Friday, October 16, 2020

Building an Adventure (pt. 4): Plugging it into the System

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash
Okay, now I have a solid outline and plans for an encounter. Now I will need to turn this into something usable.

For the purpose of this article, I will use BD&D, so anyone with Old School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess can use it one-to-one., and people with AD&D-based systems like OSRIC or Astounding Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborrea will be able to do so with minimal work.

Also, If you like this adventure, an updated, cleaned-up and slightly expanded version of it is now available on DrivethruRPG.

Plugging In

One of the most useful things that you can remember about adventure writing is that the best plans should be thought up independent of game engine.  Trying to think in terms of challenge ratings, stat blocks, point rewards, etc. can put boundaries on your creativity .

This is the difference between asking "What ideas can I make work in this system?" and "How can I make my ideas work in the system?"

The latter approach may require hacking or modifying the rules, but you will come  up with a much better, more memorable adventure. Often one with more unique content

"Plugging your ideas in to the system" can be a process that takes time and tinkering to do, but is worth it.

For purposes of this article, I will write the encounter in the format I use for my pamphlet Adventures. I have a more optimized method I'm using for writing larger modules, but this should be sufficient for our needs; not to mention fairly familiar to most people who read older Dungeons & Dragons modules.

Consider everything below this point to be part not in a sidebar to be of a module titled "The Bloody Engines of the Dinosaur Men" (working title) done under the OGL.

1. The Plateau

A huge trapezoidal archway opens into the Cliffside at the edge of this stone shelf. Aeons of erosion have worn away most of the ornamentation around it, but there are still traces of strange markings around the door. Wet air that stinks of blood and offal comes out in hot foggy blasts every few moments, accompanied by hissing and gurgling sounds.

This doorway is guarded by two Salisstach and a Biomech Triceratops. If they detect the PCs approaching one will run back to the door (Location A) and shut it. This takes him 4 rounds to complete. The other will command the Biomech and fire on the PCs with his spine musket.

The door is heavy and plated in bronze and fossilized bone. It is controlled by weights and pulleys. It requires a combined Strength of 40 to force open. The other Salistach Guard will alert the others then guard the entrance with its musket. The door will close automatically if not opened by the lever controls at Location B. Getting caught in the door causes 3d6 damage and 1d6 crushing damage every round afterward until the door is forced open.

Players who scout the area have a 3 in 6 chance (4 in 6 if they have infravision) to notice the tunnel into the garbage pit (Area 2).

Peeking Under the Hood

Designing new content for a game can require a good working knowledge of how the game engine works in actual play. Sitting down and looking at the math, the way the game plays, and the material offered for it can be very helpful.

Dungeons and Dragons has always done a good job  of making the math overt, and easy to understand, especially the older editions that inspired the OSR. I will give you an example.

"Hit Dice" in older editions of  D&D are literally how many times a creature can get hit before it is severely injured or dies. You don't even need to roll hit points if you don't want to: the creature jus drops after getting hit that many times. Actually adding in hit points and damage dice adds a small chance for variance and surprise. Sometimes a monster might drop a hit early or hit later late depending on how the dice fall.

Given an average party, the PCs are going to deal the equivalent of 2 hits if they are just slugging it out or 4-5 hits (counting spells, backstab, etc.) If they are stacking their advantages smartly.

In this encounter, the Salisstach can be wiped out in one of he rounds if it turns into a slug-fest, while possibly knocking one PC out. It is, in other words, a speed bump.

Adding in the Biomech triceratops (which is much softer than a living one), on the other hand, and we have something scary. If the PCs fight smart and concentrate fire, they can bring down the triceratops in 3 rounds, but in that time, it can easily kill a PC, and odds are good another will be knocked out. Standing and fighting will also mean that the way is closed to the PCs. This encounter is designed to demand smart play.

This is much harder to plan in modern D&D games. Hit Dice are no longer hits, and damage scales more heavily.  A well-built party of 1st level PCs soul probably eliminate the same Triceratops in two rounds without sustaining more than a couple of nasty wounds. The 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide has recommended AC, Hit Points and damage output to match challenge ratings . Turning this into a deadly encounter might be possible using those tools, but it adds a lot of steps. And becomes less accurate as new resources get added to the game. You need to know the 5th edition rules  well to engineer a combat like this.

The same is true of any system, of course. If I were writing this for Numenéra, I would have to consider the levels with great care to make the battle punishing if the PCs take the direct approach.

