The Next Adventure – Crypt of the Smoke Dragon

So, it’s time to move on to new adventures, as the party have finally escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon after nearly a year of on-off gaming. But what should be next?

Whilst we could stay with the current party that has escaped from Zanzer’s Dungeon, perhaps to pursue Zanzer Tem and/or explore the mysteries of Stonefast, there has been some player dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the basic Dungeons and Dragons game, in particular, the way that combat is organised.

More Basic Dungeons and Dragons?

Both of my players, Ouro the veteran and Sian the newbie, seem to be unable to grasp the more wargame-based routes of combat occurring in phases, and seem to favour the later innovation of individual initiatives where characters can perform all their actions in their own round. This is more boardgame-based, and helps reinforce the idea of the party as individual characters, rather than a loose squad of clones.

Whilst I do want to return to basic D&D, it might be better to look towards shifting the homebrew system towards something more current, as we have already decided to move towards a more d20 based system, as used in Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition.

3rd Edition and the D20 System

We could go on to the D&D Adventure Games released for Dungeons and Dragons 3.0, which is an excellent resource for teaching new players the basics of D&D. However, the focus of this product demonstrates the more gamy aspects of D&D, leaving a lot to be desired in the background provided for the adventures.

In fact, the background of D&D 3.x was relatively bland, as it was assumed that the default set up would be the somewhat defunct setting of Greyhawk, although there was little of no support provided beyond a basic gazetteer refreshing what was primarily a 1st and 2nd edition setting for Dungeons and Dragons.

What About 4th and 5th Edition?

With this in mind, let’s look at some other possibilities. Immediately, 4th Edition was ruled out – the system was a little bit TOO different for the campaign, and wasn’t a very good product in my opinion. In fact, I had switched off for 4th edition, and missed it entirely, so I had a lack of confidence in my ability to run it compared to other systems. I know my feelings were shared by Ouro, the veteran player, so it’s unlikely that anything specifically 4th edition orientated would be appreciated.

The Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set, which contained the adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver, was pretty good, but had one drawback. It was ostensibly set in the Forgotten Realms, which was now considered the default setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Using this would probably tie us into using the Forgotten Realms setting, and as good as that setting was, the baggage had the potential to derail the campaign, as many players already knew a lot about the setting.

Settling on 2nd Edition

Looking back at 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, TWO different starter sets were created. One was known as First Quest, which was a perfectly functional starter set, but was used to launch a revision of the Known Word of D&D, under the name Mystara. These were accompanied by audio CDs, and would have the possibility of tying us into Mystara and the Known World.

The second starter set looked like the best option. As part of Dungeons and Dragons’ silver anniversary in 1999, Wizards of the Coast, who had acquired TSR, released a number of products. Among these were the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game and a number of Fast Play products. These were a series of quick adventures that enabled people to get into Dungeons and Dragons quickly, much like the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game for 3rd edition would.

Haven and The Vale

But it had one advantage – these products included a small, self-contained campaign setting featuring the town of Haven and a setting known as The Vale. It’s simple enough to provide a foundation, without tying us to any specific setting.

This was perfect, as the fast play system focused only on light mechanics, so were relatively easy to convert, and the bare bones setting had enough detail to create a basic campaign without overwhelming the players.

Regular readers might recall that I had already settled on using The Vale when deciding basic details about our first adventure. One of the advantages of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon was that it was an extensive tutorial of basic D&D, but wasn’t explicitly placed in any particular setting. As such, it was relatively easy to situate both Zanzer’s Dungeon and Stonefast within The Vale. After all, the PCs were kidnapped, so didn’t need to know things about Haven to begin their adventure to escape.

The were two key Fast Play products, Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern, which provided two different adventures with The Vale. Wrath of the Minotaur was a dungeon-based adventure, whilst Eye of the Wyvern presented a wilderness-based adventure. Both also included a very basic beginning adventure, the Ruined Tower.

The Dungeons and Dragon Adventure Game wasn’t a fast-play product, but was released as part of the Silver Anniversary and set in and around Haven. It featured many of the same characters in the Fast Play game. it contained three adventures, which were ideal to combine with the Fast Play games, and it was fairly easy to combine the two provided maps of The Vale into a bigger campaign.

Crypt of the Smoke Dragon?

There was one other Fast Play game released though – Crypt of the Smoke Dragon. Like the introductory adventure, the Ruined Tower, it was a small adventure designed to teach the game. Unlike the other products, it wasn’t set in The Vale. In fact, it wasn’t set anywhere specifically, and thus was easy to also transplant into the region.

The strangest feature of the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon was that unlike the other Fast Play materials for the setting, it didn’t feature the same characters. The idea of iconics – iconic characters that would represent various class and race combinations within the game – wouldn’t be fully fleshed until 3rd edition in 2000, so it wasn’t unusual for various sets to present new iconic characters and new settings for their beginning products.

