“Cinematic” Combat in Star Wars RPGs

Note: This post contains spoilers for the Clone Wars television show. If you intend to watch it, and don’t want anything spoiled, you may want to avoid reading any further.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about running a Star Wars game for my son, set in the Clone Wars era. He loved the Clone Wars show, and would really enjoy playing a Jedi in that timeframe, leading clones into battle with hordes of enemy droids, and getting into lightsaber duels with Sith villains.

Naturally, I took a look at the Force & Destiny RPG from Fantasy Flight Games. While the game itself is set in the Original Trilogy timeframe, Force & Destiny is focused on Jedi and seems perfect for what we want.

Except it isn’t, actually. One reason is that Force & Destiny PCs are designed to be on the power level of Jedi seen in the original three movies, not those that appeared in the prequels or the Clone Wars show. The other reason, though, is that combat in Force & Destiny uses a pretty traditional system with wounds (similar to hit points), and critical hits. A lightsaber battle in F&D generally has combatants whacking each other with lightsabers until one goes down. There are talents that one can take to mitigate some of the damage that is inflicted (like the Parry talent), but those still don’t actually block the lightsaber damage fully until a character has invested experience points heavily in multiple instances of that particular talent.

This doesn’t really reflect the lightsaber battles as shown in the movies and certainly not those in the Clone Wars television show.

So I decided to do a bit of research. I watched all the Clone Wars lightsaber battles, one-by-one, that occur in the show. I was hoping to get a feel for how those battles work, and then see if there was a system that could replicate that rhythm.

What I found was that most of the lightsaber battles follows a general pattern.

  1. The combatants engage in a flurry of slashes and thrusts, which are avoided by a flurry of parries, dodges, rolls, etc. There is no actual contact of a lightsaber with anyone’s body.
  2. There is a “beat” in the combat where one of the following things happens:
    • One combatant strikes the other with a fist or kick, knocking them down or backward.
    • One combatant uses the Force to shove the other combatant backward, often into a wall, pillar, pile of crates, or other obstacle. The shoved combatant may or may not be knocked down and/or get disarmed. One variation of this is that the combatant uses the Force to grab an object and hit his/her opponent, rather than throwing his opponent into the object.
    • One combatant disarms the other directly through swordplay.
    • One combatant leaps away, out of immediate range. This is usually so that they can exchange verbal taunts or otherwise talk. This also often leads to one of them getting a head start when they run away.
    • The combatants lock blades, with one pushed against a wall or down to the floor, thus trapping their lightsaber blade and struggling to push the other person off/away.
  3. The combat continues with any number of these “beats” depending on the length of the sequence.
  4. The combatants get separated somehow. Sometimes one of them escapes on a ship or other vehicle that prevents the other from following, sometimes a combatant falls into a pit or a tunnel collapses or something that prevents the fight from continuing.

In all of the clone wars lightsaber battles (of which there are many), there are only 4 actual battles (that I could find) that resulted in someone’s death:

  • General Grievous kills Nahdar Vebb
  • Darth Maul kills Pre Vizsla
  • Savage Opress kills Jedi Adi Gallia
  • Dark Sidious kills Savage Opress

And there’s only one other fight I saw where someone is injured by the lightsaber, when Obi Wan cuts off Savage Opress’ arm.

Also notable is that in the cases where death occurred, it always happened after a bunch of injuries from being kicked, punched, and thrown into things. In every case, a single stab by the lightsaber was enough to kill the victim, so there were never a bunch of stabs and slashes that brought down a character’s “hit points.” Getting hit with a lightsaber cuts off limbs or kills outright in the Clone Wars show.

Obviously, the show required the combatants to usually end up separated without one of them dying, because most of the characters appeared later in the Star Wars timeline in other movies/shows. This wouldn’t be a problem in the game I would run, as I would create new characters as opponents for my son to face, and I could do whatever I wanted with them. (Also, once the game begins, I never feel a need to slavishly adhere to canon for what comes later. The game becomes an alternate timeline anyway.)

So I’ve taken a look at a lot of options over the last while. I posted about it on RPG.net and got a lot of additional suggestions.

On a related note, there was another thread on RPG.net titled “Considerations for a next gen in cinematic fantasy combat” that talked about a small group of heroes being outnumbered by a greater enemy force, and how most existing games are not able to model this very well. There are a number of good examples from Game of Thrones and other movies demonstrating what we’d like to be able to reflect in our games.

On this blog, I’ve talked before about using HeroQuest for Star Wars. And that is still an option. However, HeroQuest takes the approach of using a high level of abstraction in conflicts. It’s an amazing system if that level of abstraction works for you. But sometimes you may want a more involved amount of “system modelling” for a particular game.

I’ve looked at the following systems as potential solutions to what I want to do with this Clone Wars game:

  • Force & Destiny (would need to be heavily houseruled)
  • Star Wars d6 (doesn’t really operate like the Clone Wars at all)
  • 7th Sea 2E (would need heavy reskinning and development of Force abilities)
  • HeroQuest 2E (as noted above, I’m looking for less abstraction for this game)
  • Other Worlds + Superluminary (same issue as with HeroQuest)
  • Fate Core (can work, but I’ve been burnt out on Fate lately and my son is not a fan of the system)
  • Mythras (would need to adapt the conflict rules from M-Space and make some tweaks to the Special Effects in combat, but actually works fairly well)
  • Star Wars Saga (don’t really want to deal with levels and it’s far too fiddly for my tastes)
  • Savage Worlds (it’s not a system that has ever really grabbed me)
  • Feng Shui 2 (a lot of reskinning and developing of Force powers would be needed)
  • Lone Wolf Adventure Game (this actually might work quite well, and it’s one I’m continuing to explore)
  • Infinity (I would have to do some reskinning and full development of Force powers, but this is another one that might work well, though I have to look into it further)
  • Some version of a Powered by the Apocalypse game (there’s nothing out there that does exactly what I want, so I’d have to come up with it all on my own)

Out of all of these, Mythras with the additional of the conflict rules from M-Space is a great option. It actually addresses many of my issues (a single hit with a lightsaber is definitely going to end a fight). I could use many of the Mysticism powers to reflect the kind of things a Jedi can do. And when it comes to cinematic combat, it actually addresses the “lone hero fighting off multiple opponents” with the combat option to Outmaneuver, which limits the number of attackers who can strike at the lone hero at any given time.


Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution at this time. I’m continuing to think about it and determine the right level of abstraction I want in the rules for this particular game. There are many options available and it’s more a matter of choosing how much work I want to do (a more rules-intensive game requires me to make up stats for all the adversaries and such, while a more abstract game reduces that workload considerably).

Have you run a Clone Wars-era Star Wars game? What system did you run? Was it focused on the Jedi? Did it feel like the television show, or was it more of its own thing? I’d love to hear about your own games. Tell us about it in the comments.


Happy Holidays

I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and Happy Holidays (if you don’t).

I hope 2018 was a good year for you, and that 2019 is even better.

I’ve been working hard on my next novel, and things are going great. I’ll be back on this blog in the new year with more announcements, more novels, and more useful materials for your RPG games.

Single-Player D&D Campaign

Yesterday, my son and I started a single-player D&D 5E campaign set in Waterdeep (using a lot of material from the Ptolus campaign setting book for 3rd edition). He’s playing a human rogue right from 1st level, and I’m running the game for him.

His character, Dridos Gloomstrider, rescued a young girl from the clutches of an evil cult who had kidnapped her off the street. I used pieces from the last completed Dwarven Forge Kickstarter for the underground temple, seen here:


I left the dead cultist’s bodies where he dropped them. And while he succeeded in rescuing the girl, he didn’t explore the rest of the rooms. Maybe there were more cultists still in the underground temple? I’m sure he’ll eventually find out at some point in the future.

So I just wanted to share the pics, as we had a blast and will be playing quite a bit over the Christmas holidays.

Have a safe and happy end to 2018, and I’ll see you in 2019!

Dungeon-A-Week #4: The Coral Reef


This is part of a series of posts, Dungeon-A-Week, that I started a few weeks ago. This series contains short, single-level D&D 5E adventures that people can grab when they don’t have a lot of time and need something quick and fun to run that night.

Note that is an experiment—I have no idea if I will continue through all twenty levels or not, though I will make a serious attempt to complete this project.

In writing these adventures, I will keep the following design guidelines in mind:

  • These adventures will most likely be a series of small dungeon environments. I don’t intend any of these to be event-based.
  • The encounters in the adventure will be enough to provide a single level’s worth of experience points.
  • Each dungeon will have a series of encounters with various numbers and types of creatures, plus one solo creature.
  • Not all the encounters will necessitate a battle—the players will usually be free to choose how to deal with the monsters within the dungeon.
  • Each dungeon will include one or two traps and/or hazards, separate from the monster encounters.
  • Level-appropriate treasure, rolled entirely randomly, will be included.
  • I will use any creature published by Wizards of the Coast and available on DnD Beyond. I will not include stat blocks—the DM will need, at the least, the Monster Manual. I will try to suggest alternate creatures from the MM in case the DM does not have access to the book in which the creature appears or access to DnD Beyond.
  • I will provide very rough maps for some—but not necessarily all—of the adventures.

This week I present to you a dungeon for 4th-level characters, Dungeon #4: The Coral Reef.

The Coral Reef

  • Location: The coral reef is located about a thousand yards off the shore on the coast of an ocean (or at least a very large sea). There should be some towns and/or villages nearby along the coast.
  • Hook: Sahuagin have been raiding the towns and villages along the coast recently, and the townsfolk are getting desperate. A young girl rumored to have the gift of second sight has dreamed of something large and evil slumbering deep beneath the waves, and she believes the sahuagin are attempting to awaken it. Someone needs to go into their lair and destroy them.
  • Complications: The townsfolk can have managed to trade with local traders for two potions of water breathing for each character. The girl’s dreams indicate that the magic in the coral reef causes steams of magical bubbles to flow up from crevasses at certain points in the caves within the reef, and inhaling these bubbles also work as potions of water breathing. The PCs will need to be careful, however, to ensure that they don’t get trapped under water without access to one of the potions.

Key to the Reef

Getting to the reef is the first problem. However, the girl has scrawled a crude map that will lead the characters between rock formations under the water to direct them to the specific cave entrance where the sahuagin have their lair. The PCs will need to swim underwater, so they’ll need to use one of their two potions to reach the reef.

Remember that, unless a character has an ability that grants a specific swim speed, their speed while swimming is half their normal movement speed. However, even characters with a 25-foot movement speed will still reach the reef within 30 minutes of entering the water.

Refer to the color map for the following area descriptions.

A. Cliff Drop

The PCs need to enter the water at a low (15’ above the water level) cliff. Unfortunately, a group of 10 giant crabs lair in many small tunnels that riddle the cliff side. When the walk down the sloped path the lower area where they should enter the water, the hungry crabs emerge from their tunnels and attack.

If the PCs leap into the water, the crabs follow. The crabs fight to the death.

B. Underwater Ambush

The PCs must swim straight ahead for 200 yards and go between two rock formations. When the PCs are between the rocks, a pair of giant octopuses emerge from crevasses on either side of the “path” and attack the PCs. These octopuses are trained by the sahuagin to attack any humanoids in the waters near the reef, and they fight to the death.

C. Shark!

When the PCs make the turn around the last rock formation and aim for the reef, any character with a passive Perception score of 12 or more sees the unmistakable silhouette of four sharks circling overhead.

The PCs have one round to react before the four reef sharks descend and attack. Like the octopuses above, the reef sharks are trained by the sahuagin to attack intruders. The sharks use their pack tactics ability to stay together and increase their chance of inflicting damage on the characters.

D. Sahuagin Cave

The entrance to the cave looks like any other crevasse in the miles-long coral reef. Only someone who knows where they are going, or who succeeds on a DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check can find the cave while searching.

Note that the cave maps are designed to be stacked directly on top of each other, with Level 1 on the top, Level 2 in the middle, and Level 3 on the bottom.

Refer to the level 1 map for the following cave descriptions.

1. Cave Entrance

The entrance leads to a 20-foot long tunnel. The tunnel is dark and the walls, floor, and ceiling are made of coral.

2. Large Cave

This cave is 40 feet from floor to ceiling and entirely filled with water. The walls are made of rock, but bits of coral cling to the rock across nearly every surface. Some of the underwater fungus glows, giving off dim light.

In the southeast corner of the room, a crack in the floor lets up a constant stream of bubbles. If inhaled, these bubbles act as a standard potion of water breathing. Though the bubbles seem like air, they dissipate into the water about fifteen feet above the crack and disappear. The bubbles lose their magical property within 5 rounds if they are captured in a flask or other container.

The many passages from this cave are protected by a hunter shark and two reef sharks. These sharks attack any creature that is not a sahuagin or accompanied by a sahuagin. The sharks fight to the death, but do not pursue characters fleeing into the tunnels.

3. Dry Cave

The path between area 2 and this area slopes upward, and it appears a very large air bubble is trapped here. The air entirely fills this side cave section. There is enough air here for the PCs to spend up to 8 hours in this room. After that point, the air starts to become toxic.

The passage on the other side of the cave slopes back down to the same level as area 2.

4. Dead End

This side passage ends in a dead end. There is nothing of interest here.

5. Slithering Cave

All the passages leading into this cave slope upward, and the PCs climb out of the water as they reach the cave entrance. The rock walls glisten with moisture, and the cave floor is covered with dirt and large plants up to a height of almost 3 feet, potentially obscuring the vision of shorter characters. A few scattered boulders also provide additional cover for their cave’s inhabitants.

A giant constrictor snake along with four regular constrictor snakes live in this cave. The sahuagin feed them occasionally so that they only attack non-sahuagin.

The snakes slither through the underbrush until they get close to a character and then strike from ambush. The giant constrictor snake waits near one of the boulders and attacks when a character gets within 30 feet.

The constrictor snakes attack until they are at half hit points and then they retreat and attempt to hide among the underbrush. The giant constrictor snake fights until it is at one-quarter hit points and then retreats to a corner of the cave and fights only if pursued and attacked. The snakes do not pursue any fleeing characters who leave the cave.

