Last week, we looked at the basic set up for our campaign, and I spoke about how impressed I was by the D&D introductory boxed sets, including the D&D Fast Play games, and the Black Box “Easy to Master” D&D game.
This week, we can focus more on preparing the adventure itself, and the decision couldn’t be easier. The adventure provided by the Black Box “Easy to Master” D&D game, Zanzer’s Dungeon, is the perfect example of a teaching adventure that helps new players get started running and playing Dungeons and Dragon.
Zanzer’s Dungeon – A Synopsis
Zanzer’s Dungeon, as part of the Black Box “Easy to Master” Dungeons and Dragons game is designed to teach basic Dungeons and Dragons, which puts it several editions behind the current 5th Edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game, which has evolved from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game.
As such, there are some significant differences between the adventure as written and the homebrew D20 system we will ultimately be using. However, the fundamental principles behind the adventure can be used easily enough.
The synopsis of Zanzer’s Dungeon is quite simple – the PCs start in a cell as Zanzer’s prisoners and destined to work in his salt mines. It’s up to the PCs to escape this fate, gaining experience and learning the game as they do.
As part of the process of learning how to run the Dungeons and Dragon’s game, the GM is taken through a similar solo adventure themselves, allowing them to get to know the adventure before they run it for their players.
Zanzer’s Dungeon is actually broken down into four parts, with each part focusing on certain key mechanics in the Dungeons and Dragons game. The first three parts are ideal for individual sessions, whilst the last part covers what is left of the dungeon itself, as the PCs finally manage to escape, as well as providing the foundations for a second adventure.
Slave to the System
Dungeon adventures have always been seen as perfect sandboxes in which newer players can learn and enjoy the primary aspects of Dungeons and Dragons gameplay – exploring the dungeon, fighting monsters, and finding treasure. It’s a relatively safe environment for the campaign, as what happens in the dungeon often stays in the dungeon, and has very little impact on the rest of the campaign.
By actually starting in the dungeon, as a prisoner, the PCs don’t need to have complex backgrounds to get them into the action. It also serves as an excuse to limit starting equipment and options, so that players are not overwhelmed by what they can do in a D&D game.
All together, this makes the perfect focus for the adventure – getting out of the dungeon is a priority for all the characters, and working together to do so helps create the bond of the original party that can be built upon in future adventures. The campaign itself can remain nebulous and remain in the background until the PCs actually escape.
Learning the Ropes
The tutorial within the adventure sees the players choose from a range of characters, with names and backgrounds provided. These are all single line backgrounds, with a focus on how they are died to the community from which they have been abducted. Although the town they come from is not stated in the adventure, it seems idea to state that the PCs all come from in or around Haven in The Vale.
The first part sees the PCs learn the fundamentals of roleplaying, generate the ability scores of their characters, and engage in their first few combats as they begin their escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon. They do this unarmed and unarmoured.
The second part sees the PCs engage in a couple of combats through rooms where weapons and armour are stored. During this part, the players choose their classes, which determine several limits on what the PCs can use. They learn the basics of melee and ranged combat.
The third part sees the PCs continue their explorations as they deal with one of the fundamental parts of Dungeons and Dragons – Magic. It is here that the PCs learn about saving throws, and tangle with Zanzer Tem for the first time. After forcing Zanzer to flee, the PCs get to discover what they need to learn to use magic themselves, and find their first magic items to play with.
The fourth and final part sees the PCs exploring the rest of the dungeon before making their escape. They leave the inner part of Zanzer’s Dungeon, and the game becomes more open, including exploring a number of rooms that the GM has stocked as part of learning how to be a GM. Finally, the PCs find the exit – a room with a trapdoor in the ceiling leads out to freedom, whilst another leads down into a partially stocked dungeon called Stonefast, provided as the basis of their next adventure.
Although the specifics of the adventure will need to be adapted to teach the D20 system we will be using, the framework itself needs very little work as an adventure. The first two parts will equal a session each, and the third part can be one or two sessions, depending on how the game goes. The last part can be split into multiple sessions as needed, depending upon how thoroughly they explore the dungeon.
The tutorial nature of the adventure means that I can focus on working on the D20 system we will be using as we progress, and I may present this development as a series of articles once I have finished this one. This will allow anybody interested to play using the system we end up developing.
One last issue we need to cover is the stable of PCs for the party. A key component of this stable is the need for a stable Home Base – an easily fortified spot where those PCs that are not actively taking part in the adventure can remain. It must be easily accessible for replacements as needed.
For the purposes of Zanzer’s Dungeon, the initial cell makes an ideal base for this stable. The adventure provides eight possible characters to choose from, and these eight characters make perfect candidates for the stable. The PCs are simple names and backgrounds, so they are great blank canvases to start from.
In addition, the initial cell is isolated at the end of a winding set of rooms in the centre of the salt mine. As such, there’s very little possibility that the initial cell will be discovered by enemies until the middle of part 4 of the adventure. At this point, the PCs have two paths to explore the dungeon in their search for the exit, but the players should have gotten used to running a stable of PCs and protecting those they are not adventuring with.
The flavour of The Vale implies that Zanzer’s Dungeon might work better as a primitive iron ore mine, rather than a salt mine. Zanzer Tem would still use captured slaves to mine and break down the ore, so the core of the adventure remain the same.
All this change really does is allow Zanzer’s Dungeon to be placed as a hidden iron ore mine in the mountains surrounding The Vale. It can be placed relatively close to Haven in The Vale, and the PCs will be able to easily return to Haven after their adventure.