I'm writing a set of short scenarios for GMs to use one-on-one with new characters to introduce them to the rules of Blueholme and the Delvingwood setting of Michael Thomas' Necropolis of Nuromen. The first was a scenario for a solo Fighter. This one's for a solo first level Magic-User of Good or Lawful alignment and explores the background of the villainous necromancer Nuromen.
Of course, you can adapt this for a full party or higher level characters. Just make the traps more deadly, turn the Tormented Knight into a Mummy, replace the Giant Rats with a colony of Giant Spiders, go nuts!
The Desolate Wedding
You have been hired by Lady Leika of the Lily to do some legal work. Norgules Manor is an estate on an island on the far side of Lonely Lake from Camlann Castle. Norgules Manor has been abandoned since the disappearance of Palin Norgules 50 years ago. The ‘Grandsire Law’ allows a grandchild to arrive and claim an inheritance, but after 50 years this expires and the property reverts to the feudal lord, in this case the House of Lily. Lady Leika wants the estate valued and has sent her clerk, Honorius Squint, and guard, Bland Mulgrew, along with you to assess any magical texts or objects in the estate. Palin Norgules had a reputation as a sorcerer and his son-in-law was the dreaded necromancer Nuromen!
Squint is dull and fussy. Rules infractions throw him into fits of shrill rage, threatening dreadful punishments from "my Lady of the Lily, once we are back in Camlann!" He wants to document every room, with painstaking slowness (an hour per room) and won't allow any properties in the House to be "stolen from their rightful owner, my Lady of the Lily!"
Mulgrew is lazy and boorish. He drinks constantly and complains all the time. He is looking to enrich himself by stealing petty valuables from the estate. His arguments with Squint escalate in ferocity.
Each time the text indicates they argue, each gains a Stress Point. Keep track of the Stress Points the NPCs gain. If Squint reaches 10 Stress, he has a breakdown and tries to run away, jumping into the lake and drowning. If Mulgrew reaches 10 Stress, his irritation with Squint becomes murderous rage and he attacks him; then, he tries to flee the house by the front door and, if he cannot, he goes mad, attacking the PC whom he blames for their predicament.
Norgules is a small island off the eastern shore of the Lonely Lake. Palin made his money from timber from the Delvingwood Forest which presses close by the lake here, and used it to build Norgules Manor and amass an occult library. His wife died giving birth to his daughter, Zimena. Palin lavished money on tutors for Zimena, who grew to become a dark-haired beauty and an enthusiastic sorceress.
Palin offered his daughter in marriage to the necromancer Nuromen, hoping to learn Dark Arts from him. He fully expected Nuromen to sacrifice his new bride to Gamosh, the evil god they both worshiped. However, at the wedding, Nuromen betrayed Palin, slaughtering the household with his undead servants. Palin was sacrificed and left behind as an undead guardian while Nuromen and Zimena decamped to the necromancer's hideaway of Law's End.
Rowing across the Lonely Lake
A pair of boatmen row the PC and two NPCs across the Lake to Norgules. They are talkative fellows and it is easy to get the following rumours out of them:
The Manor House
The Manor stands on a bleak headland overlooking the lake. Its upper storey sags and the roof has collapsed in places. In front of the house stands on odd statue: a knight in full armour, kneeling, clutching a sword in one hand. The statue is of rusted iron, the sword immovable. The statue’s posture is cringing, as if pleading for its life. This is the Tormented Knight, containing Palin Norgules' undead corpse, and it will animate later.
The House has windows of stone lattice that are too small for anyone to climb through. The main doors stand open and tilt from their broken hinges. The floor is strewn with rubble and rat droppings. Most of the doorways have no doors. The rooms are 10’ high and lightless.
The doors stand open. Passages lead left and right and a grand arch opens into the Grand Hall: the arch is constructed to look like bones entwined with roses and is capped by a stone skull.
When the PC first enters, rats scurry away, squeaking in alarm. It is so dark within the House that someone must light a candle or lantern. A Detect Magic spell reveals a faint enchantment on the doors.
When the Tormented Knight enters the Manor, these doors will close, Arcane Locked until dawn.
The main chimney has collapsed, filling the floor with rubble and partially blocking access to the library to the south. The stairwell to the north rises to the first landing but then collapses. Weak light filters through the exposed roof beams. There is no second storey. Arches lead to the Foyer, Parlour and Kitchen, all with bones and roses carved out of stone.
Under the ruined fireplace is the skeleton of a young woman (though this is only likely to be discovered after the Shrieking Ghost Event reveals the body). She carries a key to the Study and the Library.
The stairwell is unsafe, especially the first landing which will creak perilously after one person’s weight is put on it. A second person’s weight will cause it to collapse, dropping the person to the floor below and bringing masonry down on top of them for 2d6 damage. The Tormented Knight counts as two people because of its heavy armour.
A table fills the room, set for a wedding feast, although rats have eaten most of the food and the cake is a nest of spiders now. There are old bloodstains on the tablecloth and chairs.
The player can deduce that a fight broke out at the wedding. Searching will find name plates: the bride was Zimena Norgules, the groom Nuromen Antinomus.
The entire upper storey has caved in, filling most of this area with rubble, tilting roof beams, plaster and smashed furniture. Dim light filters through the dust motes from the windows at the back.
There are skeletons under the rubble: a dozen men at arms and as many skeletons in dark robes. Climbing over the rubble will reveal a space at the north end of the room.
There are two corpses here. One is a guard in Norgules livery (bones and roses), the other is a skeleton with runes on its ragged robes. The guard’s leg is broken but he carries an old crossbow. The skeleton has a crossbow bolt in its skull.
If the PC visits the Shrine, they will identify the runes as those of Gamosh. The player might deduce that the Manor’s guards were assaulted by the Undead, evidently in a surprise attack.
This room is in fine condition, with an upholstered chair (slashed) facing the fireplace and a painting mounted above the fire. An archway to the south leads to the Library and north to the Kitchen. The portrait shows a tall, solemn man beside a young woman, clearly his daughter: she is very beautiful, but there is something hard about her features. The Manor is behind them, in its former glory.
If the picture is taken down there is an old message on the back: “This is a fair likeness of my daughter Zimena. If she pleases you, we shall discuss marriage; return with this painting and see her with your living eyes – Thanks be to Gamosh – your friend, Palin Norgules.”
The Library is lined with shelves but the books have been pulled down and are strewn across the floor, many torn or ruined by rainwater.
This room is entered easily from the Parlour but the archway through to the Grand Hall is blocked by rubble. Climbing over the rubble reveals the weakened masonry of the arch, which creaks and drops clouds of dust and gravel; a second person crossing will see cracks appearing. A third person crossing the rubble will suffer the arch falling in on them, dealing 1d6 damage. The Tormented Knight counts as two people crossing in its heavy armour.
The door out onto the Deck is locked and must be broken open by Mulgrew’s crowbar unless the keys are discovered. A small passage leads to a privy.
Each hour spent searching in the Library will turn up a find from this list (roll d4, re-roll if repeating):
This small chamber stands above the front door, reached by a narrow flight of steps. The ugly altar is studied with melted candles, long extinguished, and splashed with old bloodstains. A single unlit candle remains.
There is an altar to Gamosh, a god of chaos and evil from the distant Northlands. The god’s name is etched in the Common Tongue upon the altar along with the inscription LIGHT MY CANDLE TO REVEAL MY GLORY.
If the candle is lit, the characters will all see the vision of the Desolate Wedding. The Tormented Knight will animate. If the PC has already seen the Vision, the scene will instead by a roofless tower on a limestone crag looming over an abandoned village in the forest: this is Law’s End, to where Nuromen fled with Zimena.
Prayers on scraps of paper have been pressed into cracks in the stonework. Most of these are written by Palin Norgules, saying things like “I lit the candle and saw visions most dreadful, yet all true!”
Some of the papers are written in Northern Runes. If a Read Languages spell is cast, these are prayers from Zimena Norgules. Here is a flavour: “How I loathe my father. How little he understands the Misery Unending! O Gamosh, send my love swiftly to me on wings of the night. Nuromen, come to my arms. Then let us open father’s eyes to mysteries of undeath he cannot yet imagine! – your servant and slave, Zimena Norgules”
The study has intact doors. The one from the Great Hall has been smashed inwards and an improvised battering ram lies discarded inside. A trap has been activated: a rusty blade at head-height. The south door is still locked.
The south door has a similar trap which is still functioning and the blade will swing out at anyone entering without using the key. However, the blade is stiff with rust and jams: the victim will only suffer 1hp damage on a failed save vs Breath and a NPC target gains 1 Stress. If the blade is oiled, the trap can be made functional again, in which case anyone entering through the south door takes 1d6 damage and must save vs Breath or be decapitated.
The study was looted long ago: the impressive desk has its drawers pulled out and papers scattered everywhere. A faded circle marked with occult symbols is painted on the floor.
The circle functions as a ward vs undead but a Read Magic spell is needed to activate it. It lasts until dawn. If the Death Knight is inside the circle when it activates, it will be trapped inside.
A secret compartment in the desk contains a life phylactery: a talisman with an unfortunate soul bound into it. If the wearer takes damage that would kill them or is struck by a level-draining attack, the phylactery shatters and the wearer is left unharmed. A Detect Magic spell makes the phylactery glow, revealing its hiding place. However, the wearer suffers terrible dreams and must sleep for two nights to get one night’s worth of rest. Putting it on triggers the Desolate Wedding vision and animates the Tormented Knight. Honorius Squint will insist this is now property of the House of Lily, gaining a Stress Point if the PC or Mulgrew argue.
Correspondence on the desk is between Palin Norgules and Nuromen the Necromancer, regarding Nuromen’s forthcoming visit to Norgules Manor. Nuromen’s letters are written in Northern Runes and require a Read Languages spell to translate: they contain instructions for creating and activating the ward versus undead (without needing a Read Magic spell) in return for Palin providing Nuromen with a suit of plated armour and helm made from solid iron.
The kitchen has big oak tables, a large fireplace and rusty pots and pans hanging from hooks on the rafters. Ornate archways lead into the Grand Hall and Parlour and a shadowy passage leads to a Pantry. There is a door leading out to the back of the house.
The door is unlocked (Slythy Roach picked the lock). There are signs that, in the recent past, people have camped in this room and looted it (the outlaws, before Slythy Roach became guardian of this place).
Someone lives here in this dark and stinking room. There is a bedroll on the floor and skinned and salted rats hang from hooks on the ceiling.
The rats are future meals for the House’s occupant, Slythy Roach. Slythy is an outlaw who works for the White Company and guards the contraband they drop off here. Staying in the haunted house and subsisting on rats has driven him rather mad as has his terrible skin disease, contracted from the rats, which makes him look like a rotting corpse. He has seen the Desolate Wedding in his dreams but, because he is evil and insane, this has not animated the Tormented Knight and he is ignorant of its presence.
Slythy has opened the lock to the door onto the Deck. If captured (e.g. by a Charm Person or Sleep spell or simply cornered and outnumbered) he will assist in fighting the Tormented Knight or Mogo's Henchmen.
The room contains Roach's treasure: 123sp, 32gp and a pot of salt worth 10gp and a pouch of Black Lotus. This will provoke an argument between Mulgrew and Squint over whether it is part of the estate or loot for adventurers. The salt can be poured into the visor of the Tormented Knight: roll To Hit to do this (3 attempts) and the Knight must save vs Poison or be destroyed. The Black Lotus is a drug which causes a trance for 1 turn, bringing on the vision of the Desolate Wedding but will also grant a clue about one location in the house (such as how to activate the ward in the Study, wear the phylactery is hidden or where Slythy is hiding).
The ceiling above the door has collapsed, blocking any way in or out of the House here. Rubble blocks the doorway into the Cellar, but this can be climbed over.
The floor here is unsafe. Any character walking on it will see cracks spread. After that, any armoured character (Mulgrew or the Tormented Knight) will fall through the floor into the Cellar below, taking 1d6 damage and then being attacked by the Giant Rats.
This room is choked with rubble. A staircase descends to the cellar below, but that noisome shaft stinks of rats and their droppings are everywhere here and prodigiously large.
A staircase descends to the Lower Cellar, which occupies the space of the Buttery/Kitchen below ground. It is lair to a nest of Giant Rats. There are a dozen of the creatures down here.
12 Giant Rats AC 7, 2hp, HD ½, AT bite for 1d3 + disease, XP 6
Anyone bitten by a rat will become feverisj within the hour and experience the vision of the Desolate Wedding if they have not done so already - this animates the Tormented Knight.
There are vintage wines in the cellar, with a value of 50gp: this will prompt another argument between Squint and Mulgrew.
This wharf sags dangerously. At the north end there are four barrels lined up. The Lonely Lake stretches away into the mist, deep and dark.
If it is night time, there may be a lit lantern on top of one barrel. The barrels are contraband, brought here by the White Company and awaiting collection by Mogo the Miller, a corrupt merchant in Camlann. Slythy Roach lights a lantern to guide Mogo’s men here at night (this lantern was not lit when the PC arrived on the island).
Grimbold and Bluto
They are a superstitious pair and will jump on their boat and row away empty handed if there are scary goings-on. They have never met Slythy Roach and know nothing about the provenance of the contraband.
The contraband consists of a barrel of salted herring (10gp), fine brandy (50gp), peppercorns (75gp) and oil (20gp, equivalent to 10 flasks and capable of creating a fiery explosion that deals 3d6 damage if exposed to flame).
The contraband will prompt an argument between Honorius (who wants to add it to his ledger) and Bland (who wants to split it as loot).
The south door to the Library is locked. The deck here is unsafe and creaks ominously if walked on. After that, it will collapse if two characters (or one unarmoured character) walk on it, tipping them into the lake. Mulgrew will drown in his armour and Squint will drown because he cannot swim, unless rescued by the PC. If the Tormented Knight falls in, it will take 2d4 rounds for it to climb back out.
The PC could try to swim away from the Manor but warn them that the Lake is famous for its treacherous currents: save vs Death Ray to avoid drowning. Alternatively, the boat brought by Mogo's henchmen could be an escape route if Grimbold and Bluto are defeated.
These events occur as the PC and NPCs explore the house. Trigger one event each hour: it takes an hour for Squint to document a room’s contents in his ledger. Once the Tormented Knight animates, trigger an event on a 1-2 on a d6, checking every turn.
The Tormented Knight
Palin Norgules’ zombie is trapped inside the iron armour outside and will animate when the vision of the Desolate Wedding occurs. This will occur at sunset (if the vision was invoked during the day) or immediately (if the vision was invoked at night) and creates a shriek and squeal of grating metal that can be heard throughout the House, adding 1 Stress to the NPCs. The Knight enters the House and seals the gates behind with another loud crash.
The rusted armour moves with creaks and squeals of grinding metal, jerky and yet filled with menacing purpose. Dead eyes look out from behind the visor slit, consumed with hatred for the living
The Tormented Knight
The Knight will cause the two NPCs to gain 1d6 Stress each when it first appears. The zombie retains some intellect: it knows the layout of the house and will search for intruders methodically but slowly (Move 15, so an unarmoured character can out-walk it).
The Desolate Wedding
This vision will occur if a PC Magic-User sleeps inside the House. There are several other events in the House that can trigger it (notably the Shrine but also Slythy's Black Lotus, the phylactery in the Study or a rat bite).
In the Manor's Grand Hall a wedding feast is occurring. Torches burn merrily in their sconces and candles illuminate a majestic wedding cake. The bride is a beautiful young woman in a dress of black and red; her groom an older man with a trim beard and a saturnine smile. An older gentleman, the father of the bride, has finished his speech - this is Palin Norgules.
The groom rises. "I must no longer call you friend," he announces to Palin, "but rather father. I do this once. For you shall henceforth be my slave."
Robed skeletons and zombies burst into the room and start murdering the dfenceless guests. The groom and his new bride watch, smiling.
Palin is dragged before his son-in-;law. Skeletons bring in a huge suit of armour. They seal Palin inside it, hammering long nails through his arms and legs. A helmet is pressed over his face.
"Nuromen - no! It wasn't supposed to be me! We had an agreement!"
The groom hands a mallet and nail to his bride who steps close to the struggling Palin, kneels beside him, then drives the last nail through the helmet. Palin slumps, silent and motionless. From all around the house, screams can be heard as the undead go about their murderous business.
Running the Scenario
This is a horror story and rather open-ended. The PC will enter the House and start exploring. There are jump-scares and mysteries. It soon becomes clear the party is not alone in the House. Squint and Mulgrew argue and tempers fray.
Slythy is more of a scare and a pest than an adversary. He might successfully backstab and even kill Mulgrew. Don't over-use him. He's not the main adversary. Once the Tormented Knight arrives, he might even become an ally. Remember that he is easily mistaken for a ghoul or zombie.
Invest some time in characterizing Squint and Mulgrew, their arguments (which will drag in the PC to arbitrate) and their deteriorating sanity. If Mulgrew goes mad, he could become a threat to the PC too.
Once night falls, Squint and Mulgrew will want to make camp and sleep. Throw in a creepy storm outside. Mulgrew will take watch. If the PC sleeps, she will experience the vision, wherepon she will be awoken by the shriek of the Tormented Knight animating and the crash of the doors locking.
If the vision has already occurred, there will be no time to sleep, because the Tormented Knight animates once the sun has set.
The Knight is a tough opponent, with a strong AC, lots of Hit Points and a nasty weapon. Fortunately, it's slow. Hopefully, the player can use knowledge of the House (its traps, weak floors and staircases, the ward in the Study) to damage or cage the Knight. It's appearance will probably trigger breakdowns in the two NPCs, possibly creating more problems, if Mulgrew goes murderously mad.
The arrival of the two Henchmen might provide more threat, a welcome distraction for the Knight or even possible allies (though they will try to row away if they see anything scary).