6. Corrupt Cave

The coral and underwater plants in this cave look sickly and mutated. The cave entirely filled with water, is unlit, and it reaches 30 feet floor to ceiling.

A pair of sea spawn lair in this cave, along with four giant crabs. Like the sea spawn, the crabs are also crusted by barnacles and look mutated (no change to their combat stats).

The spawn and crabs attack (and pursue) any non-sahuagin and fight to the death.

7. Ahab’s Cave

This vast cave is mostly filled with water. The ceiling is 80 feet above the floor, and the top 20 feet is filled with air that constantly refreshes through the magic of the reef.

The cave is filled with all kinds of fish. Scattered among the various fish are a swarm of quippers. When the PCs move more than twenty feet into the cave, the quippers gather into a swarm and attack the closest PC. As soon as they attack, the killer whale in area 7a hears the frenzy and swims out to attack anyone invading its cave.

The whale is trapped in this cave—the sahuagin has some nefarious plan for it in the future—and while it is kept fed and has access to fresh air, it is enraged by any humanoids that come into its cave.

If the PCs have some way to communicate with the whale, they may be able to calm it down enough to get it to stop attacking. Unfortunately, it is too large to move through the tunnels, and so cannot easily be rescued from this cave.

8. Blood Frenzy Cave

This large cave is filled with water, and is dimly lit with the glowing underwater plants that can found in places throughout these caves. The ceiling is 40 feet above the floor of the cave.

A giant shark is kept here by the sahuagin, and it attacks any non-sahuagin who enters the cave. It is too large to pursue characters who flee into the tunnels.

9. Dry Cave

The path between area 2 and this area slopes upward, and it appears a very large air bubble is trapped here. The air entirely fills this side cave section. There is enough air here for the PCs to spend up to 8 hours in this room. After that point, the air starts to become toxic.

The passage on the other side of the cave slopes back down to the same level as area 2.

10. Living Water Cave

The passages from this cave eventually lead to the more important sahuagin leaders, and so they have placed a powerful guardian here. The cave is fully filled with water, and the roof is 25 feet above the floor.

A water elemental guards the passages leading further into the cave complex. It is completely undetectable in the water-filled room until it attacks. The elemental waits until the party fully enters the room, and then reveals itself as it moves forward and attacks whoever is in the front line of the party.

The elemental pursues fleeing characters and fights until destroyed, but does not attack any sahuagin, and does not attack if the party is escorted by sahuagin.

11. Magic Bubble Cave

This cave is completely filled with water, is unlit, and the ceiling is 20 feet above the floor. In the south corner of the room, a crack in the floor lets up a constant stream of bubbles. If inhaled, these bubbles act as a standard potion of water breathing. Though the bubbles seem like air, they dissipate into the water about fifteen feet above the crack and disappear. The bubbles lose their magical property within 5 rounds if they are captured in a flask or other container.

12. Sahuagin Shrine

This cave is 60 feet high, and filled with water up to a height of 40 feet. Ledges run along the west wall, from north to south, just above the surface of the water. The ledges are 5-10 feet wide at any given point.

A large altar sits on the floor of the cave, under the surface of the water. A sahuagin priestess resides here, praying before the shrine. A pair of reef sharks continuously circle the cave, protecting her while she performs her rites.

When any non-sahuagin enters the cave, the reef sharks immediately rush to the attack. On the following round, the priestess turns and joins combat. She cannot be bargained with, and fights to the death, as do the sharks, pursuing fleeing characters wherever they go (though the sharks cannot pursue outside of water-filled areas.

13. Poisoned Cave

The tunnels slope upward as one approaches this cave. The cave is 15 feet high, and water fills it to a height of 5 feet. Above the water, the walls are riddled with small holes.

The ground of this cave is covered with dirt, and underwater plants grow right up to the surface of the water, making it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction.

A small stone altar is placed in the middle of the cave, and a sahuagin priestess stays here, conducting constant prayers to her god.

When the PCs enter the cave, the priestess hears their movement through the water unless they take precautions to move quietly. Two rounds after the PCs enter the cave, six poisonous snakes emerge from the holes in the wall and swim toward the characters. If the priestess is not already aware of them, the movement of the snakes alerts her.

When the snakes close with the PCs, the priestess rises from the water and attacks. She attempts to capture the PCs, if possible, though if they die from the snake poison, she doesn’t try to save them.

The priestess fights to the death.

14. Bubble Source

This is less a cave than a wide section of the tunnel. In the north side of the tunnel, a crack in the floor lets up a constant stream of bubbles. If inhaled, these bubbles act as a standard potion of water breathing. Though the bubbles seem like air, they dissipate into the water when they reach the ceiling and disappear. The bubbles lose their magical property within 5 rounds if they are captured in a flask or other container.

15. Open Cave

The ceiling of this cave is 60 feet above the floor, and the top 10 feet is filled with air. Glowing plants give off dim light and a large opening leads out of the cave complex to the water above.

A killer whale spends most of its time in this cave, in thrall to the sahuagin. A giant octopus hides among the rocks on the cave floor. When the PCs enter the cave, neither creature attacks right away, waiting until the PCs fully enter the cave and move toward the passage to area 21.

When the whale and octopus attack, they fight to the death. The octopus pursues fleeing characters, but the whale is too large to fit into the tunnels.

Refer to the level 2 map for the following cave descriptions.

16. Guard Post

This cave is entirely filled with water, and the ceiling is 15 feet above the floor. Four sahuagin are stationed here to prevent any intruders from moving further into the complex. The sahuagin immediately attack anyone entering the cave, and fight to the death. They pursue fleeing characters regardless of where they go.

17. Uneven Cave

This cave is 40 feet high, and filled with water up to a level of 20 feet. A series of ledges at various heights line the walls, most of them 5 feet deep, and a number of large boulders area scattered around the room, many of them reaching above the surface of the water.

A giant constrictor snake stretches out along the ledges, while a pair of sahuagin swim in the water beneath. The snake has learned not to attack the sahuagin, and so leaves them alone. However, it will attack and attempt to eat any non-sahuagin that enter the room. The sahuagin wait for the snake to attack, and then they join in battle, attacking whichever PCs are not grappled by the snake.

The snake fights until it is at one-quarter hit points, and then retreats up onto the ledges. The sahuagin fight to the death.

In the northeast corner of the room, a crack in the floor lets up a constant stream of bubbles. If inhaled, these bubbles act as a standard potion of water breathing. Though the bubbles seem like air, they dissipate into the water about fifteen feet above the crack and disappear. The bubbles lose their magical property within 5 rounds if they are captured in a flask or other container.

18. Guard Post

This cave is entirely filled with water, and the ceiling is 15 feet above the floor. Four sahuagin are stationed here to prevent any intruders from moving further into the complex. The sahuagin immediately attack anyone entering the cave, and fight to the death. They pursue fleeing characters regardless of where they go.

19. Lower Guard Post

The ceiling of this cave is 20 feet above the floor, and it is entirely filled with water. Two sahuagin and a merrow are stationed here. The sahuagin are terrified of the merrow, which is always hungry and previously killed and eaten a pair of sahuagin. The merrow serves the sea hag in area 26 below, and has been ordered to protect this area and leave the sahuagin alone, and it seems to be making the effort to do so.

The sahuagin and merrow attack any non-sahuagin entering the area and fight to the death.

In the northeast corner of the room, a crack in the floor lets up a constant stream of bubbles. If inhaled, these bubbles act as a standard potion of water breathing. Though the bubbles seem like air, they dissipate into the water about fifteen feet above the crack and disappear. The bubbles lose their magical property within 5 rounds if they are captured in a flask or other container.

20. Prison

The ceiling of this cave is 20 feet above the floor, and the cave is filled with water to about 10 feet. The air is continually refreshed through small cracks in walls as part of the magic of the reef, so characters can breathe in here indefinitely.

The three smaller caves on the north of this area rise up above the level of the water, and are blocked with heavy bars—requires a DC 15 Strength check to move enough for the prisoners to leave the cell. This is used as the prison for the sahuagin, where they keep captives until they are sacrificed to their god, or fed to one of the monsters that serves the sahuagin.

A pair of sahuagin are stationed in this cave to keep watch on the prisoners.

The northernmost cell holds a human merchant from the closest town on the coast. The merchant is terrified and wants nothing more than to get home again.

The cell beside him to the west holds a deep scion in human form. The deep scion has been placed here to “befriend” the merchant and the sahuagin plan to stage an escape for the pair, so that the merchant can vouch for the deep scion once they return to the town, and the deep scion can be a hero while secretly spying on the surface for the sahuagin.

When the PCs enter the cave, the sahuagin put up a fight, but surrender if reduced to half hit points. The deep scion recognizes the PCs as a real threat to the sahuagin and their plans. It stays in human form and asks to join the PCs—it tells them it is a warrior and only needs a weapon to help them fight the sahuagin.

During the next battle, the sahuagin shapechanges into its hybrid form and betrays the PCs.

Treasure: Each of the sahuagin carries a pouch with 2 potions of water breathing.

21. Shrine

This cave is entirely filled with water, and the ceiling is 25 feet above the floor. A large altar sits in the middle of the room, and a sahuagin priestess conducts her rites while a pair of sahuagin float nearby and guard her.

The sahuagin warn the priestess as soon as any PCs are spotted, and all three attack the party immediately. The sahuagin and the priestess attempt to capture the PCs (knocking them unconscious instead of killing them), but they do fight to the death.

Refer to the level 3 map for the following cave descriptions.

22. Heated Cave

The water becomes noticeably warmer as the PCs near this cave. The ceiling of this cave is 30 feet high, and the water is only 5 feet high. Cracks in the floor of the cave glow a hellish red, and the heat comes from these cracks. The two smaller caves on the east wall have floors above the level of the water. These areas are covered with thick vegetation. Steam fills the air above the level of the water throughout this entire cave area, reducing visibility to 10 feet.

A pair of hungry giant toads live in the two smaller caves on the east side. Three steam mephits float in the air in the thick steam, often arguing with each other and trying to boss each other around.

When the PCs swim through the underwater tunnel and enter the cave area, the toads wait in ambush, and the steam mephits stop arguing long enough to see what is going to happen.

If the PCs approach the smaller caves on the east side, the toads wait for the PCs to climb out of the water before attacking. If the PCs look like they swim through the cave toward the other tunnel, the toads leap out into the water and swim toward the PCs, attacking as soon as they are in range.

The steam mephits wait until the toads have swallowed a character each, and then they gleefully attack the remaining PCs so as to distract them while the toads swim away with their meals. The mephits fight until they are down to less than 10 hit points, and then they retreat and try to hide in the steam up above. The toads attack until they are down to less than 10 hit points, and they swim away and retreat to their individual cave areas. If pursued, the toads fight to the death.

23. Sauna Cave

This cave contains a giant air bubble that keeps out all the water. The ceiling is only 15 feet high in this cave, and the cracks in the floor give off heat like in the previous cave area. The room is filled with steam, limiting visibility to 10 feet.

A pair of sahuagin currently rest in this room, while four steam mephits fly about and argue and boss each other around.

When the sahuagin become aware of anyone entering the room—most likely hearing them before they become visible through the mist—they move to either side and ready themselves to charge out and ambush the PCs on the following round.

The steam mephits join in combat for the fun of it and to help even the odds against the sahuagin.

The sahuagin fight to the death, but the steam mephits retreat if they are knocked down to less than 10 hit points.

24. Kraken Temple

The tunnel, after descending to a great depth, curves upward again at the end, anyone entering this area must climb up out of the water at the entrance. The uneven stone walls of the tunnel end at the mouth of this chamber. The walls, floor, and ceiling of this chamber are made of giant stone blocks of a greenish, jade-like material (not jade and has no value). The ceiling is 30 feet high, and 5-foot-diameter pillars line the north and south walls. A huge altar occupies the west wall—a statue depicting a cluster of waving tentacles mounted atop it.

Standing in front of the altar is a kraken priest. He has allied himself with the sahuagin, and spends most of his time here venerating his god—a kraken that lives in an ocean far away from this coast.

The priest is automatically aware of anyone entering his temple. He moves behind one of the pillars and waits for the PCs to come within range of his spells before he launches his attack. He starts by casting evard’s black tentacles, and then uses his voice of the kraken to frighten anyone not affected by that spell.

The priest fights to the death and refuses any offers to surrender.

Treasure: A hidden panel in the base of the altar—requires a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check to notice—contains the kraken priest’s treasure. The PCs find a bone scroll tube with a scroll of green-flame blade, a scroll of toll the dead, and a scroll of control flames inside; one potion of healing; two 50 gp gems; four 250 gp art objects; and coins equaling 240 cp, 3,000 sp, 1,005 gp, and 42 pp.

25. Bodyguard Cave

This cave is entirely under water, and the ceiling is 20 feet high.

A merrow lairs here, protecting the sea hag in area 26 below. The merrow immediately attacks anyone entering this chamber, and fights to the death.

26. Hag’s Lair

This cave is entirely underwater. The ceiling is 15 feet high, and glowing underwater fungus provides dim light.

This is the lair of a sea hag. She is an ally of the sahuagin and, while she does not care about the kraken priest and his god, she is willing to go along with their plans as long as it causes destruction and despair to those who live on the surface world.

The hag always has a pair of sea spawn with her in her lair. The spawn serve the hag and help her with her rituals.

The sea hag is magically linked to the merrow in area 25 above. If the merrow dies, the sea hag is aware of it and prepares an ambush. She disguises herself as another of the sea spawn, and the three of them spread out in the room to make it difficult for area effect spells to hit all three of them at once.

When the PCs enter the room, the hag and the sea spawn swim toward the party, as if to attack. However, once she is within 30 feet of the rearmost party members (as she wants to affect as many PCs as possible), the hag reveals her true horrific appearance. She then tries to use her Death Glare on any frightened PCs, letting the sea spawn get between her and anyone trying to close to melee. She reverts to using her claws only if she has no other choice.

Treasure: The small cave on the south wall is the sea hag’s personal living quarters. A small, corroded metal box contains a potion of growth, a waterproof bag of dust of sneezing and choking, a philter of love, and assorted coins equaling 400 cp, 5,000 sp, 1,675 gp, and 70 pp.

