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It can be tricky to come up with a new and exciting dungeon. It's not always necessary, but a new concept once in a while can not only spice things up, it can also make a region feel more alive or unique. Below you'll find a list of 40 ideas to hopefully help you with the creation process. They're broad ideas in the sense that they're not fleshed out, but they often do hint at certain difficulty levels, campaign settings and other elements. They're all easy enough to adapt though, which is the point of these ideas.
Note that I took the term dungeon loosely. Not all ideas are below are the traditional structure-type dungeon, but more a place for a series of encounters. How far you want to take them depends entirely on your imagination and need within your campaign. Either way, I hope you enjoy them.
Within an ecological masterpiece of a garden once created by one of the most renowned botanists lurks a danger none had foreseen. Creeping vines and shimmering shadows are the least of your worries as hedges shift to change your path, dryads chase you down unknown trails, and ents await to crush your bones.
The famous bottomless well of Karad Dian brings visitors from all around to admire its depths. Garbage, pests and monsters alike have been thrown into this infernal pit. A child or two has fallen in and to rescue them the locals turn to you. Deep within the depths of the well, which turns out not to be so bottomless after all, live all those who've been thrown in. At least, all those who survived the monsters the locals thought they had defeated.
Bubbling lava and plumes of noxious fumes are the norm in the deepest depths of this land. Some claim demons reside here, for it must be where the gate of hell resides. This can only mean one thing, somebody has to go down there to find and destroy it lest demons find a way to the surface.
Countless workers, hundreds of warriors, dozens of guardians and a single queen. Her insect majesty rules over her lands with an army of mandibles ready to destroy and devour anything they can see. She's eager to expand her territory, and for this she must be stopped.
"Come one, come all, come to our carnival. Best us in our games of skill, win prizes if you can stand the thrill!" read the posters covering every post and board in town. The carnival is no ordinary one, for those who enter will not be able to leave. It's the experience of a lifetime.
Lunatics, sociopaths and other dangerous folk were all locked up in a re-purposed cavern. It made construction cheap, kept maintenance low, and, most importantly, kept these people out of sight and out of mind. A little too out of mind, however. Porous rock here and there, minor collapses once in a while, and you have the perfect opportunity for mad folk to literally carve out a lair for them to take advantage of all who dare to enter.
An ancient colosseum stands out of place in a now lonely desert. Once the home of great spectacles, some of which are portrayed on the walls that still stand and haven't been sanded or covered by powerful winds and sandstorms. The colosseum was the pinnacle of ingenuity of an ancient civilization. Traps, shifting floors, dangerous animals and the best seats for crowds of all types were among the major elements, many of which still stand and work perfectly. What a testament to the ingenuity of this civilization.
A quiet town of beautifully kept hedges, plenty of flowers, neat houses and smiling neighbors seems like the perfect place for a calming visit. The locals are happy to receive you with open arms. There's just one problem: they will never let you go. You can try to escape, but those little roads of neat houses and immaculate hedges seem to shift and change at every turn. It makes it very difficult to find all the traps the locals have set as well.
A great imagination is something many envy. The imagination of Prof. Hanity knew no bounds. Ironically, his inventions have now been bound by the very home that cost him his life. Somebody has to enter his house and deal with all the dangerous inventions who may lurk in every corner. It's a place of great ingenuity. Or madness. It depends on how you look at it.
Progress and profit: The two main themes running most factories. Safety, sustainability, quality of life, many terms most would look for seem unknown in this corner of the world. Some factories truly take the cake however. Exploding pipes, extreme temperatures both hot and cold, exposed mechanical parts, and vermin the size of dogs all roam this place. For the safety of locals and the world alike, this machine of death and pollution needs to be stopped.
At the bottom of a grand waterfall the water continues to plummet into a cavern hidden within the very mountain it fell from. Endless tunnels of strange phenomena, continually cascading waters and washed down treasures live in almost endless darkness. Almost endless. Deep within the caverns a faint light glows. Whether it's goblins, kobolds, a dragon or some supernatural fire is unknown. But some are eager to find out.
Many creatures are said to be the creation of one god or another. Dryads, elementals, golems and others all have myths and legends surrounding them. There's truth in these, but the truth hides a horrifying past. Not all gods are created equal, and not all gods have the power to create perfect life out of nowhere. Mistakes happen. These mistakes are sometimes hidden or allowed to live. No matter the case, these creatures lurk beneath the surface. Some benign, some with more devious tendencies, and some who simply wish to destroy everything the gods created and deemed perfect enough to be allowed to live on the surface.
