Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Carnage of the Blade Demons! - Behind the Screen

So last Saturday I wrote up and ran my first 5th edition D&D game, set in a new Sword and Sorcery world. I mentioned in that post that since I only had a couple hours to write it that I'd be utilizing the charts in the new DM guide to get the brain-juices flowing by randomly rolling up the dungeon adventure bits. I also said I'd let you guys know how it turned out. Well, here's the beef on how I went about creating the adventure from the random-generator charts.

 Rolls in DM Guide (from p94):

  • Dungeon Goal (8): Rescue a Captive
  • Adventure Villain (9): Humanoid Cultist
  • Adventure Patron (17): Family Member
  • Adventure Introduction (8): An NPC the characters care about needs them to go to the adventure location.
Okay, so the dice tell me I've got to incorporate a Humanoid Cultist. Fine. And I've got to make an NPC the characters care about get them to rescue a family member. Easy enough. The PCs are all Level 1 so I can just tell them who they care about ("Her name is [female name]. You guys grew up together in [village name]. She wants you to rescue her uncle [male name] from [insert dungeon here].") Easy enough. Moving on...
  • Villains Actions (3): Growing Corruption.
  • Event Goals (5): Discover the Nature of a Strange Phenomenon that might be the Villains doing.
  • Framing Events (4): Anniversary of Important Event.
  • Side Quest (6): Slay a Specific Monster.

Alright, the Strange Phenomenon could be missing villagers, so that fits with the 'Rescue A Captive' narrative above. Its the Anniversary of an Important Event... Maybe everyone in the village is celebrating the anniversary of [event], and that's why everyone is in the Tavern to start the game! (Gotta start the campaign in a Tavern. Its in the D&D bylaws). But the Villain's goal is to Grow Corruption? Well, sounds like the villain is doing something nasty and bad to the village. They are a Cultist, so not surprising, and not something I need to worry too much about at this point to finish the first dungeon. As far as 'Slay a Specific Monster,' that can just be a bounty on some creature in the wilderness or a side room they don't need to enter. But why would the Villain be in the dungeon in the first place? We need to know more about the dungeon itself.

  • Dungeon Creator (10): Giants
  • Dungeon Cults (6): Elemental Earth Cult
  • Dungeon Original Purpose (20): Treasure Vault
  • Dungeon History (3): Abandoned by Creators
It was an ancient Treasure Vault! Well now, that's interesting. Looks like I'll have to justify putting two Treasure "Hoards" instead of just one (at Level 1, Treasure "Hoards" are more like a piece of art and a potion, so not a big concern). The dice tell me that Giants originally created the dungeon but abandoned it. That reminded me of an episode of one of those off-the-wall History Channel shows: Search for the Lost Giants. In the episode of that show I recalled they explored something known as the "Goshen Tunnel" in Massachusetts. In that a couple of stonemasons find what they believe to be a 'zipper' in the ancient stonework deep underground, denoting a false wall and possibly hiding a secret passage. A quick Youtube episode refresher later and I've got a solid concept for how to start the adventure:

It is the Annual Festival of the Comet and the players are in the Tavern celebrating with their fellow townsfolk. People are in good humor, though a number of people have gone missing these last few months, more than could be accounted for by beasts in the woods or getting lost gathering food. Suddenly, the player's childhood friend, Lagertha, rushes into the Tavern in tears. She is frantic and starts begging anyone to help her find Thurston, her Uncle and town Archaeologist. He hasn't returned since he went to the old 'Goshen Tunnel' outside of town last night to explore what he told her was "An extraordinary find!" No one has seen him since, so she went out there today and could find no sign of him. Are you a Bad Enough Dude to rescue the Archaeologist?

Now, to randomly generate the map and treasure! I didn't write down my rolls while I was drawing it as I was running out of time before my players showed up, but I do have the map I ended up with (I took this pic after running the game, so it has all my notes on it, like where one character died, what artifacts the players sold vs. kept, etc.):

The map concept was that there was once a great advanced-technology dungeon there built by Atlantis-Giants (what can I say, the "History" Channel inspired me), but it sunk into the ground over time and was buried. More recently, I decided some creatures dug out portions of it, breaking into rooms here-and-there as they dug. So in the map above I denoted professionally worked stone with straight wall-lines, and cavern/rough stone as lines with a squiggly line running over them. This first dungeon was small enough that I could build it entirely pre-game with Dwarven Forge Dungeon Tiles. Due to Tile and tablespace limitations I didn't get a perfect representation of the map I rolled up, but certainly close enough.