27. Sahuagin Baron’s Lair

This large cave is entirely underwater. The ceiling is 30 feet high, and glowing underwater fungus provides dim light throughout the cave.

The sahuagin baron resides in this cave. He is the leader of all the sahuagin, and is allied with the kraken priest and the sea hag.

The baron generally floats in the middle of his cave in front of an altar to Sekolah, contemplating the mysteries of his god. He immediately attacks anyone who is not part of his force, and fights with every means at his disposal. He does not surrender, nor does he take prisoners.

Treasure: The baron has a large wooden chest. The chest is locked, and the baron keeps the key on a small cord around his neck. The chest contains medium-size mithral scale mail armor, a potion of climbing, a potion of healing, three 50 gp gems, two 250 gp art objects, and assorted coins equaling 960 cp, 12,000 sp, 4,020 gp, and 168 pp.


This is the area map for the path the PCs must take to reach the reef.


This is the map of Level 1.


This is the map of Level 2.


This is the map of Level 3.


Update and Conclusion

Like last week, this was a much larger dungeon than the first couple. Providing enough experience points to advance a party of five characters a full level becomes a greater challenge each time they go up a level.

Which brings me to a change I’m going to make to the Dungeon-A-Week format starting next week. This blog is a secondary thing for me—it takes a backseat to the work I do on my novels. I’m finding that the blog is taking too much time away from my other writing, and that’s not something I want to let happen.

So, I’m going to continue the Dungeon-A-Week project, but I’m going to put a time limit on myself each week. That means that, as the dungeons go up in level, I’m going to start spreading them across more than one week.

I intend to provide a complete “section” of a dungeon each week, so that it’s usable pretty much right away. It might be the first bunch of rooms, or the first “level” of the dungeon, or so forth. And I’ll try not to spread a particular dungeon over more than 2 or perhaps 3 weeks, as I will continue to keep them simple.

Again, I hope this material is of use to you. If you end up using it, either whole or in parts, please drop a comment and let us know how it went.


Dungeon-A-Week #3: The Crypt


This is part of a series of posts, Dungeon-A-Week, that I started a few weeks ago. This series contains short, single-level adventures that people can grab when they don’t have a lot of time and need something quick and fun to run that night.

Note that is an experiment—I have no idea if I will continue through all twenty levels or not, though I will make a serious attempt to complete this project.

In writing these adventures, I will keep the following design guidelines in mind:

  • These adventures will most likely be a series of small dungeon environments. I don’t intend any of these to be event-based.
  • The encounters in the adventure will be enough to provide a single level’s worth of experience points.
  • Each dungeon will have a series of encounters with various numbers and types of creatures, plus one solo creature.
  • Not all the encounters will necessitate a battle—the players will usually be free to choose how to deal with the monsters within the dungeon.
  • Each dungeon will include one or two traps and/or hazards, separate from the monster encounters.
  • Level-appropriate treasure, rolled entirely randomly, will be included.
  • I will use any creature published by Wizards of the Coast and available on DnD Beyond. I will not include stat blocks—the DM will need, at the least, the Monster Manual. I will try to suggest alternate creatures from the MM in case the DM does not have access to the book in which the creature appears or access to DnD Beyond.
  • I will provide very rough maps for some—but not necessarily all—of the adventures.

This week I present to you Dungeon #3: The Crypt.

The Crypt

  • Location: This dungeon was once a crypt used by an evil noble family to inter and worship their dead. An ornate mausoleum on the surface leads, through a hidden passage, to the tunnels and rooms of the crypt underneath.
  • Hook: Some item or information the PCs need—or perhaps just rumors of a magical item—lead the characters to decide to raid the crypt for treasure. Alternately, the might discover information about the long-dead noble family that indicates some members are still active (though not necessarily alive) and planning some kind of nefarious plot. Someone has to go down there and put them to rest for good.
  • Complications: Parts of the crypt have collapsed, opening it up to tunnels in the earth. A group of bugbears found an entrance to the crypt from the tunnels in the underdark. They are using the west side of the crypt as their lair, and every so often they go out hunting in the underdark by existing through their tunnel.
  • In addition, a small group of darklings managed to come through the summoning circle in room 13 from a weak spot in the Feywild. They have been there only a few days, and have taken refuge in room XX. They are extremely paranoid, and are trying to figure out what to do once their own provisions run out.

Key to the Crypt

The walls, floor, and ceiling of the crypt are stone blocks. This is not dwarven craftsmanship, however, and parts of the crypt have collapsed over time (including a sinkhole that caused part of the floor to drop just a couple of days before the PCs enter the crypt). The debris is a combination of broken stone and hard-packed dirt.

1. Mausoleum

The mausoleum rises some 15 feet above the ground and is carved with all manner of decorations and designs. Nothing about the decorations indicates that this noble family was evil and worshipped the undead.

The inside contains a single large sarcophagus, also carved with ornate designs. The sarcophagus is sealed, though PCs can open it with crowbars and a couple of rounds of chiseling and hammering at the edges. The sarcophagus contains the bones of a long-dead member of the noble household. Surprisingly, there are no objects of value in the sarcophagus—this body was a minor member of the noble house who was placed here as a decoy.

At the base of the sarcophagus, on the side facing north, there is a small latch hidden among the carvings. Pressing the latch causes the secret trapdoor in the floor beside the north wall to open. A ladder leads down twenty feet to a small landing.

2. Stone Staircase

The landing is at the top of a 60-foot-long staircase leading down under the ground. The stone stairs are well-worn, though they are dusty and do not appear to have been used in a very long time.

3. Entry Chamber

This large chamber is 50 feet wide, 90 feet long, and the ceiling is 20 feet high. Pillars line the east and west sides of the room—they are carved in the likenesses of early heads of the noble family (not necessarily recognizable to the PCs). All the doors to this room are made of stone and are kept closed.

This chamber is also dusty. Anyone with a passive Perception score of 13 or more, or anyone taking time to search in the correct area, notices the footprints of four humanoid creatures moving from the doorway to area #5 behind the pillars and to the doorway to area #10. A Wisdom (Survival) check of DC 10 reveals that the tracks are from goblinoids, and a DC 15 reveals they are specifically bugbear tracks.

Note: These tracks were made by four bugbears, all of which are now in room 19.

4. Crypt Hallway

This hallway leads to multiple single crypt chambers. Each of the chambers holds a single sarcophagus, and each sarcophagus contains the bones of a long-dead human. Their clothing has long since rotted away.

The ceiling in the hallway and chambers is only 10 feet high.

Chambers b and d are partially collapsed. Chamber c has fully collapsed and the sarcophagus cannot be reached without many hours of digging with pickaxes, shovels and spades.

Treasure: The bodies were interred with little in the way of treasure. However, the PCs can find a silver ring worth 18 gp (room d), a gold earring shaped like a goose worth 17 gp (room e), a silver pendant worth 17 gp (room b), a gold brooch worth 16 gp (room f), and a silver ring worth 16 gp (room g).

5. Crypt Hallway

This hallway leads to more individual crypt chambers, and a few larger chambers. The chambers are identical to those in area #4, except that each sarcophagus has already been opened by the bugbears looking for treasure. In this hallway, Chamber h is the only that has partially collapsed.

The following two rooms are exceptions to the notes above.

5a. Guard Post

A pair of bugbears stays in this area to keep watch against any incursions by the undead that populate the other areas of the crypt. If the stone door from area #3 is opened, the pair of bugbears move stealthily to the junction and hide at the corner, preparing to ambush anyone who approaches.

In combat, the bugbears attempt to block the entryway. After the first round of combat, when they realize that their opponents are not undead, one of the bugbears flees to room #7a to warn (and join) the bugbears in that area.

Treasure: Each bugbear has some coins tucked into a slit in its armor. The two bugbears have 20 cp and 18 cp, respectively.

5b. Rat’s Nest

This room houses a nest of 12 giant rats, plus 21 baby giant rats (who are too young to fight). While there is no food for the rats within the crypt itself, the soft ground above has allowed them to tunnel up to the surface to forage and then return here to nest. The tunnel exits between the two halves of a split stone block, and creatures of small size or smaller can crawl up the long slope to the surface some distance away from the mausoleum.

The rats immediately swarm and attack anyone opening the door to this chamber. The rats fight to the death to protect their young.

6. “Game” Room

The walls, floor, and ceiling of this room are made from the same stone blocks as the rest of the crypt. The ceiling in this room is 20 feet high. The chamber contains four sarcophagi, already ransacked by the bugbears. A large pile of debris blocks off part of the room, with narrow gaps in the debris (not large for creatures of medium size or larger to get through). The debris piles are only 10 feet high, and can be climbed to reach the other side. The side of the piles facing the blocked-off section are smoother and cannot be climbed (which is why the skeletons haven’t climbed out).

A pair of bugbears found a pair of animated skeletons in this room, and managed to trap them behind some piles of debris. They often amuse themselves with a game they made up—each bugbear takes a turn throwing a stone at the skeletons, and where the stone hits scores a specific amount of points (for example, tossing a stone into a skeleton’s eye socket scores 3 points).

The bugbears immediately notice anyone opening the stone door in this room. As soon as either bugbear sees the PCs, it grabs a piece of stone in one of the debris piles (marked “x” on the map) and yanks it, bringing down the pile and releasing the skeletons.

The skeletons attack the closest living creature in the room. The bugbears know this and attempt to move so that the skeletons attack the PCs instead of them.

Treasure: Each bugbear has some coins tucked into a slit in its armor. The two bugbears have 13 sp and 13 gp, respectively.

7. Large Crypt Chambers

These large three rooms are connected by doorways—the stone doors have broken and fallen away, leaving them permanently open. Each of the rooms is filled with debris from the partially-collapsed walls and ceiling.

While the straight sections of the walls are unbroken stone blocks, the ragged wall sections are a mixture of broken stones and dirt. The debris piles are likewise made of broken ceiling blocks and fallen dirt from above.

The ceiling in these rooms are 20 feet high, and the debris piles go right up to the ceiling.

Three bugbears reside in these chambers, one in each chamber. They generally rest out of sight of the stone doors leading to area #5. If the stone door to a chamber is opened, the bugbear in that chamber automatically hears it (unless something is done to eliminate the loud grinding noise of the door being opened).

An alerted bugbear grabs a small stone out of the debris and throws it into the adjoining room(s), alerting the other bugbears. (The PCs have a chance to hear the clattering stones by making a Wisdom (Perception) check against DC 10.) The bugbears then stealthily move into position so that they can ambush the PCs as the party moves through the rooms.

When the first bugbear launches its surprise attack, the other two bugbears follow suit on the next round. When one of the bugbears is killed, one the remaining bugbears flees toward room #8 to alert the ettin and bring him into the fight.

Treasure: Each bugbear has some coins tucked into a slit in its armor. The three bugbears have 19 cp, 1 pp, and 2 pp, respectively.

8. Ettin’s Nest

Just over a year ago, an ettin wandered into some passages at the back of a cave she was exploring (while looking for a new home). She got lost in the underdark and, after wandering in circles for a few days, encountered the bugbear chief. The chief offered to help the ettin in return for the giant joining his band of bugbears.

The ettin is the nuclear option for the bugbears when an ambush is unsuccessful. The ettin mostly keeps to herself, but loves wading into combat and smashing the life out of some unfortunate victim.

If the ettin is alerted to the PCs’ presence by one of the bugbears, she grabs her weapons and follows the bugbear back out into area #7 and charges into the PCs (assuming they are still near where the bugbear left them).

If the ettin has not been alerted, she is resting in her room when the PCs find her. The bugbears know to knock before opening the stone door, even in an emergency. If the door is opened by the PCs without knocking, the ettin immediately grabs her weapons and attacks whoever is at the door.

The ettin fights until she is down to 20 hit points, at which time she goes on the defensive and yells for the PCs to stop. She refuses to completely surrender, offering her treasure and to “let” the PCs leave in peace, without acknowledging that she was one who lost the fight.

If the PCs battle the ettin in this room and do not close the stone door before the fight starts, the bugbear chief automatically hears the sounds battle and is alerted.

Treasure: The ettin has a pouch with 24 gp, 3 gems each worth 50 gp, a small mirror set in a painted wooden frame (worth 25 gp), and a potion of healing.

9. Bugbear Chief’s Lair

This is the private chambers of the bugbear chief. He spends all his time in this room when he is not leading the bugbears on a raid.

Note: The bugbear chief wears a set of gauntlets of ogre power, which provides him with an additional +1 to attack and damage rolls.

The chief’s bed is a pile of dirty furs, tapestries, and assorted fabrics that have been stolen from various victims over the years—they are all now too permanently soiled and stained to be of any value.

If the bugbear chief heard sounds of battle outside his room, he immediately dons his chain shirt (takes 5 minutes) and will not charge into combat until he has his armor on and his weapons in hand. If the fight is still ongoing once he is ready, he will open his door and enter the fray. If the battle sounds like it is over, he will wait in his room, ready to ambush anyone coming through the door.

The chief is a canny leader who will bargain for his life as soon as he is down to one-quarter of his hit points. He makes escalating offers of his treasure (starting with the coins and working upward) until he has successfully convinced the party not to kill him.

Treasure: The bugbear has a sack that contains his treasure—86 gp, 5 gems worth 50 gp each, a black velvet mask stitched with silver thread (worth 25 gp), a copper chalice with silver filigree (worth 25 gp), a bone scroll tube with a sleep scroll inside, 2 potions of healing, a +1 heavy crossbow with a wooden case containing 20 normal crossbow bolts, and a pearl of power. As noted above, the bugbear chief also has a pair of gauntlets of ogre power that he wears in combat.

10. Undead Guard Chamber

This chamber is the entryway into the rest of the crypt. It was used as a guard post to prevent anyone except members of the noble family from coming through here.

The ceiling in this room is 20 feet high. The tracks of the two bugbears proceed straight across the floor to the door on the opposite wall.

The ambient magic in this room had gone dormant for years due to the lack of activity. When the bugbears passed through the room, they triggered the magic wards, which “woke up” just after the bugbears had left the chamber. The guardians in this room, two skeletons and a minotaur skeleton, are once again aware of their surroundings and are ready to prevent anyone else from passing through this room in either direction.

