Monday, January 23, 2023

Live Adventure Design

 The Lair of the Echthroi

Lair of the Echthroi Map, made with Dungeon Alchemist and Adobe Photoshop ©2023 Brian Rideout

Today, I am going to prepare my Swords & Wizardry adventure notes for my game tonight here on the 'blog just for fun. I will update the blog with every substantive change in information. I will be commenting on my decision choices as I go, as well. I will be watching Twitter if you have comments as I go


The huge map above was created using Dungeon Alchemist. As I drew it, a lot of ideas came to mind... many of them based on  the random objects that the tool generated as I drew the rooms. I used some photoshop wizardry to give the map a "drawn" feel for fun.


This is for my Xen campaign setting, a Weird Fantasy game played in Swords & Wizardry every Monday night. Tonight is the one-year anniversary of the campaign, which I post an update on regularly here as "The Silver Gull Campaign." (First, and Latest here). Here's the latest campaign setting document.

In this case, my PCs are trying to hunt down a leader among the Echthroi, a race of hateful once-immortal faeries. When the elves first bought souls of their own (I will spare you too much of the lore dump) that are horrified by the existence of their own souls, and express their self-loathing through mortification of the flesh, cybernetics, and a religion bent on the slaughter of the gods and the annihiliation of the cycle of reincarnation. Like much of Xen, I borrow themes from Vajrayana Buddhism and twist them to give the setting flavor.

One of the PCs in my campaign is seeking to free the elf-queen-turned-goddess Irielle from an eternal prison. After doing a great service for the god of Artifice, Ophan, he rewarded her with ba clue. The Echthroi know who Irielle is, how she became a goddess, and what her true purpose is. He suggested capturing one of their Inquisitors to get the secret.

(In part Ophan did this because he things cybernetics are an abomination of his sphere.)

The PCs already have lead on a group of mysterious cultists who sound suspiciously like Echthroi from the recent gossip in town.

The Echthroi were the central villain in another Xen campaign I ran a year ago called Queen of Rains. They are pretty well developed bad guys.

Beginning With the End in Mind

I like to start adventure planning with the biggest moments  and most interesting outcomes in mind.

In this case, I want the PCs to be properly squicked out by the Echthroi so that I can use them in a recurring villain role, and maybe do some crossover between the party in the Queen of Rains and The Silver Gull. When I say "Cybenetics" with the Echthroi I mean the kind of bleak, grotesque bionics you saw in early Phyrexian designs from Magic: the gathering mixed with the creepy Self-Mutilation from the movie Return of the Living Dead 3, with a touch of Freddie Kruger.

I want them to have several memorable encounters with an Echthroi Inquisitor who toys with the PCs, Followed by defeating the creature, then having an interrogation with them that feels more like an interview between Clarise Starling and Hannibal Lecter than heroes demanding a ransom in knowledge.

I also wanted to have the PCs discover a tablet, tome, or other artifact with some kind of forbidden knowledge that even the Echthroi fear to expose themselves to that will create another hook... maybe one having to do with the Cold Hells, and a way to fight their demonic nemesis, Mirdon.

Deciding on Structure

The last handful of dungeons I have done have been huge, multi-floor ruins that take a month or more to clear. I want to change it up a bit. So, when I started drawing the map, I decided to keep it to a medium-sized dungeon. 10-13 rooms, and about 5-8 encounters. 

The map organically landed on about 12. if I can't make the PCs freaked out about the Echthroi in 12 rooms, I have done something very wrong.

Setting the Stage

The Echthroi were once immortal Sidhe. They long ago fled to a dark plane called Abysm (Xen does not use the standard cosmology), but invade both The Faerie World and the Material Plane from time to time. They generally establish an advance camp in The Faerie near a trod and use it for planar incursions.

A seasonal palace built partially into a bluff overlooking a lake lets me plan what is in the rooms with some nod to sanity. It is possible this place even belonged to the Inquisitor in a previous era: while they are mortal now, the Abysm has a very slow time flow.

As the PCs have spent most of the campaign in a desert, turinging it on its head and having the adventure occur in the decayed ruin of an elven palace on a lush lake in the middle of a Sylvan Forest will definitely tell them they are someplace else.