But after all that, I still needed to shoehorn in something that justifies the epic title I came up with for this adventure: Chronicles of the Vorpal Chainsword, Episode 1: Carnage of the Blade Demons! Let's see, we've got a Humanoid Cultist, Ancient Giants, and Advanced Atlantean Technology....of course! ... ROBOTS!

Yes, I like to draw the monsters the players are going to encounter, because then the monsters can be as weird-looking as I want.
Final Plot: The Humanoid Cultist (I decided she's an Elf, because Elves are inherently devious and not to be trusted, so I'm going to say "Elven Cultist" from now on). The Elven Cultist somehow got wind of the ancient technology near the town, and has been kidnapping villagers for a nefarious purpose. Through Dark Rituals with Beings Beyond(tm), she's gained control of some of that Atlantean technology. She's using that knowledge to control the ancient constructs to kidnap and extract Vril crystal from the villagers' life-essence (gotta work Nazis and the Hollow Earth in there somehow), which is the power source that the Atlantean technology runs on. In the picture above, I show an Autopsy-bot and Chum-droid. The Autopsy-bot is a Spider-Skeletal robotic creature with tubes from its head that run up to tracks in the ceiling. One hand is of scalpels and the other has syringes for fingers. (It uses the Animated Armor stat block from the Monster Manual, only I've replaced the Animated Armor's second melee attack with a Poison attack -- Syringe-fingers: 1 point dmg, DC 11 Con or be paralyzed for 2d6 minutes -- and offset that with a Magic vulnerability [double damage from magic attacks]). The Blade Demon is vulnerable to Magic due to the player's primitive Arcane-weavings interfering with the Ancient Atlantean Techno-Magic it runs on...or whatever.  The Chum Droid looks like two colanders fitted together, with a buzzsaw blade around the outside and a flexible drill-neck on top. It drills through people, collects the organ meet, and filters out the soul-crystal bits, spraying blood out all around it as it hovers and processes the material like a floating sprinkler. (The Chum-droid uses the Flying Sword stat block, and for setting consistency also has the Magic vulnerability.)

Of course at the climax the PCs will enter the room just as the Chum-droid burrows up through the chest of the villager they were sent to save, extracting the precious soul-minerals from his blood and spraying gore everywhere.

But what about the rest of the dungeon? Well, I decided that "Grumpkins" will be the ones that have been burrowing tunnels and revealing small sections of the larger Atlantean Giants dungeon. What's a Grumpkin? Well, its like a Goblin, except its naked and burrows easily through earth. Okay, basically, its a Goblin. But I never use a creature's Monster Manual name in my games, as all monsters have their own ridiculous names given to them by the locals. Also, that way I can mess with a creature's abilities and no rules-lawyer can call foul on me.

I also had the Tavern patrons let the characters know about a bounty on Skitter-snatchers, and to watch out for Weevil-Wasps in the forest before going to the dungeon (to which one of the players exclaimed: "Weevil-whats?!"). I never explained what a Weevil-Wasp was for sure. Just to keep them on edge.
Hey, I said Grumpkins were naked, didn't I? You're lucky, the picture the players saw wasn't pixelated.
So the players had to navigate the Grumpkin tunnels, avoid the ancient Atlantean traps, fight their way past some Skitter-snatchers, and find the Blade Demon Lair. It was a grand old time!

The Monk character dies to an ancient Atlantean Trap in the first room!
A mysterious Ranger who had been secretly following the PCs helps out in the nick of time...totally unrelated to the dead Monk's player making a new character.

The Grumpkin Tunnels.
The Skitter-Snatcher Lair (w/ Treasure Hoard 1)
Lair of the Blade Demons! (w/ Treasure Hoard 2)
I'm not revealing the details on the Elven Cultist for now, because she actually got away through a secret passage while the players were fighting the robots, and I've got further plans for her. But I hope this write-up of Dungeon Building was an enjoyable read, and helps inspire you to start your own game of 5th edition D&D! It really is easier than it looks!

Game On!

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