Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Let's write some adventure details!
Not quite the dragon statues I wanted
So, we've been working our way through a cool adventure set in the arctic wastelands of Craitane. We set up some plot and an outline, then figured out where each scene is going to go. So now what?

Well, to be honest, at this point in the writing process I usually set the adventure aside for a week or so. I find that if I'm working my way through other things, such as work, social gatherings, different adventures, etc., I will invariably find cool ideas that I can throw into the session. So this article is the result of me kicking ideas around in my brain for a bit.

I know that's not the type of thing that floats everyone's boat, though, so I've been gathering all my notes here. If you like, you can imagine that I am simply a creative genius that spouts pages of neat ideas on a whim. But you probably shouldn't.

Also, for most of my adventures, a lot of these details would be improvised at the table rather than being written down. For this session, however, I want to get as complete a picture for you as possible before digging in. Next week, I'll do an actual play report, and go over what changed from my plan (this article) to the actual game.

Here's a hint: it's going to be a lot.

Anyway, let's get writing some details for these scenes.

Though this is cool, let's avoid this
"The now-legendary Bard, Leigh the Enchanter, has been searching the globe for a way to open a portal to the lower planes and retrieve her lost companions from the bowels of the nine hells. In her research, she discovered an odd and unexplained phenomenon: a pulse of magic occurring perfectly on the summer solstice, resonating from the center of the icy continent of Craitane.

Using her considerable influence, Leigh the Enchanter gathered a team of competent archaeologists, wizards, and adventurers to investigate the source of the magic. The magic seemed to be divine in nature, and if such a powerful energy source could be utilized, perhaps a portal to the lower planes could be opened. And of course, anyone who helped Leigh do such a thing would become rich beyond their wildest dreams."

I already sent that much to the players, but I can read it again at the table. Next we need some quirky NPCs to join the players on the boat. Six of them, in fact. However, I'll make 8, just in case someone wants to be one of these jobs.
  1. Captain Frodren Windbinder, bushy sideburns and colorful clothing, enthusiastic and optimistic about darn near everything. "Adventure is out there!"
  2. Cook Brungorn Tuskbleeder, a dwarf who is quite haggard with a gruesome neck tattoo, repenting for his dark past but seems to always be scheming evil plans. "Not tryin' ta start any trouble, but do ya know where I could get 'bout a dozen human fingers? No reason..."
  3. Mapper Ketie Glirsk, bright blond, braided hair, worships a God of Chaos but can't bring herself to break the law. "I always try to remind myself that I should be happy, as Olidammara wishes, but I'm not the type to throw wild parties and such!"
  4. Doctor Dover Trilbuge, very attractive but prone to fatigue and light-headedness, polite to everyone but often agitated at the thought of being a burden. "Of course I can help. Just let me sit down for a moment... my apologies, but I've become a bit startled..."
  5. Geologist, halfling with awfully large feet and lots of scars, stubborn as the rocks he studies, but also fiercely loyal to those he deems worthy
  6. Artist Renoro Covengrove, old woman with a peg leg and not much hair left, has lots of opinions and thinks she's better than most people, and its hard to argue with the quality of her portraiture. "You don't understand the first thing about chiaroscuro, honey. Keep your trap shut and let me paint you."
  7. Carpenter Hollis, a rough looking fellow who can't speak, despite this he loves practical jokes and tries to stick up for those lesser than himself. "..."
  8. Cadet Sen Kovrun, a stocky military man with a prized gold tooth, he is rumored to have killed a man and is often seen sulking around instead of doing his duties. "What are you looking at? Bug off!"

I put together the names and traits via some random generators. I think it's good to get sometimes contradictory traits, like the "Religious - Chaos" and "Law Abiding" trait, which leads to a person like Ketie Glirsk, the Mapper. We can also include a bunch of nondescript sailors with the crew.

Each of the NPCs can have a little scene to start out with, either on the boat or right off it. If I can get a PC attached to them, even better. We also need a name and description for the boat.
The SS Orianna: a three-mast sailing ship with a steel-reinforced hull for ramming ice. Its flag displays the Windbinder Crest, with the flag of Garlancia hoisted above it. Commissioned by Leigh, and named in honor of her dear friend and confidant.

The final thing to note is that it should be "several days" before the solstice. Don't want to give anything more specific, so that time can flux at the end of the adventure for dramatic tension.
You steel yourselves as the ship lurches forward from anchor. The wind is biting and the air freezes your fingers and nips your nose, but you've bundled up well and don't expect to freeze to death. As you lower the rowboats into the icy water, the captain notes that you still have several days until the summer solstice, more than enough time for the group to reach the zenith of magical energy at the center of the continent. You pack your sleds and push the sled dogs forward, heading ever southward.