Knowing how hard you want the encounter to be is pretty important to planning in this phase.


Armor Class: 7 [Ascending: 12]
Hit Dice: 2*
Move: 120' (40")
Attack: Cleaver or Venomous Dart
    ThAC0: 18  Base Attack: +2
Damage: 1d6 or 1d3
No. Appearing: 2-8 (1-6)
Save As: D2
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: O, special
Intelligence: 12
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 25

Monster Type: Humanoid

Salisstach are humanoid dinosaurs. They stand roughly 7' tall and bear claws and numerous horns positioned around their heads. Some males have feathers around their scalp and neck as well. Females tend to be bright green, males vary in striped patterns of greens, blues, and golden colors.

The Salisstach developed complex clockwork, alchemical, and biological technology as well as primitive magic before becoming extinct during an ice age. A few survivors placed themselves in an alchemical stasis in hidden, sheltered locations where they could preserve pockets of the ecosphere they were adapted to.

Salisstach generate venomous spines of keratin in a pouch in the back of their throat. As an attack they can spit them up to a range of 30'. Creatures damaged by the dart must save vs. poison or fall unconscious for 1d3 hours. A Salisstach can generate up to five darts at a time, and can grow new ones at the rate of one every two days.

Many Salisstach carry technological weapons like the spine muskets. 1 in 6 carries a Chemical Mortar.

Salisstach speak their own tongue. Roughly half of the personnel of the processing plant speak common thanks to the help of biomancy; they forcibly ripped the knowledge from a prisoner's brain and imbibed it.

Terrain: Cave or Jungle

Biomech Triceratops

Armor Class: 4 [Ascending: 1t]
Hit Dice: 9
Move: 90' (30")
Attack: Gore or Trample
    ThAC0: 11  Base Attack: +9
Damage: 2d8
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: F9
Morale: 10
Treasure Type: nil
Intelligence: 4
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 1000

Monster Type: Construct

An example of the horrors of Salisstach technology at its most vile. This Biomech is made by replacing the muscle and sinew of a butchered triceratops with leather, tar, copper cables, and clockwork. It's replacement parts are driven by probes embedded in the Biomech's brains, which are kept alive by proto-Necromancy. While weaker than a living Triceratops, the Biomech is stupidly loyal and fearless. They are used as beast of burden and machines of war by the Salisstach. 

Terrain: Caves

Spine Musket: This rifle-like device is molded from hard organic resins, with bottles of fluid in various chambers protruding from it. Salisstach can load it by injecting their poisonous spines into a mouthpiece on the top. It can hold a magazine of 10 in a cooled chamber in the weapon. When fired, the musket launches the spines with deadly accuracy to a range of 200', dealing 1d6 damage. Targets damaged by the spine musket must save vs. poison or fall unconscious for 1d3 hours. It can also be loaded with metal flechettes with some slight modification. Most Salisstach carry fully loaded spine muskets. Weighs 52cn

Making Things Up

The Garbage pits are meant to be vile, toxic, and full of disease. This is one place where D&D 3e or 5e definitely have an advantage over BD&D or a clone like Labyrinth Lord.

In 3e or 5e I could name a poison the PCs are breathing and leave it there. Older editions of Dungeons and Dragons often made disease and poison instant death, or at least a good chance of it. I don't like that aspect of the game, and don't think it is appropriate for the encounter.

So, in order to depict a choking and overwhelming stench, and a horrible disease, I have to make something up that works in the terms of that game. The beauty of OSR games, of course, is that they encourage GMs to make things up. I doubt anyone comfortable with playing an OSR game would have difficulty making use of the rules I created here, or be comfortable throwing them out for something that works better for their game.

2. The Garbage Pits

This pit is filled with heaps of rotten tissue, offal, and organic sludge floating in reddened scum-covered water. The stench brings bile to your throat. Luminous fungus and corpse-lights fill the air with pale violet light. Among the heaps of  mushroom-coated sludge you can see the fast-decaying remains of both humans and something smaller and more ape-like. Somewhere a pitiful whimper comes from one of the vile heaps.

The air in this environment is toxic. Every 3 rounds the PCs must save vs. Poison or take 1d4 damage.

The chute to Area 3 is a sheer surface that a Thief is best suited to climb. The stairwell to Area 11 has a locked and stuck door of bronze-bound wood.

