Chapter 5: Adventure Environments

Many D&D adventures revolve around a dungeon setting. Dungeons in D&D include great halls and tombs, subterranean monster lairs, labyrinths riddled with death traps, natural caverns extending for miles beneath the surface of the world, and ruined castles.

Not every adventure takes place in a dungeon. A wilderness trek across the Desert of Desolation or a harrowing journey into the jungles of the Isle of Dread can be an exciting adventure in its own right. In the great outdoors, dragons wheel across the sky in search of prey, tribes of hobgoblins pour forth from their grim fortresses to wage war against their neighbors, ogres plunder farmsteads for food, and monstrous spiders drop from the web-shrouded canopies of trees.

Within a dungeon, adventurers are constrained by walls and doors around them, but in the wilderness, adventurers can travel in almost any direction they please. Therein lies the key difference between dungeon and wilderness: it’s much easier to predict where the adventuring party might go in the dungeon because the options are limited — less so in the wilderness.

Villages, towns, and cities are cradles of civilization in a dangerous world, but they too offer opportunities for adventure. Encounters with monsters might seem unlikely within a city’s walls, but urban settings have their own villains and perils. Evil, after all, takes many forms, and urban settings aren’t always the safe havens they seem to be.

This chapter provides an overview of these three environments plus a few unusual environments, taking you through the process of creating an adventure location, with plenty of random tables to inspire you.


Some dungeons are old strongholds abandoned by the folk who built them. Others are natural caves or weird lairs carved out by foul monsters. They attract evil cults, monster tribes, and reclusive creatures. Dungeons are also home to ancient treasures: coins, gems, magic items, and other valuables hidden away in the darkness, often guarded by traps or jealously kept by the monsters that have collected them.

Building a Dungeon

When you set out to create a dungeon, think about its distinctive qualities. For example, a dungeon that serves as a hobgoblin stronghold has a different quality from an ancient temple inhabited by yuan-ti. This section lays out a process for creating a dungeon and bringing it to life.

Dungeon Location

You can use the Dungeon Location table to determine the locale of your dungeon. You can roll on the table or choose an entry that inspires you.

Dungeon Location

01–04A building in a city
05–08Catacombs or sewers beneath a city
09–12Beneath a farmhouse
13–16Beneath a graveyard
17–22Beneath a ruined castle
23–26Beneath a ruined city
27–30Beneath a temple
31–34In a chasm
35–38In a cliff face
39–42In a desert
43–46In a forest
47–50In a glacier
51–54In a gorge
55–58In a jungle
59–62In a mountain pass
63–66In a swamp
67–70Beneath or on top of a mesa
71–74In sea caves
75–78In several connected mesas
79–82On a mountain peak
83–86On a promontory
87–90On an island
96–00Roll on the Exotic Location table

Exotic Location

1Among the branches of a tree
2Around a geyser
3Behind a waterfall
4Buried in an avalanche
5Buried in a sandstorm
6Buried in volcanic ash
7Castle or structure sunken in a swamp
8Castle or structure at the bottom of a sinkhole
9Floating on the sea
10In a meteorite
11On a demiplane or in a pocket dimension
12In an area devastated by a magical catastrophe
13On a cloud
14In the Feywild
15In the Shadowfell
16On an island in an underground sea
17In a volcano
18On the back of a Gargantuan living creature
19Sealed inside a magical dome of force
20Inside a Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion

Dungeon Creator

A dungeon reflects its creators. A lost temple of the yuan-ti, choked by overgrown jungle plants, might feature ramps instead of stairs. Caverns carved by a beholder’s disintegration eye ray have walls that are unnaturally smooth, and the beholder’s lair might include vertical shafts connecting different levels. Amphibious monsters such as kuo-toa and aboleths use water to protect the innermost reaches of their lairs from air-breathing intruders.

Details bring a dungeon setting’s personality to life. Great bearded faces might be carved on the doors of a dwarven stronghold and might be defaced by the gnolls who live there now. Spiderweb decorations, torture chambers, and slave pens might be common features in a vault built by drow, telling something about that location and its occupants.

The Dungeon Creator table includes creatures that typically build dungeons. You can choose a creator from the table or roll randomly, or choose some other dungeon builder appropriate for your campaign.

Dungeon Creator

2–4Cult or religious group (roll on the Cults and Religious Groups table to determine specifics)
9Elves (including drow)
12–15Humans (roll on the NPC Alignment and NPC Class tables to determine specifics)
18Mind flayers
20No creator (natural caverns)

Cults and Religious Groups

d20Cult or Religious Group
1Demon-worshiping cult
2Devil-worshiping cult
3–4Elemental Air cult
5–6Elemental Earth cult
7–8Elemental Fire cult
9–10Elemental Water cult
11–15Worshipers of an evil deity
16–17Worshipers of a good deity
18–20Worshipers of a neutral deity

NPC Alignment

1–2Lawful good
3–4Neutral good
5–6Chaotic good
7–9Lawful neutral
12Chaotic neutral
13–15Lawful evil
16–18Neutral evil
19–20Chaotic evil

NPC Class


Dungeon Purpose

Except in the case of a natural cavern, a dungeon is crafted and inhabited for a specific purpose that influences its design and features. You can choose a purpose from the Dungeon Purpose table, roll one at random, or use your own ideas.

Dungeon Purpose

1Death trap11–14Stronghold
2–5Lair15–17Temple or shrine
7–9Mine20Treasure vault
10Planar gate  

Death Trap. This dungeon is built to eliminate any creature that dares to enter it. A death trap might guard the treasure of an insane wizard, or it might be designed to lure adventurers to their demise for some nefarious purpose, such as to feed souls to a lich’s phylactery.

Lair. A lair is a place where monsters live. Typical lairs include ruins and caves.

Maze. A maze is intended to deceive or confuse those who enter it. Some mazes are elaborate obstacles that protect treasure, while others are gauntlets for prisoners banished there to be hunted and devoured by the monsters within.

Mine. An abandoned mine can quickly become infested with monsters, while miners who delve too deep can break through into the Underdark.

Planar Gate. Dungeons built around planar portals are often transformed by the planar energy seeping out through those portals.

Stronghold. A stronghold dungeon provides a secure base of operations for villains and monsters. It is usually ruled by a powerful individual, such as a wizard, vampire, or dragon, and it is larger and more complex than a simple lair.

Temple or Shrine. This dungeon is consecrated to a deity or other planar entity. The entity’s worshipers control the dungeon and conduct their rites there.

Tomb. Tombs are magnets for treasure hunters, as well as monsters that hunger for the bones of the dead.

Treasure Vault. Built to protect powerful magic items and great material wealth, treasure vault dungeons are heavily guarded by monsters and traps.


In most cases, the original architects of a dungeon are long gone, and the question of what happened to them can help shape the dungeon’s current state.

The Dungeon History table notes key events that can transform a site from its original purpose into a dungeon for adventurers to explore. Particularly old dungeons can have a history that consists of multiple events, each of which transformed the site in some way.

Dungeon History

d20Key Event
1–3Abandoned by creators
4Abandoned due to plague
5–8Conquered by invaders
9–10Creators destroyed by attacking raiders
11Creators destroyed by discovery made within the site
12Creators destroyed by internal conflict
13Creators destroyed by magical catastrophe
14–15Creators destroyed by natural disaster
16Location cursed by the gods and shunned
17–18Original creator still in control
19Overrun by planar creatures
20Site of a great miracle

Dungeon Inhabitants

After a dungeon’s creators depart, anyone or anything might move in. Intelligent monsters, mindless dungeon scavengers, predators and prey alike can be drawn to dungeons.

The monsters in a dungeon are more than a collection of random creatures that happen to live near one another. Fungi, vermin, scavengers, and predators can coexist in a complex ecology, alongside intelligent creatures who share living space through elaborate combinations of domination, negotiation, and bloodshed.

Characters might be able to sneak into a dungeon, ally with one faction, or play factions against each other to reduce the threat of the more powerful monsters. For example, in a dungeon inhabited by mind flayers and their goblinoid thralls, the adventurers might try to incite the goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears to revolt against their illithid masters.

Dungeon Factions

A dungeon is sometimes dominated by a single group of intelligent humanoids, whether a tribe of orcs that have taken over a cavern complex or a gang of trolls inhabiting an aboveground ruin. Other times, particularly in larger dungeons, multiple groups of creatures share space and compete for resources.

