Unused Scenario – Recruitment Drive

When working out the key elements of the DDC game I occasionally come up with events and encounters that don’t end up seeing the light of day. Sometimes I recycle them and sometimes they sit in my DNDBeyond encounters list becoming less and less likely to get used. In the spirit of giving some inspiration therefore, I sometimes write them up in general terms for people to use or avoid depending on whether they see it as an idea or a warning.

In this case I had an early idea that the group might stumble upon someone working for or with the trolls in the middle of negotiating with potential allies. In this version of the timeline I hadn’t quite worked out the dynamics of the Circle of Rot or its driving principles and so the back story to this was one of attempted conquest rather than a nihilistic drive to consume and destroy.

map plan of a misty evening view of buildings on the edge of a graveyard with a large bonfire in a courtyard.

The inspiration for the scenario came from a map that i downloaded from Reddit from a post by u/Dreadmaps and was a large bonfire in a graveyard. I did some lighting level work in Roll20 to add wall boundaries and light sources once I’d uploaded it and put the player tokens in the top left corner as a default ahead of any actual encounter.

The concept was that a Tiefling druid working with the Circle, backed by some mutated ogres, would be trying to recruit a hill giant and his pet manticores. The group would have a chance to overhear some of the villainous plans and then either interrupt or sneak away from the scene, depending on how brave they were feeling.

As it turned out, the DDC hasn’t adopted a strategy of creeping about the valley in search of creatures to slay, and the concept of the trolls co-opting outsiders didn’t ring true with the way the group was experiencing the story either. As a result, the encounter has languished and been overtaken by events and power levels. I may throw some variant of it at them as a random encounter if play allows, but otherwise I throw this open to the floor.

The antagonists, if you want to build it for yourself, consisted of a CR2 4th level Druid, 4x CR2 Carrion Ogres (essentially ogres with carrion crawler heads), 3x CR3 Manticores, and a CR5 Hill Giant Sergeant. It was aimed at being a Medium difficulty encounter for 5x level 13 adventurers rather than a grand battle royale.

Map – The Bone Plain Meeting Place

This eerie and frigid plain of bones hosted the first meeting of the DDC and the Annis Hag known as Deadeye Alice, and was described as a neutral ground in the Feywild where deals could be offered. It was also within the boundaries of the territories of the Winter’s Knight, and offered a glimpse of the future he sought for their homeland.

Overhead map view as described in the text below this image

There are two portals entering this space: the first marked by a swirling mist in a built up pile of bones in the north east corner, the second by an open grave beside the enormous cauldron eternally steaming in the south. Sullen red balefires illuminate the night, while a freezing river full of iceblocks divides the two sides. Several piles of skulls are stacked at irregular intervals, while blue crystals jut out here and there from the ground.

It’s a bleak place but allows two parties to arrive and leave through different means. Perhaps in your stories a great battle is held there, or something leaps out of the frozen waters to ambush explorers. Either way, have fun if you want to use it

Map – Snowy Farm

I used this map during this week’s session as the stage for an assassination attempt on one of the characters, but its a suitably generic location for any one of a number of scenarios in a farm or village context. It is basically two fields and a cabin with a roadway running past them and an assortment of bushes, trees, and large stones along side it. The whole scene is smothered in snow, and with the sun overhead it has a certain charm to go alongside the drama of any encounters that might take place here.

Overhead map of a snowbound farm as described in the accompanying text

In this instance I had the group encounter a mysterious figure who sat on one of the stones by the road, roughly in the middle of the map – in this case a winter eladrin consumed with sorrow whose presence lulled the group into concerned care. Then on identifying his target he fey stepped behind the group and tried to kill them. The fight quickly became a hit and run encounter with the eladrin using superior movement and occasional limited teleportation to keep his distance and pepper his target with arrows. It was a close run thing as the group kept healing the target and trying to keep up as new attacks came from different directions.

The combination of large open spaces and objects that blocked line of sight meant that the focus of the encounter kept shifting, and kept people on their toes. It was huge fun.

I made this map in Dungeon Alchemist and exported it into Roll20 with lighting set for daylight so I didn’t have to set a lot of light sources. The usual zip file is here as snowy fields.zip and as ever if you use it, have fun! I’d love to hear what stories you use it for.

D&D Scripts vs Winging

I’ve spent a bit of time in my lunch break putting together some words for an NPC to drop as lore but it’s not something I do very often. Our D&D sessions can often be very problem-solving orientated, or focused in events rather than purely social encounters. When those do happen I normally wing it and make some discrete notes in my book for the purposes of continuity.

Even when I do write information in advance I don’t tend to write to a particular voice, and then adapt it based on how they access it. It might be in research in a library, or overheard gossip. It could be a letter found on a body, or it could be a headline in a newspaper.