With this in mind, the next adventure was set – The Crypt of the Smoke Dragon. I could introduce a simpler party with only four characters, all of which were pregenerated. This adventure, and this party, could be used as a sort of cut away from the aftermath of the Escape from Zanzers Dungeon, as those PCs recovered without needing copious amounts of healing positions and healing magic.

It would also serve to shift the game towards individual initiative, provide the PCs with a break that jumps straight into the adventure, and serve to show that there’s more to The Vale than they see. Perhaps with less need to create characters, my players might find the game easier to get to grips with.

Hopefully, the shortness of this adventure should mean that it doesn’t take so long to complete, and then we can move on to exploring more of The Vale. As a GM, I am looking more towards creating a story about the environment than any specific party, at least until the players have had some experience with what types of characters they want to play.

What about the Escapees of Zanzer’s Dungeon?

But what of the survivors of Zanzer’s Dungeon, and the lingering mystery of Stonefast? Well, I would like to have those in my back pocket, to serve as a hook that rewards the players, as well as the characters. In this way, the Patrician, the party’s patron, can reveal information about Stonefast and eventually provide the key they need to start the adventure into what might otherwise be just another dungeon.

Plus, it also means that I don’t have to worry about stocking the dungeon until much further in the campaign, when I can incorporate a lot of interesting links to the lore behind Haven and The Vale…

Until then, it’s time to look back at the finalised map of the The Vale which will serve as the home base for the players characters for the next little while!

Dungeon Stocking 101

All through this series, I have been sharing my planning regarding Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, as presented in the Easy To Master “Black Box” Dungeons and Dragons Game, that was released in the 1990’s. The key thing about this boxed set was that the adventure served as a tutorial for the Dungeons and Dragons game, using a series of Dragon Cards that first teaches the new GM the rules, who can then teach those rules to their players.

The first seven sections of the Dragon Cards focused on teaching the actual rules of the game, from character creation and classes, through to combat and encounters. Each of these lessons were reinforced through the adventure itself, mainly in the first three parts.

However, the Dragon Cards were about more than just teaching the GM the rules of the game to teach their players. It also focused on teaching the GM how to be a good GM, and how to do several GM-only tasks. The most important of these tasks is designing and creating adventures.

Empty Rooms, Empty Game

Over on the left side of the map of Zanzer’s Dungeon, there is a small complex of five rooms (24 – 28) that have been left empty. These rooms are intended as a space where the GM can follow the final Dragon Cards to stock a dungeon, before they get to the task of creating their own full adventures.

Random stocking of dungeons is a great way to create encounters quickly, but often lacks the cohesion of a more planned adventure. This is why it’s often wise to create a cohesive core of an adventure, and then use random stocking to fill out the remaining areas of the adventure. The Dungeon Cards demonstrated this by showing how they created the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and then presenting the partially designed adventure Stonefast for the GM to continue to practice on as a suitable follow up adventure.

Ultimately, random stocking of dungeons is a useful tool for the GM to get to learn how to create new adventures quickly, as it often emulates similar board games which often use randomness as a means to quickly generate encounters, such as Warhammer Quest, Advanced Heroquest, and the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Boardgames.

Stocking Up

So, let’s get to stocking our five rooms. The first stage of stocking each room is to decide what sort of contents can be found within. This can be done by rolling 1d6 and comparing the following table:

1d6 Roll   Contents    Treasure
1-2        Empty       10% Chance
3          Trap        35% Chance
4-5        Monster     50% Chance
6          Special     Nil

So, let’s get some rolls for our rooms: 1, 2, 6, 2, 2. This gives us the following for our rooms so far:

Room    Roll    Contents
24      1       Empty
25      2       Empty
26      6       Special
27      2       Empty
28      2       Empty

These results seem somewhat, meh, as four of the five rooms are empty, but the fifth holds something special. One of the privileges of being GM is that we can change results we don’t like – we don’t have to be slaves to random results that we don’t find fun. With an over abundance of empty rooms, we can, and probably should, consider changing some of the Empty results to something else.

Since we are supposed to be learning how to stock a dungeon with all sorts of different rooms, we should probably consider changing Room 25 to a Trap, and Room 27 to a Monster. This not only suits the map, but means that the two rooms leading into the complex are empty.

Room   Contents
24     Empty
25     Trap
26     Special
27     Monster
28     Empty

That looks like a more suitable complex to explore, and now we can move on to determining the actual contents of each room.

The Empty rooms are just that – empty. They contain some details to explore, like dusty furniture, rubble, or just an empty room that has yet to be assigned a function. So, for now, we can leave them – so we can focus on Rooms 25, 26, and 27.

Monsters, Monsters, and Monsters, Oh My!

Room 27 is the next easiest to deal with, as it contains a monster encounter for the PCs to fight. The players would be used to this sort of encounter, but how do we choose which monster to include?

The easiest option is to roll on the wandering monster tables. There’s the main table in the back of the rulebook, as well as the wandering table we have already created and have been using for our dungeon. So, let’s start there – we can roll once on each table, and then see which is more suitable for our room.

