…and so the adventure begins.
You inform them that after about a two mile trek along a seldom-used road they come to the edge of a fen. A narrow causeway leads out to a low mound upon which stand the walls and buildings of the deserted monastery.
I’ve been obsessing over the Sample Dungeon in the 1e DMG for weeks now. I’m thinking about a way to incorporate it into the introductory adventure for the Grimdark Greyhawk campaign I’d like to run this year. Waaaaay back in the day I made a module of my own with this sample dungeon. To stock it, I used random monster tables from the DMG, maybe also from the Basic rulebook (we played a mashup even then). It was one of the first original dungeons I ran for my friends (I think the first published one was B4 The Lost City…more on that soon) and it was your usual hack-n-slash, with mounds of treasure. Trolls. Stirges. Skeletons. Some big monsters, too (maybe a pair of Hill Giants?). Maybe a vampire…
In short, it didn’t make any sense but it was fun. It got us to thinking, though, about the ecology and “realism” of the dungeons we were building. This was probably the last of the gonzo dungeons we played.
So, now I’m working on a new, decidedly non-gonzo, version. Doing a bunch of research. (It’s amazing how much stuff there is online about every D&D topic. There is a series of blog posts from years ago on Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker about the Sample Dungeon and it’s connection to Dungeon Module T1 The Village of Hommlet. Worth reading. Be sure and check out the comments, too.)
But I didn’t really have a direction or theme for the adventure. I didn’t know how to make it the initial session. So I went back a little further in the hypothetical timeline. What were the PCs doing when they met? How did they meet? What did they do next? (all conjecture, there are no PCs yet!) I wrote a brief description of how the monastery was introduced to the PCs and the extent of their first mission. The PCs are going to have a Patron, of sorts, who is up to his neck in politics and intrigue and will be using the PCs to further his own nefarious plans. [insert villain-laugh here]
During this time, how did the monastery get ruined, and when? (the limed-over skeleton of the Abbot means it happened a while ago!) Sigh. That is not going to work… When in doubt, roll it out!
Creating the Adventure
I grabbed the Random Sword and Sorcery Adventure Generator by Ben Ball, and decided to use it for some inspiration. Here is what I came up with:
The Title – I made up my own: The Servant of Shub Niggurath. Definitely starting strong with the Eldritch Horror aesthetic. In a humorous twist, this will not be meaning what one might think.
The Mission – (since we already have a location and it’s putative purpose, let’s go with Explore Catacombs.
The Hook – I went ahead and chose Found Old Map, as it fits the campaign structure.
While on patrol duty, the party finds remains of a left forearm, gnawed by forest creatures, some days or weeks old. A bit of exploration yields the carcass of an owlbear and, nearby, the mauled bodies of three men-at-arms in light armor. Further up a game trail are two more bodies, also mauled and ravaged by scavengers. One is in light armor with an intact, large backpack. The other is in robes/holy vestments of Phyton (God of beauty in nature) with a map case.
I haven’t made a decision on which are male or female, or what is in the pack. This did get me to thinking about the nature of the Cult of Phyton (I’m still working on the model for religion in GG, but it won’t be like a bunch of Catholic Churches co-existing, focusing on their own God/Goddess):
Cult of Phyton – Monastic Order – Skills and activities focus on Poetry, Naturalism, Bonsai, Viniculture, Oenology, Beekeeping, honey, mead, Cartography, Landscape painting. Very little magic, blend of Cleric/Druid spells.
(Now I feel like I need to re-think the idea/role of the Monk and Druid Character Classes… That will be a topic for another day.)
Potential Ally – Rolled a 13, “Strangely Intelligent Animal“. Not sure what to do with this, but I do have an idea for sentient Raccoons…
Complication – Another great roll: Astronomical alignment favors black magic. Oh, yeah, we can have some fun with this one!
Twist – Portion of space is distorted. Very nice. I have an idea for making this a campaign using B1 The Lost City (one of my favorite modules of all time), and this might be a fun place to introduce it. The tower on the hill started in my imagination as a broken ruin, but now it seems the monastery fell into ruin very recently (like six weeks ago…). Maybe the tower is just broken off, perhaps due to a catastrophic spell failure. And, maybe, the top part of the tower is floating in the air just above the base of the tower, and it extends into the desert dimension of the Lost City! Now, that does sound like fun!
I have (what I think is, at least) a cool idea for getting the PCs to the Lost City and trapping them there. Bwa-ha-ha!
The pictures of the ruined monastery at Lindisfarne are very inspirational. The tower on the hill idea came from a picture of Lindisfarne Monastery:
The description of the monastery in the DMG locates it in a fen, some miles from anywhere. Why such an odd, desolate location? We need to compose some history.