I don’t like to railroad lore drops, but they can sometimes be very effective at giving “aha!” moments that feel earned. We had one late last year when Karkanna was finally tracked down and some real context and history to the events they’d stumbled into was made available. It wasn’t meant as a massive twist in the tale, but it did allow for correcting some of the wilder theories the players had come up with.

So hopefully this weekend there will be chance for the DDC to learn some context to their current problems – the scale of the problem perhaps, or the goals of the people behind it. Something to motivate them beyond a reactive response to a monster of the week.

With motivation, the group can take charge of the story, or at least work out what story is unfolding around them…

NPC – Cinderblock

Sometimes when toying around with Heroforge I’ll get a character step right out of the model – not just in terms of attitude and presence, but in the mechanics of how they operate. That’s probably the most appropriate term to use for Cinderblock, who is a Warforged warlock created at the height of the Last War. Originally designed to be an infiltrator scout, Cinderblock got caught in a magical crossfire in an ambush and was assumed to have been killed.

As they hovered on the edge of final deactivation, they called out blindly into the void and something answered. Something curious about this new soul light that had not been there before, and that was looking for a way into the physical world. A deal was offered: life and power in return for service. In desperation, the deal was taken, and Cinderblock blasted their way to freedom with a new set of capabilities that seemed quite at odds to their previous existence

Since then, Cinderblock has made a new pathway – seeking old places sealed away thousands of years ago and gathering the knowledge and power needed to open a path for their patron. Years of obeying orders in war made taking orders from an otherworldly voice in their head an easy transition. Their suppressed rage now manifests in fire and eldritch blasts as they search. They’re not sure what exactly they’re looking for, but along the way they have encountered others who have felt the power of their patron and have taken reassurance of sorts that this proves it isn’t all just inside their head.

Cinderblock doesn’t know the true name of their patron. They know it only by the title it demands – that of Master. It doesn’t matter to Cinderblock. They have life and purpose, and enough discretion in how they achieve that purpose to indulge a little spite along the way.

Lore Drop – Deadeye Alice

The Blackcap Mountains hold many strange corners and valleys, but the legend of Deadeye Alice sees many variants across the various tribes and clans that make their home there. Stories are whispered of the kindly auntie who lives past the fields or who whispers in the dead of night and offers her iron trinkets to those in need of a friendly voice. Tales of bargains in the night that bring both fortune and woe are told by dwarves in their Holds, and trolls in their caves. The druids warn of her iron nails and capricious nature, but also of her brutal family who roam the heights and do her bidding.

Illustrative picture - a monstrous and hooded figure with a skull mask and purple skin. Two sets of horns protrude from the hood, and a flaming speear is grasped in one hand.

Deadeye Alice gets her name from the corpse-pale orbs in her head. An Annis Hag, this fey creature has made the Blackcaps her home for generations. Unlike some of her kind, Alice shuns the covens and gatherings of her sisters and cousins. Repulsive in appearance, she is not courted by the fairer folk. Instead she haunts the edges of settlements, gathers rumours and favours, and spins a web of obligations, blackmail, and corruption.

Many tales tell of wanderers who seek her out in search of hidden knowledge, or favours to aid them in battle or love. She sees everyone as children, young and foolish, in need of guidance. Sometimes that guidance is benign, sometimes it isn’t. She can be eloquent, or crude, direct or opaque, and sometimes all of that in one exchange.

Those who particularly interest her may be offered an iron token, reforged from one of her iron nails or teeth. She plucks it forth and reworks it before them and from then on the new owner can talk to her whenever they wish, and hear her whispers in return. She has used these tokens to guide explorers, to tempt priests, and to corrupt children – and they are mentioned in stories around fires and camps as the winds howl in the night.

So when children talk of their Auntie in the fields, parents shudder and ask other parents who was out that day. When old iron toys are found in attics, they are quietly thrown away rather than added to scrap in the forge. The fear is that adding hag iron to the foundry would see warriors undone by whispers as they stood on guard with that iron around their heads.

Deadeye Alice sees all, and hears all, and owes allegiance to nobody. And anyone who tries to change that, meets her family – her two husbands and her five sons.

Map – Alchemy House

This is an early map I made when I first got Dungeon Alchemy after the KickStarter – so wasn’t made with thought of any particular type of encounter or other use. It was mostly an exercise in trying to visualise a layout on three floors and would probably not be a great place to actually live. If nothing else, it is lop-sided and overhangs on the top floor while leaving either a large flat roof or a very oddly sloped set of shingles. Trying to visualise it do give me a headache – but then perhaps this is a magical place and not necessarily all on our plane of existence.

