The posts collected on this page are all related to my Caverns of Slime adventure.
The party had just finished The Eternal Boundary and had found a treasure map that would lead them into The Gray Waste. I prepared a very linear adventure that you can see on the on the right. I decided that the map represented an incomplete list of dangers to be overcome:
I also had a number of NPCs in mind:
This was the first challenge: figure out whom to trust and discover through questions that Raud would lead them to the wrong layer on Hades since Oinos ≠ Niflheim. This was also the opportunity for them to learn about the apathy of Hades. One player expertly decided to spend 100gp on books with jokes, fart machines and other ludicrous things to drive away apathy and despair.
They don’t contact Njal but they do talk to Raud and end up going with Lissandra. They made such a good impression on her, in fact, that she decides to tell them about a merchant called Kherion Mallibrun (described in the section about Death of Innocence in the Planes of Conflic box). In return, he wants them to protect him from Hekate’s trolls.
This was the second challenge: take along a guide and avoid fighting rock pythons and giant squirrels on the branches of Yggdrasil.
The dragon is easy: the third challenge is simply to be quiet. The cleric is prepared and casts silence. No problem.
The woods and trolls present the fourth challenge: unbeknownst to the players, I had decided that the forest houses both wolves and trolls. Even though the party was silenced, the wolves had picked up their scent and the trolls were following the wolves. One player who plays a character that can fly decided to take a listen and fly overhead. He soon discovers the wolves and using the fillings of a little rocket full of itching powder they disable the wolves’ scent ability and the flying character distracts and enrages the trolls until they break off the chase.
In the village, they see that the merchant is selling colorful textiles and the fifth challenge is finding a guide to the island. They discover that there is a hunter of nightmares who will lead them in exchange for the funny articles one of the characters had bought. This part was all improvised but it worked well.
He warns them of the giant, flightless birds. Luckily they are slow. The party buys horses for the three characters in plate armor and can thus outrun the the sixth challenge, the Diakka birds.
I had thought that the nightmares would be the next challenge but at the table I suddenly felt strange using the nightmares as predators. As I had seen one of the players get really excited about the prospect of catching and taming a nightmare, I decided that the seventh challenge would be the temptation of catching a nightmare. The party would have to start a fight. And they didn’t…
The eight challenge had not been listed on the “treasure map”: flying yeth hounds. The party moved away from their baying (it’s effect only works within 100 ft.) and decided to avoid the dogs. It worked.
At the edge of the sea of fog, they left their guide who, when asked, said that all they had to do was ignore the larva. And they did. No talking, no eye contact, no listening. Again, the party used silence to bypass the ninth challenge. It worked.
Finally, they reached the witch, the tenth challenge. I decided to use witches from the Shark Den section of the Caverns of Slime, Vialashta and Kurmatesha, the four lesser witches, the tengu horn, and my own treasure I had rolled up. As you can see, I had prepared a different night hag in my notes (including a 65% magic resistance)… Oh well. There was a lot of talking, bluffing and haggling involved, a short discussion on the merits of both Odin and Hekate, but in the end, the orc witch has charmed the talking character and disappeared into the tent and the fight was on.
The party consisted of a cleric 5, a fighter 4, an elf 2, and some henchmen: two giant apes, a cleric 4, a fighter 2, and a magic-user 1.
Kurmatesha is reduced to less than 10 hit-points in two rounds. She, in turn, blows the horn and summons the tengus, then polymorphs into a shadow wolf. The party then kills her and have a quick chat with the tengu. They want the horn (and their freedom), but one character is close enough to the horn to blow it again, at which point I decide that the tengu are all dispelled.
The second half of the battle is a running battle as the witches are standing under the hanging tree, cursing all that approach. With a desperate rush, a character delivers the arrow that has silence cast on it to the witches. The witches start releasing ghouls but they are being turned as fast as they are being released. Finally, when the crow witch Vialashta is finally held using magic, the remaining lesser witches flee into the sea of fog.