About 80 years ago, CY 493, there was a battle here against a manifestation of Shub Niggurath, a Black Goat of the Woods. Peat bogs are known to be supernatural portals, and the bog at Samm-Puul was the source of this incursion. The forces of order were able to drive the beast back, but not fully through the portal. Instead, it’s physical manifestation was subdued and Bound and cast into the bog. Powerful wards were placed over the form and it was decreed that a fortress-monastery should be constructed to guard against the re-emergence of the creature. Monks of Phyton were already invested in the area, they simply moved the location of their new facility to the fen. A motte-and-baily fort was built to protect the scriptorium, studios and apiary (a unique-tasting honey was made by the bees from exotic bog-plants, yielding a wonderful mead). A small garrison was provided by the hamlet of Zan’s Forge as a defense against the Orc tribes that roam the Trans-Javan Valley. Over the decades the monks built a prospering facility around the mead, while it’s dark and terrible secret remained hidden.
Now, imagine that something had gone terribly wrong one night, while the Canoness was casting a powerful spell to counter whatever horror had befallen the monastery. The explosion cut the tower in half and tore a hole through space into Agaboth, the demi-plane of Zargon and the Lost City! With the death of the Canoness there was nothing left for the remaining monks to do but burn the monastery to destroy the manifestation of the Great Old Ones.
The ruins of the monastery sit upon a hill in the fen, surrounded by peat bogs and reptile-infested marshes.
The causeway leads to the compound from the south, the other island mentioned in the description is now off to the East. The Scriptorium is located at the top of the map (NE corner), this contains the entrance to the main dungeon level. The dungeon itself extends then to the south, going beyond the log palisade.
I’ve gone ahead and re-drawn the map from the DMG onto isometric graph paper. The words describing the aesthetic of the entire dungeon will be Cold, Wet, Humid, Stale.
I added a couple of doors.
The 20′ wide corridors are the actual crypt area, with the wooden sarcophagi of the monks who have passed. The powers of Entropy leaking from the buried Black Goat of the Woods will have an effect on these skeletons, now that the Order of the monastery has been eliminated. The round chamber in the bottom corner surrounds the taproot of the large cypress just outside the fort’s wall. There will be something wicked there, for sure, inspired by this picture:
One of the Heroes of Order from the battle to defeat the Black Goat? An Entropic Knight? The mystery of the Bog Mother’s embrace.
Monsters and Encounters
The random encounter table for the dungeon shows goblins, bandits, giant rats and fire beetles. Since our story has the monastery burning down in a mysterious fashion about six weeks ago, and since Goblins in Grimdark Greyhawk are going to be non-D&D standard, I’ll replace them with bog-creatures that have come into the cellar, lured by the Entropic powers of the Black Goat of the Woods: centipedes, snakes and lizards.
The bandits will be replaced by Orcs, part of the group that came to the Monastery on the night of the fire, looking for the fire opal allegedly hidden here some years ago. We’ll borrow a little from Unfrozen Caveman on the origin of this fire opal:
Now let’s see what the crypt area has going on in terms of wandering monsters: more rats, ghouls, skeletons–your standard crypt fare; one could expand on this a bit. But then there’s the evil cleric with the hobgoblins in tow from areas 35-37. An evil cult in league with humanoids occupying several rooms; that’s got potential. Let’s say they’re beholden to some demon lord and let’s riff on Nunya’s notion (from the comments section of Part 1 of this series) and say that the fire opal the monks were hiding was the prized jewel and symbol of power stolen from the temple of this demon lord and turned over to the monks for safe keeping. The enormous, smouldering opal represents the demon lord’s baleful, fiery glare. Indeed, reflecting the significance of this symbol of power, the hobgoblins have an emblem of a fiery eye painted on their shields while the cleric has the same stitched into his robes.
Again, replace the hobgoblins with Orcs, assign the Cleric to Incabulos (his symbol, the Eye of Possession), and POOF! we have a new Faction, and another source of adventure for later.
The next step is to assign uses and contents to each of the rooms in the cellar and crypts, based on what the monks would have used them for the past few decades. There will be some storage, possible bunks/barracks for the former garrison, meditation chambers and so on.
Finally we’ll take into account what happened after the disaster in the tower, and which creatures may have moved into the cellars, looking for shelter and/or prey. Now that the activities of the Monks are no longer providing a counterbalance of Order against the Entropy of the Black Goat of the Woods, Entropy’s effect on the cellars, crypt and caverns is rapid. The last task will be setting up the stats for the Cleric of Incabulos, his Orc minions, and determining the actual location of the fire opal.
The Caverns Below
I almost forgot, I’m also working on a map for the Caverns mentioned, existing below the cellars. My thought is that the tunneling and dungeon-building revealed some natural stone formations with caves that led further below ground. The previous Canoness had decided the most precious, and most dangerous, items should be stored below. The “current” Canoness assigned her Perfects the task of creating a secure facility for the monastery’s treasures and secrets.
The most important items, including the Fire Opal of Incabulos, and the scroll with the spells for containing the Black Goat of the Woods are kept in the lower caverns.
I wanted to experiment with verticality on this map, still using the isometric grid. It still needs some thought before I can depict more rooms on just one page, or, I need to draw the rooms, cut them out and mount on a larger “11×17” piece of paper and draw stylized connecting passages that are horizontal or vertical.
The large cavern at the bottom of the complex (the left side of the page) is going to be where the worst of the Eldritch Horror stuff is. A forest of poisonous mushrooms, 20-foot long centipedes, green slime and Great Old One Larvae.