The minotaur skeleton stands in the alcove to the northeast, one skeleton is in the alcove to the northwest, and one stands in the alcove to the southwest. When any PC steps out of the 10-foot section directly in front of the south door and into the room proper, the minotaur skeleton charges the closest PC, and then the other two skeletons advanced and attack with their weapons.

The skeletons pursue intruders until they are destroyed or the intruders are dead.

11. Main Hallway

The ground under the crypt collapsed into a sinkhole just a couple of days ago, and this has left a permanent alteration to the crypt. A sunken area crosses the hallway, the floor 5 feet lower than the rest of the hallway.

The sides are fairly easy to climb, and there is no chance the PCs will fall into the sunken area unless they have no light sources and no ability to see in the dark.

Note that both “ends” of the sunken area are blocked by tons of debris—it requires many hours of digging with pickaxes, shovels and spades to tunnel into room #17, and many days of digging to tunnel into room #19.

The tracks of the two bugbears are visible in the dust coming from room 10 up to the edge of the pit. The tracks appear again on the east side of the pit and continue along the hallway to the door of room #19.

A second set of tracks, made by four sets of small booted humanoids, comes out of the door to room #13 and stops at the west edge of the pit—these tracks are from the darklings who came from room #13 and took refuse in room #17 before the collapse of that section of the floor (see room #17 and #19 for details).

12. Large Crypt Chamber

The floor of this room is covered in human bones. Twelve sarcophagi are placed here, all seemingly intact.

Among the piles of bones, six skeletons (positions marked by “x” on the map) wait to attack anyone approaching within 5 feet of any of the sarcophagi. They rise from the piles and immediately attack the closest PC—though at least one skeleton attacks the PC who moved within 5 feet of a sarcophagus.

The skeletons attack until destroyed, and will pursue fleeing PCs out of the room.

Like the chambers in area #4, the sarcophagi contain only the bones of humans bodies, their clothing long since rotted away.

Treasure: If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 12 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 2 gp.

13. Summoning Chamber

This chamber was used by the noble family to summon creatures from the outer planes for nefarious purposes. Four sets of small, booted footprints start at the center of the summoning circle and proceed to the door, out into the hallway, and end at the west edge of the sunken pit in the hallway of area #11. These are the boot prints of the darklings that recently came through from the Feywild and hid out in room #17.

A small crack in the sunken depression—a 15-foot-deep pit in the northwest corner of the room—leads to the underdark. It is too small for any creature larger than tiny size to move through. However, the day before the PCs enter the crypt, a black pudding flows up from the underdark and stops in this chamber, enticed by the residual magical energy of the summoning circle.

The black pudding stays in the pit until anyone enters more than 5 feet into the room. The pudding them flows up out of the pit and heads straight for the nearest source of food—the PCs. The ooze follows the PCs if they try to flee, and fights to the death. The ooze pursues and attacks the closest living thing in any area.

14. Huge Crypt Chamber

This vast chamber holds almost thirty simple stone coffins, with more likely buried under the collapsed north end of the room, and a couple partially buried in the southeast section of the room. All the lids of the coffins have been pulled off, and the bones are all broken and scattered around the room.

A ghast and a ghoul got trapped in this room—there is no way to open the stone door of the crypt from the inside—many years before. They scoured the bones for any remaining marrow long ago, and have been waiting here for any chance to get free and eat.

When the PCs open the door to this chamber, both the ghast and the ghoul are curled up in the northwest and southwest corners of the room, respectively. It takes a couple of rounds for them to become fully aware from their long-dormant state. The ghoul is unable to lie in wait, and immediately leaps up to attack the closest PC. The ghast quietly scurries through the shadows between the coffins in order to get close to the party before leaping into combat.

If either creature manages to take down a PC to 0 hit points and is not in immediate danger of attack in the round it gets its next action, it starts feeding on the downed PC (forcing the PC to fail one of its death saves for each round the ghast or ghoul feeds).

Treasure: If the PCs take time to search the room, the find 27 assorted bronze, brass, and copper rings and earrings scattered on the floor amongst the bones, worth 2 sp each.

15. Den of Shadows

The stone sarcophagi in this room have not been disturbed. Two shadows were drawn here by the darkness and evil of this crypt, and have not yet overcome the powerful aura enough to leave. When the PCs enter this room, the shadows hide in the cracks in the walls and wait for the best moment to strike (i.e. when the characters are searching inside the sarcophagi).

Treasure: If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 8 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 2 gp.

16. Empty Room

This room has another 8 sarcophagi, though one has tumbled down the slope of the sunken section of floor, spilling the bones across the floor of the pit.

The floor in the northeast corner is 10 feet lower than the rest of the room. The slope is fairly steep but can be climbed easily.

Treasure: If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 8 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 2 gp.

17. Darkling Lair

This room is difficult to access, as the hallway in front of the door sunk into a 5-foot-deep pit, though the door itself is braced and is at the same height. The shifting of the ground has also warped the frame around the door, requiring a concerted effort to push open. Any characters of Strength 12 or greater can spend 2d4 rounds shoving on the door to get it open.

The four darklings that came through the summoning circle from the Feywild have taken refuge in this room. They have been trapped here in the last two days since the floor collapsed. They are confused, frightened, and ready to lash out at any threat. However, PCs who approach carefully can avoid a fight with the darklings and perhaps make allies with them.

The darklings want nothing more than to get out of the crypt and back above ground. They will not accompany the PCs to explore the rest of the crypt, and can provide information only about the summoning circle and the direct route to this room (though they walked that route before the floor sunk, so their information is out of date already).

Treasure: If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 8 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 3 gp.

18. Empty Room

This is another burial chamber. Twelve stone sarcophagi are stored here, but the room is otherwise empty.

Treasure: If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 12 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 3 gp.

19. Trapped Bugbears

The door to this room has been left open. This room is the one most affected by the sudden collapse of the floor underneath the crypt. A 15-foot-deep pit crosses the room from the northwest to the southeast corner. The sarcophagi that were here have all (but one) fallen into the pit, spilling open and scattering the bones across the floor of the pit.

Two bugbears are trapped on the ledge in the southwest corner. They were exploring the crypt with another pair of bugbears when the floor collapsed. The two other bugbears were killed by the falling sarcophagi. However, the evil aura of the crypt animated them as a pair of zombies.

The zombies have been unable to scale the south wall of the pit and reach the bugbears, so they wait in the pit until they are alerted by the sound of the characters (or the light from their torches/lanterns). When the PCs enter the room, the zombies climb up the north side of the pit (which is much shallower) and attack the PCs. The zombies fight until they are destroyed.

Once the fight breaks out between the characters and the zombies, the bugbears leap off their ledge, cross the pit, and climb back up toward the door. They attempt to break out of this room, attacking anyone who gets in their way. The bugbears only goal is to escape and get back to the other bugbears.

Treasure: Each bugbear (and bugbear zombie) has some coins tucked into a slit in its armor. The two bugbears have 9 sp and 12 gp, respectively, and the two bugbear zombies have 10 sp and 15 sp, respectively. If the PCs open the sarcophagi, they can find 12 pieces of jewelry of assorted types (rings, earrings, etc.), each piece worth 2 gp.

20. Worship Chamber

This large chamber is where the nobles worshipped their evil god of undeath. The ceiling is 40 feet high, and the platform on the left side of the room is 10 feet above the floor of the chamber. In the center of the east wall is a large blood-stained altar to the god of undeath. The entire room is decorated in unsettling carvings reflecting death in all its many forms.

Four pillars rise from the floor of the chamber on the west side of the room. These are carved to resemble the god of undeath in various poses.

When the PCs enter, a cloaked and hooded figure stands unmoving in front of the altar. This figure is a wight who has stayed in the crypt for centuries, continuing its worship of its dark god. An additional cloaked figure stands in front of each of the four pillars (marked with “x” on the map). These four figures are zombies who have not decayed into skeletons due to the aura of undeath that permeates the crypt.

None of the figures reacts to the presence of the characters until a) a PC approaches to within 10 feet of one of the figures, or b), the party attempts to climb up onto the platform. When either of these conditions are met, the zombies launch into motion towards the PCs and attempt to pummel them to death.

The wight spins and throws off its cloak, revealing its ornate leather armor and blood-encrusted sword. It immediately sizes up the party and then leaps to the attack, targeting the most tactically-important character before moving on to the next.

21. Trapped Room

This room is a large trap, used to prevent PCs from reaching the vault where the noble family’s treasure is kept.

The room’s ceiling is 15 feet high, and the walls are covered with ornate carvings that resemble an army of marching skeletons.

Trigger. The trap activates when any PC steps into the 10-foot-square in front of the falling stone door (marked with “x” on the map). The DC is 16 to find (or passively notice) the trigger plate in the floor. To find or notice the gas pipes hidden in the wall before the gas begins to flow, the check is DC 20. Once the gas begins to flow from the pipes, the DC drops to 12.

Initiative. The trap activates on initiative count 15.

Active Elements. The trap seals off the room and fills it with poison gas (which is not visible, but does have a noticeable scent).

Stone Slabs (Initiative 15). A solid stone slab slides down from the ceiling, blocking both the entrance and exit doors (marked on the map with dotted lines).

Poison Gas (Initiative 15). Six nozzles hidden among the carvings on the walls pour poison gas into the room. On the first round, the gas can be heard and smelt, but has no effect on creatures in the room. On each subsequent round, each creature inside the room must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw, taking 7 (2d6) damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Countermeasures. There are two main ways the trap can be overcome.

Open the Doors. Getting the doors open is the fastest way to circumvent the trap, but the stone slabs are heavy. To lift a slab high enough that characters can crawl through, a character must succeed at a DC 20 Strength check. The stone slab is wide enough that up to two additional characters can assist with this check. Unless the character(s) hold the slab, however, it drops back down into place. If the characters make three successful DC 20 Strength checks in a row, they manage to lift the slab high enough that it locks back into place and stays open. Each check takes an action. Once both doors are lifted back into place, the gas stops flowing and the trap is reset.

Block the Pipes. The flow of gas can be stopped by blocking all six pipes (locations marked with “a” on the map) with a cloak or similar object. Once blocked, someone must remain to hold the blocking object in place (unless the characters come up with a way to prevent the force of the gas from pushing the object out of the pipe). If the character block up all six pipes in the first round, they take no damage from the gas. If they start blocking the pipes after the first round, they must still make saving throws to avoid the damage for another five rounds after all the pipes are blocked. After five rounds of being blocked, the gas backs up and triggers the trap reset—the stone slabs rise into the ceiling and the gas stops flowing.

If the characters do not open either door or block the gas, the poison continues to flow into the room for 30 rounds (29 saving throws). After that time, the trap resets. If the characters manage to prop open (or lock in place) only one of the doors, the gas continues to flow for 120 rounds (the entire reservoir of gas) before it is empty.

If only the door to the vault is kept open, the vault begins to fill with the gas as well. After 10 rounds, anyone in the vault must start making saving throws to avoid taking damage from the poison gas (same DC and damage as above).

22. Vault

This room is where the noble family kept some of their treasure. It is obvious that this room was ransacked at some point in the distant past, and all coins, gems, jewels, and magic items have been removed.

If the party has come to this crypt for a particular item, then it is found in this vault. If the party is after information, then the vault contains a small library with histories of the family, treatises on death, unholy texts about their god, and tomes containing the information the party is searching for.

The ceiling in this room is 25 feet high, and in each of the four corners near the ceiling is a platform with a carved stone gargoyle looking down into the vault. One of the statues is an actual gargoyle that was placed here as a guardian. If anyone enters the vault who is not a member of the ancient noble family, the gargoyle attacks the interlopers.

In addition to the placed guardian, a spirit of one of the nobles still haunts the vault. On the round after the gargoyle attacks, a specter emerges through the wall behind the rearmost party member. It also seeks to slay any living members of the party.

Both the gargoyle and specter pursue the party if they flee the area—the specter stops pursuing if the party reaches daylight—and both fight until destroyed.


Here is the map for the crypt.



This was obviously a longer adventure than the previous two. As the levels go higher, it takes more encounters for a party of five characters to gain a level. Obviously, this adventure will be much more difficult for a party without a cleric (or anyone with the ability to turn undead). And it will likely take more than one or even two sessions to complete.

As usual, if you end up using this adventure, please drop a comment to let us know how it went.

Dungeon-a-Week #2: The Bandit Hideout


Last week, I started a new series of posts, presenting a simple dungeon that was designed for first-level D&D 5E characters—with just enough encounters to take them to second level.

This is part of a series of short, single-level adventures that people can grab when they don’t have a lot of time and need something quick and fun to run that night. Note that is an experiment—I have no idea if I will continue through all twenty levels or not, though I will make a serious attempt to complete this project.

In writing these adventures, I will keep the following design guidelines in mind:

  • These adventures will most likely be a series of small dungeon environments. I don’t intend any of these to be event-based.
  • The encounters in the adventure will be enough to provide a single level’s worth of experience points for 5 characters. DMs with larger or smaller groups will have to add or eliminate monsters in the encounters to make them appropriate for their home groups.
  • Each dungeon will have a series of encounters with various numbers and types of creatures, plus one solo creature.
  • Not all the encounters will necessitate a battle—the players will usually be free to choose how to deal with the monsters within the dungeon.
  • Each dungeon will include one or two traps and/or hazards, separate from the monster encounters.
  • Level-appropriate treasure, rolled entirely randomly, will be included.
  • I will use any creature published by Wizards of the Coast and available on DnD Beyond. I will not include stat blocks—the DM will need, at the least, the Monster Manual. I will try to suggest alternate creatures from the MM in case the DM does not have access to the book in which the creature appears or access to DnD Beyond.
  • I will provide very rough maps for some—but not necessarily all—of the adventures.
  • I intend to keep the word count for these adventures to about 2,000 words, and definitely below 3,000, to make it easy to read quickly and bring to the table.

