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Archive for April, 2010

The PCs are level 4 now, and they came to the table with new higher ability scores and fitted out with new feats. I seem to remember level 4 being a blah level in previous editions, and now it was definitely improved by the ability increases, which helped many characters get an extra + here or there. And the level 4 feat is often the first time a character can branch out from the “must haves” of the beginning levels, and by 4th are beginning to really become unique in their own ways. It was interesting to see the choices our party made in the feat selections.

One of the more interesting feat choices was made by the Seeker, who multi-classed into Spirit Talker, and gained the Shaman’s Spirit Companion. This elf, Poppy, is from a small elven community steeped in fey magic, and she wants Poppy to be as mystical and magical as possible. Between her new spirit companion and her magic items, which include a Cape of the Mountebank and Hedge Wizard gloves, she is now wielding some wicked whimsy. Another good choice of feats was for the druid, who between pouncing into the middle of melee and then wanting to blow the place up with flame seed, she needs some protection from Opportunity attacks, which she received through a feat that gives her +4 to AC versus opportunity attacks. Now she can leap into combat and toss her flame seeds with the best of them. Like Johnny Appleseed she is Felipe Flame-seed: tearing it up and burning it down. The other PCs took feats that enhanced their current abilities in various ways. For a moment, Thokk the half-orc barbarian considered taking Battlemind multi-class, which provokes a hilarious image of the brute pausing in the middle of his crimson carnage to put a finger to his brow and unleash a mental blast. Thankfully, he chose a combat feat instead.

So the characters were pimped up and ready to go. However, there was one catch. Technically they should not have been able to level at all, since they were in the middle of an encounter, but I didn’t want to pause them game to level after the encounter, nor did I want to make them wait a whole week before finally attaining 4th level. Last week they were ambushed by the Shadow Panther Lady as this encounter was starting, just as the skeletal trap was sprung. However, as the Shadowfell descended over the scene, the skeletal legion encounter was stopped, as time was affected, and the Panther Lady unleashed her attack. Defeated, the shadowfell departed, restoring the party to the beginning of the encounter with the Skeletons at last, bloodied and winded with no time for a rest between combats. So it was ruled that they could level up, but they would still be down any HPs and powers that they had expended in the last encounter, which was most dailies. They did, however, all get an action point out of the deal, and the combat wasnt too brutal. Ok maybe it was.

The party were cowering at the far end of the hallway when the encounter began so long ago, but there was much movement during the battle of the Shadow Panther Lady, so that when the veil was lifted and they stood once again with the skeletal legion, their placement was changed to reflect any movement during the previous encounter. This placed most of the PCs at the far end of the chamber, except for the druid and the seeker who were caught amongst the many minions. The battle was made up of 8 skeletal minions, with 8 more appearing each round from the sarcophagi, 2 skeletal warriors, and at the end of the hall in front of the double doors to Keegan’s chamber, an enormous bonecrusher skeleton wielding a great club made from the thigh-bone of an even greater skeleton. A total of 24 minions eventually joined the combat before the trap was circumvented, making the encounter worth 1200 exp, a level 6 encounter. For a group of 4 PCs (the genasi barbarian was on a hot date) of 4th level with a 3rd level companion character; also the 4th encounter since an extended rest, this seemed about right. The battle was tense, but not agonizing. A few PCs were bloodied, and needed to have some emergency first aid, but no one dropped.

And so the fight began, ad the bones started flying fast. The druid was taking out minions as fast as they came, while Poppy and Tara concentrated on the Skeletal warriors and Thokk, never quailing from engaging the biggest foe on the field, stepped up to the bonecrusher. By round 3, Felipe, Tara and Thokk were in need of healing, and Stella Luna rushed forward to provide it. Felipe was holding off the minions, and even had an incredible ability that did auto-damage when he was hit by a melee attack. This resulted in many minions rushing forward only to explode against him. Luckily, they got their 4 points of damage in before being destroyed, so Felipe was steadily going down in HPs. Actually so many skeletons missed against Felipe, my dice we behaving very badly.

