Some places are horrible reminders of cruelty and evil: battlefields, prisons, secret rooms for dark prayers. But some places are so inexorably defiled by dark magic and that rare sort of sick criminal savagery that they are forever despoiled.
Sometimes your dungeon needs a little bit of that, y’know? Sometimes your party needs the sense that they have walked in on something they should not have seen, somewhere they are not wanted and may bear the mark of forever.
To this end, I have written some Bad Places you can throw into kitchen sink dungeons or make centerpieces of smaller dungeons or whatever else you like. Because they’re flagrantly unpleasant, though, I insist we have a visit from the Caution Possum:
Content Warning: Violence – against the young, old, male, female, and everyone else – in somewhat graphic detail. Dark deeds done in the name of evil cults and religions. Continue only if depictions of blasphemy, murder of all sorts of people, and related fiendishness will not upset you. Take care of yourself above all and be well. Your feelings are important. Thanks for stopping by!
The Jade Altar
In a great room of sharply-cut stone, a central stage rises up in stair-like stages to a flat platform. Atop this platform, an ancient jade altar, intricately decorated with ominous carvings of men with bestial features, shamanic prayers to hungry bat-like angels, rivers littered with serpentine eels, and a fleet of boats carrying the dead and the damned. A great stone ring sat upon four pillars towers above the altar like a halo; its surface is covered in cameos of faces too specific to be anything but a roster.
The altar’s devilish carvings are actually designed with purpose and artfully channel the spilled blood of sacrificial victims along its surfaces in a mesmerizing display of brilliant crimson upon pale green-white stone; the pathways accentuate and illustrate the carvings, adding animated waterfalls of blood and burbling forth from the screeching mouths of angels and vultures. At the end of the carefully-engineered route, a sewer-like maw carved into the floor which feeds something darker and deeper than any light can see.
The altar radiates a sense of menace and will cause dogs and other animals to cower and whimper. All hirelings must undergo a morale check to approach it.
While in this room, characters hear whispered sighs, agonized screams, and pleading cries in a language too ancient to comprehend. The room smells of copper and soured poultry.
Touching the altar results in a save vs magic.
Success leaves the character with a lingering vision of a sacrifice (see table, below) in the past. It haunts them until they can have the curse lifted.
Failure causes the character to take 2d4 damage and endure a vision of a sacrifice (same table, below) as braziers briefly come to light on the walls and then are snuffed out all at once. This character is cursed and will douse or suppress their own torches and light sources magically until the curse is lifted. To lift this curse, player characters will inherently know they may sacrifice someone in the altar – or go the normal route of removing curses.
Visions of Horrific Sacrifice
A small girl, her simple tunic ritually splattered with fish offal and rosemary, slashed open by a masked priest in the garb of an owl. Her death rattle lingers for minutes-turned-hours.
A warrior, lithe and strong, in the prime of his life. He rails against his captors and is bound with thick leather thongs. His heart is cut from him while it still beats. He sneers.
A whimpering elder, confused and afraid. His frail body is no match for the dozens of children employed to hold him still. He pleads in a lost tongue. They spear him nonetheless.
A conqueror, fattened on the labors of his slaves, held to task by those indentured to him. They gleefully peel him apart bit by bit and laugh until the blood dries on the stone.
A nubile artist, whose frescoes of wildflowers adorn many holy sites. Voices condemn her. She remains steadfast. The chanting lizard priest cuts her belly with a shard of orange glass.
A screaming beggar, his body riddled with lice and racked by illness, struggles still to cling to life as he is gored by an iron hook beneath the jaw. He lives on for days. They dance.
A madman. He laughs. They strike him and he laughs. The priest buries a dagger in his side. Still he laughs. They hold his head fast and cut at his spastic tongue. The laughter echoes.
An infant, their curious hands bound to their sides. The owl priest dashes it upon the jade altar and it goes limp. The masked ones gather. They chant. They chant and they holler.
The Gnarled Grove
Here lay the black heart of the forest, its slow, languid pulse echoing in misty sighs between twisted bracken. Between warped roots of blackened trees is the cratered pit of the coven, an unholy clearing where hags consort with fiends and worse in the hours of night where goodly men lay sleeping. Fearful of neither god nor death, these seven sisters practice all manner of blasphemy, cavorting with devils and laying in orgiastic excess with imps and beast alike. Their spawn lurk in the shadows of the underbrush; malformed creatures unfit for the courts of hell or the lands of earth.