For example, orcs that dwell in the mines of a ruined dwarf citadel might skirmish constantly against the hobgoblins that hold the citadel’s upper tiers. Mind flayers that have established a colony in the lowest levels of the mines could manipulate and dominate key hobgoblins in an attempt to wipe out the orcs. And all the while, a hidden cell of drow scouts watches and plots to slay the mind flayers, then enslave whatever creatures are left.

It’s easy to think of a dungeon as a collection of encounters, with the adventurers kicking down door after door and killing whatever lies beyond. But the ebb and flow of power between groups in a dungeon provides plenty of opportunities for more subtle interaction. Dungeon denizens are used to striking unlikely alliances, and adventurers are a wild card that canny monsters seek to exploit.

Intelligent creatures in a dungeon have goals, whether as simple as short-term survival or as ambitious as claiming the entire dungeon as the first step in founding an empire. Such creatures might approach adventurers with an offer of alliance, hoping to prevent the characters from laying waste to their lair and to secure aid against their enemies. Bring the NPC leaders of such groups to life as described in chapter 4, fleshing out their personalities, goals, and ideals. Then use those elements to shape a response to the arrival of adventurers in their territory.

Dungeon Ecology

An inhabited dungeon has its own ecosystem. The creatures that live there need to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep, just as creatures in the wilderness do. Predators need to be able to seek prey, and intelligent creatures search for lairs offering the best combination of air, food, water, and security. Keep these factors in mind when designing a dungeon you want the players to believe in. If a dungeon doesn’t have some internal logic to it, adventurers will find it difficult to make reasonable decisions within that environment.

For example, characters who find a pool of fresh water in a dungeon might make the logical assumption that many of the creatures inhabiting the dungeon come to that spot to drink. The adventurers might set an ambush at the pool. Likewise, locked doors — or even doors that require hands to open — can restrict the movement of some creatures. If all the doors in a dungeon are closed, the players might wonder how the carrion crawlers or stirges they repeatedly encounter manage to survive.

Encounter Difficulty

You might be inclined to increase the encounter difficulty as the adventurers descend deeper into the dungeon, as a way to keep the dungeon challenging as the characters gain levels or to ratchet up the tension. However, this approach can turn the dungeon into a grind. A better approach is to include encounters of varying difficulty throughout. The contrast between easy and hard encounters, as well as simple and complex encounters, encourages characters to vary their tactics and keeps the encounters from seeming too similar.

Mapping a Dungeon

Every dungeon needs a map showing its layout. The dungeon’s location, creator, purpose, history, and inhabitants should give you a starting point for designing your dungeon map. If you need further inspiration, you can find maps that have been made freely available for use on the Internet, or even use a map of a real-world location. Alternatively, you can borrow a map from a published adventure or randomly generate a dungeon complex using the tables presented in the Appendices.

A dungeon can range in size from a few chambers in a ruined temple to a huge complex of rooms and passages extending hundreds of feet in all directions. The adventurers’ goal often lies as far from the dungeon entrance as possible, forcing characters to delve deeper underground or push farther into the heart of the complex.

A dungeon is most easily mapped on graph paper, with each square on the paper representing an area of 10 feet by 10 feet. (If you play with miniatures on a grid, you might prefer a scale where each square represents 5 feet, or you can subdivide your 10-foot grid into a 5-foot grid when you draw your maps for combat.) When you draw your map, keep the following points in mind:

  • Asymmetrical rooms and map layouts make a dungeon less predictable.
  • Think in three dimensions. Stairs, ramps, platforms, ledges, balconies, pits, and other changes of elevation make a dungeon more interesting and make combat encounters in those areas more challenging.
  • Give the dungeon some wear and tear. Unless you want to stress that the dungeon’s builders were extraordinarily skillful, collapsed passages can be commonplace, cutting off formerly connected sections of the dungeon from each other. Past earthquakes might have opened chasms within a dungeon, splitting rooms and corridors to make interesting obstacles.
  • Incorporate natural features into even a constructed dungeon. An underground stream might run through the middle of a dwarven stronghold, causing variation in the shapes and sizes of rooms and necessitating features such as bridges and drains.
  • Add multiple entrances and exits. Nothing gives the players a stronger sense of making real decisions than having multiple ways to enter a dungeon.
  • Add secret doors and secret rooms to reward players who take the time to search for them.

If you need help creating a dungeon map from scratch, see “Appendices.”

Dungeon Features

The atmosphere and physical characteristics of dungeons vary as widely as their origins. An old crypt might have stone walls and loose wooden doors, an odor of decay, and no light other than what adventurers bring with them. A volcanic lair might have smooth stone walls hollowed out by past eruptions, doors of magically reinforced brass, a smell of sulfur, and light provided by jets of flame in every hall and room.


Some dungeons have walls of masonry. Others have walls of solid rock, hewn with tools to give them a rough, chiseled look, or worn smooth by the passage of water or lava. An aboveground dungeon might be made of wood or composite materials.

Walls are sometimes adorned with murals, frescoes, bas-reliefs, and lighting fixtures such as sconces or torch brackets. A few even have secret doors built into them.


Dungeon doorways might be set within plain arches and lintels. They might be festooned with carvings of gargoyles or leering faces or engraved with sigils that reveal clues as to what lies beyond.

Stuck Doors. Dungeon doors often become stuck when not used frequently. Opening a stuck door requires a successful Strength check. Chapter 8, “Running the Game,” provides guidelines for setting the DC.

Locked Doors. Characters who don’t have the key to a locked door can pick the lock with a successful Dexterity check (doing so requires thieves’ tools and proficiency in their use). They can also force the door with a successful Strength check, smash the door to pieces by dealing enough damage to it, or use a knock spell or similar magic. Chapter 8 provides guidelines for setting the DCs and assigning statistics to doors and other objects.

Barred Doors. A barred door is similar to a locked door, except that there’s no lock to pick, and the door can be opened normally from the barred side by using an action to lift the bar from its braces.

Secret Doors

A secret door is crafted to blend into the wall that surrounds it. Sometimes faint cracks in the wall or scuff marks on the floor betray the secret door’s presence.

Detecting a Secret Door. Use the characters’ passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to determine whether anyone in the party notices a secret door without actively searching for it. Characters can also find a secret door by actively searching the location where the door is hidden and succeeding on a Wisdom (Perception) check. To set an appropriate DC for the check, see chapter 8.

Opening a Secret Door. Once a secret door is detected, a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check might be required to determine how to open it if the opening mechanism isn’t obvious. Set the DC according to the difficulty guidelines in chapter 8.

If adventurers can’t determine how to open a secret door, breaking it down is always an option. Treat it as a locked door made of the same material as the surrounding wall, and use the guidelines in the Running the Game section to determine appropriate DCs or statistics.

Concealed Doors

A concealed door is a normal door that is hidden from view. A secret door is carefully crafted to blend into its surrounding surface, whereas a concealed door is most often hidden by mundane means. It might be covered by a tapestry, covered with plaster, or (in the case of a concealed trapdoor) hidden under a rug. Normally, no ability check is required to find a concealed door. A character need only look in the right place or take the right steps to reveal the door. However, you can use the characters’ passive Wisdom (Perception) scores to determine whether any of them notices tracks or signs of a tapestry or rug having been recently disturbed.


A portcullis is a set of vertical bars made of wood or iron, reinforced with one or more horizontal bands. It blocks a passage or archway until it is raised up into the ceiling by a winch and chain. The main benefit of a portcullis is that it blocks a passage while still allowing guards to watch the area beyond and make ranged attacks or cast spells through it.

Winching a portcullis up or down requires an action. If a character can’t reach the winch (usually because it is on the other side of the portcullis), lifting the portcullis or bending its bars far enough apart to pass through them requires a successful Strength check. The DC of the check depends on the size and weight of the portcullis or the thickness of its bars. To determine an appropriate DC, see chapter 8.

Darkness and Light

Darkness is the default condition inside an underground complex or in the interior of aboveground ruins, but an inhabited dungeon might have light sources.

In subterranean settlements, even races that have darkvision use fire for warmth, cooking, and defense. But many creatures have no need of warmth or light. Adventurers must bring their own sources of light into dusty tombs where only undead stand guard, abandoned ruins teeming with predatory monsters and oozes, and natural caverns where sightless creatures hunt.

The light of a torch or lantern helps a character see over a short distance, but other creatures can see that light source from far away. Bright light in an environment of total darkness can be visible for miles, though a clear line of sight over such a distance is rare underground. Even so, adventurers using light sources in a dungeon often attract monsters, just as dungeon features that shed light (from phosphorescent fungi to the glow of magical portals) can draw adventurers’ attention.

