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Designed by: Peter Charron

Real Dungeons No. 1 The Buried Palace is (presumably) the first release in a series of dungeon crawls based on real-world locations. The adventure is designed for levels 3-4, taking the party beneath a suddenly unearthed summer palace buried beneath a monastery.

The Buried Palace is both short and unnecessarily long, featuring a humongous dungeon that’s mostly empty.

The palace is based on the Domus Aurea, an ostentatious palace built by Nero in Rome. It was never finished, and after his death, was purposefully buried by his successors.

I love the little history lesson the designer provides over our dungeon’s real-world inspiration. And clearly, a buried palace is the perfect idea for a D&D dungeon crawl. All we need is a proper villain.

Thessalon was a cleric who’s faith and dedication made him a literal saint (the designer keeps the actual religion purposefully vague). But the truth is that Thessalon was a power-hungry zealot who once laid siege to the Queen and her throne using his loyal followers. When they held out, he cursed her using an evil ring he had been given from the demon lord Orcus, and buried her with her loyal retainers.

The curse caused her to transform into a vampire-like monster around her subjects, brutally killing them. Thus the Queen’s legacy was forgotten, along with Thessalon’s brutally, and an order of monks now reside in a monastery above the buried palace.

The party is called to investigate when a hole in the basement is breached and a monk is dragged off by a dangerous creature. They believe the ruins may be haunted. Who ya gonna call?

So far so good: an intriguing past, an underground dungeon, a murderous inciting incident.

Unfortunately the entire adventure takes place in this mega-size, 40+ room, mostly empty dungeon.

The buried palace mostly consists of empty rooms, sometimes with minor trinkets, but little in the way of player interactivity. An early room features a journal note that teases the cursed monster within, but it’s easy to miss.

The murderer of the poor monk was a random dire badger. The bath pits contain an ooze, and a guardroom features the ghost of one of Queen Cara’s victims, who can helpfully explain the situation after possessing a PC.

buried palace pic

Other than that it’s mostly wandering around long hallways and empty rooms, which is technically realistic but not very fun. If were running this adventure I would permanently block off many of these rooms, and/or add more content in the form of monsters, traps, and more environmental storytelling.

I did the math: out of 45 rooms, 14 of them have something for the players to interact with, leaving about two thirds of the dungeon functionally empty. Not good!

The encounter with the buried Queen should be a social one, despite her curse. I like the twist of turning the monster into a tragic figure, though the designer makes no mention on what happens if the PCs simply kill her instead of the true boss, Thessalon.

Thessalon’s dead body isn’t actually bothering anyone, but in order to fully end the curse, the PCs need to head back out into the basement, break into his tomb, and pour some magic oil (from Queen Cara) onto his ring.

The final encounter features a neat objective: grabbing the severed crawling claw and pouring the oil over the evil ring, while Thessalon’s revenant and a swarm of undead rats attack. If the revenant reattaches the hand, it regains all hit points and spell slots!

It’s a shame the real villain, Thessalon, doesn’t actually play into the adventure. Would’ve been nice to see his evil influence on the monks, or maybe through creating undead or other effects in the dungeon.

Destroying the ring and ending Cara’s curse frees her, and gets the party some random treasure. Throughout the adventure, the party travels deep into the dungeon to talk with her, then back out to unearth and defeat Thessalon, then back in to get their treasure. Then back out to go on their merry way.

If they weren’t already sick of this mostly empty palace, they definitely will be after all that back and forth!

The adventure includes color grid maps, player map versions, image handouts, and several custom statblocks, including the spell-casting revenant and half-vampire Queen.

Despite a strong start and a satisfying boss fight, the dungeon crawl is mostly underwhelming. I’d like to see more realistic dungeons but hopefully with improved pacing and more content for the players.


  • Huge dungeon crawl based on a real-world buried Roman palace.
  • Over 40 descriptions for every room.
  • Satisfying mystery surrounding the buried palace and its occupants.
  • Fun final boss fight.


  • Dungeon is over-sized and under developed.

The Verdict: Intriguingly inspired by a real-world ancient Roman palace, The Buried Palace needs to take more liberties with fantasy and adventure to avoid being as dry as its buried walls.

A review copy of “Real Dungeons No 1. The Buried Palace” was provided by the publisher. Find more DMs Guild Reviews on my website and YouTube channel.

Support my work by using my affiliate links and pledging via Patreon.