Dark Matter is my new favorite Sci-Fi RPG

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The RPG community has been itching for a quality science fiction RPG for quite some time. The current market offerings leaves much to be desired, but Mage Hand Press has just released an Alpha of their Dark Matter rulebook and I expect this to become everyone’s favorite sci-fi RPG.

The Dark Matter ruleset is based upon Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition and even though that has a high magic fantasy focus the DnD rules are beautifully and seamlessly woven into this space setting. Stats and skills are very familiar and players who are used to DnD will need not fret about learning a whole new system.

 

Races

In addition to the traditional races offered in the 5e Player’s Handbook, Dark Matter offers several new space-faring races and sub-races to explore the galaxy. This includes the shape changing Ameoboids, the bird-like Avia-Ra, the insectoid Skathari, and more. Each race is depicted with beautiful artwork and plenty of backstory and lore that brings these creatures to life. Racial traits are reasonably balanced for a 5e based game and there are lots of flair and character written into them. There is also a “near human” variant race that is rather generic but I am assuming purposefully so, as it gives a lot of leeway for the player to define their own character or own race as they see fit.

 

Classes

Dark Matter presents a whole host of new subclasses for the traditional DnD classes (they still have bards and fighters in space!) and they introduce their own new class: the Gadgeteer. Barbarians can now choose the path of the wrecker and focus on smashing machines, Clerics can venerate the domain of the Void, Fighters can be the iconic space marine, Rogues can become infiltrators and focus on teleportation technology, and much, much more. They even include options for Mage Hand Press’ own class creations such as the Gunslinger, Shugenja, and Warmage.

 

Skills, Feats, and Backgrounds

More character options available in Dark Matter include a new set skills such as Data, Piloting, and Technology (proficiency determined by class as usual). Based upon your intelligence stat these skills add a lot more options to interact with the environment than the basic DnD ones. There is a large list of feats available as well, divided between general (available to all) racial, faction-based, and role (specifically starship roles like engineer or pilot). Add to these several new space inspired backgrounds to choose from such as Technologist or Exile and you have yourself a hell of a character.

 

 

Vehicles

The section I am most excited about is the spaceships. I have fond memories of playing Star Wars D20 and my favorite thing to do was pilot around the galaxy getting into trouble and I have no doubt Dark Matter is going to give me that same feeling. The vehicle chapter is chocked full of information about ship types, speeds, distances, weapons, combat maneuvers, Racial and Legendary spaceships and more. The amount of information here is very impressive and I am eager to give it a shot in a long campaign.

 

Spells and Monsters

The book ends with two large and extensive chapters detailing their own monster manual and spell lists. The monsters are varied and interesting from rogue AIs to psionic squirrels to giant space worms. It is an impressive list of foes and NPCs and I think some of the best art in the book comes from this section.

The spell list adds a few dozen space inspired spells, in addition to the ones already offered by the official Dnd books. They include comet strikes, Logic bomb (for computers), intensify gravity, and more. It is a good solid list of spells and I am curious to see what players come up with as far combinations of arcane and scifi spells.

 

Dark Matter comes with its own setting and lore, but you don’t have to stick with it if you don’t want to. It is flexible enough to run Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer 40k, Firefly, or any of your favorite sci fi properties without any problem.

Mage Hand Press have a real gem on their hands, Dark Matter is one of the best RPG books I have seen in the last 2 years, and that includes offerings from industry giants like Wizards of the Coast and Chaosium. There is a huge demand in the TTRPG community for a science fiction space game and I think this is going to be a big hit.

 

Check out Mage Hand Press Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/mfov

And stay up to date on MHP news and releases on their blog: http://mfov.magehandpress.com/

And you can get your own copy of Dark Matter (currently in Alpha) here: https://darkmatter.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

Start the New Year with Some New RPGs

By Jacky Leung     Twitter

It’s the New Year and what a great time to play new roleplaying games or try new systems. But starting a new RPG rules system can be costly, especially many hardcover books can set you back roughly $50 USD or more. Even with the advent of digital books and PDFs, those can still set you back almost $20 USD and up. Such an investment can sometimes be a deterrent for curious RPG players to acquire these new systems. Also, the time it would take for at least one of the players to become acquainted with the rulesets to introduce it to their playgroup presents a temporal investment. Luckily, some publishers have created starter kits or quick play kits to help interested parties learn the basics of a rules system, and even present a short scenario that can be played within a game night. Here are some RPG rule systems that offer starter kits, where to buy them, and what each of them entails to get started on your New RPG Year.

Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition currently has a system reference document that presents all of the basic rules of the game freely available for consumption and play. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast has their D&D Starter Kit: Mines of Phandelver product to help introduce players to the world’s greatest roleplaying game. Inside, you will find pre-generated character sheets, an adventure, some dice, and a rules booklet. The Starter Set will only set you back rough $20 USD, which is not a bad way to go for your first introduction into D&D.

You can learn more about the product & where to purchase your copy under the Wizards of the Coast product link here.

Call of Cthulhu

Chaosium, Inc’s Call of Cthulhu has reached the pinnacle of Lovecraftian horror and mystery wrapped neatly in an RPG that has investigators combating against various eldritch monsters. Utilizing a d100 dice system, where the goal is to roll up to your statistic or below or risk failure, and in some let’s not forget losing sanity. This Starter Set was recently released in late 2018 and offers a plethora of resources to help playgroups dive into their first adventure. The box contains an introductory adventure to help players become acquainted with the rules and three starter adventures with additional handouts. There’s a rules booklet, blank investigator sheets, six sets of dice, and also five pre-generated characters. According to the product description, the box set offers over twenty hours of gameplay. The Call of Cthulhu Starter Set will cost your playgroup $25 USD, which is a fraction of the $110 USD to acquire both the Investigators Handbook and Keeper Handbook.

If you have ever been curious about delving into the world of Lovecraft’s mythos and losing your sanity, you can find more using the product link here.

Warhammer Fantasy

Cubicle 7’s latest edition of Warhammer Fantasy has brought new life to the grimdark fantasy setting with polished mechanics and innovative character creation. Unlike your typical higher fantasy settings, Warhammer has players part of the common folk that may rise to call, but they are ultimately mortal like everything else when combating against deadly creatures and ancient powers. You can be a human villager or even a huffer (a sort of river warden), and even the invocation of magic is not always reliable. The game utilizes a variant of the d100 system but with the resources to provide fast rolls to adjust the game to fit your storytelling needs. At the time of this article, the Warhammer Fantasy Starter Set is currently available as a preorder with an intended release date in the first quarter of 2019. The starter set is sold for $30 USD and includes advantage tokens, rules references, pre-generated characters, and a simple GM screen. The Adventure Book provided offers an excellent starting point for new players to the game, with additional pages for experienced players and scenarios to your games. There is also a 60-page guidebook to the setting of Ubersreik with a plethora of adventure hooks, locations, NPCs, and lore of the region. According to the product description, this starter set can “keep your WFRP group busy for months.”

You can learn more about the product and the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game in the provided link here.