Reward a PC who tries to appeal to Norgules' humanity, using an understanding of his betrayal by his daughter and son-in-law. At the very least, such traumatic memories will stun the Knight for 1d6 rounds, perhaps allowing it to be carried to the warding circle or thrown into a pit to be eaten by rats.
If the PC survives the night, the boatmen will arrive to row him back to Camlann. If Squint died, the PC can decide what treasures to declare to Lady Leika and which to keep for himself.
A first level Magic-User has a single spell, which could be used in the scenario as follows:
Charm Person: Cast on Slythy Roach or one of Mogo’s henchmem, possibly on Mulgrew or Squint if they lose their minds
Dancing Lights: Frighten away Mogo’s Henchmen, lure Slythy or the Knight into a trap
Detect Magic: Discover the magic in the Foyer, Study or Library (with 20 minutes duration, the spell might last to explore two of these rooms).
Enlarge: Cast on self or on Mulgrew to gain advantage of double damage for a turn
Floating Disc: Transport the contraband to the main wharves where the boatmen will collect the PC in the morning: the round trip takes two hours and the NPCs will stay at the house so check to see what has become of them. Alternatively, take both NPCs with you up the weakened staircase in the Grand Hall, the unsafe part of the Deck or across the weak floor in the Buttery
Hold Portal: Lock a door into the Study or onto the Deck to trap or redirect an enemy (perhaps into the blade-trap on the Study’s other door)
Light: This will reveal Slythy where he is hiding if cast on a room; it will cause the Knight to be blinded (-4 to hit) for 1d4 rounds if cast directly at it, or make the Giant Rats retreat to their holes for 1d6 rounds if cast in the underground Cellar
Magic Missile: An effective weapon against any opponent
Protection from Evil: Imposes a penalty on the Death Knight’s attacks; if the PC is non-agressive, the Knight will back away, perhaps allowing the PC to direct it into a trap
Read Languages: Translate the Northern Runes in the Library, the Study or the Shrine of Gamosh; lasts for 20 minutes so sufficient to visit two of those locations
Shield: Effective protection against any opponent
Sleep: Could be used against Mogo’s Henchmen, the Giant Rats or even Slythy
Ventriloquism: Could be used to scare away Mogo’s Henchmen or lure Slythy or the Death Knight into a trap
After reviewing Michael Thomas' Necropolis of Nuromen, I have been teased by the desire to make a contribution to Blueholme and its elegant, rather fey-themed setting. What I imagine is a set of short scenarios for GMs to use one-on-one with new characters to introduce them to the rules of Blueholme and the Delvingwood setting.
The remit of these mini-scenarios is:
The idea is that, when the party assembles to commence Necropolis of Nuromen, the PCs are already established, know their powers, have a sense of identity and know a few snippets of useful lore about the Delvingwood, Camlann, and/or the Necropolis.
Here's the first mini-scenario for a Lawful Fighter.
Oaths Not Lightly Given
1. The Wrecked Wagons
The Old Road from Zimrillas ends at Camlann Castle, where you hope to find honourable work serving the House of Lily, but a restful night in Camlann is still hours away. A bend in the road reveals an alarming sight. Wagons are overturned, one tipped into the ditch along the south edge of the road. Ravens and buzzards circle around the wreckage. Brigands have made bloody work of a merchant train.
The player should describe how they approach the wreckage. On the south side of the road is a deep ditch, about 10ft wide, beyond which marshy lands stretch away, bare except for a distant treeline. On the north side, the eaves of the Delvingwood Forest draw close, about 30-50ft away.
Searching the wagons reveals half a dozen corpses: wagoners and travellers, unceremoniously put to the sword or drilled with crossbow quarrels and then stripped and robbed of valuables. The attack probably happened earlier that same day.
You hear furtive movement. Someone or something is hiding in the wagon that has been tipped into the ditch. You sense you are being watched.
The PC can sneak up on the wagon or call out for the watcher to identify themselves. If the player decides to leave (or sneaked around the wagons without searching them), they will see the watcher break cover and try to run away before stumbling and falling: it is a child.
The watcher is a small girl, no older than 7 or 8, and badged with dirt and blood. She has the glassy eyes of a child in shock.
The child says only one word: ‘Frog.’ Since she has slightly bulging eyes, this is an apt nickname for her. If asked about her parents or carers, her eyes flick towards the corpses on the main wagon. She carries a letter in her pocket which reads:
Lady Leika of the Lily: We commend to you this child, Franne Ogden, and hope that, as your ward, she may prove herself apt to study and serve. Her parents died last year of the Sobbing Pox and we, her uncle and aunt, are committed to a perilous journey north to Blueholme and beyond in the service of your House – Your servant, Hyrcan Ogden
A Lawful PC will recognise an obligation to protect Frog and bring her to Lady Leika in Camlann. Ask the player if they wish to swear a formal oath to do this:
Ask the player what form this oath takes and what they swear it on. If the PC swears an oath, there is a rumble of thunder and a flash of lightning among the dark clouds far to the north. The Lords of Law have heard the oath and honour it.
While the Oath is in effect, allow the player to re-roll one failed (or unsatisfactory) die result, keeping the better roll, if this is an attempt to fulfil the Oath.
2. THE BANDIT BARRICADE
A mile on, the road is blocked by a crude barricade made from a felled tree, since the Delvingwood draws right up to the north side of the road here. Half a dozen armed men guard the barricade. They carry swords and crossbows. Frog reacts to the sight of them with recognition and terror.
If the PC approaches the barricade, the bandits will react to the sight of an approaching warrior by firing crossbows. The first volley will miss, but half a dozen quarrels will pass close by and there is still a distance of 70ft to close on the barricade. Advise the player that a head-on assault is reckless against overwhelming numbers armed with crossbows. The land to the south is bare marshland with no cover. The ditch is full of churning water and offers no safety. The only way off the road is into the Delvingwood Forest, where a narrow path presents itself.
3. DELVINGWOOD TRAILS
On either side of the path, the forest presses in close and is unnaturally still. The trees crush together so close there is not chance to leave the trail. Behind you, there are shouts from pursuers, crashing after you. The whine and zip of a crossbow quarrel tells you they are armed and murderous.
These trails are narrow, less than 5ft wide. The forest is unnaturally dense and attempts to cut into the undergrowth with an axe will be noisy and slow. Shortly after the PC enters the trail, there is the sound of pursuit from behind: 4 Bandits are pursuing. If the player is minded to stand and fight, advise them to seek a place where the pursuers can be ambushed and can’t use their crossbows.
Lothar’s Bandits (4) AC 7, 6hp, HD 1, DEX 10, AT sword or crossbow 1d6 dmg, XP 10
Feel free to adjust Bandit numbers. The point is, there are too many to stand and fight against and they will use crossbows rather than closing to melee. If the PC is strong and well-armoured (high HP, high Strength, plate mail), increase their numbers to 6 to drive the point home.
Frog slows the PC down and there is a 2 in 6 chance at the end of every trail that the pursuers will come within crossbow range and fire 1d4 shots. If the PC carries the little girl, a shield cannot be used but the pursuers will not catch up.
If the PC tries to return to the road by this trail, it will have disappeared: the Forest has mysteriously closed in over it.
4. THE HANGING MAN
In this clearing, a man hangs from a noose lashed to an overhanging branch. He is still alive because his hands are free, but his fingers have been broken, making it painful for him to support his weight. He wears similar clothes to the bandits.
Norfred of Urvekos AC 9, 6hp, HD 1, DEX 12, AT none, XP 10
If the PC cuts Norfred down, Norfred will become and ally. He cannot fight, but he can carry Frog. He can be questioned, but check to see if the Bandits come within range if the player pauses to do this.
Norfred reveals the following information each time he is questioned (necessitating another check for the pursuing Bandits):
Norfred is a dignified warrior who never complains, despite his broken fingers and the bruises on his throat that threaten to asphyxiate him. He regards his reprieve as nothing less than a divine intervention by the Lords of Law and intends to earn it by serving the PC and protecting Frog.
5. THE TRAP
Whoever is leading or carrying Frog blunders into a snare here. A rope draws tight around one foot, pulling the character into the air to hang upside down a couple of feet above the ground. Frog is grabbed by claw-like hands and pulled into a large hole under the roots of a tree.
Frog's terrified face can be seen in a cave-like opening under the roots of a big tree, then something yanks her into the darkness. She screams and there is an answering peel of diabolical laughter inside the cave.
If Norfred was caught in the trap, the PC will be free to grab Frog and tussle to save her. Otherwise the PC must cut themselves down and rush to the hole: Frog can be heard screaming inside.
The trap was laid by Goblins. Inside the hole, a Goblin is pulling Frog down into the bowels of the earth. The PC can attack this Goblin and if it takes any damage at all the Goblin howls, releases Frog and flees into the darkness. The Goblin will spend 1d4 rounds pulling Frog into a cave under the tree; when the time is up it has succeeded and then it can draw its weapon and attack the PC; at this point, there must be a fight to the death and the Goblin will not flee.
Goblin AC 7, hp 4, DEX 9, HD 1-1, AT saw-knife for 1d6 dmg, XP 7
The Goblin’s saw-knife is an odd weapon with the name SPIDERBANE carved on the hilt in goblin runes. It is a cursed weapon for non-Goblins: it imposes -1 To Hit/Damage and becomes the only melee weapon the PC can use; however, it inflicts double damage on spiders.
After rescuing Frog, check to see if the Bandits catch up. If the PC hides in the cave after defeating the Goblin, the Bandits will pass by, allowing the PC to double back down the trail. The chance of pursuers catching up drops to 1 in 6 until they do catch up, then it returns to 2 in 6 again.
6. SPIDER GORGE
The trail here dips into a gorge with steep sides and thorny brambles on either side. It grows darker and darker as you advance and looking up you see the sky is hidden by a ceiling of dark webs. There are webs to either side. The gorge is entirely surrounded by webs. Setting fire to it is self-destructive, since the PC is caught in the middle of the ensuing fire.
If the PC presses on into the gorge, they will have to do battle with a Giant Spider.
Normal Spider AC 8, 4hp, DEX 8, HD 1, AT bite for 1d4 + poison XP, 15
The spider will back away if presented with a burning torch, but then it will climb into the webs to move round and attack from the flanks. If the PC fails to save (at +2) vs its poison, they become paralysed and the spider will drag them to the end of the tunnel and wrap them up in webbing. Norfred will automatically be captured too. However, Frog will escape and emerge to free the PC while the spider is distracted by the pursuing Bandits.
7. AMBUSH POINT
The trail emerges from Spider Gorge and a low branch hangs over the gorge – an ideal point to ambush pursuers since it is hidden from view by the webbing.
If the PC waits in ambush on the branch, the 4 Bandits will emerge from the Gorge at intervals. If the Spider was still alive, one Bandit will have died fighting it. The other 3 will emerge 1d4 rounds apart and each will spend the first round climbing out of the gorge, unable to attack. In addition, the player gains a surprise attack at +2 To Hit.
If the PC needs to flee, they can jump from the branch and onto the trail with no penalty, with the pursuit resuming as before.
8. DRAGON FEAST
The snarls and gnashing of teeth warn of a great beast ahead. Peering into the glade, you see nothing less than a Dragon with slimy black scales feasting on the carcass of a big elk. The creature is lithe and majestic but in its cold eyes there is only malice.
This is the Black Dragon of the Delvingwood and is placed here as a warning and teaser for future adventures. After 1d6 rounds of feasting it will take flight northwards. Discourage the PC from attacking an opponent who utterly outmatches them: if they insist, they are bowled over and stunned by the monster's roar and awake to see it flying away.
If the PC tries to approach the dragon with an offer (in exchange for help against the pursuing Bandits) then the Dragon will consider this (swooping over the pursuers and annihilating them); it might accept the Spiderbane Knife but is more likely to demand instead a tasty child for its fee: if no deal is reached. The Dragon sneers at the PC and departs.
Conversing with a Dragon is a life-changing experience. Let the PC re-roll their Wisdom and Charisma, taking the higher score rolled.
9. TUMBLEDOWN STAIRCASE
A flight of ancient stone steps rises up the steep hillside here, cut into living rock by ancient hands. The hill ahead of you is bald of trees and the climb exposes you to any pursurers.
Climbers are the steps are exposed to missile fire from pursuers: check to see if the Bandits come within range on 1-4. If the PC chooses to make a stand here, the Bandits will fire one more volley of missiles (1d4 quarrels) then advance up the steps to come at them two abreast; the PC gains +1 To Hit always wins Initiative because of the height advantage.
If the Dragon (8) has not been encountered, then 1d6 rounds after the PC starts climbing the steps (or 1d4 rounds into a battle on the steps with the Bandits), the Dragon will take flight northwards. The stupendous spectacle will cause the bandits to break off from combat and flee back into the woods.
10. ELFIN KNOWE
An ancient monument dominates the bald crown of the hill, a dolmen worn smooth by the slow centuries. Three beings stand around the stones in quiet discussion. THeir fine features possess an unearthly beauty and a deep sorrow. They are Elves of the Delvingwood, garbed as hunters, and they turn their eyes to you with curiosity.
The bald summit of the hill is marked by a structure of tilted standing stones. It is a meeting place for the Elves of the Delvingwood and 3 Elves are here now. They had been hunting a great elk but broke off their hunt when the Dragon snatched their quarry.
Elves (3) AC 9 or 7, 5 or 7hp, DEX 15, HD 1, AT spear or bow, XP 15 or 10
The Elven leader, Hirazel (AC 9, 5hp), is a Fighter/Magic-User and she knows the spell Sleep.
The Elves are suspicious and reserved and will demand a full introduction and explanation from the PC before offering any themselves. If treated courteously they will respond kindly; if they realise the PC is protecting a child or has sworn a Lawful Oath, they will offer their assistance. Hirazel can incapacitate the Bandits with a single spell.
The Elves know of the White Company and hold it in high esteem, especially its leader whom they call ‘the Prince’. They have never heard of Lothar. They will offer to take Norfred under their protection and return him to the Prince.
The Elves will point out the path south that rejoins the road near to Camlann.
If the PC carries the Spiderbane, the Elves will declare it “an unchancy weapon better borne by those who serve darkness than those who fight darkness” and will offer to relieve the PC of it. On this special day, the Elfin Knowe confers on Elves the power to Remove Curse; they will then take the weapon and break it upon the stones of the Knowe.
Whether or not the PC chooses to relinquish the Spiderbane, the Elves will confer a gift of their own: a turquoise pendant worth 50gp that marks the PC as ‘Elfinlief’ or ‘elf-beloved.’ The PC gains the elvish immunity to paralysation from Ghouls and increased chance of spotting secret doors. This magic will not benefit anyone else if the PC gives the pendant away.
If you run The Necropolis of Nuromen, during An Unexpected Encounter the Elves will recognise the Elfinlief and take them into their confidence.
Returning to the Old Road, the PC might decide to hike back to the Barricade, surprising the remaining two Bandits. If battle is joined, one of them will flee, jumping the ditch and running across the marsh. The other will fight until he has taken damage, then surrender.
At Camlann Castle, the PC can present themselves to Lady Leika of the Lily. Delivering Frog along with the letter will earn a 100gp reward, taken from a fund set up by Frog’s uncle and aunt to provide for her. If any Bandits were captured, the reward is 50gp each. If the Barricade is still in place, Lady Leika sends out her Griffon Cavalry to break it up and chase the Bandits away. In Camlann, the White Company have a terrible reputation as kidnappers and murderers and Lothar is reviled as their leader.
The PC is now in Camlann with the goodwill of Lady Leika, considerable reward money, possibly a magical weapon and the Elfinlief pendant. Award XP based on the reward money, any monsters defeated and allies rescued or befriended. Do not award XP for the Dragon: re-rolling attributes is the reward.
The scenario is designed to allow a Lawful Fighter to conduct him or herself with honour and discretion and impress important allies. There are several possible ways of defeating the pursuing Bandits: set the Dragon on them (unlikely to reach an agreement however), ambush them in Spider Gorge, fight them on the Tumbledown Staircase or recruit the Elves to dispatch them with a Sleep spell. The PC could still engage in a victorious battle of their own by returning to the Barricade. It's not necessary to fight either the Spider or the Goblin to the death.
If the PC is 'killed' by a crossbow quarrel from the pursuing Bandits, let them call on their Lawful Oath and the Lords of Law will restore them to 1hp so that the Oath can be fulfilled.
Friendship with the Elves and familiarity with the factions within the White Company will help the party if they undertake Necropolis of Nuromen - as well an improved ability to spot secret doors!
The guardianship of 'Frog' is, of course, inspired by the character of 'Newt' in James Cameron's Aliens (1986). Her presence, and that of the crippled Norfred, gives an opportunity for someone other than the PC to be put into peril or injured - or to act as a rescuer if the PC is overpowered (as by the Giant Spider).
The Coney-Cliff Crypt is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. It was submitted by Karl McMichael who wins a copy of Forge Out Of Chaos as his prize in the January 2020 competition.
Thanks to Andrew Cook for the stylish cover
Karl submitted the dungeon with references to D&D 5e; I've added a few conversions to Holmes/BX/AD&D and I'll adapt the whole scenario to Forge Out of Chaos next month. Andrew Cook has created a printable version of the scenario. I've adapted (and slightly expanded) the scenario for Forge Out of Chaos.
A Necromancer has enslaved a tribe of Kobolds, insisting he can raise the skeleton of a dragon with human bones and sacrificial ritual. To this end, the Kobolds have been luring local villagers into nefarious traps then turning them over to the Necromancer. An adventurous gang of local teens have entered the dungeon and (mostly) been killed or captured.