The witch tells them that the hanging tree is guarding the treasure and since they stocked up on oil and hadn’t used any of it, I decided that burning a 15 HD tree required 15 flasks of oil—and having bought 20 flasks of oil without having to use them against the trolls, that was no problem at all…
Recently I started extracting the monsters from my Caverns of Slime adventure and posting it on this blog. The idea is that this way, people might spot something they like without having to go through the thirty or fourty pages of the adventure. It also makes it easier to leave a comment on a particular element.
When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I decided that all of the magic-users in the adventure would have a complete spell book with new names for all the spells. I hoped that referees would then pick the effects from obvious matches in their rule book or improvise something interesting. That’s how I handle it. Does this work for you? Would you have preferred me to use the standard spell names and list new spells at the end as appears to be the standard approach these days?
Spells of the arachnomatrix (level 13):
|1st level||2nd level||3rd level||4th level|
|the friendship of lesser minds||hunting and webbing||the tongues of strangers||jumping through space on the strands of our forefathers|
|power of mimicry||triangulation of know objects||electric powers of destruction||subjugation of reason|
|communion with animals||conquest of gravity||powers of flight||arachnophobia of the highest degree|
|telestrangulation using strands of webbing||detection of magical energies||silken words of binding|
|5th level||6th level||7th level|
|travel to the shadow lands||communicating with the ancient earth spirits||mysteries of astral chords and travel to foreign worlds|
|contacting the spider lords of the beyond||(unassigned)|
Atraxaka also knows how to build a rod of electric destruction (shoots lightning bolts for 3d6 at will with a 5% chance to hit somebody near the intended victim unless the wielder has four arms to aim it with).
A while ago, I worked on Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #14. I recently made it available as a free PDF. (I should add a license to it: Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike for the text!) Here are some of its monsters I wrote up.
This list also contains two instances of rituals. I describe them as follows: “Rituals are the ceremonies and prayers that take many minutes to perform, usually powered by demon lords and devils.” The first monster can be summoned by a ritual that player characters can be taught by “a winged pig man with four legs and wielding a blood falchion.” The last monster, on the other hand, performs a handful of rituals that player characters can learn through observation.
The shroom lord can be observed for days as it sings its telepathic praise to the Gibbering Fungus God. A very patient person interested in mushroom magic can learn the following rituals through simple observation:
Another monster, related to the circle of psychotic colors: any enemies that fell asleep because of the spores will die over night and rise as a spore zombie.
This post contains a reusable element from my Caverns of Slime adventure. I wanted to offer a structure for a “commando mission” that can be played through in a short session. My sessions typically last for a bit less than three hours, unfortunately. The mission is to disable a fortified dam guarded by “goons”—damned creatures fused with an exoskeleton that keeps them alive but controlled by the operator of the dam, forced to guard the structure that keeps them enslaved.
There are three elements to the mission: getting into the structure, destroying a key element, getting out. The challenges on the way out also contain a little “riddle”: the referee quickly reads lists a list of locations and asks the players to reverse this list in order to succeed in their escape. It’s better than a typical Riddle Game and somewhat grounded in the imagined world. Do you agree? Unfair?
What do you think of the drowning rules I’ve been using? “victims save vs. death every round or drown unless water breathing” I felt that in a high level adventure, save or die challenges can be more prevalent because raising the dead is easily available. What about this line of thinking: ok or misguided?
This is what I wrote:
getting into the dam
inside the dam
Leverage of Fear is an eight-armed monstrosity of steel and a few organic elements of human descent. It hates what needs to be done but does it anyway—maintaining the dam, picking up survivors and turning them into goons by forcing them into an exoskeleton and waiting until they are fused and therefore dependent on a working dam. It can usually be found in the dam’s control room.
Once the power supply is disrupted, an emergency response kicks in designed to fight disruption and restore power. Players need to succeed at two tasks in order to save any friends and they need to succeed at four tasks in order to prevent restoration of power. If the players don’t succeed in either goal after six challenges, they fail: they will have to make a daring escape on a speed boat downriver and flee into the Tentacle Caves in order avoid death or imprisonment in hell (improvise a cell and guardians in the Prison of Dis).
