D&D 5E EXPERIMENT: Fractal Adventure Design

BookTenTiger

He / Him
EDIT: I wrote this in haste as my baby son was taking a nap. I'm editing it now for clarity.

I'm trying an experiment in which I base every aspect of an adventure on the facets of the characters. This is an extreme version of a technique I already use in my campaigns. I'll usually start with a basic premise, then add to the campaign world based on the characters. For example, in my last campaign one of the characters was a tortle, so I decided one of the most common races in the campaign setting would be tortles. Another character had the gladiator background, so I made it so that fighting competitions were part of the culture of the setting. And so on.

In this experiment, I have created the structure of an adventure, without filling in any details. I then created an adventuring party with four characters. I filled in each detail with an aspect from one of the characters.

The Adventure

I based the adventure off of one of my favorites: the Sunless Citadel. The basic premise of this adventure is:

A small town, split by two rival fractions, is threatened by the denizens of a nearby dungeon.

The basic components of this adventure are:

The Town: the main hub where the characters will spend most of their social time.
The Wilderness: a stretch of wild between the town and the dungeon.
The Dungeon: a series of chambers with monsters, NPCs, traps, and treasures.
The Camp: a second, smaller settlement near the dungeon.

For each component I will create a basic outline in which all the details are blank. I will then fill in those details with ideas based on the skills, tool proficiencies, languages, class features, and traits of the characters. Let's see what happens!

The Characters

Using Dndbeyond, I created four basic first-level characters:

Arkmenos, a Dragonborn Warlock of the Great Old One (Background: Sage)
Bug, a Halfling Fighter focusing on Archery (Background: Urchin)
Croto Croweye, a Goliath Cleric of the Nature Domain (Background: Folk Hero)
Danara of Dorandel, a Barbarian (Background: Knight)

I created a spreadsheet in which I listed all of the characters' races, classes, backgrounds, ideals, bonds, flaws, skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, language proficiencies, and features and abilities.

CharacterRaceClass (Subclass)BackgroundIdealBondFlawSkill ProficienciesTool Proficiencies / Imporant EquipmentLanguagesTraits, Features, Abilities
ArkmenosDragonbornWarlock (Great Old One)SageNo Limits. Nothing should fetter the infinite possibility inherent in all existence. (Chaotic)My life’s work is a series of tomes related to a specific field of lore.I am easily distracted by the promise of information.ArcanaSpell Focus (Orb)DraconicOtherworldy Patron: Great Old One
HistoryDwarvishEldritch Blast (Cantrip)
IntimidationUndercommonMinor Illusion (Cantrip)
InvestigationDissonant Whispers (1st Level Spell)
Unseen Servant (1st Level Spell(
Awakened Mind (telepathy 30 ft)
Green Dragon Ancestry Breath Weapon (Poison)
Green Dragon Ancestry Poison Resistance
Researcher: know where to find information and lore
BugHalflingFighterUrchinCommunity. We have to take care of each other, because no one else is going to do it. (Lawful)I sponsor an orphanage to keep others from enduring what I was forced to endure.Gold seems like a lot of money to me, and I’ll do just about anything for more of it.AcrobaticsDisguise KitHalflingArchery
PerceptionThieves' ToolsSecond Wind
Sleight of HandLongbowLucky
StealthBrave (adv vs frightened)
Halfling Nimbleness
Naturally Stealthy
City Secrets (can travel fast through cities)
Croto CroweyeGoliathCleric (Nature)Folk HeroFreedom. Tyrants must not be allowed to oppress the people. (Chaotic)I wish my childhood sweetheart had come with me to pursue my destiny.Secretly, I believe that things would be better if I were a tyrant lording over the land.Animal HandlingBrewer's SuppliesGiantAcolyte of Nature: Druidcraft
AthleticsVehicles (Land)Light
InsightHoly Symbol (Amulet)Toll the Dead
MedicineGreatclubWord of Radiance
PerformanceChain MailAnimal Friendship
SurvivalBless
Healing Word
Sanctuary
Speak with Animals
Acolyte of Nature: Animal Handling
Bonus Proficiency: Heavy Armor
Natural Athlete (Athletics)
Stone's Endurance
Powerful Build
Mountain Born
Rustic Hospitality (common folk will protect you)
Danara of DorandelHumanBarbarianKnightRespect. Respect is due to me because of my position, but all people regardless of station deserve to be treated with dignity. (Good)My house’s alliance with another noble family must be sustained at all costs.I have an insatiable desire for carnal pleasures.AthleticsDragonchess SetDwarvishRage
HistoryGreatswordElvishUnarmored Defense
PerceptionFeat: Tavern Brawler
PersuasionRetainers (three loyal NPCs)
Religion

Structure for the Town

To start off, I created a structure for the town. I thought it would be interesting to have two rival fractions, one being harmed by the nearby dungeon, and one being helped by the denizens of that dungeon. I left a ton of gaps in the description to be filled in by aspects from the characters.

The Town:

We begin in a community of (race and race) run by an organization of (class / background / users of a tool) who share the belief (ideal). This organization is being harmed by the denizens of a nearby dungeon.

They are rivaled by an organization of (class / background / users of a tool) who shares a flaw (flaw), and who are experts at (skill / trait, feature, ability). This organization is secretly working with the denizens of a nearby dungeon.

The central hub of the town is a location where one can purchase supplies for (tool). An influential NPC (race and class / background / user of a tool) spends time there and is an expert in (skill). They will attempt to hinder the characters in their quest.

Another important location is a place where (background) gather. A second NPC (race and class / background / user of a tool) spends time there, and is an expert in (trait, feature, ability). They may assist the characters in their quest.

In town is also a shop that sells (tools) and a training ground for (skill / ability).

A final location is a place where (race / class) gather. This place is in disrepair. If the characters invest time and gold, they will be rewarded with something that empowers (skill / trait, feature, ability).

Filling In the Gaps

I then started to fill in the gaps with the races, classes, backgrounds, etc pulled from the characters. I made sure to divide the aspects evenly between the characters, but I used dice to make it as random as possible.

For example, here's how I added notes to the first paragraph of the Town structure:

The Town

We begin in a community of (race Arkmenos and race Danara) run by an organization of (class / background / users of a tool Bug) who share the belief (ideal Croto). This organization is being harmed by the denizens of a nearby dungeon.

...

I then either chose or rolled randomly on my spreadsheet for aspects from each character, and wound up with:

The Town

We begin in a community of Dragonborn and Humans run by an organization of Archers who share the belief in freedom, that tyrants shall never again rule over this land. This organization is being harmed by the denizens of a nearby dungeon.

...

Cool! I love the idea of a band of Robin Hoods going around, kicking the butts of tyrant wannabes!

I continued to fill in the gaps, against using dice to make the process as random as possible, then figuring out fiction that could justify the results. And here's what I came up with...

The Town, finalized:
I'm noting the name of each character I pulled an aspect from. Again, even the order of the characters was randomized, though I tried to be equitable.

