Dungeons and Dragons is long past the days when the only places you would explore were actual dungeons. The word dungeon has expanded to include all sorts of spaces that your adventurers might end up in.
Today, we’re going to be diving into all sorts of mansions, manors, and houses that you might want to incorporate into your next 5e adventure.
From haunted houses to dilapidated mansions full of goblins, these living quarters are perfect for telling a story that doesn’t necessarily need a deep, dark cave.
Choosing a Residence as an Adventure Setting
To take a step back from mansions and other residences as adventure settings, let’s discuss how and why we choose a setting in the first place.
The location we choose for our setting tells a story, and the more convincing that story is, the more our players will enjoy the experience we create for them.
Residences aren’t necessarily your standard dungeon, and for that reason, they get to tell different stories.
Rather than some cave that bandits took over, this is a place where people once lived. These are places that were built by someone, at some point, to be a home.
One of the most exciting parts of using a house as an adventure setting is figuring out what the story behind it is.
Different Types of Residences
When we talk about residences, we tend to mean somewhere that includes living quarters.
After that basic piece there are huge varieties, which we can begin to see with the title of this article: Mansions, Manors, and Houses.
Realistically, this category we’re discussing today can include anything from a tiny hut to an elaborate castle. A residence can be a single room or interconnected web of buildings.
You might even consider an entire campus (perhaps a wizarding school) as a single residence, although that can begin to stretch the bounds of what we’ll cover today.
Some common examples we might see are included in the table below.
We’ve included a brief description for inspiration in the rest of the article, but feel free to use the table and just choose the basic structure.
Residences in D&D 5e
Making a Residence
The Story of a Residence
Much like creating a character, creating a setting requires a bit of thought about a backstory. Having details to flesh out your description will turn this place into more than just a battlemap with some monsters.
Below are a series of questions you can ask yourself to help create the story behind the setting.
Most of these questions can realistically be used for any setting; you just have to switch around some of the language.
Where is this residence?
This is one of the easiest places to start, but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it can’t benefit the story.
An apartment in a bustling city is going to create a much different scenario than a cabin in a swamp.
What kind of residence is this?
Often hand in hand with location, the type of residence you use will begin to tell you the story behind it. It will also impact what sort of adventure you can have.
A small one-room location might be the subject of one confrontational battle while a castle could realistically hold an entire campaign within its walls.
Who built this, and why?
Even homes carved into trees were designed by someone. Deciding on the original purpose might not add to the actual story, but it will help you so much with design elements and the description.
It also might allow you to find some reasons for any traps or secret passageways.
What is this used for now?
Possibly the most important question. Maybe this place is a base for raiders, maybe it’s haunted by spirits, or maybe there’s even a secret cathedral in the basement where a cult worships.
The current purpose of the residence you decide on is going to be the main plot hook that your adventurers interact with.
Are there any rumors about this residence?
Rumors are how your players are going to find out about most places. It’s a good idea to come up with a few rumors of dubious veracity, each with a bit of truth, and allow your players to sift through for relevant information.
Think about the telephone game, and remember that the older a location is, the more outlandish the rumors will have gotten.
Anatomy of a Residence
Unlike dungeons with twisting caverns and huge open areas, residences tend to have a pretty common layout.
The basic layout tends to include living quarters, a kitchen, some sort of sitting room, and a basement.
You can add any number of rooms, but keep in mind the original function of the residence – this will tell you more about it.
Below is a list of spaces you might find within a house. Most of these options are all plucked straight from the House of Lament adventure included in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.
The adventure is focused on a haunted manor, one which we’ll explore a bit more later in this article.
- Sitting Room
- Dining Room
- Music Room
- Bedrooms (Guest, Master, Children’s)
- Servant’s Quarters
- Family Room
- Wine Cellar
All of those make up a three-story manor built from the remains of a castle. So if you’re designing a small hut, you’ll probably not include more than a couple rooms with each serving multiple purposes.
In a haunted setting like the House of Lament, the more rooms you include the better. The more rooms you have, the more clues your characters can uncover.
The design of your residence should serve not only realism but the purposes of your adventure.
Let’s explore some samples, or basic design principles, for a few different types of settings we might want to create.
Remember that these are just examples – they’re only meant to give you the foundation upon which to build a location perfect for your adventure.
Example: Fort Greymoor (Skyrim)
Abandoned keeps are my go-to for cultists, goblins, and any sort of group the adventurers might need to deal with.
The difference between a keep and a fort is just that a keep is part of a larger surrounding castle typically overlooking the bailey, a space enclosed by fortified walls.
Originally built as a residence for a lord’s family and their servants, a keep will be a well-fortified tower of about three or four stories, often with a basement dungeon.
From top to bottom, we’ll have the lord’s living quarters, dining hall, kitchen, chapel, servants’ living quarters, armory, and likely some form of dungeon.
Rooms will mostly be adjoined to each other, rather than long hallways with plenty of doors, since this structure mostly just goes straight up.
Manor / Mansion
Example: Haunted Mansion
A manor is built to be the living quarters of a wealthy individual that doesn’t need a great deal of protection.
With plenty of rooms, (most of the ones we include in the anatomy section above), these make great hideouts for people not looking to be found.
Manors, at least for adventuring purposes, will often have secret passageways and traps, and they can even be built on top of larger dungeons.
At very least, you’ll want to include a chapel, ballroom, basement, or some other large room to get into a more intricate fight. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at small encounters in rooms no larger than 9 – 16 squares on a battle map.