Vampire: the Masquerade

Vampire: the Masquerade broke ground in 1991 as the game vampire of political intrigue and horror in a world of darkness. Across the years, the game has evolved and changed with the current Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition (V5) released by White Wolf Publishing in August 2018, and the release of the V20 Anniversary Edition from Onyx Path Publishing in 2011. Vampire is typically a mature game that often deals with serious and disturbing themes, as the players assume the roles of nocturnal bloodsucking vampires. The game utilizes a d10 dice pool system based on a combination of attributes and skills while promoting narrative agency for the players.

Presently, there is no V5 Starter Set, but there is a free PDF Quickstart available for free distribution by Modiphius Entertainment. You can read my review on the new Vampire 5th Edition here. You can download the Vampire V5 Quickstarter with the provided link here.

Alternatively, you can use the ruleset that has become polished and refined from the original edition. The V20 Anniversary Edition is the original Masquerade experience, and if you get the V20 Starter Kit from DriveThurRPG, you get several other books which include the V20 Lore & Clans book, the V20 Companion, pre-generated characters, a V20 ST Screen, and the Dust to Dust adventure book. The bundle typically retails for $75 USD for the digital PDFs, but this set will only set your group back $48 USD at the time of this article. You can purchase the PDF V20 Starter Set with the provided link here.

Star Trek Adventures

You and your fellow players command a mighty starship set in the world of Star Trek universe. Utilizing the 2d20 rules system from Modiphius Entertainment, Star Trek Adventures allows the players to explore strange new worlds, find new life, and boldly go where no one has gone before. The book is primarily set during a turbulent time for Starfleet, centered on the Dominion crisis from Deep Space Nine to the pretext that would start the Voyager series. You will find a catalog of content for gamemasters and players new or familiar with the franchise. The rules and the game allow you to create your own Star Trek series.

Presently, there is no boxed starter set, but there is a free PDF Quickstart which provides a quick 30-page introduction of the game mechanics, the setting, six pre-generated characters, and a short, self-contained adventure. You can find the Quickstart in the link provided here.

Star Wars Roleplaying Game

Want to dive into a galaxy full of lightsabers, blasters, starfighter dogfights, and the best scum & villainy possible? Fantasy Flight Games established a series of Star Wars products as part of their Star Wars Roleplaying Game system that utilizes a new narrative-dice driven system that would later fall under the umbrella called the Genesys system. Under the Star Wars banner, Fantasy Flight Games presents three standalone games for different character types. Edge of Empire for the smugglers, bounty hunters, and pirates; Age of Rebellion for the rebel soldiers and freedom fighters during the Galatic Civil War against the Empire; and Force and Destiny for playing the last of the Jedi during the reign of the Empire. Each game genre has a Beginner Game that will only set you back $30 USD, providing a 32-page adventure booklet, a 48-page rules booklet, four pre-generated characters, several unique Genesys dice, and tokens.

You can purchase the Star Wars Beginner Games in the following links:

City of Mist

Ever imagine being something mythical or legendary in a previous life? Heroes, monsters, and deities are reborn as mortals but remain tethered to their mythical egos. In City of Mist, players assume the roles of ordinary humans who have a legendary Mythos awakened inside them, where now they must balance a normal life and a world of magic. The game offers a noir investigative feel but set in the tone of the supernatural. If you’re a fan of the Dresden Files or the October Daye series, this is an RPG for you to consider. Using the Powered by the Apocalypse system, Son of Oak Game Studio has elevated the mechanics to incorporate worldbuilding, themes, and produced a sophisticated character creation system.

The PDF Starter Set is available for free through email subscription on the City of Mist free downloads page. The PDF Starter Set includes the basic rules, seven pre-generated characters, four sample crew themes, and additional player aids. You can go to the provided link to snag your Starter Set here.

Forbidden Lands by Free League Publishing Worldwide Release

By Jacky Leung     Twitter

Enjoy the chaotic, the grim yet heroic world of settings such as Conan the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, or Fire and Ice? What about iconic settings like Dark Sun or Mad Max but with a fantasy twist to do them? What about Netflix’s the Dragon Prince or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe? Strap on your raider’s mask, delve for lost and forgotten treasures from a bygone age and face harrowing adventures in Free League Publishing’s Forbidden Lands, released today for worldwide distribution.

Check out their YouTube trailer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgpOkhsvPvM

Forbidden Lands is a grimdark fantasy tabletop roleplaying game with a detailed history that provides many legends, secrets, and mysteries for players to find and solve. Players will assume roles of the many possible races and creatures that have endured in the Forbidden Lands since the creation of the Iron Lock. Character creation is something that can be a personal choice or randomly generated by dice rolls. Most of the major dice rolls utilize a d3, 2d6, and d66 with the occasional d8, d10, and d12. The d66 is a unique percentile dice, with one die referring to the tens place and the other representing the single digits with results ranging from 11 to 66 as outcomes.

Set in a fantasy world, where elves, dwarves, and humans lived separated by a mountain range called the Divide. After several centuries of peace, war erupted, a powerful sorcerer took over the region north of the Divide, demons poured through a mystical gate which made the area inhospitable. An effort to create a great wall severed the lands to the north from the south which became known as the Forbidden Lands. Travel was made impossible due to the Blood Mist for nearly three centuries until it inexplicably vanished. New opportunities for exploration and conquest have risen, with many secrets of the land hidden, waiting to be discovered. Additionally, the Gamemaster’s Guide provides tips and details about incorporating the game’s mechanics and sandbox campaign setting into your settings and games.

 

The Forbidden Lands boxed set, includes the Player’s and Gamemaster’s Guides


Each character has four primary attributes: Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy. A character’s race or “kin” and profession affect their attributes, while each kin entry provides suggested professions they are not necessarily bound to them. A character’s Dark Secret and relationship with the other player characters are essential to developing the bonds of the party to adventure together. There are some remarkably familiar aspects of character creation akin to Cubicle 7’s Warhammer Fantasy RPG 4th Edition except minus the percentile statistics and percentile dice though I found Forbidden Lands to be quick and painless with smaller numbers for attribute and skill assignment.  

The game mechanics can be best described as an admixture of d6 dice pools determined by attribute, skills, and gear. Success is defined by having at least dice result with a 6, while failure is any result with no 6’s rolled. There is a mechanic to allow a character to “push” their rolls, which offers a reroll of any dice that did not come up as a 6 or any 1’s. Any 1’s that appear after pushing your dice can result in wounds, exhaustion, or damaged gear depending on the dice category. It’s heavily suggested that you have three colored sets of d6s, along with a d8, d10, and a d12. The latter group of dice is reserved for magical artifacts that players will come across during their adventures, which are rolled along the gear dice.
Characters in the Forbidden Lands have a varied set of tricks and abilities which are defined as talents, separated by three categories: kin talents, profession talents, and general talents. Kin and Profession talents are more potent than general talents and require the expenditure of Willpower to activate. Willpower is generated whenever a player character pushes on their dice rolls. Each kin has a primary talent, then each profession has a trio of talents to select, and then a more extensive list of general talents. Players may invest ranks into some of these talents to unlock additional features, up to a maximum of rank 3. Casting spells in Forbidden Lands will always happen but require expending Willpower which may have the chance to either overcharge the spell, or the player suffers a magical mishap. Ultimately, the hope is that players will incur riches, boons, reputation, and influence to establish their own stronghold. After all, while the nomadic adventurer’s life can be glamorous, having a safe place to return after an excursion is always lovely.

