D&D 5E EN5ider #500 - Vault of Splintered Souls Megadungeon Preview

Later this week EN5ider releases its 500th issue, a megadungeon guided by our patrons and designed by over a dozen of our best writers: the Vault of Splintered Souls!

Vault of Splintered Souls DnD5E Level 4 Megadungeon Alternate FOR PROMOTIONAL PURPOSES.jpg
Update: The Vault of Splintered Souls MEGADUNGEON is now available!

Anyone that follows me on Mastodon may have spotted some early previews of the megadungeon and playtesting snapshots, and there was also a Q&A on the Random Worlds chatroom, but we've got a few extras yet. For example the map above is an alternate for Level 4: Kotaur's Charge by Anthony Alipio. We ultimately used something simpler (and have advice on hand-drawing a map so GMs playing in person don't have a stroke ;)) but for the most thorough groups of adventurers we figured this might be of interest.

Dungeon Design​

Regular readers may remember that this megadungeon was built using guidance from surveys (like this one) which determined overall themes: ancient, reactive, uses a deck of cards, and a classic feel. Everyone nailed it—each floor of the dungeon fits with the rest while being distinct with its own cool thing going on. The action-filled logic puzzle of the Crusher on level 2, the strange effects of level 6's Weeping Lady, the amplifying battles around the Soul Engine on level 8, and all the rest are beautiful episodes in the greater epic that is the Vault of Splintered Souls (with plenty of interconnected bits [the Aqualevel! ♥♥♥], soulshards aside).

Speaking of cohesive fun designs, Anthony's level is excellent. In addition to hitting the central themes (you'll see Kotaur himself on the cover soon!) he wanted to have a delve with nostalgia for Gauntlet, the party exploring a labyrinth in search of secret keys to progress forward. He did not stop there however, and there's some Marble Madness love too with a rolling sphere because the level tilts the further onward the PCs get. A little GM tool is used to keep track of the tilt so no worries there, and of course when everything's suddenly on a 20° incline the pit traps and ooze fights get a touch more exciting!

Soulshards and Soulsheets​

One of the dungeon's reactive elements are soulshards, little nail-sized bits of magic that appear in the party's pockets after they leave (most) rooms in the megadungeon. They each have their own little benefit (recharging the use of class features, gaining temporary hit points, a burst of speed or regained spell slot, ending a condition, dealing extra weapon damage) in addition to a variety of unique uses in various levels, and dispensing knowledge from and about the dungeon. Maybe the most rewarding part about soulshards is how they set up pacing for dungeon exploration; as a GM you quickly get into a habit of seeing how many to roll for, and when you forget the party is quick to ask whether they find more on their persons (and not a room goes unexplored!) Our layout artist Frank did an excellent job making this tool more legible and usable, and I look forward to having it on hand whenever I run this again (rather than my admittedly messy tally sheet).

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A Final Preview​

The names of each level and the excellent designers behind them!
  1. Necromancer's Detritus (Mike Myler)
  2. The Crushing Chorus (Andrew Engelbrite)
  3. The Tangle (Will Gawned)
    Aqualevel (Sarah Breyfogle; intentionally unnumbered)
  4. Kotaur's Charge (Anthony Alipio)
  5. Halls of Champions (Marc Kenobi)
  6. Weeping Halls (Rachel Williamson)
  7. Dug In (Peter Martin)
  8. Soul Engine (Michael McCarthy)
  9. Soul Laboratory (Levi Thompson)
  10. Trials of the Storykeeper (Charlie Brooks)
  11. Battle of Barvast Ridge (Tyler Omichinski)
  12. The Faceless Feast (Savannah Broadway)
  13. Final Floor (Mike Myler)
Also it would be remiss not to point out that Xanditz did a phenomenal job illustrating the maps for every floor of the megadungeon, Frank Michienzi's layout is beautiful, and I am super excited for eventually one day looking at Erik Davis-Heim's badass cover on my bookshelf. My thanks and admiration to everybody for their work—this thing is, I think the kids would say, choice.

