The three rooms of laments
I suppose this entry would be late for the Three Room Dungeon competition, but fuck it, let’s do this.
This three-room dungeon is designed to be generic enough to slot into any campaign of any setting, as they are primarily focused on emotions than the material world. This means you can easily put it into a sword & sorcery or a space opera, and they will still function the same.
Nature — before we get into the actual three rooms, be forewarned that this is a dungeon designed to trap the players until they complete it. This will feature no combat at all: this three-room dungeon is a journey inwards to the soul, to allow players the often rare chance to further develop their fictional personas and perhaps even their bonds with other party members.
Here I lie upon the barren ground, the shimmering altar before me the only source of light in this wretched place. Two portals lead into the other rooms, of which I have no intention of revisiting. Here, I have forgotten the passage of time and perhaps even the prudence of managing my rations, for what joy is there in reliving the nightmares of my past? Such cruel a joke to trap me in this infernal realm to face the demons I thought slain through with time, where the humble wish for a dagger to relief myself of the life that flows within was met with nothing but deafening and humiliating silence. Here I must live, for eternity if the tormentors so wished, until either I numb my soul to the darkness of my remorse, or when my mind crumbles into madness.
Setup — You can insert the three rooms of lament anywhere in your campaign. These three rooms are magical places that exist beyond reality, and if you are running a realistic setting, you can justify this as a result of consuming (wilfully or not) hallucinogens.
Have each player write down a single item that is related to their backstory. This is the first thing they see in the dungeon, and a recurring motif in it.
Then, once everybody has decided on an item, teleport their characters each into a pocket dimension where they cannot interact with each other, but can feel each others’ emotions.
Ask each to name the first colour that comes to mind: this is the colour of the fire that burns upon an altar before them. Hovering above the fire is the item they described earlier, but they cannot touch it: the item is protected by a mysterious force field that repels them violently should they reach for it.
The Three Rooms — the three rooms form a triangle, connected to each other via a simple walkway or a portal (your choice). The players are free to move from room to room, but they cannot leave the dungeon.
The Lament of Remorse — This is the room that the player starts out in. Initially, the challenge does not trigger until the player re-enters the room. Once they re-enter, read this passage:
As you enter the barren room, you find that the altar is gone. Your heart sinks as an invisible weight crushes your soul, and a grief unlike any you have ever experienced tears you up from the inside. Then, as tears well in your eyes, you remember the sickening moment when you had to betray the principles that formed the fundamentals of your life and persona.
Remorse. The room swirls and you find yourself falling through an endless tunnel, even when your feet are clearly connected to the ground. And before your eyes a memory you thought you forgot returns to haunt you…
Ask the player to describe what they see, hear or feel. Ask them to recount a time in their character’s past where they were forced to throw their beliefs to the wind and betray everything they stood for to survive.
The goal of this room is to force them to seek resolution from this guilt, to be at peace with it. No dice rolls are needed here, but give a piece of paper to all other players, and have them rate the roleplaying with 1 (meh), 2 (normal) or 3 (exceptional). The better the player roleplays the scene, the higher rating they should get.
Once the player is done with the scene, collect the papers and tally the rating: this is the reward that the player receives (e.g. XP, gold, fortune points, fate points, karma, etc).
The Lament of Fear— Once the player enters this room, their greatest fear manifests. The only way for them to conquer this fear is to defeat it. Upon entry, read this passage:
An uneasy sensation befell your senses as you enter the room. Before you know it, a chill runs down your spine, and your movements become sluggish. Your breathing hastens and your vision narrows. Though your eyes report that you are in a simple, barren room, your mind paints a different reality. You draw a sharp breath as the room morphs into something horrific, and it is then that you feel it.
Fear. Your deepest, most secret fear manifests before you, and for a moment you are lost to panic. But a tingle in your fingers slowly warms your body and returns it to your control, and in your mind hear the repeating mantra: conquer your fear, or perish in your attempt.
The goal of this room is to force the players to defeat what they fear. You can conduct this as a combat encounter, or as a series of dice rolls. The key here is to start off with extremely hard challenges (e.g. high armour class, infinite hit points, impossible target numbers, etc), and force the players to deplete their resources (e.g. hit points, fortune points, fate points, rerolls, etc) to survive. Every round that passes, reduce the difficulty a little.
What matters is the number of rounds that passes. The challenge ends after a set number of rounds, regardless of what the players do. The lesson here is that any form of fear, given enough experience in dealing with it, becomes conquerable in time.
The Lament of Desire— Once the player enters this room, their greatest desire manifests and tempts or seduces them. Once they enter, read this passage:
Your heart lightens as you enter the room. A few more steps, and you find yourself smiling. A warm glow fills your heart as your spirit is lifted from the toils of your travels. Then, in the middle of the room, a wondrous entity manifests, and its splendour forces you to your knees. In your mind, a sweet voice beckons, and your emotions are reduced into a singular focus.
Desire. Your most primal yearning made real. You can feel it, the joy of victory, of attaining the final fruits of your quest, and the happy ever after beyond your wildest imaginations. But there is one catch: to get what you desire, you must sacrifice something you care about dearly.
The true goal of the room is to find out what the players truly care about. First, ask them to describe what the entity of their greatest desires resemble. Whatever it is, it’s inconsequential. Once they are done narrating it, ask them to pay something that they truly care for. Make sure that this isn’t something trivial: give your players time to ponder upon this, and make sure their answer, should they truly give it up to attain their ultimate desires, would be something that tears their soul apart.
Truth about the three-rooms — Once the players have resolved the three-room dungeon, continue the campaign as is, but bear in mind now you, as the game master, have valuable information on your fingertips to steer the campaign towards a more personal and dramatic direction.
The room of remorse gives you plot hooks on how to draw individual players into quests by understanding more about their backstories. Guilt is a powerful tool that you can use to lure your players into great roleplaying moments and storylines.
The room of fear gives you an idea of what challenges you can throw at the players that will give their characters a plausible road to develop their characters. Conquering and defeating fear is a common trope in the journey of heroes.
The room of desire tells you what each player truly care about, which you can then use as leverage against them to create dramatic moments or hard bargains. What is a heroic quest when there is no worthy price to pay?