The adventure begins in Greenmount, a village at the foot of the mountains. Its population is made up mostly of Dragonborn (Arkmenos) and humans (Danara).

The village is run by the Greenfolk Council, a group of scouts and rangers who patrol the mountainside and are famed for their skill in archery (Bug). The Greenfolk Council was first formed during an uprising against a tyrant in a bygone era. Since then they have made sure no tyrant will ever rule the land again (Croto).

These lands are dangerous, and when a family of mountain folk suffer a tragic loss, the Greenfolk Council will take in their children as wards, training them in archery and survival skills. They house these children in an orphanage called Arrow’s Flight. (Bug)

The Greenfolk Council is currently being harmed by the denizens of a local dungeon.

The Greenfolk Council is rivaled by a militia of Eldritch Knights (Danara) called Hands of Fire, experts at both martial combat and harmful spells (Arkmenos). They secretly wish to replace the Council and take over the town, and eventually all the communities of the mountain range (Croto). It will be revealed that the Hans of Fire are working with the denizens of a local dungeon.

Most townsfolk gather in the Mystic Market, an open-air plaza that’s known for its shops selling wands, staves, and other spell foci created by mysterious mountain spellbinders (Arkmenos). A famous human thief named Vyra Foxfoot spends a lot of time here, telling stories of her famed robberies in the larger cities near Greenmount (Bug). She will prove to be a thorn in the characters’ sides.

Another important location is a great hall where the Hands of Fire and other knights (Danara) gather to plan, train, and drink. A goliath (Croto) cleric (Croto) named Stormheart spends time here, preferring to gamble with the knights rather than train. He is an expert in the magic and practice of luck (Bug), and can bless the characters with runes that provide divine luck.

In Greenmount, the characters will find the Stone Hollow, a hidden shop that sells thieves’ tools (Bug) and other forbidden supplies, and a small but well-stocked library where they can train in History (Arkmenos).

The characters will also find a stone altar to the god of the mountains. The few goliaths (Crotos) in town gather here to worship and sing praises to the mountains, but the altar is in disrepair. If the characters spend time and money to repair it, the goliaths will reward them with a magic stone that speaks the language of the mountains, and grants the wielder advantage on History checks (Danara).

Reflection

This was a lot of fun! I wasn't sure it would work out, but I really like this town. One of the most successful aspects was pulling from the ideals and flaws of the characters in order to flesh out organizations. Coincidentally, the ideal of the Greenfolk Council and the flaw of the Hands of Fire were pulled from the same character, but that worked out great!

It would be a lot of fun to watch the players and their characters interact with this town, finding so much in common. I liked how goliaths were introduced through random rolls, but become a really interesting part of the town with their altar.

Okay, the next step is the Wilderness, then the Dungeon, the real meat of the adventure!
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Wilderness

The purpose of the Wilderness is to provide a little excitement and flavor as the characters travel back and forth from the Town to the Dungeon. I decided to focus my structure on a brief history of the area, and then on some social, exploration, and combat challenges I might pepper in as "random" encounters. Finally, I want there to be interesting rewards to find!

The Wilderness

To reach the dungeon, or when exploring around the town, the characters will have to pass through the wilderness. This wilderness used to be inhabited by an ancient peoples (language) who shared an ideal (ideal), and their ruins can be found throughout the land.

There are various threats and opportunities in the wilderness.

Social Challenges:

The characters might face the following social challenges:
  • A situation in which (skill / language / class feature) would be useful.
  • A situation in which (skill / language / class feature) would be useful.

The characters might face the following exploration challenges:
  • A situation in which (skill / tool / class feature) would be useful.
  • A situation in which (skill / tool / class feature) would be useful.

The characters might face the following combat challenges:
  • A situation in which (skill / language / class feature) would be useful.
  • A situation in which (skill / language / class feature) would be useful.

If the characters are successful in overcoming a challenge, they may find the following rewards:
  • A reward that helps a character’s bond (bond).
  • A reward that helps a character’s class feature (class feature).
  • A reward that helps a tool (tool).

Finally, there are some side quests involving the wilderness.

Someone in the main hub wishes the characters to find an NPC (Goliath and class / background / user of a tool A) who succumbed to a flaw (flaw B).

Someone in a second location wishes the characters to find an item or resource related to (tool A) that might be recovered using (skill / class feature B).

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Once again, I rolled randomly to determine which characters' aspects would be used to fill in the gaps. I got some very interesting results!

One of the most important set of rolls was right in the beginning. It created a history and theme for the wilderness:

The Wilderness

To reach the dungeon, or when exploring around the town, the characters will have to pass through the wilderness. This wilderness used to be inhabited by an ancient peoples (language Croto) who shared an ideal (ideal Danara), and their ruins can be found throughout the land.

...

Croto's only language other than Common is Giant. Danara's ideal is Respect for All People. Looking at the different giants, I decided that it would make sense for Stone Giants to have built a temple inside the mountains. Maybe the dungeon will be inside one of these abandoned ancient temples???

When it came time to flesh out the encounters, I used the rolls as inspiration. The idea is that the skill, tool, language, or feature rolled could be used to solve the problem, but doesn't have to be. That way, there's still an opportunity for player innovation.

The Wilderness, Finalized

Greenmount is surrounded by the Giant’s Chain, a range of tall, imposing mountains rising from thick forests of pine and oak. Long ago, the mountain caves were home to a sect of stone giant (Croto) priests, who built a vast cathedral in the dark depths. But those caves and tunnels have crumbled over the years, and now beautifully carved arches and entryways stand above the ruins. Those who can decipher the giants’ runes know that the stone giants here worshiped Mononok, a god of the mountains, who taught the ideal of respect for all peoples (Danara). It is said many of the towns and cities around the mountains are built on stone foundations provided by these ancient giants.

There are various threats and opportunities in the wilderness.

The characters might face the following social challenges:
  • A traveling scholar is attempting to decipher the carvings on an ancient pillar. A successful History check (Arkmenos) connects the carvings to a legend of a treasure hidden within nearby ruins. Will the scholar want to share in this discovery or keep the treasure for themselves?
  • A group of goliath athletes (Bug) are training for a competition of strength and sport in a goliath village further north in the Giant’s Chain mountains. Their champion will want to prove his might against the characters in competitions of rock throwing, wrestling, and other feats of strength!

The characters might face the following exploration challenges:
  • The characters come upon a thieves’ hideout, a series of tents and lean-to’s hidden in the shade of the tall forest trees. The thieves all belong to a gang called the Fangs and have a tattoo of a saber-tooth tiger’s fangs on their faces. Will the characters choose to sneak by, fight the thieves, or infiltrate (Bug) to steal their treasure?
  • The characters come upon a wide, deep chasm at the bottom of which is a dangerous, fast-flowing river. On either side of the chasm stand stone columns covered in giants’ runes. If a character uses a Spell Focus (Arkmenos) to concentrate on a column, a stone bridge magically grows from the walls of the chasm. Unfortunately, the magic is old and unpredictable, and it also animate the river below into a number of steam mephits! If the caster’s concentration is broken, there is a 10% chance the column- and bridge- will crumble.