Many creatures, dangers, and mysteries wait in the Forbidden Lands

The setting brings many unexplored horizons, taking less the role of heroes and more of individuals thriving under a dark regime. While delving into the material, the inclusion of additional legends and backstories for the players during character creation enrich the experience and the setting.  Especially if the group decides to go the alternative character creation route which includes a randomized generation of race and professions. This is a game about thriving in a bleak existence where evil reigns but vast treasures from centuries ago lie hidden and forgotten by time. When players tally experience for their characters, it’s in the form of a questionnaire (you’ll find this familiar with games like Tales from the Loop), as the premise stems from the idea of the characters learning from their adventures to become wiser and smarter. Additionally, your character’s pride, dark secrets, and relationships are free to be changed across gameplay which provides a profound metaphor on the nature of growth and development.

You can find Free League Publishing’s Forbidden Lands in their storefront here: http://frialigan.se/en/store/?collection_id=84541866032

Additionally, Free League Publishing also launched the Raven’s Purge Campaign Book which as an epic campaign module for Forbidden Lands that can have a profound influence over the region. Unlike traditional story modules, there are no clear objectives but plenty of material for legends, locales, and individuals to interact.

Return to the Loop with Free League’s New Adventures for Tales from the Loop

Imagine a setting in the 1980s and machines roam the landscape all connected to a mysterious facility and an equally mysterious power source used to generate various odd experiments that occasionally run rampant in your suburban life. The caveat? You’re all playing as kids, and only you can stop the machine menace. Free League Publishing released their ENnie awarding Tales from the Loop in 2015 which would later become of the “must play games” of 2017, and the game continues to grow with their first campaign book, Tales from the Loop: Our Friends the Machines and Other Mysteries.

The new campaign book consists of three mysteries, eight shorter mysteries inspired by songs from the 1980s, a chapter on machine blueprints, and a section dedicated to making your hometown the center of the Loop for your games. The chapters, design, and layout are identical to the core rulebook and honestly are aesthetically pleasing as they harken back to Swedish artist, Simon Stålenhag’s paintings.

  • Our Friends the Machines is a great mystery that encompasses everything from Transformers, to Toy Soldiers or Toy Story if you’re so inclined mixed with opposing AIs and mind-control chips. There’s plenty of information for the game master to run these fully established mysteries and have the kids (players) investigating the strange happenings in their small town. There are a lot of alternate paths and endings, and it’ll be a reoccurring design choice you will notice with subsequent mysteries.
  • Horror Movie Mayhem takes the moral panic of the 80s and adds the twist of subliminal messages and awful televised programs. It’s the classic “something went terribly wrong” sort of brainwashing and creepy PTA members to boot. There are some other elements that I feel I shouldn’t spoil but if anyone who grew up during this period of the moral panic, this one is for you.
  • The Mummy in the Mist brings the ideas of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man meets Stephen King’s the Mist but with less blood and gore. This will have the kids exploring and investigating in several locations before it all leads to the showdown which has some great choices and equally great endings.
  • The Mixtape of Mysteries are all mysteries with titles borrowed from iconic songs from the 80s, and each one is distinct in their flavor and stories. One of my personal favorites “Every Breath You Take” is a great twist from the original song that served as its inspiration into some perverse and somewhat grim which had my full attention. All eight of these mysteries set up the premise, the truth, provide hooks, and countdowns to help narrate the story but leave the ending open-ended enough for the players to draw their conclusions.
  • The Machine blueprints provide insightful lore for the machines that roam within the Loop and provides suggested mysteries if the game master wishes to implement them.
  • The Hometown Hack chapter is probably my favorite chapter for game masters to transplant their hometowns into the mechanics and aesthetics of the Loop. There are some useful tips for defining your town, establishing the Loop, and fleshing out the details of your characters’ hometown. After all, the players will be spending the majority of their time in this area, so it’s helpful to have them participate in the worldbuilding process.

I honestly enjoyed this campaign book, and if you already own Tales from the Loop, I highly suggest picking up this book as well. It’s a great companion piece to help give some meaning mysteries, provide hooks for some others, and great tips for bringing to the Loop to your small town. The last section on the Hometown Hack is worth buying this book already, very insightful information that allows a gamemaster to transfer the Loop to practically anywhere. The book is very well organized, the layout is easy to read and navigate, and expands on the setting provided from the core rulebook.

You can acquire your copy of Our Friends the Machines and Other Mysteries here and currently, at the time of this article, the book is sold out, but there are plenty of 3rd-party distributors that should have copies available. Additionally, Free League Publishing launched a Kickstarter, Things from the Flood, that is meant as a sequel to Tales from the Loop. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Tales from the Loop, the game is essentially the Goonies meets Eerie Indiana, and it just works with all of these different niche genres.

Call to Adventure: “Betrayal at Death House”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Introduction

Can your players survive a night trapped within a haunted mansion? Will they check out in the morning or will they extend their stay indefinitely? Test their fledgling ghost-busting skills in this macabre mystery for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition!

This unpredictable dungeon crawl is intended for a party of four to five 3rd level adventurers and can serve as an alternative to the introductory “Appendix B: Death House” mission from the “Curse of Strahd” (page 211 or this link) official campaign. It can also be adapted to any horror-themed setting.

Setup

The main premise of this haunted house is that the layout is created as the party explores it. In order to implement the map auto-generation mechanic you will need map tiles from a board game called “Betrayal at House on the Hill.” To keep things simple, you will only need the following sets (see image below):

  1. Starting Area → contains the Entrance Hall, Foyer, and Grand Staircase
  2. Upper Landing
  3. Stack of universal tiles (can be a Basement, Ground, or Upper tile)
  4. Basement Landing
  5. Stack of Upper tiles
  6. Stack of Ground tiles
  7. Stack of Basement tiles

All the PCs begin at the Entrance Hall in the Starting Area (example of a four-person party shown below).

Development

Whenever a character explores a new room (i.e. they pass through a door for the first time), draw the first tile from the appropriate stack and place it in a way that connects adjacent passageways. Sometimes a door will lead into a wall, but that’s okay. It’s a haunted house; it doesn’t need to make 100% sense. To handle movement and exploration, treat each room as a 15ft x 15ft chamber (see diagram below), and any additional terrain modifications (low/high ceiling, difficult terrain, obstacles, etc.) are at the Dungeon Master’s discretion.


After a few turns the game board could look something like this (consult the configuration example below).

  1. The elf rogue stayed on the ground level and found the Dining Room. Judging by the putrid scent and gore stains on the tablecloths, she discerns that something horrific happened here.
  2. The human fighter hit a dead end at the Graveyard and plans to regroup with the rogue.
  3. The gnome druid rummaged the upstairs area and found the Mystic Elevator! Now she can travel to and from any room using its teleporting abilities!
  4. After accidentally falling down a Coal Chute and into the basement, the halfling wizard found a room strewn with junk. Maybe he can find something useful in this mess.

 

Special Events

Some of these rooms have special text on them that can be either incorporated into gameplay or ignored entirely at the Dungeon Master’s behest. For example, if a player draws a tile with the words “You can attempt a Speed Roll of 3+ to cross. If you fall, stop moving.” consider forcing the player character to roll an Athletics (Strength) Check DC 20 or take fall damage.