So, rolling 1d20 on the main table, we get a 15 – 1d10 Skeletons. Whilst this could be a reasonable encounter, we have to ask ourselves if we really want to include more undead in this adventure. We know Zanzer has already used zombies, so skeletons are not totally out of the question here.

Alternatively, rolling 1d8 on our own wandering monster table gives us 2 – 1d6 Hobgoblins. We know that there are plenty of hobgoblins in Zanzer’s dungeon, having encountered more than a few, so this also seems like a reasonable option.

Considering the map, Room 27 is a long room, so most likely a barracks or mess hall. As such, the hobgoblins make a much better choice for the room. Rolling 1d6, we determine that there are 2 Hobgoblins in the room.

We now have the following rooms for our complex, including choosing the monster for our Monster room in Room 27:

Room    Contents
24      Empty
25      Trap
26      Special
27      Monster (2 Hobgoblins)
28      Empty

It’s worth noting that even though we only have a single room with one dedicated monster encounter, there’s still the possibility of encountering wandering monsters in this complex.

Treasured Encounters

If you recall, on the table for random stocking a dungeon, each type of room has a chance for including treasure. Empty rooms might not neccessarily be empty, if a precious bauble or a forgotten cache of coins can be found.

It’s worth noting that Special rooms don’t have a chance for any treasure. This is because the features of the room are often special enough that there is no need to reward the PCs with potential treasure.

So, dealing with the rest of the rooms, we can see that Empty rooms have a 10% chance of including treasure. With two Empty rooms, we roll 23% and 15%, indicating that neither room includes any treasure – they are truly empty.

The Trap room has a 35% chance of treasure. If the room includes treasure, the trap often focuses on protecting the treasure, so let’s see if the room includes treasure or not. With a roll of 73%, the Trap room doesn’t include any treasure.

The Monster room has a 50% chance of treasure. With a roll of 24%, we see that Room 27 does include some treasure. This gives us a chance to look at how to determine random treasures.

Room   Contents                 Treasure
24     Empty                    No
25     Trap                     No
26     Special                  No
27     Monster (2 Hobgoblins)   Yes
28     Empty                    No

Since Zanzer Tem is the special monster of the dungeon, the Hobgoblins in Room 27 will have a smaller treasure of their own, rather than a Lair treasure. Looking under Hobgoblins, this gives us Treasure Type Q – which is 3d6 silver pieces per monster. Rolling 3d6, we discover that the Hobgoblins each have 12 silver pieces.

This gives us the following for our rooms so far.

Room  Contents                 Treasure
24    Empty                    No
25    Trap                     No
26    Special                  No
27    Monster (2 Hobgoblins)   Yes (12 sp each)
28    Empty                    No

With All The Trappings

With three of our five rooms defined, it’s time to tackle with Room 25 and 26. Room 25 is a Trap room. Looking at our map, we can see that there’s a small opening to Room 26. So, without any treasure in Room 25, the most obvious thing to protect is the entrance to Room 26.

There’s no random table to determine what sort of trap should be placed in a given room. Instead, the GM should always carefully place a trap by determining what the trap maker is trying to achieve.

In Room 25, have decided that the trap maker is trying to prevent or delay entry into Room 26. We know that Zanzer Tem is the creator of this dungeon, and as such, he may use a combination of physical and magical traps.

Looking back to when we were trying to decide what monsters our rooms would include, we toyed with the idea of facing 1d10 skeletons. We already know that Zanzer Tem uses undead servants, so why don’t we revisit that idea here?

Let’s go with this idea – in Room 25, once any character who isn’t Zanzer Tem approaches the passage to Room 26, a magical trap is triggered which animates 6 skeletons in Room 25 to try and delay any intruders. It also serves to deter anybody leaving from Room 26, which will be useful when we deal with that room later.

As a trap, we should include the possibility for the trap to be spotted and/or disarmed. In this case, whilst it’s unlikely that any PC will have the ability to disarm the magical trap, we should include some sort of warning glyph that can be spotted protecting the opening. We can go with a simple DC of 15 to spot the subtle writing around the opening.

That Special Something

Time for our final room – Room 26. We now know that it’s protected by a magical trap that summons skeletons whenever someone other than Zanzer attempts to enter or leave. So what could he be protecting? His spellbooks? A special prisoner? Maybe even a consort of some kind?

How about we go with a combination of these options? Although we saw Zanzer’s bedroom earlier in the adventure, we only met Gorgo – Zanzer’s manservant. We also know that Zanzer knows and uses charm person so perhaps he has a charmed consort in here, for when he wishes to “relax”.

The Dragon Cards introduced an elf maiden called Adelle into the choose your own adventure that was used to teach the rules to the GM. Adelle doesn’t feature in the adventure at all, which is a shame given that here statistics are included on the back of Dragon Card 36.

We can change that by including Adelle here as Zanzer’s charmed consort. Because she is charmed, Adelle doesn’t attempt to flee the room, but this doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t decide to try and rescue her – especially if they realise that she has been charmed.

