I couple years back I was ruminating and posting about the idea of quick and dirty dungeons. It seems like gamers aren't home brewing as much as they used to and I feel DM's should give home brew a shot and I think it's time to revisit the discussion.
Oh yeah, I am taking the day off work and building a dungeon seems like a nice way to spend a couple of hours.
Making up your own is actually pretty easy. All you have to do is think to yourself what kind of adventure you want to create and where you might want to put it in your world.
I make simple lists of events. I come up with lists for these events and I tend to work from the middle out. I use a lot of scratch paper, or in this case scratch documents; this way I can cut paste between them.
Sometimes I make a map first, generally ball point on blank paper which is nothing anyone would praise as fine map making. In this case I decided to work on events and then expand off of these situations. I had no map to consult, just some odd ideas.
Seriously, just make a list:
Trick trap room
Room with undead
It's just that easy. Each little note will mean more to you than anyone else because everything is story. Even an empty room is story, or will be as soon as your players begin to explore it.
This is an example of my quick a dirty style. Normally I would not even write down half of the descriptions because I just keep them in my head. If I forget between now and running this dungeon what I put where, I just make it up on the spot. The players never notice. Since I am making an example, I will try to make some clear explanations as needed, and leave a bit of it for you to fill in the blanks.
Of course, this location is entirely generic and can be used with any system, or any fantasy world. I'm aware very few people play the original Dungeons & Dragons and that is fine. You can even lift some of the encounters and put them in your own underworld. Why not? That's what I think modules are for, stealing ideas and then running them as your own.
Keep a couple things in mind as you modify this adventure. Play balance is irrelevant. Players will balance any situation by running away. Character loss is crucial to making the game believable, do not shy away from character death. Smart players will bring a large troop. None of this 4-5 PC's, this place requires a party of 8 - 12. Anyone visiting this cave complex should bring a large party and some extra hirelings to help out as well. If anyone does die, they get to take over one of the hirelings. This is an extremely dangerous place and your players should be warned that it's likely half the party will die.
The Moaning Cavern
FYI this is a horrible name, but this is meant for my home group and they will not care. D&D is not competitive and it is kind of private as we play with close friends. If you've never made an adventure just relax and have fun.
Perhaps a simple map, or a rumor will lead a group of adventurers to explore a place known as The Moaning Cavern. West of Blackmor and east of Vestfold, which in my campaign I have renamed Fastness Fold, lies a small mountain range with a pass that must be traversed in order to travel between the two cities.
It is said that an ancient road leads away from a place known as the Three Sisters and that if one follows this road they will come to an ancient cavern full of treasure. It's also said that hardly anyone who goes there ever returns because it is a truly evil place.
Rumors have a way of getting distorted thus you can say anything you want to the players, yet they are still likely to want to check it out for themselves as the key word is: Treasure!
Maybe the place could be renamed to the Cave of Jewels?
The Three Sisters
At the top of the pass is a clearing with three 80 foot tall stones placed in a circle. If one examines them closely, it might become clear that these are actually ancient statues that have been worn down over the millennia into large rounded blobs.
An area of about 50 feet around lies between the stones. Bunches of dried flowers can be found placed in this area. More examination reveals broken pottery. These are the remains of offerings left by travelers. Even today, as caravans come by the "Three Sisters" some kind of offering will be made. And any cleric may be aware this is an ancient sacred place not to be trifled with.
Leaving an offering in this area does have an effect. Study your players, and their actions to see if someone deciding to make an offering is sincere. Merely copying another player is not a true gift. The value of the offering is important as well. You can decide for yourself if the offering is sincere and whether a player is deserving of an audience with the three sisters.
Take a PC's prime attribute as a number to test against. If the class has several attributes that apply, add them up and divide to reach an average ability score.
Then the fun begins as the player gets to roll a D20 where everyone gets to see what the roll is.
Rolling over the given value:
1-6 nothing happens
7 -or higher results in 2d6 damage and a horrible disease
Natural 20's result in a Save vs. Death. Missing the roll means you had a heart attack. Making the saving throw should leave the player feeling shaken for some time, take 2D6 damage. Most caravan leaders make a hireling deliver the offering out of fear of divine retribution. ;)
Rolling equal to, or under the given value:
0 the Player is blessed for three days.
1or 3 less, the player gets bathed in a golden light. As the light diminishes they realize they have a wine flask in their hand. (cure light wounds 2-12 doses)
4-8 less than the number required, the player experiences a similar glow, yet this time they receive 1000-4000 Exp. Points.
7 or more and the character receives a random magic item as a gift.
If player rolls a natural 1, they are granted an audience with these deities.
An offering should only work once per day. No hanging out dropping things in the circle folks.
Audience with the Sisters
If a player manages to get an audience. They will experience themselves appearing in the presence of three giant sized women seated in thrones. These woman look more like elves except for the greenish pallor to their skin. They are incredibly beautiful; think 22 Charisma. In fact a PC will feel compelled to fall to their knees in awe. They wear thin gowns that are nearly transparent, and yet their nudity does not evoke a physical response as much as one of mental clarity and understanding. The usual pointed elf ears and slender human shape is very much the same. When they speak their voices will be sensed within the player's head.
