Thursday, 4 February 2016

Into the Caverns (Part 1)

Welcome back to my epic dungeon building project, loosely based on B1. This time we are going to be looking at how the PCs get to the caverns, and the main route into the dungeon

HooksI want to have good adventure hooks, because one of the main things I want to bake into this adventure is great narrative.

Narrative in an adventure comes in two distinct forms. The first is the Spine Narrative, which is the kind of narrative you find at the core of a pathfinder adventure path, or acting as the plot of a novel.  It is the kind of narrative that says "here is the one ring. Right, off to mount doom with you."  It can be fucking great! It is hunting down the Cult of the Purple Hand, foiling the skinsaw murders, and uncovering what is going on with the March family, in short some of the coolest stuff that comes out of roleplaying.  But it gets a bum rap in the OSR, but that is a subject for another blog post.

In this post I want to focus on Peripheral Narrative, which is an often implicit form of narrative, that hold great power to form a story out of the actions at the game table.  When done well, it can take an adventure like B2 The Keep on the Borderland, which is almost entirely devoid of a spine narrative, and which has the potential to be one of the dullest adventures ever, and turn it into something really cool. It does this by fleshing out an environment and acting as the fuel for emergent story. Peripheral Narrative elements include  adventure site backstory, good descriptions. encounter design that creates the illusion of a living environment, and adventure hooks.

Hooks provide provide both setting flavour and connectivity(more on this later) between the world beyond and the adventure site. I know my group, and they are not pro-active. Given a hex map, a character, and no real hooks, and I will start exploring and carving out a place of my own in the world. My player not so much. So I need plot hooks that will get them out, and into the wilderness near the caverns, so they can discover them.

On of the big themes I want this campaign to have, is discovery, and being the people to find the only truly large dungeon in the campaign, to be the first people to explore it, the first to know that it still exists, that is something I want them to have the chance to experience.

So the task for this week, is to come up with ten hooks, which will get the PCs into the area around the caverns.

The entrance and main hall of Cavern of Quasqueton, are going to be  relatively light work in terms of adventuring. They are a pathway for getting quickly and easily into the various areas of dungeon;  many of which being accessed directly from the hall, or are located only a short trek through another area away from the main hall.

Jeffrey McArthur explains a chunk about what connectivity is, with regards to Dungeon design, and frankly does it as well or better than I can manage right now. What it means for the dungeon is that that their is lots of freedom as to how they go about exploring and easy access to each of the different flavour patches of the deep halls. The flipside of these factors is that, should the PCs get in over their head in the deep halls, it should be relatively easy for the PCs to retreat from the caverns. I'll leave it up to you the reader to decide if you think that is an advantage or disadvantage.

The encounters below are very much brain storming on what might be fun, and are still pretty early in development.

1. The sundered gate of Quasqueton
The deep Halls of the Cavern of Quasqueton were never meant to be truly a fortress, both Rogahn the fearless and Zelligar the Unknown kept their true fortresses deeper within the rock, so the it was never meant for more that a token defense to be mounted in the deep halls. However, their idea of token defense involved a pair of iron doors ten feet wide and fifteen foot high, hinged to only open outwards and re-enforced with magic. The Gates of Quasqueton would be closed and locked still, had it not been for a magical explosion within that blew the doors of the gate off, as battle raged within.

Any PCs approaching the sundered gates is greeted by a pair of mooking voices, which issue forth from a pair of magic mouths at the entrance.

2. The Sally Port
This room was designed as a sally port, allowing invaders to be attacked in the flank or rear as they make their way into the Caverns. The room is hidden behind a secret door,  and attached by a one way teleporter system to the barracks. Over the years a number of orcs have activated that teleporter, becoming stuck in the sally port's muster area, unable to figure out how to open the secret door. Their skeletons now scratch at the inner door endlessly in their undead fixation upon escape, should the door be opened, then 1D3 skeletons erupt from the room into the corridor, along with a wave of foul air heavy the stench of enclosed decomposition.Anyone within 10' of the entrance must make a save vs. poison, or spend the first round of combat retching.

3. The entrance gallery and feast hall
This long hall stretches deep into the rock, It functions as a pathway to many of the major features of the Deep Halls of the Caverns. The initial stretch(3a.) functioned a display of wealth and martial might, with rich tapestries, paintings and finely crafted weapons adorning the walls. The tapestries have rotted away as the mists from the entrance lake saturated them, and the painting and weapons have long since been looted by the humanoid residents and the rare adventures to have visited the site before,

Some way in the, the hall opens out into a large, long chamber (3b) where Rogahn and Zelligar hosted feasts. It is now largely empty, but there is room here to seat a hundred guest and a high table with ease. The floor has be set with a complex mosaic of an Ouroboros. The serpent is in fact, a Mosaic Golem, which springs up to attack intruders.