If the party flees into the Tentacle Caves, they will have to face a group of 1d6 stone polyps (HD 6; AC 0; Atk 1 bite (2d6), 8 tentacles (save vs. petrification of fall unconscious and be dragged towards the mouth); MV 3). Remember that this location is the complication arising from having failed at the previous challenge. That’s why there is not a lot of treasure or information to be found in these caves. Allow a thoroughly beaten party to emerge without a fight if they sacrifice important equipment and significant treasure.
(To be fair, there’s not much treasure to be found on this mission anyway. Maybe there should be?)
This post contains a reusable element from my Caverns of Slime adventure.
At one point, the characters are traveling in hell. Imps are watching. The party is in trouble: they need help fighting a powerful enemy, the need help an ally, they need to find a guide, something. The idea is to present the players with a choice and long term consequences: let the players decide how easily the characters is corrupted, or let the player decide how much their character is willing to suffer in order to avoid dealing with the devil – any decision is fine as long as it’s the result of a struggle, a result of being confronted with temptation.
Here’s what the section in the adventure says:
Whenever player characters cannot make up their mind or whenever they are in danger, have imps and devils come up and offer to help – for a price. They will enter a pact with player characters. Once the details have been hashed out, a pact requires a simple act to seal it. When a pact is broken by a player character, the character will suffer a curse.
|1||I will lead you to somebody who can help.||In return, you will fight for me when I summon you.||To seal this pact, you will wear this amulet with the copulating monkeys. Atempting to take it off will strangulate you.||If you don’t give your utmost to win the fight, these monkeys will animate and grow and do their utmost to wreck your neighbours, your family and your friends.|
|2||I will lead you to somebody who will help.||In return, you will wear this hell sigil in your face for a year and a day, invisible to all except for those that can detect evil.||To seal this pact, I brand you with this painful hell iron.||If you fail to do this for me, you will have sown the seed of evil in the hearts those near you, triggering an alignment change, if appropriate.|
|3||I will summon somebody who can help you.||In return, you will forswear fighting all demons and devils for a year and a day.||We will drink each other’s blood in order to seal this pact.||Should you break this pact, your muscles will wither and shrink. You will loose 4 Strength.|
|4||I will summon somebody who will help you.||In return, you will donate one tenth of any treasure found (not just your share of the treasure!) to evil deeds for a year and a day.||To seal this pact, you shall wear this ring of mine.||If the pact is not kept, this ring will poison you and you shall die. You can never take it off, obviously.|
|5||I will help you.||In return, you will suffer for seven long weeks in hell when you die. You cannot be resurrected in that time.||To seal this pact, I will take a lock of your hair and keep it safe.||Even if you are rescued before you served your time, I shall keep your mind locked up. Your body will be but an ordinary, 0-level mortal until your time is up.|
|6||I will solve this issue for you.||In return, your soul belongs to me and you can never be resurrected.||To seal this pact, I shall cut off your hand and replace it with this bejeweled gauntlet.||Anybody attempting to rescue you will have to face treachery and greed every step of the way.|
The above table only makes sense if there is temptation. The party must want the help being offered. Some ideas:
(These two items only make sense in the context of the adventure, obviously. In your own campaign, you need to determine what might tempt your players and their characters.)
Also note that the devils will have tried to prevent the simple removal of curses and the simple circumvention of poisoning. They can be outwitted, but it shouldn’t be easy. Make players work for a release from the curse!
I recently decided to “publish” my high level module Caverns of Slime. To the right, you can see the various stages my map went through. And you can see that the entire process started out with map. The map was the backbone of all subsequent activities.
It all started with the first map at the top. Things that made it from the very first draft to the very end:
Things that got lost:
Also note how I abandoned my detailed isometric map in step two. As I drew it, I kept dreading the moment where I’d have to key it and I kept thinking that at higher levels, the party would be flying, teleporting, gating, or pass walling anyway.