Central to the crater is a cauldron of scorched iron nestled between tumorous, knotted roots dredged from the soil by witchcraft. Otherworldly flames lick at it from a hole below, which smells of sulfur and surely leads to the hellish underworld of demons.
Seven huts stand, delved into the walls of the crater, at six points around the periphery of the grove. Their doorways curse the firstborn of whoever enters with boils and pustulent sores. To touch their iron doorknobs results in a save vs stone; failure is to be petrified. The eaves of their thatched roofs are decorated with desiccated birds and bats strung through like garland on thorny vines; these are undead alarms and will shriek if intruders enter the building without first disabling the magical spell that animates them.
The trampled footpaths between each hovel form a seven-pointed star with the cauldron at its center. Bones litter the paths and crunch underfoot like a hideous gravel.
Each day of the week, a different hag stands watch over the crater while the others tend to their business elsewhere in the mortal world or the boudoirs of devil princes. They stir about their homes anxiously, wander the pathways while muttering cruel utterances against the offices of mankind and their religions, and perform dreadful rituals.
Each night, the sisters convene at the grove to dance among the mangled trees, concoct poisons, perform sacrifices, and do their dastardly deeds of deviltry.
A three-eyed piglet suckles at her breast. Has no eyes of her own.
Reeks of onions. Screams a demon’s name constantly. Spits blood.
Surrounded by imps who constantly pleasure themselves. Leper.
Shaggy and infested with fleas. Scratches scar her body. Hat made of rats.
Beautiful, alluring, wreathed in acrid smoke. Vomits to mark the hours.
Persistent cough. Wears a crown of thorns and carries a devil’s hand.
Cusses loudly. Carries a cudgel of bone. Nude, and painted with blue ink.
- Each hag knows 1d6 spells from whatever list the DM chooses.
- Each hag also knows one demon’s or devil’s true name, a secret about the underworld or other profane things, and can create minor magical effects or illusions at will.
- Each hag knows rituals of summoning and binding the unholy.
- When a hag is slain, their house ceases to be alarmed and trapped.
- Each hag may know spells one level higher than the previous hag at the DM’s discretion.
- When a hag is slain, her sisters will notice and reinforce their camp with one lesser demonic/evil entity (DM’s choice of which) per sister lost – meaning that if Berthilda is killed on Tuesday, Agartha stands watch on Wednesday with one demonic spawn; when Agartha and her spawn are slain, Aethilde stands watch on Thursday with a cohort of two demons. They will naturally also lay traps and prepare, meaning subsequent visits to the grove will be progressively more difficult.
In each hag’s home is a 2-in-6 chance of magical treasure and sundry mundane (if weird) objects. When searched, a hag’s hovel houses treasure on a 5-6 result. Roll 1d12 below for any hovel containing treasure.
Devil’s Eye – Gives the bearer the ability to impose fear on beings of demonic or devilish descent of equal or lesser HD. Halve a creature’s morale resolve. Withers to dust when used.
Jar of Newt Sauce – Slathered on or ingested, it absolves mortals of the need to breathe for one full day. It smells like fish, tastes like wet paper, and contains enough for six applications.
Serpent Stick – A twig which can be commanded to become an illusory snake up to 10’ long. It’s mostly smoke and mirrors and cannot interact much with the world.
Torn Face – A leathery human face peeled from an unlucky serf. If put on like a mask, it magically affixes and becomes a seamless disguise for one full day before desiccating.
Astrolabe – Gives an educated owner (INT 12+) the ability to read the stars for a daily horoscope, offering a +1 bonus to a check (player choice) and a -1 penalty to another (DM’s choice).
Cursed Grimoire – Gives a magic-user the ability to roll to learn a spell. If they fail, they roll 1d100, and on a result of 1-30, they are cursed by the DM’s choice of unfortunate event.
Black Lotus Tea – The imbiber is transported to a terrifying hallucinogenic Limbo where they are inflicted with the Taint of the Uncanny – a magical mutation from the DM’s favorite table.
Demonseeds – A vial containing 1d10 vile, festering seeds of evil from which sprout carnivorous demonic plants in 1d8 days. They jump and buzz when warmed in the hand.