Each time adventurers pass through this area before the destruction of the goblin clan living in The guard post, there is a 1 in 6 chance that the PCs encounter a goblin patrol here.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Planning the B1 inspired dungeon

I recently talked a bit about what I liked and disliked about B1: In search of the Unknown. What you'll find below is the first steps in planning how I am going to put those observations to use in my home campaign.

What to keep?

So there are some element of B1, which are cool and I want to keep.

  • A 'dungeon' made to serve the desires of two masters.
  • Disappeared owners, with sections of the site being put to new uses by new inhabitants.
  • Some nice descriptions
  • Emergent narrative
  • The existence of a Museum in the dungeon

The context for delving into the Caverns of  Quasqueton will be connected with plot line 2 of my campaign, in which the PCs are offered several lines of employment by different agents of a vampire, who has decided to use them to establish a lair in the Caverns.

New background
The Caverns of  Quasqueton the fortress home of a pair Champions of Chaos, Rogahn the fearless and Zelligar the Unknown, who before the coming of Duke Karameikos, trouble the lands around Luln. No one has heard of from them in a long time, and many believe them dead, however their fate is unknown to the world at large.

The truth is, that in the months directly after Duke Karameikos took charge of the nation, Rogahn and Zelligar had a falling out, and killed one another along with almost all of their servant, in a minor war within the caverns.

This conflict was driven by many thing, including a philosophical difference in how to deal with the arrival of Duke Steffan.

Haunting as narrative device
A lot happened in the caverns during the fight, through out the complex there are a series of hauntings which convey aspects of events that transpired in the caverns, as the champions of chaos.

Cutting up the map
I am going to be using +Dyson Logos map of "The Deep Halls" which I have numbered up, and shown of below.

It is not a small map, and so I have cut it up into areas of use, which can be found below. These groups of rooms describe the use of these areas while Rogahn and Zelligar still ruled here. They will also represent rough changes  in adventure theme, and monster territory in the complex. For instance the underworks and caves are home to a group of troglodytes.

1- 3: Entry Halls
This area grants entrances to numerous areas of Cavern of Quasqueton. There are a number of traps here.

4 - 19: The lair of the wizard
There rooms were at one time the public face of Zelligar domain within the Caverns. It is here that he would meet his guests and entertain them. It was from here that his private secretary oversaw the running of the fortress, and that many of his less precious books found their home.
Traps, magical and physical, strange magical phenomena and construct guardians

20 - 25 guard post
This was the barracks for the guards who ensured the entrance to the cavern remained secure.
Home to a small tribe of goblins, who are in conflict with the Troglodytes, in the underworks.

26-38 servants area
This is one of the caverns many below stairs sections, including store rooms, kitchens and staff quarters.
During the battle, this area remained became a charnel house when the serving staff sided with Rogahn enmass. Zelligar punished their treachery unleashing a pair of ghouls on them. This area is now infested with a small number of the fearsome undead.

39-66 guest wing
A selection of plush rooms and appartments used to house allies and guest to the Caverns in the time of   Rogahn the fearless and Zelligar the Unknown.
A Medusa Seer has taken up residence in this section of the complex, and she has fortified it with magic traps and wards.

67 - 85 The Barracks
This was the primary barracks for Rogahn's elite cohort of warriors.
When Rogahn's  warriors died in the fighting, some of the orcs who had served Rogahn claimed their barracks as a lair. These orcs consider  Rogahn to be a god.

86 - 102 fungal garden 
Zelligar cultivated a mycological and zoological  garden here, making a preserve he could wander in to think and relax.
Many strange fungi and giant insects

103 - 115 building site
Rogahn was unsatisfied with his primary holdings at the overlook being so far from the heart of the complex, and so,
In the last years before the arrival of duke steffan, he started to build a new set of appartments and servants quarters near to the barracks. This area houses the tunnel to the overlook.
A group of outcasts from the orcs in the barracks dwell here, they occationally fight with their former comrades, but largely spend their time worshipping Zelligar, and a number of them have become minor wizards..

116 - 135: Museum 
A repository of strange items and memorabilia of  Rogahn  and Zelligar's adventures and conquests.
Danger: ALL THE TRAPS, but significant rewards for penetrating it.

136 - 141: the Curator's abode
This area was built as the home of the curatr of the museum. Bound by unbreakable oaths of loyalty to both Rogalm and Zelligar, the curator was driven mad by the conflict between them. He lives here still, a husk of a man, grown powerful in magic but lots to sanity.
Dangers:  The curator and his servants.