Image for illustration, described in the main text

Looking at the layout – the top set of rooms is the ground level floor, with an entrance hall or porch in its top right corner. There’s a large sitting room to the south and a smaller hallway or reception to the west. This leads to a long thin corridor, off which the dining room, kitchen, toilet, and servants’ quarters are set. At the bottom of that corridor there are steps leading down into the cellar, and stairs going up to the master bedroom.

The master bedroom is the room on its own to the right of the map and isn’t anything particularly exciting.

The cellar has steps coming down near the well, along its north wall – and that main cellar area is mostly used for storage and drawing water. Each of the chambers off from that are full of work tables and supplies in crates. Its a rambling open area that could hold experiments or McGuffins that a group could be searching for.

So, I’ve included the exported file, jpeg, and text file as usual as usual as alchemyhouse.zip but am treating this as an example of the early learning curve while playing with a new toy. Enjoy!

NPCs – Shifter Gang

In the world of Eberron, one of the species that can be played, or that can be encountered are the Shifters. It is said that they are descended from lycanthropes in the distant past, inheriting the ability to manifest animalistic traits that can boost their reflexes or strength or other senses. Often mistrusted by others – in part due to horror stories of their savage ancestors – a shifter is often welcomed into the world of gangs and other criminal factions.

Having started to make some default guards for my games, I thought I should also look at some tokens for their counterparts and created three individuals who may be encountered together, on their own, or as part of a wider and more diverse group. As with the other entries in this series, they have been made using the HeroForge website, and I’ve shared them on there for others to use the models as they may please.

I’ve not gone for any kind of colour scheme or common theme, but have tried to show different ways that the shifter abilities might manifest. The first has the face of a wolf and claws on their fingertips and is advancing to attack. The second wields a machete and is dressed in a more swashbuckling style that contrasts with his clawed fingers, animal like teeth, and wolf-like legs. The third is more subtle – pointed ears and teeth, and claws even while clutching cleavers and having a more passive stance.

I’m thinking of using these in the Wednesday group sessions which are set in, on, and above the streets of Sharn – a magitech city of impossible towers, suspended walkways, flying transports, and hidden secrets. I think these would be a good match for the tone and power level of that group as a general threat to be stumbled over. Perhaps they might be sent to rough the group up if they annoy the wrong person, or they might be in a dark alley, lying in wait.

This is how I’ve set the tokens to appear on the virtual maps, but the circular tokens above could work just as well, depending on your tastes. Feel free to download and use these PNG images if you like – and if you do, consider letting me know how you challenged people with them – or if they became character tokens instead.

NPC – Berenghast the Dire

There’s nothing like a good villain for an adventure to highlight. Here I am again unwinding after a long day and rather than heroic or nuanced characters I thought I’d go with something a bit more malevolent for adventurers to contend with. Using my general approach of start with a random template and start playing around, I had a bit of a play in HeroForge and came up with this pleasant chap: Berenghast the Dire

Berenghast belongs to that wonderful pantheon of delvers after forbidden knowledge and power who don’t let a little thing like dying and the corruption of their immortal soul get in the way of results. As his skeletal appearance suggests, he did not rest in his grave easily – and the broken horns on his brow suggest the nature of the entities with which he dealt. There’s a rawness and bloody tinge to his bones and fanged maw that suggests he is still somewhat fresh from what should have been his final fate – and his magical blades positively gleam with potency. The scimitar in his right hand gleams with ruby light, while the blackened poniard in his left boils with greasy flame. The remains of purple robes still twine around his body, hinting at royal ambitions. Even his token suggests something twisted compared to the simpler circles of others.

Now, I have no idea what use I’ll put him to – so he’s going in the back pocket for now. If you use him in your own games or stories, let me know what he gets up to.

Map – Guest House

I put this together for my games as a generic guest house map – largely because of the reverse heist that we’re doing for the one-shot adventure. Its a town-based guest house with three floors. Five rooms are for guests, while the sixth is a master bedroom for the owner. There is a latrine on the first floor. and a bathroom on the top floor. The whole map is geared for a 39×22 grid which leaves a small border around the whole thing – and the floors go from left to right as they ascend.

There are two doors on the ground floor – one from the garden at the top, and one from the alleyway on the left hand side – and various odds and sods plonked into the map by Dungeon Alchemy. I’ve included a zipfile below with the map jpeg export, original dungeon alchemy file, and the generated text file that defines walls, doors, windows, and light sources for Roll20.

As ever, for Roll20 you import the jpg to the background layer and then, while the dungeon alchemy api script is running, paste the text file contents into chat. That will resize the map and graphic and line up all the walls and features. Let me know what adventures you have with it…

Source file – guesthouse.zip