The characters might face the following combat challenges:
  • The characters encounter a number of statues of petrified dragonborn, humans, and goliaths. On the oldest statues, a strange lichen grows over the weather-worn features. A character can use Medicine (Croto) to identify that this lichen, when ingested, grants characters advantage on saving throws versus petrification. Unfortunately, these statues are the result of a basilisk which nests nearby!
  • The characters encounter a family with a wagon full of herbal medicines (and some healing potions) being robbed by a band of thieves. The characters may be able to Persuade (Danara) the thieves from hurting the family, or might try to gain initiative and solve the problem through magic and steel!

If the characters are successful in overcoming a challenge, they may find the following rewards:
  • As a reward, the characters gain access to a trove of ancient scrolls written in the giant language. When translated, they provide knowledge thought lost to modern civilization (Arkmenos), along with a few handy spell scrolls!
  • As a reward, the characters gain an Oathbow, an ancient longbow (Bug) that was gifted to the Stone Giants by some lost civilization of elves.
  • As a reward, the characters gain a Dragonchess Set (Danara) carved entirely from rare gems. The set itself is worth 2,000 gold pieces. However, those proficient with the set can use it it impress nobility or those who idolize wealth, and can gain advantage on Charisma checks made against anyone who plays the game with them.

Finally, there are some side quests involving the wilderness:

A seller of trinkets in the Mystics’ Market asks the characters to try to find one of his employees, a young goliath (Croto). She had won a treasure map in a wrestling match, and foolishly set off into the mountains in search of wealth (Bug). Unfortunately, the map led right to the nest of a basilisk. The goliath is half-turned to stone, her natural endurance keeping the curse from fully consuming her. She is hiding out with stone legs and a stone arm, hoping someone will come rescue her!

One of the Hands of Fire wishes to increase his magical capabilities using the runes of the ancient Stone Giants. He will offer to pay the characters to find and bring back a stone with the rune for “pain.” The knight means to carve the stone into an orb (Arkmenos), though which he will unlock more powerful evocation magics. Unfortunately, the rune can only be found on the half-crumbled statue of a fomorian, whose topaz eye causes the frightened condition (Bug) on any who approach!

Reflections

Okay, this was even more fun! I really enjoyed the process of coming up with challenges I know the characters have tools to solve. The rewards are great too, and can be placed in any of those challenges. I can imagine dropping in these challenges to freshen things up, or to drive up the tension, after a long day's fights in the dungeon.

I can't wait to see what happens when I start rolling up my dungeon!
 

dave2008

Legend
This is a bit much for me to take all in at the moment, but I appreciate you sharing you process. It sounds really interesting. If I get some time later I will dig in a little deeper.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
This is a bit much for me to take all in at the moment, but I appreciate you sharing you process. It sounds really interesting. If I get some time later I will dig in a little deeper.
Thanks! Ha ha, I know it is a lot. I'm struggling to put together a new gaming group after moving cross-country, so this is how I'm getting out all my D&D creative energy!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon

Here's where things get crazy. I'm interested to find out if this Fractal Adventure Design will survive being used to fill out the details of a Dungeon. For the dungeon, I'm using the always on-point 5 Room Dungeon ethos.

In this post I'm going to focus on the overall theme and design of the dungeon. In later posts I will flesh out each "room."

Here's the structure I came up with for the dungeon as a whole. You can see I've already randomly assigned characters to each blank.

The Dungeon

This dungeon was once occupied by (class / background / users of a tool - Danara) who were masters of (skill / class ability - Croto) and had the ideal (ideal - Arkmenos), but fell because of a flaw (flaw - Bug).

The dungeon is divided into five zones:

  1. Descent
  2. Maze
  3. Atrium
  4. Lair
  5. Antechamber

There are three major threats to be found throughout the dungeon.

The Big Bad, to be encountered in the lair and antechamber, is a threat related to (class / skill / language - Croto). It is resistant to (class ability - Arkmenos) and vulnerable to (class ability - Danara). It will attempt to take advantage of a character’s flaw (flaw - Bug). The Big Bad has been orchestrating harm against the major organization of the town through use of its subordinate threats, the Goon and the Minion. Its goal is antithetical to the ideal of the major organization.

The Goon, to be encountered in the Atrium, Maze, and Lair, is a threat related to (class / skill / language - Bug). It is resistant to (class ability - Croto) and vulnerable to (class ability - Arkmenos). Its defeat is connected to a character’s bond (bond - Danara). The Goon has been working with a major NPC in the town.

The Minion, to be encountered in the Descent, Atrium, and Maze, is a threat related to (class / skill / language - Bug). It is resistant to (class ability - Danara) and vulnerable to (class ability - Croto). Its behavior or goals are antithetical to a character’s ideal (ideal - Arkmenos). The Minion has been working with the rival organization in town.

Rolling and Filling in the Details

I went through and rolled up all the details. Some of this is pretty... interesting!

The Dungeon

This dungeon was once occupied by (users of greatsword) who were masters of insight and had the ideal of no limits: nothing should fetter the infinite possibility inherent in all existence (Chaotic), but fell because of a flaw: gold seems like a lot of money to me, and I’ll do anything to get more of it.

The dungeon is divided into five zones:

  1. Descent
  2. Maze
  3. Atrium
  4. Lair
  5. Antechamber

There are three major threats to be found throughout the dungeon.

The Big Bad, to be encountered in the lair and antechamber, is a threat related to giant. It is resistant to awakened mind (telepathy) and vulnerable to rage. It will attempt to take advantage of a character’s flaw: gold seems like a lot of money to me and I’ll do anything to get more of it. The Big Bad has been orchestrating harm against the major organization of the town through use of its subordinate threats, the Goon and the Minion. Its goal is antithetical to the ideal of the major organization.

The Goon, to be encountered in the Atrium, Maze, and Lair, is a threat related to sleight of hand. It is resistant to light and vulnerable to unseen servant. Its defeat is connected to a character’s bond: my house’s alliance with another noble family must be sustained at all costs. The Goon has been working with a major NPC in the town.

The Minion, to be encountered in the Descent, Atrium, and Maze, is a threat related to Halfling. It is resistant to tavern brawler and vulnerable to word of radiance. Its behavior or goals are antithetical to a character’s ideal: no limits: nothing should fetter the infinite possibility inherent in all existence. The Minion has been working with the rival organization in town.

Fleshing It Out

Okay, this wound up being a on of fun! Some surprises: the Big Bad is a Stone Giant Mind Flayer! Halfling undead thieves! Grimlocks!

Here's the writeup I created:

...

The Dungeon

The dungeon is an abandoned fortress built into the side of the mountain. It was once occupied by a famed group of mercenaries known as the Stone Swords. They were legendary warriors who had learned the patience and insight of the Stone Giants. Their fighting style, called the Way of Stone’s Wisdom, involved carefully observing an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses before delivering a single, fatal blow. Unfortunately, the group fell to infighting when two rival tyrants tried to buy out the mercenary band with egregious sums of gold. The short civil war ended in the death or exile of almost all the mercenaries.