Disappearances have been occurring around the old crypt on Coney Cliff: recently five teenagers from the village went out to investigate but never returned. They are Devonna (gentlewoman), Tad (woodsman), Nedward (scribe), Hedrick (militiaman) and Genelle (rogue). The mayor fears something eldritch and ineffable may be going on. You have been sent to retrieve the disappeared youngsters or bring back their bodies.
Coney Cliff is a windy rise well above the sea. As the wind howls in from the sea, faint cries and wails can indeed be heard on the wind. A tumbledown dry stone wall surrounds weather-beaten grave stones and tombs.
A grand-looking crypt entrance stands most prominent: it is ornately carved with rusted iron gates open leading downward. However, the stone doors a few steps down but are stuck fast. Inscribed above the entrance reads: ‘Honour, oath and promise, here lay my briar brothers.'
Dotted around the ground are dozens of rabbit burrows, several of which upon closer inspection contain jewellery, coins or semi-precious baubles (these are traps: see area 2).
To the east of the Crypt Entrance lies a well (1); if the party look down inside they will see the flickering of a torch and hear a voice from below asking for help.
Each square is 5 feet
1. The Well
The Well has only 2' of rope attached to the winch. It descends 30' into water that is 5' deep. Five feet above the water, several bricks have been removed (a secret door) and the area around the bottom of the well has been roughly excavated; some buckets and broken tools lie strewn about.
There is a young man trapped down here with a dying torch; Nedward is thankful somebody arrived to help him as the rope he climbed down on snapped. He will tell the PCs a confusing tale of how he came here with his four friends:
“Genelle disappeared before we came down. We tried the crypt door but it’s stuck fast, so we came down here when we saw the light. We went down the corridor beyond those bricks, but there was this shrieking thing! Lucky Devonna brought a sword and Tad borrowed a wood axe. They chopped it all up, my ears are still ringing though. They went through the door but there was a skeleton! Hedrick and I ran to get help, but when I got back Hedrick was gone! I’m no warrior, and I’m not brave. I guess dad was right, I’m only good for running and reading.”
Nedward will attempt to leave, but might be persuaded to help if PCs leverage his insecurity about his father. He is a 3HP normal human with no armour or weapon but carries 5 torches and a tinder box. At area 4, he might give them a clue for the door: “It wants your word, some sort of promise.”
Along the corridor is a secret door leading to a tight passage (where Hedrick was abducted); if it is discovered the Kobolds beyond will retreat to room 10.
At the end of the corridor is a shoddy door, badly hung. In front of the door is a giant purple fungus, hacked apart by Nedward’s friends.
2. The Rabbit-holes/Kobold traps
These small caves are linked by tight corridors. Creatures taller than Dwarves fight at -2 in the tunnels; those larger than Kobolds or Gnomes must travel and fight single file and cannot use shields; no one can use two-handed weapons. Kobolds can fight two abreast in the tunnels.
In each of the numbered locations are 2 Kobolds, 14 in total (MM pg.195, 1 spear armed, 1 with javelin and club). They act as teams to capture those who reach for the trinkets in the rabbit holes at dawn and dusk.
For Holmes/BX/AD&D, each Kobold has 2HP and deals 1d4 damage.
Each hole has a snare that one Kobold tightens round the victim’s wrist as they reach in. They pull together to drag the victim into the crypt. They will bash the victim repeatedly until compliant or unconscious and bind them in room 10. If this fails, the spearman will finish the job and drag the body to room 10.
Each group of Kobolds reacts intelligently: follow and ambush intruders, seek other Kobolds to gang up, attack intruders immediately, play dead, fake calls for help, self preserve and stay still or surrender and lure the PCs into a trap (e.g. room 5). Their motivation is to protect or misdirect intruders away from room 10.
3. Tribute Room (15' high)
The room is covered in murals (a good amount may be covered by soot) which depict heroic deeds and figures in full plate with bramble motifs battling demons and defeating a giant dragon. There is a staircase that would lead up to the Crypt Entrance but the ceiling has collapsed, making it impassible. On the east wall, several bricks have been removed and bare soil is clearly visible: this is the secret door to area 8.
The door in the North wall is carved with the same phrase in multiple languages: ‘I strive to keep order, to fight chaos and uphold the integrity of the Briar Knights.’
There are 2 skeletons (MM pg. 272) in this room which will rush to close the door in the south wall if they can and attack if not.
For Holmes/BX/AD&D, each Skeleton has 4HP and deals 1d6 damage.
In the centre of the room is a 5' wide copper bowl full of pitch.
There are two arrow slits are located 12' above the floor on the east wall. Two Kobolds fire at any who enter room 3 with light crossbows for 3 rounds (targeting the least armoured character, including the boy Nedward from area 1). During the second round of combat, a Kobold from the arrow slit will fire a burning brand into the copper bowl igniting it and causing the room to fill with thick black smoke: 1’ after 1 round, 3’ after 2, 5’ after 3, 6’ after 4, 10’ after 6' and after 9 rounds the room will have 14' of smoke (it will stay at 10' if any doors are open) and the fire will die out.
4. Hallway of Oath
There is a door to the east (room 5) which reads: ‘Here we lie.’ Daubed across it in thick red paint is a draconic script which reads: ‘CORPSE STORE. DANGER.’ NOTE: A Kobold group stalking the party may wish to open room 5 and unleash the Zombies if the PCs are looking too healthy.
The door to the east (room 6) reads ‘ Here we are remembered.’
As the players proceed along the hall, they hear a female voice: ‘I am to join you Tad, they've come to finish me off.'
Around the corner are two figures: a young man slumped against the wall, a woman hunched clutching her thigh with one hand and brandishing a sword with the other. The dead figure is Tad, a quarrel is protruding from his chest. The young woman is Devonna. A dead Kobold lies at her feet. She is in poor shape and laments her foolishness. She will do what the party asks of her but is in no shape to fight.
The door to the north is heavily carved and inlaid with silver. It depicts a figure in plate armour with an ornate helmet crowned wìth thorns. It has a banner across both doors. It reads: ‘If you are to keep this, you must first give it to me.' The answer is oath/word; the specific oath is carved all over the door in room 3 in multiple languages and the correct response is: ‘I strive to keep order, to fight chaos and uphold the integrity of the Briar Knights.’ Upon receiving the correct answer, the door will open.
The door may be picked, but unless the lockpicker criticals (or succeeds on two successive rolls for Holmes/BX/AD&D), a tiny hammer will fall on the lockpick, breaking it before resetting the lock in the door.
5. Zombie Room
A room with open and smashed sarcophagi. The room is packed with 8 zombies (MM pg. 316).
For Holmes/BX/AD&D, each Zombie has 8HP and deals 1d6 damage.
Unless the door is closed quickly, the Zombies will spill into the corridor and attack anyone they come across. The zombies are Briar Knights raised by the Necromancer and instructed to attack intruders in preference to Kobolds.
6. Timber Room
This room contains nothing apart from wormwood ridden timbers. Two are long enough to cross the pit in room 7 but one (50% chance it is the one the PCs use) is rotten and will break if any creature heavier than a Halfling walks across.
A door leads east. It is of poor quality and fitting but it is locked. The lock is not a difficult check, but using force to break it down results in momentum carrying the PCs into the pit in room 7.
7. Spiked Pit
A spike pit covers the west side of the room; there is a 10' drop into spikes covered in excrement and urine (DMG pg. 123). This is also a toilet as well as a trap.
For Holmes/BX/AD&D, falling into the pit deals 1d6 damage and the character must Save vs Poison or take 1d4 damage and contract a disease (similar to Giant Rats).
NOTE: this could be a great place to ambush PCs with one or more Kobold groups.
There is a secret door to room 10 on the north wall. A tight slope leads up to room 9, climbing 10' (PHB pg. 192). If the Kobolds in area 8/9 are still active, the PCs will hear cries of help from room 9 (this is a trap).
8. Secret Ladder Entry
The corridor terminates in a ladder which scales 10' up into room 9.
If PCs find the secret door and enter here, the 2 Kobolds firing through into room 3 will come here to attack when a PC is at the bottom of the ladder. One will douse the intruder with a bucket of oil, the second will throw a burning brand down after it, setting the oil on fire.
Once a PC reaches the top of the ladder, the Kobolds will do the bucket trick again on anyone else climbing up.
The Kobolds will then summon two of the groups near them to join the fight and send the third to room 10.
9. Kobold Barracks (9' high)
The earthen tunnel is full of rags, clothes, miscellaneous bones, boots and whatever the Kobolds took from commoners. On a crude dais in an alcove is an articulated wooden dragon toy surrounded by gems and gold coins. Leaned against it is a +1 magic warhammer with etched brambles along the head, a wand of magic missiles with 1d12 charges and 2 healing potions are also nestled in the pile.
If players entered through area 8, there will be no fight. There is a caged mastiff by the slope to area 7. It is starved, blood thirsty and rages wildly when it sees the PCs.
If the players enter through area 7 (perhaps answering the fake ‘cries for help’), the 2 Kobolds keeping watch on room 3/8 will drag the caged mastiff (MM pg. 332) over to the slope and lift the door of the crate to release the brute. They will then do the same as in area 8, using only 1 oil bucket to send a pool of burning oil down the slope.
For Holmes/BX/AD&D, the Mastiff is HD 2, 8HP, AC 7, bite for 1d4+1.
A young woman is bound tightly in the corner by the cage; her name is Genelle. She cries for help and to be cut free. She explains how she saw some fairy gold in a rabbit hole and was pulled underground, beaten and tied. Genelle is a 1st level Rogue/Thief (HP 3) and knows the route to room 10 through the Kobold tunnels and the secret door: she was taken there by the Kobolds and witnessed Hedrick being murdered but the Necromancer sent her back to the barracks to ‘amuse’ his servants. Genelle will agree to aid the party but will run away as soon as the Undead Dragon animates.
10. Necromancer's Lair & Dragon Grave
The party disturb the Necromancer (and any Kobolds that fled to the room). There is a gaping 20' wide scar carved through the cliff face; it looks out over a tumultuous sea. Wind whips in through the hole, billowing the robes of a dark figure. There is a large skeletal dragon stretched upon a mountain of treasure. The ancient bones and mound of treasure is stained with strange patterns and sigils in deep red. The metallic smell in the air is overpowering as well as the stench of decay. Piled inside the rib cage of the dragon are corpses in varying degrees of decomposition; one is very fresh (this is Hedrick, one of the missing teenagers).
Along the West wall is a lean-to with a bed roll surrounded by books and scrolls. A fire rages in the centre of the room.
The Necromancer slashes his hand and places it on the forehead of the great skeletal beast.
He says: ‘You called me mad.’
The dragon begins to shudder, limbs snapping magnetically into place.
The dragon pulls itself upright on its forelegs
‘But I’ve done what you never could’
The dragon shoots forward on forelimbs; it is lame, dragging the back legs and pelvis uselessly.
The Necromancer slumps exhausted, enamoured with his creation. He ignores the PCs. He will not interact or react to the PCs and will mutter and mumble to himself regardless of outcome.
The Dragon’s stats are noted below. The treasure is left to the DM’s imagination.
Frail Skeletal Dragon (5e)
Large undead, lawful evil
AC 15, HP 65, Speed 20'
Str 16 (+3), Dex 8 (-1), Con 16 (+3), Int 8 (-1), Wis 10(0), Cha 10 (0)
Saving throws : Dex +2, Wis +3
Languages: Draconic; Skills: perception +2
Damage vulnerability: bludgeoning; Damage resistance: neurotic; Damage immunity: poison; Condition immunity: poison, exhaustion
Senses: blindsight 10', darkvision 60', passive perception 12
Noxious odour. Any creature within 5’ must make a DC 12 Con saving throw. On a failed save the creature is poisoned for the next minute. A creature poisoned in this way can repeat the saving throw at the end of its turn.
Multiattack. This creature may make 2 attacks per round. Bite/breath weapon and claw.
Bite. Melee attack. +4 to hit. 5' reach. Single target. (1D10 +3) piercing.
Claw. Melee attack. +4 to hit. 5' reach. Single target. (2D4+3) slashing.
Breath weapon (recharge 5-6) bone shards: 15’ cone. DC12 Dex saving throw. 5D6 damage on a failed save or half as much on a success.
Skeletal Dragon (Holmes/BX/AD&D)
AC 4, HD 5, HP 25, 2 claws & bite for 1d3/1d3/2d6, bone shards breath weapon in a line to 40', cannot be subdued but may be turned as a Spectre, treat as undead, nauseating odour the same as Troglodytes
Karl has invited me to write a commentary on his scenario, which I'm delighted to do.
Karl took his inspiration for this from Tucker's Kobolds. Back in 1987, Roger E. Moore wrote a famous editorial for Dragon #127 in which he described a dungeon adventure where a tribe of kobolds (the weakest of the D&D humanoid monsters) were deployed so cleverly they posed a significant challenge for even high level (6th-12th) adventurers. "Sometimes," Moore concludes, "it's the little things—used well—that count."
Karl places his 16 Kobolds where they might capture some incurious PCs immediately, by dragging them through fake rabbit holes into underground caves and knocking them unconscious. Once the fight moves into the dungeon, the Kobolds take advantage of cramped, low tunnels where they can gang up on their restricted opponents. The Kobolds make use of traps and advantageous positions to pepper the PCs with arrows, pour burning oil on them, unleash savage dogs on them and retreat from direct melee wherever possible.
The PCs will be badly battered and probably will have lost party members when they arrive at the climactic showdown with the undead dragon, a fight which will finish them off unless they make use of surprise or are sensible enough to flee.
This is a delightfully malevolent dungeon, designed to give the PCs terrible experiences at every turn. 1st level characters probably won't get very far at all: 2nd level characters might be hardy enough to live to run away at the end.
Set against this punishing experience are two mutually-reinforcing themes. One is the Crypt's original function, as the resting place of a noble order of nature-themed paladins. There are touches of beauty down here, in the bramble-motifs in the Tribute Room, in the dignified oaths and high-minded solution to the riddle on the doors. This was not always a terrible place, but it has been despoiled and corrupted. The PCs should be inspired to salvage what goodness and hope can be found down here, which leads to the second theme...
The other theme is the rescue of the five teenage wannabe heroes. These characters are like the cast of a Hollywood horror movie who stumbled into a Very Bad Place: Hedrick and Tad are now dead, but the PCs can rescue Nedward, Genelle and Devonna and need to remember that this is in fact their mission. If they can bring all three youngsters alive out of the dungeon, they should feel rightly proud of themselves. Confronting the Dragon is pure hubris.
If you referee this scenario, you might feel differently and want the PCs to have a fighting chance against the Dragon. You could rule that, if the Necromancer is assassinated, the skeletal dragon-thing collapses in ruins. More interesting is to emphasise its weakness: it has no mobility and cannot turn around, so PCs attacking from behind should enjoy Thief-like backstabbing advantages and Thieves themselves should inflict even more damage (triple, if you use Holmes/BX/AD&D). This heroic ending rather detracts from Karl's dramatic intention, but some player-groups prefer to win like heroic fools rather than flee and live like wise tacticians.
Bring Me the Heart of Finbar Forkbeard is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. It's a break from the list I set myself last year, because Valentine's Day approaches and, over on the DMS & GMS Facebook Page, Liu Lance asked for ideas for a Valentines-themed scenario. So... challenge accepted.
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
The course of true love never did run smooth. Brigid Rosenbrow is a wealthy unmarried Dwarvish lady who owns an extensive mine in the Mountains of Broddick. She has conceived a powerful romantic interest in a younger Dwarvish adventurer, Finbar Forkbeard. Finbar, however, thinks only of dungeons (and, indeed, dragons) and has no interest in marriage and even less in Brigid. Brigid has decided she will go adventuring with Finbar and win his love by demonstrating her courage. To this end, she has reopened an old ‘training dungeon’ in her mine, where the Rosenbrows used to practise martial skills. She has spread a rumour that a fabled heirloom, the Ring of Broddick, rests in this dungeon.
When Finbar arrives, anxious to retrieve the Ring, Brigid offers to join him. She recruits a group of adventurers (PCs) to play the role of goblin ‘monsters’ in the dungeon.
There are two complications for Brigid. One is Hildy Heffenhammer, a female Dwarf adventurer and rival for Finbar’s affections, who will be joining her party. The other is Olaf the Black, a Dwarf renegade with his band of Svarts: Olaf has picked up on the rumour too and is a bitter enemy of Finbar. He and his monsters have penetrated the dungeon by digging down from the mines, discovered the fake Ring and now lie in wait for Finbar.
The Player Characters ae assumed to be 1st level beginners and about 6 in number. For each PC fewer than 6 in the party, promote one of them to 2nd level (Forge: level 2 in Melee or Magic), so if there are 3 PCs they are all 2nd level.
You have been hired by Brigid Rosenbrow to play the role of ‘goblins’ in her training dungeon. She offers a fabulous fee for a day’s work and all the weapons will be ‘bated’ so no one should get hurt. Brigid will be accompanying a Dwarvish adventurer named Finbar through the training dungeon. Your job is to fight mock battles against Brigid and Finbar and never to ‘break role’ as goblins.
Show the players the Player Map of the dungeon and point out the service tunnels.
Brigid takes the PCs into her confidence (see Appendix 1, the Chemical Equation). Brigid shows them how to open the secret doors and warns them about the Dungeon Cleanup Crew (see room 2):
Brigid issues the PCs with their weapons and arrows which are bated or blunted (D&D: they inflict minimal damage; Forge: they inflict half damage, none of it actual). She reassures them that her and Finbar’s weapons will be similarly safe and says that there are healing potions, nets, smoke bombs and stuff for controlling the monsters “somewhere in the maintenance room” (see room 2)
The players will be given their Goblin Disguises (see Appendix 2) and, once they are in costume, must meet Brigid in the Dungeon Entrance (1). They have enough time to familiarise themselves with the Maintenance Room (2) and Service Shafts (3) but see no sign of Carrie or Gerald at this point.