As for the final map: I just drew it all using Inkscape. I wanted to write more about it, but in the end, all I did was draw lines, using a lot of Ctrl+L to simplify the paths and then editing the nodes using F2 to make it look better. Every section was on a different layer so that I could lock the rest. The most important decision was to work on paper for the longest time.
A long time ago, I wrote Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #14. Lior Wehrli pushed me to be more experimental with dreams and visions. Thank you! At the time, some brave souls drew very nice pictures to go along with this dungeon level. Thank you very much, Ndege Diamond and Kelvin Green. As it seems that Fight On is on a de facto hiatus, I’m going to make the Caverns of Slime “public”. Thus, if you’re interested in dungeon level 13 of the Fight On! megadungeon Darkness Beneath, there you go.
When I asked for an editor on the forum, Chris Roberts volunteered. English not being my first language, I felt that getting an editor is very important. Having acted as an editor myself (Stonehell, Theorems & Thaumaturgy), I know how boring it can be and how much discipline it requires. So, thank you very much for volunteering!
As the editing process got underway, we moved from the wiki to Open Office, and that’s why the PDF version differs from web version. The PDF is available as well, of course. There is a ton of advice on how to do layout out there, but I also have finite patience and skill. I guess I’ll keep returning to the PDF every now and then. Something about the ease of editing makes me want to stick to the wiki when updating the adventure. Perhaps all I will need to do, however, is make sure the PDF looks good as I add another picture or two. Having more pictures is always a good thing.
The wiki version is more radical in its approach to emphasis: it uses a lot more bold to draw the referee’s attention to what I felt was important. For the PDF, this was toned down. If you, gentle reader, have an opinion on the generous use of bold, please leave a comment.
When I wrote Caverns of Slime, I tried to follow my own advice on how to design a high level dungeon. Unfortunately, I only got to play test parts of it. If you ever use it or parts of it, leave a comment. I’d love to hear how it went—and maybe we could make changes to the dungeon and keep making it better and better.
The same is true for more art: If you ever draw something from the big list, I’d love to add it! At the time I suggested the following items to Calithena—perhaps the list will help you decide whether the Caverns of Slime is something you’d be interested in running.
(The pieces that I have are marked up using strike out in the list above.)
Fight On! #13 will hopefully contain a dungeon level of mine. Hopefully it will get published soon. In the mean time, I’ve started to work on a new adventure called Susrael the Great. One of things you can learn is Bear Magic.
|1st circle||2nd circle|
|astonishing growth of ursine hair grants AC 6 for two turns||terrible staying power of mountain bears grants ⅓ of your max hit points for two turns|
|3rd circle||4th circle|
|glowing eyes of ursine hell grants laser beams for two turns: one target per round must save vs. wands or take 1d6 damage (this is a free action)||treacherous abuse of ursine brotherhood forces an unwilling summoned armored polar bear soldier to join for a fight: HD 6; AC 5; 2 steel claws 1d6 bite 2d6; MV 9; ML 12|
|5th circle||6th circle|
|ursine bloodlust adds 1d6 to each claw and bite attack for two turns||flying bar of bears summons 1d6+2 confused and angry flying bears: HD 8; AC 6; 2 claws 1d6 bite 2d6; MV 12 fly; ML 12|
I’ve written a dungeon level for the Fight On! megadungeon. It’s for level 13. Maybe it’ll be in issue #13. I tried to adhere to a number of principles that would hopefully produce a better product.
As far as I’m concerned, high level play suggests the following deviation from the usual:
There is no map with exact distances. In fact, like the other dungeon levels at a similar depths, my entry feels like a little underworld wilderness.
I assume that many party members will be able to fly or dimension door or have flying mounts or flying carpets. Thus, there are several vertical drops that would make life very difficult for a low-level party.
Since I don’t have a traditional map, encounters are presented as simple lists of locations and creatures. You can treat these as a wandering monster table, except that every entry in the list comes with monster stats and an environment and a little extra info. Personally, I prefer to get a little more information than just a monster name and their numbers appearing.
