• Justin Handlin

Chutes, Ladders, and Stair Alternatives for your Dungeons and Dragons Game

Adventurer delving deep into dungeon down winding stairs
Art: Compliments of Wizards of the Coast

When adventurers are delving deep into dungeons, trudging through a vile marsh to a half sunken temple, or squeezing through small crevasses in a winding cave, they often find themselves needing to ascend or descend multiple levels. In most cases, there are ramps, stairs, or ladders that are used. As Game Masters we can easily enhance the environment in a fun and exciting way by simply altering the way the characters traverse the terrain. Below are 5 fun alternatives to traditional stairs, ladders, and ramps for your Dungeons & Dragons stories and campaigns.

Carved Runes: Weathered, but intricately carved runes fill an entire wall from floor to the ceiling. Their deep protrusions and engraved recesses make for perfect foot and hand holds. As a GM not only can you use the runes to share some lore about the area, but their use as a ladder isn’t immediately obvious. Making it a perfect place to hide a secret chamber or compartment.

Dangling Chains: In dungeons chains are common lifting and torture tools. A room full of chains dangling from a high ceiling can make for a perfect replacement for stairs or ladders up to another level. Streaks hardened of red, green, or yellow stains could easily elude to their potential torturous use. The chains coming to life as animated traps halfway up certainly seems like a fun opportunity once or twice as well.

Pile of Bones: Carnivorous creatures tend to leave behind the harder leftovers of their meals. The lairs of monsters make for a perfect location for a pile of bones of a variety of creatures as a perfect and sinister ladder up to another level of the creature’s home. As GM, using the bones to indicate the potential strength of the creature that calls the lair home could be enough to send the strongest of adventurers running to the exit. “Is that a bulette skull? What the hell can eat a bulette!?”


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Purple Worm Gullet: Death is inevitable for all creatures. Even those of great power such as a purple worm. Using their leftovers as a chute that connects two locations like a hall passage certainly makes the world feel alive. Whether in a desert or a mountainous area, the massive gullet that has been hardened and smoothed by a combination of the worm’s inner juices and the earth they devoured makes for a perfect lacquered slide into the Underdark or a villain's lair.

Tree Trunk: Whether you need a ladder, chute, or stairs. The inside of a massive tree makes for a perfect scene-setter in Dungeons and Dragons. The tree trunk can be slick with slime and oil in a swamp, blooming with flowers and rich colored leaves, or hardened by a lightning strike, cracked and broken. Regardless of the form, you decide, as a GM this is one of the most versatile (and abundant) ways to replace ladders, stairs, and chutes.

These are some fun and common stairs, ladders, and chutes that I’ve used at my D&D table. Do you like this list? Let me know! Email me and share with me your favorite stair, ladder, or chute alternative that you’ve experienced in your roleplaying games. If I get enough submissions, I’ll compile them and put together another blog full of those submissions.

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