What’s interesting here is that in the basic Dungeons and Dragons game, demihumans like dwarves, elves, and halflings were considered classes as well as races. While dwarves and halflings operated a lot like fighters with some special skills, elves had the ability to fight like fighters and cast spells like mages, as well as having their own skills.

We can tweak the idea of the elf class to include a new class – the spellsword. This class will serve as a reward for the players, as should they rescue Adelle, not only will Adelle join the party stable for future adventures, but if the players create new characters, they can choose Spellsword as a new class for their characters.

As an added bonus, Adelle comes with her own spellbook which contains the hold portal and detect magic spells.

So all together, we now have the following for our complex:

Room    Room Type   Contents                        Treasure
24      Empty       Empty                           No
25      Trap        Summons 6 Skeletons             No
26      Special     Charmed Elf Maiden (Adelle)     No
27      Monster     2 Hobgoblins                    Yes (12 sp each)
28      Empty       Empty                           No

The Final Details

We have sorted out the meat of our complex, so it’s time to flesh out the rooms with a few details. For ease, we will just define what each room is, so that we can create some simple details when we describe the room.

Looking back at our map, Room 24 is a long hallway, so we will go with that for Room 24. Room 25, our Trap room, is a simple antechamber, but let’s include another visual for the trap, by noting the piles of bones in the corner of the room. Room 26 had been defined as a bedroom for Adelle. Room 27 would work well as a mess hall. Finally, Room 28 could be a simple pantry, used for storage.

These simple decisions means we can make note of the following details:

Room      Description    Details
24        Hallway        None
25        Antechamber    Bone Piles
26        Bedroom        Bed & Wardrobe
27        Mess Hall      Tables & Chairs
28        Pantry         Barrels and Crates

Escaping the Dungeon

Following the players actions last session, the party seems set to continue anti-clockwise, into the final part of Zanzer’s Dungeon. As such, it’s time to prepare for the final conflict that will see them escape at last, as well as uncover a tantalising clue to a future adventure.

The eastern half of the complex contains the last few stocked rooms of the dungeon, including the small mine itself, and a final encounter with Zanzer Tem. All this is covered in five rooms, even though only four of those rooms contain actual encounters.

We also have the wandering monster list from last session to help fill out the session. This is useful as we can use it to put a stumbling block in the way of the party should they take the detour around the complex that eventually leads them to Room 28, which is part of the unstocked dungeon left for GMs to fill in as they learn how to generate adventures. If the party decides to explore this area at some point in the future, it can always be stocked as needed prior to that session.

Finally, the details for Room 23 remain unused, as does the side complex of Rooms 20 to 22, so the party can always head back and explore these areas. The wandering monster trick can be used to stall the players from exploring Area 24 until we have stocked that area of the dungeon, so even if the party decides to backtrack, or even decides to swap active parties, we are covered for the session.

Session Outline

Let’s take a quick look at how the session should progress. As always, player pacing and decision making will affect this, buta simple plan is as follows:

First, the party has the option of exploring the simple mining cavern that is Room 30. Since Room 30 is behind closed doors, the party may wish to bypass this room entirely.

The party then is faced with a choice between Room 31 and 32, with two very different challenges within. Both are long conveyer rooms, but only Room 31 is active. If the party deals with Room 30, they are given a clue to avoid the deadlier Room 32, which contains a green slime. As Room 32 is the further of the two conveyer rooms, even if the PCs bypass Room 30, they are much more likely to encounter Room 31 than Room 32, since both rooms are open chambers and the PCs will have to pass the entrance to Room 31 first.

Beyond Rooms 31 and 32, we have a complex of tunnels which lead to Room 33, and the final encounter with Zanzer Tem. It’s here that the PCs can find the means to escape the dungeon through a trapdoor in the ceiling. They get to pass the door to Room 34, with the locked trapdoor leading to Stonefast, but chances are that they will take part in the final conflict with Zanzer Tem before they get the chance to do so.

As mentioned above, the PCs might take a wrong turn from leaving Room 31, so instead of encountering Room 32 or 33, they end up travelling along the back way to Room 28.  We can always use a random encounter here, if we haven’t used one already. There are some interesting tactical challenges that can be used here – the back way consists of a long corridor with a tight, roughly hewn section in the middle of it. This can easily be used to restrict ranged combat, or to encourage the party to go elsewhere in the dungeon.

All together, we have four potential encounters in this session, in rooms 30, 31, 32, and 33. We also have room for a single random encounter, but chances are that there will be enough fighting to avoid this if the party sticks with the planned encounters. The party should only need to encounter one of Rooms 31 and 32, so we can count both rooms as a single encounter for pacing purposes, which is useful for us as the climactic battle with Zanzer Tem can be quite complex, and therefore might be considered two encounters for such purposes.

It’s worth noting that the players might decide that the final encounter with Zanzer Tem should be deferred until later, after they have explored more of the dungeon. In this case, they might not only explore both Room 31 and Room 32, but also consider backtracking to explore the areas they missed out on. So it doesn’t really matter if the party doesn’t make it to Room 33 and the final encounter in this session – there’s still plenty to explore!