The Arctic Wastes
We'll start right about here
We need things for the group to find in the wastes, likely related to the PCs and their specialties. I don't know exactly what those are yet, but here's a list of things they could find:
  1. Watchtower: A snowy embankment reveals itself to be a stone-built tower after walking to the backside of it. Though it is collapsed and empty, the doorways seem sized for creatures 8 to 10 feet in height.
  2. Walls: Poking out of the snow about a thousand feet from shore is a long, stone wall, much larger than expected. Near the base of the wall, where the snow is thin, lies a handaxe, but of such great size that it could easily be a greataxe to any of you.
  3. Ship: in the shallows of the water, peering through the ice, you can see the wreckage of a ship that once docked about where the SS Orianna is now harbored. Strangely, there are still corpses on the boat, but not skeletons - the grey bodies seem to be fully intact dwarven figures. However, they don't move or show any indication of life.
  4. Statue: While digging a shelter from the storm, you are surprised to discover a large stone hand, coming forth from the wall at about head height. After digging out the rest of the snow, your reveal a statue of a minotaur. Though the craftsmanship is flawless, the subject seems a bit odd - the minotaur is simply walking, with a relaxed look on their face.
  5. Former Camp: Digging through the snow, you discover the remains of a campsite, surrounded by dwarf-sized tents. Nothing remains of the occupants, but they seem to have made camp and left in a hurry.

Some of these can be close to the shore, some can be during the travels, and some can be during the next event. Of course, we already know what's going to happen next: the blizzard! I wrote out the skill challenge last week, so I won't reprint it here.

However, I have made a couple updates. I decided that each check represents a day passing, and a failure means a day is "wasted" burying a fallen ally and regaining their bearings. Then, since most people interpret "several days" as less than 12-18 days, we can give the players plenty of reason to hurry by the time they reach the ruins.

Also, I raised the DC of the blizzard to 20. I want it to feel challenging, and I think if it's 20 then the players are more likely to not hit that DC as often. 15 was a bit low with all the bonuses they received. Of course, if, in game, they start failing consistently, I can always say the worst part of the Blizzard has passed, and the DC can be lowered to 15 again. That's the magic of DM'ing on the fly!

Next up, we need to set up the combat just outside the ruins. We can have more things to find in the ruins entrance, specifically, lore on the minotaurs, but when they first show up they should get a brief description of the area, then fight some White Dragon Wyrmlings.
This is beginning to feel more and more Skyrim
The area should have a few terrain features that help the combat feel more dynamic. What kind? Well, White Dragon Wyrmlings are mostly melee fighters. So we don't want to hinder that with things like hazards or difficult terrain. But we also want to encourage PCs that stay back at range, so perhaps no fog or snow blowing on the battlefield.

However, I'd be okay with putting an area of mist at the entrance of the ruins, so one of the Wyrmlings can retreat without fear of being shot in the back. Mist counts as lightly obscuring terrain, granting +2 on AC and Dex saves.

Additionally, we can throw in basic terrain pieces like walls, petrified Minotaurs, and crumbled stone. Dragons generally work best when their targets are all grouped up, so maybe we can have a single central "lane" to funnel the players towards the Dragons. Of course, we want ways to go around that "lane", and players who use those side paths will be rewarded with tactical advantage against the Dragon's Cold Breath.

As for the stat blocks, here is my layout for monster stats. It covers all the information in the stat block, in a concise format.

White Dragon Wyrmling (CR 2)
AC 16
HP 32, medium
Speed 30ft, Burrow 15ft, Fly 60ft, Swim 30ft, Blindsight 10ft, Darkvision 60ft, Per14, Draconic
ST D+2, C+4, W+2, Ch+2
Per+4, Stl+2
Immune: Cold
Bite: +4 hit, 5ft, 7 P + 2 cold dmg
Cold Breath (R5): 15ft cone ST C 12 or 22 cold dmg, half on pass

Also, since I don't know how many players I have just yet, I'll include this:

# of Wyrmlings per # of PCs
  • 4-5 PCs: 7 Wyrmlings
  • 6 PCs: 10 Wyrmlings
  • 7-8 PCs: 11 Wyrmlings

Of course, we'll also need a description for the entrance. That can lead right into the dragon attack, since the players will have plenty of time to explore afterwards.
The storm, finally subsided, has revealed a large, stone, temple-like structure poking out of the snow. Mist pours out of a stone archway that appears to lead inward, surrounded by crumbling walls and more snow-covered statues of minotaurs. Oddly, they all seem to be doing mundane things as well. Writing and pictographs cover the walls of the structure, possibly indicating its purpose. However, as you draw closer, you hear the crunch of snow and a low chorus of growls - you steel yourselves for battle as several white-scaled Dragons, no bigger than wolves, slink out from the ancient ruins.

