block has part of a geometric shape on its top side. When blocks are pushed together, they form a complete shape. The catch is however, that as soon as a block is pushed, it slides all the way along the track until it either reaches the end of the track, or hits another block. A lever on the wall resets the puzzle, so it is important for the DM to make note of the starting positions and orientation of the blocks. The players cannot rotate the blocks, so they must work with the starting orientation of each block. For this puzzle it is essential to illustrate it to your players. There are a couple of different blocks:

-Block with a dot on top: This block can't be pushed at all, and merely serves as a means to stop the other blocks from moving.

-Two blocks that form a line: This combination is best used as an introduction to the puzzle.

-Three blocks that form a triangle: This is a more advanced shape for later versions of the puzzle.

-Four blocks that form a rectangle: This is best used for the highest difficulty version of the puzzle.

The tracks on the floor basically cover a complete square, and allows the blocks to move either up, down left or right. Diagonal movements are not allowed. If the players attempt to obstruct the path of a block as it moves, the block deals 4d6 crushing damage to whatever obstructs it. The puzzle will then reset automatically. As soon as all shapes are completed, the puzzle opens a door. This puzzle system can be used to create very complicated puzzles, or very simple ones. But the DM should make sure that the block configuration can be completed.

Sacred Rite Puzzle

The players find a stone carving somewhere in the dungeon that shows how this ritual is performed. The players must then memorize it to solve the puzzle when they encounter it. In a small shrine the players find an altar on which there is a copper bowl in which something must be burned, a copper cup which must be filled with something, and a mortar and pestle in which something must be crushed. The players must complete the rite correctly, to open a secret tunnel underneath the altar. The components for the puzzle can be found throughout the dungeon.
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The Malfunctioning Elevator

The players come upon an elevator shaft with a steam powered elevator inside. The elevatir is little more than a square wooden room with a metal ring on a chain, which should normally activate the elevator. But for some reason the elevator does not seem to be responding. If the players search the elevator, they can find a hatch in the ceiling, allowing them to climb to the floor above. The players either have to restore steam pressure to the elevator to reach higher floors, or the elevator starts moving by itself just as the players start climbing into the shaft. If the elevator starts moving while the players are in the shaft, it won't actually crush the players, even though they may think so, because there is enough space at the top of the elevator shaft for a person to crouch in.

The Steam Leak

A corridor is filled with steam pipes and a leak of scolding hot steam is blocking the way. The steam can be shut off with a metal handle, which is currently missing from a pipe. The players must search to find the missing handle, or use magic to overcome the obstacle. The steam deals 4d6 fire damage on touch.

The Belltower

The dungeon has a tower with a large copper bell. When this bell is sounded while anyone is below it, they are deafened and cannot communicate with each other verbally. The bell can also be used as a trap to drop onto unsuspecting intruders, dealing 12d6 damage if it hits. Make an attack roll for the bell as if it were an attacker. After the bell has crashed to the ground, it blocks the way and is too heavy to move.

The Rickety Bridge

A simple rope bridge spans a chasm. Crossing the bridge can be done safely, along as individuals move slowly. Any round where a creature runs or takes a combat action on the bridge, there is a 50% chance a plank gives way underneath their feet and they find themselves dangling from the bottom of the bridge. Such a creature is then considered prone, until they spend a move action to climb back up.

For added difficulty you can plan a surprise attack on the players here. You can also track the spaces on the bridge that have collapsed, and rule that a player automatically falls when there are no more safe adjacent spaces left to hold onto.

The Rotating Room

The players find a small triangular room with one wall that is at a curved angle (like the outer edge of a slice of cake). Just outside the room is a heavy wheel that requires a strength check. A maximum of 3 other people can assist in pushing the wheel. As soon as the wheel is turned, the room rotates 45 degrees, giving access to a whole different area of the dungeon. This set up can be used to make complicated puzzles, especially if there are 3 other similarly shaped rooms that rotate along with it.

The trick to building puzzles around the rotating room, is to restrict access to the wheel that rotates the room. It can also be used as an effective way to force the party to split up, by having 2 people turn the wheel, while the rest of the party stands inside the room. Once the party is split by a rotated room, the walls in between make it impossible for the separated players to communicate verbally by normal means (magic still works).
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The Clocktower

This room is a 200ft. tall rectangular tower made of stone bricks and supported by thick wooden beams. Dozens of iron gears, pendulums and axles rotate to power a large clock. There is an old wooden ladder that used to bridge the upper and lower section of the clocktower, connecting to other areas of the dungeon. However, the ladder has broken down a long time ago and no longer looks safe to climb. The players can fix it with a spell, or attempt to climb it anyway. If the players attempt to climb the ladder (without fixing it), roll a D100.

