OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings Megapost

People keep asking for "beginner" dungeons. Everyone can name "classic" dungeons - Tomb of Horrors, Barrier Peaks, Temple of Elemental Evil, etc. - but in order for those adventures to make sense, there needs to be some sort of introduction.

It's like all the adventures we have are Bach concertos. People keep writing amazing works of staggering genius, but someone needs to write a book on how to play the piano.

I had the same questions, and since I couldn't find anything satisfactory, I decided to write the kind of dungeon I would have loved to find. I wanted to write the best basic OSR dungeon for beginners that I could, and I also wanted to show the design process.

If you like this dungeon, please share it, tell people about it, print copies and leave them lying around local game stores, or email this post to friends who have "always wanted to try D&D but don't know where to start". The entire thing is and always will be free. 

Goblin Pit by Scrap Princess

Introductory Notes:

The encounters aren't balanced. They don't have difficulty ratings. There are few rewards for fighting.

There might be stuff in this dungeon that you disagree with, especially if you're an experienced GM. That's fine! It's designed to be modular and hackable. Move stuff around. Remove things completely.

Treasure amounts are a balanced around the idea that 200gp is enough to level a single character. By the end of this dungeon, surviving PCs should be level 2 or 3, assuming the usual rates of attrition, loss, and panic. Damage is scaled around PCs having between 4 and 16 hit points. Otherwise, I've tried to make the module as system-less as possible.

The generic OSR introduction I've written here might also be useful. Chris McDowall has an introduction for his system here. And of course, there's Principia Apochrypha. Finally, here's a massive post on how to start playing old-school D&D for free.

Tomb of the Serpent Kings v4.0 PDF

There's also an at-cost print on demand version. If you want to hack, remix, or edit the dungeon there's an Affinity Publisher file available here. Maps and art files are here.

Tomb of the Serpent Kings v3.0 PDF
Tomb of the Serpent Kings v.2.0 PDF
Xiximanter, Scrap Princess

The Original Posts:

Level 1
Level 2
Boss Fight: the Stone Cobra Guardian
Level 3
Boss Fight: the Basilisk

Playthroughs and Reviews:

My group: Session 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,9, 10
Throne of Salt: Session 1
GG NO RE: A podcast! Session 1, 2
nthdecree: Session 1
Lawful Neutral: Session 1,2
Slugs and Silver: Session 1, 2, 3, 4,
Asher (Podcast): Session 1, 2

The Things We Do for XP: Session 1, advice.
Iron and Ink: Session 1,
Swords of Mass Destruction: Report and advice.
Spikepit RPG (podcast): After-action report and advice.
Espharel: Session 1, 2, 3,
Trophy Gold (youtube live play): Playlist
Camping With Owlbears: Session 1, 2a, 2b, 3, 4, 5,
Sachagoat: Basilisk notes
Remely Farr: Session 1
Benign Brown Beast: Report and advice.

Arnold K: "Hey, this actually seems like it would accomplish its goal of being a teaching dungeon. I like it."

Daniel Davis
"Ran this tonight, modded it to fit my setting. Half the group was new to D&D. Worked perfectly as tutorial dungeon."

Ten Foot Pole
 Worth reading the full review. 11/22, but based on the barebones and haphazard v.1.0

Gabor Lux:
"Tomb of the Serpent Kings does that thing introductory dungeon crawls should do, but usually don’t: put the fear of God, the wonder of the unknown, and the feeling of well-earned accomplishment into the players’ hearts. It feels like descending into a dark and odd place where a lot of things will try to kill you if you are not careful, but you will be rich and powerful if you pull it off."

Belchions Sammelsurium
"From a player’s perspective, the dungeon succeeds. It does offer a fun game without straining the suspension of disbelief to much. One does indeed learn most of the dungeon tropes, and how to properly interact with them."

Todd Talks About (video)
: "It's a very nice touch. I wish more dungeons would give me a localized map like this."

Fear of a Black Dragon
: "I think this whole endeavour just seems kind of noble. Just look at the intro. And it helps that it's pretty well executed."

Radio Grognard: "It's wonderful. What I like is that it's so damn versatile."