If you are not already a member of EN5ider you are simply missing out. There are 5 new articles each month (including an adventure!), we are about to have an archive of 500 articles, and you can access them all as soon as you're a member (which can be as cheap as $5 a month).

Go to www.en5ider.com and sign up to get notified immediately when the Vault of Splintered Souls is published!

 
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Mike Myler

Mike Myler


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Keovar

AKA Thanatos from NKL/NTL days.
I think this starts at 6th level, so what suggestions are there for what to run up to that point?
I might start Mal Takkar as early as 4th-5th level because my players can probably handle it and I don't feel like dropping half the playable life of the characters.
I can use Elissar, Eberron, or general stuff, but I'd rather not use anything that requires Forgotten Realms lore.
I'll probably tone down magic items such that apart from consumables or joke items like the Wand of Smiles/Scowls, everthing requires atunement, and I'd drop the generic +1, +2, & +3 gear altogether.
 

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
I think this starts at 6th level, so what suggestions are there for what to run up to that point?
I might start Mal Takkar as early as 4th-5th level because my players can probably handle it and I don't feel like dropping half the playable life of the characters.
I can use Elissar, Eberron, or general stuff, but I'd rather not use anything that requires Forgotten Realms lore.
I'll probably tone down magic items such that apart from consumables or joke items like the Wand of Smiles/Scowls, everthing requires atunement, and I'd drop the generic +1, +2, & +3 gear altogether.

I would start with the Business of Emotion (2nd–3rd level), get them a level on the way up to the northern coast (probably run Devils in the Details or Trollguts [this would be choice because it foreshadows stuff on the megadungeon's first floor] in Northminster or maybe Town of the Dead somewhere in the wilderness), then do Dragon Turtle Surgery (4th–6th level) put the vault's plot seed in Swellgate.

When they have bested the megadungeon I'd pop them back into Holdenshire in the middle of Act II in To Smite A Fiend (which is the third PDF there; have Araqiel show up after the vault's finale on behalf of the Angelic Fane), finish that out, then complete the campaign with the elemental mini-adventures in Ostinad, Laskia, the Hinterlands, and finally the Southern Peaks.

If they're still keen on Elissar adventuring at that point, maybe Revenge of the Green Dragon for a fun romp to close it all out.


By the time my party finished the dungeon they were plumb out of attunement slots (some stuff went unused!) so I wouldn't overly worry about that. Might do OK starting at 5th level, provided they are smart about their dungeon delving, but if they are prone to foolish antics and foolhardy tactics they will very much miss the extra hit die when they're on the second floor.

Edit: Dropping the +bonuses to hit/damage on magical weapons likely won't unbalance things much, but having them just be able to deal magical damage is a factor in the design for some of the monsters along the way so magical weapons are found inside the vault. The warrior PCs will be very hard pressed if they can't deal magical weapon damage, so at the very least I would leave the weapons being magical (just nothing past that for a grittier and tougher experience).
 

Ghost2020

Adventurer
I have the to save a kingdom campaign, and I'm looking at the map and I can't find Mal Takkar.

Also I will second the not using a maze for a level. Those are notoriously difficult to GM, and they're not fun to play as a player.
One could do theater of the mind with the whole thing but honestly that doesn't work either.
Looking forward to this, it should be good!
 

Mike Myler

Have you been to LevelUp5E.com yet?
I have the to save a kingdom campaign, and I'm looking at the map and I can't find Mal Takkar.

Also I will second the not using a maze for a level. Those are notoriously difficult to GM, and they're not fun to play as a player.
One could do theater of the mind with the whole thing but honestly that doesn't work either.
Looking forward to this, it should be good!
It's under the first O in Ostinad
1697577776983.png


A big maze is definitely harder to do well so it's probably better that we ended up with the smaller maze in the book proper (which I am stoked to get a physical copy of!), especially with the other stuff happening on that floor
 




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