The Mine and the Belt Rooms

Room 30 is the mine, and contains two ogres and four prisoners. The prisoners won’t help the party fight, they are too weak, but will recommend that the party enters Room 31 disguised, and avoid Room 32 because of the “jelly”.

Room 31 contains an active conveyer belt, and consists of six dwarves guarded by another two ogres. The dwarves are chained to the belt, but will attack the ogres that come near them. If freed, the Dwarves will join the party as NPCs in their bid for freedom, but only if they head to Room 33 and try to escape the dungeon. Otherwise, they will bid the PCs farewell and seek their own escape, unless the PCs direct them to where the other PCs are resting. If the Dwarves leave, they will ultimately get lost in Zanzer’s Dungeon, probably heading to room 28, or finding some other secret way out, but could be used as a wandering monster encounter later in the adventure.

Room 32 contains an idle conveyer belt. Hiding within the room, on the ceiling, is a green slime, which drops on the first character who steps 4 or more squares into the room, requiring a DC 12 Reflex save to avoid.

Green slime is a deadly encounter for those who do not know how to handle it – green slime that has fallen on a character can only be burnt off, with half of the burning damage going to the PC, and half to the slime. Luckily, the PCs are likely to have access to torches at this point, but even the 6 points of burning damage required to save a victim can kill those on low health. Of course, a character who is killed can be raised, where as a character who is turned into green slime cannot, and only high level magic, beyond the reach of the players in the campaign right now, can bring them back.

It should be noted that if the PCs fight the green slime, the green slime will attack, but only needs to touch the PCs to cling to them. As such, green slime ignores all bonuses from armour when rolling to attack, but will begin to dissolve the armour. The green slime doesn’t ignore shield bonuses, but if the PC would only avoid being hit by the shield bonus, then the green slime will stick to and dissolve the shield, but the PC has the chance to drop the shield and escape. The green slime will also stick to any weapons used to attack the slime, but like a shield, these weapons can be dropped to allow the PC to escape. Remember that only fire damage can hurt a green slime, and therefore only those characters using torches are going to be effective in combat.

Showdown

In Room 33, the PCs will encounter Zanzer Tem, and four of his bugbear guards. When Zanzer hears the PCs coming, he will cast a darkness spell over the area, so without the help of the Dwarves, the PCs are likely to be at a disadvantage in this combat unless they managed to retrieve a light spell to counter the darkness.

Zanzer will have used all of his spells at this time, but he does have a scroll with the spells web, shield, and magic missile on it. Zanzer Tem will use these spells in combat. Once Zanzer is out of spells, he will attempt to escape, but if forced into melee, Zanzer will attack using his dagger if he is cornered.

There will be no quarter for Zanzer Tem in The Vale, so unless he can flee to safety, he fights to the death. If Zanzer does manage to escape, he will hide in the wilderness and possibly become a recurring villain for the PCs to encounter, maybe used as a wandering encounter to harass the party later in the campaign. Zanzer Tem might even seek to reclaim his dungeon if the PCs don’t secure it, and use it as a base to continue to harass the area – which might be important if the PCs seek to return and explore Stonefast at a later date.

Speaking of Stonefast, Room 34 has a single feature – a locked trapdoor leading to Stonefast. The PCs can seek to return to explore Stonefast at a later date, but the campaign itself will continue in another direction, as the Patriarch of Haven will seek to send the party off to explore other dungeons as issues arise. These additional adventures will seek to expand the party stable, and give the players something to do whilst their previous PCs recover from their expeditions.

For now, this room serves to tease the PCs with the presence of Stonefast, a lost Dwarven hold, to explore in the future. The PCs shouldn’t be able to open the lock, even with a knock spell. Likewise, breaking open the trapdoor isn’t an option because of it’s quality. Only when they find the key, which the party will find when you are ready for them to explore Stonefast, will they be able to enter. This will hopefully motivate the players to stay in the region of the Vale rather than deciding that they need to explore out further afield for adventure.

The Future

The final encounter with Zanzer Tem will end the adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, leaving only a little bit of clean up for the party to do if they want to finish exploring the rest of the complex. It’s important to engage with the players and see what they want to do, because they might be keen to escape from the dungeon and move on to further adventures, especially if they seem to want to explore Stonefast.

The party will get to travel to Haven, the main town in the Vale. Here, they will set up a more permanent base, so from now on, their party stable will only be available once they return to town between expeditions. As such, the PCs will have to learn to prepare for an entire adventure, not just a single session, before being able to change characters.

The PCs from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon is likely to need to rest after escaping the dungeon, even if they are at full hit points. They will need time to recover from the ordeal of imprisonment, as well as learn from their experiences. They may have gained enough experience to gain a level, but until they get time to reflect upon this, they will not gain any further abilities.