They can provide information to anything the player would like to ask of them. Yet, their time sense is not like normal world time. Events from the future are the same as events from the past to them. For instance, they might mention that they will give the three crowns to the Ghebelin the day after tomorrow. These deities are somewhat of an analogy of the greek muses, yet they represent the three inspirations of the peaceful warrior, restrained wizardry, and pious wisdom.
The sisters are kind in their own way and will also grant wishes, or gifts, up to a limit.
The audience with the sisters should only last about 5 minutes before they wish the visitor goodbye and the visitor returns to reality.
As this 5 minutes passes, no time in the real world has gone by. No one else will know that the character left to go to another plane of existence.
Taking the Old Path
As described there is an over grown track leading away from the standing stones. It eventually becomes too treacherous for a horse to traverse. Mules might be able to make it, as they are smaller. Then again, maybe a 10% chance one of these goes crashing into oblivion. Describe the path how you want. It will eventually lead along a near vertical cliff with no way up or down for most players.
Random events can occur along the path. Roll every 2 hours and on a 1 in 6 an event occurs.
1. A thick cloud bank envelopes the party. Move rate is half.
on 1 on a D6 some kind of super natural event occurs. It can be anything from whispering voices, to a cold clammy hand touches someone, or something tries to either give someone an object, or steal an object. Get creative.
2. A rock comes crashing down from above. Roll to see who has to dodge it. Roll under your prime attribute or take 1d4 smashing damage. Laughter can be heard from above and then nothing can be found that would have rolled the rock.
3. A sudden blinding snow storm. Duration of 30 mins to 90 mins. roll a D6 and on a 1 a giant icicle spider attacks the party!
4. Rain and lightning. Again, get creative and roll a die.
5. The 5 Trolls.
Bone Cruncher, Sleepy Tooth, Pinky Bender, Drool, and Grunch.
I like dopey monsters. These trolls are mostly just hungry and will be sitting around on a wider section of the path gnawing some really old dried bones. They will hold up their hands in the international gesture for parley if given a chance. If you talk to them, they will likely talk back in broken common. They've been living on these craggy peaks for some time and may just climb up the rocks to leave if things look too lethal to them. Yet, if you do talk to them, you'll notice that they keep eyeing your pack mules, if you have them. They will talk about the lack of quality food for trolls up on these crags. Lichens are not good troll food. Eventually you'll be asked the burning question.
Troll "You planning on eating that one? Waddya want for it? We got 12 coppers."
Or, if you do not have any mules, they may point at a hobbit, or weaker party member, "Are you gonna eat that one?"
They can also reveal that there is a dragon in the first cave. "Careful up ahead, our buddy Roundy Snout went in there and got roasted and eaten in one bite."
It's up to the players. They can offer up some rations and avoid a fight, or fight 5 trolls with only 12 coppers between them.
6. An uncanny silence along with the presence of evil. Players may even think they are being watched.
The Moaning Cavern
After a 6 hour hike, unless a storm strands you on the mountain side for longer, the path will arrive at the mouth to a great cavern.
Just as its name implies, as a breeze blows by the mouth of this cavern, it makes a sound like low moaning from several voices. The opening is very large; 40 feet across and 80 feet high.
This is a very old and worn place. The ground inside this cave is covered with scattered debris from small rock falls. This place is big, perhaps the size of a football pitch. The ceiling rises up into the darkness.
The middle of the room is taken up by a large stone structure. Ornately carved pillars hold up a stone roof. Close examination by a scholar with knowledge of ancient languages might be able to translate a fragment of the inscriptions "[…] blessed gatherer of souls, she of a thousand eyes…." A scholar may also know that the ancient races and cultures are matriarchal.
If for some reason there is a goblin with the party, they will treat this place as a sacred shrine to one of their old gods, consider it as being similar to the egyptian goddess Nuit. Mind you, this is more like a spider goddess. Also, a goblin will be told what this is, yet they should not reveal this information to the rest of the party. This is sacred goblin stuff and not for outsiders.
For players who want to make exacting maps, ask them if they brought any surveying equipment. And make sure measuring takes time.
Inside the temple is a pile of stones, it may almost appear to be a giant stone nest. If someone climbs the slope of this haphazard structure, they will find themselves looking at the inside of a dragon nest. 1-3 it's just dozing and opens one eye to examine who is visiting, 4-6 it's sleeping soundly.
Let's be clear, this is a very old and powerful dragon. It might talk to the PC's, or it might begin to decimate the party. It should be a TPK, yet it's up to the party to decide if they want to initiate a TPK. If they're stupid, a fair Referee should wipe them out without batting an eye- Dragons Deserve Respect!
If the players are smart and leave the dragon alone, they will discover that about 200' down the left side of this cave there is a smaller cave opening leading into a tunnel…
That is all for today. I will talk more about things like number of encounters one should design, mapping, and how to scale our underworlds.
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