1. Entrance Hall
The broad corridor is 12’ high. Brigid waits here, in mail armour, holding a lantern. She checks the PCs’ Goblin Disguises and briefs them on their tasks:
2. Maintenance Room
This dirty room is lit by a lamp on the central table. The walls are stacked with barrels and crates. Each time they are in this room, the PCs might notice something useful (1 in 6 or a Search test for Forge):
3. Service Tunnels
These 5’ wide tunnels are 6’ high; larger-than-man-sized characters will be cramped here (-2 to attacks and saves, +2 to AC; in Forge: always use DV2). The secret doors have spy-holes and the acoustics allow PCs in the shaft to hear perfectly what is going on in the room or corridor beyond. The doors can be locked from inside the shaft to prevent pursuit.
The ‘Wandering Monsters’ in the shafts are Gerald and Carrie. Roll 1d12 every time the PCs pass through the shafts after the start of the adventure.
1-3 Gerald the Gelatinous Cube (HP 10)
4-6 Carrie the Carrion Crawler (HP 8)
7-12 Nothing but the distant sound of Gerald’s wheezing
Gerald is very decrepit. He’s not very transparent any more, makes a wheezing sound when he moves (at half speed) and is accompanied by the smell of curdled milk. He only surprises on a 1-2 and his paralysing secretions are weak: +2 on Saving Throw, paralysis for 2d4 rounds only, only 1d4 damage. He will retreat away from the Rattle (see room 2) and can be shepherded towards an ambush point quite easily. He has the personality of a old, blind, smelly dog that moves towards noise but is easily startled.
Gelatinous Cube: (D&D) HD 4, HP 10, AC 8, smother for 1d4 + paralysation for 2d4 round; (Forge) HP 20, AR 1, AV 4, smother for 1d4 + paralysation for 2d4 rounds, ST 14+, SPD 1
Carrie only has 3 tentacles which likewise are weakened (+2 on Saving Throw, paralysis only lasts 1d4 rounds). She has the personality of a playful puppy with limited attention span. She will bound towards PCs, caressing them with her tentacles, then wander off. She will chase after her food pellets. If fed more than 3, she will curl up in a corridor (blocking it) and go to sleep for 10-60 minutes: nothing can wake her.
Carrion Crawler: (D&D) HD 3+1, HP 8, AC 7, 3 tentacles, no damage, paralysation for 2d4 rounds; (Forge) HP 16, AR 2, AV 3, 3 tentacles, no damage, paralysation for 2d4 rounds, ST 14+, SPD 4
Getting either monster to Brigid’s ambush point is quite easy. Neither of them is aggressive and they will both try to run away if injured. Brigid would like the PCs to intervene to stop any harm coming to them (they have to spend a round being attacked and can then retreat through the secret door).
4. Skirmish Room
Vents in the floor squirt rolling smoke into this room, to ankle-height. This is the scene for the first battle between the PCs (as ‘Goblins’) and Brigid, Finbar and Hildy. The PCs will learn that Hildy’s weapons are NOT bated: she inflicts normal damage with her enthusiastic whacks.
Brigid: (D&D) 1st level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 9, HP 5, AC chain mail & shield, spear for 1d6 bated; (Forge) HP 15, DV1 5, DV2 4, chain mail 50AP, shield 5SP, AR 1, spear for 2d4 bated, ST 13+, SPD 3, Read/Write, History, Binding
Finbar: (D&D) 3rd level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 14, HP 16, AC chain mail & shield, sword for 1d6 bated, +1 bonus from Strength, Dexterity and Charisma; (Forge) HP 17, DV1 6, DV2 4, chain mail 50AP, shield 10SP, AR 4, broad sword for 1d8+1 bated, light crossbow for 1d4 bated, ST 12+, SPD 3, Missile Evasion 40%, Tactics 50%, Binding, +1 bonus from STR and AWR.
Finbar enjoys the fight, bellowing: "These Goblins are a sorry lot. I barely feel their pitiful blows!" Hildy calls back: "In truth, dear one, they are daunted by your battle prowess - see how this one quails as I smite him!"
Hildy: (D&D) 2nd level Dwarf Fighter, DEX 12, HP 10, AC plate mail, war hammer for 1d8, +1 bonus from Charisma; (Forge) HP 16, DV 7, DV2 7, plate mail 70AP, AR 2, war hammer for 1d8, light crossbow for 1d4, ST 13+, SPD 3, Charisma Benefit, Weapon Stop 33%
After 1d4+1 rounds, there’s a hissing sound and the smoke in the room rises by 0-3 (1d4-1) feet at the end of each round. Once the smoke is 5’ high the Dwarves are blinded and the PCs can retreat freely.
In the smoke, Finbar blunders back out of the room but Brigid and Hildy quarrel (see Appendix 1, A Sexy Complication). If the PCs get lost in the smoke, there's a great opportunity for comedy, with characters blundering around, mistaking each other: let Hildy or Brigid (or both) throw herself at a PC, believing them to be Finbar.
While Hildy goes looking for Finbar, Brigid uses the secret door to find the PCs and suggest a new plan (see Appendix 1, the Hook).
If her team gets dangerously low on Hit Points (ie herself on 2HP, Finbar on single figures, Hildy on less than 5), Brigid will make an excuse to slip away to the Maintenance Room (2) and collect a Healing Potion (Forge: Healing Root or Binding Kit) to restore them.
5. The Bridge of Doom
This high chamber (30' vaulted) has a chasm dividing it in two, bridged by a 3' wide plank. This is the second combat encounter (unless the PCs staged an ambush involving Gerald or Carrie in the corridor outside). Finbar, Hildy and Brigid emerge on one side of the chasm, the PC ‘Goblins’ on the other. Finbar and Hildy will open fire with crossbows (Hildy’s quarrels are NOT blunted) and the PCs can return fire while Brigid heads to the Bridge for a mock fight with one of the PCs.
After 1d4 rounds of this, Hildy pulls out her Rod of Fire Smiting and uses it to bathe the ledge where the PCs are standing in flames. At least the fire and smoke will cover their retreat!
The Rod sends out a funnel of fire, setting fire to everything in front of it in an area 30’ deep and 30’ wide at the end. Creatures in the target zone must Save vs Wands (Forge: vs Magic) or catch fire. Characters on fire take 1HP damage every round until they can leave the scorched zone and roll on the floor for a round, beating at the flames. The Rod has 5 charges left.
After the fight, Finbar is intrigued by this item and inspects it closely (to Hildy’s great pleasure) before muttering that “Elves make such cunning toys” and dismissing it with a sniff (to Brigid’s delight).
6. Abduction Point
This is the location where Brigid wants the PCs to abduct Finbar so that she can rescue him. The secret door is silent, allowing for total surprise. A smoke bomb, net or the paralysing powers of Carrie or Gerald could bring this about. If the players come up with a good plan, it will automatically succeed: don't let it fail just for a bad roll.
After the events of the Appendix 1, the Hook, Brigid instructs the PCs to abduct Hildy instead (and after the Bridge of Doom incident they will probably be only too glad to).
If the PCs succeed in this, they will overhear Finbar confess his feelings for Brigid (see Appendix 1, the Swivel).
7. The Trophy Room
This big chamber has a 20’ high ceiling and the far end of it is dominated by a raised platform (6’ high) on which the trophies of the Rosenbrow dungeon cadets are displayed – along with the fake Ring of Broddick. A ladder allows people to climb to the platform.
The PCs are supposed to bring the captured Finbar (or Hildy) here and put up a mock fight so that Brigid can play the rescuer. However, it is likely that Brigid and Finbar will get here before the PCs can make it round the service shafts to the secret door. The PCs will probably arrive to find Brigid and Finbar battling and witness Finbar being captured in a Svart net and pulled up onto the balcony by Olaf, who kicks away the ladder.
The svarts are equal in number to the PCs, plus three.
Svarts: (D&D) HD 1-1, HP 2 each, AC as leather, pick for 1d6; (Forge) HP 8, AR 2 (7 AP), AV 1 (2 if they outnumber), pick for 1d6 (+1 if outnumber), ST 13+, SPD 2
8. Display Platform
The (fake) Ring of Broddick rests on a wooden pedestal, covered with a half-globe of glass.
At some point in the scenario, the back wall collapses and Back Olaf enters with his Svarts. He seizes the Ring and his Svarts descend to the room below (7) to explore.
With Finbar in his power, Olaf exults over his captive:
“I have you now, Forkbeard. You remember me? I see by the fear in your eyes you have not forgotten Black Olaf! I possess the Ring of Broddick and tortures vile await you. Say farewell to your loved one! And your life!!!!”
Olaf bundles Finbar into the tunnel (9).
When Olaf escapes the Svarts will wail and rush to the platform, scrabbling (and failing) to climb up after him; they will ignore the PCs for 1d3 rounds. Hildy’s Rod of Fire Smiting might be useful again.
9. The Dark Tunnel
This tunnel was an old mining seam, widened by Black Olaf’s pick-wielding Svarts. When the PCs get here, Olaf has fled ahead into the darkness.
If Hildy is present, the PCs will need to explain themselves (their Goblin Disguises won’t bear close scrutiny). Hildy could react in different ways:
The final confrontation is down to Brigid and the PCs, with their bated weapons. However, they might think to retrieve military picks from the Svarts. See Appendix 2, The Dark Moment.
10. Showdown on the Staircase
Olaf drags the struggling Finbar to the staircase that connects with the mines. He starts dragging Finbar up the steps but the PCs arrive at this point.
Black Olaf: (D&D) 4th level Dwarf Fighter, HP 25, AC plate mail and shield, axe for 1d6 damage, +1 Strength bonus; (Forge) HP 21, DV1 7, DV2 5, chain mail 50AP, shield 10SP, AV 4, battle axe for 1d8, ST 10+ (14+ vs Magic), SPD 4, Tactics 45%, Weapon Stomp 33%, Missile Evasion 33%, +1 STR bonus.
Olaf is a tough opponent. From his position on the steps, two PCs can engage him in melee combat and others can fire missiles up at him.
After first taking damage, Olaf wastes a round pointing the Ring at his enemies and shrieking “By the power of Broddick, die, peasants!” Of course nothing happens.
After dropping to single-figure HP, Olaf seizes Finbar and threatens to slit his throat with a knife.
Brigid downs her weapons and offers herself instead: “I am a lady of note in these halls, a wealthy inheritance rests upon me: much will my kinfolk pay for my ransom. Take me instead.”
Seeing Finbar’s furious resistance to this idea, Olaf throws the bound dwarf down the steps and seizes Brigid. Brigid grapples with him and he stabs her. The PCs can take advantage of the confusion to attack Olaf at +2 (Forge: use DV2).
If Olaf survives this, he will break free and rush up the steps into the mines. PCs can pursue or let him go; he's not important any more. Brigid needs treatment – the Healing Potion (Forge: Jilda Weed) in the Maintenance Room (2) will revive her. The PCs will witness a tender scene between Finbar and Brigid (see Appendix 1, Joyful Defeat).
Appendix 1: When Finbar met Brigid
Billy Mernit (2001) offers 7 ‘beats’ for classic romantic comedy. Here are some scenes to insert constructed around Mernit’s template:
Beat 1: The Chemical Equation
Brigid Rosenbrow takes the PCs into her confidence:
"Do you know of a dwarf named Finbar Forkbeard? But of course you do; he's famous, isn't he? He slew the wyrmling of Bodach Fen, stole the Necklace of the Grebbings, hunted the Wolf of Glenfarg, so many adventures. And of course, that beard..."
Brigid Rosenbrow's cheeks have become very rosy indeed, but she recovers herself.
"I am a woman of means, an heiress, and I intend to take a husband, but why would a hero like Finbar Forkbeard look with affection upon such as me? No, his warrior soul can only love a warrior-maid. And thus shall I prove myself to him. Help me," she pleads, eyes glistening, "in a noble deception, a pantomime of love, if you please. I have circulated a rumour of a treasure, the Ring of Broddick, and Finbar and I shall quest for it together. My family's training dungeon shall pass for the Ring's hiding place and you, my friends, shall disguise yourselves as goblin-folk. There can be no danger, for all our weapons shall be blunted, but Finbar will be deceived by our mock battles only to be undeceived when he looks upon me and sees that I have a warrior's heart. Then, I hope, I pray, he will love me. Will you do this for me, for the love I bear for Finbar Forkbeard - or if not for love, then for a princely reward, for my coffers are rich and my gratitude is boundless?"
Beat 2: The Meet-Cute
Brigid Rosenbrow and Finbar Forkbeard meet and Hildy Heffenhammer arrives:
"Quickly," Brigid Rosenbrow whispers, "lie down and pretend to be dead and that I slew you."
You lie yourselves across the floor and Brigid stands in your midst, holding her lantern and spear. Finbar Forkbeard descends the steps.
"Ho there," his voice booms, "what is this? A battle? Goblins, by my father's beard! And a warrior maid standing proud amongst the fallen. Name yourself, bold lady, for I am Finbar called Forkbeard."
"I have been expecting you," Brigid replies, "for I am Brigid Rosenbrow and, while I waited for you here, these wandering monsters chanced upon me. More the worse for them, for my spear thirsted and they have slaked its thirst with their blood."
"Not that much blood," Finbar mutters and nudges one of you with his boot. "This one doesn't look quite dead yet. I shall chop off its head."
"No need, no need," says Brigid quickly, "better to let the nasty creature die a slow death, don't you think?"
"By all that glitters," exclaims Finbar in admiration, "but you have a sharp blade for a soul."
"She certainly does," cries a new voice, a woman's voice, "and we shall be shield-maidens together in this day's great deeds."
"This," says Finbar, introducing the newcomer, "is Hildy Heffenhammer, an adventuring lady, my companion in valour."
"Charmed I'm sure," says Brigid, in a voice like frozen milk. "What a pleasant surprise to have another woman join our party."
"I am sure we shall be best of friends," replies Hildy, with no more warmth. "You have certainly made a fine start at depopulating this dungeon. Although this one isn't quite dead yet..."
"Never mind that," says Brigid, drawing the other two Dwarves away down the corridor, "we must press on. I'm sure there are plenty more enemies to face up ahead."
Once the Dwarves turn the corner, their voices fade and you can all sit up and breathe deeply.
Beat 3: A Sexy Complication
While Finbar explores, Brigid and Hildy quarrel:
The two Dwarf ladies call out to each other through the shifting smoke cloud.
"He's a fine warrior, don't you think?" says Hildy Heffenhammer. "So vigorous, such clean sword-strokes...!"
"That beard!" sighs Brigid.
"What's that?" cries Hildy, from further off.
"Nothing. A cough! This smoke!"
"Yes, curse this smoke! What do you think of his beard?"
"His beard?" says Brigid. "I hadn't noticed it."
"We are well-suited, he and I, don't you think?"
Brigid doesn't reply.
"You will have noticed," continues Hildy, "that there is an understanding between us, he and I."
"An understanding?" says Brigid, her voice faint.
"Yes. An unspoken promise, you could say. You will have seen the way he looks at me. The proposal cannot be far off now. You will attend the wedding, will you not? For I feel we are sisters-in-battle, dear Brigid, and that will make you his sister-in-law? Is that not a merry jest? Why do you not answer, dear Brigid? And what is that horrid sobbing sound?"
"The smoke," Brigid replies at last, "is getting in my eyes."
Beat 4: The Hook
Brigid turns to the PCs with a new plan:
You hear Brigid Rosenbrow calling for you in the service tunnels and meet her in the maintenance room.
"There's a new plan," she says grimly. "The Heffenhammer woman has to go."
You are inclined to agree, but wonder what she intends.
"You remember how I intended for you to ambush Finbar and take him to the Trophy Room, for me to rescue him? I want you to abduct Hildy instead."
That doesn't sound easy, since Hildy's weapons are very real.
"There is a net in here somewhere -- over there, in the crates. Smoke and flash bombs too. Have you found them yet? After the Bridge of Doom, there's a silent secret door. Jump out, flash-bang, in the net with her and drag her away. Maybe get Carrie to keep her quiet."
That sounds better, but what will Brigid do?
"I just need some time alone with Finbar, to find out if he really is promised to her. Then we can rescue Hildy in the Trophy Room - or just find her abandoned there, if you have bruises enough for this day's work. Do this for me, my friends. A Dwarf's love is like a river of lava: slow but inexorable and consuming every obstacle!"
Beat 5: Swivel
Finbar admits feelings for Brigid:
"Be not dismayed, Finbar Forkbeard," says Brigid, "we shall rescue your fair companion!"
"By my father's beard," exclaims Finbar, "you are as resolute as iron"
"I know how much she means to you."
"Resolute, aye," says Finbar in a softer tone, "and as true as silver. Can a maiden as brave and noble as you lack for a host of suitors?"
Brigid replies in a breathless voice, "Not all men see me as you do, sir."
"Then I am the prospector who has found the seam of gold, which the other miners overlooked."
There is a long pause.
"Have you not promised yourself to Mistress Heffenhammer?"
"Nay, lady. A bachelor adventurer I have been and so thought to remain, until I met with you. Hildy is..."
"Just a friend?"
"Aye. And no more than that."
Brigid laughs with delight. "Then I know where your friend may be found and unharmed too, I shall warrant. Let us go together and rescue her. The Ring of Broddick means nothing to me now."
"Nor to me, brave lady," Finbar answers, "though I shall have gentle use of a ring for you, if you are minded to accept it."
Brigid is too overcome to reply.
Beat 6: The Dark Moment
Finbar has been captured and Brigid prepares to go after him.