From there, we simply run the combat. Of course, the last Wyrmling will retreat into the mists.

The Ancient Ruins
It's much bigger on the inside
Let's start by dividing up the lore.

Long ago, when Ahneria was still young, a race of Minotaurs walked the arctic expanse of Craitane, building an empire in service of their lord Baphomet.
In an entrance hall, where the floor is crumbling and terribly thin:
They enslaved the small tribes of humans and dwarves that lived on their shores, using them to build temples, burial grounds, and monuments to their dark lord.
In a shaman's quarters, after scaling a scaffolding with falling rocks and ice:
Prophecy: Pelor, God of the humans, saw this heresy and struck it down. He placed a divine relic at the heart of the minotaur's civilization, and its power transformed all thinking creatures to inanimate stone. Thousands of innocent lives were lost, but millions of minotaurs were silenced.
What the Dragons know:
Each year, when the sun reaches the peak of its low path across the sky of Craitane, the relic is imbued with Pelor's power, and the stony fate of the minotaurs is renewed. Any (sentient) race who arrives on this continent meets the same fate at the summer solstice, when the curse of the relic changes them to statues, never to disturb the resting place of the monstrous race. Tens of thousands of years pass.

Of course, those snippets are right out of my notes. I'd like to add some flavor to each set of lore.


Information in Pictographs (no check): This structure was created by Minotaurs. They served a God of Minotaurs, and built the temple to serve him
Information in Abyssal (no check if a PC can read Abyssal, otherwise Investigation check 20): The god they worshipped was Baphomet, a Demon Lord of the Abyss.
Implied Information (Investigation or History check 15): This structure was built tens of thousands of years ago, based on the position of the moon and stars in the engravings.

In an entrance hall, where the floor is crumbling and terribly thin:

Information on sight (no check): There are several minotaur statues here, as well as several human and dwarf statues, the first you have seen. They appear thin and beaten. Additionally, next to each minotaur is a dragon statue, much larger than the Wyrmlings you fought before, nearly the size of horses. They appear to be just about to bite the minotaurs.
Information in bas relief along the walls (no check): The minotaurs kept slaves of many races, who they forced to build their civilization. Most of the buildings were practical, such as homes, burial grounds, and temples. However, there were some monuments built specifically for the Minotaur God.
Information in Abyssal (no check if a PC can read Abyssal, otherwise Investigation check 20): The first slaves came on boats, to explore the land. The Minotaurs captured them and bred a race of slaves. They lost many slaves to Dragons, weather, and fatigue, before they figured out how to cast a powerful enchantment on the work sites to keep their slaves healthy and obedient.
Implied Information (Investigation or History check 15): There is one structure the slaves are shown building that doesn't appear to be anything like the others. It looks like it's some kind of fortress with powerful magical defenses, rather than simply a practical building or a monument.

In a shaman's quarters, after scaling a scaffolding with falling rocks and ice:

Information on sight (no check): This chamber was a holy site for a minotaur shaman, who still stands, head bowed in eternal prayer, before an altar of the Minotaur God. The shaman's divination components have long rotted away, though his marked augury bones still lie on the floor. Surrounding the minotaur statue are three Dragon statues, much larger than the Wyrmlings you fought before, nearly the size of horses. They appear to be just about to bite the minotaur.
Information in long-frozen tome, clutched in the hand of the minotaur shaman statue (no check if a PC can read Abyssal, otherwise Investigation check 20): The minotaur received a dread prophecy from his dark lord. A powerful God would reach down and touch Craitane, destroying the works of Minotaurs. The prophecy doesn't say how. The shaman had ordered the construction of a temple that would stop the divine power of the God, and the last entry is his prayer to Baphomet that his people would be protected.
If a PC touches the augury bones: Wisdom saving throw 15 or receive a vision of an endless labyrinth in a horrible, dark world. A gargantuan minotaur with glowing red eyes and three sets of horns appears in the vision and turns toward the PC, snorting in a threatening manner. Then, the vision ends.
Only the best in nasty sinister magics
We'll do the Dragon's lore later.

Next we should figure out how these danger areas will work. As I said last week, these areas can be fairly dangerous, since the party will be able to short rest very quickly.