Air Quality

Subterranean tunnels and aboveground ruins are often enclosed spaces with little airflow. Though it’s rare for a dungeon to be sealed so tightly that adventurers have trouble breathing, the atmosphere is often stifling and oppressive. What’s more, odors linger in a dungeon and can be magnified by the stillness of the atmosphere.


A dungeon’s enclosed geography helps channel sound. The groaning creak of an opening door can echo down hundreds of feet of passageway. Louder noises such as the clanging hammers of a forge or the din of battle can reverberate through an entire dungeon. Many creatures that live underground use such sounds as a way of locating prey, or go on alert at any sound of an adventuring party’s intrusion.

Dungeon Hazards

The hazards described here are but a few examples of the environmental dangers found underground and in other dark places. Dungeon hazards are functionally similar to traps, which are described at the end of this section.

Detecting a Hazard. No ability check is required to spot a hazard unless it is hidden. A hazard that resembles something benign, such as a patch of slime or mold, can be correctly identified with a successful Intelligence (Nature) check. Use the guidelines in chapter 8 to set an appropriate DC for any check made to spot or recognize a hazard.

Hazard Severity. To determine a hazard’s deadliness relative to the characters, think of the hazard as a trap and compare the damage it deals with the party’s level using the Damage Severity by Level table later in the chapter (the table also appears in chapter 8).

Brown Mold

Brown mold feeds on warmth, drawing heat from anything around it. A patch of brown mold typically covers a 10-foot square, and the temperature within 30 feet of it is always frigid.

When a creature moves to within 5 feet of the mold for the first time on a turn or starts its turn there, it must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) cold damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Brown mold is immune to fire, and any source of fire brought within 5 feet of a patch causes it to instantly expand outward in the direction of the fire, covering a 10-foot-square area (with the source of the fire at the center of that area). A patch of brown mold exposed to an effect that deals cold damage is instantly destroyed.

Green Slime

This acidic slime devours flesh, organic material, and metal on contact. Bright green, wet, and sticky, it clings to walls, floors, and ceilings in patches.

A patch of green slime covers a 5-foot square, has blindsight out to a range of 30 feet, and drops from walls and ceilings when it detects movement below it. Beyond that, it has no ability to move. A creature aware of the slime’s presence can avoid being struck by it with a successful DC 10 Dexterity saving throw. Otherwise, the slime can’t be avoided as it drops.

A creature that comes into contact with green slime takes 5 (1d10) acid damage. The creature takes the damage again at the start of each of its turns until the slime is scraped off or destroyed. Against wood or metal, green slime deals 11 (2d10) acid damage each round, and any nonmagical wood or metal weapon or tool used to scrape off the slime is effectively destroyed.

Sunlight, any effect that cures disease, and any effect that deals cold, fire, or radiant damage destroys a patch of green slime.


Giant spiders weave thick, sticky webs across passages and at the bottom of pits to snare prey. These web-filled areas are difficult terrain. Moreover, a creature entering a webbed area for the first time on a turn or starting its turn there must succeed on a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw or become restrained by the webs. A restrained creature can use its action to try to escape, doing so with a successful DC 12 Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check.

Each 10-foot cube of giant webs has AC 10, 15 hit points, vulnerability to fire, and immunity to bludgeoning, piercing, and psychic damage.

Yellow Mold

Yellow mold grows in dark places, and one patch covers a 5-foot square. If touched, the mold ejects a cloud of spores that fills a 10-foot cube originating from the mold. Any creature in the area must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or take 11 (2d10) poison damage and become poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned in this way, the creature takes 5 (1d10) poison damage at the start of each of its turns. The creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a successful save.

Sunlight or any amount of fire damage instantly destroys one patch of yellow mold.


Between the dungeons and settlements of your campaign world lie meadows, forests, deserts, mountain ranges, oceans, and other tracts of wilderness waiting to be traversed. Bringing wilderness areas to life can be a fun part of your game, both for you and your players. The following two approaches work particularly well.

Travel-Montage Approach

Sometimes the destination is more important than the journey. If the purpose of a wilderness trek is to get the characters to where the real adventure happens, gloss over the wilderness trek without checking for encounters along the way. Just as movies use travel montages to convey long and arduous journeys in a matter of seconds, you can use a few sentences of descriptive text to paint a picture of a wilderness trek in your players’ minds before moving on.

Describe the journey as vividly as you like, but keep the forward momentum. “You walk for several miles and encounter nothing of interest” is okay, but far less evocative and memorable than, “A light rain dampens the rolling plains as you travel north. Around midday, you break for lunch under a lonely tree. There, the rogue finds a small rock that looks like a grinning face, but otherwise you encounter nothing out of the ordinary.” The trick is to focus on a few details that reinforce the desired mood rather than describe everything down to the last blade of grass.

Call attention to unusual terrain features: a waterfall, a rocky outcropping that offers a breathtaking view over the tops of the surrounding trees, an area where the forest has burned or been cut down, and so on. Also describe notable smells and sounds, such as the roar of a faraway monster, the stench of burned wood, or the sweet aroma of flowers in an elven forest.

In addition to evocative language, visual aids can help set the scene for the characters’ travels. Image searches on the Internet can lead you to breathtaking landscapes (in fact, that’s a good phrase to search for) both real and fantastical. As striking as real-world scenery can be, wilderness travel can be used to remind the players that their characters are in a fantasy world. Once in a while, spice up your descriptions with some truly magical element. A forest might be home to tiny dragonets instead of birds, or its trees might be festooned with giant webs or have eerie, green-glowing sap. Use these elements sparingly; landscapes that are too alien can break your players’ sense of immersion in the world. A single fantastic element within an otherwise realistic and memorable landscape is enough.

Use the landscape to set the mood and tone for your adventure. In one forest, close-set trees shroud all light and seem to watch the adventurers as they pass. In another, sunlight streams through the leaves above and flower-laden vines twine up every trunk. Signs of corruption — rotting wood, foul-smelling water, and rocks covered with slimy brown moss — can be a signal that the adventurers are drawing close to the site of evil power that is their destination or can provide clues to the nature of the threats to be found there.

Specific wilderness locations might have their own special features. For example, the Spirit Forest and the Spiderhaunt Woods might feature different kinds of trees, different kinds of flora and fauna, different weather, and different random encounter tables.

Finally, a wilderness trek can be enhanced by calling attention to the weather. “You spend the next three days crossing the swamp” sounds less harrowing than, “You spend the next three days trudging through knee-deep mud — the first two days and nights in the pouring rain, and then another day under the beating sun, with swarms of hungry insects feasting on your blood.”

Hour-by-Hour Approach

Sometimes the journey deserves as much time and attention as the destination. If wilderness travel features prominently in your adventure and isn’t something you want to gloss over, you will need more than a descriptive overview to bring a long and harrowing journey to life; you’ll need to know the party’s marching order and have encounters at the ready.

Let your players determine the party’s marching order (see the Player’s Handbook for more information). Characters in the front rank are likely to be the first to notice landmarks and terrain features, as well as the ones responsible for navigating. Characters in the back rank are usually responsible for making sure that the party isn’t being followed. Encourage characters in the middle ranks to do something other than blindly trudge along behind the front-rank characters. The Player’s Handbook suggests activities such as mapmaking and foraging for food.

Wilderness journeys typically feature a combination of planned encounters (encounters that you prepare ahead of time) and random encounters (encounters determined by rolling on a table). A planned encounter might need a map of the location where the encounter is set to occur, such as a ruin, a bridge spanning a gorge, or some other memorable location. Random encounters tend to be less location-specific. The fewer planned encounters you have, the more you’ll need to rely on random encounters to keep the journey interesting. See chapter 3 for guidelines on creating your own random encounter tables and when to check for random encounters.

A good way to keep wilderness encounters from becoming stale is to make sure they don’t all start and end the same way. In other words, if the wilderness is your stage and your adventure is the play or movie, think of each wilderness encounter as its own scene, and try to stage each one in a slightly different way to keep your players’ interest. If one encounter comes at the adventurers from the front, the next one might come at them from above or behind. If an encounter features stealthy monsters, a character tending to the party’s pack animals might get the first indication that monsters are near when a pony whickers nervously. If an encounter features loud monsters, the party might have the option to hide or set an ambush. One group of monsters might attack the party on sight, and another might allow safe passage for food.

Reward characters for searching while they travel by providing things for them to find. Broken statues, tracks, abandoned campsites, and other finds can add flavor to your world, foreshadow future encounters or events, or provide hooks for further adventures.

A wilderness journey might take multiple sessions to play out. That said, if the wilderness journey includes long periods with no encounters, use the travel-montage approach to bridge gaps between encounters.