As such, this is an ideal time to say goodbye to these PCs for the time being, and move on to another adventure with another set of PCs. This time, however, these are pre-generated characters, and so the players will spend more time adventuring and less time creating these characters, as they explore the Crypt of the Smoke Dragon with Graywulf, Stardancer, Delavan, and Zanthar Rex…

 

Of Mice and Wandering Monsters

After the series of linked, unmapped rooms in Zanzer’s Dungeon, which the PCs explored in the last session, the complex really begins to open up for the party to explore as they seek their ultimate objective – a way to escape the dungeon. They find themselves in a corridor, which not only contains a door leading to a series of small rooms, but also their their first, most significant, junction.

The complex itself wraps around the centre section in two opposite directions – clockwise and anti-clockwise, both meeting up again together at the exit from Zanzer’s Dungeon, where Zanzer awaits them for his final stand.

Heading clockwise, the PCs get to go past a jail complex of individual cells, heading into an area of the dungeon that is “unstocked” – given to the GM (i.e. me) as an area to practice designing their own dungeons and adventures. Heading anti-clockwise, the PCs get to go through a guard post leading into the mining facility itself. After going through either area, the party comes to the final area where they will fight Zanzer for their freedom, and find a route to Stonefast, which they can explore later in the campaign as they explore the mysteries of The Vale.

This means that for this session, we have three main areas to develop. Firstly, there’s the side rooms, which are a series of three rooms that the PCs can explore for possible extra experience and loot, but ultimately lead them nowhere. Then we have the clockwise route, which will see the party go past room 23 – the Jailblock. Finally, we have the anti-clockwise route, which will see them go past room 29 – the Guard Post.

Wandering Monsters

One key feature in basic D&D, that would see various use throughout the various editions of the game, was the concept of wandering monsters. At certain points, often where there might be some expected movement by the inhabitants of the dungeon, the party has a chance to encounter wandering monsters each turn.

Players have a love-hate relationship with wandering monsters in the game, as they can be used to spice up otherwise bland areas of the dungeon, especially if the party are backtracking through an area they have previously explored. They can also be used to steer the party towards or away from certain areas, or by the GM to bring the players back into the game if the action starts to lag.

Unfortunately, for all the good uses of wandering monsters, they can often slow the game down if over used, and this often gets in the way of the story, especially if the PCs are heading towards an anticipated climactic encounter.

We only have a limited allotment for encounters per session, looking at between three to five encounters based on party actions and player energy. As such, it can seem like a waste to spend these encounters on wandering monsters, rather than exploring rooms and getting through the dungeon.

As such, as much as wandering monsters are a staple of Dungeons and Dragons, we should look towards making a compromise – I will aim to have a single wandering monster encounter per session. This gives me some flexibility to include an encounter to help better direct the flow of play, but not so much as to bog down the game and get in the way of exploring.

Making a List…

In the Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragon’s Game, the GM gets a tutorial through the use of Dragon Cards, explaining to them the rules and principles of play, as well as including the four parts of adventure Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon. The idea is that the GM reads the cards, which gives them just enough information to handle what is covered in that part of the adventure, and by the end of it, the GM will be running a full D&D game.

So far, we have covered the first three parts of the adventure, which has taught the GM about roleplaying, character creation, combat, and other rules like movement, encumbrance, and dungeon exploration. This involved a process of the GM learning to play using these rules first, and then effectively teaching the party how to play by those same rules.

After the third part, the remaining Dragon Cards focused more on teaching the GM about what happens between dungeons, as well as how to create their own dungeons, with greater reference to the rulebook that was included. This section would end with the fourth part of the adventure, where the GM could put some of what they had learnt into practice.

Of key significance here were the cards that taught about designing an adventure and stocking a dungeon. The Dragon Cards would go through this with two examples – first for Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, and then once again with Stonefast.

The example for Escape from Zanzer’s Dungeon was mostly filled – after all, a lot of the most important decisions were already designed, and the majority of the dungeon was already stocked for play, following the tutorial provided. This included discussing how the major enemy of the dungeon, Zanzer Tem, was decided, how treasure was chosen and placed, and what features were included.

In Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon, there were only two sections left for the GM to work on to finish up the adventure – a series of five rooms (Rooms 24 to 28) that needed stocking, and creating a wandering monster list. It’s the latter task that we need to focus on now as the party emerges into the main complex.

Checking It Twice

To create a wandering monster list, the GM simply has to choose some monsters or other things that the party might encounter as they explore the dungeon. These should be creatures that fit the dungeon, and are inclined to roam about, moving from room. There only needs to be between six to ten entries, as this will provide enough variation for random encounters.

It’s recommended that the GM focus on humanoid encounters within Zanzer’s Dungeon, as these would be the guards that Zanzer uses within his mines. This is useful for us, as most of these creatures are simple encounters, and the party has already encountered several humanoids within the dungeon already. In fact, so far the party has encountered hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, orcs, gnolls, and human guards, as well as a minotaur. These all make good encounters for our list.

In the rulebook, several other humanoids exist – bugbears, ogres, troglodytes, thouls, and trolls, among others. This gives us a big list to chose from, but not all of these are suitable as a wandering monster encounter for a 1st level party. For example, thouls paralyse like ghouls, and trolls regenerate, which may be too much for a low level party to handle by chance. Likewise, the party has already encountered Dimitri the minotaur, and this encounter might be undermined if minotaurs are common wandering encounters. Finally, as much as I fancy including troglodytes, they produce a stench that penalises other creatures in combat, and it seems that other humanoids might not want to cooperate with them.