1-15: The ladder doesn't break.
16-25: The ladder breaks at a height of 50 ft.
26-50: The ladder breaks at a height of 100 ft. (Half way)
51-75: The ladder breaks at a height of 150 ft.
76-90: The ladder breaks at a height of 175 ft.
91-100: The ladder breaks just before the player reaches the top at 200ft. (Top)

The players can also attempt to climb the clocktower by leaping across the gears. Treat the climb as 3 separate challenges with a DC that increases with each check. With the first check the player climbs to 50ft., the second to 100 ft., and the third to 175 ft. So if the player fails one of these checks, they fall from that height.

To add additional difficulty, you can also make the players dodge a pendulum at the halfway point, or be knocked off the tower (suffering 1d12+8 bludgeoning damage from the pendulum and any falling damage depending on the height). The pendulum has to make an attack against the player as if it were an attacker.

There is also a possibility for the players to stop the clock by jamming the gears. Any object made of wood will be crushed by the gears and have no effect, but a metal or stone object of medium size or larger can jam the gears. Reduce the DC of climbing the clocktower by 10 for each of the 3 challenges, and the players no longer need to dodge a pendulum either.
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The Coffee Grinder
A rolling boulder lands behind the party Indiana Jones style. The hallway goes on for a bit, then opens into a room with countless glass statues, and a large iron door on the far side. If the party runs to the door, the entire room pivots downward and drops the glass statues on them. If the party ducks to the side, the boulder rolls across the room shattering statues and causes the room to pivot anyway.

The Compliment
The room has an hourglass hanging from the ceiling that begins trickling sand. The wall is lined with smooth polished rocks with Magic Mouth cast on each one. One stone has the name of the BBEG. The others are a mix of words that include both compliments and insults. The party has to make the mouths say “BBEG is glorious and beautiful!” or some other vain compliment before the timer runs out. If time runs out, the mouths scream so loud the party goes deaf until a long rest.

Tesla Coils

One or more rooms in the dungeon can be protected with these devices, blocking progress for the players. These wall of ceiling mounted devices resemble an iron antenna, ending in a donut shaped copper end. It fills the room with bolts of electricity, which deal 5d8 automatic damage to anyone stepping foot in the room, and launches them backwards. Spells that protect against electricity render the character immune to the effects of this trap. However, the best way to deal with this obstacle is to find the generators that power it. Depending on how difficult the DM wants to make this challenge, there could be one or more wires leading away from the teslacoil and towards the generators that power it, or the location of the generators might be hidden entirely. It could be just one generator, or several, which the players need to shut down.
The generators resemble two glass cylinders filled with acid, with various coils and wires wrapped around them. They make a constant loud buzzing sound, indicating they are active. The glass can be smashed or blown up (5hp, hardness 2), but if any character is adjacent to it when it is destroyed, they take 2d8 acid damage. The generator can also be disabled safely with an intelligence check, or an engineering check.

The Turn Table

A massive stone bridge is positioned in a round chamber. There are four openings on each side of the room, but the bridge only connects two of these openings, which are straight across from one another. The players can use spells to reach the other doorways, but they can also seek out a mechanism in the dungeon that rotates the turn table. Below the bridge is a 50ft. drop, ending in an emty room of the dungeon. DM's should provide a way back up (via a ladder, staircase or tunnel). DM's can expand on this concept by adding more doorways and positions for the turn table to stop at. Take heed however that the layout of the dungeon should accomodate a means for the players to reach the bridge after it has rotated to its new position.

Bucket lift

A beast of burden is walking inside a large wooden wheel, which powers a bucket lift. Dozens of rectangular metal buckets carry coal (or some other material) out of a vertical shaft, up to a higher level. The buckets can easily carry a person to the top, but tend to wobble when they shift their weight. At the top of the lift the buckets reach a large drive gear, which will crush anyone that doesn't jump off, dealing 8d6 crushing damage. Leaping off the bucket is tricky because of the tilting of the bucket, so adjust the DC accordingly to make it a good challenge for your players. Characters that fail their jump, take falling damage based on the height of the room. For added difficulty, the players may need to interact with the beast of burden to get it to walk in the first place, or even need to lead it from a pen to the wheel first. Handle Animal checks may apply here.
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