Mapping a Wilderness

In contrast to a dungeon, an outdoor setting presents seemingly limitless options. The adventurers can move in any direction over a trackless desert or an open grassland, so how do you as the DM deal with all the possible locations and events that might make up a wilderness campaign? What if you design an encounter in a desert oasis, but the characters miss the oasis because they wander off course? How do you avoid creating a boring play session of uninterrupted slogging across a rocky wasteland?

One solution is to think of an outdoor setting in the same way you think about a dungeon. Even the most wide-open terrain presents clear pathways. Roads seldom run straight
because they follow the contours of the land, finding
the most level or otherwise easiest routes across uneven ground. Valleys and ridges channel travel in
certain directions. Mountain ranges present forbidding barriers traversed only by remote passes. Even the most trackless desert reveals favored routes, where explorers and caravan drivers have discovered areas of wind-blasted rock that are easier to traverse than shifting sand.

If the party veers off track, you might be able to relocate one or more of your planned encounters elsewhere on the map to ensure that the time spent preparing those encounters doesn’t go to waste.

Chapter 1 discusses the basics of creating a wilderness map at three different scales to help you design your world and the starting area of your campaign. Especially when you get down to province scale (1 hex = 1 mile), think about paths of travel — roads, passes, ridges and valleys, and so on — that can guide character movement across your map.

Movement on the Map

Narrate wilderness travel at a level of detail appropriate to the map you’re using. If you’re tracking hour-by-hour movement on a province-scale map (1 hex = 1 mile), you can describe each hamlet the adventurers pass. At this scale, you can assume that the characters find a noteworthy location when they enter its hex unless the site is specifically hidden. The characters might not walk directly up to the front door of a ruined castle when they enter a hex, but they can find old paths, outlying ruins, and other signs of its presence in the area.

If you’re tracking a journey of several days on a kingdom-scale map (1 hex = 6 miles), don’t bother with details too small to appear on your map. It’s enough for the players to know that on the third day of their journey, they cross a river and the land starts rising before them, and that they reach the mountain pass two days later.

Wilderness Features

No wilderness map is complete without a few settlements, strongholds, ruins, and other sites worthy of discovery. A dozen such locations scattered over an area roughly 50 miles across is a good start.

Monster Lairs

A wilderness area approximately 50 miles across can support roughly a half-dozen monster lairs, but probably no more than one apex predator such as a dragon.

If you expect the characters to explore a monster’s lair, you’ll need to find or create an appropriate map for the lair and stock the lair as you would a dungeon.


In places where civilization rules or once ruled, adventurers might find monuments built to honor great leaders, gods, and cultures. Use the Monuments table for inspiration, or randomly roll to determine what monument the adventurers stumble upon.

1Sealed burial mound or pyramid
2Plundered burial mound or pyramid
3Faces carved into a mountainside or cliff
4Giant statues carved out of a mountainside or cliff
5–6Intact obelisk etched with a warning, historical lore, dedication, or religious iconography
7–8Ruined or toppled obelisk
9–10Intact statue of a person or deity
11–13Ruined or toppled statue of a person or deity
14Great stone wall, intact, with tower fortifications spaced at one-mile intervals
15Great stone wall in ruins
16Great stone arch
18Intact circle of standing stones
19Ruined or toppled circle of standing stones
20Totem pole


Crumbling towers, ancient temples, and razed cities are perfect sites for adventures. Additionally, noting the existence of an old, crumbling wall that runs alongside a road, a sagging stone windmill on a hilltop, or a jumble of standing stones can add texture to your wilderness.


Settlements exist in places where food, water, farmland, and building materials are abundant. A civilized province roughly 50 miles across might have one city, a few rural towns, and a scattering of villages and trading posts. An uncivilized area might have a single trading post that stands at the edge of a wild frontier, but no larger settlements.

In addition to settlements, a province might contain ruined villages and towns that are either abandoned or serve as lairs for marauding bandits and monsters.


Strongholds provide the local population with protection in times of trouble. The number of strongholds in an area depends on the dominant society, the population, the strategic importance or vulnerability of the region, and the wealth of the land.

Weird Locales

Weird locales make the fantastic and the supernatural an intrinsic part of your wilderness adventures.

1–2Dead magic zone (similar to an antimagic field)
3Wild magic zone (roll on the Wild Magic Surge table in the Player’s Handbook whenever a spell is cast within the zone)
4Boulder carved with talking faces
5Crystal cave that mystically answers questions
6Ancient tree containing a trapped spirit
7–8Battlefield where lingering fog occasionally assumes humanoid forms
9–10Permanent portal to another plane of existence
11Wishing well
12Giant crystal shard protruding from the ground
13Wrecked ship, which might be nowhere near water
14–15Haunted hill or barrow mound
16River ferry guided by a skeletal captain
17Field of petrified soldiers or other creatures
18Forest of petrified or awakened trees
19Canyon containing a dragons’ graveyard
20Floating earth mote with a tower on it

Wilderness Survival

Adventuring in the wilderness presents a host of perils beyond the threats of monstrous predators and savage raiders.


You can pick weather to fit your campaign or roll on the Weather table to determine the weather for a given day, adjusting for the terrain and season as appropriate.

1–14Normal for the season
15–171d4 × 10 degrees Fahrenheit colder than normal
18–201d4 × 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal
13–17Light rain or light snowfall
18–20Heavy rain or heavy snowfall

Extreme Cold

Whenever the temperature is at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with resistance or immunity to cold damage automatically succeed on the saving throw, as do creatures wearing cold weather gear (thick coats, gloves, and the like) and creatures naturally adapted to cold climates.

Extreme Heat

When the temperature is at or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the heat and without access to drinkable water must succeed on a Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. The DC is 5 for the first hour and increases by 1 for each additional hour. Creatures wearing medium or heavy armor, or who are clad in heavy clothing, have disadvantage on the saving throw. Creatures with resistance or immunity to fire damage automatically succeed on the saving throw, as do creatures naturally adapted to hot climates.

Strong Wind

A strong wind imposes disadvantage on ranged weapon attack rolls and Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing. A strong wind also extinguishes open flames, disperses fog, and makes flying by nonmagical means nearly impossible. A flying creature in a strong wind must land at the end of its turn or fall.

A strong wind in a desert can create a sandstorm that imposes disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.

Heavy Precipitation

Everything within an area of heavy rain or heavy snowfall is lightly obscured, and creatures in the area have disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight. Heavy rain also extinguishes open flames and imposes disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on hearing.

High Altitude

Traveling at altitudes of 10,000 feet or higher above sea level is taxing for a creature that needs to breathe, because of the reduced amount of oxygen in the air. Each hour such a creature spends traveling at high altitude counts as 2 hours for the purpose of determining how long that creature can travel.

Breathing creatures can become acclimated to a high altitude by spending 30 days or more at this elevation. Breathing creatures can’t become acclimated to elevations above 20,000 feet unless they are native to such environments.

Wilderness Hazards

This section describes a few examples of hazards that adventurers might encounter in the wilderness.

Some hazards, such as slippery ice and razorvine, require no ability check to spot. Others, such as defiled ground, are undetectable by normal senses. The other hazards presented here can be identified with a successful Intelligence (Nature) check. Use the guidelines in chapter 8 to set an appropriate DC for any check made to spot or recognize a hazard.

Desecrated Ground

Some cemeteries and catacombs are imbued with the unseen traces of ancient evil. An area of desecrated ground can be any size, and a detect evil and good spell cast within range reveals its presence.

Undead standing on desecrated ground have advantage on all saving throws.

A vial of holy water purifies a 10-foot-square area of desecrated ground when sprinkled on it, and a hallow spell purifies desecrated ground within its area.

Frigid Water

A creature can be immersed in frigid water for a number of minutes equal to its Constitution score before suffering any ill effects. Each additional minute spent in frigid water requires the creature to succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with resistance or immunity to cold damage automatically succeed on the saving throw, as do creatures that are naturally adapted to living in ice-cold water.


A quicksand pit covers the ground in roughly a 10-foot-square area and is usually 10 feet deep. When a creature enters the area, it sinks 1d4 + 1 feet into the quicksand and becomes restrained. At the start of each of the creature’s turns, it sinks another 1d4 feet. As long as the creature isn’t completely submerged in quicksand, it can escape by using its action and succeeding on a Strength check. The DC is 10 plus the number of feet the creature has sunk into the quicksand. A creature that is completely submerged in quicksand can’t breathe (see the suffocation rules in the Player’s Handbook).

