Save or Suck: Perilous Pits
This post was originally posted in 2018. I’ve re-posted it with updated artwork, but haven’t changed anything about the post itself. I’m still pretty happy with this!
While you’re here – it’s my birthday this week, so all of my games on itch.io are currently on sale. Go check it out!
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen that I’ve been working my way through back issues of Dragon Magazine, beginning at issue #1. As well as being a fascinating glimpse into the history and development of this hobby that I love so much, I’ve also been finding some useful things among those pages – and some things that could be useful, but fall a little short of the mark.
One of those things crops up in Issue #15 in the form of an article entitled “PITS” by Richard Morenoff, which presents “A set of charts to help the dungeon master when player characters or monsters fall into a pit”.
What follows are a series of random roll tables to help determine what might actually be in the pit. I got unreasonably excited by this when I saw the article, but unfortunately the tables themselves aren’t much use if we want to generate interesting results. 60% of the time the pit is simply an empty pit; to my mind, the point of rolling on a table like this is when you want something other than an empty pit. The rest of the results are fairly typical of early D&D, with most of them being some variant of a monster/random NPC/spellcaster who is tied or chained down in the pit, or else generating a pit of snakes or random oozes. One of the results even directs DMs to roll on the D&D monster matrix to generate a result, requiring you to turn to another book to finish generating your pit.
I think we can do better than that. The philosophy of dungeon design has changed in the intervening 40 years since this set of tables was published, so we need something that works with the modern game. I’d also like to preserve some of the strangeness of early games, too. My main goal, though, is to provide you with something quick and easy to use that a) doesn’t result in empty pits (and, thus, wasted time while rolling on the tables) and b) doesn’t require you to turn to another table somewhere else and roll on that (although you will need to consult the Monster Manual if you roll for any creatures).
A quick word to the wise; this table is very much in the vein of “save or suck”, which may not gell well with everyone’s preferred style of play. Be aware that using this table is guaranteed to ruin the day of at least one of your players.
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Random pits for Fifth Edition
Using these tables is easy. Beginning at Table 1 – Concealment roll 1d100 and note the result, working through the tables in numerical order. Some categories contain sub-tables; entries on the main tables will direct you to roll on these depending on the result of your roll on that category’s main table. Once you have rolled on any sub-tables required for that category, move on.
In all cases where a pit is not immediately visible, there is a 50% chance that there is visible evidence of dungeon creatures avoiding the pit. Spotting these tracks requires a passive Perception of 14 or higher.
Table 1: Concealment
|1d100||Concealment||Passive Perception DC to spot|
|01-20||Open; immediately visible.||–|
|21-40||Concealed with tarp/cloth/a net||10|
|41-60||Concealed with wooden boards/a false floor||15|
|61-80||Concealed with a trap door. (50% chance the trap door closes and locks after the pit is triggered.)||18|
|81-100||Concealed with an illusion||20 (or spellcaster’s Save DC, if known)|
Determine the size of the opening and the depth of the pit by rolling on Table 2a: Opening and Table 2b: Depth. Then roll on Table 3a: Hazards, generating Additional Hazards and Creatures if necessary.
Table 2a: Opening
|16-30||5’ diameter circle|
|46-60||10’ diameter circle|
|61-70||15’ diameter circle|
|71-80||Rectangular; 5’ x 10’|
|81-90||Rectangular; 5’ x 15’|
|91-100||Rectangular; 10’ x 15’|
Table 2b: Depth
|1d100||Depth||Base Falling Damage|
|96-100||Bottomless. Roll for Hazards as normal, but do not roll for Special Features.|
Table 3a: Hazards
|01-15||Spiked floor||11 (2d10) piercing damage plus base falling damage|
|16-25||Creature||Roll on Table 3c: Creatures|
|26-35||Pool of acid 10’ deep (or that fills the pit, if pit is less than 10’ deep)||5 (1d10) acid damage on entering the acid, and at the end of each turn spent in the acid|
|36-45||Pool of tar 15’ deep (or that fills the pit if pit is less than 15’ deep)||Creatures in the tar must succeed on a DC 15 Athletics (Strength) check to keep themselves afloat, repeating this save at the beginning of each turn spent in the tar. The speed of creatures in tar is reduced to 5’. Creatures failing the save sink and begin to drown (see drowning rules). Tar ignites if brought into contact with an open flame, dealing 11 (2d10) fire damage each round to any creatures in the tar.|
|46-55||Spiked floor as above, and roll for Additional Hazards|
|56-65||Creature as above, and roll for Additional Hazards|
|66-75||Acid as above, and roll for Additional Hazards|
|76-85||Tar as above, and roll for Additional Hazards|
|86-95||Quicksand||Functions as tar, but DC is 18. Minimum depth 10’; if the pit is deeper than this, quicksand fills it to within 5’ of the opening.|
|96-100||Sphere of Annihilation at the base of the pit||If pit is wider than 5’, DC 13 Dexterity saving throw to avoid the sphere. Otherwise, falling creatures make contact with it. See sphere of annihilation, see DMG p. 201. GM decides if the sphere is already under the control of another creature.|
First roll to determine how many additional hazards are present. Then roll that many times on the Additional Hazards table. When rolling for multiple additional hazards, reroll duplicates.