This week I present to you Dungeon #2: The Bandit Hideout

The Bandit Hideout

  • Location: This hideout consists of a series of natural caves that were expanded and reinforced by the bandits in a local forest area, fairly near to at least one large town and preferably in a region with multiple towns and villages so that the bandits can raid travelers moving along the road that connects them.
  • Hook: Bandits have become an issue in the last while, and their raids are become more daring. There is a 1,000 SP bounty offered to anyone who can eliminate the bandit menace (proof of success is required to claim the bounty).
  • Finding the Hideout: There are countless ways that characters may find the bandit hideout. They might escort merchant caravans traveling through the area in the hopes of capturing a bandit and interrogating him/her. The PCs may stage their own fake caravan with the same objective. They may explore the forest area and search for any signs of the bandits. They might question people in the towns and villages hoping to find the family of any of the bandits and use those family members to either track down the bandit hideout or bring the bandits to them. It is up to the DM how much time they want to spend on the PCs searching for the hideout. The DM can make it fairly easy if the group just wants to get to the “dungeon crawl” quickly.
  • Experience Points: This adventure is designed to provide a total of 3,000 XP, exactly enough for 5 characters of 2nd level to advance to 3rd level.

Key to the Hideout

Note that the walls and ceilings of the hideout are a combination of exposed tree roots, packed dirt, and wooden beams used to stabilize the areas where the bandits are. It is obvious that these were natural caves, and that the bandits cut through tree roots and dug out the caves to make them much larger than they were originally. The floors are packed dirt throughout the hideout.

1. Forest Area

(Easy; 3 creatures; Encounter XP 450; Earned XP 225)

A pair of scouts and their trained mastiff are patrolling the area near the hideout to ensure that anyone getting too close is eliminated before they can find the actual location. The scouts are very confident, and will ambush even a party of adventurers, using the trees for cover and attempting to keep at missile range as long as possible. They will target spellcasters first. The mastiff will stay beside one of the scouts, and will engage anyone getting too close to his master so that the scout can stay back and continue to use his bow to inflict as much damage as possible before getting into melee.

If one of the scouts dies, the other will retreat in a direction away from the hideout. He attempts to escape and lose the PCs in the forest before eventually doubling back to the hideout to warn everyone about the PCs. This puts the hideout on alert for the next three days.

Treasure: Each of the scouts carries a belt pouch with their personal money. They have 22 cp and 18 sp, respectively.

2. Disguised Entrance

(Medium; 1 creature; Encounter XP 700; Earned XP 700)

The entrance to the hideout is a hole in the ground leading down into a dirt tunnel. The hole is covered by a screen of branches woven with brush to hide its location. The PCs must make a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check to find the hole if they are searching—or they automatically notice it if any PCs passive Perception is 15 or higher.

In the branches of a large tree 20 feet above the entrance is a hunter’s blind. An archer sits inside the blind, keeping watch over the entrance. He attacks anyone attempting to enter the tunnel unless they are accompanied by one of the bandits. The archer continues to attack at range as long as he can, unless he is forced out of the tree. If forced to fight on the ground, he attempts to remain at range so that he can use his bow, and only fights in melee if he has no choice.

Just inside the tunnel is bear trap—a set of iron jaws that springs shut when stepped on. The first PC who passes through the spot marked with a X on the map becomes the targeted creature. The trap makes a +8 attack roll against the PC and deals 5 (1d10) damage. Furthermore, a PC hit by the trap has their speed reduced to 0 and can’t move until they break free of the trap (a successful DC 15 Strength check). The PC hit by the trap, or another character adjacent to the trap can try to pry it open.

Attached to the trap is a small bell. When the trap snaps closed, the bell rings and alerts the bandits in the main hall (room 3), who prepare an ambush. Three of the bandits move into the hallway to room 4 and hide down the stairs and around the corner. The other four bandits wait at the entrance to room 3. When the PCs pass the hallway to room 4, the bandits there rush up and attack from the rear. The remaining four bandits run out and attack the PCs from the front.

The bandits intend to capture the PCs (any PC who drops to 0 hit points is knocked out from non-lethal damage). If more than two bandits are killed by the party, then the bandits switch to attacking with lethal blows.

If the PCs slay two of the bandits in the front, one of the remaining bandits retreats and attempts to alert the bandits in the barracks (room 5).

Treasure: The archer has a belt pouch that contains 27 sp and 14 gp.

3. Main Hall

(Medium; 8 creatures; Encounter XP 500; Earned XP 200)

This large chamber doesn’t have a door, just an opening. Several long tables—enough for approximately thirty people are placed in this room. At any given time, there are seven bandits sitting around, playing dice, and eating.

At the north end there is a fire pit, with a stone chimney of sorts that channels the smoke up into the gaps between the tree roots. The bandits take care not to leave the fire burning when they are not actually cooking food, otherwise the smoke will eventually fill up the underground gaps and start to flow back into this room. They cook no more than once per day, which allows time for the smoke in the tree roots to settle before the fire is lit again.

A small well has been dug in the northwest corner, and mostly-clean water can be drawn up with a bucket on a rope.Barrels of ale and boxes of foodstuffs stolen from traveling caravans are stored in the southwest area of this chamber.

If the bandits were alerted by the sound of the bell on the bear trap, then see area 2 for their reaction. Otherwise, once they notice the PCs, they grab their weapons and ready themselves for a fight. If possible, one of the bandits attempts to get out of the room to alert the bandits in room 5, but only if the PCs move far enough into the room that the bandit can get past them without being attacked.

Treasure: The bandits each have a small belt pouch that contains 11 gp, 16 cp, 10 gp, 15 sp, 15 cp, 13 sp, and 4 pp, respectively.

4. Dog Trainer

(Medium; 3 creatures; Encounter XP 712; Earned XP 475)

The entrance to this chamber is covered by a wooden door that is kept closed. It has a simple latch and no lock. A berserker stays in this room. He is responsible for training the mastiffs that are used as war dogs by the bandits. Currently, he has one mastiff that is ready to join begin accompanying the scouts, and another five mastiff puppies (that are incapable of combat).

If the PCs come into this room, the berserker demands to know who they are unless they are accompanied by one of the bandits. Unless they give him a good reason to trust them, he orders the mastiff to attack, and he attacks using his reckless ability. The berserker attempts to prevent the PCs from all entering the room—he tries to bottle the PCs up in the hallway so that no more than two of them can fight him at a time.

The mastiff puppies are kept in a large wooden crate with no top. The berserker has a bedroll, a crate with food, a small barrel with water, small wooden bowls for the dogs, and assorted personal items.

Treasure: The berserker has a pouch that contains 22 cp, 16 sp, and 15 gp.

5. Barracks

(Medium; 8 creatures; Encounter XP 500; Earned XP 200)

The entrance to this chamber is covered by a wooden door that is kept closed. It has a simple latch and no lock. The passage to room 6 is also covered by a door of the same type.This is the barracks for the bandits, scouts, and archer. There are twenty-two bedrolls scattered around this room. Only a single small lantern is kept lit in the northeast corner, providing dim illumination so that the bandits don’t stumble over one another in the dark.

At any given time, there are eight bandits resting in this room. At least three of the bandits are awake and aware of anyone entering the room. If they see the PCs enter, they yell out an alert that wakes up the remaining five bandits.

Once aware of the PCs, the bandits jump up and grab their weapons. Note that these bandits have an AC of 11 instead of 12 as they are not wearing their leather armor while sleeping. The bandits immediately attack the PCs unless they have good reason not to, and one of the bandits runs for the door leading to room 6 so that he can warn the three thugs in that room.

Like the bandits in room 3, these bandits attempt to capture the PCs until half of their number are slain. Then, they fight to kill unless given a chance to surrender.

Treasure: The bandits each have a small belt pouch that contains 15 cp, 15 ep, 17 sp, 10 sp, 11 gp, 18 sp, 20 cp, 12 gp, and 22 cp, respectively.

6. Sergeants’ Barracks

(Medium; 3 creatures; Encounter XP 600; Earned XP 300)

The entrance to this chamber is covered by a wooden door that is kept closed. It has a simple latch and no locks. The door is actually located at the point where the passage exits room 5.

This chamber is where the three bandit sergeants (use the stat block for a thug) rest. Then tend to stay together and avoid the rest of the bandits unless they are training or leading them on a raid.

When the PCs reach this chamber, all three thugs are awake and wearing their armor. If the PCs are able to spy on the thugs without being noticed, they can wait for up to two of the thugs to go to sleep—one always remains awake. The sergeants, being fairly tough individuals, generally sleep in their leather armor.

If one of the bandits managed to warn the sergeants of the PCs incursion, then their preparations depend on the situation. If the battle in the barracks is still going on, then two of the sergeants head up the stairs to the barracks and attempt to turn the tide of battle. The third sergeant goes down the other passage and warns the bandit captain. If this happens, the bandit captain, the sergeant, and the scout in the captain’s room leave the captain’s chamber and circle around to attempt to attack the PCs from behind.

Otherwise, the sergeants take cover around the corners of the room and ready their heavy crossbows. They attempt to inflict as much damage on the PCs as possible as they enter the room, only switching to their maces if the PCs move into melee range.

The sergeants do not attempt to capture the PCs—they fight to kill, and they fight to the death.

Each sergeant has a bedroll and assorted personal effects.

Treasure: Each of the sergeants has a belt pouch containing his personal treasure. The first sergeant has 18 cp, 17 sp, 11 gp, and 4 pp; the second sergeant has 21 cp, 15 sp, 13 gp, and 6 pp; and the third sergeant has 17 cp, 16 sp, 13 gp, and 3 pp.

7. Chapel

(Medium; 5 creatures; Encounter XP 700; Earned XP 350)

The entrance to this chamber is covered by a wooden door that is kept closed. The door has a latch and a lock that is usually engaged.The chapel currently has two acolytes standing in front of a wooden cage, two bandits standing nervously off to one side, and a ghoul inside the cage.

This chapel was set up by the pair of acolytes who joined the bandit group some time ago. They are generalists, tending to the varied religious beliefs of the bandits as necessary, and providing healing for wounds received on the bandit raids.

Recently, the acolytes managed to capture a ghoul that was inhabiting an old, forgotten graveyard deeper in the forest. They brought it back to the hideout and the bandits constructed a cage for it. The ghoul is kept here while the acolytes attempt to control it with magic—something that has not been successful so far.

When experimenting with their attempts to control the ghoul, they always keep a couple of bandits in the chapel with them in case the ghoul manages to get loose.

When the PCs enter the room, one of the acolytes demands to know who they are. If the acolytes are not convinced that the PCs should be there, they order the bandits to attack, while they stay back and fling spells. If any of the bandits or acolytes are killed, the acolyte near the cage unlocks the door and leaps away, freeing the ghoul. The ghoul wants to slay the living, but also wants to escape, so it launches itself at anyone near the doorway (most likely a PC). Once in combat, the ghoul will not be able to resist its hunger, and will keep attacking and fight to the death.

The acolytes and bandits will surrender once at least two of them have been killed (if the ghoul has already been released).

Treasure: All four humans have belt pouches with their personal treasure. The bandits have 8 gp and 12 cp, respectively. The acolytes have 18 cp, 6 ep, and 14 cp, 11 gp, respectively.

8. Bandit Captain’s Room

(Hard; 4 creatures; Encounter XP 825; Earned XP 550)

The west entrance to this chamber is covered by a wooden door that is kept closed. The door has a latch and a lock that is usually engaged. A similar wooden door blocks the passage on the east side of the room.

When the PCs arrive at this room, the bandit captain is having a discussion with one of the scouts about an upcoming raid on a merchant caravan. If the PCs have caused an alert and one of the sergeants has warned the bandit captain about the party, then he, the sergeant, and the scout move through the passage to the west in an attempt to ambush the party. The bandit captain is not afraid to get into melee with the PCs.

The bandit captain does not surrender unless he is reduced to less than 10 hit points. If he does decide to surrender, he attempts to bribe the PCs to let him go, promising to give them all the treasure he has, and to leave the area and not return.

Treasure: The bandit captain has a chest that has been cunningly hidden in an alcove behind some tree roots that make up the north wall of the chamber.

The chest is trapped with a poison needle. A successful DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the needle. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the needle from the lock. Unsuccessfully attempting to pick the lock triggers the trap. When the trap is triggered, the needle extends 3 inches straight out from the lock. A creature within range takes 1 piercing damage and 11 (2d10) poison damage, and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour.

The chest contains the following treasure: 1,668 cp, 1,118 sp, 76 gp, four gold lockets with painted portraits inside (worth 25 gp each), one small mirror set in a painted wooden frame (worth 25 gp), two black velvet masks stitched with silver thread (worth 25 gp each), a potion of healing, a potion of climbing, and a bone scroll tube with two spell scrolls: sleep and zone of truth.




I hope you get some use out of this simple dungeon. There is a notable lack of monsters in this one, but next week’s dungeon will make up for that, I think.

If you do end up using this dungeon, please let us know how it goes by leaving a comment.

Dungeon-a-Week #1: The Mud Caves


Last week, I presented a simple example adventure for first-level Dungeons & Dragons characters. And it occurred to me that I’ve often seen players mention that there is a lack of short adventures that can be played in one (or maximum two) sessions. These short adventures are generally used to advance the characters by a single level, and can be inserted into an existing campaign—even one of the published ones—in order to get the characters to the next level for the next part of the campaign.

So I decided to write a series of short, single-level adventures that people can grab when they don’t have a lot of time and need something quick and fun to run that night. Note that is an experiment—I have no idea if I will continue through all twenty levels or not, though I will make a serious attempt to complete this project.

In writing these adventures, I’m keeping the following design guidelines in mind:

  • These adventures will most likely be a series of small dungeon environments. I don’t intend any of these to be event-based.
  • The encounters in the adventure will be enough to provide a single level’s worth of experience points.
  • Each dungeon will have a series of encounters with various numbers and types of creatures, plus one solo creature.
  • Not all the encounters will necessitate a battle—the players will usually be free to choose how to deal with the monsters within the dungeon.
  • Each dungeon will include one or two traps and/or hazards, separate from the monster encounters.
  • Level-appropriate treasure, rolled entirely randomly, will be included.
  • I will use any creature published by Wizards of the Coast and available on DnD Beyond. I will not include stat blocks—the DM will need, at the least, the Monster Manual. I will try to suggest alternate creatures from the MM in case the DM does not have access to the book in which the creature appears or access to DnD Beyond.
  • I will provide very rough maps for some—but not necessarily all—of the adventures.
  • I intend to keep the word count for these adventures to about 1,500 words, and definitely below 2,000, to make it easy to read quickly and bring to the table.