A creature can pull another creature within its reach out of a quicksand pit by using its action and succeeding on a Strength check. The DC is 5 plus the number of feet the target creature has sunk into the quicksand.


Razorvine is a plant that grows in wild tangles and hedges. It also clings to the sides of buildings and other surfaces as ivy does. A 10-foot-high, 10-foot-wide, 5-foot-thick wall or hedge of razorvine has AC 11, 25 hit points, and immunity to bludgeoning, piercing, and psychic damage.

When a creature comes into direct contact with razorvine for the first time on a turn, the creature must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or take 5 (1d10) slashing damage from the razorvine’s bladelike thorns.

Slippery Ice

Slippery ice is difficult terrain. When a creature moves onto slippery ice for the first time on a turn, it must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check or fall prone.

Thin Ice

Thin ice has a weight tolerance of 3d10 × 10 pounds per 10-foot-square area. Whenever the total weight on an area of thin ice exceeds its tolerance, the ice in that area breaks. All creatures on broken ice fall through.


Characters can gather food and water as the party travels at a normal or slow pace. A foraging character makes a Wisdom (Survival) check whenever you call for it, with the DC determined by the abundance of food and water in the region.

Foraging DCs

Food and Water AvailabilityDC
Abundant food and water sources10
Limited food and water sources15
Very little, if any, food and water sources20

If multiple characters forage, each character makes a separate check. A foraging character finds nothing on a failed check. On a successful check, roll 1d6 + the character’s Wisdom modifier to determine how much food (in pounds) the character finds, then repeat the roll for water (in gallons).

Food and Water

The food and water requirements noted in the Player’s Handbook are for characters. Horses and other creatures require different quantities of food and water per day based on their size. Water needs are doubled if the weather is hot.

Food and Water Needs

Creature SizeFood per DayWater per Day
Tiny1/4 pound1/4 gallon
Small1 pound1 gallon
Medium1 pound1 gallon
Large4 pounds4 gallons
Huge16 pounds16 gallons
Gargantuan64 pounds64 gallons

Becoming Lost

Unless they are following a path, or something like it, adventurers traveling in the wilderness run the risk of becoming lost. The party’s navigator makes a Wisdom (Survival) check when you decide it’s appropriate, against a DC determined by the prevailing terrain, as shown on the Wilderness Navigation table. If the party is moving at a slow pace, the navigator gains a +5 bonus to the check, and a fast pace imposes a −5 penalty. If the party has an accurate map of the region or can see the sun or stars, the navigator has advantage on the check.

If the Wisdom (Survival) check succeeds, the party travels in the desired direction without becoming lost. If the check fails, the party inadvertently travels in the wrong direction and becomes lost. The party’s navigator can repeat the check after the party spends 1d6 hours trying to get back on course.

Wilderness Navigation

Forest, jungle, swamp, mountains, or open sea with overcast skies and no land in sight15
Arctic, desert, hills, or open sea with clear skies and no land in sight10
Grassland, meadow, farmland5

Settlements (Towns, Villages, Cities)

A village, town, or city makes an excellent backdrop for an adventure. The adventurers might be called on to track down a criminal who’s gone into hiding, solve a murder, take out a gang of wererats or doppelgangers, or protect a settlement under siege.

When creating a settlement for your campaign, focus on the locations that are most relevant to the adventure. Don’t worry about naming every street and identifying the inhabitants of every building; that way lies madness.

Random Settlements

The following tables allow you to quickly create a settlement. They assume that you’ve already determined its size and its basic form of government.

Race Relations

11–14Tension or rivalry
15–16Racial majority are conquerors
17Racial minority are rulers
18Racial minority are refugees
19Racial majority oppresses minority
20Racial minority oppresses majority

Ruler’s Status

1–5Respected, fair, and just
6–8Feared tyrant
9Weakling manipulated by others
10Illegitimate ruler, simmering civil war
11Ruled or controlled by a powerful monster
12Mysterious, anonymous cabal
13Contested leadership, open fighting
14Cabal seized power openly
15Doltish lout
16On deathbed, claimants compete for power
17–18Iron-willed but respected
19–20Religious leader

Notable Traits

1Canals in place of streets
2Massive statue or monument
3Grand temple
4Large fortress
5Verdant parks and orchards
6River divides town
7Major trade center
8Headquarters of a powerful family or guild
9Population mostly wealthy
10Destitute, rundown
11Awful smell (tanneries, open sewers)
12Center of trade for one specific good
13Site of many battles
14Site of a mythic or magical event
15Important library or archive
16Worship of all gods banned
17Sinister reputation
18Notable library or academy
19Site of important tomb or graveyard
20Built atop ancient ruins

Known For Its…

1Delicious cuisine11Piety
2Rude people12Gambling
3Greedy merchants13Godlessness
4Artists and writers14Education
5Great hero/savior15Wines
6Flowers16High fashion
7Hordes of beggars17Political intrigue
8Tough warriors18Powerful guilds
9Dark magic19Strong drink

Current Calamity

1Suspected vampire infestation
2New cult seeks converts
3Important figure died (murder suspected)
4War between rival thieves’ guilds
5–6Plague or famine (sparks riots)
7Corrupt officials
8–9Marauding monsters
10Powerful wizard has moved into town
11Economic depression (trade disrupted)
13Undead stirring in cemeteries
14Prophecy of doom
15Brink of war
16Internal strife (leads to anarchy)
17Besieged by enemies
18Scandal threatens powerful families
19Dungeon discovered (adventurers flock to town)
20Religious sects struggle for power

Random Buildings

Pulse-pounding chases and harrowing escapes within the confines of a town or city can sometimes force characters to dash into buildings. When you need to flesh out a building quickly, roll on the Building Type table. Then roll on the table corresponding to that building to add further detail.

If a roll makes no sense considering where the characters are (such as a lavish mansion in a rundown part of town), you can always roll again or simply choose another result. However, such unexpected results can prompt creativity and memorable locations that help make your urban encounters distinct.

Building Type

1–10Residence (roll once on the Residence table)
11–12Religious (roll once on the Religious Building table)
13–15Tavern (roll once on the Tavern table and twice on the Tavern Name Generator table)
16–17Warehouse (roll once on the Warehouse table)
18–20Shop (roll once on the Shop table)


1–2Abandoned squat
3–8Middle-class home
9–10Upper-class home
11–15Crowded tenement
18Hidden slavers’ den
19Front for a secret cult
20Lavish, guarded mansion

Religious Building

1–10Temple to a good or neutral deity
11–12Temple to a false deity (run by charlatan priests)
13Home of ascetics
14–15Abandoned shrine
16–17Library dedicated to religious study
18–20Hidden shrine to a fiend or an evil deity


1–5Quiet, low-key bar
6–9Raucous dive
10Thieves’ guild hangout
11Gathering place for a secret society
12–13Upper-class dining club
14–15Gambling den
16–17Caters to specific race or guild
18Members-only club

Tavern Name Generator

d20First PartSecond Part
1The SilverEel
2The GoldenDolphin
3The StaggeringDwarf
4The LaughingPegasus
5The PrancingPony
6The GildedRose
7The RunningStag
8The HowlingWolf
9The SlaughteredLamb
10The LeeringDemon
11The DrunkenGoat
12The LeapingSpirit
13The RoaringHorde
14The FrowningJester
15The LonelyMountain
16The WanderingEagle
17The MysteriousSatyr
18The BarkingDog
19The BlackSpider
20The GleamingStar


1–4Empty or abandoned
5–6Heavily guarded, expensive goods
7–10Cheap goods
11–14Bulk goods
15Live animals
18–19Goods from a distant land
20Secret smuggler’s den


4Dried meats14Jeweler

Mapping a Settlement

When you draw a map for a settlement in your game, don’t worry about the placement of every building, and concentrate instead on the major features.

For a village, sketch out the roads, including trade routes leading beyond the village and roads that connect outlying farms to the village center. Note the location of the village center. If the adventurers visit specific places in the village, mark those spots on your map.

For towns and cities, note major roads and waterways as well as surrounding terrain. Outline the walls and mark the locations of features you know will be important: the lord’s keep, significant temples, and the like. For cities, add internal walls and think about the personality of each ward. Give the wards names reflecting their personalities, which also identify the kinds of trades that dominate the neighborhood (Tannery Square, Temple Row), a geographical characteristic (Hilltop, Riverside), or a dominant site (the Lords’ Quarter).