Another set of special events are: Items, Events, and Haunts. These are denoted by a Ram Skull, Spiral, and Raven icon respectively (see example set below) in the bottom right-hand corner. The general rule for resolving these special situations are thus:

  • ITEM (Ram Skull)
    • The first player to enter this room finds a special item that is relevant to the plot.
    • This can be a powerful magic weapon, plot-critical MacGuffin, or something that explains more of the background and histories of the paranormal event.
    • For example, in an alternative Death House scenario, an Item room may contain the cultists robes, along with the letter from Strahd voicing his displeasure with their activities.
  • EVENT (Spiral)
    • These are random occurrences and challenges that allow for a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability.
    • These can include random combat encounters with undead, conversations with angry spirits, sudden environmental dangers, or horrific visions.
    • For example, in an altered Death House scenario, an Event can bring the party into contact with the midwife’s specter, whose soul was unable to find rest after she was stabbed to death.
  • HAUNT (Raven)
    • Use this moment to progress the plot. These are the story beats that represent an escalation of tension and urgency. Each one makes the situation more intense and dire.
    • For example, in a modified Death House scenario, each Haunt triggers an encounter with the remnants of the cultists, and reveals more of the mansion’s bloody past. After an arbitrary amount of Haunts (DM’s decision) occur, allow the party in finally meet Rose and Thorn’s spirits.

Call to Adventure: “Pursuit of Knowledge”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Dungeon, Puzzles, Riddles

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Levels: 3-5

Introduction

There comes a time in every adventurer’s career when they simply do not possess the required facts in order to complete a quest. Perhaps a key factoid is considered strictly forbidden or the last person who would’ve known died centuries ago? Thankfully, sphinxes are known to acquire vast knowledge throughout their long and storied existences, and can even be persuaded to share that information with others. Unfortunately, these magical immortal beasts can also be fickle and ferocious. In this adventure, a party of experienced travelers gambles their lives in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. To succeed, they must pass a series of devious riddles.

Setup

This mission is centered around a gynosphinx, which is the female variant of the mythical species. Physically, they are composed of a human woman’s head atop the body of a lion with falcon wings. For the D&D 5th Edition statistics, refer to page 282 of the Monster Manual or this link. For the Pathfinder version, consult page 257 of Bestiary #1 or this link.

The purpose of the adventure is to wrangle some plot-relevant information from their target, not slay it. (Although the PCs can certainly try and suffer the likely lethal consequences.) The specifics of the sphinx’s personality are subject to change at DM’s discretion, but at the very least they must be willing to parlay with the party after succeeding the cloister of trials.

Development

The sphinx’s lair is a four-level descending dungeon in which the party must overcome and solve a variety of challenges. Allow the PCs to try out solutions before feeding them clues. The goal is to help them solve the puzzles themselves, not give them the answer once they roll high enough. The following encounters can be easily modified or changed entirely in order to fit your campaign setting and game mastering style.

Level B1: Gate Guardian

In order to enter the sphinx’ lair, they must first request access, and then contend with the guardian. Within a sand-filled room there is single hole on the ceiling from which descends a pillar of light upon the carved marble statue of a gynosphinx. The eyes are missing; in their place there are a pair of circular indents. There are also words chiseled into the figure’s base which read:

“Knowledge is a double-edged sword. Do you seek it nonetheless?”

The players simply have to answer, “Yes” to begin the first challenge. The light will cease, shrouding the environment to complete darkness. Some hidden rooms will open, dumping additional sand into the room. And one of these spaces houses a creature composed of animated sand. This creature is based upon the amphisbaena, and is a snake with a head on each end. Here are the stats for the Pathfinder and homebrew D&D 5e versions.

The sand snake contains a red jewel within each of its two heads. Once defeated in combat, the slithering construct dissipates, leaving behind the two gems with which they can unlock the entrance. Place the gems into the sphinx statue’s eyeholes to continue.

Level B2: Welcoming Party

The path downward takes them to a hallway filled with undead. These can be simple skeletons (D&D/Pathfinder) and zombies (D&D/Pathfinder). Another statuesque sentinel stands before the PCs, but this time its base is inscribed with the words:

“Those with blood of red shall join the dead. Those of a different shade will not be delayed.”

The undead spring into action and begin swarming the party. The PCs can either defeat the large swarm through attrition or solve the riddle to avoid risking injury. The “different shade” is a metaphor for “blue blood,” indicating nobility. Sphinxes are proud creatures after all, and will not grant an audience to anyone they deem of a lesser make. To successfully pass unhindered, those with blood ties to someone in authority (village chief, feudal lord, guard captain, etc.) must declare their heritage openly. If none of them have noble lineage, they can attempt a Bluff or Deception (Charisma) DC 20.

Level B3: Sinking Feeling

Beyond the hall of undeath stands a perfectly flat and pristine pit of sand. The top layer is perfectly smooth; not a single grain appears to have been disturbed. The same sphinx figure emerges from the center of the area as if magically sculpted from the surrounding material. This one reads:

“The fear that gives you wings shall also send you to the depths.

Whenever the players walk upon the sand, it will feel as if unseen hands are grasping them and pulling downwards, increasing in force with each progressive tug. The PCs subsequent efforts to remain afloat and the enchanted sand’s attempts to pull them through will result in a hapless character eventually getting stuck until they inevitably suffocate to death. To cross over to the other side, one must stand on the sand and relax; let go of the fear that makes you want to move up. The invisible force will gently pull them through the secret passage and into the final chamber within 30 seconds.

Level B4: Numbers Game

In the final room, the party finally comes face-to-face with the gynosphinx. She will beckon to them with one last challenge. If they can prove themselves worthy of her time, she will give them the information they seek. The win conditions are either to reduce her to half hit points, or solve the following riddle during combat.

“I shall divide you and conquer. When I was in my prime, I was untouchable.”

The room is a 50 ft. by 50 ft. chamber with balconies jutting out at all four corners at 20 ft. elevations. The sphinx can easily fly between the platforms to harass the players from afar. If provoked, it will land on the ground level to engage in melee. The floor is segmented like titles, and a closer inspection of the surrounding walls indicates that the rows and columns are labeled with numbers.

To be untouchable and thus unbeatable, stand upon the tiles in which a prime number would be inscribed. The prime numbers between 1-100 are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59,61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97. These numbers are tinted red on the sample map below.

The darkened borders on the 5 and 6 squares indicate the entrance points to the final room. The optionally greyed out regions indicate areas in which the ground has caved in from impact or the passage of time, forming lethal drops into a black void. Once all players are standing on the correct positions on a 10 x 10 grid, the test is passed.

Conclusion

Upon completing the final task, the gynosphinx agrees to converse with the party and divulges whatever information they were seeking. If the ensuing conversation goes favorable, consider gifting them with magical loot taken from the previous visitors, who expired in the final test and thus have no further use for their gear.

Call to Adventure: “Garden of Stone”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Dungeon Dive, Hunting Quest, Wilderness Exploration, Rescue Mission

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Level: 3-5

Introduction

In this adventure, a routine monster hunting quest becomes deathly complicated as the party encounters uncovers an unusual alliance! A gargoyle band, along with their bizarre pets, have enacted a reign of terror!  Will the heroes break through the enemy lines, or will the monuments of their failures stand for all time?

Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the quest:

“A month ago, a dreaded basilisk was spotted roaming the nearby canyon and turning hapless travelers into stone! And although several trained hunters were dispatched to end the slinking reptilian menace, none of them have returned!

Investigate the canyon and slay this beast! We offer a 1000 gold piece reward for whomever returns with this creature’s hide. An additional reward will be provided for any travelers rescued from the petrification process.”

Setup

The simple-minded basilisk (consult page 24 of the Monster Manual for more information) is a merely patrolling the canyon and searching for food; it transforms its prey into stone with its magical gaze and feasts upon their frozen bodies at its leisure. This particular creature has been raised in captivity and is capable of obeying simple commands from its owners. But who are these shadowy puppet masters?

The true villains are a tribe of vicious gargoyles (also referred to as a “nastiness”) that have take refuge in the earthen labyrinth. Page 140 of the Monster Manual will give you more information about these winged stone monsters. They lurk among the strewn-about humanoid pillars created by their pet, making them nearly impossible to detect. Whatever their faithful serpent fails to petrify, they brutally slaughter. Feel free to adjust the number of gargoyles present to the desired difficulty (2-3 for medium and 4-5 for hard).

The nastiness is exploiting the presence of a hungry and all-consuming black pudding to dispose of the evidence of their misdeeds. This monster’s statistics are found on page 241 of the Monster Manual or at this link. This creature does not understand anything and acts purely on instinct. The fact that the gargoyles are unaffected by its caustic nature is purely coincidental.

Development

The canyon is an expansive multi-tier dungeon with several places in which the players and monsters can hide. Traversal is difficult and frequently requires challenges such as Athletics (Strength) to scale cliffs and Survival (Wisdom) to avoid getting lost.

When they first arrive, allow them to briefly explore the premises and drop hints about the true enemy. Eventually, bring them into contact with the basilisk. Then surprise them with a gargoyle ambush. After that, the PCs become the hunted, and must evade, outsmart, and overcome their nefarious pursuers. Allow the outcomes of the pursuits to unfold organically through opposed checks such as Stealth (Dexterity) vs. Perception (Wisdom) and role-play.

Secret: The Master’s Quarters

But where did these creatures come from? If the PCs successfully explore and investigate their surroundings they will find a secret path into a wizard’s chambers at the heart of canyon. The nameless reclusive spellcaster had long-since expired from some unknown happenstance, but his familiar (the basilisk) and his sentries (the gargoyles) lingered behind. Over the years, the guardians grew bored and took to terrorizing the locals to pass the time. Use the wizard’s quarters as a means of rewarding the perceptive and inquisitive party with magical loot for their troubles.

Optional Objective: Rescuing NPCs

Throughout the adventure, the players can attempt to rescue anyone who has been petrified but hasn’t been killed or eaten yet. This can be accomplished by applying basilisk gullet oil, or through alternative magical means. As long as vital parts are still attached to the afflicted the de-petrification will yield a viable character.

The specific nature of each of these NPCs is up to Dungeon Master’s discretion. If they are having too much trouble, perhaps grant them a powerful ally who could help turn the tide against the gargoyles? Maybe one of the people they rescue yield a larger reward due to their higher social status? This could lead to other plot developments down the line. Experiment with the idea and have fun with it!

Call to Adventure: “The Bookkeepers”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Mystery, Investigation

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-5

Recommended Levels: 1-2

Introduction

This adventure begins as a macabre paranormal investigation of a purportedly haunted library. Upon closer examination, the player characters learn that this phenomenon is merely the machinations of a mischievous pair of faerie dragons who have become trapped in the prime material plane. True to their nature, they have taken to terrorizing the locals with trickery as they attempt to find their way back home.

Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the quest:

“Rumors have circulated that Arnost Library is under siege by angry spirits. A week ago, a sudden flash of green light from the East Wing heralded a series of ghastly sightings! Ever since then, the building has been plagued by the restless undead.

Locals reported seeing a chain-bound specter with empty black eyes roaming among the shelves. The Head Librarian claimed that the books are constantly rearranging themselves and floating in midair. A guttural incorporeal voice constantly demands tribute with an insatiable zeal. And just yesterday, a precision of trained and armed city watch members ran screaming from the building after just an hour of investigation; they have inconsolable ever since. For public safety, the library is now under quarantine.

We beseech the aid of brave adventurers to help cleanse this blight from our beloved town! We offer 400 gold pieces and access to the library’s restricted texts for anyone who succeeds in this task!”

Setup

The adventure revolves around a faerie dragon duo with the names Aya and Waska. For their 5th Edition stats, consult page 133 of the Monster’s Manual. If you’re running Pathfinder, the monster details are located at page 91 of Bestiary 3 or at this link. These creatures are the size of cats (tiny) and sprout translucent, butterfly-like wings in lieu of the bat-like structures of “true” dragons.

Aya’s body is covered with shimmering interlocked blue scales, indicating that she is 31-40 years of age, and can cast spells up to Major Image (D&D/Pathfinder) to assist in her façade. Her younger brother Waska is armored in glistening emerald plates and has lesser combat and spellcasting ability.

Development

Tactics

The dragon siblings to not wish to kill anybody, but they will harm anyone they deem to be a threat. They will only resort to direct attacks when cornered. Otherwise, they prefer to drop objects from the environment onto their enemies, ranging from small knick-knacks to entire bookshelves, depending on the situation.

Investigation

Aya and Waska are using combinations of their invisibility, illusions, spells, deceptions, and environmental assets to create the appearance of a haunting. Below are some examples of checks that the players can attempt to discern the true nature of their enemy.

Arcana (Intelligence) DC 10 or any spell/ability that detects undead – There are no signs of undead activity or traces of necrotic energy on the premises.

Arcana (Intelligence) or Knowledge: Planes DC 16 – You can sense the remnants of planar magic in the vicinity. The “green flash” reported by the townsfolk may have been an side-effect of a portal spell.

Perception (Wisdom) DC 20 – The dragons let out a stifled giggle whenever they successfully pull off an amusing prank. This snicker can be detected by a keen ear in the aftermath of such an event.

Investigation vs. Deception or Knowledge: Local vs. Bluff – Many of these ghostly sightings are oddly familiar. You realize that they are ripped straight from local books and tales from this specific building.

Nature or Knowledge: Nature DC 10 – There has been a disembodied voice demanding “tribute” from the townsfolk. It has rejected everything from trinkets to jewels, but finally accepted offerings of food. In particular, the presence favors baked goods and sweets more than anything else.

Survival (Wisdom) DC 14 – You locate tiny tracks running along the bookshelves. They are composed on three clawed fingers and an opposable thumb. DC 20 – You find some loose powder clinging to some of the books. Upon closer inspection it shimmers like a prism when scattered.

Conclusion

Once the true nature of the “haunting” is revealed, Aya and Waska will make their presence known. They mean no harm, but they have no reason to trust anyone due to their unfamiliarity with their surroundings. Aya has been fastidiously studying books on magic in order to conjure up a portal to take them both back home. They were banished from their homelands for being too mischievous, and clearly haven’t learned their lesson at all. From here, the players can decide their fate. Do they exterminate them? Take them in as familiars? Or join them in their quest to return to the Feywild?