I know that last week I already presented a short adventure for first-level characters. But that wasn’t part of this experiment, so I’m not going to count it. So this week I present to you the actual Dungeon #1: The Mud Caves.

Dungeon #1: The Mud Caves

  • Location: This dungeon is found among some rocky outcrops at the edge of a large swamp. The swamp is surrounded by dense forest.
  • Premise: A group of bullywugs have recently come into this area and established a lair. The bullywug lord wants treasure and slaves from the nearby villages, and the bullywugs have captured a pair of fishermen as well as launched a raid on one of the villages. The villagers are mostly poor, however, and so they don’t really have anything the way of treasure. The bullywug lord is angry that his bullywugs haven’t brought back anything nice from their raid, and is working up to launching a second raid against the other village.
  • Hook: Last week, two of the village’s fishermen went missing. Then, a few days ago, one of the villages was raided by a band of frog-like humanoids, and two more villagers were killed. The villagers don’t know what the creatures are, but need help protecting themselves from these monstrous creatures. They approach the adventurers and beg for them to help.
  • Resolution: The bullywug lord wants a place where he can establish his domain and gain treasure. He can be convinced that the villages are too poor to provide any treasure, and that taking slaves will cause him more trouble than they are worth. In this case, the bullywug will gather his people and move on—though of course this just moves the problem somewhere else. Alternately, the characters can slay all the bullywugs, thus eliminating the threat.
  • Finding the Caves: If the characters search around the area where the fishermen went missing, they can find the bullywug tracks with an easy Wisdom (Survival) check. Alternately, one of the villagers can tell them about the caves that line the swamp as the best place for a monster to make its lair.

Key to the Caves

  1. Swamp Area: (Note that this area is not on the map, as it can be placed anywhere within the swamp.) While following the trail, or exploring the swamp area searching for the caves, the party stumbles into an area with a large, shallow pool. Five giant frogs are resting in this area. The amphibians are hungry and emerge from the water to attack the party.

    Each frog continues to attack until it takes half its hit points in damage, and then it retreats from the party, at first submerging in the pool, and then leaping away farther into the swamp if the characters pursue or continue to attack.

    Treasure: At the bottom of the pool is a small bag from a previous victim of the frogs—a halfling adventurer who was eaten by the amphibians—containing 141 cp, 15 sp,  8 gp, and a potion of healing.

  1. Watery Chamber: This chamber contains two pools of water and a muddy path between them. A hungry crocodile rests in each pool, ready to ambush anyone passing by. The bullywugs feed these crocodiles just enough so that they don’t leave to find food elsewhere. When the bullywugs need to pass by this area, they use their standing leap ability to bypass the narrow area between the pools.

    The crocodiles wait in the water until one or more characters move between the pools. When a character is in range, the crocodile charges out of the water and attempts to bite him/her. If successful, the crocodile tries to pull the character back under the water (opposed STR roll to resist).

  1. Dead End: This passage through the rock is little more than a large crack in the stone. The bullywugs dug a 10-foot-deep pit trap at the end to cause trouble for anyone trying to infiltrate the caves.

    The first PC to walk onto the square marked with the “X” on the map must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw or fall into the pit, taking 1d6 damage.

  1. Bullywug Lair: This chamber houses the five bullywugs who serve their lord. One of the bullywugs is always in the bullywug lord’s chamber, so there is never more than four bullywugs here. The walls of this chamber are a mixture of rock and mud, and are unstable. Anyone who moves into the square marked by the “X” on the map triggers a mud slide. The character must make a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw or be buried by the sudden mudslide. Once buried, the character must make a DC 15 Strength check to successfully dig their way out, and must hold their breath until they get out from the mud—failed checks can be tried each round. It takes a character outside the mud two rounds to dig the buried PC out—no check is required.

    The bullywugs are cowardly—if the bullywug lord is slain and the bullywugs are aware of his death, they will attempt to flee. Otherwise, they will fight until half their number are dead, and then the remaining pair will surrender. As soon as they are given a chance, the bullywugs will attempt to flee out into the swamp to hide. If the bullywug lord is dead, any escaping bullywugs move on from this area and attempt to find another bullywug tribe to join.

    Treasure: The bullywugs have kept a small amount of treasure for themselves in this chamber. If the party takes a few minutes to examine the chamber, they can find 17 cp and 45 sp scattered in the mud.

  1. Side Chamber: At some point in the past, a skulk was brought over from the Shadowfell, and was then abandoned. It found the bullywugs and followed them here, hoping that they would lead it to battle where it could die. The skulk stays in this chamber, out of everyone’s way, until the next raid. When it sees the characters, the skulk holds still and waits for the party to be distracted by the mud mephitis. Then, it attacks from hiding, attempting to kill as many characters as possible.

    (Note that both of the fishermen that were captured as slaves by the bullywugs were murdered by the skulk within a few hours of being brought into the caves. The bullywugs have no idea who killed the fishermen or why, and the bullywug lord is suspicious that one of his bullywugs is trying to sabotage his rule. The dead bodies of the fishermen were fed to the crocodiles.)

    A pair of mud mephits have also joined the bullywugs, and they often spend time with the bullywug lord, complaining and begging for treasure. Every so often, the bullywug lord gets annoyed by their constant whining, and he banishes them from his chamber. When they are not bothering the bullywug lord, they wallow in the mud pool at the western end of this chamber.

    When any characters enter this room, the mephits remain motionless, waiting for the characters to fully enter. The mephits—less patient than the skulk—usually rise up out of the mud and attack first. Once the battle starts, the skulk moves into an advantageous position and attacks the characters.

  1. Side Chamber: This side chamber is not used by the bullywugs in order to avoid the giant constrictor snake that lives here. The snake often leaves this chamber through a hole in the rock and goes hunting in the swamp for food. When it is not hunting, it stays here in the darkness.

    The snake immediately attacks anyone entering its lair in self-defense, as it is protecting a nest of eggs. The snake will fight to the death in this chamber, but will not pursue anyone who leaves the chamber. If the eggs are destroyed (if the nest takes any damage at all), the snake will fight for one more round and will then attempt to flee through the hole in the rock.

  1. Bullywug Lord Lair: The bullywug lord (see stat block at the end of this section) lives in this chamber. A crude throne has been fashioned out of branches and material that was stolen from the villagers. There is always one bullywug here to serve the whims of the lord—mostly making it grovel or bring it “treasures” to look at one-by-one. A crude shelf has been attached to the north wall of the chamber, and the treasures are kept on this shelf in plain view of anyone entering the room.

    Treasure: Eleven 50 gp gems are kept on the shelf (3 moonstones, 2 pieces of onyx, 3 bloodstones, 1 citrine, and 2 jasper), along with a bone scroll tube with ornate carving around the top and bottom. The bullywugs have never opened the tube, and are unaware it contains a pair of spells scrolls: burning hands and cloud of daggers.

  1. Treasure Chamber: This chamber can only be accessed by a small hole at ground level. Any character—even a halfling—will need to crawl to get through the hole into the chamber beyond, and creatures of large size or larger are too large to move through the hole. The bullywug lord put a bag of coins and other treasure into this chamber before he realized that it is the nest of three stirges. The stirges attacked him, and he retreated, and has not been able to get back in to recover the bag. A hole in the ceiling of this chamber allows the stirges to come and go, but they spend most of their time in here when they are not out hunting for blood.

    The bag sits in the middle of the chamber, half-sunk in the mud.

    Treasure: The bag contains 2,142 cp, 440 sp, and 92 gp.


Bullywug Lord

The bullywug lord is simply a tougher, stronger, and slightly more intelligent example of its species, which tends to make it possible to assume a leadership role among its people.

Medium humanoid (bullywug), neutral evil

Armor Class 14 (Hide Armor)
Hit Points 55 (10d8+10)
Speed 20 ft., swim 40 ft.

STR                         DEX                      CON                      INT                       WIS                    CHA
14 (+2)                  12 (+1)                  13 (+1)                  10 (+0)                  10 (+0)                  8 (-1)

Skills Stealth +3
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages Bullywug
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Amphibious. The bullywug can breathe air and water.

Speak with Frogs and Toads. The bullywug can communicate simple concepts to frogs and toads when it speaks in Bullywug.

Swamp Camouflage. The bullywug has advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide in swampy terrain.

Standing Leap. The bullywug’s long jump is up to 20 feet and its high jump is up to 10 feet, with or without a running start.


Multiattack. The bullywug makes two melee attacks: one with its bite and one with its spear.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) bludgeoning damage.

Spear. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage, or 6 (1d8 + 2) piercing damage if used with two hands to make a melee attack.


Here is a simple map of the Mud Caves:



I hope you enjoyed this little dungeon. Next week I tackle Level 2!

D&D 5E Free Starting Adventure

Back in June, I posted about the problem that a number of people have mentioned on various message boards about the problem of starting a new campaign with experienced D&D 5E players who find the usual low-level monsters are pretty boring.

I mentioned a few different options and gave a rough sketch on how one might combine various monsters to make a first-level adventure without a single goblin or kobold in sight.

After that post, I received a few emails from people asking me to write up such an adventure. I considered doing up something to be published, but then decided it would be more helpful to simply put something together and post it here. Note that this is just a quick example of what you might throw together using monsters from published sources.

This adventure uses the Drow Outpost example that appeared in my original post back in June.

Adventure Overview

DISCLAIMER: Please note that this is only written up in the most basic form. The maps were something I pulled together in 30 minutes in Photoshop. None of this is up to my usual standard for published products, because I’m just throwing this out there for people to see as an example of using different monsters for first level adventures.

Premise: A small group of drow—along with a few derro and human slaves—have been sent to the surface to take possession of a location where the drow may set up a forward base, in preparation for an incursion of the drow into the area. At this point, the drow priestess who will be in charge of the forward base has not arrived yet.

Hook: Three of the hunters who catch game within the forest and sell it in the village have disappeared in the last week. The village leader asks the PCs to go into the forest to find out what happened to the hunters, rescue them if they’re still alive, and report back to the town if there is a problem in the forest that they need to worry about.

Goal: Once the PCs find the drow outpost, their main goal will be to drive off the drow or eliminate them entirely before the priestess arrives with reinforcements.

Location: You’ll need a small village near a moderately-large forest. At some point in the past, there was a military outpost of stone that was built on the edge of the forest. It’s been long enough that the forest has expanded and the outpost is now entirely within the outer edge of the forest. The forest itself is generally believed to be a normal forest in all respects—plenty of game, no supernatural influence, no large enclave of elves, etc.

Experience Points: If you are using the standard experience point awards for monsters defeated, there is enough experience points in this adventure for the characters to reach second level. As the adventure is very short, I recommend not allowing the PCs a chance to level up until the adventure is complete.


Getting Hired: The leader in the village approaches the PCs and asks them if they can help. The leader explains that there are a few hunters who live in the village. They regularly go into the forest to trap or hunt game, which they bring back to the village to sell to the other villagers. Just under a week ago, three of the hunters left the village, and have not returned. They generally are not gone more than one night, and since none of the three have returned, the leader is concerned that something happened to them in the forest.

Exploring the Forest: The PCs can follow a faint dirt path into the forest, which soon disappears into the ground foliage. The hunters would use the path to enter the forest edge, but then would generally go their separate ways to check their snares and hunt the larger animals that live among the trees.

Any character with Survival should be able to follow the three trails of the hunters.

See the Forest Map near the end of this post for the locations of these encounters.

  1. The PCs eventually come upon the dead body of the hunter. He’s been killed by a couple of deep thrusts of a blade to the chest—close examination indicates that the weapon was a shortsword.
  2. This is where the second hunter was captured by the drow. They shot him with their poisoned crossbow bolts and then the human slaves dragged him back to the outpost. The trail is rather easy to follow and leads in an almost straight line right to the clearing where the old outpost stands. Anyone examining the trail figures that something—possibly a body—was dragged through the undergrowth.
  3. One of the drow spellcasters (take the apprentice wizard stat block and give it the drow racial abilities and the hand crossbow attack) is in this area, searching for spell components. He is accompanied by a pair of derro slaves. He is not focused on moving silently, and so the PCs have an average chance to hear him and his slaves as they move through the undergrowth.

    If he hears the PCs before they hear or see him, he attempts to get close enough to spy on them. This drow is one of the most overzealous of those who have come to the surface, and he figures that, with his derro slaves helping, he should be able to capture the entire PC party.

    He targets the strongest-looking PC with his poisoned crossbow, and then switches to spells. The derro stand in front of him and attempt to hold off anyone trying to attack him directly.

    Note that due to the overhead cover from the trees, the derro have enough shade that they do not have to worry about their sunlight sensitivity.

  4. This is where the third hunter was captured by the drow. Like his compatriot, he was hit by the poisoned drow crossbow bolts and fell unconscious. He’s been dragged back to the outpost, and the trail is rather easy to follow.
  5. When the PCs near this area, they have a good chance to hear a fight happening—the roar of a wounded animal (bear) and the yells of some humans trying to coordinate their attacks.

    A single drow is on patrol with his three human slaves, and they just found a couple of bear cubs. The drow ordered the cubs slain, which sent their returning mother bear into a frenzy. It’s up to the DM if the cubs are already slain, or if one was merely wounded before running off. Either way, the mother bear is attacking the drow and the three slaves.

    The slaves were given simple hides (protects as hide armor) and spears in case they needed to protect the drow. Use the tribal warrior stat block for these slaves. When the PCs arrive at the scene of the fight, the three humans are using their spears to keep the black bear at bay, while the drow stands behind and laughs.

    Don’t roll for the combat between the humans and the bear. If the PCs watch from hiding and don’t interfere in the fight, then it plays out as follows: In the first round, the humans inflict 12 points of damage on the bear, and the bear kills one of the humans outright. On the second round, the humans inflict another 4 points of damage on the bear, and the bear hits one of the humans with its claw, inflicting 7 points of damage. On the third round, the humans slay the bear.