Urban Encounters

Although they hold the promise of safety, cities and towns can be just as dangerous as the darkest dungeon. Evil hides in plain sight or in dark corners. Sewers, shadowy alleys, slums, smoke-filled taverns, dilapidated tenements, and crowded marketplaces can quickly turn into battlegrounds. On top of that, adventurers must learn to behave themselves, lest they attract unwanted attention from local authorities.

That said, characters who don’t go looking for trouble can take advantage of all the benefits that a settlement has to offer.

Law and Order

Whether a settlement has a police force depends on its size and nature. A lawful, orderly city might have a city watch to maintain order and a trained militia to defend its walls, and a frontier town might rely on adventurers or its citizenry to apprehend criminals and fend off attackers.


In most settlements, trials are overseen by magistrates or local lords. Some trials are argued, with the conflicting parties or their advocates presenting precedent and evidence until the judge makes a decision, with or without the aid of spells or interrogation. Others are decided with a trial by ordeal or trial by combat. If the evidence against the accused is overwhelming, a magistrate or local lord can forgo a trial and skip right to the sentencing.


A settlement might have a jail to hold accused criminals awaiting trial, but few settlements have prisons to incarcerate convicted criminals. A person found guilty of a crime is usually fined, condemned to forced labor for a period of several months or years, exiled, or executed, depending on the magnitude of the crime.

Random Urban Encounters

The Random Urban Encounters table is useful for city- and town-based adventures. Check for a random encounter at least once per day, and once at night if the characters are out and about. Reroll the result if it doesn’t make sense given the time of day.

d12 + d8Encounter
2Animals on the loose
12Found trinket
13Guard harassment
17Runaway cart
18Shady transaction

Animals on the Loose. The characters see one or more unexpected animals loose in the street. This challenge could be anything from a pack of baboons to an escaped circus bear, tiger, or elephant.

Announcement. A herald, town crier, mad person, or other individual makes an announcement on a street corner for all to hear. The announcement might foreshadow some upcoming event (such as a public execution), communicate important information to the general masses (such as a new royal decree), or convey a dire omen or warning.

Brawl. A brawl erupts near the adventurers. It could be a tavern brawl; a battle between rival factions, families, or gangs in the city; or a struggle between city guards and criminals. The characters could be witnesses, hit by stray arrow fire, or mistaken for members of one group and attacked by the other.

Bullies. The characters witness 1d4 + 2 bullies harassing an out-of-towner (use the commoner statistics in the Monsters Listing for all of them). A bully flees as soon as he or she takes any amount of damage.

Companion. One or more characters are approached by a local who takes a friendly interest in the party’s activities. As a twist, the would-be companion might be a spy sent to gather information on the adventurers.

Contest. The adventurers are drawn into an impromptu contest — anything from an intellectual test to a drinking competition — or witness a duel.

Corpse. The adventurers find a humanoid corpse.

Draft. The characters are drafted by a member of the city or town watch, who needs their help to deal with an immediate problem. As a twist, the member of the watch might be a disguised criminal trying to lure the party into an ambush (use the thug statistics in the Monsters Listing for the criminal and his or her cohorts).

Drunk. A tipsy drunk staggers toward a random party member, mistaking him or her for someone else.

Fire. A fire breaks out, and the characters have a chance to help put out the flames before it spreads.

Found Trinket. The characters find a random trinket. You can determine the trinket by rolling on the Trinkets table in the Player’s Handbook.

Guard Harassment. The adventurers are cornered by 1d4 + 1 guards eager to throw their weight around. If threatened, the guards call out for help and might attract the attention of other guards or citizens nearby.

Pickpocket. A thief (use the spy statistics in the Monsters Listing) tries to steal from a random character. Characters whose passive Wisdom (Perception) scores are equal to or greater than the thief’s Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check total catch the theft in progress.

Procession. The adventurers encounter a group of citizens either parading in celebration or forming a funeral procession.

Protest. The adventurers see a group of citizens peacefully protesting a new law or decree. A handful of guards maintain order.

Runaway Cart. A team of horses pulling a wagon races through the city streets. The adventurers must avoid the horses. If they stop the wagon, the owner (who is running behind the cart) is grateful.

Shady Transaction. The characters witness a shady transaction between two cloaked figures.

Spectacle. The characters witness a form of public entertainment, such as a talented bard’s impersonation of a royal personage, a street circus, a puppet show, a flashy magic act, a royal visit, or a public execution.

Urchin. A street urchin gloms onto the adventurers and follows them around until frightened off.

Unusual Environments

Traveling through the wilderness doesn’t always mean an overland trek. Adventurers might ply the open sea in a caravel or an elemental-powered galleon, soar through the air on hippogriffs or a carpet of flying, or ride giant sea horses to coral palaces deep beneath the sea.


See chapter 9 of the Player’s Handbook for rules on underwater combat.

Random Undersea Encounters

You can check for random undersea encounters as often as you would check for them on land (see chapter 3). The Random Undersea Encounters table presents several intriguing options. You can either roll on the table for a random result or choose whichever one works best.

d12 + d8Encounter
2Sunken ship covered in barnacles (25 percent chance that the ship contains treasure; roll randomly on the treasure tables in chapter 7)
3Sunken ship with reef sharks (shallow waters) or hunter sharks (deep waters) circling around it (50 percent chance that the ship contains treasure; roll randomly on the treasure tables in chapter 7)
4Bed of giant oysters (each oyster has a 1 percent chance of having a giant 5,000 gp pearl inside)
5Underwater steam vent (25 percent chance that the vent is a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire)
6Sunken ruin (uninhabited)
7Sunken ruin (inhabited or haunted)
8Sunken statue or monolith
9Friendly and curious giant sea horse
10Patrol of friendly merfolk
11Patrol of hostile merrow (coastal waters) or sahuagin (deep waters)
12Enormous kelp bed (roll again on the table to determine what’s hidden in the kelp bed)
13Undersea cave (empty)
14Undersea cave (sea hag lair)
15Undersea cave (merfolk lair)
16Undersea cave (giant octopus lair)
17Undersea cave (dragon turtle lair)
18Adult bronze dragon searching for treasure
19Storm giant walking on the ocean floor
20Sunken treasure chest (25 percent chance that it contains something of value; roll treasure randomly using the tables in chapter 7)


Unless aided by magic, a character can’t swim for a full 8 hours per day. After each hour of swimming, a character must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or gain one level of exhaustion.

A creature that has a swimming speed — including a character with a ring of swimming or similar magic — can swim all day without penalty and uses the normal forced march rules in the Player’s Handbook.

Swimming through deep water is similar to traveling at high altitudes, because of the water’s pressure and cold temperature. For a creature without a swimming speed, each hour spent swimming at a depth greater than 100 feet counts as 2 hours for the purpose of determining exhaustion. Swimming for an hour at a depth greater than 200 feet counts as 4 hours.

Underwater Visibility

Visibility underwater depends on water clarity and the available light. Unless the characters have light sources, use the Underwater Encounter Distance table to determine the distance at which characters underwater become aware of a possible encounter.

Underwater Encounter Distance

Creature SizeEncounter Distance
Clear water, bright light60 ft.
Clear water, dim light30 ft.
Murky water or no light10 ft.

The Sea

Characters can row a boat for 8 hours per day, or can row longer at the risk of exhaustion (as per the rules for a forced march in chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook). A fully crewed sailing vessel can sail all day, assuming its sailors work in shifts.

Random Encounters at Sea

You can check for random encounters at sea as often as you would check for them on land (see chapter 3 for more information). The Random Encounters at Sea table presents a number of options and ideas.

d12 + d8Encounter
2Ghost ship
3Friendly and curious adult bronze dragon
4Whirlpool (25 percent chance that the whirlpool is a portal to the Elemental Plane of Water)
5Merfolk traders
6Passing warship (friendly or hostile)
7–8Pirate ship (hostile)
9–10Passing merchant ship (galley or sailing ship)
11–12Killer whale sighting
13–14Floating debris
15Longship crewed by hostile berserkers
16Hostile griffons or harpy group
17Iceberg (easily avoided if seen from a distance)
18Sahuagin boarding party
19NPC in the water (clinging to floating debris)
20Sea monster (such as a dragon turtle or kraken)


A shipwreck is a plot device that can be used sparingly to great effect, particularly if you want the characters to be washed ashore on some monster-infested island or (in the case of an airship) dropped in the middle of some exotic land. There aren’t rules for determining when a shipwreck happens; it happens when you want or need it to happen.

Even the strongest seafaring ship can founder in a storm, run aground on rocks or reefs, sink during a pirate attack, or be dragged underwater by a sea monster. A storm or hungry dragon can lay waste to an airship just as easily. A shipwreck has the potential to change the direction of a campaign. It isn’t, however, a particularly good way to kill off characters or end a campaign.

