The Rotating Labyrinth

Update: An improved PDF with new art is available for free at DriveThruRPG.

This is the proudest dungeon I’ve ever built, and now that I’ve run it for everyone I run games for lately, it’s finally safe to post.ChangeableMaze

She might not look like much, but that’s partly that its an old sheet of paper glued to old cardboard and partly that its too big to scan all at once and my photoshop isn’t the best. All the same, please consider what I’m presenting here. There are seven rotating circles in this maze, and they overlap.

WorstMazeCircleThe biggest circle is the one that gets the player’s attention, but doesn’t cause a whole lot of confusion. The confusion comes from the circles that can break apart and leave pieces of themselves scattered across the maze. There’s nothing quite so bothersome as finding something you’ve seen before completely surrounded by things you don’t recognize. The most important, though, are the small circles contained entirely within the largest circle. They are how the Game Master can control the players’ progress, giving help or hindrance.

MazeEntranceThe current arrangement is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. Worst of all is that the treasure room is right at the front of the dungeon. Ideally the treasure room would be hard to find. It contains a chest for each character with an item specialized for them. This is fun because if I do it well it lets me outfit each player with a useful tool for the coming final battle and make them feel like their character is important to me. However, it should take a little work to find.

MazeBossAs it stands, by rights the helpful, hint-giving statue at the entrance would, when asked “which way should we go?” would say “Left.” Ideally, he can give more cryptic answers. The last group walked in on a random dungeon where dead ends had them temporarily trapped. The statue was able to say “It matters not at this time.” and they got a good look at the final encounter from the safety of magical glass.

The final encounter was a Lucifugi. This encounter was a bit much for 5 level 5 characters, as I started them off, but with their preparation and equipment, they’ve got a pretty good shot. If they end up wandering enough, encounters with other occult devils brought in by the Lucifugi in order to release him can gain them a level before the final battle.

KeysMost of the chests in the dungeon contain green keys that match up with the green doors throughout the dungeon. There are more doors than keys, and when a key is used it returns to the chest from which it came. The last group to play through had their fighter carry one of the chests, allowing them to open all the doors they wanted.

The other three chest contain utility items meant for the maze: a helmet that makes the wearer aware of motion (including the dizziness inducing rotation of the planet, solar system, and galaxy), a wand that allows the user to stop the rotation of the labyrinth circles, and four light “grenades” made of a bright, magical liquid in glass vials.

In the end, random dice rolls to rotate the dungeon pieces make this an easy dungeon to run while providing interesting obstacles for the players. It would be all the better if I ever get around to finishing the map display and other game functionality necessary, that’s the goal for this year.

How’d you like the dungeon? Would you like to run it? If so, I have some advice to build it out of cardboard that should make the rotation easier than the way I did it, including a document outlining how to run it.Want to see more types of dungeons? Let us know in the comments below.

Update: And just in case you weren’t going to read the comments, some of the great folk down there have put in a lot of effort in the last month to make the dungeon walkable in 3D, you can find out all about that here: Crowdsource Results. They did great work and it’s worth checking out some of their other stuff.

Previous Dungeons:

The Temple of Zemail

The Sleeping God Cave

Crem, a Coastal Town

This entry was posted in Encounters, Puzzles, World Building and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

88 Responses to The Rotating Labyrinth

  1. Aaron says:

    This is stunning. I’ve never seen an idea like this before!

  2. MadMoses says:

    Glorious! I’d rather have a mechanism that rotates the dungeon other than the GM’s whim, though.

    • jameseck says:

      The first time I ran it, I used a die roll to determine which circle moved every 5 minutes of real time.

      This last time my little brother (6) wanted to play, so I told him he was an imp and let him choose most of the circles and times.

      I agree it should be independent of GM whim, but it was also nice using my control of the maze to move them in the right direction when they were getting frustrated.

  3. Krypter says:

    Very cool, nice work.

  4. Willow says:

    How do the half circles function? Can you give more details about the dungeon?

    • jameseck says:

      The half circles are chunks circles that can be left behind. Imagine the big circle turning clockwise, the second biggest circle would leave a half circle behind and the half circle at 7 or 8 O’clock would replace it as part of the second biggest circle. Similarly, the smaller half circles can be traded in and out of the small circles which are currently part of the second biggest circle. These small circles too can be left behind on the edges since they are in the larger half circle chunks.

      Yes! The dungeon had no natural lighting except around the greeting statue, forcing players to carry light if they couldn’t see in the dark. The greeting statue was pretty willing to answer any questions. The dungeon is fashioned from granite. The black spots on walls emit an evil magic and imps and other lesser devils appear through them from time to time. For other challenges, I would use elements from player’s backstories to generate parties look for them or competing with them. The bars are iron and not so hard to break, but not easy enough the time needed can be ignored when trying to give chase. Some of the bars have dotted doors over them, these have switches nearby which cause the bars to lower.

      The labyrinth was built by pious dwarven worshipers of a god of machinations. They certainly could have killed the devil they entrapped, but they thought it good to leave the devil as a reminder to the world of the unsteadiness of men to summon such a thing into the world. Hence the viewing windows about the devil’s chamber which are often near the entrance.

  5. That is painfully clever and just generally great!

  6. Mr Teufel says:

    Kickstarter: get money to have it made out of either laser-cut board or Litko plastic!

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  8. morkalg says:

    I’m certain that if you put in a little work (which you are obviously willing to do!) That you could find a graphics artist, perhaps someone at a local college, who could help you digitize that map. Then as suggested before, if kickstart or indiegogo it.

    That will sell.

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  10. cosmothea says:

    Very cool indeed! If I ever get freed up, I might be able to help you take the art to the next level as I’m a pro commercial artist and do maps for my RPG. Time is the most pressing issue, so you might have to look elsewhere as I’m deep in the middle of my own Kickstarter currently. But on first blush it looks very cool and the concept appeals to my high fantasy tastes. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I’ve taken maps into the third dimension via Sketchup. I usually do this to look for inconsistencies (like staircases that don’t match up), but sometimes I do it just to see how something looks in 3D. I think I might be able to make a mock-up of this map pretty quickly.

    I won’t be able to get to it until this evening, but I might have something to show off late tonight. Let me see what I can do.

  13. mike says:

    The dungeon looks awesome…. do you have it written up for others to use…I would love a copy and the schematics for making that clockwork dungeon..thanks

    • jameseck says:

      I have the cardboard version I scanned for the pictures in this post, but it wouldn’t be too hard to make it repeatable. When I get a chance, I hope to make a 3D printable file of it.

      • mike says:

        Sweet…lmk… you have a write up for the whole dungeon too….I think this would be awesome to run/play

      • jameseck says:

        I’ve run it a few times, and I have used different monsters each time. I liked how it worked last time, but I haven’t written it up. I used a Lucifugi as the boss and had mage imps coming through the portals periodically. I was running 5 level 5 Mind Weave characters.

  14. Jeff Johnson says:

    Thanks for the awesome dungeon. I suspect that rotating the circles would get weird from time to time with the partials. This really gets the mind going though as how a DM might map a place like Hogwarts that defies mapping due to pieces rearranging themselves.

    Now I am trying to figure out how I might apply something like this to a virtual table top. (unfortunately, this might be something that they can not handle very effeciently at this time.)

    BTW, I love the helmet that allows you to detect motion better.

    • jameseck says:

      Yea, I don’t know how virtual table tops would handle it. I frequently use rotating pieces, but never with this much overlap and partials breaking off. This one I new I wouldn’t able to keep track of without a cutout.

  15. T. Woolley says:

    I am definitely going to make something like this in the future for my players.

  16. Nikademus says:

    Wicked cool map, how long would you say it took ya to put that together before your first run through?

    • jameseck says:

      Drawing the maze with all the circles took maybe 4 hours probably. I did it mostly during classes. Gluing it onto the cardboard and using a steak knife to cut the circles out took a few hours too, but it’s not a terrible. I always need an hour or so to get my bearings before I run it.