    The bear cannot tell the difference between the PCs and the other humans and drow, so the animal friendship spell won’t work on it. However, a character who casts the speak with animal spells and gives the bear the idea that they on the bear’s “side” will allow the casting of animal friendship once the attacking humans and drow are dead.

  6. This the outpost. It is a stone building with two floors and basement. There is a single reinforced wooden door leading into the building, though it is not kept barred as the wooden bar has rotted away, and the drow are not worried about incursions into their base.
  7. A pair of derro slaves are collecting berries and such for the drow inside the outpost. They will try to flee into the outpost to warn the drow, and will only fight if cornered. If the derro manage to flee, they will head straight down into the dungeon and alert the drow leader and drow spellcaster.
  8. Main Courtyard: There are no drow in the main courtyard, nor any animals. There are signs that living humanoids have been moving around here recently (tracks in the dirt, etc.).
  9. Drow Chambers: The drow warriors who follow the commands of the drow leader all stay together in this large room. They spend most of their time practicing individually with their weapons, maintaining their armor, or praying to Lolth.

    If the PCs enter this room, the drow immediately leap to the attack. They don’t try to capture the PCs with their poisoned crossbow bolts, assuming that the characters are part of an attack on the entire outpost. The drow fight to the death unless the PCs show overwhelming force and offer to parley.

  10. Spider Nest: Two giant spiders accompanied the drow up from the underdark. One of the spiders is out on patrol with the drow scout, while the other waits in its web in this room. The spider immediately attacks anyone who is not a drow—this includes derro and human slaves—unless ordered not to by the drow scout or drow leader.
  11. Dungeon Prison: One of the two captured hunters is in the first cell in this area. The cell door is closed and locked. Four skeletons stay in the other four cells, animate and emerge whenever anyone living spends more than 1 round in the prison area. The skeletons attack anyone in the prison area who is not locked in a cell.

    The skeletons were animated by a necromancer who stayed in this outpost for a short time many years ago. The necromancer moved on and forgot about the skeletons who had wandered into the prison area.

    The drow don’t stay in this area long enough to deal with the skeletons. They thought about destroying the animated undead, but felt they were an added precaution against the prisoners escaping, so they left them alone.

  12. Dungeon Storage Room: The drow leader (use stats for a drow, but increase his Intelligence to 14) stays in this room, which has a table and a few chairs (dragged down from the ground floor rooms above). Currently, the table holds the body of one of the hunters, tied down so that he cannot move. The hunter is alive, but barely, and the drow leader and the second drow spellcaster (take the apprentice wizard stat block and add the drow racial abilities and hand crossbow attack) are torturing the human, not so much for information about the village anymore, but purely for pleasure. If the PCs do nothing, the drow will kill in the hunter a few minutes later and throw his body into the prison area.
  13. Drow Ambush: This drow scout (take the scout stat block and give it the drow racial abilities and hand crossbow attack) and his giant spider were checking out the forest to the east of the outpost when the PCs arrived. He has just returned and noticed the tracks of the PCs (unless the PCs managed to completely obliterate any signs of their passage.

    This drow scout is cautious and doesn’t particular care for the well-being of his fellow drow, and so waits outside the outpost at the very edge of the trees. He figures that, even if the PCs manage to kill all the drow in the outpost, they will be severely weakened by the time the battles are over.

    The drow scout sends his spider up the side of the wall above the main doors to wait for his signal. When the PCs emerge, the drow attacks them with his poisoned crossbow bolts, while the spider attacks in melee. While the PCs are distracted by the spider, the drow continues to hide among the trees and shoot them with his crossbow until all are unconscious.

    If the drow scout succeeds in defeating the PCs, he takes all their equipment, including weapons and armor, ties them up, and throws them into a couple of cells in the prison area (determine randomly which characters are together in each of the two cells). Then he waits for the drow priestess to arrive with reinforcements. The PCs should be given at least one opportunity to attempt to escape before the priestess arrives.

Ending the Adventure

If the PCs slay all the drow, or convince the drow that there is an overwhelming force ready to wipe them out so that the drow abandon the outpost, then they are considered successful by the village’s leader. In this case, when the priestess arrives, she sees the destruction of her advance force and immediately retreats for her own safety. You may have the priestess return to the underdark and consider the attempted incursion as a failure, or more likely have her make another attempt in a different location. With the second option, the PCs may run into the priestess at some point in the future, when they are higher level and have a better chance of taking her on and winning.

Creature Stat Blocks

All of the creatures use the official stat blocks by Wizards of the Coast. All the monsters appear in the basic rules, except for the derro, which appear in the adventure Out of the Abyss, and can also be found on D&D Beyond.

Adventure Maps

Here are the two maps for use with this adventure.

Map #1: Forest Area


Map #2: Abandoned Outpost



I hope this very simple adventure is of use to you as an example of something that can be used for first-level characters, without falling back on the standard evil humanoids that make up so much of early adventures (i.e. goblins and kobolds).

If you do use this adventure at the start of your own campaign, tell us how it went in the comments.

Factions in D&D 5E – The Zhentarim

This is the final part of my look at the factions in the Forgotten Realms for D&D 5E, and I’ve saved what I believe is the best for last. This week I look at the Zhentarim.

Zhentarim History in Faerun

The Zhentarim have been a major element in the Forgotten Realms for hundreds of years, and have been at odds with the heroes of the Realms for a great deal of that history.

Zhentil Keep itself grew out of a small trading camp, expanded with fortifications in 747 DR and then purchased by a group of 12 Sembian merchants. In 751 DR, a powerful merchant named Elephstron invited the wizard Zhentar to come live in the city that had grown up around the keep. As part of their agreement, the merchants created a governing council and gave Zhentar a seat with equal status.

Zhentar soon took over the council, killing the merchants and replacing them with wizards and a merchant-priest named Brest who raised a shrine to Bane. Elephstron and Zhentar fought and killed each other, and the remaining council came to an agreement on how the keep would be governed going forward. They concocted a story that made Zhentar into a hero of the city, and renamed the hold Zhentil Keep.

Zhentil Keep continued to expand both militarily and economically. The council pursued their ambition to become the largest power on the Moonsea and control trade in the region.

1260 DR saw the ascension of Manshoon and Chess to the council, and they supported their friend Fzoul Chembryl’s rise through the ranks of Bane’s priesthood. By the following year, they had created the Zhentarim, or Black Network. Within three years, Fzoul Chembryl had declared his Black Altar in Zhentil Keep as the new head of the Banite church, and many priests of Bane became members of the Zhentarim.

Manshoon eventually made an alliance with the beholder Xantriph who lived in a floating rock near Teshendale. Manshoon convinced the Banite priests that the rock was a conduit to the gods, and the Banites flocked to the rock to speak with “Bane” and confess their sins. Xantriph provided the “voice” of Bane and learned of many plots from the priests’ confessions, which he reported back to Manshoon.

The Citadel of the Raven was rebuilt in 1276 DR and garrisoned by a force comprised of soldiers from each of the major cities on the Moonsea, including Zhentil Keep.

In 1312 DR, the Zhentarim took control of Darkhold after Manshoon defeated the lich-queen Varella and it became the third major base of operations for the organization. 25 years later, Manshoon declared himself to be the High Lord of Zhentil Keep.

Eventually, in 1355 DR, the Zhentarim betrayed the alliance of the Moonsea and their forces seized control of the Citadel of the Raven. However, three years later Bane was slain during the Time of Troubles. Cyric became the main god of the former Banites, and Fzoul assumed the position as Cyric’s high priest. Manshoon sheltered some Banites who refused to convert at Darkhold and the Citadel.

Manshoon continued to move the Zhentarim into the Citadel of the Raven, and by 1361 DR it was their main base of operations.

In 1370 DR, Fzoul Chembryl and Lord Orgauth (a pit fiend) combined forces and slew Manshoon. Fzoul consolidated his power and took control of the Zhentarim.

In 1372 DR, Bane re-emerged and Fzoul switched his worship back to his original god. Sememmon, the leader of Darkhold, fled from the Zhentarim as Fzoul established full control over the Zhentarim with the power of his god at his back. A clone of Manshoon returned to the Zhentarim and submitted fully to the rule of Fzoul Chembryl.

Fzoul continued to try to expand the influence of the Zhentarim, allying with the drow to invade Shadowdale, and eventually attempting to ally with the phaerimm. When the Netherese returned to Faerun, this second alliance led them to destroy both Zhentil Keep and the Citadel of the Raven, slaying Fzoul and shattering the Zhentarim organization.

In 1434 DR, the last remaining Manshoon clone (and a vampire lord) raised an army of undead and took over the citadel of Stormwatch. He gathered the remaining remnants of the Zhentarim to himself and again took control of the organization. Over the following years, he used Stormwatch and Darkhold as the main bases for the Zhentarim.

By 1489 DR, the Zhentarim have mostly become a mercenary organization, taking contracts for pay as Manshoon attempts to rebuild the Zhents into a major force once again.

The Zhentarim in Published Sources

The Zhentarim have been around since the very first Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (grey box) in 1987. As the organization was used as a villainous enemy for player characters to run up against in the Realms, they appeared in many adventures and sourcebooks over the following years. Some of the products featuring a fair amount of Zhentarim information include:

  • Castles (boxed set) has information on Darkhold (1993)
  • Ruins of Zhentil Keep is one of the best sources of information on the Zhentarim and incorporates some of the article material published by Ed Greenwood in Polyhedron magazine (1995)
  • Cloak & Dagger is a great sourcebook for Realms games, and features an update on the organization after the fall of Manshoon (2000)
  • Lords of Darkness updates the Zhentarim for the 3rd edition of D&D (2001)
  • Mysteries of the Moonsea contains further information on the Zhents (2006)
  • Grand History of the Realms is a great source for anyone running a Realms game who wants to incorporate some history into their campaign (2007)
  • During the 4th edition era, WotC published both a Forgotten Realms Players Guide and Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (2008). Both books contain information on the Zhentarim.
  • The Zhentarim have also been featured in many Forgotten Realms novels, though mostly as antagonists arrayed against the heroes.

Using the Zhentarim in Your Campaign

The Zhentarim have the following main beliefs:

  1. The Zhentarim is your family. You watch out for it, and it watches out for you.
  2. You are the master of your own destiny. Never be less than what you deserve to be.
  3. Everything—and everyone—has a price.

Their goals are “to amass wealth, power, and influence.”

As Allies

Each of the published adventures for the 5th edition have opportunities for the player characters to make friendly contact with the Zhentarim. In earlier eras, this is less likely unless the PCs are playing characters who lean more towards the evil side of the spectrum. However, regardless of what era in which your game is set, the Zhents can make temporary allies of convenience depending on the situation. The Realms is full of threats, and the PCs can easily find themselves fighting a threat that the Zhents agree needs to be destroyed.

Example Adventure: The PCs are in the Moonsea region and discover that the Cult of the Dragon is searching for an ancient magical artifact that will cause another Flight of Dragons to scour the region. Having lost much during the previous flight, the Zhentarim will certainly want to prevent his from happening again. The PCs find that no other force is near enough to lend them aid when they take on the Cult, and so they must make a temporary alliance with the Zhents for assistance. Needless to say, the Zhentarim are likely to betray the PCs once the threat is passed, attempting to take the artifact for themselves.

As Enemies

The Zhentarim really come into their own as a force the PCs can fight against. During most of the eras of the game, they work as an organization that has its hand in pretty much anything nefarious the PCs might come across. Some examples include:

  • A rival group of explorers trying to find a magical treasure in an area
  • Oppressors of a small town or village
  • Assassinations of prominent enemies
  • Raiders of rival merchant houses
  • Spies in cities across the Moonsea region
  • Riling up evil humanoids (e.g. orc hordes) to sweep through an area to “soften it up” for Zhent occupation
  • Pursuing a target for capture (such as their pursuit of Shandril Shessair in Ed Greenwood’s novels Spellfire, Crown of Fire, and Hand of Fire)

During the current Realms timeline, the Zhentarim are a shadow of their former selves. However, their goals are still to gain economic control over the Realms and they are willing to perform evil acts to accomplish those goals. Therefore, most of the above suggestions still work, though the nature of the forces arrayed against the PCs will be different.

Characters as Members

In the current edition of the game, the Zhentarim are a faction that player characters may choose to join. One does not necessarily have to be evil to be a member of the organization, though a certain flexibility of morals will help. This is definitely not a faction for paladins or clerics of good gods.

If one or more PCs do wish to join the Zhentarim, you may want to implement the rules for Factions from the Adventurers League program. The PCs will be able to earn renown and gain ranks in the organization, which will give them rewards—either those from the program or more specific rewards of your own devising.

The Zhentarim Campaign

It’s certainly possible for the DM to run a campaign where the player characters are members of the Zhentarim from the very beginning. The DM may choose to give all the PCs the Faction Agent background for free (thus giving each character two backgrounds), or perhaps may simply give each PC the Safe Haven feature and the faction-specific equipment and not any of the other benefits of an extra background.

Obviously, a Zhentarim-based campaign is easiest when the PCs are not good-aligned characters. The kinds of missions the Zhentarim will give their members can include simple guard-and-escort jobs or exploration of new trade routes, but the more common missions for PC parties will usually involve objectives like spying on rivals, sabotaging the equipment, goods, or plans of other merchants and mercenary companies, intimidating people into cooperating with the organization, stealing, assassinations, and other typical evil acts.

However, another option is to have the PCs be members of the organization with the goal of guiding it into the light. Perhaps there is a small cabal within the organization who feel that there is a better way to be successful, and they want to save the Zhentarim from Manshoon and the other vampire lords who control it. The PCs are recruited into this secretive group and tasked with finding ways to have the Zhentarim become a positive force for good in the Realms by subtly altering the outcomes of their missions.

Such a campaign could provide a great deal of tension and the feel of a thriller spy story as the PCs work from within an organization that would probably kill them if their true mission was discovered. But it also provides a nearly endless supply of adventure ideas, such as providing assistance to those who do not engage in evil acts so that they can be promoted up the chain of command, sabotaging efforts to oppress or control innocent settlements, making secret alliances with other good groups (like the Harpers), eliminating the most evil of the members in a quiet manner (assassinations for the good of the Realms), and ultimately going up against Manshoon and the remaining vampire lords at the top of the organization.