Call to Adventure: “Remnants”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-5

Recommended Level: 1

Concept

Most adventurers choose to take up a life of travel, survival, and discovery. In this situation, the PCs were given no choice, and thrust into a life of violence at the behest of their rulers. The party is brought together by happenstance during a frantic retreat and must band together to survive.

Introduction

Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the scenario:

“You’ve been conscripted as a lowly foot-soldier for a war you barely understood. Your primary goal ever since you were whisked away from your peaceful former life is to survive. A few weeks of rigorous training passed like a blur as you became acquainted with your own battlefield abilities. And on your first day of true combat, you find yourself standing on the front lines and staring down the enigmatic enemy.

As instructed, you marched forward with weapons barred and clashed with your foe head-on. But no amount of training could have prepared you for the outcome. Within minutes, your commander is slain and the army around you is routed. You hear distant trumpets heralding retreat, and you flee as fast as possible away from the advancing enemy line. The battlefield is littered with the corpses of your allies, slowing your pace, but you trudge on, trampling over the dead.

You hear a violent crackling as a massive arc of white lighting streaks into a cluster of your fellow soldiers. A split-second later, a thunderous clap bellows out and a rain of blood-soaked earth coats your tattered uniform. The enemy continues its relentless assault upon the retreating army as the sounds of powerful evocation spells are punctuated by the screams of your fallen allies. After what felt like hours of hard sprinting, you arrive at the treeline that surrounded the open field. The forest is your best chance at evading your pursuers.”

Setup

The scenario begins with the party brought together as they are fleeing through the forest. Introductions are to be kept short, as all the party members are already on the same side, so their interests should align for the most part.

The following encounters can be used to represent the hazards they encounter during their escape attempt. This list includes wildlife as well as the enemy troops actively hunting down stragglers. If played intelligently, they can also cause the enemy to come into conflict with the local wildlife.

  • Wildlife (these can be modified to fit any natural setting)
    • Boar (MM pg. 319)
    • Brown Bear (MM. 319)
    • Swarm of Insects (MM pg. 338)
    • Wolf (MM pg. 341)
  • Enemy Troops (mix and match to form groups)
    • [OPTIONAL MOUNTS] Warhorse (MM pg. 340)
    • Scout (MM pg. 349)
    • Thug (MM pg. 350)

The party members can also attempt the following checks to improve their odds of escaping direct conflict. If they fail, they trigger a combat encounter. For each success they advance to a new location and are one step closer to escaping entirely.

  • Survival (Wisdom) vs. Investigation (Intelligence) to cover up their tracks
  • Stealth (Dexterity) vs. Perception (Wisdom) to slip past patrols unnoticed
  • Survival (Wisdom) to maintain their bearings as they travel
  • Nature (Intelligence) to identify helpful plants, animals, and objects in their environment
  • Opposed Athletics (Strength) checks to march faster than their hunters

The party can also encounter powerful allies that will assist them in their attempts to survive. These are higher-ranking officers and will act accordingly. They may also be previously injured from the aforementioned battle and subsequent retreat.

  • Knight (MM pg. 347)
  • Veteran (MM pg. 350)

Development

As the party trudges through the forest, they are constantly being pursued by the enemy until they are captured or successfully escape. The retreat can take several days, depending on the outcomes of previously mentioned checks and encounters. Allow the scenario to unfold organically, and then bring it to a conclusion through the following options.

Surrender or Capture

If the party members willingly surrender or are defeated in combat, they are stabilized by their captors and brought to the enemy encampment in chains. From there, they have an opportunity to escape captivity, as well as learn more about their foes. Are the enemy as bloodthirsty and irredeemable as your superiors claimed? Why are the two sides even in conflict? This perilous situation is an excellent opportunity to unravel the mystery of the warring clans, and test where the PCs allegiances truly lie.

Regroup

The players may successfully regroup with a sizable portion of the fleeing army. In that case, they are promoted to higher ranks and given more freedom among the army for their efforts. The plot can progress accordingly as the war rages on.

Escape

If the PCs are alone and successfully escape, they will be presumed killed in action. If they were accompanied by an NPC, consult the next section regarding “Desertion.” In the former case, since they were essentially nameless foot soldiers, they will be quickly forgotten. From then on, they can pursue whatever newfound ambitions they acquire. Will they become bandit lords? Will they simply retire as farmers? Or will they take the first ship off the continent? Whatever happens next is entirely up to the players.

Desertion

Alternatively, the players can choose to desert. They were thrust into this war against their will anyways, so who can blame them? However, this may yield further consequences. If the players are accompanied by a Veteran or a Knight, they will have to convince their superior officer to desert as well. This can range from easy to impossible based on the specific NPC’s characteristics, which are at the DM’s discretion. Worse case scenario, they will have to either defeat or evade their temporary ally and will be branded as deserters and wanted fugitives by their own people.

Call to Adventure: “The Descent”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Horror and suspense

System: D&D 5th Edition (requires Ravenloft setting)

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Levels: 1

Concept

So you want to run the campaign: “Curse of Strahd?” But what if all of the player characters are from different locations on the world map and have little to no relation to one another? Here are some ideas on how to quickly get your PCs together and traveling within the Demiplane of Dread in a more cinematic way!

The following is an alteration and elaboration of the “Creeping Fog” section (CoS pg. 22) of the adventure book, and was inspired by countless horror games. The goal is to invoke a dreamlike atmosphere, establish a bleak and oppressive tone, and have the characters constantly questioning their own sanity and perceptions.

Spooky and somber background music is entirely optional, but highly recommended!

Introduction

At the very beginning, you have a number of PCs spread across a wide campaign world. The original adventure describes how the Barovian fog mysteriously whisks the characters away while you are out camping in the wilderness, but this can be easily adapted and tailored to a wide variety of unique settings for the individual PCs, allowing a more personalized introduction.

Setup

Refer to the “Mists of Ravenloft” (CoS pg. 23) for more information on the negative effects of traversing the fog. Hint at the adverse nature of the mist in order to dissuade the players from straying off the path. Once the players are introduced to one another, the fog becomes less of an active nuisance, but remains in place to serve as a barrier at the edges of the starting area, whichever that may be.

Development

The following are examples of how you can transport a character into Ravenloft in the middle of their typical day. The goal is to trick them into following the plot railroad, and then bring in the mist to seal off their escape. Keep this segment short and simple; you don’t want to spend too much time on a single player.

Urban Setting

If a player character starts off in an urban setting, give them someone to chase. Draw their focus away from the environment and upon a singular point by enticing their avarice, lust, or other base urges. Alternatively, flip the script around and create a scenario in which the PC is the object of pursuit. Perhaps they are wanted for a crime or attempting to flee a relationship that went sour. Below are some sample hooks.

  • The telltale jingle of coins from a wealthy merchant’s purse entices the character to tail them.
  • An attractive maid or coxswain catches the character’s eye with a reciprocated come-hither stare.
  • Provoke their wrath by having a nameless NPC steal something from them and run off.

Allow the scenario to unfold with a series of appropriate checks before ripping them from their familiar world. This incident incident can range from gradual and cryptic to sudden and traumatic. Here are some examples.