The Australopithecus is laying in one of the few high and dry spots in the chamber. She is badly hurt with only 1hp out of her 11 maximum remaining, Although the stench and spores do not affect her she has an infection on a wound inflicted by the slaughtering machines in area 3, and cannot walk unless she is healed, then taken to a sanitary location to have the infected tissue removed (A Wisdom check at -4). If they do not attend to her, she will die of sepsis in 1d3 turns.

If the PCs save the Australopithecus, she will try to help them. She does not speak Common, and understands only a little Salisstach; a comprehend languages or tongues spell will let her communicate. Here is what she knows:

  • On the far side of the factory is an entrance to a "world within walls of stone" that the Salisstach have "ruled for all time."
  • The Salisstach became ill and needed to sleep. They have slept long enough that their temples and cities have crumbled to dust.
  • The Salisstach froze the world within out of time, so that the Great Beasts they tamed and fed on - and their slaves, would be waiting when they woke.
  • Now that they are awake, the Salisstach have been making as much food as they can to feed their empire when it awakes. This place prepares and preserves the meat of the Great Beasts,
  • Several spies have passed through here into the world beyond the walls to learn about the new slaves they wish to take.
  • The humans here have been forced to work. A few were killed so the Salisstach could drink the language of the world without out of their brains.
  • Her own people have been waiting for this day, and are hidden. They know a way to escape to the World Without.
  • She also knows the layout of the factory and can draw a map.


An interesting NPC can be a powerful reward for the player characters. A well-written one can deeply enrich the campaign, even if they are in it only briefly. I try to include potential allies, contacts, or henchmen as reward in most of my adventures.

Re-using an NPC later gives your world a sense of reality that will build up player immersion.

NPCs don't even need to be elaborately scripted. Adding in a few points about what they want, don't want and three random attitudes can create a very memorable NPC.

I borrowed this format from The Dark of Hot Springs Island by The Swordfish Islands crew.

Keep Writing!

Your creative process will continue throughout adventure planning. The act of writing in all down in a format that fits your preferred game is going to help bring things into focus. Fleshing out Arla didn't happen until I started detailing her here.

If the PCs manage to restore her to health, The Australopithecus, name Arla, will be a loyal companion.

If the PCs are insane enough to root through the festering dino-meat and offal they can find some of the possessions taken from the human slaves, allowing them to discover a dagger, 29sp in a pouch, and a copper ring worth 3gp. They must then save vs.  Poison or become diseased: they can no longer naturally heal and are at -2 to all ability checks; every morning they may make a Save vs. Poison with a +3 if they have done nothing but rest the previous day, once they succeed three in a row these penalties disappear.


Armor Class: 8 [Ascending: 12]
Hit Dice: 3* (11 hp)
Move: 120' (40")
Attack: Sling
    ThAC0: 17  Base Attack: +3
Damage: 1d3
No. Appearing: 1
Save As: H3
Morale: 5
Treasure Type: special
Intelligence: 11
Alignment: Lawful
XP Value: 50

Monster Type: Humanoid

Arla is an Australopithecus adventurer. She is a small ape-like creature about the size of a halfling. Her race are highly resistant to disease and poison, she takes half damage from either. She has the following thief skills: Climb Walls87%, Move Silently 30%, Hide in Shadows 20%, Hear Noise 40%.

Terrain: Jungle

What Arla Wants

  • To escape from the Salisstach.
  • To find protectors for her fellow Australopithecines.
  • To please the spirits by showing gratitude to those who saved her.

What Arla Does Not Want

  • To serve the Salisstach ever again.
  • To let the slumbering Salisstach civilization to wake up again.
  • To let the "world within" and the "world without" collide.

What Else?

  • Arla's people have been preyed on by the Salisstach for aeons. She regards them like demons or evil gods. While she knows where Salisstach can be found, she avoids them.
  • She knows a great deal about prehistoric creatures.
  • She is terrified of magic.

Why Use Tools?

Tools like the Three T's require a lot more thought and design when building an encounter. Why use things like timers and complicated tactical situations at all? Why not make your Dungeons and Dragons game as straightforward as early modules like Temple of Elemental Evil?

In short, there is nothing wrong with keeping it as basic as you possibly can. It certainly will require a lot less tactical finagling than this ambush does... and a lot less writing.

This again comes down to your rationale. I want an adventure that feels memorable while actually being pretty short and sweet. That means that I don't have much room for run-of-the-mill encounters. I want each one to be a challenge and each one to pop.

While there are 13 rooms on my map here, at the end of the day, this is a also 5-Room Dungeon with one role-play, two combat, and one skill-based encounter. I don't have room for empty rooms and bland encounters. I need to crush my ideas into a tight space.