The PCs have been in a dungeon in the fey before. It involved a feeling of being upside-down and traversing through a body of water. So, I will make the entrance a pool of water in the middle of the dungeon: The PCs dive into an ancient well in the desert and surface in the middle of the Dungeon.

Room 1: The Surgery

Let's start by getting dark right away. The Echthroi , once they have reached adulthood are altered by surgery to fit their role in Echth society, They also kidnap elves, humans, and faerie and experiment on them. Whatever this room was before (maybe a banquet hall?), it is used for torturous experiments and surgery now.

There is a door out to a library that they have blocked off with cages, and another secret door on the East wall, but it is the other doors that will be obvious and easily accessible. Whatever artifact I put in the treasury, I want to make sure it is shunned by the Echthroi.

I want a moderately powerful Ecthroi here. The ones I have already statted are a bit squishy for this party. So I will make a new set of stats for a chirurgeon who is more powerful than an Echthroi Knight, but weaker than an inquisitor:

Echthroi Chirurgeon: AC 5; HD 8; Attacks: 3 Scissorhands (1d8); Move: 12"; Special: Pain, Sharpness; SV: 8; AL C; XP; CL/XP: 11/1,700

The chirurgeon is a spidery echthroi sporting multiple clockwork appendages ending in surgical tools. . If the chirurgeon hits a target with a roll 5 higher than what was needed to hit, that target must save or be stunned for 1d4 rounds as they are in pain. If the attack roll is a natural 19-20 the target must save or have a randomly determined limb severed from their body.

This room otherwise filled with a cloning vat of sorts for rejuvenating those who have survived surgery, cages and chains. I decided to give it treasure using the Swords & wizardry method, getting a result of 5,100gp. I decided to take a third of it for a single treasure. I also rolled 5 100gp treasure substitutions.

a book of disturbing designs and methods for cybernetics (700gp),  a silver lancet, 2 chips of lapis worth 5gp, an agate worth 32, and a gilded skull worth 130gp.

Room 2: The Dungeon

The Echthroi keep prisoners here and brainwash them using pointless torture and interrogations to collect meaningless confessions here. An elegant writing desk contains a book of recordings of the sessions in grisly detail.

A mad, severely traumatized Red Priest is kept in a cell. He is too broken at this time to be any use to the PCs.

The doors here are iron replacements for old wooden ones, making it clear that the torture and dungeon functions are not what the chamber was originally for.

The torturer is an elite version of an Echthroi Knight. I will give him maximum hit points, a couple of extra HD and a troll's regeneration to make him an actual threat.

Elite Echthroi Knight: AC 3; HD 5; Attacks: Chain (1d8); Move: 15"; Special: Pain, Regeneration; SV: 11; AL C; XP; CL/XP: 6/400

If the Knight hits a target with a roll 5 higher than what was needed to hit, that target must save or be stunned for 1d4 rounds as they are in pain. An Elite Echthroi knight regenerates, healing 3 hit points per round. The only way to kill it is to burn it or submerge it in acid.

I will also have a failed experiment in the iron maiden: a poor soul covered in cybernetics with the same regeneration power.

Abomination: AC 0; HD 9; Attacks: 2 claws (1d6) ; Move 6", Special: regeneration; SV 7; AL C; CL/XP: 10/1,400; 

Once a warrior of the Red Church, this poor wretch has been altered by the chirurgeon to be a regenerating, armor-plated war machine, and has been driven utterly insane. The Abomination regenerates, healing 3 hit points per round. The only way to kill it is to burn it or submerge it in acid.

The abomination cannot escape itself.; it has to be freed. The Elite Knight will free it on purpose if the battle is going against it.

Room 3: The Court

Once a grand hall of this palace, the Echthroi have turned it into a twisted courtroom, Stocks are placed next to a broken, cursed magical pillar of ancient elven  significance. (Maybe a depiction of Elric - the first mortal elf, defiled with the blood and misery of sacrifices. Those touching it are hit with a curse of unluck.

The Echthroi have defiled statues of ancient Sidhe lords and ladies here. They have erected a pulpit and a set of bleachers to hold bizarre mock trials of prisoners as part of their rites and ceremonies. A book of the deranged religion of the Echthroi sits in the pulpit (worth 1,400gp).

If the players are captured, they may face a mock trial by the Inquisitor here.

Room 4: Hallway

Nothing to see here.

Room 5: Squalid Suite

Once a lavish noble's bedroom, much of the furniture is collapsed and decayed. Some finery, like rich sheets have been added. Often in ugly, clashing colors. A wine rack is full of ancient faerie wines, although many have been recently been drained, and are stacked in the crumbling fireplace. A talking skull with the spirit of an ancient elven knight trapped within is kept on the bed.

Inquisitor: AC:1; HD 11; Attacks: 2 scything arms (2d4); Move 12"; Special: Magic; SV 5; AL: C; XP: 15/2,900

Dressed like a black-clad and masked jester, the Inquisitor has fewer and finder modifications than the others. She can cast spells as an 11th level magic user and has the following prepared:

1st: Charm Person, Sleep, Magic Missile x2
2nd: ESP, Mirror Image, Darkness, Invisibility
3rd: Dispel Magic, Haste, Hold Person, Slow
4th: Dimension Door, Fear, Wall of Ice
5th: Contact Other Plane, Hold Monster, Telekinesis

The skull serves as the Inquisitor's spellbook. if plied with wine it will mumble the formulae to any spell listed above.

A Quartet of Echthroi Moths serve as attendants, but will not leave this room unless bidden.

Echthroi Moths (4): AC 5; HD 1d6; Attacks: Dart (1d4); Move: 3" Fly 15"; SV 16; Special: Shirek; AL C; CL/XP: 30

The Moth is a tiny winged Echthroi that spits thorny darts. Once per day they are capable of emitting a scream that stuns any non-Echthroi within 20’ if they fail a save,

I will randomly generate a Type A AD&D treasure in Donjon for loot:

Treasure: 2 x Alexandrite (500 gp), Aquamarine (500 gp), Black Pearl (500 gp), Blue Sapphire (1000 gp), Chrysoberyl (100 gp), Citrine (50 gp), 2 x Deep Blue Spinel (500 gp), Freshwater Pearl (10 gp), Golden Pearl (100 gp), Hematite (10 gp),Moss Agate (10 gp), 2 x Obsidian (10 gp), 2 x Onyx (50 gp), Pink Pearl (100 gp), 2 x Rhodochrosite (10 gp), Rose Quartz (50 gp), 2 x Sardonyx (50 gp), Star Ruby (1000 gp), Tourmaline (100 gp), White Opal (1000 gp), White Pearl (100 gp), Zircon (50 gp), Gold earrings set with gems (3000 gp), Gold tiara set with gems (6000 gp), Ivory pendant (100 gp), Platinum crown set with gems (9000 gp), Silver brooch set with gems (6000 gp), Silver earrings set with gems (5000 gp), Silver necklace set with gems (3000 gp), Silver ring set with gems (2000 gp), Silver ring set with gems (3000 gp), Wrought Platinum brooch (2100 gp), Wrought gold earrings (1000 gp), Wrought gold earrings (1400 gp), Wrought gold ring (900 gp), Wrought silver and gold necklace (300 gp), Wrought silver and gold ring (800 gp), Wrought silver necklace (100 gp)

Room 6: Lavatory

The water in this font is of The Fae, drinking it will heal 1d4hp (once per drinker) but curse the PC to be unable to leave the Fae.

Room 7: The Dock

There is a 1 in 6 chance of some kind of water creature of the faerie stalking around here.

Room 8: The Kitchen

This room has a lot of moldy, poisonous food, along with a chest of edible rations kept by the Echthroi and fey mushrooms that, if eaten affect the eater as if they had been targeted by a Wand of Wonder.

Room 9: The Dormitory

The rest of this Echthroi Cult reside here. a mix of 3 Echthroi Knights and 7 Echthroi Skulkers.The ruined fireplace serves as a secret passage to room 11.

Echthroi Knights (3): AC 3; HD 3; Attacks: Chain (1d8); Move: 15"; Special: Pain; SV: 13; AL C; XP; CL/XP: 4/120

If the Knight hits a target with a roll 5 higher than what was needed to hit, that target must save or be stunned for 1d4 rounds as they are in pain

Echthroi Skulkers (7): AC 7; HD 1; Attacks:  Claw (1d6); Move: 12"; Special: Surprises on 1-3, Stitch; SV: 11; AL C; XP; CL/XP: 6/400

The Skulker is a shadowy being with a cloth-like body and scissor hands. If they deal 5 or 6 damage to a foe, that foe must Save or be immobilized as their limbs are cruelly stitched to their body.

