Monday, 12 April 2010

Mouldering in the Darkness

Everything rots. Everything gradually breaks down into uselessness. This is simply a law of nature. In the context of dungeoncrawling this is super-important, in that all that stuff you're after (precious metals, scrolls, clues to buried treasure hidden in ancient frescoes, etc.) is likely to have been down there a loooooooong time.

With that consideration I present the following (derived from an original in the Dragon Kings high-level play sourcebook for the only true Dark Sun setting):

Time ElapsedPaperWoodMetalSoft St.*Hard Stone**
30 daysFaded

1 yearFragile

2 yearsBrittleFadedPaint

5 yearsCrumbledFragile

10 yearsDustBrittleEtching
20 years
50 years


100 years
200 years

500 years

1,000 years

2,000 years

5,000 years

10,000 years

20,000 years


* Limestone, sandstone, marble, tufa, etc.
** Granite, flint, mica schist, nephrite jade, gritstone, etc.

The table shows the average effects of time and the elements on various materials. This will vary be prevailing climate (hot, wet and windy will accelerate erosion, cold, dry and windless retard it). Items protected from the elements will take longer to erode. Multiply erosion time by ~10 if in a sheltered location, and by more if items have either been properly curated, or sealed in a preservative anaerobic environment).

Paper and wooden objects fade over time, making it difficult, but not impossible to read or identify surface features. Fragile objects must survive an item saving throw versus fall every time they are used; brittle items must survive versus a crushing blow. Crumbled items are unusable but still identifiable as papyrus or wood; dust is completely unidentifiable and unusable.

Metal and stone items wear away over time, their shapes smoothing out until the item is completely worn away. Paint indicates that artificial coloration is gone or unrecognisable; etching means carved letters or pictures are worn away; relief indicates that deeply carved letters or images are severely eroded; form indicates that time has eroded away all but the basic form of the original stone or metal.

Why am I bothering with this? Well, there's an ongoing subplot involving Hobgoblins (think a timelost version of Japanese holdout soldiers + some Tekumel flavouring) and a particular time-locked sub-level of the Vaults...

Related links:
Thoughts? Opinions? Requests for breakdown times of other materials?


  1. Cool & useful, thanks :)

    Sometimes the Undead rot, too.

  2. How very Alexis of you. :)

    I can definitely see the utility with a game involving time travel.

  3. Excellent! Another way to frustrate plapyers. ;)

  4. @Vince: very cool. That's going straight in the DM folder.

    @ze bulette: Them's fightin' words!

    @Trey: Not really my intent. Although now that you mention it...

    I really meant this to just be an aide memoir on using decomposition as a clue on how long a dungeon/ruin area has been abandoned. I really should to a bit of extra research on the breakdown rate of frescoes, tapestries and mosaics.


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