If you and your campaign conspire to wreck a ship on which the characters are traveling, it is assumed that the characters survive with the equipment they were wearing or carrying still in their possession. The fate of any NPCs and cargo aboard the wrecked ship is entirely up to you.

Weather at Sea

Use the Weather table earlier in this chapter when checking for weather at sea.

If weather conditions indicate both a strong wind and heavy rain, they combine to create a storm with high waves. A crew caught in a storm loses sight of all landmarks (unless there’s a lighthouse or other bright feature), and ability checks made to navigate during the storm have disadvantage.

In a dead calm (no wind), ships can’t move under sail and must be rowed. A ship sailing against a strong wind moves at half speed.


A relatively calm sea offers great visibility. From a crow’s nest, a lookout can spot another ship or a coastline up to 10 miles away, assuming clear skies. Overcast skies reduce that distance by half. Rain and fog reduce visibility just as they do on land.

Owning a Ship

At some point in your campaign, the adventurers might gain custody of a ship. They might purchase or capture one or receive one to carry out a mission. It’s up to you whether a ship is available for purchase, and you have the power to deprive the adventurers of a ship at any time should it become a nuisance (see the “Shipwrecks” sidebar).

Crew. A ship needs a crew of skilled hirelings to function. As per the Player’s Handbook, one skilled hireling costs at least 2 gp per day. The minimum number of skilled hirelings needed to crew a ship depends on the type of vessel, as shown in the Airborne and Waterborne Vehicles table.

You can track the loyalty of individual crew members or the crew as a whole using the optional loyalty rules in chapter 4. If at least half the crew becomes disloyal during a voyage, the crew turns hostile and stages a mutiny. If the ship is berthed, disloyal crew members leave the ship and never return.

Passengers. The table indicates the number of Small and Medium passengers the ship can accommodate. Accommodations consist of shared hammocks in tight quarters. A ship outfitted with private accommodations can carry one-fifth as many passengers.

A passenger is usually expected to pay 5 sp per day for a hammock, but prices can vary from ship to ship. A small private cabin usually costs 2 gp per day.

Cargo. The table indicates the maximum tonnage each kind of ship can carry.

Damage Threshold. A ship has immunity to all damage unless it takes an amount of damage equal to or greater than its damage threshold, in which case it takes damage as normal. Any damage that fails to meet or exceed the damage threshold is considered superficial and doesn’t reduce the ship’s hit points.

Ship Repair. Repairs to a damaged ship can be made while the vessel is berthed. Repairing 1 hit point of damage requires 1 day and costs 20 gp for materials and labor.

Airborne and Waterborne Vehicles

Cargo (tons)ACHPDamage Threshold
Airship20,000 gp8 mph1020113300
Galley30,000 gp4 mph801501550020
Keelboat3,000 gp1 mph161/21510010
Longship10,000 gp3 mph40150101530015
Rowboat50 gp1½ mph131150
Sailing ship10,000 gp2 mph20201001530015
Warship25,000 gp2½ mph60602001550020

The Sky

Flying characters can move from one place to another in a relatively straight line, ignoring terrain and monsters that can’t fly or that lack ranged attacks.

Flying by spell or magic item works the same as travel on foot, as described in the Player’s Handbook. A creature that serves as a flying mount must rest 1 hour for every 3 hours it flies, and it can’t fly for more than 9 hours per day. Thus, characters mounted on griffons (which have a flying speed of 80 feet) can travel at 8 miles per hour, covering 72 miles over 9 hours with two 1-hour-long rests over the course of the day. Mounts that don’t tire (such as a flying construct) aren’t subject to this limitation.

As adventurers travel through the air, check for random encounters as you normally would. Ignore any result that indicates a non-flying monster, unless the characters are flying close enough to the ground to be targeted by non-flying creatures making ranged attacks. Characters have normal chances to spot creatures on the ground and can decide whether to engage them.


Traps can be found almost anywhere. One wrong step in an ancient tomb might trigger a series of scything blades, which cleave through armor and bone. The seemingly innocuous vines that hang over a cave entrance might grasp and choke anyone who pushes through them. A net hidden among the trees might drop on travelers who pass underneath. In the D&D game, unwary adventurers can fall to their deaths, be burned alive, or fall under a fusillade of poisoned darts.

A trap can be either mechanical or magical in nature. Mechanical traps include pits, arrow traps, falling blocks, water-filled rooms, whirling blades, and anything else that depends on a mechanism to operate. Magic traps are either magical device traps or spell traps. Magical device traps initiate spell effects when activated. Spell traps are spells such as glyph of warding and symbol that function as traps.

Traps in Play

When adventurers come across a trap, you need to know how the trap is triggered and what it does, as well as the possibility for the characters to detect the trap and to disable or avoid it.

Triggering a Trap

Most traps are triggered when a creature goes somewhere or touches something that the trap’s creator wanted to protect. Common triggers include stepping on a pressure plate or a false section of floor, pulling a trip wire, turning a doorknob, and using the wrong key in a lock. Magic traps are often set to go off when a creature enters an area or touches an object. Some magic traps (such as the glyph of warding spell) have more complicated trigger conditions, including a password that prevents the trap from activating.

Detecting and Disabling a Trap

Usually, some element of a trap is visible to careful inspection. Characters might notice an uneven flagstone that conceals a pressure plate, spot the gleam of light off a trip wire, notice small holes in the walls from which jets of flame will erupt, or otherwise detect something that points to a trap’s presence.

A trap’s description specifies the checks and DCs needed to detect it, disable it, or both. A character actively looking for a trap can attempt a Wisdom (Perception) check against the trap’s DC. You can also compare the DC to detect the trap with each character’s passive Wisdom (Perception) score to determine whether anyone in the party notices the trap in passing. If the adventurers detect a trap before triggering it, they might be able to disarm it, either permanently or long enough to move past it. You might call for an Intelligence (Investigation) check for a character to deduce what needs to be done, followed by a Dexterity check using thieves’ tools to perform the necessary sabotage.

Any character can attempt an Intelligence (Arcana) check to detect or disarm a magic trap, in addition to any other checks noted in the trap’s description. The DCs are the same regardless of the check used. In addition, dispel magic has a chance of disabling most magic traps. A magic trap’s description provides the DC for the ability check made when you use dispel magic.

In most cases, a trap’s description is clear enough that you can adjudicate whether a character’s actions locate or foil the trap. As with many situations, you shouldn’t allow die rolling to override clever play and good planning. Use your common sense, drawing on the trap’s description to determine what happens. No trap’s design can anticipate every possible action that the characters might attempt.

You should allow a character to discover a trap without making an ability check if an action would clearly reveal the trap’s presence. For example, if a character lifts a rug that conceals a pressure plate, the character has found the trigger and no check is required.

Foiling traps can be a little more complicated. Consider a trapped treasure chest. If the chest is opened without first pulling on the two handles set in its sides, a mechanism inside fires a hail of poison needles toward anyone in front of it. After inspecting the chest and making a few checks, the characters are still unsure if it’s trapped. Rather than simply open the chest, they prop a shield in front of it and push the chest open at a distance with an iron rod. In this case, the trap still triggers, but the hail of needles fires harmlessly into the shield.

Traps are often designed with mechanisms that allow them to be disarmed or bypassed. Intelligent monsters that place traps in or around their lairs need ways to get past those traps without harming themselves. Such traps might have hidden levers that disable their triggers, or a secret door might conceal a passage that goes around the trap.

Trap Effects

The effects of traps can range from inconvenient to deadly, making use of elements such as arrows, spikes, blades, poison, toxic gas, blasts of fire, and deep pits. The deadliest traps combine multiple elements to kill, injure, contain, or drive off any creature unfortunate enough to trigger them. A trap’s description specifies what happens when it is triggered.

The attack bonus of a trap, the save DC to resist its effects, and the damage it deals can vary depending on the trap’s severity. Use the Trap Save DCs and Attack Bonuses table and the Damage Severity by Level table for suggestions based on three levels of trap severity.

A trap intended to be a setback is unlikely to kill or seriously harm characters of the indicated levels, whereas a dangerous trap is likely to seriously injure (and potentially kill) characters of the indicated levels. A deadly trap is likely to kill characters of the indicated levels.

Trap Save DCs and Attack Bonuses

Trap DangerSave DCAttack Bonus
Setback10-11+3 to +5
Dangerous12-15+6 to +8
Deadly16-20+9 to +12

Damage Severity by Level

Character LevelSetbackDangerousDeadly

Complex Traps

Complex traps work like standard traps, except once activated they execute a series of actions each round. A complex trap turns the process of dealing with a trap into something more like a combat encounter.