(I can't believe I'm able to create a section for this)

German (loose translation, see comment section): Die Gruft der Schlangenkonige

German (new translation): Die Gruft der Schlangenkönige
La Tumba de los Reyes Serpiente (At Cost Print on Demand)

French: La Tombe des Rois Serpents
Italian: La Tomba dei Re Serpenti
Russian: Гробница змеиных королей
Portuguese-BR: Tumba dos Reis Serpentes

Getting The Game Started

Most game books have a section that goes "Here's what a GM is, here's what dice are, and here's an example of play", so I'm not going to write all of that out again.

It's completely fine to introduce the dungeon immediately.

It's also completely fine to say, "For whatever reason, you decide to accept the old man's offer. Every other part of your character's backstory is up to you, but for some reason, you decide to follow the treasure map. What is that reason? Adventure? Debt? Secret cultist orders?"

In my game, the PCs were sent to kill an owlbear. In the course of the fight, the owlbear uncovered the entrance to the tomb.

Other Stuff

Beholder Pie's "Quintessential Dungeon" covers some more OSR tropes, and could easily be bolted onto TotSK.

Osrsimulacrum has a compilation post of introductory OSR adventures, in case you're looking for alternatives or other perspectives.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! Looks fantastic. I'm writing up my notes right now for a crew that's fairly new to the OSR style of play. Is the implied scale about 5' per "square" on the maps? I might default to 10', in spite of the huge corridors that creates.

    FYI - It looks like the room description for 13 is missing from the PDF.

    1. Thanks! I used 5' squares, but 10' could also work. It's more or less up to personal taste. There aren't any rooms, traps, or lessons that depend specifically on scale. And I'll be sure to fix page 13 in the v2.0 PDF

  2. You really need to put a nice cover on this--

  3. Currently working to convert this into Zweihander. It's not a super lot of work, mostly just changing references from "+2" to "+10" and figuring out how to integrate cursed items into the game's more gradual Chaos Corruption mechanic...

  4. Just started a 5th ed campaign of this. It's very cool to be taught by a dungeon (as a DM) how to run these kind of OSR adventures. Having played several of the WotC modules, it feels much "tighter" - there's something cool to do in every room, not just "This room contains some bugbears". Though that might just be a testament to the time you put into this.

    Thanks for making this!

  5. Started a campaign in RuneQuest 2nd Ed. with this as an early adventure and my players and I are absolutely loving it. It's fantastic as a GM seeing the way that players learn from every single room, and given that my players are unused to OSR games it's great to see them really fear a dungeon.

    Thank you so much for making this!

  6. This is solid gold! Thanks so much for making it available. Would it be possible to get a copy of the file (Word maybe) as I'd like to add the stats for my game of choice?
    Thanks again, this should really be in every DM's tool kit.

  7. Hello Skerples. I spoke time ago about translate your post about plague.
    This was amazing and really thanks that you allow me to do this.

    It is possible if i begin with the translation of Tomb of a Serpent King to Spanish? Is it Ok for you?

    Thanks a lot :)

    1. Absolutely! Go right ahead! Just make sure you tell me when you're done so I can link to it.

  8. Great work, I've shared with my D&D group to pass along as well. Any chance we'll see a print version? Please take my money!

  9. Thanks alot, Mr. Skerples!

    Just ran the first level of TotSK as the first adventure with my group. By no means I'm an experienced DM (this must be the 4th time I tried to be a referee, I think?). And our group never had any experience with oldschool dnd (I used LotFP). Well, We had a blast!

    Very well explained and designed (:

  10. Ran the dungeon twice last weekend as part of two one-shots. I was surprised and pleased with how different the two runs where, and what things they missed. Definitely could see this as a solid foundation for a multi-session campaign.

  11. Thanks for this!

    Would it be possible to get the LaTeX source files that you used to create this PDF? I understand if you don't want to share them, but I figured I'd ask anyway since you do give permission to change and adapt this.

  12. This is an amazing module that deserves a lot more attention.

    Would love for you to a sequel, a 'medium' type of Dungeon that was a lot more non-linear, very 'Janel Jaquary' that shows a kind of evolution in ideas.

    Kind of like the 'Caves of Chaos' in design and layout innovation, but maybe for 3rd level characters.

    Would be great to see!


  13. Hi Skerples!

    Thank you for sharing the Affinity Publisher file. However, some of the fonts are missing so the file looks a bit odd.

    Can you include the font files or the names for them?