  • If they successfully woo the object of their affection, simply relocate them during their satisfied slumber.
  • After they lose track of their quarry or successfully shake off their tail, they notice the fog creeping in and obscuring their surroundings. Their attempts to reorient themselves are fruitless as the surrounding buildings appear to drift away with each passing second. This baffling phenomenon continues until they hear the sounds of their boots crunching upon a gravel road that they don’t recognize.
  • If they manage to catch their targets, immediately turn the tables and trust them into an overwhelming encounter with strange creatures. As a blade fatally slips into their heart and the warmth leaves their bodies, they suddenly awaken in a new location, clutching at a non-existent wound.
  • They player stumbles onto the main street, gasping for air. They turn backwards to confirm whether they are still being followed. But before they can react, they are suddenly face-to-face with a speeding horse-drawn cart that collides straight into them, enveloping their sight in utter darkness. They jolt back to consciousness with an involuntary scream, surrounded by an unending wilderness.

Rural or Natural Setting

Similar to the aforementioned setups, allow the PC to wander and interact with their environments. Use a simple diversion to misdirect them as the fog creeps in and warps the setting. For instance:

  • While mining for ore from a nearby mountain, the fog suddenly cascades over the hills and envelops the character in its ethereal embrace. They attempt to flee but become hopelessly lost. Eventually they set foot upon a path that they had never traversed before.
  • After successfully tracking down and slaying some wild game, they begin carving up the body. After several minutes of concerted effort, they realize that the sky has grown darker and a foreboding haze has begun creeping up all around them.
  • A loved one wanders out at night and beckons them to follow. They attempt to catch this particular important person, but are then swept up by the mischievous mist.

The Sea

On the off-chance that a character began their journey at sea, getting them into Ravenloft is very simple. Devise a means or throwing them overboard. As they fight the currents and struggle to catch their breath, they violently breach the water’s surface and find themselves transported to the otherworld. Beyond the shore of the  barely-waist deep puddle they are now lying inside is the same gravel pathway.

Bringing The Pieces Together

After each of the mini-scenarios are concluded, read the following flavor text to the players.

“Your feet crunch against loose rocks as you follow the gravel path, taking great care avoid the boundaries of the obscuring mist. The milky white cloud erects a three sided wall to both sides and your back, funneling you along this lonely road. As you cautiously traverse the unfamiliar environment you observe that the miasma expands and contracts rhythmical, as if alive and breathing. Eventually, your ears catch the coarse grinding of multiple footsteps gradually growing out of sync with your own. And within the nearly impenetrable barrier you spot the outlines of other humanoid figures.”

At this point, all the players are made aware of each other, and have been brought together by a cruel destiny. This trail leads directly onto the Old Svalich Road (“Areas of Barovia” Section A, CoS pg. 33). But where they go from here is entirely up to them.

Call to Adventure: “Belly of the Beast”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-5

Recommended Level: 10

Concept

Defeating a dragon is usually the capstone to an epic adventure. The beast falls, the party splits up the loot, and everybody returns to the town, hailed as triumphant saviors. Instead, let’s reverse the formula; this time the wyrm-slaying kicks off an unexpected journey!

Introduction

Read the following flavor text to the player characters at the beginning of the quest:

“The sky grows darker as clouds billow in from the east, carried by quickened winds. The miscellaneous scents of your surroundings are suddenly overpowered by ashy smoke. Then, a thunderous roar sunders the silence, drawing your attention skywards, and you lock eyes with your enemy. A massive shadow stretches across the land as a ferocious red dragon soars straight towards you, steaming maw and malicious intentions bared.”

Setup

When the battle begins, the players can be camping out in the wilderness, celebrating at a tavern, or shopping in the village square, et cetera; the details of their current occupation are unimportant. What matters is that they are suddenly set upon by a vicious young red dragon (D&D 5th Edition Monster Manual pg. 98 or this link for Pathfinder). The serpent attacks with murderous intent and must be slain for the adventure to progress.

Development

Once the dragon is defeated, the party can investigate the corpse, which sows the seed for the actual adventure. Roll a d10 to randomly select which twist of fate befalls the party, or come up with your own! Where you go from there is up to the Dungeon Master’s discretion! But here are some ideas.

  1. The dragon’s belly is filled with countless half-dissolved belongings of the hapless mortals who were previously devoured. Among the salvageable bits you find a slime-soaked scroll that contains a heavily encoded message. The only passage you can immediately decipher is the line, “A False King sits upon the Throne” beside the painted likeness of the current Emperor.
  2. There were no prior rumors regarding dragons in the region, so this attack was entirely unprecedented by the locals. Upon closer inspection of corpse, you find the remnants of shattered chains hanging from the wyrm’s throat and arms. These shackles have no maker’s mark, and are comprised of a mysterious alloy that no one can identify.
  3. As you inspect the motionless dragon, the body reduces in size and transforms before your eyes, leaving behind a humanoid creature. They then jolt awake, screaming in abject terror and agony.
  4. The beast lies dead in the dirt, but is erratically twitching and emitting sparks. You peer past the grave wounds and behold an internal network of gears and clockwork components. This creature’s draconic nature is only skill-deep.
  5. Upon the killing bow, the creature’s body loses form and suddenly dissolves into a shower of black ink that rains down upon the surrounding landscape. The ink is harmless, but traces of dark magic linger within it.
  6. The dragon’s entire body is wreathed with the twisting vines of some unidentifiable plant, the roots of which are centered directly at the base of its skull. As you approach, the leaf-lined tendrils rapidly detach from the corpse and burrow underground, disappearing from sight.
  7. An incredibly rare and dangerous event known as environmental diffusion occurs (D&D 4th Edition Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons). When some dragons are slain, their bodies rapidly decompose and seep their respective elemental essence into the land, tainting it. In this case, the region becomes engulfed with a magically endless wildfire that does not wane in weather nor require fuel. The characters must find a means to contain and extinguish the blaze before it spreads any further.
  8. The creature’s form is magically reduced to that of a dragon-shaped stone totem that you can lift with a single hand. The artifact is entirely inert, save for the ruby-like jewels set as eyes, which gleam with warm light.
  9. In an ironic turn of events, the dragon’s presence was actually an indirect source of adventuring-based revenue for the nearest town. In its absence, less people frequent the region, and the town eventually falls into economic decay. You monster.
  10. The dragon’s blood is incredibly toxic and causes all nearby plant matter to disintegrate. Any humanoid characters that directly contacted the essence are later wracked with an even worse affliction. First they experience a fiery rash, followed by intense itching, and ultimately the appearance of red scales under their peeling skin as their body temperature begins to rise…

Call to Adventure: “Chamber of the Eclipse”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Dungeon Crawl

System: D&D 5th Edition (Forgotten Realms)

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Levels: 3

Concept

During a routine wilderness trek, the player characters are drawn towards a dark tower that houses a viciously-kept drow secret! Beyond the undead sentries lies a dungeon that weaves a tragic tale of magic and forbidden love! Survive the terrors within and reap glorious treasure!

Introduction

This elven mini-dungeon takes place within the wilderness, so it can easily be added to any nature setting.

Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the quest:

“As you recuperate from the trials of extended travel, you are suddenly set upon by a terrible chill. A biting zephyr howls through the treeline, extinguishing your campfire and filling you with dread. This abrupt cold has a hint of necrotic aura lingering within it, and its source lies deeper in the woods.”

