Monday, March 1, 2021

A Tékumel Dungeon Poem

A few weeks ago, my friend, Zzarchov Kowolski, creator of Neoclassical Geek Revival, pointed me toward this blog entry that put forward a challenge to create a "dungeon poem." The idea behind the "poem" is to take a specific map by Dyson Logos and key it using minimal text. Even though I have grown allergic to these kinds of online "challenges," I was initially quite excited by this one, since I thought it'd give me a chance to stretch myself a bit. Writing minimally is not easy for me, so paring down my text would take some serious effort – too much as it turned out, which is why I abandoned the idea.

Zzarchov, however, is both disciplined and persistent and convinced me, during one of our chats, to take up the challenge again, which I did yesterday morning. Over the course of about an hour I put together a terse (for me anyway) description of a small underworld beneath the Tsolyáni city of Jakálla, which I present below. It's certainly not as concise as possible, but I take some small pride in having limited myself to three sentences to describe each keyed area. The end result is satisfactory, though I readily admit that it's not my best work. On the other hand, its economy lends, I think, a certain degree of mystery to the underworld that might not have been achieved had I indulged my usual logorrhea.

The Bednallján practice of Ditlána, by which a city is ritually purified, razed, and then rebuilt every 500 years is a well-established one in the Five Empires, resulting in vast under-cities reputedly filled with rubble, wreckage, and riches. So, when poorly compensated workmen with even poorer skills inadvertently uncovered an ancient staircase on the lowest level of the Tower of the Red Dome in the Foreigners’ Quarter of Jakálla, its proprietor, Shúkoaz Vishshé, saw wealth – and danger. Rather than descending into the depths himself, he instead turned to the indigent foreigners and visitors of no status who formed his clientele, offering them a “fair” share of anything they discovered in the darkness beneath his establishment.

1. Threshold

  • The room is noticeably cool and damp.

  • Peeling frescoes depict scenes from the Hymn to Mü’ükané.

  • A portion of the southwest wall has collapsed.

2. Vestry

  • Door to the chamber is made of water-logged Tíu-wood and thus harder (–1) to open.

  • A trio of purple cloaks with black velvet hoods still hang on wooden pegs.

  • The pocket of one of the cloaks contains a key (to area 12).

3. Empty Plinth

  • A granite plinth stands in a wall niche, with the number “7” in Tsolyáni carved into it.

  • A brass or bronze statue once stood upon the plinth, considering the patina upon it.

  • A broken Chlén-hide chisel and a bag of dried black flower petals lies nearby.

4. Hall of Pillars

  • Both Tíu-wood doors are unlocked and bear a purple circle with a red slash running across it from left to right.

  • Six granite pillars encased in purple nacre stand along the west wall, numbered from one to six in Tsolyáni.

  • Touching any two or more pillars in succession whose number adds up to seven (e.g. 6+1, 2+4+1, etc.), grants a boon of Lord Hrü’ü: re-roll the next seven rolls of your choice but you must accept the new result, even if it is worse.

5. Frescoed Room

  • The chamber is moist and mildewed.

  • A pile of water-logged Ajátl-wood planks lie here, along with some Chlén-hide tools.

  • Faded and peeling frescoes adorn the walls, depicting scenes from the Battle of Dórmoron Plain.

6. Embankment

  • The remains of a small – and recent – campsite are here.

  • A partially digested body is also present, a Tsolyáni and his ruined gear.

  • Anyone who lingers here for more than a couple of minutes attracts the attention of a Mu’ágh (HD 3, hp 11) that rises out of the nearby water to attack.

7. Antechamber

  • Six Kúrgha (hp 6×2, 4, 3, 2, 1) feast on a Tsolyáni corpse that lies in the room’s centre.

  • The stench of the Kúrgha is noticeable from 50 feet away.

  • The corpse wears Chlén-hide chain armour, carries a sword, and a pack containing typical items..

8. Shrine of Mkt’káne

  • Three identical purple granite statues of a slender, elderly man stand here, each holding an empty offering bowl.

  • Placing the black flower petals found in area 3 in the bowls bestows a blessing on all present, protecting them from the Hrá in area 11.

  • Desecrating or deliberately scorning the statues summons a pair of Tsóggu (hp 16, 9) to arise from the river and attack.

9. Secluded Alcove

  • A small, muddy bank along a subterranean tributary of the Eqúnoyel River.

  • The river’s water is surprisingly cool, clean, and potable.

  • Half-buried in the mud is a silver brooch depicting a many-legged serpent – the symbol of Lord Wurú (worth 50 Káitars for its materials only, maybe twice that to a devotee of the Unnameable One). 

10. Gallery of Mysteries

  • The walls are covered in dark-coloured (purple, black, etc.) mosaics depicting the Coming Forth of Universal Diversification.

  • Three prayer niches in the eastern wall enable worshipers of Hrü’ü or Wurú to regain spells after 10 minutes of imprecation.

  • There is a trapdoor in the southwest corner of the room.

11. Guardroom

  • Anyone not wearing the purple robes found in area 2 or granted the blessing of Mkt’káne (area 8)  will be attacked immediately by a single armoured (AC 3) Hrá (HD 7, hp 25).

  • The Hrá carries a sword +1 and its armour is decorated with purple gems worth 1000 Káitars.

  • There is a false door on the south wall that, when opened, reveals a demonic, serpentine face that induces madness (as the Group I bonus spell), and locks the door to area 12 (unlockable only by magic or the key from area 2).

12. Library of Neshkéth

  • The chamber has suffered water damage and is visibly damp.

  • The walls are lined with shelves holding several hundred scrolls, codices, and books, the majority of which are now sodden and useless.

  • Carefully searching reveals the following remain intact: a scroll of heal minor wounds and locate objects (written in Engsvanyáli); a scroll of plague and cold (written in Classical Tsolyáni); a scroll of necromancy and the Grey Hand (written in Bednallján Salarvyáni); and the Korúnkoi hiSsánu hiMissúma (“The Book of the Dance of Death”). 


  1. Handy for someone running a Fresh Off the Boat-style campaign. "Greetings, mendicant barbarians. Might you be in search of both affordable housing and a generous offer of employment?"

  2. Nice. Is this a "Saturday Night Special" of yours?

  3. Well done. I once set out to write a book of poems playable as a low level adventure, but as usual my muse would not be ordered about, so I ended up with a regular old book of poems, some of which are D&D related or inspired. I’ve always felt there was a similarity between the kind of compression and art necessary for good dungeon room descriptions and poetry, and of course the riddle, which is a mainstay of fantasy literature and gaming, is also the form taken by many of the earliest Anglo Saxon poems. And I enjoy writing formal, metrical poetry for the same reason I enjoy writing D&D adventures: the mechanical aspect keeps the right side of my brain occupied, so the more imaginative side can wander free.

  4. Having now read several of the other entries in this contest, I'm going to give you high marks for "functionality" and "brevity" compared to them. There's some creative stuff out there and funny reads, but a lot of what I looked at was all style, no utility.

    1. Thanks. I appreciate the kind words.

    2. I still haven’t gotten my head around Tekumel. It is something I’d like to have a go at running later in the year when existing commitments are fulfilled. This helps a lot. It is also a good example of fairly terse and easy to read dungeon design. I wish scenarios for other games were written so.

    3. If you have any questions about Tékumel, I'd be happy to answer them.

    4. Thankyou. When I get my act more together. But this is a good start. I particularly like the references to Hymn to Mü’ükané, Tíu-wood, boon of Lord Hrü’ü. This starts to engage the players with the world.