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Added another session report and a "lessons learned". Playing this module has made me appreciate it in ways that just reading it never could! https://thethingswedoforxp.blogspot.com/2019/05/what-i-learned-while-running-dming-tomb.html

  16. I am thinking about making this dungeon for roll20, so I can play it with my friends living abroad. Would you have the dungeon map in high resolution? I would like to colour it in Gimp for making it more appealing to the players.

    1. I ended up using www.dungeonfog.com, and the results were very good. In the beginning I was making it on gimp, but it was TOO much work. I haven't subscribed to Dungeonfog yet; I am not paying. Therefore, my map has got many watermarks. I will only subscribe when my friends will really be available to play this dungeon. I would love to share the map, but I don't know what would be the best medium for that.

  17. hi
    what is the scale of the map ? 1 square = 5' ? 10' ?

    1. I use 10' squares, but 5' also works.

    2. Who are you and what have you done with 2017 Skerples?

      (first comment on the post, you were using 5' squares back then)

    3. Or am I deliberately posting contradictory answers as part of some genius plot? Hrm? HRM?!

      (Nah. I just switched to 10' squares for most testing purposes sometime in 2018, I think. It turns out it really doesn't matter).

  18. Thanks for the answers and also your works

  19. For the maps, would it be possible to obtain non-keyed versions too for VTT play?

  20. Thanks for this! I really enjoyed reading the adventure and I plan to use it to introduce my friends to OSR-style gaming, using B/X rules. But I have a question. Can you explain a bit more about to award XP? You say that "treasure amounts are balanced around the idea that 200gp is enough to level a single character." Is this based on a D&D formula of 1gp=1xp? Because if so it seems like way more treasure would be needed...

    1. You're absolutely correct; if you're using B/X, you need to basically multiply the treasure amounts by 10, as it takes 2,000 xp for a Fighter to hit second level. I'm running this now in 5 Torches Deep (where everyone takes 2500 to level to 2nd), and I'm multiplying everything by 10, and putting one or two little extra bits of treasure in.

  21. I have a question about the hammer-trapped stone door at the very beginning. The text in the back map states the door opens inwards - doesn't that mean that interacting with the trap is entirely unnecessary? (the PCs can just push the door in and move under/over the stone bar)

    1. The bars should be attached to the doors (otherwise, why bar them?), but if players think to check if the doors move by ducking under or over the bar I might let them.

    2. I envisioned them as attached to the "doorframe". Otherwise it's kinda hsrd for me to imagine how the mechanism would work if they're supposed to open at all.

    3. I'm doing a readthrough, and I'm trying to decide exactly how the trap works, so that I can give useful responses to player questions.

      The initial position of the trap is hammer up, pegs down.
      Trigger the trap by "pegs up" and you get pegs up, hammer down.
      Then the trap resets to hammer up, pegs--down?
      The stone bar was holding the pegs down, and when removed, the pegs went to their rest position--up.
      The clockwork is unstable. If not secured by the bar, the trap will eventually go off when the clockwork runs down.
      Now I might google up a fragment of Aristotle's mechanics, where objects have a natural impetus to move to their natural position.
      Oh, man--I just created an in-game explanation of the physics of mechanical traps that make absolutely no sense. Combine Aristotle's theories of natural motion, of the four elements, with a system of notation for magical glyphs (draconic script kobold dialect) that deceive and attract dumb matter on a temporary basis, and that's why the huge stone block is on the ceiling instead of the floor, until you step on the pressure plate that completes the microincantation that suppresses the gravity suppressor.

  22. Finally ran this dungeon with my players (used to 3.5 ed). They made it to the Tomb Atrium. They died A LOT.

  23. Hey, I love this adventure! I've been slowly building it out in roll20. My question is this: do you have any recommendations for someone running it in 5e?

  24. RPGcrawl.net is down but the waybackmachine has a version:

  25. I'm currently running this as a Play By Post game using Old School Essentials as a ruleset. My players are almost all new to OSR style play and are loving it. We are having so much fun exploring the map. Thank you for sharing this.

  26. Ran it last night https://3toadstools.blogspot.com/2021/01/tomb-of-serpent-kings-one-shot.html?showComment=1609906163345#c7952293790260481629

  27. Hey guys, Ive been playing D&D for 3 years. just discovered OSR community. The links in these comments are amazing and helpful. TotSK is fantastic, I'm really excited to run this for 4 friends on Knave

    you guys rock!