I’ve used the Zhentarim as a source of opposition for PCs in my home campaigns for decades. While they don’t have the immense presence and power that they had in earlier eras, they can still provide a fun antagonist that the PCs will enjoy defeating time after time. The fact that not all members are necessarily evil means the DM can set up moral dilemmas for the characters, and explore the ramifications of an organization led by evil vampires that is willing to do good when it is profitable.

How have you used the Zhentarim in your campaign? Are they solely enemies for the PCs or do you have them be occasional allies when the situation warrants it? Tell us about your game in the comments.



Factions in D&D 5E – The Lords’ Alliance

I’ve been writing about how to use the Forgotten Realms factions in your D&D 5E home campaigns recently, and this week I’m going to focus on the Lords’ Alliance.

The Lords’ Alliance History

The Lord’s Alliance was founded in 1325 DR as a partnership among many cities along the Sword Coast, in the north, and in the western heartlands. The first leader was Lord Piergeiron of Waterdeep, and their goal was the unified defense of northern cities and the promotion of their economic interests.

The Alliance was allied with the Harpers, and were often at odds with the Zhentarim, Luskan, Amn, and Calimshan.

In 1358 DR, the Lords’ Alliance was instrumental in expelling Luskan’s forces from Ruathym through both diplomatic and military pressure. Further threats of war were needed again against Luskan in 1361 DR for the same reason.

By 1372 DR, when the Thayan Guild of Foreign Trade started selling magic items across Faerun, the Lords’ Alliance kept individual members under surveillance in order to learn more about their goals and ensure that they were not engaging in evil or illegal activities.

During that era, the Lords’ Alliance regularly found themselves working against the Zhentarim, usually through the efforts of adventurers that they would hire to raid Zhentarim strongholds.

From 1467-1488 DR, the leader of the Lords’ Alliance was Lord Protector Dagult Neverember, who was replaced by Laeral Silverhand.

In the modern era, the Lords’ Alliance continues to operate much as it has in the past, with a notable exception. Instead of just hiring adventurers on a case-by-case basis to deal with rising threats, the Lords’ Alliance maintains permanent members who work on Lords’ Alliance matters regularly. Adventurers who perform a task for the Lords’ Alliance successfully may be asked to formally join the organization.

The Lords’ Alliance in Published Sources

Like the Harpers, the Lords’ Alliance appeared in the very first Forgotten Realms boxed set for first edition AD&D. More information was presented in the first edition Forgotten Realms sourcebook FR5 The Savage Frontier in 1988. Much material was repeated in the 2nd edition sourcebooks Volo’s Guide to the North and The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier.

During 3rd edition, mention was made of the Lords’ Alliance in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book, Lords of Darkness, and Lost Empires of Faerun.

There are a few mentions of the Lords’ Alliance in the Grand History of the Realms.

While the organization is not mentioned directly in 4th edition’s Neverwinter Campaign Setting book, there is information about the Alliance’s leader, Lord Protector Dagult Neverember.

Using the Lords’ Alliance in Your Campaign

The members of the Lords’ Alliance have the following main beliefs:

  1. If civilization is to survive, all must unite against the dark forces that threaten it.
  2. Glory comes from protecting one’s home and honoring its leaders.
  3. The best defense is a strong offense.

Their goals are “to ensure the safety and prosperity of the cities and other settlements of Faerûn by forming a strong coalition against the forces that threaten all, eliminate such threats by any means necessary whenever and wherever they arise, and be champions of the people.”

As Allies

Player characters who spend a good deal of time in the Sword Coast region or the North will likely find themselves involved in adventures that touch on Lords’ Alliance interests. Those who make contact with the Alliance will find that it can be a good source of information and support as long as the PCs continue to work to stabilize the region.

Example Adventure: Rumors are that the Zhentarim have established a new base of operations in the North. Coincidentally, orc tribes have been attacking and raiding caravans travelling through the region, though they only seem to target merchants who do not use Zhent guards. The Lords’ Alliance hires the PCs to investigate the situation and determine if there is a connection between the Zhents and the increased attacks by the orcs.

As Enemies

Should the PCs ally themselves with the Zhentarim, they will by definition become enemies of the Lords’ Alliance. Those characters who attempt to establish their own settlements in the region may find themselves at odds with the Lords’ Alliance depending on how they choose to manage their towns or villages.

Characters as Members

Once the PCs have been hired once or twice by the Lords’ Alliance and successfully completed missions for the organization, they may be offered membership. In this case, the DM may want to implement the rules for factions from the Adventurer’s League program. The Lords’ Alliance will occasionally give the PCs missions to complete, and their success on these missions will earn them renown within the organization, granting them benefits as they advance in rank. You can use the specific rewards from the AL program, or you can make your own list of benefits that are tailored to the Lords’ Alliance and your specific PCs and their adventures.

The Lords’ Alliance is one of the better organizations for those players who want to maintain their freedom. If they are adventuring in the region, they will likely find themselves running up against threats to the settlements in the area, which provides them with an opportunity to do the work of the Lords’ Alliance as part of their regular adventuring activities. This gives the DM flexibility to nudge the characters in certain directions on occasion, but allow them great freedom in where they choose to travel.

The Lords’ Alliance Campaign

Like any of the other factions, the characters could be created as members of the Lords’ Alliance from the very beginning of the campaign. An easy way is to give all the PCs the Faction Agent background for free (thus giving each character two backgrounds). Alternately, the DM may just decide that the PCs gain the Safe Haven feature and the faction-specific equipment and not any of the other benefits of an extra background.

A campaign focused on Lords’ Alliance business can provide a wide variety of opportunities for adventure, and accommodates the widest range of character classes in the party. As the goals of the organization are fairly open-ended, adventures can involve exploring, dungeon delving, spying, tracking down and catching criminals, diplomatic encounters with local rulers, or pretty much anything that touches on the goals of the organization.


The Lords’ Alliance has been around a long time, and its goals are fairly open-ended. This provides some great opportunities for the DM to use the Alliance as a source of potential adventure hooks for nearly any kind of adventure in any location around the Sword Coast and the North.

How have you used the Lords’ Alliance in your own home campaign? Were they allies or enemies of the PCs? Tell us about your game in the comments.

Factions in D&D 5E – The Emerald Enclave

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been discussing the Factions that appear in the Forgotten Realms for D&D 5E.

This week, I’m going to take a look at the Emerald Enclave.

Emerald Enclave History in Faerun

The Emerald Enclave was founded in the Year of the Thoughtful Man (374 DR) in the Vilhon Reach—on the island of Ilighon—by a group of druids prior to 717 DR. They were established as a powerful force when they defeated the Turmish forces sent to engage them by a conclave of wizards known as the Windlass.

In 1150 DR, the Emerald Enclave comes to the aid of the cities of the Vilhon Reach when the mohrg Borran Klosk raises undead armies to attack those cities. The druids of the Enclave cause the Alaeorum River to rise at the Battle of Morningstar Hollows, flooding the invading armies.

In 1358 DR, Silvanus provided his special blessing to the island of Ilighon.

The mohrg Borran Klosk rose again in 1370 DR and summoned an army of drowned ones to sack Alaghon. Haarn Brightoak and the Emerald Enclave came to Alaghon’s aid.

By 1372 DR, the Emerald Enclave had begun to establish splinter cells in other major forests across Faerun—the High Forest ,Cormanthor, Wealdath, and the Forests of the Great Dale. A series of portals were established to link Ilighon to each of the other locations, though the portal in Cormanthor was soon lost (disguised by misdirection and permanency spells to prevent it from being used by drow in the region).

Shadowmoon Crystalembers was the elven representative on the Elder Circle of the Emerald Enclave when the Spellplague hit in 1385 DR. She succumbed to a Shar-induced madness and changed her name to Cindermoon and slowly descended into insanity.

After the Spellplague, most of the order died or left. The remaining druids—those less experienced—harbored a deep hatred of the spellscarred, and the Enclave made efforts to stop the scar pilgrimages that passed through to the plaguelands south of Turmish.

In 1486 DR, the Chosen of Lathander, Stedd Whitehorn, cured Cindermoon of her madness. She changed her name back to Shadowmoon and reorganized and revitalized the Emerald Enclave.

Lost Mine of Phandelver

Reidoth was a druid and member of the Emerald Enclave who would visit the ruins of Thundertree to keep tabs on the situation there.

Rise of Tiamat

When the Cult of the Dragon attempted to bring Tiamat the Prime Material Plane, Delaan Winterhound, a half-elf ranger, came to the Council of Waterdeep as the lone representative of the Emerald Enclave. While he understood the need to stop the Cult, he was also focused on preserving the natural order. The Enclave also investigated the aftermath of cult raids led by a green dragon in the Misty Forest. Finally, druids and rangers answered the call to arms in the final battle, bringing their treant and griffon allies with them.

Princes of the Apocalypse

Haeleeya Hanadroum was the owner of the bathhouse in Red Larch and was an Emerald Enclave contact.

The Enclave had a stronghold in the form of a huge walled temple-farm dedicated to Chauntea, located in the Dessarin Valley. The stronghold was called Goldenfields.

Shadowtop Cathedral was a stand of towering shadowtop trees in the northwestern High Forest that was also an important meeting place for the Emerald Enclave in the area.

Members of the Emerald Enclave were among the delegation from Mirabar that went missing. They were going to meet the elves of the High Forest. The delegation included Dreena, a human druid, and Flameran Verminbane, a lightfoot Halfling scout.

Out of the Abyss

The Emerald Enclave tracked the corruption spreading through the flora and fauna of the Underdark back to Zuggtmoy and Jubilex. Morista Malkin was a shield dwarf scout in Gauntlegrym who trained scouts to reconnoiter the Underdark passages near the city. Her scouts were the wood elf Sladis Vadir—who disappeared while on a mission in the Underdark—and the shield dwarves Brim Coppervein, Thargus Forkbeard, and Griswalla Stonehammer.

Amarith Coppervein is a shield dwarf veteran who has built a zoo in the Underdark between Mantol-Derith and Gravenhollow.

Storm King’s Thunder

Dasharra Keldabar was a shield dwarf veteran who was retired from Waterdeep’s Griffon Cavalry. She lived north of the town of Fireshear in a mostly underground hovel, where she raised griffons, trained them as mounts, and taught people how to ride them.

The head of the council of the village of Jalanthar was a member of the Emerald Enclave named Quinn Nardrosz, a retired ranger.

The half-elf scout Ghalvin Dragonmoor was held prisoner by the hill giants in their den.

Tomb of Annihilation

The Emerald Enclave maintained a presence in Chult, focused on protecting the people from the undead menace. The Enclave maintained several well-camouflaged outposts in the jungle as hidden observation posts.

The druid Qawasha lived in Fort Beluarian and hired himself out as a guide to adventurers and explorers.

The Emerald Enclave in Published Sources

The Emerald Enclave first appeared in the D&D 2nd edition Vilhon Reach sourcebook for the Forgotten Realms. They made additional appearances in the Forgotten Realms setting books for both 3rd edition and 4th edition.

Using the Emerald Enclave in Your Campaign

The members of the Emerald Enclave have the following main beliefs:

  • The natural order must be respected and preserved.
  • Forces that seek to upset the natural balance must be destroyed.
  • The wilderness can be harsh. Not everyone can survive in it without assistance.

Their goals are “to restore and preserve the natural order, keep the elemental forces of the world in check, keep civilization and the wilderness from destroying one another, and help others survive the perils of the wilderness.”

As Allies

The Emerald Enclave works well as a source of assistance for characters who spend time in the wilderness far from civilization, as long as they are not involved in upsetting the natural order. Those characters who work to keep the balance and protect nature make perfect allies for members of the Enclave.

Example Adventure: A necromancer has found the location of an ancient battle in the savage north of the Sword Coast region. She has been raising the undead and building an army that she intends to use to attack Neverwinter with the ultimate goal of establishing an undead empire with herself as the Empress. The characters stumble onto the increasing numbers of undead while traveling through the region and are able to track their creation back to the stronghold of the necromancer. However, getting past the undead horde and into the castle will need a diversion, and the Emerald Enclave may be willing to help create that diversion to assist the PCs in their mission to bring down the necromancer.

As Enemies

The Emerald Enclave will work against any group that, through their actions, unbalances the natural order. PCs might be hired by loggers from a local village that have been attacked by wild animals or monsters in a forest in which they are working, to protect the loggers while they cut down trees for their village. The Emerald Enclave may see this intrusion into the forest as a negative and unnecessary disruption of the natural order, and work against the PCs.

Characters as Members

Members of the Enclave generally work alone or in small numbers. A player character group that is focused on wilderness exploration (rangers, druids, etc.) may find that their goals align with those of this faction.

If one or more of the PCs wish to join the Emerald Enclave, the DM may choose to implement the rules for factions from the Adventurer’s League program.

The Emerald Enclave Campaign

Like the other factions, a campaign that revolves around all the PCs being members of the Emerald Enclave is a good option. If this option is chosen, the DM may wish to give all the PCs the Faction Agent background for free (thus giving each character two backgrounds). Alternately, the DM may just decide that the PCs gain the Safe Haven feature and the faction-specific equipment and not any of the other benefits of an extra background.

The Enclave is a good organization to use if the focus of the campaign is the untamed wilderness away from civilization. The Sword Coast region, especially in the north, provides great opportunities for adventure in the vast spaces between the cities.

Further, the independent nature of this faction works well with a party of adventurers, as they tend to prefer a certain amount of freedom in their choices of where to go and what to do. As long as they work towards maintaining a natural balance, they can travel and explore where they want, and help out those in need or protect nature when they stumble across something that is going wrong in a particular location.


The Emerald Enclave can be used in a Forgotten Realms campaign to spice up wilderness adventures and exploration. It is easy to use them as either allies or opposition, depending on what the PCs are doing in their current adventure.

Have you used the Emerald Enclave in your own campaign? Did they work with or against the PCs? Tell us about it in the comments.