Timers, I think are the most essential tool. When adults play any TTRPG time is an absolute premium. We simply cannot afford to let encounters last for more than four or five rounds. To make sure that this happens, you need to turn the pressure up on the players.

Personally I put my doom tracker right up front. The PCs know just how much time they have before something bad happens that will make the encounter turn sour. It adds urgency... and it helps with immersion. No one wants a fight to be dragged out. And no one thinks about conserving their resources in a life or death situation. With a clear timer, your PCs and your players will feel the same way.

Using tools like Morale can help with this, but having a time limit, either hard or soft where the PCs know they have to finish things really helps keep the game rolling.

Also, as I am trying to be time-conscious, creating an encounter that does not build on a sense of dread, danger, and urgency, while also pushing the plot along in some format is a lot of wasted energy.

There are days when I just want to play Dungeon! but I never write an adventure I am going to share that way.

3. The Abattoir

This colossal chamber is filled halfway to the ceiling with articulated blades and claws made out of brass, bronze, and copper. Much of the machinery also appears to be made out of and sinew and fossilized wood. It reeks of blood and feces.

The catwalk above the chamber is made panels of petrified wood suspended by and found together by copper cables. The whole chamber, like the hallway before it, lit by blue-tinged flames spouting from bronze fixtures on the wall. The air in here is stiflingly wet and hot. The hiss of steam and jets of vapor rise from the machinery.

As the PCS enter from Area 1, a triceratops will have already been driven into the central part of the machinery. It will be butchered stripped, and separated with terrifying efficiency by articulated bladed limbs. Scales, skin, horn, and bone are fed into grinding machines. Meat is dropped onto conveyor belts. Organs are swept into various pits on the floor, and parts that are not useful are tossed into the garbage pit chute to Area 2 in the Southeastern corner of the room.

Anyone in the lower part of the room while the machines are  running must make a Save vs. Wand every round. On a failed saving throw they take 6d6 damage; they take half on a successful saving throw.

The team of five Salisstach managing the control center (Area 6) will notice PCs on the catwalk unless they are effectively hiding in shadows. If they are spotted, a Salisstach with a chemical mortar will fire corrosive projectiles at the support cables. They must hit an AC of 14 to damage them. Once it has hit three cables, the catwalk will begin to tip towards the machinery. In two rounds after that, everyone must Save versus Wands for be pitched into the machines. Climbing to the other end of the catwalk requires an action and a successful Dexterity check for every 20 ft moved. A thief may substitute their climb sheer surfaces ability.

The rest of the Salisstach will take cover behind the control panel and attack with spine muskets. Characters who fall asleep have to be hit by spine musket cannot succeed saving throws to avoid falling or taking damage from the machinery. While covering behind the control panel, the Salisstach have an Armor Class of 5.

If the PC come up through the garbage chute, they have 3d3 rounds to move through the lower part of the room and get out to the archway to Area 4. They have 2d3 rounds before a Salistach driving a drugged triceratops enters; the machines will start a round later as the drover leaves (see Area 4). The triceratops will not interact during the encounter. The Salisstach will run and raise the alarm in Area 7.

Chemical Mortar: This resinous device fires globes of alchemical preparations. It has a range of 40'/80'/120'. 1 in 6 Salisstach are proficient in it use. It weighs 75cn When found it will be discovered with a pouch of the following ammunition types:
  • Corrosive: Deals 1d6 damage to a living target, but corrodes metal, dealing 3d6 to metallic targets. If the target is wearing non-magical metal armour, the AC value of that armor is reduced by 1d6. When found, there will be 3d3 rounds of this ammo type.
  • Sleep Gas: Every living creature that can sleep within 15' of the target must make a Save vs. Poison or be knocked unconscious. When found there will be 1d3-1 of these.
  • Glue Bomb: When a creature is hit with this weapon, it must Save vs. Wands or be immobilized for one turn. Large creatures get a +4 to the save. When found, there will be 1d6 rounds of these.
  • Stench Bomb: creates the effect of a stinking cloud spell at the target. When found there will be 1d4-1 of these.
  • Light Bomb: This bomb covers an area with a 10' radius around the target with luminescent sludge, creating illumination like a bonfire. Creatures caught in the sludge shed light like like a torch after leaving the area, making stealth impossible. The effect lasts 24 hours, or until it is washed off. When found there will be 1d4-2 of these.
Salisstach (5): Atk: Cleaver (1d6) or Spine (1d3, save vs. poison or fall unconscious); ThAC0: 18 [+2] AC: 7 [12]; HD: 2* (9hp); MV: 120' (40'); SV: D2; ML: 7; Int: 11; AL: C; XP: 25

Empty Rooms

I am of a mixed mind when it comes to "empty rooms." These are rooms that serve a purpose without having an encounter in them. They are an opportunity to show and not tell the story of the dungeon, and in larger dungeons they offer a safe place to hide and rest for parties that have access to wizard lock and alarm, but I find that they are also a potential waste of space for uninterested players.