142 - 175: underworks and caves

It was here that many strange magical and mechanical functions necessary to ensure the smooth running of the fortress were undertaken.
This area is now home to a clan of troglodytes

So what next?
So, with some idea of the lay out of the outermost areas of the complex, I am going to need to start digging down into each location and populating them with monsters, traps, and haunting phenomena. I'll be starting with the entrances and halls.

A big old P.S.
If you enjoy this, go and support Dyson's Patreon. His ability to put stuff into the CCs is instrumental in projects like this happening.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Basic design 7: Gorgon eye

Gorgon eyes are an especially nasty internal parasite that destroys and replaces the eye of a host, burrowing its long, clawed tail into the eye socket, before hooking it into the optic nerve. This process, allows the host to see through the gorgon eye, but leaves them in a state of constant pain, as the creature feeds on their blood supply.

These vile parasites get their name from their defensive mechanism, which allows them to petrify those looking into the eye. This ability is less reliable than that of a true Medusa, however, the ability remains potent and enough of a trade off that some assassins have been known to willingly infect themselves with gorgon eyes, as weapons of assassination or last resort.

A creature infected with a gorgon eye has a 1/6 chances of making a medusa's gaze attack each turn, While a creature infected with gorgon's eye, has a 1/2 chance of making a medusa's gaze attack each turn. A creature infected with a gorgon eye adds * to its hitdie, or **, if infected with two. Adjust their XP accordingly.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

B1: In Search of WTF.

So as part of getting my Mystara game up and running, I am going through the B-Series, to see which parts can be put to use. I am going to be starting with B-1 In search of the unknown.

An oddity of a teaching tool
In Search of the Unknown presents itself up as something of a teaching tool, using a stock your own dungeon mechanic, but in this area, it really doesn't come close to Zanzer's dungeon.

In Search of the Unknown does very little to break down and slowly introduce the games mechanics, and while the choose your own adventure in basic, with which B1 was packaged,  had covered some of this function, I think the black box does a much better job of teaching the game.

Background and emergent narrative detail
The background of B1 In search of the Unknown can be summed up as:

Two powerful adventurers built a fortress inside a big rock. Before it was finished, 
they disappeared off to fight some barbarians.

To say this is light, is an understatement. Things arn't that much improved either by the legends, or the emergent narrative details of the dungeon. We learn the wizard is doing  research, which is super unsurprising, and that Warrior had a mistress and a favored companion. The Oldenhaller Contract, it is not. If I were going to run it, this would need to change.

There are some cool maps in the early days of DnD. This is not one of them. Any running of this would require a remapping of the adventure site into something more interesting and reasonable..

So far, I have generally been pretty down on this scenario, but don't get the impression that I do not like it per say.  The adventure is full of awesome material, in the form of description and set dressing. While the adventure lacks a story dig your teeth into, it has some cool room descriptions to make use of, such as the entrance way with its magic mouths and hidden sally points. On top of this, the description of the adventure site itself is super cool.

The adventures stock your own dungeon monsters and wandering monsters are entirely adequate, but nothing to write home about. However, they arn't especially well thematically linked to the site.

There are a number of pretty good traps, especially the laughing gas.

This adventure has some potential, but it needs work. two possible approaches present themselves.

The first is the easiest. salvage the best material from the adventure and get rid of the rest. I would probably steal the material from the wizards section  of the adventure site and some utilitarian rooms and place them in a small fort. Then add some thematically appropriate monsters.

Alternatively, a complete overhall could be done. A new backstory and emmergent narrative, in which the owners disappeared suddenly some time ago, and the adventurers are sent out to find out what happen could work, especially if, once they arrive, the site shows signs that the wizard and the warrior had fallen out, and turned on one another, resulting in a battle within the  dungeon, which killed both and the majority of their servants. It would require re-mapping the sight, generating a tighter focused set of encounters, and some alterations to room descriptions.

My over all decision? A complete overhaul into a Mega-dungeon!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Basic Design 6: Unicorn Parasite

In the dead of night  they move, crawling along through the wet grass, until they find a suitable host.

Despite the illusions of fae mystery that may come with the term unicorn, unicorn parasite  as things of pure horror. Exo-parasites that hijack  other species, turning them into methodical murderers or frenzied killers, with a range of magical powers and raw strength.

Female Unicorn parasites infect a host and then, drive them to carefully and methodically kill, depositing the dead in secluded covered areas, covering them in a mucus, which prevents the bodies from being eaten or rotting. These bodies are a larder for juveniles.