For the thin floor, I wanted to use a dice pool mechanic, where the floor gradually cracks and fails. Basically, we have a big area (the entrance hall) where the erosion of time has caused the floor to become thin. Every time a player takes an action, I add a die to the dice pool, and roll them. If a die turns up as a 1, the floor cracks beneath that PC. We can make a chart of types of actions, as well.
  • Slow, small movements: add 1d10 to the pool
  • Normal movement: add 1d8 to the pool
  • Fast/Heavy movement: add 1d6 to the pool
  • Literally hitting the floor: add 1d4 to the pool
The first time I roll, I'll probably say to the players "You hear a deep groaning from the floor, like it is straining to stay in place." After that, if they don't do anything different, we'll likely have somebody falling.

Now, I should probably figure out how many actions they need to take in this area. At the very least, I'm guessing the following:
  • Information on sight - no actions
  • Information in bas relief - 1 action to inspect
  • Information in abyssal - 2 actions, one to get to the writing and one to read it
  • Implied Information - 2 actions, one to inspect the walls, the other to continue to inspect and find the unusual structure

If they move cautiously, and don't take extra actions, that's 5d10, which is about a 60% chance of nothing bad happening according to Anydice. Hopefully they don't all rush out into the room immediately, because that would be 5d8 to 6d8, a 55% chance of bad stuff happening without any reward.

Also, we can make the fall a bit more dangerous by putting a couple White Dragon Wyrmlings at the bottom of the pit. Assuming the PCs have full health here, we could easily do a 30ft drop into the next floor down and start a combat with 2-3 White Dragon Wyrmlings. That might incentivize people to jump down into the pit as well, increasing the tension! Let's go with 2, since that's a deadly encounter for a single PC.

Now, I know that's a bigger scene than I originally planned (since it now involves combat), so I think the scaffolding should be a bit less intense.

We can make this a simple challenge: roll a single athletics check, then make some dex saves.
  • Athletics check of 5 or less: 5 Dex saves
  • Athletics check of 6-10: 4 Dex Saves
  • Athletics check of 11-15: 3 Dex Saves
  • Athletics check of 16-20: 2 Dex saves
  • Athletics check of 20+: 1 Dex Save
Then, the Dexterity save is DC 15 or take some bludgeoning damage from falling rocks. I'm thinking 2d10, which is a setback for 6th-level characters.

This hazard isn't particularly interesting. However, I want to portray the danger of the old ruins, and also use up some of the character's hit dice so they really feel pressure near the end of the game. Additionally, I know some players will figure out a way to bypass some of these checks. Remembering to (most of the time) allow players to be creative can add some fun to this challenge.

Finally, let's talk about the Dragons. I think as the players move deeper into the ruins, let's give them a choice.
You exit a collapsed tunnel into a long hallway. As you do so, you see the tail of a white dragon flick around the corner, heading away from you. However, you believe the other direction would lead you closer to the central location of Craitane.

So basically, follow the dragons or head towards the relic. If they follow the dragons, they can make it to the nest, if they go towards the relic, they will find the rebellious dragons.

Rebel without a Claws
Let's do the nest first.
After following the dragon some distance, you find yourselves outside a room with a large entrance. Peering around the doorway, you see a Dragon's nest, with two Young White Dragons perched atop a small pile of frozen gold. Slinking around them are a few Wyrmlings, and it looks like there is a clutch of eggs beneath one of the larger Dragons.

At this point, I'll need to let the players know the dragons want to talk. No need to beat around the bush here - we can put the last Wyrmling from the entrance battle here too.
One of the Dragons calls out in broken common: "Who is there? Speak, you! We hurt you not!"

Then, the Dragons will discuss the lore with the players. How I usually do this is I create "sample dialogue" and pull from that/slightly modify it during the game.
  • "I is Azzyr, and is mate Bedheit."
  • "Day of stone coming. When sun is high in sky. All are stone, but not Wyrmlings. They stay."
  • "We want destroy Minotaurs. We make attack on them. When Day of Stone ends, we kill them."
  • "More Dragons need make for win. Each year, more Dragons. More Dragons stone. Will win."
  • "Is afraid. Dragon Byrru steal Day of Stone maker. Minotaurs wake. Need more Dragons. Will lose."
  • "You find Dragon Byrru? Kill? If fix Day of Stone maker, we help you. You safe in fight of Dragons and Minotaurs."
  • "Dragon Byrru is near Day of Stone maker."

That covers the lore I want, and the mission. If I need more, I'll have to improvise it. If the PCs fight the nest, I'll use 2 Young White Dragons and 3 White Dragon Wyrmlings, which will be a deadly encounter. Hopefully, though, the hazards have used up their hit dice, so they'll be hesitant to start another combat.