This is a matter of your rationale and your group dynamics. Players that want a story, or adventures where you are setting up something bigger benefit more from these than, say, one of my pamphlet dungeons.

This room is a junction where a potential wandering monster might be found, and a place where a dramatic decision might later have to be made, so I don't feel like I have wasted valuable space on the map.

I also tell my players a lot more about who the Salisstach are.

4. The Hallway

Two steep stone staircases meet in a long hallway here. It reeks of animal dung, and is lit by the same eerie blue flames that illuminate the rest of the structure. Here, reliefs of reptilian monstrosities herding gigantic scaly creatures and ruling over tiny ape men is depicted. The Air here is so warm that it is sweaty. The sounds of clattering machinery come from a side passage West of the stairs. A massive double doors at the far end of the structure is partially open, showing daylight beyond.

A Salisstach dino-herder might be encountered here leading a drugged Triceratops if the PCs managed to sneak through the lower abattoir floor before the machines started. Once the Triceratops is in the machines, he will move to Area 5. The Triceratops is drugged and cannot act unless it is given 24 hours to recuperate.

Salisstach: Atk: Cleaver (1d6) or Spine (1d3, save vs. poison or fall unconscious); ThAC0: 18 [+2] AC: 7 [12]; HD: 2* (9hp); MV: 120' (40'); SV: D2; ML: 7; Int: 11; AL: C; XP: 25

Triceratops: SZ: Large; Atk: 3 horns (1d8/2d8/2d8); ThAC0: 5 [+15]; AC: 4 [15]; HD: 20* [90hp]; MV: 90' (30'); SV: F10; ML: 10; Int 2; AL: N; XP: 4,175
Charge: On the first round of combat, or any round where the Triceratops has moved more than 60', it may deal double damage.
Note: As the Triceratops is not an active threat, I don't recommend awarding XP for him unless the PCs are very clever, like turning him on the Salisstach using neutralize poison.

Treasure Hoards

This is a pretty generous treasure hoard by design. I tend to tell heroic stories about desperate rescues and terrifying enemies. Dungeons and Dragons, however, is not necessarily about being a hero. It is a game about plundering ancient tombs for lost secrets to bring home to a struggling post-apocalyptic culture.

It is, as Luka Rejec has put it on my Twitter feed, a Burglary Simulator. Treasure ought to be well-considered and generous. I am often a skinflint.

But this is not to say they shouldn't be a bit of a monkey's paw. Much of the treasure here is heavy and unwieldly. PCs are going to need to be able to move fast at the end, too.

They are going to need to be very picky about what they keep and what they leave if they want to save the prisoners.

5. The Staff Quarters 

Beds made out of frames of bone and sinew with mattresses of piled hides ring an octagonal table made out of interlocking bony plates. Pottery bowls and two-bladed forked eating utensils sit in the hollowed out skull with a huge creature, now filled with water, is used as a wash basin. Shallow alcoves contain hanging cured meat, some of it shaped like tiny humanoids. Another contains what appears to be a latrine. This chamber has a distinct reptilian Stench - like an unwashed snake's terrarium. It overpowers even the smell of the uncooked meat.

This is the Salisstach living quarters. The staff spend most of their time resting here when not working or managing the dinosaur pens. if players do a thorough search the room, they will find several pockets in each bed containing:

  1. Several scrimshawed bone plates depicting their recent awakening (worth 350gp as a set, weighing 50cn) along with bronze carving tools to make them (20cn).
  2. A kit for doing alchemical work that is alien in design to what any character already versed in alchemy may be familiar with, but, easily adapted to (180cn). It contains samples of Sleestak venom enough to coat 3d4 weapons (5cn/dose), and four hand thrown poison gas grenades that cause any creature within 15 ft of the target to Save vs. Poison or fall asleep (10cn ea.).
  3. A collection of 4 rarefied fossils worth 100gp and weighing 3cn each.
  4. A suit of dinosaur hide armor, nearly completed. An armor-smith could easily finish this and fit it to a player character with a day of work and 10gp (AC 5 [+4], 200cn).
  5. 19 resin discs the size of dinner plates covered in writing. 12 comprise a mythic account of a mighty dinosaur hunter. Five comprise a poetic telling of the coming of the ice age and the duty of those suspended near the surface to wake and feed their brethren. Two are instruction manuals on the maintenance of the slaughtering machines (70gp and 10cn each).
  6. A trio of glass and resin hookahs filled with a euphoric drug. There's enough of the drug for 10 doses. It has little effect on non-sleeve stacks other than making them feel relaxed. The hookahs are covered in brass leaf Pteranodon imagery, and are worth 45gp and weigh 30cn each.
  7. A collection of exotic feathers and shells (30gp, 6cn).
  8. An alchemy kit (as 2) and three potions of giant growth

One of the nooks contains cleavers, butchering knives, and hooks for preparing meat. Resin discs depict the ways of preparing several breeds of dinosaur and Australopithecus (125gp, 50cn). 

6. The Control Room

A series of pipes, valves, and dials fill this room. The chamber is steamy, and hisses gently from hot pipes and spigots from which tiny brass bells and collection of feathers are hung. Shiny resin discs hang on hooks in several places, covered in writing. A large open window overlooks the abattoir. Several decayed raffia stools are arranged around the room.

This control room allows the Salisstach to adjust the abattoir machines for different prey, or to control the shutoff and cleaning systems. An operator's manual in the Salistach tongue can be found across 16 resin discs tucked into one of the stools (worth 1120gp, 160cn). Another bundle of five resin disks have detailed instructions for the control of the boiler (worth 350gp, 50cn).

The tiny bells and nozzles serve as warning systems for various pipes in lieu of pressure gauges.

The five Salisstach here are the same ones who will attack the PCs if they cross Area 3 without stealth.

Salisstach (5): Atk: Cleaver (1d6) or Spine (1d3, save vs. poison or fall unconscious); ThAC0: 18 [+2] AC: 7 [12]; HD: 2* (9hp); MV: 120' (40'); SV: D2; ML: 7; Int: 11; AL: C; XP: 25

Multi-Room Encounters

Generally speaking, I find it is very important to make sure a compact game of D&D doesn't feel too much like playing a game of Dungeon! or Hero Quest, as much as I love both of them.

In a realistic dungeon, some creatures might live most of their life in one room, but they are going to need to move around and act freely. I find encounters that span several rooms feel more "real" and keep a dungeon from feeling like a monstrous department store.

If you think in terms of encounters and then imagine those encounters being ambushes or running fights through a few rooms encounters make more sense, and you have more freedom in design.

Rooms 3,4,5, and 6 are really a single encounter with interconnecting rooms for a tactically complex environment. So are rooms 7,8,10,11, and 12. Building with Encounters before designing a map can really let you build up larger dungeons out of just a few encounters this way.

Working with a map first, on the other hand, lets your rationally think about a dungeon's structure and ecology before you even begin encounter design. There are trade-offs on how it will help your process. I recommend experimenting with both styles and see which one lets you be more productive.

7. The Office

This large chamber contains reliefs of numerous large reptilian beasts as well as portraits of the creatures controlling this facility and working laboratory equipment or mastering ape-man slaves. Bone and leather tables arranged around the chamber in several places. Gigantic flowers the size of halflings hang in several places; they overwhelmed the stench of gore and reptile with perfume. The room is almost as hot and wet as a sauna and the hiss of steam is strong from the far entrance.

There are four workstations in this office for different tasks, but they are all manned by a single High-Caste Salisstach. If the alarm has been raised by the guard in Area 1, or by loud fighting occurring in Areas 3 or 4 he will have overloaded the boilers, and will taunt the player characters that they and the prisoners might actually be palatable if boiled. He will also activate the Boiler if the PCs pass him on the way to Area 10, 11, or 12.

This High-Caste Salisstach wears is a ring of fire resistance, and will have drank a potion of water breathing hidden in one of the desks. He holds the keys to the chains for the prisoners in Areas 8 and 9, and the key to the cell door n Area 11 on his person.

Unless attacked, he will not fight the PCs as a group; He will taunt them, while keeping his distance as best he can. If he is attacked, he will use his poison spines and tentacle grenades to disable as many as he can, then leave them to be boiled. If PCs move through the chamber alone or a lone character tries tampering with the boiler he will try to disable them with a poison spine. Once the packing room (Area 8) is flooded will retreat there relying on his magic to keep him safe.