One of the skeletal warriors found an opening and charged Poppy, but rolling a natural 1, fell prone at her feet. (I should write an article on our groups evolving usage of critcal hits (natural 20s) and penalty rolls or critical fumbles (nat. 1s) Anyhow, it was soon her turn to retaliate, and she wanted to nail his skull to the ground with an arrow. This led to all kinds of controversy as we sussed out the prone rules, the opportunity rules, and the shifting rules. Finally it boiled down to Poppy accepting the opportunity attack from the prone skeleton he swept his longsword at her ankles, then she nailed his head to the floor.

By round 4, Tara, Stella, and Poppy were all behind one of the alters to Bahamut while Thokk held off the bonecrusher, and Felipe could be heard laughing maniacally behind a curtain of flames and bursting bones. Then Stella Luna was able to read the prayer on the alter due to a great religion check, even though she (nor anyone else in the party) knew draconic. The 10 sarcophagi had been described as having a green, necrotic glow surrounding the armored corpse within, and a new skeletal warrior stepped out of that corpse at the end of their turn. Once the prayer was read, the glow faded and no more minions emerged. The crisis had past, and the reaving was soon done. The dusty, empty chamber of a few moments before was now hip deep in the shards of broken bone fragments.

They immediately collapsed into exhaustion an began a short rest. In the middle of that rest, they heard a commotion from the hallways through which they had passed earlier. Thokk wet to investigate and saw a large number of hobgoblins pass by, heading upwards and outwards. The PCs remained unnoticed.

When they awoke, they entered into Sir Keegans chamber. Each PC had a coffee in one hand, and their weapon in the other. The scent of a bacon and egg breakfast wafted through the dank burial chamber, and a refreshed party met with Keegan and parleyed for a bit. So began a skill challenge to convince Sir Keegan that they were not tomb robbers and that they were sincere in wanting to close the rift. he was convinced of their sincerity, and called on the barbarian to show him an example of his battle-prowess. Impressed by a high athletics check (and the final skill check of the challenge) Sir Keegan bestowed his longsword, Aecris, upon the half orc, hilt first. When Thokk grabbed it, somewhat underwhelmed at the puniness of the blade, he was surprised to see it transform into a great axe. Then Sir Keegan told his story, and answered a few questions, though he had no idea who was in the dungeon, having just awoken. When asked where the shadow rift lay, he replied at the deepest level of the dungeon.

They vowed to do all they could and proceeded to delve deeper into the dungeon. The guardroom at the base of the stairs leading into the 2nd level was abandoned. Using dungeoneering the party was able to navigate quickly to the room with the titan statue in it. The door slammed shut, trapping Thokk and Tara on the inside of the room as the titan groaned into animation and it was 10 o’clock, another session ended, this one on a real cliff-hanger.

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A level 6 (1,275 exp) Difficult Encounter

This encounter was conceived to be the culmination of the mini-quest for the druid’s complete set of Skin of the Panther. The encounter is designed for a party of 5 3rd level characters, one of whom should be a druid seeking the Skin of the Panther, obviously. In this case, our druid had 2 of the pieces out of 5, and she received the last 3 items at the end. Only needing 1 or 2 items would be preferred, but this encounter brought our party up to 4th level, and we are only half-way through Keep on the Shadowfell. It also might be noted that the encounter is easily modified to support any other reward or reason. I wanted particularly to focus on the completion of an item set as the crowning goal of the encounter. There is a clear focus on shadow magic for this encounter, so that should be considered when altering any element. Retaining as much of the shadowy feel, with a leaning towards other-worldly and preternatural tendrils and dark vegetation. Druids of the night, of mushrooms, fireflies, and other darker things.

To give a brief summary of where this encounter occurred in my campaign, in order to show its versatility, in Keep on the Shadowfell the party is at the chamber of skeletons outside Sir Keegan’s tomb, known as the Skeletal Legion. The beauty of this encounter, however, is that it can be literally used anywhere. In our case, the encounter was begun at the exact start of a completely different encounter, that with the Skeletal Legion. The theory here is that the shadow panther lady is a master of moving between the shadowfell and the world. She is also able to lay inter-dimensional traps, and this she did here in order to reclaim the 2 items our druid had. The region was described as the boundary between the planes was “thin” and the shadow panther lady could exploit this.

Diabolical DMs could also choose to have this encounter occur immediately after another encounter, to add further risk, as PCs have not had time to regain encounter powers before being ambushed. One should be careful before taking this route, as a player frustrated by lack of options is seldom happy, especially during a focused set-piece encounter of this nature. If taking this route, the same basic idea should prevail: have the intro combat be light and under-level, so that wise PCs will be able to save their encounter and daily powers, and may even come out ahead in action points

This method of ambushing the PC’s also allows the least deviation from the current course of a campaign, which was one of my design goals. Too many times the party has been pulled away from completing this adventure (thus being level 4 halfway through an adventure for 1st -3rd level PC’s.). The design had many drafts before I settled on the time-stopping veil of the shadowfell falling across the scene, but it worked perfectly. We are in a high fantasy setting, and 2 weeks ago had seen them in a leprechaun’s grove, so this was fitting. It might be too much for some campaign settings, but it could equally be placed as a permanent region where the panther’s hunting ground is closely linked to the shadowfell.

The veil dropped across the skeleton attack, and suddenly the party finds itself in what I described as an “underground garden grotto” there is lots of running water, cavern walls, anf fungi, mushrooms, and vines. In the water were silvery grass-like fronds that swayed in the current. At the far end of the chamber, really in a second chamber altogether connected by a watery passage, the Panther Lady stands on a 10 ft tall dais, next to a statue.

In a small pool at the south end of the map (also the PC start area) a vicejaw crocodile awaits (mm pg 45). Besides the croc, the Panther lady is the main foe of this encounter, and she is a 3rd level solo foe. She summons starved dog minions to add enemies to the table as a minor action. She is based loosely off the legend of the Skin of the Panther. This particular set is the focal point of a long line of druids in the region, and it allows for a druid to gain both the set, and the possibility of enrolling in that long line of druids by burying the bones of the Panther Lady in the ancestral mound of the Panther Druid Circle. She hurls insults, shadow bolts and starved dogs at her foes before switching to melee mode when the PCs begin to mount the dais. Upon being injured, she will teleport 3 squares away from the PCs to land behind the dais and hopefully out of the line of sight of the PCs.

Meanwhile, the room itself is adversarial due to the hazards and traps. the first of these are the silvery tendrils that are located in every water square on the map. These tendrils are dangerous hazards that slow and damage opponents. The hazard attacks at the beginning of the round as a immediate interrupt for any enemy who begins its tur in a water square. The dais was surrounded with water, and the passage connecting the entry chamber to the main hall is also filled with water. PCs should find it difficult to maneuver without suffering the hazards of the silvery tendrils.

And finally, the statue next to the Panther Lady holds in its outstretched arms a Shadow Mote. This trap would send bursts of shadow energy at any enemy that got too close, and can only be disabled by a skill challenge or physical damage. The Panther Lady will try to stay within range of this statue, or to lure the PCs within range. Of particular note is the blindness that this trap can cause in addition to damage. This is a very deadly encounter, especially for those who reach the top of the dais.

The dais itself should present something of a challenge. Climbing or leaping to the top of the 10 ft dais is a DC 20 athletics or acrobatics check, respectively. The silvery fronds ca also prevent easy access. The other option is the ladder on the eastern side of the dais. It can be climbed as a move action. The only other feature of the grotto is the trench at the southern end of the connecting hallway. This is a 5 foot wide, 10 foot deep gorge DC 5 athletics check to succesfully jump. Failure results in 1d10 damage and an immediate end the the PC’s turn, as well as a move action to cliumb out.

Special Note: I used the platform in the new Dungeon Tiles Harrowing Halls set, to give the element of 3d to the encounter. Having the dais stand out from the water helped give a sense of the difficulty of reaching the top.

In a typical battle the Panther Lady will stand on the dais for as long as possible, before teleoprting behind it. She should then make her way towards the Northwest corner of the map. She will attempt to be in the water before hittig her bloodied value and appearing to perish. Re-incarnated as an umbral panther on its next initiative count, it will begin its turn insubstantial and attempt to wreak as much damage as possible, focusing on the druid if it can. When it is finally slain, the bones of the panther lady will appear, and her voice will echo “Thou hast bested me, mortal! Place my bones in the Circle of the Shadow Panther for even greater reward.” his could be a tie in for future adventure, or the option of granting the druid PC in your campaign access to an organization. The Circle of the Shadow Panther could be one such organization, possibly of neutral alignment, intent on balancing the natural world with equal amounts of fey and fell influence.

The treasure will be the missing pieces) of the Skin of the Shadow Panther, lying across the bones. Some players may feel left out that the encounte is for the druid alone. you should remind them that they also benefit from the experience-rich envirnment, and if that is not enough, then perhaps they can remind the druid of the favors owed at a future time…

Special note: This encounter was designed using the incredible Masterplan Utility which deserves its own review soon, and the map image is taken from that program, using version 8.5. This program allows Dms to build encounters and adventures, including dungeon tile maps and imported elements from Adventure tools, Character Builder, and Compendium. And that is just the beginning of what this tool can do.

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In what looked like the busiest night so far, I DM’ed for 1 of 5 massive tables playing session 4 of Encounters on Wednesday night. I always like to shout out to the great people of Game Cafe who make this all possible. It is their enthusiasm and hard work that makes these events possible. That and the brilliance of Wizards for coming up with the idea. I just can’t gush enough, but enough of that, it is blood the public calls for.

The place was packed. I estimate at least 40 people were there playing in our cellar beneath the store. There is something unique about playing games in such a small packed environment. In some ways, it is like indoor playground at Kindergarten. Im sorry, was the table next to us just completing a skill challenge through a game of 4-square? Maybe not, but I know I saw some jacks being tossed pokemon cards. With 40 people and 5 tables, I was able to add one more player to our party, Richard who played a female drow assasin. On the other hand, our divine striker was absent so it was a wash numerically.

One more thing I noticed was a huge influx of teens and pre-teens, which I’m sure must be good news for Wizards. My intuition tells me that this program is set up to bring in new and lapsed players. Well, my table of 7+ is made up almost entirely of new or returning players. In fact, the blend of old-school knowledge like Ron and Steve possess, coupled with the varying past experiences of those like Roy, Dave,Eddie and Richard, and with the enthusiasm of Dana and Jenna, a perfect blend of players is achieved. It is a party of adventurers destined for greatness…

Previously, in Undermountain, our part had just discovered the door to Halaster’s Lost Apprentice’s private chambers. They had easily defeated the magical wards which had protected the door from discovery and disturbance, when a dark shadow emerged from the depths of the stairwell revealed. The encouter opened with the shadow materializing into a strange and tiny little creature of obscure origin. An Arcana check by the sorceress revealed it was a demon, which the religious check by the ardent (if i remember) correctly identified the creepy litle creature to be an imp, a minor devil. The imp surveyed the party with arms crossed, doubting that they served the master. He requesed that they explain what they are doing disturbing this set of chambers. The Halfling sorceress was ready to bluff, and convinced the imp they worked for He-who-shall-not-be-named, the apprentice of Halaster. The fact that neither the party, nor the imp (who referred to the apprentice as That Thing) referred to the apprentice by name, and thus, the bluff worked.

Next, the ardent again stepped up to use diplomacy, and successfully calmed the imp down, who was gettinng restless, and the sword-mage stepped up to discuss things of an arcane nature. Finally, the skill challenge ended with the halfling, with lightning in her eyes, cowed the imp into relenting. It was aroud this time that I allowed a perception check – anyone over 20 felt a distant or small rumbling, almost a seismic event. Too small tfor most to even notice. As this skill challenge was happening Richard the drow assassin joined us. I was laying out the map, the same one we used from last week. As I placed the various mini’s, I was explaining that, other then the imp (see image) the rest of the mini’s I placed represented statues, and not to worry, I was just placing them around the edges to keep the map down. (I wonder if anyone actually fell for that ridiculuous excuse? ha ha)

Next followed a sequence of questions by the PCs about what might lie beyond the door, but they didn’t get very far before he imp grew tired of their line of questioning. When asked what powers he possessed, he mildly replied “Here allow me to demonstrate” and the winked out of existence. Initiative was rolled.

We are continuing to use Steve’s method o initiative, which is to have everyone write their name and initiative roll on a note card, and then Steve orders them and we flip through the lineup. I write cards for the monsters too, it works great, and I am even considering having my other group try it out, which is both happy and sad, havig just made this excellent magnetic white-board initiative tracker. It is the mysterious power of note cards I guess. I also like how he lays them out so that we can all see who’s up and who’s next on deck, but what I love most is that he takes care of it so I don’t have to!

And so, a he rumbling intensified so that all could feel it, the statues sprung to animated life: one iron hound, and 4 small stone warriors, with spiked fists. They did sort of a double pow-pow move when they attacked. But it was the iron defender who went first, ad he leapt to the nearest enemy, who this time, and always is that earth-shockin’ genasi sword-mage. He is ever leading the fray, and is a constant target of their enemies ire. His 19 AC does him well, but he has fallen in combat and used up all but 1 o his healing surges. It will be a tough fight for our valiant sword-mage, but he never shirked his duty, and even though he was reduced to 2 or fewer HP’s more than once in this battle, he never fell. He did however have to threaten the dragonborne with violence to keep him from spraying his dragonbreath (1d6+2) all over Hax and his 2 HP. He deserves a medal of honor, and a retro-active moment of greatness at the least. MVP of session 4 goes to Hax the Genasi Swordmage. For withstanding the front line rigours, the sword mage and the half-elf battlemind forever contended side by side. The battlemind found himself surrounded by his enemies and unable to move for much of the battle. he hacked and fought and finally slew one allowing him to shift into a more advantageous position.

There were many contenders for the MVP title though, including our Ardent, who was forced into mortal combat again. But this time he would not miss, and finally hitting for the first time this season, he would in fact go on to destroy one of his enemies, the imp itself I believe, correct me if I’m wrong. He earned his moment of greatness. Another moment was earned (though not given, due to his having already received it.) The assassin, first wounded by the defenders, was knocked to zero by the rock slide. Amazingly, he rolled a natural 20 and was able to miss only a single turn of combat before regaining his feet. The area of combat was very confined, and many people had to suffer more than one round of falling rocks (in a 3 burst) simply because there was nowhere to go.

The imp was quickly killed. Though I had him begin the encounter invisible (his turning invisible is what initiated the roll for combat) he was never able to turn invisible again. He died on the second round of combat, the victim of focus fire by a party working together. The rogue had a tough time of it, being attacked nearly every round, and unable to position without giving up a flanking maneuver or acceping an oportunity attack. It was tough ad he suffered some damage, but survived while still inflicting great amounts of damage. The sorceress stood back and electrocuted her enemies while laughin in the face of the falling rocks. having rolled a natural 1 on her to-hit, I ruled that she escaped even the half-damage. Maybe its too old-school, I think not. next round she took damage from the rocks, and quickly found a new place from which to launch her lighnting bolts. It was also interesting to watch the assasin played by Richard who knew the class well, who used shrouds to good affect as well as his amazing melee reach of 3. The shadow-step is an excellent move, which he described well, by saying that he darted from shadow to shadow until finally stepping out of the enemy’s shadow to attack.

Many, or possibly all action points were spent, as well as any remaining dailies and at least on PC’s healing surges were ALL used up. In fact a funny moment ensued when the sword-mage, having suffered a brutal round of combat ended his turn with 2 hit point and no healing surges left. He still had his minor action, and so tried to hand off his healing potion to the assassin, who had 16 HP at the time. The dragonborn ranger was deadly with his arrows. He did not get to spray his enemies with his acidic spittle as he’d hoped, but he dropped at least one of the enemy with those arrows. Oh how twin strike must be the bane of all DMs, I know it is a constant thorn in my side, but the rangers sure love it. Some with swords, or even axes, other with the bow, twin strike: the strike by which all striker powers are measured.

When the imp was down, the iron defender and 2 stone defenders quickly followed. This left 2 stone defender left, who were each practically unharmed. At this point I had an evil glint in my eye, and a cruel smile crossed my face. Each of those defenders attacked the genasi who had managed to scrape a few temporary HP together thanks to the healing efforts of the ardent, who had swept away the cobwebs of missed attacks, and went on to score hit after hit. But the sword mage was hit once and missed and came a second time too close to zero HP.

But a string of great hits followed, averaging nearly 20 damage a hit, and the party stood victorious over the defeated foe. At this time I casually mentioned that the ceiling was collapsing, and everyone was going to take damage. They bolted for the stairwell, looting corpses along the way. As the chamber collapsed above them, so they collapsed on the stairs into an extended rest. They needed it. They earned it.

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So, for awhile now I have had a growing desire to create a ‘mega-dungeon’ for my 4e game. In all my years of gaming, the Temple of Elemental Evil is about the closest I have come to using a mega-dungeon. There have been extended romps into the underdark, and some truly horrendous multi-level dungeons in my gaming past, but nothing so epic and iconic as the mega dungeon. The time has come to see what I can do with this classic trope of the genre. This post begins a series of dialogues on the Design, Construction and Maintenance of a mega-dungeon, or focused campaign adventure site.

In addition to discussing the finer points of mega-dungeon creation, I will build a mega-dungeon from the ground up using the tools and tips in these articles. In the end, I hope to have a cohesive manual that offers a step by step guide to creating and running a mega-dungeon, complete with at least one fully playable campaign site detailed and ready to use, the Titan’s Fang.

It is worth mentioning that this series of articles will be written expressly for the 4th Edition of the world’s most popular role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. (In fact, my blog is specifically geared to 4th Edition.) Though I hearken back to ye olden days of little brown books, it is the current version of the game that has captured my attention and imagination like never before. Of course some of the information should be compatible for about any role playing system, but my focus on 4th Edition allows me to bring in specific and unique rules systems such as Skill Challenges and healing surges. And finally, since I am playing and loving 4th Edition, it seemed natural. (There is another reason for this, and that is the popular notion that somehow 4th Edition is unable to handle the exploration and challenges of an old-school mega-dungeon. I find this to be hooey, as I shall soon prove.)

First, off, let’s define mega-dungeon. We can look to some famous sites from the game’s roots to see a few examples: There is Castle Zagyg, the massive dungeon near Greyhawk City in D&D’s seminal campaign created and run by its co-creator, E. Gary Gygax, as well as fellow creator Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor. In addition, as the game matured Forgotten Realms campaign setting came about which boasts its own mega-dungeon in the form of Undermountain. A favorite of mine during the 3e heyday of third party publishers was Rappan Athuk by Necromancer games, and Castle Whiterock by Goodman Games. (Sadly I was never able to participate in either of these mega-dungeons, though not for a lack of want.) There are many more where these came from – some better, some lesser known. A mega dungeon is a campaign focal point. It is a site for adventure and treasure that is seemingly limitless, that is near-at-hand, and is changeable enough that it is a new experience each time a party enters it, but at the same time is stable enough that players generally know what to expect when heading that way. A mega dungeon doesn’t have to be the sole focus of a campaign, it can be a location the party returns to on occasion throughout the life of the campaign, or it might just be a major part of a single tier of play.

Here are a few necessities that come to mind when I think of a mega-dungeon.

1. It should have a lot of levels, sub-levels, secret levels, and maybe some more levels.
2. The levels should become progressively more difficult as one progresses downwards. For example, in a 30 level dungeon, each level might correspond to the character level of an average party.
3. it should be a crazy mash-up of monsters, traps, obstacles, NPC’s and other weird occurrences.
4. Each level, or section should have its own theme. The themes can be as vague as “Orc territory” or “underground mushroom forest.” They can also be specific, such as “This level is made from special rock which makes teleporting unstable.”
5. There should be a focus on exploration and discovery. There should be mysteries, some solvable, some not.
6. The dungeon itself should be adversarial. It should be difficult to map, it should have many dangers, and they should be concealed to surprise the unwary.
7. There should be wandering monsters, and they should harass and harry incautious adventurers.

The above list seems to be nearly universal to the mega-dungeons I have seen. These are the standards that separate a massive mega-dungeon from the lesser dungeons sprinkled liberally across the land. Hopefully I am not leaving anything out. Here is another list of my personal ‘must haves’ in a mega dungeon.

1. It must have an awesome back-story, explaining why it exists.
2. It must have a wide variety of monsters, yet should have at least a thin veneer of verisimilitude.
3. It should tie in with the campaign world, and not feel like it is ‘floating in space.’
4. It should have a nearby locale or locales that allow the characters time to retreat, train, spend their looted winnings, and even have side adventures. In ancient days of yore, the nearness of Greyhawk city to the Greyhawk dungeons is a prime example.
5. The dungeon should be dynamic, and should surprise the characters in unexpected ways. Re-stocking is one way, shifting walls is another.
6. Rumor tables! There should be rumor tables, possibly for each level. This gives the characters some focus for their greed, lust, fear, and anticipation. Don’t forget false rumors! Some should lead the feckless astray.
7. Politics – Links to the world above, cults of Orcus, the mayor is really an evil liche, whatever they are, add to the fun of the game.

So these are the elements I think a mega dungeon should have. All of them are ways in which the mega dungeon comes alive, and fits in with its surroundings. The first list of requirements sets the foundations for the mega-dungeon. By following these guidelines, the mega dungeon will have the basic necessities. But it is this second list that will give your mega dungeon life, and will turn it from another set of drafty hallways into a fitting campaign locale. In my next installment, I will go into the details of each of these points, and afterwards, I will unveil my mega-dungeon concept and how I used the guideleines to create a fantastic site for my own campaign world, D’ Erte.

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Two things made this game night special: the first was that it was Shannon’s birthday, since her birthday was the day before, April 1st. The second was that it was the April Fool’s session. It might be interesting to know about me that I have never been that big of a fan of April Fool’s Day, which is completely strange considering my penchant for being the cut-up. I can back up my claim to foolishness by adding that I am a cards-carrying member of BOTH the Funny-walkers Club and the People-Who-Like-Things-That-Are-Funny Club. I know funny (we are passing acquaintances, sharing more embarrassing silences than laughs) and knowing funny offers the clue to my general dislike of April Fools Day. It is that so few pranks are actually funny in the slightest. Let’s work on it people, now onto the business.

So we are i the middle of Keep on the Shadowfell, almost literally. The characters have cleared out the first level of the dungeon, and have gone down the stairs and slew the zombies that guarded the lower levels. This left them with two choices: to continue going down to the next level by taking the southern stairs, or by detouring to the east to what looked to be burial chambers. The party decided to explore the burial chamber.

They entered a long hall with 5 sarcophagi on either side of the chamber. At the far end, a glow could be seen as well as 2 alters and a set of double doors beyond that. The characters could even here some scrabbling and scratching (which I described as sounding like skeletal fingertips scratching the insides of stone coffins) coming from the sarcophagi. The ranger sent his two lion cubs, Glimmer and Glamour, ahead to scout the chamber and trip any traps that might be there. They did their job admirably, and after Glamour crossed an invisible line past the third row of sarcophagi, the doors of all of them began to swing open and skeletal warriors began to step out.

But at that exact moment, a strange thing occurred: as the skeletal warriors took their first steps out of the sarcophagi that held them, time seemed to slow down, and a shadow seemed to slowly cover everything like a silk shroud. As the shadows darkened the scene, time stopped completely and in that instant, the party found that they were in two places at once. They still stood in the chamber of skeletons, now motionless in mid-attack, but super-imposed over that, they found themselves in the Garden Grotto of the Shadow Panther. A thunderous voice echoed from the far end of the chamber “Who dares to wear the sacred vestments of the shadow panther?!”

I used the map from the PHB3 Game Day adventure, which by a strange coincidence was almost exactly the same map I had built free-hand out of dungeon tiles. When the burial chamber encounter began, I had laid out dungeon tiles to represent the area, and the characters remained back in one corner (cowering with their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouths) while the lions scouted. So when I super-imposed the grotto over the tiles, I had the PC’s keep the corresponding locations. This led to the characters being at the far end of the map, unable to clearly see the The Panther Lady. I ruled that the ranger could see through his cubs eyes which were noticeably closer to the enemy, for which I could tell made Tim happy. This also became important later on, as he spent much of the battle blinded by the shadow mote.