"Friends," she says, "you have done all and more that I have asked and been well paid in bruises and indignities. I cannot ask more of you. Peril and death await up yonder passage, for Olaf the Black is a mighty opponent and vigorous in his hate. Yet I must go after my love, a true warrior at last, if only to die under Olaf's axe. Must a maiden go into such dark places alone?"
In this monent, lamp in one hand and spear in the other, Brigid looks every inch the warrior-lady she has only play-acted so far.
"Let us go together then," she says. "A Dwarf's love is like the trembling mountain, that spends itself in fire and ash, then falls cold and silent for ever after."
Beat 7: Joyful Defeat
Finbar and Brigid are united at last:
Finbar bends over Brigid, whose rosy face is now as pale as milk. He gently takes away her helm and her unbound hair falls across her cheeks. His tears fall upon her closed eyes.
"Never was a maiden braver, nor a heart more true. Live, sweet warrior, live and be only mine and let Death remain a bachelor in my place."
Brigid's eyes flutter open.
"If you command me, then live I shall. It is the first of many duties I shall discharge for you, my loving friend."
"Say not friend, but husband, servant, life-long companion, slave and fool."
"Husband," Brigid replies and smiles, "is a very fine name indeed."
Finbar kisses the tresses of her hair and she the braids of his beard and you onlookers, at last, retreat, that the couple might enjoy the first of many private felicities in the long life of the Dwarves.
In terms of the Freytag model of dramatic structure, beats 1-2 make up Act I (Rising), beats 3-5 form Act II (Climax), and beats 5-7 create Act III (Sinking or Return).
Appendix 2: How I Met Your Nemesis
Force everyone to wear cardboard goblin ears while their characters are “in disguise”. They will thank you afterwards and this kiddy craft website shows you how.
For added chuckles, make an extra set and singe the edges. The players can wear these after Hildy uses the Rod of Fiery Smiting on them (5).
As usual, the basic map and key took half an hour but adding in the dramatic beats, dialogue and plotting took much longer, so it's not really a 'thirty minute' dungeon at all.
It's a linear dungeon, of course. The players are on rails and move from one set-piece scene to another. The benefit of this is that a strong narrative emerges. The disadvantage is the lack of player freedom and autonomy.
There are some choices for the players to make in the middle act, especially with rounding up Gerald or Cassie to stage the 'wandering monster attack'. They might also use these monsters to help abduct Hildy or even to pursue Black Olaf. Don't discourage this sort of creativity - there's little enough opportunity for it in a scenario like this - but remember that speed is important in pursuing Olaf. If someone heads back into the service tunnels to find one of the monsters or bombs from the Maintenance Room, the rest must pursue Olaf and the absent PC (and the monster) can rejoin the showdown after sme time has passed (say, 1d6+4 rounds).
Assume that Brigid has many opportunities to sneak away from her party and interact with the players, if only by whispering through the spyholes in the secret doors. As a GM, roleplaying her emotional rollercoaster is part of the fun of the story.
The PCs might capture Hildy at an earlier stage of the story. In this case, allow her to break free of her net or recover from paralysis to rejoin Finbar and Brigid at an opportune moment (e.g. on the Bridge, wielding her Rod of Fiery Smiting). Beat #5 (Swivel) can be inserted at a different moment if need be.
If the PCs are very weakened, Hildy doesn't have to depart at the end and could join them for the showdown. It's important that she demonstrates the hardness of her character and shallowness of her affections, perhaps by sneering at Finbar for getting captured and making it clear she is only pursuing Olaf for her own glorious reputation.
Gerald and Carrie are comedy interludes and a possible resource in the showdown. Don't employ them as 'wandering monsters' and force the players to fight them. A nice idea if for Gerald to grow if he gets to feed on a proper meal (e.g. the dead Svarts), swelling up to full size and regaining his normal damage (2d4) and fully effective paralysation. He then becomes a weapon the players can direct at Olaf. Don't let the monsters steal the show. If the PCs direct Gerald or Carrie at Olaf, he will use Finbar as a shield against the monster or hold a knife to the Dwarf as a bargaining chip, prompting Brigid to offer herself in exchange.
To all roleplayers hoping to adventure alongside their sweetheart - and to anyone else who enjoys some romantic comedy in their RPG session - a happy Valentine's Day.
The Inn of the Cold Companion is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
Background (Referee only)
The Inn is a place in the realm of death where the souls of the dead gather on their way to the Netherworld. It was once a real Inn that entered the realm of death when the Innkeeper Rosenkrantz, deranged by grief after the death of his wife Ophelia, burned it down around him.
Dead souls will not rest here long, before the Cold Companion (an avatar of Death) comes to collect them. Dead souls do not realise they are dead: they believe they are resting on a long journey but have only hazy ideas about their destination. They also do not know their names and the only treasure they carry are two silver obols each (the coins to pay for their passage). In this scenario, the players are members of a party of adventurers who have died in a disastrous dungeon encounter, but in the living world their cleric-cum-medic is struggling to revive them.
You are bone-weary from travelling and there are still leagues ahead of you, but the last light of a wintry day shows a roadside inn ahead, with a lantern glowing faintly above the door. The creaking sign bears the name ‘The Cold Companion’ and the image of a feral child with sparkling eyes. Your rations are spent and your waterskins empty, but there are coins jangling in your purses. You enter, look for rest and perhaps fellowship from other travellers on this dismal highway.
In this scenario, characters do not know their Names (q.v.) when asked and cannot remember each other’s names or even think of any names at all. Players can describe their appearance and origin (but no names, of countries or towns) and know each other’s achievements (famous deeds, reputation, shared exploits, but no names of places or enemies) and may refer to each other by this (‘Dwarf’ or ‘Goblin-killer’ or ‘Elf-lover’). The only exception is priests who will remember the name of their god.
The players have no rations (all spoilt), water or wine (spilt or sour). Forge characters have no armour repair kits, binding kits or healing roots. If players bought these accessories, they are mysteriously rotted or simply vanished.
Regardless of initial moneys or treasure from previous adventures, each character has just 2 silver pieces (obols) on their person.
Fire cannot be lit in the Inn, except for Rosenkrantz’s candle. Spells which create magical fire will not cause other objects to burn (exception: room 6). The rooms are lit by an eerie radiance from the windows; shuttered rooms are pitch black until the shutters are opened. The Cellar (8 and 9) is pitch black unless Rosenkrantz is there with his candle or magical illumination is used. The candle in 7 will help the PCs a lot.
Allow players to discover these absences and mysteries through play (i.e, when asked their name or when they try to pay for something).
1. The Common Room
This is the public bar with three long trestle tables and benches set around a big stone Fireplace (10) which is piled with kindling but unlit and cold. There is a bar, with shelves behind holding tankards and bottles, and big tuns at either side with spigots for dispensing beer or cider - but everything is utterly tasteless. The room is high-ceilinged (20’) and overlooked by a minstrel’s gallery (3).
The windows to either side of the fireplace present a Spectral Vista as will the door if PCs try to leave.
If the PCs make noise or call for service, Rosenkrantz will appear, pretending to be the innkeeper. If the players spend too long here or return to this room, the Undead Patrons will arrive.
2. Corridor of Windows
This dark corridor is lit by the windows, which present the same Spectral Vista. When the PCs cross the corridor, skeletal hands break through the windows and attack. Each PC is grabbed by 1d4 hands, which attack as 1HD monsters (Forge: as AV 2) and deal 1 damage. PCs who are grabbed may be pulled through the window on the following turn; they must Save vs Death (D&D, at +4), with a -2 penalty for each hands holding them. An ally may try to save a character being pulled through the window: this allows a second Saving Throw with an additional +2. The arms may be turned as Skeletons or attacked (treat armour as leather and a single hit destroys one).
If the PCs returns to this corridor or pass through in the company of Rosenkrantz (when he shows them to their rooms), the windows will be once again intact but the arms will not appear. There are three staircases: up to the upper floor (4), up to the Minstrels’ Gallery (3) and down to the Cellar (8).
3. The Minstrels' Gallery
This balcony commands a view of the Common Room (1) 10' below. While PCs are up here, the Undead Patrons will arrive. There are musical instruments here (harp, lute, citern, recorder, violin) and any PC will find themselves able to play mournful tunes on them. A character who can play or sing will find themselves able to recall a sad ballad of the death of a beautiful woman named OPHELIA; the singer can bestow the name on one character (including him or herself).
4. Shadowy Hallway
The only light in this corridor comes from the window at the far end, which presents a Spectral Vista. A dark shadow lies across the floor. Anyone stepping on it must Save vs Death (Forge: at -2) or fall into it, disappearing. Anyone putting their hand into it feels numbing cold and cannot use their arm for 1d12 minutes. Objects placed in the shadow are withdrawn covered in frost. Any PC falling into the shadow arrives at the front door of the Inn all over again, in the company of anyone dragged through the windows (2), with no recall of being here previously and any Names (q.v.) that have been learned are forgotten.
The shadowy hole temporarily disappears in light: from a candle (in 7 or carried by Rosenkrantz) or magical illumination) but reappears in darkness. Players might use this to their advantage against the Cold Companion.
5. The Guest Room
This room is unlocked but, if Rosenkrantz shows the PCs to a room, he will bring them here and lock them inside. There are six bunk beds and a chest for goods and several weatherstained cloaks on hooks. Scratched on the inside of the door is a message: THE COLD COMPANION IS COMING. Under one of the beds is an old pair of boots with a name written inside: YORICK; anyone putting on the boots acquires the name. Characters who sleep in this room dream of dying in battle against monsters in an underground dungeon; one character hears their name being called over and over from the Well (9) downstairs.
The window is shuttered but, if opened, reveals a Spectral Vista.
6. The Innkeeper's Room
This room is locked and piled with junk: the possessions of former travellers can be determined on a random item table. The room smells of soot and ash. The Innkeeper’s Ledger is kept here and bears the Innkeeper’s name ROSENKRANTZ on the inside cover.
Under the bed is a sack containing thousands of silver pieces: the payments of countless previous guests. This is the only room in the Inn where fire can be started and objects can burn: if a fire is started here, creatures inside take 1d6 damage on the first round, then 2d6, then 3d6 and so on.
If the PCs do not summon him to the Common Room (1) or discover him in the Cellar (8), Rosenkrantz can be found here, counting his coins.
7. The Master Bedroom
The door is locked and Rosenkrantz does not have a key to it; listening at the door, PCs will hear a man sobbing but if they enter there is no one within. If someone bearing the name of 'Ophelia' is present, the door will open for them.
This grandly appointed room has shuttered windows that display a Spectral Vista if opened. The bed is laid for a funeral, with vases of flowers: rosemary, pansies, daisies, violets and rue. An ever-burning candle (similar to Rosenkrantz's) is set beside the bed and can be taken by the PCs; it sheds light in a 10' radius.
Paintings on the wall show the Inn in a busy city street; a portrait of the Innkeeper and his beautiful wife; a deathbed, clearly in this very room, with the Innkeeper grieving; a terrible fire burns the inn down, the Innkeeper clutching a ledger can be seen in the window of the Innkeeper’s Room (6). The final picture shows a creature advancing through the doorway to the Inn: a pale child with sharp teeth and shining eyes. The Innkeeper in the paintings is not the one the players might know as Rosenkrantz.
If the PCs did not summon him to the Common Room (1) or find him in the Bedroom (6), Rosenkrantz is down here, endlessly dragging heavy barrels around while he repeats his name over and over to himself. He will offer to show PCs to the Common Room (1) then bring the Innkeeper's Ledger and then escort them to the Guest Room (5). He will go to great lengths to stop them discovering the Well (9).
9. The Well of Souls
The well is a deep shaft in the floor, near;y 10' across. A voice calls out of it, calling to one of the characters by name (determine which player randomly: that PC now knows their name). Any character trying to descend into the well falls into darkness and experiences the Medical Intervention. This character then wakes up in the Master Bedroom (7).
10. The Cold Fireplace
After the Medical Intervention or the final Spectral Vista occurs or when Rosenkrantz lights it, the fireplace erupts with blue flames that give off no heat. After 1d6 rounds, the Cold Companion enters the Inn, seeking out any characters without names. If the PCs defeat the Cold Companion, they awaken in the living world.
This is another dead soul, a thief, who has been at the Inn for untold ages. When he arrived here, he stole the Innkeeper’s name (Rosenkrantz) so that the Cold Companion took the old Innkeeper instead of him. Rosenkrantz plays the role of an oily and obsequious Innkeeper, but delights in the players’ confusion and enjoys taunting them by asking them for their names on any possible occasion and teasing them with the imminent arrival of the Cold Companion. He carries a smelly tallow candle at all times that never goes out; he will not share it with guests or let anyone else use it to light the Fireplace. He also carries keys to lock rooms 5 and 6.
He has the following rumours to impart:
Rosenkrantz cannot be killed except by the Cold Companion or by a fire in room 6. However, if the players acquire the Ledger and steal his name, the former-Rosenkrantz will use his candle to light the Fireplace (10) and summon the Cold Companion, hoping to trick the players into giving him back his name in return for protection (a lie: he has none to offer).
If the PCs summon Rosenkrantz to the Common Room (1) or meet him in the Cellar (8), Rosenkrantz will offer to provide them with a room at a cost of 2 silver pennies. He will ask them to sign the Ledger (and might have to head off to room 6 to fetch it if encountered in the Cellar). The ledger is full of pages where previous guests signed in (as the nameless players must do) with X. The inside cover has an inscription: ROSENKRANTZ, HIS BOOK, AND HIS LOVELY WIFE. Any character holding the book and reading this aloud acquires the name of Rosenkrantz and the previous Rosenkrantz becomes nameless.
The Undead Patrons
Two leather-armoured warriors arrive at the Inn, demanding service. If the PCs do not interact with them, Rosenkrantz will appear with his Ledger and book them in: they too have a pair of silver obols each. The nameless men are cheerful and keen to talk and play dice with other guests. They will explain how they were exterminating the undead in a haunted cemetery just last night; their companion was killed by an undead creature and they buried him; they had been concerned that he might rise as an undead monster himself and come after them, but clearly that has not happened, which is why they are celebrating.
During the interaction, the Patrons start to change, because of course they were killed in the night by their former-friend and are now turning into undead themselves.
The player in the Well (9) experiences waking up in a dungeon corridor, surrounded by corpses. A female cleric (Forge: Berethenu Knight) is trying to staunch their wounds and pleading with them to ‘stay with me’. The player can utter three words before the vision ends and they return to the Inn. This scene is really happening in the living world. The corpses are the other PCs, killed in an attack by wandering monsters. The cleric is GERTRUDE and if asked she can offer her own name, the name of the dying PC and any other names that a three word question could elicit.
After the Intervention, the fire lights in the Chimney (10) and the Cold Companion will soon appear. The PC awakes in the Master Bedroom (7).
It is vital the players acquire names. They might steal ROSENKRANTZ’s name from the Ledger, acquire OPHELIA from performing music (3) or learn their own names or that of GERTRUDE from the Medical Intervention; YORICK can be discovered in the Guest Room (5). Clerics (Forge: Grom Warriors/Berethenu Knights) will know the name of their god and can take this name upon themselves, once only for 1d6 rounds.
Looking out of the Inn (from rooms 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7) reveals a supernatural landscape. Roll 1d6 for each different occasion, adding +1 for each previous Vista that has been viewed.
The Cold Companion
This avatar of Death appears as a pale and feral-looking child, with razor sharp teeth, glittering eyes and sharp, filthy nails. It moves to attack nameless characters and ignores those with Names. Characters killed by the Cold Companion turn into balls of floating blue fire, which the Cold Companion gobbles up: this also takes 1 round, buying respite for other PCs. If a named character deals damage to the Cold Companion, it will be able to attack once in retaliation.
The Cold Companion appears when a now-nameless ‘Rosenkrantz’ summons it, in which case it eats him first (despite a scene where he pleads or promises: Death is not to be cheated by thieves), giving the PCs a melee round of respite. It also appears after the Medical Intervention or the final Spectral Vista.
In D&D, treat the Cold Companion as a Wight but ignore it’s immunity to normal weapons. Level-1 PCs struck by the Cold Companion are instantly killed by the level drain unless they have a name, in which case they forget their name instead.
In Forge, the Cold Companion is a Death Hag and named characters who fail to Save vs Death will forget their name rather than be destroyed.
If the Cold Companion falls into the shadow pit (4) or the Well (9), it is defeated. If it can be lured to the Innkeeper’s Room (6), it can be trapped in a fire which will then spread and destroy the entire Inn. When the Cold Companion is destroyed, any remaining characters leave the Underworld and recover in the dungeon, at the site of the Medical Intervention: they have returned from the dead.
"And they were really dead the whole time!" It's a cliche of TV and film, but it's still a fresh conceit in a roleplaying game. This scenario assumes the players have experienced a TPK (Total Party Kill). If the players create new characters, then the TPK is an aspect of their backstory that they have forgotten. Have fun dropping this scenario in if the players really do experience a TPK!
This was my attempt to create a Twilight Zone style 30 minute dungeon. The dungeon itself took 30 minutes, but writing up the rules for Rosenkrantz, the Undead Patrons, the Spectral Vistas, etc., took longer.
The scenario assumes half a dozen PCs, who could all be 1st level. If the number of PCs is half that, they should be 2nd level and the Referee should remove Yorick's Boots from room 5 and trigger the arrival of the Cold Companion as soon as there is only one un-named PC left.
I hope there's some pleasure for the PCs in figuring out the Inn's mysteries: even if they quickly realise they are dead, there's still the puzzle of Rosenkrantz and the history of how they original Innkeeper destroyed himself and the Inn.
The players might decide to leave the Inn. The Spectral Vistas are designed to discourage that but if the PCs insist, introduce horrid Sandworms (as in Beetlejuice) to gobble them up, with PCs awakening back at the Inn (in their Guest Room, probably) and with names forgotten, to teach them a lesson.
