Invoke as many senses as you can, not just sight. This is a piece of advice I’ve received and given countless times when it comes to describing rooms in a dungeon. Be it in box text you’re writing for an adventure or just in the way you describe a chamber in your home game, the more senses you can involve in a description, the deeper you can immerse the players into the story. No one knows this better than my buddy and designer of this very site, Ryan Hennesy.
Since I’m still recovering from the flu and since Ryan knows the nose knows, he offered to write-up a table of a unique dungeon smells and their effects! Check out the following pungent potions he’s created!
When the players enter a dungeon, or a particular part of the dungeon, roll a d12 and check the result on the table. The scent you choose will help inform the makeup of the rest of the dungeon.
|Upon entering the room…|
|1||… a faintly wafting hint of rusted iron reaches your nostrils, carried on a gentle breeze from deeper in the dungeon. The oxidized aura reminds you vaguely of the taste of blood.|
|2||… you smell a warm calming scent of lavender and honey, inviting you to close your eyes and rest. The dichotomy of the pleasantness of the scent with the dankness of the dungeon makes your head spin. You must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw (DC 13) or become disoriented, losing your sense of direction within the dungeon.|
|3||… your nostrils are overwhelmed by the powerful aroma from the smoke that swirls around the ceiling. Curiously, it has the distinct balsamic notes of pipe tobacco.|
|4||… the cloying fragrance of rotting fruit, apricot with a hint of sour grapefruit stuffs your nose and throat, making it difficult to breathe.|
|5||… the space is permeated with the foul stench of decaying animal carcasses, stale urine, and animal dung. It’s almost exactly how you’d expect the den of a ferocious predatory beast or monster to smell. Weird, huh? I wonder if whatever lives here has some kind of relationship with the nearby settlement of… oh, look at the time! Let’s move on to the next, um, fragrance.|
|6||… you notice the stinging scent of sulfur seeping from cracks in the walls and floor, making your eyes water. Any flame, mundane or magical, has a 20% chance of causing an explosion unless it is of fiendish origin. If a flame burns at any point in the sulfurous space, roll a d20. On a 1-4, the gas ignites. Make a DC 15 saving throw. On a failure, you take 5d6 fire damage, taking half on a successful save. The PC nearest the igniting flame automatically fails the save.|
|7||… you wrinkle your nose at the unpleasant odor of wet dog and mildewed cloth and paper and fabric. While the smell is disgusting, the fact that there are no immediate traces of any animals nor any objects that could mold is even more unsettling.|
|8||… the earthy aroma of mushrooms and other edible fungi fills the air in the form of spores, reminding you of the last time you had a decent meal. If it has been more than 24 hours since you ate a warm meal (that is, food cooked using for immediately before consuming) you become famished and begin experiencing severe hunger pangs. Famished creatures must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or they succumb to their urge to eat any visible mushrooms, and, if no mushrooms are immediately visible, they begin licking the walls of the dungeon.
The GM decides the condition(s) resulting from mushroom consumption and dungeon wall licking.
|9||… your lungs fill with briny ocean air and the smell of salt and seaweed recalls to you your time around (or stories of) ocean-faring fishing vessels. You’d even swear that for a brief moment you felt a gentle sea breeze, though that couldn’t possibly be true.|
|10||… your senses are assaulted with the unmistakable smell of burning flesh. An acrid flavor hangs in the moist, unmoving air, immediately triggering your gag reflex. Succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or you begin retching uncontrollably for 1 minute.|
|11||… you think for a split-second that you’ve been teleported into a bakery or brewery as the delicious incense of yeast—the signature aroma of freshly baked bread and amber ale—whisks you away. Not literally, to be clear. Although, that would be pretty awesome. Think about it: one moment you’re in this dank dungeon, the next you’re noshing on homemade baguettes and the latest lambic to come out of Bachendorfer’s.
Anyway… why does this dungeon smell like bread?
|12||Roll twice on the table, combining the results. What could possibly go wrong?|
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