The Bastion of the Stone Swords has been taken over by Valhaxron, a Stone Giant Mind Flayer (stats of a mind flayer, but Huge, and Tentacles reach 10 feet). Valhaxron, as well as the other Stone Giants who once lived in a great cathedral inside the mountain, journeyed from the realm in a search of further knowledge and wisdom. Unfortunately, he traveled too far, and fatefully encountered a cluster of mind flayers. The illithids brought Valhaxron to an elder brain, and he was transformed and forced to join the collective. Valhaxron still has the height and stature of a Stone Giant, but his skin is a translucent purple, beneath which one can see his pumping organs and other strange, squirming forms. The top of his bald head swells into a brain-like crown, and ten-foot tentacles hang from his face like a slimy, writhing beard. He wears breastplate beaten from the metals of asteroids, draped with heavy black fabrics.

Valhaxron is forming an army here in the Bastion of the Stone Swords, in order to take over the Giant’s Chain and prepare its people for the arrival of the elder brain. He has spread rumors of a great fortune hidden within the Bastion. When greedy townsfolk come to claim the treasure, Valhaxron takes over their minds and sends them back home. There, they attempt to take over their towns, dismantling any defenses that could stand in the way of the elder brain.

Unfortunately, the Greenfolk Council always shows up and fights the attempted takeover. Thus, Valhaxron has turned his attention to Greenmount. He has made an alliance with the Hands of Fire, promising them untold arcane power should they destroy the Greenfolk Council. Meanwhile, he builds his army piece by piece, preparing for the arrival of his own master.

Valhaxron brought long a band of grimlocks he uses as enforcers for his army. When he feasts on the brains of his victims, the giant mind flayer will give the corpse to the grimlocks. In return, they worship him as a god. The grimlocks, with their blindsight and keen hearing, make natural guards in the empty stone hallways of the Bastion of the Stone Sword. They are always listening and smelling for objects of power to bring to their master, and will attempt to steal magic weapons, wands, and even potions from adventurers. However, the grimlocks are not the most intelligent sentinels, and can be easily tricked by false footsteps or other distracting noises.

When Vyra Foxfoot, the braggart thief of the Mystic Market, followed rumors of gold to the Bastion of the Stone Sword, she was captured by the grimlocks. She earned her freedom by promising to spread rumors herself, and has been doing so in Greenmount. Every week or so a grimlock will make its way into her home at night and leave a bag of bloody coins.

Danara will recognize grimlocks as the foe of the Fernvale Family, a noble house allied with her own. When Vernon Fernvale, a far-traveling prince, brought back a strange black magic orb from one of his journeys, the noble house was invaded by a band of grimlocks who ended many lives before reclaiming the magic object. Could this be the same clan?

The rest of Valhaxron’s army is made up of those tempted by his rumors of gold: thieves, bandits, and urchins. A large group of halfling thieves has taken up residency in the outer halls of the Bastion of the Stone Sword. Few of them have ever met the giant Mind Flayer who rewards them with treasures taken from his victims. However, Valhaxron slowly feeds on their thoughts, memories, and dreams at night. Half of the thieves have become undead without the others realizing it, though soon they will all share this fate.

Valhaxron has used the halflings as liaisons between himself and the Hands of Fire. He has already gifted the Eldritch Knights with a few magic items of immeasurable power, and the halflings have promised to bring more if the Greenfolk Council is dismantled.

The halfling thieves have the stats of a Bandit (but are Small, and have the skill Acrobatics +3. They also have the following ability: Hollow Soul: When a Halfling Bandit is reduced to 0 Hit Points, it rises as a zombie. The Bandit gains 1d8+1 hit points, changes its creature type to Undead, and gains Vulnerability to Radiant damage. Its Intelligence score is reduced to 3.)

Reflection

This worked incredibly well. I never would have come up with the idea of a Stone Giant Mind Flayer without rolling what I did. The armies of grimlocks and halfling soon-to-be-zombies, the thief spreading rumors in the market square, the empty halls of a giant stone fortress... it all adds up to a nice, creepy atmosphere. I love it!

Next up I'll start fleshing out the dungeon itself. I'm using the Five Room Dungeon as inspiration. Should be fun!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon Part 1: The Descent

In planning out this dungeon, I have divided it into five sections. Each section is based on the guidelines of the 5 Room Dungeon.

The Descent is themed around Entrance and Guardian. There should be a reason travelers cannot simply waltz into this dungeon. And overcoming this guardian should use some skill.

Here's the structure I came up with for the Descent:

...

The Descent

Few travelers have been able to enter the dungeon because of The Guardian. It is an obstacle that might be overcome through the use of (skill) or (class ability). Throughout the Descent the characters will face the Minion and see evidence of The Goon.

An NPC or organization in town wishes the characters to retrieve a resource related to (skill / tool / class ability) from the Descent. Accessing it requires overcoming a challenge, possibly using (skill / class ability).

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

I randomly rolled up a character and aspect for each blank:

The Descent

Few travelers have been able to enter the dungeon because of The Guardian. It is an obstacle that might be overcome through the use of Insight (Croto) or Rage (Danara). Throughout the Descent the characters will face the Minion and see evidence of The Goon.

An NPC or organization in town wishes the characters to retrieve a resource related to Longbow (Bug) from the Descent. Accessing it requires overcoming a challenge, possibly using Investigation (Arkmenos).

Filling in the Details

Okay, I will admit I thought I'd broken my fractal adventure. What kind of challenge could be overcome by Insight or Rage??? I wound up coming up with a really fun puzzle that could be solved in different ways, and that could be encountered throughout the dungeon. I then wrote out a little sketch of what the characters might find. My goal here is not to detail the dungeon room-by-room, but to have enough details that I could quickly sketch out a map.

The Descent

The entrance to the Bastion of the Stone Swords can be found in a crag carved into the steep slope of the mountain. The crag is heavily forested, but a keen eye can spot a lightly-traveled trail leading into its depths.

A few halfling bandits are hiding in the trees, keeping guard. Their job is to allow in lone travelers or pairs. Once they see a group of heavily-armed adventurers, some will intervene with am ambush, while others retreat to the Bastion to warn their grimlock overseers.

The small, twisting path leads through tall trees and thorny berry bushes to a broad set of crumbling stone steps leading to the raw face of the crag’s cliffside. Set into the cliff is a set of huge stone doors. Two stone greatswords cross in front of the doors, preventing them from being opened. The stone doorframe is carved with all manor of fearsome monsters and beasts.

This door is barred by the two stone swords (which are actually flying swords). It can be broken open by a Strength (Athletics) check DC 17, or by dealing 27 damage (AC 17). However, the first time a character attempts to force open the door, or damage it, the two flying swords are activated and will fight until they are destroyed. Once both flying swords leave the door, the door can be opened freely. New stone flying swords will magically reappear at sunrise.