Since these tend to be on large plots of lands, it’s not unusual to have a separate building for servants’ quarters, a greenhouse, or any number of smaller buildings somewhere on the premises.
Example: Original Piece built in RPG Map Editor 2
A house is a much simpler design. As such, it can be a bit more difficult to tell a story centered around one.
You’re likely not going to be fighting in a one- or two-story home with a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living space.
Instead, you can use a simple house as a means to add more intrigue to a larger adventure.
You might send your adventurers to someone’s home for a meeting, or the house might have a secret entrance to a much larger dungeon.
Of course, if the house is actually a cabin and it belongs to a witch in the middle of the woods, you might have to fight there.
Whatever your reason for bringing a battle to such a small location, try to use the space to your advantage.
Provide furniture that can be used as cover, objects that can be interacted with, anything to make the space feel like a third party in the battle.
Filling a Residence: Traps, Puzzles, Creatures
With your location and story decided upon, all that’s left is to flesh out the inside of your residence with a bit of decorating.
We’re devoting this section to staples of the genre, but as always, branch out as you see fit, and choose the right elements for your adventure.
Traps in houses are often simpler and more covert than ones you might find in a large dungeon.
Tension cables are lengths of strings attached to doors or something that would open up, breaking the cable.
These can have a lot of different effects, like releasing a poisoning gas, starting a fire, or causing an axe to swing down into your face.
In a place full of doors, this is a trap you can get away with more than once.
Same basis as a tension cable, only the trigger is just walking rather than opening up a new room.
Not all traps are deliberate. This is just one example of the kind of trap waiting for adventurers who enter an old decrepit household.
For extra fun, you can make this into a classic spike pit, which might’ve been added recently by the current residents who are more aware of the structural integrity.
There may be enchantments, wards, or any number of active spells throughout the residence waiting to be triggered by unsuspecting adventures.
The effects of Guard and Wards, which can become permanent, are a great place to start. Things like illusory walls, stinking walls, or even Forcecages might be ready to spring into action.
Often, puzzles in residences amount to the collection of clues to solve the greater mystery of whatever’s going on, but there are other options.
A magical house might have doors that don’t lead to where they should, disorienting characters as they attempt to navigate.
Often, this rotation of rooms tends to follow some sort of pattern. How complex that is depends on how quickly you want your players to solve it.
Doors, chests, coffins, anything that can open can be locked. Even finding a key is a bit of a puzzle, but you can complicate this quite a bit, evolving it into more than an object hunt.
You might need to find a phrase, one that is hinted at by different riddles throughout the mansion. Other doors might require the right object to be inputted with the wrong objects causing adverse effects.
When players know what they’re looking for but can’t seem to find it, the answer is often that it’s hidden in a secret room. Houses open up a lot of opportunities for secret passageways.
Buttons underneath busts, books that need to be pulled off the shelf, a lever in a fireplace – there are a lot of common tropes that your players won’t immediately jump to no matter how obvious they might appear.
The creatures you choose will entirely depend on what sort of adventure you’re running, so this is a bit harder to pin down. For some inspiration though, here’s a list of creatures you might want to include.
- Animated Something (armor, furniture, whatever)
- Violet Fungus
Residence Maps for D&D
While you can always build your own map using the tools above and a map maker, sometimes it’s easier to just grab up a module and run with it.
The following free or paid options are either maps or adventure modules specifically based around some sort of residence.
Without going through every haunted house built for 5e that’s floating around on the internet somewhere, there aren’t a lot of options.
In fact, originally, this article was just going to be a simple list of options. Instead, we’ve decided to give you the guide above and give you the option to make your own.
These options below can be taken at face value, or, and this is my suggestion, used as inspiration to build your own adventure.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us are familiar with Clue.
It’s also safe to say that if you remodel the above board as a battlemap without all of the obvious clue giveaways, no one would know that it’s from the board game.
This map is a simple, elegant solution for when you need a quick map of a small manor. Throw a second floor with a few bedrooms, a basement dungeon and you have a fully fleshed out adventure.
If you describe this well, your players will never even know what you’re doing.
House of Lament
If you’re planning on running horror, then Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft is an amazing place to start. This adventure is but a few pages of an entire compendium of 5e horror material.
The adventure itself takes place almost entirely within a haunted manor built upon the remains of an even more haunted castle.
With a jump scare in almost every room, an in depth storyline that can connect to the outside world with ease, and a detailed description of all the monsters, spirits, and animated objects you can handle, this is a perfect place to start.
Mad Mage’s Mansion
This adventure is meant for a small party, but you can easily adjust it for a larger party by making the spaces a bit larger and increasing your encounters.
The Mad Mage’s Mansion brings you to just that, where you’ll deal with just about everything you could expect in the house of a wizard gone mad.
The mansion here is very well built, focusing on simplicity to bring exciting elements into play.
It is a pay-what-you-want adventure on DMSGuild, so check it out, and if it excites you, don’t be shy about throwing at least the suggested donation to the creators.
It should be no surprise that Ravenloft rears its head more than once in this article as a lot of houses in D&D tend to be of the haunted variety.
Death House is the Curse of Strahd introductory adventure, meant to set you up for an encounter with the Baron himself.
Free to play, this adventure has all the staples of the genre. Vampire cultists, ghasts, a crypt, spike pits, and more await you in this unsuspecting (totally suspecting) house.
I hope this guide helps you to bring a house to life in your next 5e adventure. If you do decide to go the haunted route, remember, not everything should be as it seems.
As always, happy adventuring!