In order to further aid improvisation every location starts with a sentence or two setting the mood, a list of impressions (sounds, sights), a list of names to use—little things that I’d appreciate as a referee.
Enemies will have access to magic. I still remember hating spellcasters and devils and demons as a kid because picking the right spells and all that was tricky to do in the heat of combat. This is why important foes will often have two or three at will magic abilities. It’s simply easier to manage.
Since I was going to publish in Fight On! magazine without the Open Gaming License, I decided to not copy any stats from monster manuals or existing rule books. I made up the stats of all the monsters. I’m sure this will result in strange discrepancies. I used the following rules of thumb: mooks 1 HD, squad leaders 3 HD, local leaders 5 HD, important people 7-9HD, boss enemies 12-15 HD, some monsters that you can fight but that you’re better off avoiding 17+ HD. AC 9 for no armor, AC 7 for tough hides, AC 5 for chain and equivalent, AC 0-3 for superbly armored enemies. Damage is usually 1d6, 2d6 for magical two handed weapons or large creatures with a huge jaw, 3d6 for the strongest natural enemies.
In order to reflect the changing dynamics of high-level play, there are a lot of save-or-die effects. At this point, hit-points aren’t so important anymore. Save vs. paralysis or be dragged under water; when under water, save vs. death every round or drown. This is what makes fighting the monsters dangerous, and this is why there are a lot of monsters with few hit dice down on level 13 of this dungeon.
Every location has an interesting non-player character or two. There are factions at war. You can make allies. (In fact, all the dungeon levels I can think of for the Fight On! megadungeon had this. I love it.)
I tried to loosely tie all the locations together. If you’re using the entire level, that’s cool and there’s a lot of interaction. At the same time, it’s possible to reuse every single location outside of the dungeon in your own games. It’s modular because I like to reuse other people’s stuff.
I use bold to highlight monsters and important names in the descriptions such that it’s easy to skim.
I tried to keep it short. Unfortunately, it’s still nearly 30 pages long. I asked Claudia for editing suggestions but she says she likes it all and she wouldn’t change it. We’ll see whether I managed to condense it down to the most awesome per word I can deliver! It was certainly my goal.
A little trick I used: I forced myself to write many things as bullet point lists. Every encounter is one item, one paragraph. In addition to that, I don’t use periods in my list items; I use semicolons to structure it; this forces me to keep a certain flow while writing; I realize it’s not a great way to write a blog post, however.
I also tried to provide foes to fight, non-player characters to talk to, befriend, learn from and barter with. These last elements supports my wife’s favorite play style: discovering new things. You can exchange spells with magic users, there are rituals to learn (in campaigns, that is how I explain all the magic that is unexplained by the spells provided by the rule book) and there are things to learn about the environment.
There are opportunities for long term change. I’m not just talking about loosing limbs (although that may happen as well), I’m talking about divine effects following you around if a god notices your actions, infernal pacts you can make, that kind of thing.
There are also safe zones (although when I ran a play test the players burned down one of the safe zones) for players to rest and recover without needing to return to the surface. I just like to imagine that trips to the underworld are long and arduous, much like Jule Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
I also tried to provide some links to the other dungeon levels in this megadungeon, but perhaps that is the one aspect where I could have tried to do better and add more tie-ins. To my chagrin I must confess that I haven’t read all of them in as much detail as I would have liked.
Another thing that I have failed to do for now is to calculate how much experience points I would want the party to gain on this level and distribute appropriate treasure hoards. Maybe I should do that now that I’m done and do it. Assuming that a fighter needs about 120’000 to move from level 13 to 14, that would mean that I’d need about 120’000×4×3 (providing triple treasure since they’ll probably miss a lot as well). I’m not sure… At the same time, I feel that once you’ve reached name level and beyond, the actual numbers don’t really mean that much anyway. I could be wrong. All I know is that I probably haven’t distributed 1.5 million gold pieces on this dungeon. Should I?