When a character first approaches within 20 feet of the door, a stone gargoyle with a large, beak-like mouth at the top of the door frame will magically begin to speak. It will say (in Common), “Urgently I require fallen treats!”

This guardian gargoyle is part of a security system created by a mischievous stone giant for the Stone Swords. Each guardian gargoyle requires a certain object in order for its door to unlock. The gargoyle gives a clue to its key hidden in a strange sentence. If the characters rearrange the first letter of each word, it forms “fruit.” A piece of fruit or berry tossed into the gargoyle’s mouth magically unlocks the doors.

A character may make a Wisdom (Insight) check to notice that the gargoyle sounds hungry.

Behind the doors, the characters will find a series of old, but well-crafted rooms connected by stairs descending down into the mountainside. The halfling bandits have made camp here, and use these rooms to craft their weapons, hoard their stolen goods, and plan their upcoming robberies along the roads of the Giant’s Chain. The bandits use a crack in the cliff face, which they have carved into a tiny tunnel, to enter and leave the Bastion without having to go through the magic door.

The descent is in three levels. On the top level, the bandits hoard their stolen goods. On the second level, the bandits have their camps and craft their weapons. On the final floor, the bandits meet with their grimlock overseers to plan out robberies and missions given by Valhaxron (whom none of the halflings have met, except in their nightmares).

The characters can access the next level of the Bastion through a dark tunnel of a hallway. This is where the grimlocks leave corpses to be pilfered by the halflings. Some of the corpses have been butchered by the grimlocks; others have been left to rot. In truth, the grimlocks leave this terrible tomb so that any invaders will smell of rot and be easier to track.

Very little furniture or decorations remain from when the Stone Swords inhabited these halls. However, the walls are carved with scenes of battle, or words of stone giant wisdom carved in the runes used by giants.

One room appears to have once been an armory. There are still rusted hooks on the walls where weapons might have hung, and the crumbled remains of a forge and anvil near a ventilation shaft. A weaponsmith in the Greenfolk Council will request that the characters find this room and recover any hidden magical weapons to be studied and replicated.

The walls of this room are clearly carved with warriors wielding different weapons: a greatsword, a shortsword and a dagger, a warhammer, and a bow. The characters may notice that every warrior has a weapon in his hands except one: the archer has an empty hand closed in a fist. A character using Intelligence (Investigation) will understand that an arrow belongs in this hand, and that the closed hand is a clue to a closed and hidden secret door.

Touching an arrow to the hand causes a magical effect, in which the hand seems to open. At the same time, a secret door opens, allowing the characters to access a small room. This was once storage for magic arrows. Only one quiver remains, with 20 Walloping Arrows. They are formed from stone, but the giants’ runes carved upon them make them light as wooden arrows.

Reflections

Again, this worked out a lot better than I could have imagined! I really like those guardian gargoyles, I wound up coming up with a bunch of scrambled mnemonic clues. Honestly I'm going to be scavenging this adventure for lots of fun things to use in future campaigns.

Next up, the Maze, where the characters will face a Puzzle or Roleplay Challenge.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon Part 2: The Maze

The Maze follows the guidelines for Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge. My goal is that this second level of the dungeon is a different experience than the first, while still progressing logically and tying into larger themes. Let's see how it goes!

Here's the structure I came up with for the Maze:

The Maze

While the Descent is a fairly straightforward series of rooms, the Maze opens up in many directions. Characters might use (skill / tool / language) to find their way through, though using (skill / class feature) will be a challenge. In order to continue to the Atrium, the characters must overcome an obstacle that cannot be solved through combat alone. This problem might be solved through the use of (skill / tool) or (class feature). In the Maze, the characters will encounter The Minion as well as the Goon.

There is a treasure to be found in the Maze related to (bond / class feature) that is blocked by the Guardian.

The characters will encounter an NPC (race / language and class / background / user of a tool) with a goal related to (ideal / bond / flaw) who might be convinced to provide assistance.

The characters may find an object or resource related to (background / skill / tool) that is highly valued by an NPC or organization in the town.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

I rolled up random aspects from each character:

The Maze

While the Descent is a fairly straightforward series of rooms, the Maze opens up in many directions. Characters might use Investigation (Arkmenos) to find their way through, though using Bless (Croto) will be a challenge. In order to continue to the Atrium, the characters must overcome an obstacle that cannot be solved through combat alone. This problem might be solved through the use of Thieves’ Tools (Bug) or Tavern Brawler (Danara). In the Maze, the characters will encounter The Minion as well as the Goon.

There is a treasure to be found in the Maze related to Arkmenos’ Bond: my life’s work is a series of tomes related to a specific field of lore, that is blocked by the Guardian.

The characters will encounter a halfling (Bug) with a goal related to Croto’s flaw: secretly, I believe things would be better if I were a tyrant lording over the land, who might be convinced to provide assistance.

The characters may find an object or resource related to greatsword (Danara) that is highly valued by an NPC or organization in the town.

Filling in the Details

There was a lot of cool stuff that came up here. Some things were obvious: using Investigation to find a way through a maze, using Thieves' Tools to get past an obstacle, a Halfling NPC who wants to be a tyrant... But other things were pretty strange. How could Bless be difficult to use? How could Tavern Brawler get characters past the same obstacle as Thieves' Tools???

Oh, a quick note: I decided that the Halfling Thieves are members of the Fangs, which can be encountered in the Wilderness. It seems like it would make sense to tie those together.

Here's what I came up with:

The Maze

The underground barracks and training grounds of the Bastion of the Stone Swords are now occupied by grimlocks and other aberrations brought by Valhaxron, as well as a more powerful sect of the Fangs (the halfling thieves). This level of the Bastion has started to become warped by the chaotic magic of Valhaxron. The hallways constantly echo with strange whispers, granting characters disadvantage on Concentration checks. False, illusory doors appear, which collapse into pits, rubble, or even the occasional mimic when crossed. Luckily, characters can use Intelligence (Investigation) to tell the true paths from the false.

Halfling members of the Fangs who have lost their minds to Valhaxron’s hunger are now housed here, having been transformed into cannibalistic ghouls. They share a hunger and a home with the grimlocks who serve as Valhaxron’s enforcers, and their pet gricks.

To continue to the next level of the Bastion, the characters will have to find a way to pass through a heavy, nearly-unbreakable door secured with two strange, illogic locks forged in the Far Realm. Attempting to break the locks causes psychic damage to those nearby. The locks can be opened with a very high Thieves’ Tools Check (DC 25), or by retrieving two keys from a choker keymaster. The keys, however, are animated objects, and will try to flee into the darkness if the choker is defeated.

In the training hall, the characters will find a second guardian gargoyle door. When approached, a gargoyle with an empty eye socket will say, “Glimmer mine eye.” An Insight check will reveal that the gargoyle sounds greedy. A character who places a gem in the eye socket will open the door, revealing the remains of a library. Among the moldy remains of parchments and tomes, the characters will find a few magic scrolls, along with a Tome of Clear Thought.