Once the Boiler begins to overload, Area 9. Will Flood in 1d6 rounds. Area 10. in 1d6 rounds after that. Area 11. in 2d4 rounds after that, and Area 12 in 1d4 rounds after that, then Area 8 and 7. Finally Area 4 and Area 3 will become obscured, and Area 2 Flooded (see the section on Escape, below.) Each round a creature spends in a flooded area, they take 2d6 damage as if from fire.

High-Caste Salisstach

Armor Class: 5 [Ascending: 14]
Hit Dice: 8*
Move: 120' (40")
Attack: Macahuitl or Venomous Dart
    ThAC0: 12  Base Attack: +8
Damage: 1d8 or 1d3
No. Appearing: 1-2 (1)
Save As: D6
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: special
Intelligence: 14
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 1,200

Monster Type: Humanoid

This High-Caste Salisstach serves as the manager and slave-driver of the facility. He carries a Macahuitl (a wooden sword embedded with obsidian razor blades) and wears a metallic harness that improves his armour class. He also possesses a ring of fire resistance and 5 Tentacle grenades.

Terrain: Cave or Jungle

Tentacle Grenade: This is an example of a the peak of Salisstach Biomancy. When thrown, this clay pot explodes open into a fast-growing life form that is little more than a hungry mass of rubbery, suckered tentacles. (AC 8, 18hp). Any creature within 10' of the point of impact must Save vs. Wands or be coiled in thrashing tentacles. If they fail the save, they are immobilized for 3 turns. Each round they may try to break free as Strength Check at -3, but will take 1d4 damage in doing so. After 3 turns the creature dies and liquefies.

Trust your DMs

I am offering a lot of options here. Possibly too many. A good Old-school DM can handle creative player solutions to problems.

By handling the obvious ones, however, I am trying to lighten the cognitive load.

Setting Up for the Future

I have an idea about using this adventure for a jumping-off point in a 7-part campaign arc. The lava tube tells us a lot about our villains and foreshadows many things about the environment.

Even if you don't know what you are planning, sowing the seeds of future adventures is always a good way to go when building a dungeon.

Even the act of asking yourself how you can set up the next adventure can help you fine-tune the process of writing this one.

8. The Boiler

If the boiler is overloaded, The boiler room is dangerously hot. Characters attempting to guess the machine's workings and vent it may do so with an intelligence check and then a strength check. Using some kind of lever can add a plus 3 to the Strength check. If they have found and translated the manual in Area 6, they may automatically succeed at both.

While character is in the overloading boiler room, they take 1d4 damage on the first round, 1d6 on the second, and 1d8 damage every round thereafter, as if being damaged by fire.

If a player character successfully vents the boiler add 2d6 to the current timer, and that character no longer takes damage while in the room until this additional time runs out.

9. The Lava Tubes

This room rattles, hisses, and grinds as several steam-powered pistons work pumps attached to a glowing hot pipe that a human could easily walk through, bending up to the dripping ceiling. The heat stings your eyes, and you can barely look long enough to notice a rivulet of lava leaking from the pipe and dropping onto a pile of jagged volcanic glass.

The pipe in this room pumps lava from the Salisstach lava-pump network to where it can heat the boiler. Sabotaging the lava pump will prevent the explosion in the Escape section.

The heat in this room is unbearable, however, and characters take 1d6 damage per round that they spend within 15' of the tube, and 1d8 damage if they touch it. Treat this damage as fire.

10. The Meat-Packing Line

A series of gory conveyor belts carry hunks of meat in jerking stop-and-start motions along a shelf in the wall. Sitting on stools made out of bony dinosaur crests, human prisoners chained together by the ankle - all men - are equipped to take turns cleaning, steaming, adding seasoning, carving fat with a tiny knife, oiling, wrapping, and wax-sealing the hunks of meat. They bare fresh bloody scars from the whip that hangs coiled on one wall. The heat in the room is unbearable, and aside from the blue flames, a dull red glow comes from the passage to your right.

Each prisoner is clasped in a manacle by their work station. If the PCs have the keys from the High-Caste Salisstach in Area 7, they can identify the correct key (an Intelligence check) with an action. After that, a character can be freed with an action. Smart players may wish to pass the keys back and forth... Allow a player to either throw or catch the keys as a part of their action. This should make freeing two prisoners a round with the keys possible. A thief using Open Locks can free a prisoner per round on a successful roll. Using a weapon a character may try to break the chains using a Strength -4 check. If they fail by more than 10, the weapon will be damaged.