  28. I just checked the German version and compared it to the original. There are a LOT of differences. Maybe you should add a disclaimer that this is not a faithful translation but a very loose, partwise weird interpretation.

    1. I'm just saying that so that you might consider adding a disclaimer. The "lection" the players get after encountering the succubus for example is using a condom when sleeping with strangers. Maybe some pervs find this funny but i think it doesnt fit in there. I will use the English version instead.

    2. Well huh! I don't check the translations too closely, so that's good to know. Will add a note.

  29. Hi Skerples! Can I translate to Portuguese and adapt to a specific Osr system (Old Dragon)

    1. Absolutely! You just have to stick to the Creative Commons terms: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/
      So you can have the adaptation use rules/assumptions from a specific commercial rulebook, but the adaption itself has to be free.
      Drop a link here when it's done!

    2. Hi Skerples, Finally we have our version of Tomb of Serpent Kings in Portuguese.
      We have an ongoing crowdfunding for the 2nd edition of the Old Dragon, I want to know if we can print the adventure and give it as a small gift to our funders and print extra copies to promote in stores and events.

      Our cover: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5os2yhj8ff6thm8/Captura%20de%20Tela%202022-11-19%20%C3%A0s%2018.01.48.png?dl=0

      Our crowdfunding: https://www.catarse.me/olddragon2

    3. Hi Antonio, can you send an email with the details to coinsandscrolls [at] gmail [dot] com?

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. If we're printing a translated version, is it OK to sell it for printing costs? Thanks!

    1. Possibly. Can you send an email with the details to coinsandscrolls [at] gmail [dot] com? Thanks.

    2. Sorry for the delay. I emailed you more details now. Thanks!

  32. you might wanna remove the rpgcrawl link, i just tried it and got sent to adult webcam site :/

    1. Looks like someone got domain-hijacked. There's a web archive link in a comment above.

  33. Hi Skerples,
    In D&D B/X, it's said that traps trigger only on 1-2 on a 1D6 roll.
    What about the first traps in your dungeon (poison gas and hammer-trapped stone door)?
    I suppose that they automatically trigger, if not, they won't be of any educational purpose...
    What do you think?
    Thanks a lot for this work!

    1. Hi Rod, I've always thought that the roll for trap activation makes more sense when the party is exploring in "zoomed out mode" or "marching order mode", where the characters essentially move as a blob through abstract space. "We move 70' down the corridor, then turn left."

      When operating in "zoomed in mode" or "grid mode" or whatever you want to call it, traps are real physical objects with properties that can be noticed, disabled, or manipulated. The chance of (say) the hammer trap activating is 100%, unless the PCs notice and sabotage it, or avoid it entirely by some cunning plan.

    2. Jup, it makes sense. Thanks.
      So if a trap is automatically triggered except if noticed and disabled, it would seem fair to me to give the PCs 100% chance of finding the trap if they search at the right place. Right ?
      (I'm trying to understand OSR style ;-) )

    3. That's correct. I've put my notes on traps and trap-finding into Magical Murder Mansion. Drop me an email at coinsandscrolls [at] gmail [dot] com and I'll send you a free PDF copy.

    4. Thanks! I send you an email.

    5. I got it! Thanks!
      Merry Xmas :)

  34. Hi there, can I name-drop TotSK in a hexcrawl I'm writing for eventual commercial sale on Itch/Drivethru?

    I've got plenty of original content but am hoping to add links to a few of the "gold-standard" OSR starter modules for ease of integration.

    1. Sure! If it's just a name, there's no issue.

  35. WoW how can so many people think this is good?

    This is absolutly atrocious, the opposite of good game design.

    And the most ridiculous thing is to quote the first Mario level, when this here does the 180 degree opposite. This is like a "kaizo" level in mario, something Myamoto absolutly hates.

    So just mentioning the first Mario Level as a comparison sounds like an insult to Nintendo.

    I am not sure if this is meant as an insult, if it is meant as a troll to waste peoples time (such as mine), or if there is just a huge lack of knowledge in gamedesign, didactics and selfreflection.

    Anyway I would recomend everyone to not waste their time with this "introduction" dungeon, which does nothing to teach the game mechanics (like how attacks work, or movement etc.) and only teaches "what kind of sadist is the creator of this dungeon."