Crocodiles and mosquitoes are the least of your worries in this city half sunken into the waters by a natural catastrophe. Strange aquatic creatures have claimed this city for themselves as well as everything that remained. This includes the gold in the banks, the personal belongings of those who once lived here, and anything else that was unable to be taken during the great flood. In other words, a city ripe for pillaging for those who think they can defeat the new aquatic owners.
Forests have long been thought of as large, living beings. Whether true or not, the forest of Arlingor is definitely alive. At least according to locals. Changing paths, moving trees, moments of light that quickly turn to total darkness, and dancing orbs of blue fire have all been reported. As far as the locals are concerned, the forest can keep their tricks and magic, they just want those taken by the forest to be returned.
An ancient glacier of gigantic proportions has long been used as a space to live in. A small settlement has been carved into the very ice itself, only occasionally changing as the glacier shifts over time. However, the glacier has begun to melt. At first this didn't seem an issue, but creatures literally frozen in time have begun to thaw. Somehow they still live. That's no problem for some, but there are monsters trapped in the ice the locals would rather see trapped forever.
The daughter of a king was of marrying age. The king wouldn't want his daughter to just marry any random royal who came to his door, however. So he ordered the construction of a labyrinth. Only the person who could conquer this labyrinth would be able to prove their worth to the king. Unfortunately the king would increase the challenge more and more during the construction of the labyrinth. His daughter was forced to live somewhere in the labyrinth, for love would lead the way to her. Monsters from all around the world were put into the labyrinth to create challenges of all kinds, for only a worldly person was worthy enough. Those who had travelled would surely know how to defeat these beings. His daughter, if alive, still remains stuck in the labyrinth. The king has recently died of old age, so now his daughter needs to be found for rights of succession.
A large library of tomes, books, scrolls and artifacts makes for a pretty sight. The forbidden section has long been admired from afar, for it must contain powerful magics or incredible secrets. It's even guarded by arcane sentinels. However, the plaques of most artifacts will soon reveal most of what's in this library is completely made up, at least it will to those well traveled. Something fishy is going on.
A lost city has been uncovered recently. There seem to be no inhabitants, but much of it still needs to be explored. What's far more mysterious, the city isn't from this realm or planet. Nobody knows who built it, who got it here, or if anybody still lives within it.
A colossal, stone being towers over the surrounding landscape. It it said it dared to battle a gorgon and lost. Its insides are a labyrinth none wished to enter. None except for a few creatures that is. Monstrous beings who quickly turned this gigantic being into a nest of their own. They're destroying whatever structural integrity this giant has, many fear it'll soon collapse. Some say it's for the better, everything inside will surely die with it. Others say it'll open a can of worms nobody wants to see opened.
A deviant trickster has left messages around town. Initially they seem to be calls of help from somebody who's been kidnapped, but following the trail soon leads to a path of chaos. Some messages are in a foreign language, which, when spoken out loud, cast a spell. Others are are needed to open a passage. Some are nonsense, others are actual clues, while even others summon strange beings from otherworldly realms.
A mine of giant crystals has been abandoned due to the evil inhabitants the people discovered. The crystals are often so shiny they reflect images like a polished mirror, which, with some careful placement, can send images across the entire mine system. Strong sounds also send their vibrations through these crystals, allowing for both a warning system and a way to trick people from deep within the mines.
A giant pyramid stands tall in an ancient jungle. Meant as the tomb of a once great king, the pyramid was enchanted with spells to help the king reach eternal life after his death. Unfortunately, the spells had an unforeseen effect on the nearby area. Everything that dies comes back to life with seemingly eternal life. Locals fear the worst for what may be hiding within the tomb itself, a lot of sacrifices were part of the old king's tomb chambers after all.
An ancient titan in the shape of a tortoise seeks the aid of mortals to fight the pests that live on his shell. What these pests are nobody knows.
Just below the surface soils is a world of roots, fungi, creepy crawlies and forgotten trinkets. A labyrinth of tunnels of all sizes carved by all sorts of creatures has made for the perfect lair of tree roots enchanted or otherwise influenced by evil. They've began to drag people down the tunnels and into the web of roots they use to drain their very life force.
A giant snake has dug a lair over the countless years its been alive. It sought bigger and bigger prey to sustain its ever-growing appetite. Fowls are nothing to it anymore, even humans seem like an appetizer. Larger cattle does for now, but soon it'll hunger for even more. Its lair is a labyrinth of strange tunnels that echo every movement, so at times it can sound like the serpent is right next to you, at other times it sounds like you're followed by your own footsteps. Somebody has to stop this beast however, before it hungers for all.