11. The Store-room

This massive chamber is full of shelves of packed meat. A wheelbarrow of bone and hide sits overturned to one side. A slick of grease runs along the floor to a stairwell on the Eastern wall. Occasional puffs of a putrid stench and cool air erupt from that passage. In a nook in the wall there is a bronze barred door with a strange mechanical lock. Beyond it an old woman and several children huddle together.

The Salisstach keep prisoners that are not useful to them except as hostages in a converted high-security locker for storage. The door is locked, and strong enough that it applies a -1 penalty to attempts to force it open. The High-Caste Salisstach in Area 7 holds the key. Because of the alien design, picking the lock requires 1d4+1 rounds.

The old woman, Marga, can tell the PCs about the location of the other prisoners and that the passage on the East wall leads to the garbage pit (Area 2) but that the door is stuck and cannot easily be opened. She is feeble and can only move at a speed of 45' (15') unless carried, and weighs 920cn.

12. The Machine Room

This room reeks of grease, and is almost deafening with the sound made by boxes of grinding gears and steam pumps that work everywhere. Massive grinding cogs threaten to eat limbs of the unwary. Here a group of grimy and weary women are chained together by bronze loops on leather collars wrapped tightly around their throats. Their work has covered them in grease and soot. Their chain is battered from attempts to break it, and their skin bears marks from a whip hanging on the wall for it.

Five human female prisoners are kept here coffled by the necks together by a single chain and lock to a massive gear hub for the machines. They are responsible for greasing the parts with rendered dinosaur fat, patching hoses with tar, attending to fussy valves, and replacing wooden parts as they break. They know where the other prisoners are being kept.

A whip hangs on a hook by the door. There are an assortment of tools and several buckets of dinosaur oil which can be used to fill lanterns and flasks,

Breaking the chain that holds them together on the line requires a blow from a weapon using a Strength Check at -4. Only one attempt may be tried each round. A failure by 10 or more damages the weapon instead. Clever characters might feed the chain into turning gears while the women hold on to protect their necks. This automatically breaks the chain. Cutting the leather coffles from around their takes takes 2 rounds each. Picking the lock holding the chain in place requires ad4+1 rounds.


If the boiler is overloaded, the machines in the lower abattoir (Area 3) will go berserk, requiring saves every round to avoid being damaged. Because the room fills with obscuring steam, saves to avoid the blades are at -2. With the sound and steam it is possible for a character to get confused and move in the wrong direction. If they fail an intelligence test they lose the round moving in circles. Escaping by the garbage chute through the abattoir will take the PCs to Area 2.

When Area 12 floods, so will Area 2. After that, any creature wading through the boiling toxic sludge will take 2d6 damage per round from the heat until they reach the tunnel leading out.

Area 4 will be dark and filled with steam. Finding a way out up the stairs can be perilous, assuming there is still a catwalk to cross at all. The only light will be the open doors to Area 13.

13. The Dino-Pen

You first out of the gloom into the light from a clear sky. Massive scaly creatures wheel above on leather wings. Below you is a valley full of sprawling jungle vegetation. On the plateau on which you stand has a vast animal pen of colossal bone and spun metal wire. Several huge triceratops wander the pen. The doorway behind you, less eroded by time is a mirror of the one you first arrived by.

If the boilers have been overloaded, steam and the noise of groaning and warping pipes will rumble behind the PCs. 1d4+1 rounds after the PCs leave the door, the machinery within will explode. Any character within 15' of the rear exit of the dungeon must Save Vs. Wands or take 3d6 damage from steam, concussion, and shrapnel. Area 4 will be closed by a cave-in.

Triceratops (7): SZ: Large; Atk: 3 horns (1d8/2d8/2d8); ThAC0: 5 [+15]; AC: 4 [15]; HD: 20* [90hp]; MV: 90' (30'); SV: F10; ML: 10; Int 2; AL: N; XP: 4,175
Charge: On the first round of combat, or any round where the Triceratops has moved more than 60', it may deal double damage.

Whew! This one was huge. I do have a part 5 planned, where we talk about how to frame the adventure, sow intelligence about it, and hook the PCs into the adventure. Without these three things, you might as well not write your adventure, you are not going to be able to get players invested in it. I also do have a better map forthcoming.

UPDATE: Here is a rough map!

No comments:

Post a Comment