The Bastion’s barracks has been turned into a prison, where some thieves and wanderers still remain uneaten. Among them is Zenra, a halfling Fang who grew suspicious of Valhaxron and tried to sneak down to the lowest levels of the Bastion to learn more about their mysterious leader. She recognizes that her companions are being turned into undead, and wants to reclaim leadership of her group. She is willing to assist the characters if they help her with this goal, and spare any other living Fangs. Of course, her ultimate goals are greater than leadership of just the Fangs… She too wishes to control the Giant’s Chain!

One treasure the characters will find is a Flametongue Greatsword crafted by the Stone Swords. The Hands of Fire will pay handsomely for this weapon, and may even try to steal it (or convince the Fangs to steal it) from a character who is unwilling to sell it.

Reflections

Another success! This dungeon is turning out to be really fun. Here's how I solved some of those creative challenges from earlier:

Bless is a Concentration spell, so I decided all Concentration rolls would be at disadvantage.

Tavern Brawler makes grappling easier, so I created some animated keys that might need to get grappled!

Overall, this has been a really fun exercise. Next up we are going to head into a big fight in The Atrium!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon Part 3: The Atrium
According to 5 Room Dungeon, the third part of a dungeon should be a Trick or Set-Back. In the Lair, I figure the characters will think they are overcoming the main challenge of the dungeon (the Fangs and Grimlocks), but find out there's a much bigger threat.

Here's the structure I came up with for this part of the dungeon:

The Atrium

The Atrium provides a false hope of solving the problems of the town. Throughout these larger rooms, the characters will face combat with the Minion and the Goon. Complicating combat are more of the Guardian, as well as a secondary distraction related to (flaw) that can be overcome with (skill / class ability).

The Minion will be ultimately defeated here as the characters face its leader, a challenging foe (class / background) talented in (skill / class feature) and resistant to (class feature). Defeating the leader of the Minion will open access to the Lair.

Throughout the Atrium, the characters will find a number of important things:

The characters will find a generous treasure related to (skill / tool / class feature).

Through the use of (skill), the characters will uncover the treacherous connection between the Minion and the rival organization.

Past a challenge that might be overcome through the use of (class ability) or (skill), the characters will find clues to the identity of the Big Bad, and its machinations.

The characters will be rewarded with a treasure related to (skill / tool / class feature).

Furthermore, through the use of (skill) or (class ability), the characters will find an item or resource that can help them overcome a Wilderness challenge.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

As usual, I rolled up random character order, and random character features. It was interesting how some features are getting repeated a lot, such as Arkmenos' bond and flaw,

The Atrium

The Atrium provides a false hope of solving the problems of the town. Throughout these larger rooms, the characters will face combat with the Minion and the Goon. Complicating combat are more of the Guardian, as well as a secondary distraction related to Arkmenos’ flaw: I am easily distracted by the promise of information; that can be overcome with Medicine (Croto).

The Minion will be ultimately defeated here as the characters face its leader, a challenging Knight (Danara) talented in Stealth (Bug) and resistant to Archery (Bug). Defeating the leader of the Minion will open access to the Lair.

Throughout the Atrium, the characters will find a number of important things:

The characters will find a generous treasure related to Unseen Servant (Arkmenos).

Through the use of History (Danara), the characters will uncover the treacherous connection between the Minion and the rival organization.

Past a challenge that might be overcome through the use of Speak with Animals (Croto) or Acrobatics (Bug), the characters will find clues to the identity of the Big Bad, and its machinations.

The characters will be rewarded with a treasure related to Chain Mail (Croto). Furthermore, through the use of Investigation (Arkmenos) or Unarmored Defense (Danara), the characters will gain an item or resource that will help them overcome a Wilderness challenge.

Filling in the Details

Okay, this one was a challenge! There were some parts that came out... interesting. I'm not sure how they would really run, and would probably change them on a final draft. BUT I'm keeping to the experiment, so here we go!

The Atrium

The final level of the Bastion of the Stone Sword includes a grand meeting hall, grand bedrooms for its leaders and dignified guests, and an ossuary where the bones of dead warriors are entombed. The three zones are connected by a well-guarded hallway in which the characters must fight grimlocks, gricks, and Fangs. However, the characters can use guardian gargoyle doors to bypass the worst of the threats.

One guardian gargoyle, with fish-like features, says, “The earth requests; weather abides.” A successful Insight check reveals the gargoyle sounds thirsty. Pouring water into its mouth opens the door, and will allow secret access to the meeting hall.

Another guardian gargoyle with outstretched hands says, “Let donations go onward.” A successful Insight check reveals the gargoyle sounds greedy. Placing a gold coin in its hand opens the door, and will allow secret access to the grand bedrooms.

A final guardian gargoyle with sharp teeth and a long tongue says, “Oh desirous broth of leeches!” A successful Insight check reveals the gargoyle sounds thirsty. Pouring blood onto its tongue opens the door, and allows secret access to the ossuary.

As the characters near the ossuary they will encounter alcoves in which lie the bones of dead Stone Swords. The corpses hold in their desiccated arms thin stone tablets in which their knowledge has been recorded. Attempting to free the tablets disturbs the corpses, releasing a cloud of mold and dust into the air. Creatures exposed must make a Constitution saving throw or be afflicted with the disease Corpse Cough; they gain one level of exhaustion, and until their next long rest have disadvantage on Stealth and Concentration checks as their body is wracked with a terrible cough. If the corpse is exposed to 5 or more points of damage, it is destroyed, creating the same diseased cloud and shattering its tablet.

A character can study a tablet during a short or long rest. After studying five tablets, they may gain proficiency in Arcana, History, Medicine, or Nature. There is a 25% chance that a tablet will crumble into gravel and dust after being studied.

Within the ossuary the characters will face the leader of the Fangs: Jovian Emberclaw, a halfling monk trained by the Hands of Fire (use the stats of a Githzerai monk, but double the hit points, add 1 to Proficiency Bonus, replace psychic damage with fire damage, and grant it a special attack: as an action, the monk makes an unarmed strike and casts Burning Hands, dealing only unarmed damage with its strike; recharge on 5 or 6).

Some tiles in the floor of the ossuary are made up of the same style of guardian gargoyle that allowed secret access; if blood is spilled on these tiles from a bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing attack, the trap door will open, spilling whoever is standing on it into a pit filled with carrion beetles.

Emberclaw’s face is tattooed with the standard long teeth of the fangs. However, on his chest he is marked by a tattoo showing an open hand, each finger replaced by a sword. A successful History check will reveal the connection between this symbol, the Hands of Fire and the Stone Swords. In truth, the Hands of Fire are a corrupt offshoot of the Stone Swords. After the mercenaries disbanded, some continued to work for one of the petty tyrants of the Giants Chain, and called themselves the Five Blades. The symbol of the Stone Swords (found all around the Bastion) is five swords bursting from a cracked stone. The symbol of the Hands of Fire is an open hand with claw-like fingers surrounded by flames. The symbol on Emberclaw’s chest is that of the Five Blades. The Hands of Fire are, in fact, warriors trained in the school of the Five Blades, still attempting to take back the Giant’s Chain.