Rosenkrantz is intended to be a nuanced NPC. I think he's been at the Inn for centuries and is quite mad. He's a mixture of humble-grovelling towards guests and smug-sarcasm, delighting in being mysterious and showing that he knows more about what's going on than he will reveal. If the players want to attack him, allow him to run into a shadow, like the one in 4 but instead of being ejected from the Inn he escapes to the Innkeeper's Room (6). This is a unique power he has learned from spending so long at the Inn.
The Cold Companion is meant to be an eerie, fey sort of psychopomp. I imagine it to be Ophelia's unborn child, grown into a sharp-toothed demon-thing. It giggles in a high-pitched voice, skitters about the place on slap-slap-slap bare feet and scratches at doors with its horrid nails. It cannot be reasoned with, though it might back off (briefly) from fire or the flowers from the Master Bedroom (7). Have fun with it.
If you want a less-violent, more spiritual sort of climax, think about how the players could relate to the Cold Companion. If the Companion truly is Ophelia's unborn child who died with her mother and then was incinerated in the fire, it might be possible to reach out to her, especially if a PC has taken on the name of OPHELIA or ROSENKRANTZ and recognises the child as their own. The Companion's grieving reaction to the flowers in 7 and pained response to Ophelia's theme played on the instruments in 3 might provide clues.
Alternatively, players might improvise names for themselves based on their behaviour within the Inn: 'Shadow-tripper' or 'Well-diver' are riddle-names of the sort Bilbo offered to Smaug in The Hobbit and Referees should reward this sort of creativity.
It's possible that all the remaining PCs end up with names, especially if someone used their three-word question in the Medical Intervention wisely. In this case, they are immune to attacks from the Companion and Referees should not force a battle. Players might overcome the Companion by showing it kindness or simply a lack of fear. Again, Referees should reward thematic roleplaying. Conquering death doesn't have to involve killing something, after all.
Bury My Tusks at Broken Jaw is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
In this scenario, players can use Ryan Marsh's goblin PC class (and allied Hobgoblins and Bugbears).
The goblin kingdom was overthrown by the invading Elves of the Pale Empire (‘Foam’, as the goblins call them, for their pale skin). After the death of the last Goblin rajjor (king) San Rankill, Goblins were sent to live in Munaan (reservations). One such as Broken Jaw, deep in the swampy Watching Glades. Now the Elves have arrived to evict the goblin chief (Keth) and his sworn companions, herding the tribe into a stockade where they will be deported to the slave markets.
The Elves came in the night on their silent ship to Broken Jaw. Your cousin Botang brought you warning and you escaped the Munan (reservation) on canoes while he sacrificed himself fighting off the Bleach (Elves) and their Mudskin (Human) henchmen. Many of your companions died in the Swamp of Ghosts but dawn finds you camped in the Old Boneyard, warming yourself round a feeble fire, while you plot your revenge.
One of the PCs is the Keth (chieftain) of the goblin reservation of Broken Jaw. The scenario involves his or her attempt to recapture the island home and expel the imperial Elves and their Human mercenaries.
Create characters for D&D based on the Goblin class by Ryan Marsh. Optionally, allow one PC to be a grizzled Hobgoblin sergeant who trained the young Keth in arms. Another PC could be a Bugbear, an old family retainer. If there are 6 PCs, they can all be 1st level; for each PC fewer than 6, promote one character to 2nd level, starting with the Hobgoblin sergeant, then the Keth, then the Bugbear for a group of three 2nd level characters.
In Forge, the Keth and his or her comrades should be Higmoni, the sergeant a Berserker and the retainer a Ghantu. If there are fewer than 6, consider promoting their level of Melee or Magic skill as above.
1. A Cold Night in the Old Boneyard
The PCs start here, at sunrise. They are equipped with only leather armour and their krist daggers (damage 1d4+1). The swamps below are covered in mists. Each PC rolls 1d6 for rumours about their surroundings (add +1 if Wisdom 13+ or if History skill is used):
If the PCs search the boneyard, they will find caches of ancient weapons; roll 1d6 for each PC (add +1 if Intelligence 13+ or if Search roll successful)
2. Bomoch's Hut
Bomoch the Greenseer lives in a squalid hut of leather tents and woven reeds. All around the hut dead weasels hang from lines and Bomoch keeps many weasels in cages (to keep away Cockatrices, of course). He is a wild-eyed, cackling maniac but he has been expecting the PCs.
Bomoch greets the Keth as a great lord and volunteers a safe route following an ancient causeway north through the Swamp of Ghosts. He warns PCs not to stray from the causeway into the mists: Penanggouls will imitate the voices of loved ones and Cockatrices turn you to salt with their bite.
Bomoch tells the Keth that the Jade Queen is waiting for him or her inside the Emerald Labyrinth. He will offer no more clues except to direct the PCs to 3 and instruct them to eat the fungus growing on the trees near the old totem pole.
Bomoch offers other advice to the other PCs, roll 1d6 for each (+1 if Charisma 13+ or possess the Charisma trait)
3. Into the Emerald Labyrinth
The PCs will be sent here by Bomoch (2). The trail ends with a sinister klireng totem pole before the wall of dense forest. If the PCs consume the fungus growing on the trunks of nearby trees, they will experience a vision in which a trail opens up into the forest. Following it takes them to the Bower (4) along a path that is almost lightless because of the canopy of branches overhead.
The Referee should add haunting and scary details to the journey or roll/choose for each character:
Any deaths or Hit Points lost during the vision are recovered at the end and the PCs awake outside the forest, with the sun now in late afternoon and the day nearly over.
4. In the Bower of the Jade Queen
The vision quest concludes in a clearing in the heart of the forest, watched over by a final brooding klireng pole.
5. The Causeway through the Swamp of Ghosts
If the PCs took Bomoch’s advice, they can follow the causeway. Along the route are salt pillars (petrified victims of the Cockatrices). The Referee should alarm the players with the reptilian slithers of Cockatrices in the mist. If the PCs visited the Emerald Labyrinth it will be dusk and they may sight Penanggouls, floating heads that call to them with the voices of loved ones.
Half way through the swamp, there is a high mound marked by a totem pole. A scouting party of 10 Humans are camped here; they are servants of the Elves.
Human Scouts: (D&D) HD 1, HP 3, AC leather & shield, spear for 1d6 or javelin for 1d6; (Forge) HP 15, DV1 3, DV2 2, 15AP, 5SP, AV 1, spear for 2d4 or javelin for 1d6, ST 12+, SPD 3
If the PCs eavesdrop on the Humans they might learn things (roll 1d6 for each):
If the PCs did not visit Bomoch, they will not find the causeway. They will wander for hours in the swamp and find themselves stalked by Cockatrices. Bomoch will arrive to save them, carrying a weasel in a cage to frighten the Cockatrices away. He will guide them to the causeway and accompany them to the Slave Stockade (6). In this case, Bomoch will offer his puzzling omens but will not tell PCs about the Jade Queen.
6. Attacking the Stockade
The Goblins used this area as a timber yard for valuable hardwoods felled in the Watching Glades. Now the Elves have imprisoned the Goblin tribe here and set their Human soldiers to watch over them. There are 20 Humans: 4 guarding the bridge and 4 in the watchtower and another 12 standing guard over the prisoners. See 5 for their characteristics. The Goblin prisoners are all tied up.
The players need a plan to pick off the guards quickly, under cover of night or fog, perhaps freeing the prisoners to aid them. Once this is done, they can free their loved ones. Each PC has a significant NPC to free:
However, many prisoners are missing including at least one of the special NPCs. They were taken last night by a creature of darkness and dragged away into the Watching Glades (7).
The stockade contains a supply of limes (to feed the prisoners). For D&D, there will be a Potion of Healing. For Forge, there are leather and shield repair kits and tools as well as 2d4 Binding Kits.
7. Through the Watching Glades
If the PCs choose to go in pursuit of the kidnapped prisoners, Bomoch will not accompany them (if he has come this far). It will be night time and the jungle trail is treacherous. At the other side of the jungle, stepping stones cross the river and the ruins of the old kings are visible in the moonlight.
Roll 1d6 for each PC to find out what happens on the journey (for irony, don’t roll and choose an event that matches the vision encounters described at 3):
8. To the Ruins of the Old Kings
The statuary and wall carvings here surprise the PCs: the old kings, the Rajjors, who ruled here were not Elves, but Goblins. PCs with Intelligence 13+ (Forge: History skill) will conclude this was the palace of San Rankill, the last Rajjor. A statue depicts him riding a water dragon (Naga).
The throne room is now the lair of a Jembalang. This scaly, bat-winged demon has been awoken by the arrival of the Elves and sends out its ghost-body to capture victims to eat.
Jembalang: (D&D) HD 6, HP 30, AC as leather & shield, 2 claws for 1d4 each and bite for 1d6, flies, hypnotic song; (Forge) HP 45, AR 3, AV 5, 2 claws for 1d4 and bite for 1d6, ST 11+, SPD 4/8 flying
The Jembalang uses its projection to swoop down for a surprise attack but this will flee as soon as it is injured and can be tracked back to the throne room, where its entranced victims are kept. The true Jembalang (which takes any damage its projection took) will use its hypnotic song: all PCs must Save vs Magic (Forge: vs Mind) or slip into a trance. Entranced PCs can be shaken awake by others (they get extra saving throws for each round of this and save at +4 if they taste or smell limes) but once it has sung its song the Jembalang will attack.
When the Jembalang dies, entranced victims wake up. A mighty roar from the south (9) indicates something else has woken up.
9. The Old Stones at Kuala
These old stones are the ruins of a wharf and jetty. The Goblins just know them as ‘old stones’ but respect them because many have Naga-symbols on them. Once the Jembalang (8) dies, the entranced Lake Dragon wakes and comes to the surface here.
This is Radiant Pang, a giant, intelligent crocodile that faithfully served San Rankill and will serve the new Keth too. PCs can ride on Pang’s back across the lake and Pang will attack and sink the Elven ship, forcing the Elves to swim for the dubious safety of the Swamp of Ghosts.
10. Showdown on Broken Jaw Island
The PCs might arrive here at dusk (if they came directly to the Stockade and ignored the mystery of the kidnapped prisoners), in which case the freed Goblins will assault the Elven ship while the PCs come ashore. If they fought the Jembalang, the PCs will arrive at midnight on the back of the Lake Dragon. If they went to the Emerald Labyrinth first, they will arrive at midnight (if they ignore the Jembalang) or before dawn (if the destroyed it).
To recapture their home, they need to confront the Elven Captain Zeng and his ally, the traitor Botang. Creeping through the deserted village, the Goblin PCs overhear the two villains argue in the Keth's Hut:
Botang: You make me Keth and leave me to rule over an empty rock?
Zeng: Perhaps not even that...
Botang: You betrayed me!
Zeng: [Angry] You talk of betrayal? To me? Watch what your crooked lips say, Ular (= snake or goblin)
Botang: [Pleading] They are my people!
Zeng: No, Ular, they are the Pale Emperor's slaves.
Botang invited the Elves to install him as the new Keth in return for the valuable hardwoods the village harvests, but the Elves have left him as chieftain of an empty island when they took his tribe away to be slaves. Nevertheless, when the PCs arrive, Botang will fight beside his new masters unless the PCs can appeal to his shame.
Zeng, Elven Captain: (D&D) 3rd level, HP 16, AC chain and shield, broad sword for 1d8, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism, Mirror Image; (Forge, Elf) HP 16, DV1 5, DV2 4, AP 40 SP 10, AV 3, broad sword for 1d8+1, ST 9+, SPD 4
Botang, would-be Keth: (D&D) 3rd level, HP 14, AC leather and shield, krist for 1d4+2, javelins for 1d6; (Forge, Higmoni) HP 15, DV1 3, DV2 2, AP 20 SP 5, AV 3, krist for 1d4+2, javelins for 1d6, ST 8+, SPD 3, 2nd level Beast Mage (Jump, Spike, Fangs, Rending, Sonic Wail)
If the PCs overcome Zeng, the ship will be captured (by the freed Goblins) or destroyed (by Pang the Naga). If the kidnap victims have not been rescued, the PCs could use the ship to visit the ruins at 8.
At the conclusion, Bomoch will arrive to announce that the Keth of Broken Jaw is Keth no longer, but the new Rajjor of the Goblins, for whom a battle of liberation awaits.
Appendix: The Jade Queen's Trials
If the PCs undergo the Jade Queen’s trials (4), the Referee can arrange for them to predict future fates.
Did I do this in 30 minutes? No. A sketch map and keying the locations took 30 minutes but then I went back and created all those tables for the rumours, omens, incidents, etc. So as far as '30 Minute Dungeon Challenge' goes it's a bit of a cheat.
Never mind. If you're going to do a linear story like this, it stands or falls on the details that makes it feel compelling rather than limiting. Hopefully, this tale of down-trodden goblins learning their royal birthright and rising up against their colonial masters has some resonance. There's some nice mysticism in the forest and I tried to get across a sense of omens being fulfilled.
The whole idea of native 'heroic' goblins and evil 'imperialist' elves turned up in a mini-campaign I ran last year, but there it was a romantic orc confederation being conquered by elves, with their vaguely Aztec human servitors. The routed orcs had to retreat into their swampy heartland and discovered truths about their origins and foundational myths along the way.
I wanted to avoid clumsy Native American comparisons (despite the name alluding to Wounded Knee) and give the goblins a sense of cultural texture, so I located this in a South East Asian (specifically, Malaysian) setting. If you want to give the goblins some linguistically appropriate names, here's a quick table:
I didn't provide any stats for the hideous Cockatrices (they turn you to salt! they're frightened of weasels!) and the floating-head-undead Penanggouls. These horrors are just there for texture and chills.
If you really want the PCs to fight them (why would you want that? why?) then Cockatrices (minus the weasel stuff) are in the D&D Expert rules/Monster Manual or Basic (Holmes) p23 and Penanggalans are in the AD&D Fiend Folio (or else treat them as Wights). In Forge, use Basilisks as Cockatrices and the characteristics of Nagdu for Penanggouls.
The Vampyr's Wedding is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
The Margrave of Strigovia, a renowned necromancer, has sought the hand of Dajmira the Duchess of Marusz. Furious at being rejected, he has become a vampyr and vowed she will join him as his undead bridge.
The vampyr Margrave of Strigovia has kidnapped the Duchess from her carriage along with her ladies in waiting, slaughtering her royal escort. He holds the Duchess at his tower and at sunset will consummate their wedding by making her a vampyr too. Only you can prevent this blasphemous union by storming Karnstein Castle, his fortress guarded by his loyal Stygani retainers. It is noon and time is running out.
1. Gates to Castle Karnstein
Breaking the gates down is successful rolling 1 on a d6; two characters can attempt this per round and Strength bonuses apply (Forge: locked, 12 structural points). A crossbowman from 3 will fire at characters through the arrow slits. The corridor beyond has similar gates at the far end (Forge, 10 structural points) and more arrow slits, allowing both crossbowmen to fire.
2. Guard Room
Tables and chairs are set about for a group of Stygani tribesmen who serve the Margrave with fanatical loyalty. There are a number equal to the number of PCs (plus their henchmen) added to 1d6.
They are unarmed and relaxing, but will arm themselves when the PCs start to break down the doors from 1:
Two Stygani guards, Fennix and Leshi, watch from the turret in the corner. Armed with crossbows, they will fire on intruders. Even if the PCs surprise the guards in 2, these crossbowmen with emerge from here to fire on the PCs. Otherwise they will listen to the battle and only join in after 6 rounds if the guards have killed a PC. Otherwise, they will hide here and surrender to the PCs. They are too frightened of the Margrave to venture further into the castle.
Ilsa Gellhorn, the Duchess’ lady-in-waiting, is tied to a chair and gagged, but conscious and clearly terrified. She bears a vampyr’s bite and has been told that she will become undead once the sun sets. She will join the PCs because she is desperate to prevent this.
She has no combat skills but is brave and resourceful. Ilsa will conceive a romantic attraction to one PC (roll randomly or choose highest Charisma or one who speaks kindly to her) and demonstrate this by staying close, trying to hold their hand, asking if they are married and showing excessive concern they are not harmed. Her vampyric infection makes her immune to poison (e.g. the toadstools in 5).
5. Courtyard of Decay
The courtyard is open to the noonday sky and provides a view of the Margrave’s Tower to the south. It is madly overgrown with weeds and many lurid red toadstools. There are also unburied bodies: the Duchess’ guards and other doomed adventurers. Searching the corpses will find these useful treasures (roll 1d6, rolling a duplicate means finding nothing):
6. Pit of the Vampyrs
PCs who succumb to the toadstools in 5 or the trap in 7 wake up here hours later (see 9). The pit is surrounded by a walkway, 10’ overhead, and a staircase rises from the walkway and through the ceiling.
The PCs have stripped of weapons and drained to 1HP by hungry but decayed vampyrs in the pit: withered men and women, some only children, all mindless with hunger and only able to nibble a small amount of blood at a time. They can be shaken off and kept at bay with weapons for 2d6 minutes (or 1d6+6 using torches), but when they attack it will be in overwhelming numbers.
There are four ways for PCs to escape:
At least one of the PCs is now infected with vampyrism. Ask the PCs to volunteer themselves by writing infected or non-infected on a slip of paper and revealing simultaneously; if no one writes infected then all the PCs have been infected.
Vampyr PCs can bite in combat for 1d3 damage (or +2 damage if they already have bite attacks) and regain 1HP for each successful bite attack; they can regain 1d4 HP by feeding from characters that die in combat. They cannot benefit from healing magic or be affected by poison.