[IF THE PLAYERS WISH TO PROCEED, KEEP READING]

“You force a slow but deliberate path, your movement hampered by the thickness of the brush and the gradually upward sloping terrain. Eventually you arrive at a cliff overseeing a thirty foot drop. The cliff edge is overrun with plants and descends counterclockwise towards a dilapidated tower at the bottom.”

Part I: The Dark Tower

Read the following flavor text as they PCs approach the tower.

“As you cautiously descend towards the crumbling tower, you notice that the plant matter is decaying the closer you approach the foreboding structure. The moment you arrive at the entrance you hear foreboding words. ‘NO…WITNESSES…’ And a pair of glowing and hateful purple eyes greet you from beyond the archway.”

Combat Encounter: Zin-carla Sentry

The party is immediately attacked by an undead drow (Wight x1, MM pg. 300) and its sired undead (Zombie x6, MM pg. 316). If any of the party members are slain, they are later raised as members of the undead.

A successful Religion (Intelligence) DC 16 will reveal that the sentinel is a Zin-carla, meaning “spirit-wraith”; it is a special undead created through a ritual performed by Lolth’s clerics and his eyes are a direct line to a matron mother. His drow sensitivity to light is greatly amplified by his undead form, which can be exploited through clever positioning.

The wraith is intelligent and can be communicated with, but will not show any mercy. If directly addressed, he will announce himself as Dewein’agal, a loyal sword to House Kovarra.

Features of the Terrain

The tower is shaped like a lighthouse of grey-blue stone. A single internal staircase leads upwards to the top, but there are also plenty of breach-points through the glass windows.

The surrounding trees form a canopy that shrouds the pit in low light, with some patches of direct sunlight.

The Poem

The top of the tower contains a model of the planets of realmspace orbiting the central star Sol. The orb that represents Sol dimly glows with radiant energy, bathing the room with amber light. There is a riddle written on a raised platform at the center of the room.

“What had two faces, but now only shows one?” → Abeir-Toril (i.e. Earth)
“What shines brightest, and is second to none?” → Sol (i.e. the Sun)

“What’s caught between two, a torn-in half soul?” → Selune (i.e the Moon)
“Aligned but apart. Separate, but whole.” → alignment of the celestial bodies

“To touch would be an impossible feat.”
“Under a hole in the sky is where we will meet.” → eclipse makes a “hole” in the sky

Solution: Manually rotating the model to bring Selune (moon) between Toril (Earth) and Sol (Sun) to simulate a solar eclipse reveals a secret stairway that leads deeper underground.

Part II: The Secret Tunnel

Read the following flavor text as they PCs uncover the secret tunnel.

“The stone slab parts and allows you passage to a stone corridor ten feet wide, twenty feet high, and extends forty feet towards another door. Upon the distant portal there is the carved visage of an elven warrior cupping their hands over the center of their chest. On opposing sides of the starting region there are two similar elven stone statues, each clasping a vibrant and iridescent jewel in the shape of a heart.

The door leading back to the surface suddenly rolls shut, and you hear a rythmic clicking noise, like as if unseen gears have begun turning. Upon the left side of the wall a mural begins to shift in sync with the ticking. It looks like a vibrant yellow orb being eclipsed by dark grey circle. On the opposite end of the corridor, the elf statue uncrosses one of their arms and presents it palm up.”

The Bridge

The following section is a simple timed puzzle. The aim is to send both jeweled hearts from one side to the other with the correct timings and sequence. The circular glyph on the leftmost wall begins to move in sync with the clicking, slowly showing the phases of a solar eclipse.

There are two elven statues bearing jewels on the starting side of the room. The one on the left is bearing the insignia of the sun, and the one on the right is bearing the insignia of the moon. Since the sun first has to be visible for an eclipse to occur (from the perception of someone viewing it on the planet), the sun jewel must be placed into the open palm first, followed by the moon jewel. They have two rounds (approximately twelve seconds of in-game time) to place the jewels into the palms of the receiving elf at the exit.

If they fail the puzzle, the floor literally rolls forward on a pivot at the center of the room, throwing them downwards into a deeper part of the dungeon. The characters drop 20 feet and take 2d6 damage from the fall.

If the players succeed, the door opens and they are taken into the final chamber.

[OPTIONAL] The Alternative Path

The players failed the bridge puzzle and landed inside a crypt-like structure that houses a Black Pudding (MM pg. 241). Its purpose is to dispose of those who shouldn’t have access to the final chamber. The party can attempt to defeat the creature or flee. There is a hidden exit behind the walls, and characters that succeed a Perception (Wisdom) DC 15 can feel a draft.

Beyond the hidden exit there is a narrow tunnel that leads upwards and back to the surface. However, the way out is guarded by a Phase Spider (MM pg. 334). They have essentially “failed” the dungeon at this point, but they can try again if they successfully backtrack and return to the entrance.

Part III: The Path to the Underdark

The Sun and Moon

The final room of the dungeon is a cube of forty feet length. There is an artificial river of water rushing across the room on the far side, and the ceiling terminates at a glass ceiling that looks up to the sky.

The chamber is scarred with several blackened marks outlined with shattered stone, indicating the usage of powerful fire magics. There is also the silhouette of a humanoid figure permanently etched against a wall beside a steel door that is held shut with a glowing and shifting floral pattern. Directly underneath the ghastly shadow there is a pile of fine grey ash surrounded with miscellaneous charred body parts.

This secret room is held shut with an Arcane Lock (PHB pg. 215) spell which requires a Dexterity DC 25 to lockpick. Alternatively, the PCs can attempt to destroy the door with whatever they have on-hand.

Searching the pile of ashes yields a Necklace of Fireballs (DMG pg. 182) with only two beads left.

Below the top platform there is a large chasm that leads into the Underdark.

The Darkness

Read the following flavor text as they PCs enter the final room.

“The instant the door swings open, a layer of dust fills the air, and your nostrils are greeted with the scent of death and decay. Inside the secret room you find a large mattress covered with fine silks and laid atop an elegantly carved wooden frame.

At the base of the bed you spot an elf corpse adorned in desiccated leather scales laying facedown upon a bloodstained wolfskin rug. There is a curved sword with an green and golden handle still grasped in its right hand. The other hand is lighting grasping a skeletal hand attached to a slain drider. The monstrosity has the upper torso of a once-beautiful drow and the lower half of the body belongs to a massive tarantula.”

This deceased moon elf is still holding a Silvered Scimitar +1 (DMG pg. 213) and the dead drider is wearing a Ring of Protection (DMG pg. 191).

Boss Fight

Three Carrion Crawlers (MM pg. 37) are drawn from the Underdark by the commotion of the PCs searching he final area. The party must defeat them or be devoured. Successfully slaying them yields an opportunity to harvest Carrion Crawler Mucus (DMG pg. 258), which is a powerful paralytic poison.

Conclusion

After looting the final room and surviving the crawler attack, the party can exit the dungeon in three ways. They can continue traveling deeper into the Underdark, but at their current levels that is borderline suicidal. They can backtrack, but that will require them to re-solve the bridge puzzle in reverse. Alternatively, they can simply shatter the glass ceiling and climb upwards to freedom.