Throughout the Atrium, the characters will find a number of important things:

In the meeting hall, the characters will battle a grimlock who carries a Wand of Enemy Detection.

In the grand bedrooms, the characters will find a recently written letter than has been torn to shreds, and used as nesting material by a family of rats far beneath a hollow made from ancient, tipped over furniture. They may be able to gather the pieces by using Speak with Animals on the rats, or by using Acrobatics to quickly crawl beneath the fallen furniture without getting bitten by the defensive critters.

Placing the pieces of the letter together, the characters will read a missive from Valhaxron to a member of the Hands of Fire. It will detail Valhaxron’s return to the halls where he taught the Stone Swords the wisdom of the mountains, and how now he brings word of a new teacher, the Elder Brain. The letter attempts to convince the Hands of Fire to weaken the power of the Greenfolk Council in order to better prepare Greenmount for the arrival of the Elder Brain. The Hands of Fire will be rewarded with immeasurable power.

If the characters do defeat the guards in the central hall, they will find +1 Chain Mail. Furthermore, they will find a trapped hallway with a statue at the end holding a stone scroll case. Stepping on the tiles of the hallway releases a volley of arrows from hidden compartments in the walls. However, the use of Investigation reveals that the tiles are painted with the symbols of weapons. If the characters walk a path starting with weapons of the furthest range to closes (longbow, javelin, handaxe, pike, sword), they will not trigger the trap. The stone spell scroll holds two scrolls of Greater Restoration, which can be used to recover from the petrifying gaze of the basilisk in the Wilderness.

Reflections

I found this level of the dungeon a greater challenge than the others, I think because in this level the characters had to learn more about what was going on. But instead of starting with "here's the bad guy's plan" and working backwards, I had to basically design in the opposite directions: "here's how they'll find information... now what's the info?"

On the other hand, I really like the idea of characters being able to use their skills and abilities to gather information and access exposition. I'm really happy with the Hands of Fire being a descendent organization of the Stone Swords, that's a really cool combo! And those Guardian Gargoyles are just so much fun to generate.

Next up we get to the big stuff, the main boss Valhaxron!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon Part 4: The Lair

Following the 5 Room Dungeon, the Lair is the climax, big battle, or conflict. I like the idea of the Lair being a different location than the rest of the dungeon, it gives the place a bit of variety and raises the stakes. I assume that after the Atrium, the characters will probably rest and recuperate their resources. So this should be a tough area with a lot of ways to get in trouble. I had a lot of fun creating this one!

The Lair

The Lair is a separate structure. Once occupied by (users of a class ability), it is now the domain of the Big Bad. Because of its size, shape, or ecology, the Lair is difficult to navigate without the use of (skill / tool) or (class feature).

The Lair is patrolled by the Goon and its leader, a (class / background) talented in (skill / class feature) and resistant to (skill / class ability). A secondary threat, related to a character’s flaw (flaw) can be overcome through the use of (skill / tool / class feature), will also hinder the characters’ progress.

When the characters enter the Lair, they will have a choice between gaining advantage against the Big Bad through the use of (skill), or using (skill / class ability) to meet a secondary goal related to (bond).

A final instance of the Guardian can be found here, though there is an added danger that may be overcome through the use of (skill / class ability). Beyond the Guardian the characters will find a reward related to (bond / skill / class ability), as well as a resource related to (skill / tool / class ability) that can be used to upgrade the disrepaired location in town.

The Lair provides the setting for the final conflict with the Big Bad. This is a dramatic scene, with a secondary challenge related to (ideal / bond / flaw) that could be overcome through the use of (skill / tool / class ability).

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Here's what it looks like after I roll... I really like the results that I got, there's some fun stuff here!

The Lair

The Lair is a separate structure. Once occupied by users of Natural Athlete (Croto), it is now the domain of the Big Bad. Because of its size, shape, or ecology, the Lair is difficult to navigate without the use of Acrobatics (Bug) or Awakened Mind (telepathy 30 ft) (Arkmenos).

The Lair is patrolled by the Goon and its leader, a knight (Danara) talented in Perception (Bug) and resistant to Tavern Brawler (Danara). A secondary threat, related to Arkmenos’ flaw (I am easily distracted by the promise of information) can be overcome through the use of Heavy Armor Proficiency (Croto), or will hinder the characters’ progress.

When the characters enter the Lair, they will have a choice between gaining advantage against the Big Bad through the use of Survival (Croto), or using History (Danara) to meet a secondary goal related to Arkmenos’ bond (my life’s work is a series of tomes related to a specific field of lore).

A final instance of the Guardian can be found here, though there is an added danger that may be overcome through the use of Halfling Nimbleness (Bug). Beyond the Guardian the characters will find a reward related to Danara’s bond (my house’s alliance with another noble family must be sustained at all cost), as well as a resource related to Spell Focus Orb (Arkmenos) that can be used to upgrade the disrepaired location in town.

The Lair provides the setting for the final conflict with the Big Bad. This is a dramatic scene, with a secondary challenge related to Croto’s flaw (Secretly, I believe that things would be better if I were a tyrant lording over the land) that could be overcome through the use of Brave (Bug).

Filling in the Details

I'm really, really happy with how this one came together. It seems like a really memorable location that the players would have fun exploring. It's also really creeeeepy!

The Lair

A stone sarcophagus at the back end of the ossuary is actually a door leading to a staircase that descends further into the mountain. It eventually opens to a vast cavern, once a village belonging to the stone giants. It has been abandoned for over a century. Though many of the stone buildings still stand, others are crumbled. At the center of the cavern is a huge stone coliseum. It glows with a sickening purple light from its center. This is where Valhaxron awaits the arrival of the Elder Brain.

The coliseum had fallen into disrepair even before the stone giants left. The hallways are littered with the great stones of fallen walls and ceilings. Traversing from one room to another often requires climbing up or down piles of boulders and huge bricks. Characters with good Acrobatics will be able to fight from atop these stones; others will be forced to defend themselves from the lower ground.

The whole coliseum throbs with a deep thrum from the psionic ritual Valhaxron is enacting at its center. It sounds like the beating of some massive heart, mixed with tortured screams. Creatures have disadvantage on Perception checks related to hearing, and cannot easily communicate verbally beyond 10 feet, or at all beyond 30 feet.

To reach the center of the coliseum, the characters will have to pass through a network of half-demolished rooms, once used as training halls, armories, and barracks for the former Stone Giant gladiators. These halls are patrolled by the Gray Maiden (use the stats of a Gladiator, with the appropriate abilities of a Grimlock), a Grimlock knight who leads the other underdark followers of Valhaxron. She is a terrifying figure, wearing studded leather armor made from the tanned hides of humanoid victims. Her long, gray hair is tangled around dozens of bones, trinkets, and other grisly trophies.

A gang of nothics have also been drawn to the coliseum, sensing the great power held within. They have been spying on the grimlocks, using their Weird Insight to learn the secrets of Valhaxron. They could serve as risky allies, trading knowledge of the Stone Giant Illithid for safety. However, they are more likely to try to lead the characters into traps and steal their magic items.