When a complex trap activates, it rolls initiative. The trap’s description includes an initiative bonus. On its turn, the trap activates again, often taking an action. It might make successive attacks against intruders, create an effect that changes over time, or otherwise produce a dynamic challenge. Otherwise, the complex trap can be detected and disabled or bypassed in the usual ways.

For example, a trap that causes a room to slowly flood works best as a complex trap. On the trap’s turn, the water level rises. After several rounds, the room is completely flooded.

Sample Traps

The magical and mechanical traps presented here vary in deadliness and are presented in alphabetical order.

Collapsing Roof

Mechanical trap

This trap uses a trip wire to collapse the supports keeping an unstable section of a ceiling in place.

The trip wire is 3 inches off the ground and stretches between two support beams. The DC to spot the trip wire is 10. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disables the trip wire harmlessly. A character without thieves’ tools can attempt this check with disadvantage using any edged weapon or edged tool. On a failed check, the trap triggers.

Anyone who inspects the beams can easily determine that they are merely wedged in place. As an action, a character can knock over a beam, causing the trap to trigger.

The ceiling above the trip wire is in bad repair, and anyone who can see it can tell that it’s in danger of collapse.

When the trap is triggered, the unstable ceiling collapses. Any creature in the area beneath the unstable section must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) bludgeoning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. Once the trap is triggered, the floor of the area is filled with rubble and becomes difficult terrain.

Falling Net

Mechanical trap

This trap uses a trip wire to release a net suspended from the ceiling.

The trip wire is 3 inches off the ground and stretches between two columns or trees. The net is hidden by cobwebs or foliage. The DC to spot the trip wire and net is 10. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools breaks the trip wire harmlessly. A character without thieves’ tools can attempt this check with disadvantage using any edged weapon or edged tool. On a failed check, the trap triggers.

When the trap is triggered, the net is released, covering a 10-foot-square area. Those in the area are trapped under the net and restrained, and those that fail a DC 10 Strength saving throw are also knocked prone. A creature can use its action to make a DC 10 Strength check, freeing itself or another creature within its reach on a success. The net has AC 10 and 20 hit points. Dealing 5 slashing damage to the net (AC 10) destroys a 5-foot-square section of it, freeing any creature trapped in that section.

Fire-Breathing Statue

Magic trap

This trap is activated when an intruder steps on a hidden pressure plate, releasing a magical gout of flame from a nearby statue. The statue can be of anything, including a dragon or a wizard casting a spell.

The DC is 15 to spot the pressure plate, as well as faint scorch marks on the floor and walls. A spell or other effect that can sense the presence of magic, such as detect magic, reveals an aura of evocation magic around the statue.

The trap activates when more than 20 pounds of weight is placed on the pressure plate, causing the statue to release a 30-foot cone of fire. Each creature in the fire must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Wedging an iron spike or other object under the pressure plate prevents the trap from activating. A successful dispel magic (DC 13) cast on the statue destroys the trap.


Mechanical trap

Four basic pit traps are presented here.

Simple Pit. A simple pit trap is a hole dug in the ground. The hole is covered by a large cloth anchored on the pit’s edge and camouflaged with dirt and debris.

The DC to spot the pit is 10. Anyone stepping on the cloth falls through and pulls the cloth down into the pit, taking damage based on the pit’s depth (usually 10 feet, but some pits are deeper).

Hidden Pit. This pit has a cover constructed from material identical to the floor around it.

A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check discerns an absence of foot traffic over the section of floor that forms the pit’s cover. A successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check is necessary to confirm that the trapped section of floor is actually the cover of a pit.

When a creature steps on the cover, it swings open like a trapdoor, causing the intruder to spill into the pit below. The pit is usually 10 or 20 feet deep but can be deeper.

Once the pit trap is detected, an iron spike or similar object can be wedged between the pit’s cover and the surrounding floor in such a way as to prevent the cover from opening, thereby making it safe to cross. The cover can also be magically held shut using the arcane lock spell or similar magic.

Locking Pit. This pit trap is identical to a hidden pit trap, with one key exception: the trap door that covers the pit is spring-loaded. After a creature falls into the pit, the cover snaps shut to trap its victim inside.

A successful DC 20 Strength check is necessary to pry the cover open. The cover can also be smashed open (determine the cover’s statistics using the guidelines in chapter 8. A character in the pit can also attempt to disable the spring mechanism from the inside with a DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools, provided that the mechanism can be reached and the character can see. In some cases, a mechanism (usually hidden behind a secret door nearby) opens the pit.

Spiked Pit. This pit trap is a simple, hidden, or locking pit trap with sharpened wooden or iron spikes at the bottom. A creature falling into the pit takes 11 (2d10) piercing damage from the spikes, in addition to any falling damage. Even nastier versions have poison smeared on the spikes. In that case, anyone taking piercing damage from the spikes must also make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw, taking an 22 (4d10) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Poison Darts

Mechanical trap

When a creature steps on a hidden pressure plate, poison-tipped darts shoot from spring-loaded or pressurized tubes cleverly embedded in the surrounding walls. An area might include multiple pressure plates, each one rigged to its own set of darts.

The tiny holes in the walls are obscured by dust and cobwebs, or cleverly hidden amid bas-reliefs, murals, or frescoes that adorn the walls. The DC to spot them is 15. With a successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check, a character can deduce the presence of the pressure plate from variations in the mortar and stone used to create it, compared to the surrounding floor. Wedging an iron spike or other object under the pressure plate prevents the trap from activating. Stuffing the holes with cloth or wax prevents the darts contained within from launching.

The trap activates when more than 20 pounds of weight is placed on the pressure plate, releasing four darts. Each dart makes a ranged attack with a +8 bonus against a random target within 10 feet of the pressure plate (vision is irrelevant to this attack roll). (If there are no targets in the area, the darts don’t hit anything.) A target that is hit takes 2 (1d4) piercing damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 11 (2d10) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Poison Needle

Mechanical trap

A poisoned needle is hidden within a treasure chest’s lock, or in something else that a creature might open. Opening the chest without the proper key causes the needle to spring out, delivering a dose of poison.

When the trap is triggered, the needle extends 3 inches straight out from the lock. A creature within range takes 1 piercing damage and 11 (2d10) poison damage, and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour.

A successful DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the needle. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the needle from the lock. Unsuccessfully attempting to pick the lock triggers the trap.

Rolling Sphere

Mechanical trap

When 20 or more pounds of pressure are placed on this trap’s pressure plate, a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling opens, releasing a 10-foot-diameter rolling sphere of solid stone.

With a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check, a character can spot the trapdoor and pressure plate. A search of the floor accompanied by a successful DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals variations in the mortar and stone that betray the pressure plate’s presence. The same check made while inspecting the ceiling notes variations in the stonework that reveal the trapdoor. Wedging an iron spike or other object under the pressure plate prevents the trap from activating.

Activation of the sphere requires all creatures present to roll initiative. The sphere rolls initiative with a +8 bonus. On its turn, it moves 60 feet in a straight line. The sphere can move through creatures’ spaces, and creatures can move through its space, treating it as difficult terrain. Whenever the sphere enters a creature’s space or a creature enters its space while it’s rolling, that creature must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or take 55 (10d10) bludgeoning damage and be knocked prone.

The sphere stops when it hits a wall or similar barrier. It can’t go around corners, but smart dungeon builders incorporate gentle, curving turns into nearby passages that allow the sphere to keep moving.

As an action, a creature within 5 feet of the sphere can attempt to slow it down with a DC 20 Strength check. On a successful check, the sphere’s speed is reduced by 15 feet. If the sphere’s speed drops to 0, it stops moving and is no longer a threat.

Sphere of Annihilation

Magic trap

Magical, impenetrable darkness fills the gaping mouth of a stone face carved into a wall. The mouth is 2 feet in diameter and roughly circular. No sound issues from it, no light can illuminate the inside of it, and any matter that enters it is instantly obliterated.

A successful DC 20 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals that the mouth contains a sphere of annihilation that can’t be controlled or moved. It is otherwise identical to a normal sphere of annihilation, as described in chapter 7, “Treasure.”

Some versions of the trap include an enchantment placed on the stone face, such that specified creatures feel an overwhelming urge to approach it and crawl inside its mouth. This effect is otherwise like the sympathy aspect of the antipathy/sympathy spell. A successful dispel magic (DC 18) removes this enchantment.