7. Gates to Karnstein Tower
These doors are stiff and rusty but not locked. Above the inner door is the Margrave’s family crest (a book and a chalice on either side of a two-headed eagle) and the family motto: ‘Learning the Arts of Darkness / To Defeat the Servants of Darkness.’
A pit trap in on the floor opens, dropping everyone in the corridor down a chute and into the Pit of Vampyrs (6), inflicting 1d6 falling damage (cushioned by landing on bones and corpses).
8. Tower - Ground Floor
A stairwell descends to the Pit (6) and a staircase rises to the balcony (9). Paintings on the wall depict the Margrave’s ancestors, including his great-great-grandfather Vaclav the Great who slew the Spectre of Strigovia. Historians will know that the Margraves originally took up necromancy to defeat the undead, not join them.
There are Stygani guards here in the same state of unreadiness as 2: they are equal in number to the PCs (plus henchmen like Ilsa, Fennix or Leshi).
9. Tower - Balcony
Locked windows give views of the evening sky. In the west the sun is setting with 10-15 minutes until dusk. The Margrave’s two lieutenants guard the staircase that rises to the top of the tower. They are tough undead upyrs (intelligent ghouls who can move around in the sunlight) named Radu and Mircea. Radu fights with his ghoul claws and bite but Mircea wields a two-handed war scythe.
10. Tower - Upper Floor
This room has a staircase that descends to the balcony (9). There are windows in the north, east and south walls that are open to the evening sky. The west windows are closed and covered by a heavy drape.
Beside the west window, the Margrave is marrying the Duchess, who is enchanted and not resisting. The minister is a robed demonic figure conjured from the Netherworld that will not intervene in any battle.
The Margrave will attack anyone who interrupts his wedding. He summons a swarm of bats to buffet and paralyse anyone trying to open the drapes. After 6 rounds of combat, the sun sets: the Margrave breaks from combat, leaps over to the Duchess and takes her in his arms; on the next round he drains her of blood as the curtain falls, revealing a ruddy glow of dusk on the western horizon. The Duchess becomes a vampyric upyr (same stats as Isla, below) and joins the fight after 1d4 rounds.
The PCs have several options:
If Ilsa is present, she becomes a vampyric upyr after 1d4 rounds of combat.
Ilsa the Upyr will attack the PCs unless the object of her affections either pleads for her humanity or is harmed by the Margrave, in which case she will attack the Margrave instead.
PCs who disengage from combat can appeal to the demonic minister to halt the wedding. He might do this if they offer him something more appealing (and horrible) than turning the Duchess into a vampyr. If the Referee approves, the demon agrees and the Duchess’ enchantment is broken. She pulls down the drape and leaps from a window, killing herself and transfixing the Margrave in sunlight.
I'm legitimately proud of this one since it took 30 minutes to write - of course I then went through adding in the stat blocks and conversions and created the map.
It's a two-step scenario. The first act is a fight-and-explore dungeon with some nice magic items and possible allies to discover. Then the PCs end up trapped, must escape and it becomes a race against time. If the PCs choose to become vampyrs then they can feed from the Stygani guards in 8.
The Margrave is a tough opponent and if the sun sets he will overwhelm the PCs easily. The trick is to open the drapes. Potentially, PCs could unlock the casement windows in 9, climb up the outside of the tower and tear down the drapes from the outside, giving them 6 whole rounds of sunlight to attack the helpless, burning Margrave.
That's optimal. If the PCs rush up the stairs, they have a difficult fight and anyone approaching the drapes gets driven back by bats. PC options are listed in room 10 but the players might come up with others, such as setting fire to the drapes or sacrificing themselves by leaping out of the window, taking the Margrave with them. Even once transfixed by sunlight, the Margrave doesn't automatically die and if the sun sets while he's still alive, he becomes a fully empowered vampyr with all his powers (in D&D this includes regeneration; in Forge, a selection of Necromancy spells).
The scenario is designed to offer the players ideas and allies in the first act that they can use in the second. It might be important to recruit (and not stake!) Ilsa and to realise the Margrave comes from a noble lineage of undead-hunters. Hopefully, the sunset showdown can be an occasion for dramatic roleplaying as well as dice-rolling.
Sharp-eyed followers of this blog (if any there be) will notice that the setting of this scenario is not what was originally proposed. Back when I set out my 6 30-Minute Dungeon Challenges, I named the vampire and his bride after Persian cultural forms; in this version, they're German/Slavonic. I love the idea of a Persian vampire story, but the brevity of this scenario means that the archetypal Bohemian setting makes for easier hooks. Plus, the vampyr's title is a 'Margrave' which is too good a pun to miss.
Return to Deadman's Isle is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the traps are inconveniencing and incapacitating.
As with The Crypt Bell Chimes, this took me 30 minutes to doodle and sketch out, but a couple more hours to type out nicely and create the maps. I added some detail while transcribing (like the exploration table in the Lost City and Redmayne's movements) so it's a bit of a 'cheat'.
Elizar Redmayne is a pirate who discovers Deadman’s Isle when his ship, Zanzibar, founders on the reef. He is the only survivor, burying his wife, Captain Sheba, in the ruined city there. Redmayne befriends the weaselfolk and escapes the isle on one of Zanzibar’s boats. He eventually acquires a new ship, Unspoken Grief, and crew (including the PCs) but returns every year to the Isle to head into the interior alone to visit "his greatest treasure" (his wife’s grave, though no one knows this and his crew supposes he means his loot).
Redmayne's grief makes him increasingly deranged and when he dies in a mutiny (see below), he returns as an undead Revenant (an intelligent Zombie) and travels to the Isle to protect his wife’s grave from the mutineers, enlisting his allies on the island.
Cap’n Redmayne’s tyranny went too far! His crew mutinied and took over the Unspoken Grief. Redmayne cursed the mutineers and jumped overboard to drown. His loyal First Mate Trethig and Bo’sun Jago were put to sea on a boat. Now the mutineers have a ship and Redmayne’s map, leading to Deadman’s Isle where Redmayne’s treasure lies buried,on the mysterious Deadman's Isle. Do you dare seize it for yourself?
Moving from one location to another takes 4 hours by trail. Sunset is at 8 and sunrise at 8. It is currently 8am so the PCs arrive at their first location at 12 noon. The island can only be safely approached at 2 and 4; reefs and cliffs make the rest of it inaccessible by sea. Night-time travel is not possible along mountain trails but torchlit travel between 7/8 and 9/10 is possible. Mosquitoes and heat means that sleep is only half effective (8 hours counts as 4, no restful healing).
The Weather: On the second night a fierce storm blows in. No one gets any sleep. Vessels not in Weasel Bay (2) or Smugglers Cove (5) are dashed against the shore or reef and wrecked. Characters must swim for shore, probably abandoning armour and weapons.
1. The Treacherous Reef
If the PCs pilot the ship through the reef it will founder and come ashore at 7. Assume the rest of the crew die in the wreck. The PCs are unharmed but all rations are spoiled and they need another way off the island (but will find a ship's boat in the nearby wreck of Zanzibar).
2. Weasel Bay
The ship can be safely anchored here and the PCs can come ashore by boat. NPC crew will be too frightened to venture ashore unless the Referee wants to assign NPC henchmen.
A stockaded village of Jher-em (weasel-people) lies beyond the beach. The normally peaceful Jher-em have been incited by Redmayne’s Revent (see 9). There are 1d4 Weaselfolk per PC/NPC, plus an extra 1d4.
Weaselfolk Jher-ems: (D&D) HD 1/2, HP 2, AC leather armour, attacks with daggers; (Forge) HP 9+1d6, DV1 2, DV2 1, padded armour AP 10, AR 0 or 2, attack with daggers or tails, ST 12+, SPD 3
The Jher-ems will issue from the stockade to attack the PCs on the beach, but will flee back once they take half losses. It may be possible to parlay with them from a position of strength. They have the following information:
This jungle trail ends in a clearing that is really quicksand. All PCs will become trapped unless they made a point of sending a scout ahead. Small/slender characters (Sprites/Halflings) can evade the sand. Everyone else sinks 1’ per round (half that rate for slender characters like Elves, Merikii, Dunnar; twice for stocky characters like Dwarves, Higmoni, Ghantu); those who go under start to drown.
Trapped characters may Save vs Death to grab a vine or branch and try again each round at -2 cumulative penalty. They may then pull themselves out, taking 1HP damage per 1’ already submerged. Freed characters can pull others out using rope with no penalty.
4. The Vantage Point
This rocky cliff gives a view along the volcanic gorge to 5 (the sailboat is visible), to the ruined temple on the island (6), to the Lost City (9) and the Lighthouse (8). From this vantage, two leaning towers at 9 form a clear X. Those who continue to search the lagoon (make a Search roll or 1 in 6) might detect the tentacles of the Sea Monster (10).
Every round the volcano rains burning cinders, some of which detonate in fiery explosions. Characters who linger on the cliff must save vs Death or take 1d4 damage from a nearby explosion.
Burning cinders litter the site. If they can somehow be carried (e.g. with the gloves from 6) they burn for 2d4 days and can be thrown as grenade-like weapons (2d4 damage on a hit, 1d4 on a miss).
The PCs could catch up with Redmayne's Revenant here, at sunset on the first day when it arrives from 5 and stares out towards the X-symbol in the Lost City (9), heedless of the falling cinders. If approached, it steps of the ledge and vanishes from sight.
5. The Smuggler’s Cove
A ruined port has a stone wharf that allows vessels to dock. Redmayne’s two lieutenants used this site as a secret smuggling base and rowed here after being cast adrift. They have set up a sail on the boat from their provisions here.
A stone house of ancient construction is their hideout. They have stored 168gp, 1650sp, a storm lantern, 10 flasks of oil, tinder, 6 spears, a suit of man-sized plate armour, 4 portions of Healing Root (heals 1d4). (Forge: also 5 leather armour repair kits and 3 ring mail repair kits and a field repair case)
Trethig: (D&D) 3rd level Fighter, 15HP, leather and shield, scimitar, +1 damage bonus; (Forge) 18HP, DV1 3, DV2 2, 20AP + 10SP, AV 3, ST 10+, SPD 4, scimitar, +1 damage bonus, Melee Assassination 2, Parrying, Tactics 55%, Hide 60%)
Jago: (D&D) 3rd level Cleric, 10HP, leather, war hammer, bless & cause fear; (Forge) 16HP, DV1 2, DV2 2, 20AP, AV 2, ST 9+. SPD 2, mattock hammer, Grom Magic 2, 33SPTS (Enlarge: 15mins; Fear: 11mins, 20ft, ST -1; Grom’s Weapon 15mins; Proclaim 65%; Blood Lust 15mins; Shatter 70%, 15ft), Weapon Stomp 40%, Swimming
Redmayne’s Revenant visits them at noon then departs eastward towards 4. Following his instructions, they set up a trap on their store house, dropping a heavy block for 1d8 damage on the first intruder through the door. They follow Redmayne to the Lost City (9) the next morning (taking the healing roots with them). If the PCs arrive before then, they will retreat into the house to take advantage of the trap.
6. Shrine & Rope Bridge
The ancient shrine is atop a tall crag, a hundred yards from the cliffs along the coast. A rope bridge connects it (the PCs might sail past but cannot easily scale the cliffs). Crossing the bridge safely requires a Saving Throw vs Death or else the character falls into the sea (1d6 damage, may start to drown).
Murals inside the shrine tell the story of a great city that was invaded by a sea monster, which blockaded the lagoon. Starved of trade and battered by the monster, the city fell into ruin.
A magical fire burns in a brazier: it cannot be extinguished. Murals depict the fire being used to activate the Lighthouse (8), which is visible to the south-west through a window. The brazier can be carried on chains by any above-averagely strong (D&D: STR 13+; Forge: STR 9.0+) or larger than man-sized character and swung as a two-handed weapon, hitting every other melee round for 2d6 fire damage and causing 1d4 damage the following round.
A pair of magical metal gloves beside the brazier allow the wearer to handle fire, e.g. pick up burning cinders at 4. If plunged into the magical flame, they ignite, allowing the wearer to punch for 1d6 damage each round and causing 1d3 damage the following round
7. The Wreck of Zanzibar
In the tidal marshes, the wreck of Redmayne’s first ship can be found. The bones of the dead crew are weighted down with rocks. The Captain’s Log identifies ‘Sheba’ as the surviving captain and Redmayne as her husband and fellow survivor. The log ends with Sheba too sick to write and Redmayne away scouting a ruined city on the other side of the jungle; the final page is a heartfelt love letter to Redmayne, promising to be reunited with him when he crosses death's threshold. (NB Redmayne returned to find his wife dead and never discovered her final message)
One of the ship’s boats is gone (Redmayne tookit when he escaped the island). Another survives intact and is mounted with a powerful harpoon cannon and 5 harpoons (two characters to aim and fire every other round, range 100ft, 2d10 damage). The boat can be rowed safely along the coast inside the reef.
8. The Lighthouse
This 30’ tower stands on a windy crag. The steps are treacherous (1 in 6 chance for each character to slip, save vs Death to avoid falling into sea or else taking 2d6 damage hitting the ground). The brazier at the top is extinguished. It can be lit by the magical flame from 6 (transferring it from the brazier) or by one of the burning cinders from 4.
If the lighthouse is lit, the Sea Monster will emerge from the Lagoon (10) and attack the tower and its occupants, trying to put out the light. If it attacks the Lighthouse, the Monster emerges fully from the water so its head can be attacked normally. It deals 10-60 structural points of damage to the tower each round after the first and when the tower takes 100 damage it collapses and explodes. Any characters still inside the tower die but the Monster’s Head takes 3d12 points of damage.
9. The Lost City & Sheba’s Grave
The Lost City is a vast place and 4 hours spent exploring allows a roll on the table (1d12). Characters succeeding on a Search test/locate secret doors test roll 1d6+6 instead.
After 4 hours searching, the PCs discover Sheba’s Grave, guarded by Redmayne’s Revenant. If the PCs are looking for the site under the X created by two leaning towers, they may find this immediately.
If it is 4pm on the second day, Redmayne will be joined by Trethig and Jago (5). He directs them to set traps around the grave: roll 1d6 on the exploration table to determine which traps they create; they set up a trap at every sunset until the PCs arrive. Each round of combat, a random PC triggers one of the traps.
Every round of noisy activity (combat, bat eruptions or trapped characters calling for help) has a 1 in 6 chance of attracting the Sea Monster (10) from the river.
Redmayne does not fight but is indestructibly undead. He can be turned as a Vampire. If alone, he will summon the Sea Monster rather than allow Sheba’s grave to be desecrated (Trethig and Jago will side with the PCs against the Monster). If Redmayne is convinced the PCs do not intend to disinter his wife – or if presented with the lover letter from 7 – he will fade away harmlessly.
10. The Lagoon of Death
The Sea Monster in the lagoon will emerge to attack anyone at this beach. The Monster has an unlimited number of tentacles but will direct 1d4 at each character.
Tentacles: (D&D) HD 3, 10HP, AC as chain mail, 1d4 damage plus 1d6 constriction damage; (Forge) 10HP, AR 3, AV 3, lash for 1d4 then constrict for 1d6 actual each round, ST 15+, SPD 6
The tentacles can reach deep into the jungle (PCs must spend a full round fleeing before they are out of reach) or through the Lost City (9). A tentacle will release a victim and return to the water if it takes damage from fire.
The Monster can only be truly harmed by attacking its head, which is in the water. The Monster will unleash an additional 1d4 tentacles against melee attackers in the water.
Monster’s Head: (D&D) HD 9, 30HP, AC as leather armour, no attack; (Forge) HP 30, AR 2, ST 8+, SPD 1
This was an attempt to write a 'sandbox dungeon' within the constraints of the 30 Minute Dungeon Challenge. It's difficult to create a sandbox in 10 rooms, but it gets easier when the rooms are locations in a wilderness map.
It's a strangely unoccupied wilderness map, by D&D standards. Really, there ought to be a wandering monster table and encounters in the jungles and the mountains - but heigh-ho, 30 minute challenge rather puts a stop to that sort of elaboration.
Nonetheless, the players ought to be told they can see the long necks of dinosaurs in the distances, pterodactyls circling the peaks, the night-time roars of T-Rex in the mist, giant gorilla foot prints in the mud, that sort of thing.
The scenario probably has the PCs disembarking at Weasel Bay, fighting then making peace with the Jher-em and following Redmayne's Revenant to Smuggler's Cove, where a trap is waiting for them. But it doesn't have to go down like that. They could disembark at the Cove just as Redmayne leaves it or get shipwrecked alongside the wreck of Zanzibar.
Ideally, the climax occurs in the lost city, with the PCs confronting Redmayne and learning the true nature of his 'buried treasure' and then being attacked by the sea monster. Hopefully they confront and kill the monster. The optimal plan is to re-light the Lighthouse, allow the beast to injure itself tearing the tower down, then finish it off with the harpoon gun on Zanzibar's ship's boat.
But knowing Player Characters, it'll work out completely differently!
THE CRYPT BELL CHIMES is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the trap is incapacitating.
The masked and hooded Lichkeepers preach that death is annihilation and undeath the only afterlife. They perform the rites of Animate Dead on corpses of the faithful and seal them away in tombs. The tombs are guarded and trapped to prevent the undead escaping.
Ulurok the Unclean was a feared heretic. Now her crypt bells are ringing: the alarm means tomb robbers have entered the crypt. The Lichwardens send the PCs into the crypt to intercept the robbers before they can rouse Ulurok. The PCs are given a Lichkey - a 6" long iron key studded with gems - which can activate or deactivate traps inside the crypt. First, the key opens the gates to the underground tomb and a long tunnel stretches down into darkness,
Each room is given a time that the PCs will spend in the room if they examine or interact with it fully. The keyhole symbols indicate points where the Lichkey can be used to interact with a location.