The gang of nothics have written their learned secrets in scrolls, which they hide (with other magical treasures) in magically-sealed compartments in the walls. The caches are marked by a glyph (which the blind grimlocks cannot see). Each glyph is different, and looks old fashioned. A character can use Intelligence (History) to identify the glyphs as symbols representing arcanists of ancient times. Saying the name of the arcanist causes the hidden compartment to open.

The coliseum is also home to a mating pair of ankhegs who have dug a maze of tunnels through the walls. A character can use Wisdom (Survival) to find shortcuts between the rooms and travel without being seen.

One narrow hallway ends in a door protected by a gargoyle guardian. This gargoyle is carved into a double-sided door, and its two arms reach out as door handles. However, a stone chain binds the wrists together, preventing the door from being opened. The floor of the hallway is littered with rubble. As soon as a character approaches the hall, the gargoyle guardian will speak, saying, “Lay death’s edge against bondage.” At the same time, the rubble will magically form together into a large gargoyle (squeezed in the hallway’s narrow walls). This gargoyle has double the hit points of a normal gargoyle, an AC of 18, and at the start of its turn regenerates 10 hit points as long as it is still touching stone. It can also throw a stone as a ranged attack.

The gravel gargoyle blocks the entire hallway, and refuses to move. Forcing it out of the hallway, reducing it to 0 hit points (though it will regenerate at the start of its turn), or using Halfling Nimbleness are all ways to get past it. Once the stone chain is cut (the first letters of the gargoyle guardian’s phrase can be rearranged into “blade”), the gravel gargoyle dissolves back into rubble.

Beyond the guardian gargoyle door, the characters will find a statue of a stone giant mystic. It carries in one hand a black basalt orb, and in the other a veined marble orb. Danara will recognize the black basalt orb as that which caused so much trouble for House Fernvale. The black orb is an Orb of Fear (identical to a Wand of Fear), and the marble orb is an Orb of Grasping Stones (identical to a Wand of Entangle, only it conjures stone hands instead of roots and vines. Once per day it can also be used to cast Stone Shape).

This Stone Giant mystic is the arcanist who crafted the guardian gargoyle doors for the Stone Swords.

At the center of the coliseum, Valhaxron awaits the arrival of the Elder Brain. He has created a Teleportation Circle out of stone blocks carved with both Stone Giant and Illithid runes. He must wait, however, until enough villagers in the Giants Chain are ready to receive the Elder Brain. He monitors his thralls, the greedy thieves he converted and sent back to their home towns. In fact, throughout the coliseum, the characters can see spectral forms of these thralls, illusionary images that repeat the movements and sounds of their flesh-and-blood doubles. Each looks like a translucent version of its double. At the center of their foreheads float a crystal eye, a magic item that allows Valhaxron to control their actions and thoughts.

Any character who possesses one of these crystal eyes can use it to control its subject, as though they were under the effect of a Suggestion spell (though the target does not get to make a Wisdom saving throw). The commands can be communicated through the eye itself. Breaking the crystal eye ends the effect. However, the eyes are protected with a ward. Any creature who approaches within 5 feet of an active crystal eye must make a Wisdom Saving Throw versus fear, or be Frightened by the eye. They may repeat the saving throw at the end of their turn.

If Valhaxron is unaware of the characters (for example, if they traveled through the ankheg tunnels), he will offer them unimaginable power if they go and prepare Greenmount for the Elder Brain’s arrival. However, if he has been forewarned, he will be a powerful opponent, targeting the least intelligent characters with his Mind Blast, and calling forward grimlocks to grapple and distract spellcasters or the strongest characters.

Reflections

Man, this part of the dungeon came together beautifully. I love the final guardian gargoyle (I'm going to have to steal this for my next dungeon), the creepy crystal eyes, the Gray Maiden!!! Ew!!! Also, I have never incorporated the History Skill so much into an adventure before. I like how this process is forcing me to consider skills and abilities I've overlooked in the past. Good stuff!

As I get into this, however, I've been thinking a lot about backwards planning. I think this whole process would be interesting to try in reverse. Start with the boss, and work backwards towards the town. If I were really going to run this, I'd sweep through again and make more connections between the town and the different aspects of the dungeon.

Next up is the antechamber, the final (and short) part of the dungeon! Then I'm going to roll up a nearby Camp, and we're all done!
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Structure for the Dungeon Part 5: The Antechamber

Following the 5 Room Dungeon, the Antechamber should provide a reward, revelation, or plot twist. I like the idea of this being an area of the dungeon without combat, where characters can use their skills to gain their just rewards.

Here's the structure I came up with:

The Antechamber

In a final area of the dungeon, the characters will have the opportunity to gain the following:

Using (skill / class ability), the characters gain a mighty reward related to (bond / skill / class ability).

Using (skill / class ability), the characters retrieve something or someone that will provide more power to the major organization.

Using (skill / class ability), the characters discover the connection between the Big Bad and the hindering NPC, along with clues to a Major Threat to the realm!

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

This was a pretty quick one to roll up!

The Lair

In a final area of the dungeon, the characters will have the opportunity to gain the following:

Using Survival (Croto), the characters gain a mighty reward related to Rage (Danara).

Using Brave (Bug), the characters retrieve something or someone that will provide more power to the major organization.

Using Investigation (Arkmenos), the characters discover the connection between the Big Bad and the hindering NPC, along with clues to a Major Threat to the realm!

Filling in the Details

This was a pretty easy one to figure out. Again, this is a small area of the dungeon, and acts as a reward and a branch to the next adventure!

The Antechamber

After returning to the Stone Giant village, Valhaxron made his home in a pit beneath the coliseum. It can be accessed through a huge, heavy grate in the coliseum floor. Long ago, the Stone Giants kept great beasts here, who gladiators would battle with to test their martial might.

Using Wisdom (Survival), a character may identify Valhaxron’s footprints leading to a secret panel in a wall. Behind the secret panel, Valhaxron keeps an Amulet of Health, a blood red gem on a silver chain forged by the Stone Giants long ago. It is marked with the rune of his original clan. Perhaps Valhaxron kept it as a reminder of his uncorrupted past.

In the chamber is one more spectral figure, the illusionary double of Dunrak Rouge, the dragonborn leader of the Hands of Fire. Its crystal eye is protected, like the other crystals, by a ward that causes fear in those who approach.

Finally, the characters will find letters written in a strange, coded script. Using Intelligence (Investigation), they can decode the missive. It is a letter Valhaxron received from Vyra Foxfoot, reporting on her efforts to send more thralls to the Bastion of the Stone Swords. She notes that there are other parties interested in the arrival of the Elder Brain, who are doing their part to prepare the entire realm for subjugation!

Reflections

I'm pretty happy with this. I can imagine the characters using this area as an opportunity to catch their breath, apply what they've learned about the crystal eyes, and make plans for their return to Greenmount.

Next up we have the final part of my experiment, a last location to add a little flair to the world: the Camp!
 

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