These guys are just mooks that will surge over the PCs and make the encounter in room 1 or 3 much worse and tense for a few moments. 

Room 10: Library

This room is covered in webs. There are a number of valuable books (6,620) inculing the Book of Mithril (an item important to the campaign). The door to the vault (room 12) is locked, and trapped with a poison gas trap (save or die). A corpse here is the remains of an Elven Adventurer who fell afoul of the Feyspiders in room 11. He died reading a strange magical tome that , if read through casts plane shift on the reader. Sadly, he didn't read fast enough. Destination: Narcosa.

Because I love working some OSR wierdness in.

Room 11: Lower Tower

I figured that the family of the Lord of the House needed a protected bower, and so I created an elaborate room with multiple escape routes and a well. But I didn't want to fuss with too many upper floors. I left the stairs ruined and inaccessible. If the PCs get clever, i will make something up. Maybe a Sidhe family has been up there imprisoned for millennia... ones who remember the Inquisitor when she was an immortal...

I will look at Winter's Daughter for some inspiration.

This room is infested with magical feyspiders... a creature i invented for my Dungeon 23 campaign. I am going to make them a little tougher for my PCs, as they are up around 10th level these days,

Feyspiders (12): AC 3; HD 4; Atk: bite (1d6); SV: 12; Mov: 90' (30') climb 90' (30'); AL: C; CL/XP: 6/400; No Appearing; 3d6;

Feyspiders are drawn to places of magic where they feed on both mundane and magical prey. Zoogs and gremlins are favorite prey. Anyone bitten by a Feyspider gains one corruption and must succeed an Ego roll or be lost in a beautiful hallucination, happy, carefree and oblivious to pain; they are unable to act for a full watch. This bite could be addictive. A feyspider's bite causes euphoria for 2d3 hours unless it's target saves vs. Poison. While euphoric, they can do nothing but move and are always  surprised. Feyspiders are stealthy and surprise on a 1-4.

I am going to make an AD&D Treasure Type E in a box in the corner,

Treasure: gem worth 19 gp, Gem worth 72gp, 7,000ep

Room 12: The Vault

A statue of a demonic oracle, an alter lined with skulls, purple flaming braziers of ever-burning coal, black marble walls with mysterious inscriptions... I went all out in designing this room while playing with dungeon alchemist. I wanted this room to not only have a treasure, but a hook..

I originally considered making a tablet that had some sort of forbidden knowledge on it, but then thought better of it. My players have had enough of forbidden and mysterious books for now. I need something a little different.

Well I was looking for a tablet icon, I placed a crystal ball as a standing, with a scroll next to it and a pouch. I thought that whatever the orb was, the scroll would have rituals for its use, and the pouch the appropriate offerings.

That gave me a cool idea. What if this were some kind of cursed oracle? One that had things to say that could deliver hooks to my player characters.

I had considered a crystal hypnosis ball, but that is a little too standard issue. Instead, what if the demon depicted on the altar is in fact trapped inside the orb. With the right offerings are consciousness can be aroused, (while exposing the player characters to addictive narcotic fumes) and can be persuaded to answer from her own library of vast infernal knowledge. And to use the power to contact other plane once per day.... With the players sharing the penalty if she suffers from insanity.

Mind you, my players have already run a foul of one demonic oracle. And won't be fooled twice. So, I think I will make it very upfront about who and what it is. And, have it know something of their Nemesis, Mirdon.

They can take her help to get out from under that fiend, but only at the cost of getting entangled in fiendish politics and going on a chain of dangerous adventures. Perhaps into hell itself.

That allows this dungeon to give more than one PC a chance to start resolving in-game goals as a reward for extreme risk 

Final Thoughts 

This was an exercise in thinking out loud. I wanted to see if I could gather some engagement. I expect that I p might have done better and explaining in my thought process, but I am satisfied with the dungeon I have created for tonight's session  I might tone it down a bit, and create a module for a lower level group of players.

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