Putting together a list of the remaining options, we have:

  • Hobgoblins
  • Goblins
  • Kobolds
  • Orcs
  • Gnolls
  • Human Guards
  • Bugbears
  • Ogres

This gives us a nice list of eight entries to choose from for our encounters. Now all we need to do is decide how many are encountered at once, and our wandering monster list is done.

In rulebook gives some wandering monster encounter tables to use as a reference. Looking at this, we see that the following are first level encounters:

  • 1d6 Goblins
  • 1d6 Hobgoblins
  • 2d6 Kobolds
  • 1d6 Orcs

We also see that 1d4 Gnolls are listed as a second level encounter, suitable for a higher level party. As such, we would probably want to reduce the die range by one step, to 1d3 Gnolls, to make it a first level encounter.

Looking at the third level table, we find 1d6 Bugbears and 1d3 Ogres listed as suitable encounters. These need to be reduced, and just as we did with the Gnolls above, we will reduce these by two die steps, giving us 1d3 Bugbears and 1 Ogre as suitable encounters.

Although human Guards aren’t listed, we can assume that 1d4 Guards counts as a suitable first level encounter. This gives us the following table with eight encounters:

  1. 1d6 Goblins
  2. 1d6 Hobgoblins
  3. 2d6 Kobolds
  4. 1d6 Orcs
  5. 1d3 Gnolls
  6. 1d3 Bugbears
  7. 1 Ogre
  8. 1d4 Guards

We could organise the table better, but if we use a 1d8 to choose the encounter, we have an equal chance of each, so it doesn’t really matter what order they are presented in.

This might seem a lot of work for a single encounter, but having designed this list, we can reuse it for future sessions in this dungeon, as well as if the PCs ever decide to return to this dungeon in the future.

Side Rooms

With the wandering monster list out of the way, it’s time to focus on the encounters for the next session. As discussed above, the core of these are the three side rooms, rooms 20 to 22, which give the PCs further opportunity for experience and loot.

The first of these, Room 20, is a dark room containing a glowing crystal ball and five sprites. It’s a relatively simple encounter, where the PCs are teased by the sprites, and they only attack if attacked first.

In the second side room, Room 21, there are 2 gnolls. This is a combat encounter, similar to other encounters with gnolls so far.

In the third room are four imprisoned gnomes. The gnomes promise a reward if freed. However, the PCs may fight the gnomes if they get greedy for more treasure.

Altogether, there’s really only a single encounter here – the Gnolls. The other two rooms have encounters that the PCs can easily bypass, so both can be considered a single encounter together, depending upon the PCs actions.

Decision Time

At the end of the corridor passing the siderooms, the PCs get to make a key decision as discussed above. This decision will most likely determine what direction the party travels in during the next sessions, as both routes lead to the exit.

Although the PCs can return to here and take the other route at any time, in order to limit the amount of work needed to do at once, it’s best if only the first encounter of each direction is detailed, and wandering monsters are used to steer the gameplay as needed. A good tactic here is to have the PCs encounter wandering monsters just before they progress into any area that hasn’t been developed yet – that’s through the double doors to Room 24 or leaving Room 29.

If the PCs head clockwise, they will pass through corridors that lead to Room 23 – the Jail Block. It contains eight cells, although only three are important. Cell A contains silvered weapons, which act as normal weapons but are useful for fighting the werewolf and other vulnerable creatures. Cell B contains two healing potions hidden under rags.

The most important feature is Cell G, who’s bars are made of solid silver. This is because the occupant is a werewolf, who can only be hit by silver weapons in wolf form. If the werewolf is released, then he can be used later returning in wolf form as a wandering monster encounter.

Altogether, the entire cell block counts as a single encounter, as the only combat is with the werewolf, which might not even take place until the party tries to leave the cell block, depending upon where they attempt to go. For example, if the PCs decide to head towards Room 24 after leaving, they might encounter the werewolf in wolf form bounding down the corridor towards them, whilst if they try to leave Room 29, the werewolf in wolf form might chase them after they finish with the encounter there.

Whatever the case, if the PCs head clockwise, they will find the doors to Room 24 stuck, as the rooms beyond will be detailed in a later session, and wandering monsters (or the werewolf) will be used to distract them until the end of the session.

If the party heads anti-clockwise, they will head into Room 29. This is a simple room where slaves from the cells are changed by guards before they head to and from work in the mine. There’s no encounter here, but the PCs should find manacles and cloaks to disguise themselves as miners.

If the PCs opt to press further in this direction, then they will find that the door leaving room 29 is stuck, and wandering monsters or the werewolf in wolf form will distract them from going any further. Wandering monsters may actually come through the door leaving Room 29, rather than from behind them. If the PCs are disguised as miners at this time, the wandering monsters may fall for the disguise, in which case they will attempt to lead the PCs towards room 23 and the cells within.