Inverted Skull – A human skull which is somehow inside-out. Very fragile. If broken, it releases an ancient war criminal and lothario who previously pleasured a hag for magical protection.
Bone Snuff – A dose of a magical drug of ground-up human bones and dream salts. Creates terrifying disassociative coma states for 1d12 hours; then bestows a +1 boost to save vs stone.
The Horn – A drinking horn made from one of the thousand sons of Baphomet. It turns any fluid it is filled with into ichor which, when used on objects, allows them to strike incorporeal foes.
Monkey’s Paw – One lesser wish remains. Levies a great, possibly ironic, cost upon the wish.
The Sacked Chapel
Once there stood a church whose bells and trumpets sounded across the countryside in brilliant, resounding peals each week. Built of pine and granite to withstand the winters and time itself, it became the centerpiece of its parish. The faithful came from farms far and dingy cottages near to revel in the words of the great priests, conduits of the wills of the gods. Beggars found food, orphans found shelter, and misdeeds found forgiveness.
Now there stands a ruin of stone, hollow and empty. The parish lay deserted around it. Life itself gives the church a wide berth as its mighty bronze bell sits, unmoved, as if the howling wind itself dare not disturb the unnatural silence of the site. Wise travelers widen their trails around this place. Those few agonized souls who know what became of this place hold their tongues in fear or catatonia.
Gathered to pray for deliverance from a marauding wizard’s army, the faithful stood shoulder-to-shoulder here as they were cut down, speared, burned, flayed alive. Their bodies were trampled underfoot by armored men whose crimes made them monsters. Sword and spell alike scoured the grounds of life, slaying men and women and children alike. The raiders savored the deaths of the children, wounding them and throwing them onto a pile to wail into the night for deliverance. The massacre of the church took hours; the city fell in days. When it was done the bodies were stacked like wood in the pews where the faithful once sat, their bloating shapes reaching the rafters.
And then the horror began.
The wizard herself stood at the doorway and belched black smoke and disease from her wretched lungs. The tendrils of filth peeled the bodies back to gelatinous flesh, reducing them from complicated victims to simple meat, an offering of malice and blood to an old god whose name mortals fear to say. They became one. They merged, and they awoke from the graven sleep of the dead, and they throbbed. Gristle and pain given form, they pulsed like a migraine and felt tumors burst within. Their innumerable mouths babbled incoherent insanity and agony. They cried out as one.
They still cry out as one.
The Great Mass
AC: Always Hit
ATTACKS: 8x Spit Acid (1d8 Damage)
HIT DICE: 20
NO. APPEARING: Unique
TREASURE TYPE: K
SAVE AS: Fighter 8
Treat as Gibbering Mouther (AD&D Monster Manual II by Gary Gygax, published by TSR in 1983), including spitting blinding flares and emitting a confusing cacophony of voices babbling incoherent nonsense – only much more massive in size.
It grows in fleshy webs up and down the walls of the interior of the church like the movie Slither (2006). Every surface is covered in abnormal flesh and each inch of that flesh has mouths and eyes. Eyes blink and stare with pleading agony.
Pews bubble up out of its wet, gelatinous flesh and then are subsumed. Holy books rise to the surface and are expelled violently against the walls and ceiling and then slop back into the fleshy puddle.
It consumes the dead and the prone with equal relish and adds them to itself; those knocked down and those knocked unconscious must make save vs. death rolls or face an eternity of torment.
It smells like urine and brimstone. The smell has not diminished with time.
So I guess that’s the first batch of profane sites finished up. These come from a 1d6 table I wrote in a tiny notebook behind the counter at my job several years ago in 2017 when I briefly worked at a bookstore while waiting for my permanent residency to be approved. Here’s a look at that page, which is also a sneak peek at the second installment (whenever I feel like writing it):
Hopefully these horrors prove useful in your campaign and add a sense of menace and dread to your game when necessary. Remember that the scary only remains scary if it is not the norm, so use with care; once the dreadful becomes the mundane, the impact is lost.
As always, you can yell at me for the things I write in the comments below or over on Twitter where I remain always @DungeonsPossums.
Wonderfully horrifying. Thank you.
Thank you! As you can probably tell, I was hesitant to post this one, so it's been shocking how much feedback and how much viewership this post has received. I really appreciate the feedback!