1. THE GUARDIAN GOLEM (5 mins)
A 9' tall statue of an armoured reaper dominates the room.; it carries a scythe and am hourglass. It faces into the crypt. A key slot on the dais allows the Lichkey to 'lock' the golem so that it cannot activate. An inscription reads: "Here stand I / Scythe at the ready / Against heresy / And the unquiet dead."
The Golem is 6HD, 30HP, AC as plate mail, attacks with scythe for 2d6 damage, unaffected by non-magical attacks.
Above the passageway (2) is another inscription: "Ulurok the Unclean, twice cursed, twice buried, let none disturb her nor trust her lies."
2. THE PASSAGE OF TIME (15 mins or less)
Hourglass symbols mark the entrance to this passage, which has a Lichkey slot in the wall to the right. An open pit blocks the corridor: it is 10' deep and there is a secret trapdoor in the E wall of the pit, about half way up. The pit is 10' across. Descending and climbing up the other side will take at least 15 minutes, 10 minutes if using Climbing skills or grappling hooks; using spikes and rope to cross along the wall might take 5 minutes but falling in causes 1d6 damage.
Beyond the pit is a pit trap which opens onto a chute that deposits victims at the bottom of the pit; they are unharmed but need to climb out again.
If a Lichkey is inserted in the slot it prevents the trap from activating so long as a key remains inserted.
3. BALCONY OF REGRETS (1 minute)
From the balcony, the Bonevault (6) can be viewed, 20' below, where therre is a key slot to raise the bridge that will reach the exit in the opposite wall. PCs can descend directly (using rope) or take either stairway to the north or south.
4. THE KEY ROOM (5 minutes)
Both entrances to 6 are blocked by mesh gates that must be torn or lifted (treat as portcullises). This room has the key slot that lifts both gates. There is a Lichkey inside it. If the LIchkey is removed, both gates open. Every minute there is a 50% chance 1d4 scarabs will enter this room or 5 if PCs are present.
5. THE SOUL-RIPPER (5 minutes)
A 10' diameter mystical circle is engraved on the floor with a cage above it suspended from a chain. A Lichkey inserted in the key slot will lower the cage. A living being in the cage is converted into an undead zombie, albeit with some trace of their former identity (low intelligence, recognition of friends). This process takes 5 minutes. A zombified PC will be ignored by the scarabs in 6 but will activate the Golem in 1 if it tries to leave the dungeon.
6. THE BONEVAULT (1 minute + combat)
Flesh-eating undead scarabs occupy this room, feeding on the corpses dropped through a chimney over 50' overhead. There is a keyslot that will raise the central section of the floor to create a bridge from 3 to the exit corridor.
Scarabs are 1/2HD, 2HP, AC as chain mail, bite for 1 damage, they crawl inside armour so after a successful hit they make subsequent attacks against an unarmoured opponent; 1d3 scarabs attack each character and an additional 1d3 join the attack each round. The scarabs can be turned as Skeletons but new scarabs will keep coming.
7. THE LIBRARY OF THE HERESIARCH (1 minute + variable)
Ulurok's heretical teachings are preserved here in a scrolls chained to the wall. The Lichkey can unlock all the chains if it is placed in the slot on the far wall, otherwise each scroll must be unlocked separately (taking 1 minute each attempt). There are 20 scrolls. The PCs can build up an impression of Ulurok's heresy by perusing several scrolls; it takes a PC 5 minutes to peruse one scroll, half that time if Intelligence is high (D&D: 13+):
8. THE SPIRIT CELL (5 minutes)
A magic circle is set into the floor, inlaid with silver and gems. The spirit of Ulurok is trapped within. It is visible as a beautiful yet wasted woman, translucent, pleading yet inaudible. If Ulurok's spirit sees a Lichkey in the PCs' possession, she will gesture towards the key slot, begging to be freed. If a Lichkey is inserted in the keyslot in the floor, Ulurok's spirit is freed and will bless the PCs (each heals 1HP) and ask to be restored to her body
9. THE TUNNEL OF OBLIVION (variable)
The tomb robbers have broken into this room through the north wall, pushing away the big stone blocks. An earthen tunnel beyond rises to the surface over the course of a mile. The two robbers, Chingiz and Qibilai (see below), are devotees of Ulurok who want to free her from her tomb so that her spirit can speak to her followers again.
The final trapped tunnel has two vault doors but the robbers have no Lichkey to open them. It will take Chingiz 10 minutes to find each trap, 10 minutes to deactivate it and 10 minutes to open the lock: it takes the robbers 1 hour to enter Ulurok's tomb (10).
The first door has a poison gas trap that fills the room with necrotizing gas: save vs Death or be turned into a Zombie (unintelligent, attacks other living characters). The second door fires darts: each character is hit by 1d6, dealing 1 damage each plus a save vs Poison or tun into a Zombie (as above).
Each door has a keyslot and inserting a Lichkey deactivates and unlocks the door; removing the key relocks and re-traps it. There is no Lichkey slot on the inside of the doors.
10. ULUROK'S CRYPT
A key slot in the wall will open the iron coffin, which contains a body swathed in chains. If Ulurok's spirit is here, it will renter her corpse restoring it to life. Otherwise, it is a dangerous undead Ghoul. If the tomb robbers get here ahead of the PCs, it will take them 10 minutes to open the coffin, whereupon the Ulurok-Ghoul attacks them.
HD 4, HP 18, AC as chain mail, 2 claws for 1d4 each and a bite for 1d6, victims must Save Vs Poison or be paralysed
Opening the coffin awakens the Golem (unless it has been deactivated) which makes its way through areas 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 to confront the awakened Ulurok here (taking 6 rounds). It will attack any characters it finds on the way.
Ulurok's spirit can re-enter her body, breaking its undead curse.
THE TOMB ROBBERS & ULUROK
Chingiz and Qibilai will fight to the death against the minions of the Lichkeepers (i.e. the PCs) but might be persuaded to refrain by Ulurok's spirit, if she is free.
This took 30 minutes to scribble out but I couldn't resist embellishing when I typed out the final draft, so is that cheating?
The scenario could play out very simply if the PCs race through the dungeon, ignoring the library and Ulurok's spirit, and intercept the tomb robbers before the open the tomb up. Chingiz and Qibilai can but up a tough fight (one can hide and backstab, the other is armoured and armed with a magic sword) but once they are dead the PCs can exit through the tunnel they created.
Things get more interesting if the PCs read the heretical library or interact with Ulurok herself. If they realise that Ulurok is the heroine, not the villain, they might allow her coffin to be opened, but then they have to confront the Guardian Golem, a nasty foe. If they delay too long, the robbers will open the coffin, releasing a dangerous super-Ghoul and also activating the Golem, catching the PCs between two deadly opponents and making the release of Ulurok's spirit the only viable strategy.
The PCs are traveling down a winter trail, hoping for lodgings on the shortest day of the year, already drawing to an end, when a desperate woman accosts them at a stile. Her cottage, just a mile inside the woods, is under attack. Will brave adventurers help defend it from a terrible foe?
The Referee needs to be familiar with the NPC family and their movements, the location and assembly of the Snowmaiden spear and the Witchhazel Wand, the role of the Zagorvor book and the random events that shape the night’s perils.
The cottage is home to Vadim and Vasilisa and their three children, teenage son Ivan, younger son Mikul and daughter Nikita. Last night a holy wreath was hammered to their door, a sign that the evil winter spirit Krampus has targeted their home for destruction. They expect Krampus to attack after sunset.
PCs can examine and make preparations in one room each before the sun sets. Vadim will gather his family in the Hearth (A) and won’t agree to moving to other rooms.
Outside the cottage a trail leads deeper into the woods, rising to a bald hill overlooking the farm. PCs will barely have time to explore the trail as far as the Holly Hedge (J) before gathering darkness and more snow forces them back to the Cottage.
A. Hearth: There is a stone fireplace with an iron pot warming a stew nearby, a solid oak table and five chairs, a workbench with chopping boards and 3 sharp knives. Rabbits and plucked birds hang from the rafters along with onions, radishes and beets. The family gather here. A big iron poker hangs over the fireplace, etched with runes (detected on a Search roll): it is the shaft of Vadim’s father’s spear Snowmaiden, which he dismantled when he settled down and gave up adventuring. On the wall hangs Vadim’s bow and a quiver of 20 arrows. Furniture can be boarded against the windows, forcing invaders to spend a round breaking through, during which time they can be attacked at +2.
B. Parlour: The fireplace warms this room too. There is a bench with cushions for the children and a spinning wheel beside a big bucket of yarn. The distaff used for weaving belonged to Vasilisa’s mother who was reputed to be a witch; anyone examining it will notice the arcane symbols on it but Vasilisa does not understand that this is the Witchhazel Wand. Her mother used to weave in here but died last spring. Windows can be boarded up as in A. A door leads to the Byre (F).
C. Bedroom: The parents sleep here, with warmth from the fireplace. There is a single big bed with cords knotted tight to support a down-filled mattress. There is a bag of 214 silver pieces under the bed: Vadim’s savings. Vasilisa has a box of jewellery (value 20gp) and some cosmetics and perfume (value 5gp). An embroidered sign on the wall (by Grandmother Babushka) states: “Blade baptized / In Winter’s Breath / Wand and Ring / Bring Winter’s Death.” Windows can be boarded up as in A. A ladder leads to the Nursery (D).
D. Nursery: The children sleep and play up here, although Ivan often sleeps in the Byre (F). There’s a box of dolls and carved wooden toys, including a snowglobe taken from the Kurgan (K) by Nikita who secretly plays with it when frightened at night. Mikul’s picture book shows grandfather Dadushka fighting the two Winterfiends, Korschei and Borschei, with his fiery spear and then sealing them away in a house under a hill.
E. Babushka’s Room: Since Babushka died, her room has been closed up, but Mikul sometimes sneaks in here because he misses his grandmother. There is a narrow cot and a book of ancient runes : the Zagorvor. It appears to contain nonsensical gibberish in a cramped handwriting.
F. The Byre: This lean-too houses Polkan the draft house, Camcha the cow and the ferocious rooster Gorky who attacks anyone except Ivan, pecking for 1 point of damage whenever their back is turned. Ivan can drive him into the coop with the chickens using a broom. Several tools hang from hooks, including a scythe and a sharp awl that is really the blade from Snowmaiden (see 1). Ivan likes to sleep here to get away from his siblings.
G. The Well: This is frozen over but there is a mallet to break the ice and a bucket to lower in. If the ice is broken, the steam from the warmer water below can baptise Snowmaiden.
H. Babushka’s Grave: Marked by a single stone, as she wished. Babushka’s body, which takes an hour to disinter, wears the Rowan Ring.
I. The Timberstore: A ragged vagrant sleeps here, unknown to Vadim and his wife. Nikita knows he is here and sometimes brings him out buttered bread to eat or milk to drink; in return, he takes her up to the Kurgan (K) to look for trinkets and they found the snowglobe in the doorway. He is Morozko, a peddler, turned away by Vasilisa.
J. Holly Hedge: a trail winds up the hill to the Kurgan, passing through a dense wall of holly. At night, the holly hedge blocks the path unless magic is used to part it.
K. The Kurgan: An old burial mound whose stone door has fallen away from the hinges. At night, an eerie light shines out and the Krampus is here along with sleeping prisoners. If the snowglobe is returned here, the curse is broken.
Encounters each hour
Roll 1d10 for an event every hour. There are 10 events in total and when all have occurred, the Krampus will arrive in person. Each event only occurs once except for 1 and 2, which can occur twice.
Reactions after each Encounter
After each event, the NPCs will react in various ways: roll 1d8. If a reaction affects a NPC who has been killed or captured, re-roll. PCs never see a NPC leave unless they are personally guarding them, in which case they will notice their departure immediately and, if they pursue them, are considered to be at their location when the next Encounter begins.
THE SNOWMAIDEN SPEAR
Snegurochka or ‘Snowmaiden’ is the magic spear that Vadim’s father Dadushka used to defeat the Winterfiends decades ago. It has been split into its iron shaft (the poker in A) and blade (the awl in F) which can be reassembled to make a +1 magic spear. If Snowmaiden is ‘baptised’ in winter breath (steam from the well or the blood of dead white wolves), the spear’s full powers activate: magical +2, immunity to cold/blizzards, able to cut through the holly hedge surrounding the Kurgan (K) and Krampus cannot regenerate its damage.
THE WITCHHAZEL WAND
The Wand was the possession of Vasilisa’s mother Babushka and protected the Cottage until her death. Vasilisa has been using it as a distaff. It can be used to create a circle of protection in a 2’ radius of the bearer that cannot be entered by Elfs, Winterfields or the Krampus; it guides unerringly through the blizzard. If used with the Rowan Ring, it can cancel the blizzard, open the holly hedge (J) and allows the bearer to turn the Krampus (D&D: as a 4th level Cleric; Forge: spend 12SPTS, 30% success).
THE BOOK OF ZAGOVOR
Babushka’s spellbook is incomprehensible gibberish to other readers, but it will fall open at an important page for Mikul or be found at that page after the event of ‘footsteps in the bedroom’. This page explains in detail how to baptise the Snowmaiden, wield the Witchazel Wand and Rowan Ring and how to pass through the holly hedge (J) into the Kurgen (K).
VASILISA: the Mother
D&D: 3 Hit Points, AC as unarmoured, attack with kitchen knives or scissors for 1d3, Lawful Good; Forge: 12HP, DV1 1, DV2 0, attack for 1d3, ST 11+. SPD 3
Vasilisa was raised by her witch mother to be intensely superstitious and goes in dread of the tall, bald hill in the forest known as the Kurgan. She misses her mother greatly and has preserved her room untouched, but she has one of her grandmother’s magical skill. She does not realise the distaff in B is a wand but recalls Babushka’s Rowan Ring which was buried with her outside. However, her love for her children is such that, if any are kidnapped, she will acquire the ability to use the Rowan Wand.
VADIM: the Father
D&D: 5 Hit Points, AC as leather, with cudgel for 1d6, Lawful Neutral; Forge: 15HP, DV1 2, DV2 2, 20AP, attack for 1d6, ST 10+. SPD 3
Vadim is the son of an adventurer, Dadushka, who gave up adventuring and dismantled his magical spear Snowmaiden. Vadim does not believe the old tales of his father wielding a magic spear but can identify the iron shaft in A as being from Snowmaiden. If Vadim’s children or wife are lost, his steely heritage will assert itself; he acquires +1 to hit and damage and will remember that the awl in F is the blade to Snowmaiden.
IVAN: the elder son
D&D: 3 Hit Points, AC as unarmoured, attack with broom for 1d3, Chaotic Good; Forge: 10HP, DV1 1, DV2 0, attack for 1d3, ST 12+. SPD 3
Ivan is a sullen teenager who is impatient with his siblings and angry with his parents. He has much of his grandfather Dadushka in him and likes to handle Snowmaiden’s blade (F): he senses it is magical but does not know it fits the poker in A. He knows that Nikita often sneaks away to the Timberstore (I) where she has an imaginary friend. He knows that Mikul is always sneaking into Babushka’s room (E). However, getting him to open up is not easy. He will idolise a strong stern warrior or an attractive, courageous woman among the PCs.
MIKUL: the younger son
D&D: 2 Hit Points, AC as unarmoured, no attacks, Neutral Good; Forge: 8HP, DV1 1, DV2 0, attack for 1d2, ST 14+. SPD 2
Mikul is 10 years old and was very close to his grandmother, who taught him much witch wisdom and gifted him the storybook in the Nursery (D). He has enough raw magical talent to use the Witchhazel Wand, knows that the distaff was Babushka’s wand and knows too that Babushka was buried with her magical ring. However, he will never speak of these things in front of his mother, because she scolds him out of superstitious dread. He knows that an odd man is living in the Timberstore (I) that Nikita calls ‘Mr Frost’.
NIKITA: the youngest daughter
D&D: 1 Hit Point, AC as unarmoured, half normal movement, no attacks, Neutral Good; Forge: 6HP, DV1 1, DV2 0, attack for 1, ST 15+. SPD 1
Nikita is 5 years old, with her grandmother’s fey and independent spirit and her grandfather’s boldness. She takes cakes and milk out to Morozko (‘Mr Frost’) but doesn’t speak of him around her parents. Morozko offered her a gift, which she refused, so he took her instead up to the Kurgan one morning and she fund the snowglobe there and brought it home. She keeps it secret and plays with it whenever she is distressed.
MOROZKO (Mr Frost): peddler
D&D: 4 hit points, AC as leather, attack with sling for 1d3, True Neutral; Forge: 16HP, DV1 2, DV2 1, 10AP, Sling for 1d3, ST 6+. SPD 4
A filthy tramp with verminous beard and hair, yellow teeth and rheumy eyes, Morozko wears a tattered red shirt and trews with an ermine trim that was once fine. He prattles nonsensically about the weather, his sisters the stars, the old warrior in the Byre, the cannibal twins and the wisdom of children; he has the ability to scold characters about their deep anxieties (Vadim that he is unworthy of his grandfather, Vasilisa that she does not protect her children from evil, Ivan that he will never amount to anything, the PCs on whatever weaknesses the Referee decides are appropriate).
Morozko carries a sack with magical properties: although it appears empty, he can draw from it a gift for anyone who has shown him kindness or respect. Use this brief table or roll on an expanded table such as https://basalt-dnd.tumblr.com/post/153238499847/random-trinket-table
30 Minute Dungeons
Essays on Forge
I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've started writing my own OSR-inspired games - as well as fantasy and supernatural fiction..
The shoddy PDF rulebook available at drivethrurpg is missing pp 66-67, 82-83, 86-87, 126-127, 140-141 and 162-5. You can read or download these below: