Earthbearer Sanctum

Dungeon Design

The Earthbearer’s Sanctum is a dungeon that was developed as part of an ambitious game design project: Dunes of Glory, a Dungeons & Dragons 5e homebrew setting I created over the course of 3 years, alongside a 5e campaign titled The Crimson Journey. I will present this dungeon in detail, focusing on its key features and explaining the creative process I use to design levels and dungeons.

Draft and planning

Puzzle Room

Once the theme of the dungeon is decided, I start by sketching level layouts on paper and jot down ideas of potential encounters, monsters and puzzles that would echo the chosen theme. To ensure that players will are able to progress and clear all the challenges, I make sure that if a specific ingredient is required to overcome a challenge, it can be found within the dungeon, and I create encounters that can be resolved in multiple ways to give more agency and liberty to the players.


In the center of the room, a huge stone sphere is held in place by four sculpted arms jutting from the ground.

The following sentences are carved in the sphere, each in a different language:

  1. (Elvish) Filled with mystery, the world is so vast it is said to be endless.
  2. (Dwarvish) colossal creatures used to roam the earth, enacting the cycle of life and death.
  3. (Celestial) Flying “stars” could be seen beyond the clouds.
  4. (Orcish) A dark curtain filled the dunes and valleys, leaving only the mountaintops undisturbed.
  5. (Abyssal) The world was drenched in a rain of blood, turning everything red.
  6. (Primordial) The vast desert, seemingly empty, awaits the next cycle.

The six rotating pillars must be rotated with the right icon facing the sphere to put the story in order.

In each corner, a drawing is carved on the wall, matching one of the symbols on the pillars. Touching the wall will show a vision to the creature and grant it an effect. After a symbol is touched, its glow weakens, and it can’t be used again for 4 hours.

S-W Corner. Giants Symbol. Applies the Enlarge spell for 1min.
Vision: See giant traversing a vast land with lots of wildlife.

N-W Corner. Stars Symbol. Applies the Comprehend languages spell.
Vision: A barrage of flying stars tearing through the skyline, warping because of the distance.

N-E Corner. Clouds Symbol. Applies the Levitate spell for 10min.
Vision: Dark clouds coming in, obstructing your vision and isolating you in darkness.

S-E Corner. Red Rain Symbol. Healing:Regain 8d4+4 HP.
Vision: Blood falling from the sky, marking you, shaking you, filling you with a sense of dread and loss.

This puzzle serves as a way to dynamically share the lore and history of the world with the players. The four visions shown in the side rooms are clear hints that will help place the story in order, and the star symbol found in the north-west corner grants the ability to read all languages to a character, ensuring that the party is able to understand the 6 sentences found on the stone sphere and solve the puzzle.

Trap Room


(Primordial) An inscription is written on the floor: “We are blind, for we don’t need sight”.

If light is shed on half the room or more, the roof beyond the dotted lines will collapse (DC 15 DEX save to avoid, take 3d6 bludgeoning on a fail, half on a success). The room then slowly fills with sand for 5 minutes. Following the slanted floor, the sand piles up and blocks the way forward. The path can be cleared by shoveling for 1 hour (or by using spells).

This room’s purpose is to foreshadow the boss monster, a giant blind mole made out of sand. Since the players might be unable to read the riddle explaining how to avoid the trap, the consequence of triggering it isn’t deadly. It will still constitute a small setback, forcing them to slow their exploration of the dungeon or to waste ressources early on.

Boss Room


The boss room is inlaid with 20 green gems with a faint red hue inside. (DC 15 Perception to spot the magical glow).

Once someone stands in the middle of the room or touches a gem, the entrance is sealed by solid rock and the Boss appears.

The Spirit of the Earthbearer is an ancient earth elemental. Its appearance is similar to a mole, but it is made of small dust particules and it flies around erratically like a ghost.

Dynamic combat.
At the start of every round of combat, the room shakes violently, forcing anyone standing to make a DC17 Dexterity save to avoid falling prone. After the tremor, 2d4 dust mephits spawn from the ceiling, appearing in an unoccupied area of the room. 

Win conditions.
To end the fight, players can either defeat the boss or break the 20 magic gems in the room and free the spirit (boss) from the temple. 

The Dust Mephits that spawn during the fight are not super dangerous on their own, but their capacity to blind other creatures creates an interesting prioritizing dilemna for the players. As the boss room is fairly large and open, having only four pillars providing cover, the players can’t hide well, and will become easy targets if they are blinded. Loosing their vision also limits their ability to damage the boss monster or to destroy the gems found around the room. This combat encounter forces players to choose to focus on the boss, the gems, or the minions, while figuring out a way to stall or block the other threats.