Room 29 doesn’t count as an encounter, so we really only have three encounters, with the fourth being a wandering monster encounter, and the fifth being in case the PCs decide to fight either the gnomes or the sprites.

When wrapping the session up, we should discuss where the party is heading next. Make a note of if they decide to move the stable, what they do with NPCs like Axel and Gorgo, and where they decide to rest. This will give us time work on what the PCs might encounter in the next session – if they are going to head clockwise, they will encounter the series of rooms that the GM gets to stock, whilst if they head anti-clockwise, they get to explore more of the mines, and even deal with Zanzer Tem as they finally discover the way to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon!

Going Off The Rails

Finally, we have made it to Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon – Part 4. At this point, the tutorial nature of the New Easy to Master (Black Box) Dungeons and Dragons Game fades away, allowing the players to explore the rest of the dungeon as they decide, with optional side rooms and multiple paths to choose from. There are still some new tricks for the GM to learn, but for the main part, the players are now experiencing the full game as intended – at least that bit with the poster map!

Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon is accompanied by a poster map of Zanzer’s Dungeon, upon which the adventure is played. The rooms are all marked out, for the most part, and the central tutorial section is clearly cut off from the rest of the complex in a linear path to the cell within which the PCs started. Thus, there were some clear visual clues for the players to use as they progress.

There is one exception however, and this is a small complex of rooms (numbered Room 15 to 20) which is simply marked as a large square room with 5 tiles (25 ft.) to each side. This is a small area to allow the party to get used to one of the key skills in D&D – mapping the dungeon.

Many adventures would take place without the benefits of a poster map, and therefore the players would probably desire to start drawing a map of their own, both as an aid to exploring the dungeon, but also to note where the PCs are during complicated battles.

Luckily for us, we are using Roll20, and therefore it’s best practice to have the majority of all maps pre-drawn and ready, using the tools of the online tabletop to hide the map and reveal it as the PCs explore. As such, we will not be needing to use the mapping tutorial from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon.

However, the encounters within Rooms 15 to 19 are still worthwhile to use, and this small complex gives the players their first chance to explore off the linear path they have experienced so far, with both siderooms and an alternative route to explore.

The objective of this small complex is to escape via Room 19, which leads out into the main dungeon complex. This can be achieved by heading straight into Room 19 from Room 15, or they can detour through Room 17. Rooms 16 and 18 are optional side rooms that can be explored as well.

It’s also worth noting that because of issues with the last session, we still have the final encounter from Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3 – the chase with the Rock Python from Room 12 through Rooms 13 and 14. The planning for this encounter can be found in the previous planning encounter.

We are currently looking at running four encounters per session, so if we consider the Rock Python encounter as being a single encounter, that leaves us three encounters to work with – which is just enough to cover the main encounters in Rooms 15 to 19.

There are two main features in Room 15, so it’s not really much of an encounter in itself. The door to Room 15 (from Room 14) is locked and trapped, and was also covered in the final half of Escape From Zanzer’s Dungeon Part 3. The party will still have to deal with this door, but it can be combined with the encounter for Room 15.

Room 15 itself is dark, so for the first time, the PCs will need to light a torch to see. Upon lighting a torch, the PCs will find that they are confronted with four doors to choose from. The PCs are free to choose their route from here, but it’s worth pointing out that the party may become overwhelmed if they decide to open all the doors up at once.

Room 16 is a simple closet with an insidious trap – the door leading to Room 16 is a special one-way door that cannot be opened from inside Room 16. Once the last PC enters the room, the door springs shut, trapping them within. Anyone holding the door open must succeed at DC 18 Strength check to prevent the door from closing, although the PCs may decide to spike the door open. The PCs may use the knock spell on the scroll within the room to escape. They may also attempt to break down the door (DC 23, hardness 5, 20 hp).

If the PCs cannot escape, the players may opt to create a new party from the stable to rescue them, or if Axel is still around, to use a DC 20 Charisma check to get him to open the door from the outside and let them out. It’s worth noting that Axel will use this position of power to extort more treasure from the players, and for ever 250 gp of treasure they offer Axel, they get a +1 bonus in trying to convince him to release them.

Room 17 is an optional route to leaving the complex. Within sits Dimitri the Minotaur, who has 24 hit points.

Room 18 is a sideroom, containing Gorgo the blind man servant. Gorgo has 32 hit points. It’s worth noting that Gorgo’s golden ball applies a -2 penalty to Dexterity, with a corresponding -1 penalty to AC and Reflex saving throws.

Room 19 is the exit of this small complex, leading into the main complex. Here stand four zombies, each of which have 14 hit points each.

Although these rooms are light on details, each of these encounters are likely to result in either combat (Rooms 17 and 19), or in negotiation (Room 18), and as such are going to take some time to resolve. This gives us a total of three encounters, which combined with the Rock Python encounter gives us our target of four encounters per session. Room 16 is a devious trap, but as an optional side encounter, can be easily skipped.