Table 3b: # of Additional Hazards
|1d100||# of times to roll on Table 3c|
Table 3c: Additional Hazards
|1-15||Greased/oiled sides||Attempts to climb the sides of the pit are at Disadvantage|
|16-30||Spiked walls||Additional 3 (1d6) piercing damage per 10’ fallen|
|31-45||Spinning blades at base of pit*||Blades deal 16 (3d10) slashing damage to creatures at the bottom of the pit, and an additional 16 (3d10) slashing damage at the beginning of each subsequent turn. Blades can be disabled withsuccessful a DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools.|
|46-55||Spinning blades on walls||Additional 16 (3d10) slashing damage per 10’ fallen. Climbing the pit requires a successful DC 20 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to avoid the blades. Creatures who fail this save take 16 (3d10) slashing damage and fall back to the bottom of the pit. Blades can be disabled with a successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools.|
|56-65||Rotting bodies at the bottom of the pit||Creatures falling to the bottom of the pit must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be infected with Sewer Plague (see DMG, p. 257)|
|66-75||Contact poison on walls||Creatures attempting to climb the walls must succeed on a DC 18 Constitution saving throw or take 11 (2d10) poison damage and be poisoned.|
|76-85||Greased/oiled sides, and roll for Special Features|
|86-90||Spiked walls, and roll for Special Features|
|91-95||Contact poison on walls, and roll for Special Features|
|96-100||Roll again on this table, and roll for Special Features.||If second roll also results in Special Features, roll twice on that table.|
|* Items marked with an asterisk do not appear in bottomless pits. Ignore these hazards if rolled. Do not roll again to replace them.|
Table 3d – Creatures
Table 3d: Creatures
|01-15||1d12 constrictor snakes|
|46-60||1d4 giant scorpions|
|91-100||Troll; 50% chance it is chained to an iron ring in the ground.|
Table 4a: Special Features
|01-15||Pit widens at the bottom and is a monster’s lair. The only way out is through the pit. Choose a suitable monster according to your dungeon’s needs.|
|16-30||Pit can be bypassed by secret doors concealed on the surface at both sides of the pit.|
|31-45||Secret door at the base of the pit reveals a staircase back to the surface. DC 15 to locate. 50% chance the door is locked.|
|46-60||Secret door at the base of the pit reveals a staircase back to the surface. DC 15 to locate. Door is barred from the other side.|
|61-75||Pit is located in the ceiling, and it and the space directly beneath it are subject to a Reverse Gravity spell. All other features remain the same.|
|76-90||Top 5’ of the pit is a sliding block of stone that slams shut after a creature reaches the bottom of the pit, separating the creature from her companions as though she was on another level of the dungeon. Creatures located in the top 5’ of the pit when the block is triggered suffer 44 (8d10) bludgeoning damage, with a 50% chance of being pinned in place by the block and a 50% chance of falling into the pit.|
|91-100||Base of the pit is a teleportation portal. Roll on 4b: Teleportation Destination to determine where this leads.|
Table 4b: Teleportation Destinations
|01-20||Ceiling directly above the pit.|
|21-40||Random point in the dungeon, as determined by the GM.|
|41-60||Entrance to the dungeon.|
|61-80||Random point within 100 miles (roll 1d4 to determine cardinal direction and 1d1000 to determine height above sea level in feet).|
|81-100||Random point on a random plane of existence, as determined by the GM.|
Image Credit: Rustam rescues Bihzan from the pit, watched by Manizeh. Gouache painting by an Indian artist, ca. 1800. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)