Excavation is an activity that mankind has done from ages past and will continue to do for many years in the future. In many cases, in an RPG, even if such activity is mentioned, it’s often glossed over and not found to be something interesting, but with a bit of brainstorming, a moment’s preparation, and these suggestions, it can lead the PCs to some truly unique adventures if one considers what’s in the site, what types of things are being used to excavate the site, and safety measures.

D20 things in the excavation site

  1. Nothing of interest. Maybe some pipes (or the sewer). Just a hole to be used to build the foundation of the building on. Even this could be the cause of an adventure if you take inspiration from Super Mario Bros.
  2. Collapse! Anyone unlucky enough entering the area will cause the walls/roof of the hole to collapse, trapping anyone who’s there underneath the dirt and debris. It’s up to the PCs to save the unlucky soul who’s trapped underground before they die. Are they able to do so in time?
  3.  Something of historical import
    1. Dinosaur bones or other fossils. The entire area is closed off and becomes a paleontologist’s dig.
    2. Pottery shards from a forgotten time. The entire area needs to be closed off and it becomes an archaeological dig.
    3.  A meteorite or crashed space ship
    4. a second basement. Maybe this was a place where slaves hid out en route to freedom.
    5. Historical documents that describe the founding of the country
    6. Something dangerous from war, such as a mine, a bomb (or plans to one), or a war machine like a tank.
    7. A treasure map. Is the treasure still there?
    8. A treasure. Why is it there? Is there something guarding it?
  4. An underground river or lake that no one knew about before now. Conversely, the hole starts filling with water, as it’s connected with an artesian spring or a cave that connects to a river or the ocean. Another possibility is that the hole could be an old well.
  5. An old cellar filled with wine or other liquors. The wine is in:
    1. Oaken or cedar barrels
    2. Wineskins
    3.  Clay (earthenware) containers/ jugs
    4.  Distilling equipment
  6. A secret passage connecting all the nearby buildings that would have never been discovered if not for the dig.
  7. An opening to the Underdark or other such underground location in your game world
  8.  A murder victim. Depending on the era of the game, they might be the cause for an investigation to be opened into what happened and why
  9. The remains of a forgotten prison, complete with locked doors/ gates, bars, etc. There may even be a long deceased resident still chained to the wall. Conversely, the prisoners are still alive, but barely, having sustained themselves on insects, magic, or having killed and eaten each other.
  10. A mass grave from a forgotten war or a graveyard that was built over.
  11. An old boarded-up mine/quarry. Is the mine still viable? If so what does it contain?
    1. Precious Metals (gold, silver, platinum, iron)
    2. Gems (diamonds, rubies, emeralds, amethysts)
    3. Precious stones (lapis lazuli, turquoise, moonstones)
    4. Flooded mine, it needs to be pumped out before its contents can be discovered. Could even be something akin to the Oak Island Mystery (more information can be found here)
    5. Construction grade stone: Marble, Limestone, granite
    6. Roll twice and combine.
  12. An old forgotten warehouse/ storehouse that was housed underground. Is there anything good, or is it all garbage?
  13.  Gas.
    1. Explosive gas. Better hope no one’s carrying a torch! If they are roll 2d8 for damage to everyone/ everything in the area.
    2. Noxious fumes. Roll against the PC’s health stat. If failed, the character is nauseated for 2d4+1 rounds and unable to act
    3. Weakening gas. Roll a 1d6: 1) Strength 2) Dexterity, 3) Constitution 4) Intelligence 5) Wisdom 6) Charisma stat is lowered by 1d6+2, and will take that many days to return to normal, the stat affected returning at the rate of 1 point a day.
    4. Mutating gas. Characters exposed to it develop a random mutation. The gas may be radioactive too, and the PCs will need to evacuate the area
    5. Fear Gas. Those exposed to the gas have their fears come to life and attack them. Those exposed to the gas and fail their save must flee at their top speed away from the situation. If they cannot flee, they cower in place, as if they had been turned by a cleric.
    6. Roll twice and combine results, ignoring further rolls of 6.
  14. A temple or dungeon of some sort that no one knew was there. It’s up to the PCs to investigate what’s down there and what it contains.
  15. A cursed object. Anyone exposed to said object gets weakened and dies or suffers as per a glyph of pain or the like. Can the PCs discover what’s going on before it claims another victim?
  16. A sinkhole that swallowed the previous building.
  17. A trap is sprung! Choose an appropriate trap and place here.
  18. An entire hidden community of outcasts or slaves beneath the city that no one knew was there. Think about the X-men’s Morlocks.
  19. Monster/ animal! (Roll 1d10)
    1. Vermin: spiders or other insects, bats snakes, rats or the like.
    2. Fungus/ mold/ jelly/ spores
    3. An elemental
    4. A golem
    5. A troll
    6. Undead
      1. Skeleton/ Zombie
      2. Wraiths/ Ghosts
      3. Ghasts/ Ghouls
      4. Mummy. Mummy Lord
      5. Lich/ Vampire
      6. Revenant
    7. Rust Monster or beholder
    8.  A werewolf
    9.  A dragon asleep for a millennium. It is not happy about being awakened
    10. An Umber Hulk
  20. A yawning portal to another dimension

How is the worksite being dug?

  1. Magic. This is what will be used in most tabletop RPG games. Move earth, a golem or earth elemental are all ideas on how this could come into play.
  2. Heavy Machinery. Even though most RPG games aren’t set in the modern day, it’s still conceivable to have similar machines to bulldozers, backhoes (whether on treads or wheels), and trenchers. One such machine could be the apparatus of the kwalish.
  3. Hand tools such as Picks, shovels, rakes, hoes, and wheelbarrows

Excavation Site Safety

While in a fantasy setting, most people would shrug and go “meh,” thinking about safety is an area where you can increase the realism in your game. In times without modern technology, they didn’t have gas masks, hardhats, harnesses for lowering workers into tight places, etc. But what they did have were ideas to compensate. Mines were built such that they wouldn’t collapse, which means there was wood beam support to make sure the mine’s roof didn’t trap people. They didn’t have the technology for warning them of gas buildup, but they’d often bring a caged bird with them. If the bird died, they knew it was time to get out. Conversely, if the mine owners were rich enough, they might buy decanters of endless air (similar to the same item that produces water) so their workers wouldn’t suffocate. They might not have hardhats, but maybe the workers have the spell “stoneskin” cast on them. They might not have excavating equipment, but maybe they have a “wall of earth” spell to hold the mine walls from collapsing in on them.

The next time someone asks what’s in the hole, you now have an answer for them, and with it, the ability to expand your gaming world.