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.
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.
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:
27 Monster (2 Hobgoblins)
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.
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