The sewer system beneath the city of Ahn-Kiral was built with incredibly ingenuity and organisation. A smooth running system of easy to navigate tunnels minimized both the need for maintenance and the danger it exposed to those who had to venture down there. Unfortunately, other, more unsavory beings took advantage of this smooth system and took control of it all.
Clouds cover almost everything in this cliff-side landscape. Small specks of light often indicate a building hidden behind the thick clouds, but sometimes it merely means a cliff edge or hole in the ground through which light is able to pass. In this area it can be best to stick to clouds without silver linings.
A large farm with an efficient slaughter house seems like nothing too out of the ordinary. But for some reason dead animals litter the yards before being disposed of. Something strange is going on here, surely the animals would be butchered for meat?
A large cove provides often much needed cover from the elements to many sailors within this area. Some have taken advantage of this and set up shop as enough people pass to run a profitable business like an inn or supplies shop. Deeper within the cavern hide the smugglers and other folk who work outside of the law. The beings they smuggle sometimes escape however, and this time something truly nightmarish has escaped.
The tall summits of a mountain range are home to a tribe of vicious snow trolls. Killing them is no easy task, the peaks are home to more than just trolls. Lightning strikes far too often, and going from one peak to another is a journey difficult enough in and of itself. Being under fire from lightning strikes and boulders thrown by trolls makes it all the more tasking. Somebody has to stop them though, lest an avalanche or rock slide destroy the lands at the base of the mountains.
A gigantic swamp is home to a band of outlaws. People who go missing tend to end up here, and secrets that need to be kept are taken here to be disposed of permanently. Nobody knows what secrets might still be kept here, but many do know they want rid of the outlaws that reside and make a living here.
In some sick experiment, a group of titans created a micro-world with the sole purpose to see how many higher sentient beings they could lure into their perfect world. Like some form of bio-dome or snow globe, their creations lure all sorts of beings in with a world of temptations. All of life's pleasures are in abundance here, all except for freedom that is. Nobody is allowed to leave, but since very few are able to resist the temptations, very few have tried.
A long, winding passage carved by a now long gone river connects two sides of a mountain range. Dangers await at every turn, but going around the mountains is not an option. People will have to face wild animals, rock slides, brutal weather, and gangs of rovers if they wish to make it to the other side.
Built upon soil too lose for proper supports, the city of Darliak is one that forever sinks slowly into a sandy grave. A recent shift of two tectonic plates has caused this process to speed up. The once peaceful streets are now collapsing and forming a labyrinth of holes, impassible areas and a whole range of dangers. Some say there are creatures crawling out of the soil as well.
A strange trail, almost like a wormhole, is seemingly frozen in time. Passing through it is possible without any issues, none of the creatures within it seem to be aware you're even passing. But touch one and it'll be pulled into your time-line. Touching a cat won't matter much, it might even purr to thank you, but dangerous creatures stand frozen in time as well. That cat you freed may cause a chain reaction of small creatures touching bigger ones. It's probably best to keep your hands to yourself.
A battlefield is never a place to be, but this one has been stuck in time forever. It's the fastest way to cross these lands, but you may have to face the same dangers every day. Nothing that is alive in the morning stays dead, as the next morning everything resets. You remain the same though, so your progress isn't lost, but after facing the same dangers and traumas again you may wish you were reset as well.
An intricate town built upon a stone spire is home to a technological wonder. Everything is connected through elevators, wind powered pull bridges, steam powered houses, and a whole range more. Their technological wonders are always sought by those who wish to steal it and chasing them is no easy task in this monolith town. But somebody has to do it, and the locals are too busy inventing. That, and their inventions to deal with it kind of blew up in their faces.
An underwater world of mystery and magic is hidden in plain sight. Access is easy, simply go through the tunnels. Magical in nature, these tunnels simply push water away like some kind of force field, but that is all they do. Like all dark waters, dangers lurk beneath. A tentacle may grab through the tunnel to catch a prey, a large predator may risk a jump through the tunnels for the same reason, and those with the ability to breathe regular air may even choose to simply live within these tunnels. But, like many dark waters too, these waters are home to treasures lost in time.
A large vault hidden from the public hides a wide range of dark magic. Voodoo, necromancy, blood magic and more are all kept under lock and key. This was also the vault keepers' biggest mistake. Keeping all of this magic concentrated in one locked area was bound to blow up at one point or another, and now it has.
Built upon pole after pole of bamboo and whatever else they could find, this village is one sight to behold. Unfortunately monkeys love to climb them and have taken advantage of their agility to steal and cause chaos for the locals. For the safety of everyone they need to be removed, but this'll prove to be no easy task.