The chamber was a sort of underground garden. There was lots of water that had flowing silvery tendrils, as well as fungus and other stuff growing throughout. There were silvery tendrils in the water (that could tell friend from foe) that could slow and damage. These attacked anyone who began their turn in a water tile. The nearest pool had a vicejaw crocodile in it, which the half-orc barbarian Thokk single-handedly defeated. The rest of the party moved forwards towards the panther lady. She stood on a raised dais 10 ft off the ground, surrounded by water. Next to her was a statue who held in its hands above its head a ball of flickering shadow. The only way up to her was by leaping and pulling oneself up (move action with an athletics check) or by climbing the ladder on one side.

The ranger charged forward with his lions in the lead, followed by Cordelia the genasi barbarian. The druid Felipe was also leading the charge toward her sudden nemesis. She wore the skin of the panther and the panther totem as well. Staying back, Poppy continued to pepper the Panther Lady and the statue of flickering shadow during the beginning and middle of the fight. Her companion Stella also held back until she was needed.

Then the panther lady acted, and she howled, and the sound of echoing hounds could be heard, coming closer. Then out of the shadows 4 starved dog minions appeared in a group. they attacked the lion cubs and ranger, eventually killing one o the cubs. After calling the hounds, the Panther lady fires a shadow bolt at the genasi. Cordelia leaps across the water towards the dais, but doesnt make the grab and slides down the side into the water. Felipe trns into a damaging swarm tha clears many of the dogs away, and finally the ranger and the genasi barbarian make it to the dais. A shadowbolt from the staue blinds Tara, who must use the vision of her cubs to know where to attack.

4 more starved dogs are summoned to harrass the druid, who slays them all with the help of Poppy, who is dividing her shots between the statue and other targets as they appear. When the Pather Lady is struck by a melee weapon, she instantly teleports three squares away, to hang momentarily in the air behind the dais (like Wile E. Coyote before a fall).

Tara, Felipe, and Cordelia, on the front lines have all been heavily damaged, so Felipe uses the great daily spell that grants 12 temporary hit points to everyone in range. Only Thokk misses out on the heals as he is still battling the giant croc. Twice he is grabbed and almost pulled into a pool of water, but each time, he breaks free and gives a devastating blow as retort. Finally, with a new crocodile-skin purse and matching boots, Thokk runs across the field towards the battle with the panther lady. he is healed along the way by Stella.

Into the pools the Pnather Lady retreats, being subjected to attacks by Felipe’s Fire hawk along the way. Cordelia makes it across to her, ad with a mighty blow, she seems to fell the panther lady. Apparently she had an ability to mask her bloodied value, but we are no out of combat yet because the statue is still shooting shadow bolts. So the party hacks away at the statue until the Panther Lady’s turn comes around. Suddenly about her body a shadow coalesces until above her inert body the insubstantial form of an Unmbral Panther crouches, ready to attack. The group was completely surprised by the panther’s appearance, which was sweet indeed.

(Aside: One thing about this point in the encounter gave me an idea for the future. The first is the idea that a monster can have an ability that allows it to mask when it becomes bloodied. This can surprise a player who is accustomed of knowing the bloodied value and using it to plan their strategies.)

Another flurry of battle ensued as the panther attacked, was surrounded, then became invisible, leapt over the group and charged the back lines. With an incredible perception roll o 31+, Poppy saw the swirling shadows of the panther when it was within 3 squares of her. It was too late to stop the charge, ad she was raked for 21 points of damage, and nearly dropped by that single attack. But it was not to be, as Felipe turned, and going ino enraged boar form, she pounced. The panther and the boar tumbled and the boar came out victorious, his tusks red with the heart-blood of the shadowy umbral panther. The panther lady’s voice rang out one more time, “Bury my bones in the tomb of the Shadow panther to complete your destiny and gain greater rewards.” As the umbral panther dissipated into shadow, the three remaining items of the Panther set, the magic claws, paws, and headband were strewn amongst the bones of the pnather lady.

As the panther dissipated, so the shroud of shadows lifted and the cavern grotto became more and more insubstantial. The skeletons, forgotten for the momet, seemed to come back into focus, and stepped out of the sarcophagi, swords raised and the hollows of their eye sockets haunted by a fiery glow.

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