Now let's do the other Dragons. First, some setting dressing.
You head down the hallway, which opens up into a massive icy cavern. You guess that long ago, this area was open to the sky, a sort of courtyard. Scattered all around are more minotaur statues, most of them with a Young White Dragon statue poised to attack it. Creeping through the statues, you see another Young White Dragon - this one quite alive. You steel your swords, but the Dragon keeps its distance. "You alive, not stone! You help Byrru?"

At this point, we need more dialogue.
  • "Byrru need help. Took Day of Stone maker, Azzyr yell at Byrru."
  • "Day of stone coming. When sun is high in sky. All are stone, but not Wyrmlings. They stay."
  • "We want destroy Minotaurs. We make attack on them. When Day of Stone ends, we kill them."
  • "Byrru make Day of Stone end. Azzyr say Byrru bad. Azzyr say we lose. Byrru say we win."
  • "You want Day of Stone maker? You kill Azzyr, Byrru give. Byrru hide Day of Stone maker, no find without Byrru."
  • "If give, you take away. Far away. Dragons and Minotaurs fight. You die. No die if run away."
  • "Dragon Azzyr is in ruins, in Dragon nest."

If the PCs decide to fight Byrru, he flees back to his den in the courtyard, where his mate Neimar is guarding the relic. Then, the players can get the "Day of Stone maker" as their reward. If the players kill Azzyr, Byrru will give them the relic. However, I want to make it clear that what they find isn't the whole picture.

The relic is only half of this orrery they find, and that should be fairly obvious. Any wizard or cleric will be able to tell that this is merely the channel of power source of the divine power, not the source of the petrification effect. Additionally, any magical detection still points towards the center of Craitane, rather than towards this item.

And just so the players don't try to run off with the orrery, we can say that the divine power is completely drained from it.

The Relic
In the sun, sun, having fun
So, all that's left is the relic itself. Let's do some more description.
Exiting the courtyard and the icy cavern surrounding it, you find yourselves in a valley, the sun just peeking over the wall of the canyon. Here, you can see the true size of the minotaur's civilization. Thousands of houses line the floor of the valley, each of them with minotaur statues inside. Some are bent in prayer to Baphomet, others seem to be weeping and holding their children. And many of the minotaurs have a dragon statue standing over them, prepared to close its jaws on their necks, arms, or head. Each figure is held in a deathly still pose of prostration or annihilation.
In the center of the valley, a massive crater dominates the otherwise unbroken urban scene. At the center, you can see a small object, not yet in the sunlight, but seemingly the cause of the wound upon the landscape.
When they go down into the crater:
A pedestal lies at the center, etched with symbols. A small divot in the top of the platform clearly allows the orrery to be fit within it. All across the edges of the pedestal are symbols, which are easily recognizable. They are the holy symbols and signs of Pelor, God of the Sun.

At this point, I'll basically need to spell out the choice for the players. To reiterate:
  • If they place the Orrery, the petrification effect will take place at noon. They will be frozen in place, but so will most of the Dragons and the minotaurs.
  • If they don't place the Orrery, the petrification effect will wear off at noon. The minotaurs and dragons will unfreeze, and a war will begin, which the PCs will be caught up in.

This can be conveyed through interpretation of symbols on the pedestal. Also, we'll need to specify the following information out-of-character:
  • The pedestal is indestructible. It was made by a god.
  • The recharge happens right at noon, and then not again for a full year. They only have about an hour to make their choice.
  • Based on the effect on the dragons, it affects everyone with an Int score of 6 or higher.

Finally, let's write a little end scene for each choice.

For placing the Orrery:
As the sun rises to the highest point in the sky, the Orrery begins to light up and spin. You look to one another, taking in the last sight you will see, possibly forever. As your flesh turns to stone, you are unsure if you made the right choice. But you made the choice that would keep the world safe, at least for a little longer.

For not placing the Orrery:
You run. You know what is about to happen, and you don't want to be anywhere near it. You are making your way back through the ruins when you hear the first roars of pain and fury. You don't know if it's the sound of a dragon or a minotaur, but it scarcely matters. You find a small room, huddle inside, and bar the door. You're not sure you'll make it out alive, but at least you have the chance to try. At least you have hope.

And that's the game! Whew! That little adventure clocks in at around 3500 words.

Now, as every DM knows, no plan survives contact with the players. So, next week, I'll be posting my recap (Wednesday Recap?) and making notes about how the players reacted to different scenarios, what I changed on the fly, and how the session ended.

Blame the Sun God, yo
Thanks for reading!

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