Males on the other hand drive their hosts to frantically search for a female, killing anything that they come into contact with. In this way, they can ensure that there are fewer people around to  discover the nest. Once the pair mate, the female dies and the male, or males guard the larder.
Creatures implanted with a unicorn Parasite add +2 to hit and damage, can see invisible creatures at all times, and can cast game Armour upto 3 times a day and Web once a day. Add *** to their hit dice and adjust their exp accordingly.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Basic Design 5: Pipe of the Trickster

Not all wizards are mighty, not all wizards shake the world with their passing. Many in fact are quite middling, and some in fact, never amount to very much. Such was the case with Talbot Lamp, a wandering wizard, who after having been cast out as useless by his mentor,  made his living with conjuring tricks and scribe work, wherever he went. However, there is one detail of his story that is entirely incongruous. For their are tails of magical workings he performed which no gutter mage should know. The source of these discrepancies was his pipe, an item stolen from his master as a parting shot.
When stuffed with good tobacco and smoked, the pipe allows for a number of effects to be conjured up.

-Once per day the smoker can target a group of of  up to ten 1 hit die monsters and prevent them from finding their way to their destination on this attempt. To be able to successfully find the location they are looking for, the must first give up and them later try again.

-The tobacco smoke can be coaxed into all manner of outlandish but temporyshapes, including such creatures as dragons.

- Cause illusionary flames to spring up. On the first turn, there is a scent of illusionary scent of burning, a sense of heat, and a few puffs of heat, on the second turn the flame bursts into life. the flames are warm and mildly painful to any creature touching them, but the do no damage and can be dowsed almost immediately with a little effort. This illusionary flame cannot under any circumstances ignite secondary fires.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Looking at 'Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon'

Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon was the first adventure I ever played. It makes a kind of sense that it be the adventure that brings my group into a B/X campaign. So lets take a look at it...

Teaching Tool
Escape from Zanzer's Dungeon is at its core, a teaching tool. In each of the four sections of the adventure introduces a small number of rules and lets the players play with for a short while to get the hange of them

Part 1:  Covers basic role-playing, how attributes work, and the basic dice mechanic and basic combat mechanic (roll to hit, hit points, damage and Initiative).

Part 2: Covers classes(excluding the magic user),  Combat (including armour class THAC0, weapons and ranged attacks)

Part 3: Covers the basics of traps, magc, magic users, moral, saving throws and encumbrance.

Part 4: Largely gets the players to put everything they have already learned to use. On the Dms side of the table, this section takes some time to teach about stocking dungeons.

Given that of my players, I know of only one definitely having played B/X ever, and both of use having not played it in years and year, it seems pretty reasonable to start the campaign with this kind of scenario.

What's going on.
Zanzer is a slaver who has kidnapped victims, and stuffed them into his salt mines, where he intend to work them to death. Zanzer employs humanoids to defend his mine and dungeon.

It is a pretty minimalist plot, and yet by the standards of some of the B-series adventures, it is an epic in with regards to the amount of explicit narrative it contains. That said, I want the initial episode to be fairly light on plot. It should exists as a shared challenge, to help bind the party together into one.

That said, I want to tie this adventure into one of the wider plots, so on the corpse of Zanzer Tem, the party will discover a letter connecting Zanzer Tem to the conspiracy from plot 1.

Strictly, Zanzer's dungeon is set in thunder rift, but I'll be moving it to the Grand Duchy of Karameikos.  In my campaign, the salt mine will be located beneath Stallanford, as a way to open up King's Festival as a possible second adventure, as well as assault on raven's ruin, which I intend to set near stallanford. That will mean I also need to place a Hook, in Stallenford, or the dungeon, to give the PCs reason to travel to Threshold, where I will be setting Castle Caldwell, and to give them access to the Caves of Chaos.

The greatest weakness of this scenario is the lack of real agency on the part of the PCs which dominates this scenario. The it a very linier pathway through the first two thirds of the adventure, with very few meaningful choices to be made in the entire adventure. That could easily leave my players a little bored and frustrated. However, it is a pretty short adventure and the rails here play a useful role, in helping to teach the Player the rules. .

There is a startling large amount of gold availible in Zanzer's dungeon, and very little of it actually comes in a form that is interesting. So, before running this, I am going to need to cut down the amount of  available, while making the remainder more interesting.

Stock your own adventure
Rooms 24 through to 28 are left empty for the DM to practice stocking the dungeon. I am thinking Rooms 25 and 26 seem like strong contenders for barracks rooms for the dungeons guards, while 24 and 27 might makes a good place for an ambush or trap. Room 28  is weird thanks to the ways its doors are setup. I shall have to think about what to do with it.


Zanzer's dungeon might be light on a strong backstory, but the scenario in which the characters find themselves means that there should be a good emergent narrative. It is a really good teaching tool, and should make a cool kick off to the campaign.