      • dmnknite says:

        About how big would a tabletop model have to be .to be in scale to miniatures…. thinking big but may have to scale down a little…lol..did anyone figure that one out yet….1in equalling 5feet.thanks

      • jameseck says:

        My gird squares were 10 feet, and it was a 1/4 inch grid. That means that 1 inch equals 5 feet is 8 times as long as mine. I guess that means you’d have to make it over 8 feet by 8 feet. recommend making it much smaller and using little papers to indicate location and doing battles and formations with miniatures on a separate map representing the section.

        We didn’t use minis, we blew up a small section of the map in a google doc and moved circles in the doc.

      • dmnknite says:

        ..Would love to do it huge…think I will go for tabletop size and do a 3×3….maybe 4…. going to build the model…print the cleaned up dungeon map and lay the map copies over the model…thanks for getting back to me…if you have the whole adv.. I would love to try and run it…. thanks again..mike

      • jameseck says:

        I designed this dungeon as a one shot dungeon, the whole adventure is just kind of a sandbox in the Trethal setting I’m developing here on the blog. I have a pdf write up of how to run the dungeon. I intend to post it with instructions for building the dungeon soon, but feel free to email me at if you’d like it sooner.

  17. Okay! I’ve finally drawn out the entire map, making a couple adjustments as needed (there were a couple spots that didn’t line up right). Here’s a link to the top-down view. I’m just about to start pulling everything into the third dimension, it’ll take a while to make sure it all fits. (I don’t know if I can directly place an image here, so this is probably just going to be a link.)

  18. Looks awesome

    Can’t help but think this is what an SCP Containment building is designed like 😛

  19. dmnknite says:

    Just got into a new game group and this has been the talk of the morning…lol….what have I done…very cool

  20. Barliman says:

    Reblogged this on A Seat By The Fire and commented:
    This is genius: a circles within circles interpretation on the “rotating dungeon,” and the rotating portions of the map can be moved by the GM. My compliments to the creators. Da Vinci would be proud.

  21. ab32 says:

    Nice work. You did a good job, and running it for multiple groups allowed you to figure out some of the issues with it. Concept for the Dwarves is good (background is always important) but why was the Lucifungi doing there is the 1st place? Was it summoned by the Dwarves? Did they find it trapped on their plane by another? What happened to the Dwarves? Did they move? Just destroyed? Was the Lucifungi their demised? Did their sect die out?
    Just wondering.

    • jameseck says:

      I should go ahead and edit this all in, but the Lucifugi was summoned by some reckless human wizards nearby (my players are currently in their abandoned manor). The dwarves live much further North now, and the players may end up visiting them. Gnomes and Dwarves used to dominate the region, but have withdrawn (the gnomes are almost gone). The sect is still strong, one of the players is playing a priest of the sect trying to reform their ways.

  22. I’ve had this sitting here for a few days now without any significant changes. I haven’t placed doors, or gratings, or anything like that, so some of the interior walls may be off as a result. All of the outside walls are fine, though, and the circles are all in the right places.

    Here’s a link to a Dropbox folder containing the Sketchup model. If you need it exported to a different format for your own projects, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

  23. Michael Mornard says:

    I’m an old-school referee.. heck, I was part of Gary Gygax’ original “Greyhawk” group… and this is one of the most delightfully sick and twisted things I’ve ever seen.

    Well done, sir, well done.

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  30. Nick Argiroudis says:

    Guys this is epic! but I am wondering how are you gonna keep track of everything as a DM? Any ideas you wont lose your mind? =D

  31. Evil DM says:

    This is so cool! I’m planning to have a story arc where my players race through a labyrinth of some sort, and this would be perfect! I’m very excited to put this in my campaign

    • jameseck says:

      I hope you enjoy it! It’s been years since I’ve gotten to run it, but I have two groups now that haven’t seen it. It might be time to pull it out again.

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