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Shorthand versus long form


Suggestions/House Rules/Homebrew


I have this topic in general discussion but no one seems to go there. What's better for a once-a-month game: the 5 room dungeon style or the classic 15 room sprawl?

My players and I meet once a month, they're very into dungeons and fight scenes over story and roleplaying, and we're rebooting the campaign at level 1 in a couple weeks. Up til now I've been using the 5 room version but I've gotten some complaints about pacing and the 15 minute workday (in order to make up for smaller, targeted dungeons I amped up the encounters to generally APL +1)

So now that I'm getting ready for the reboot I'm weighing the pros and cons of both styles. Any comments?


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Mark Hoover wrote:

I have this topic in general discussion but no one seems to go there. What's better for a once-a-month game: the 5 room dungeon style or the classic 15 room sprawl?

My players and I meet once a month, they're very into dungeons and fight scenes over story and roleplaying, and we're rebooting the campaign at level 1 in a couple weeks. Up til now I've been using the 5 room version but I've gotten some complaints about pacing and the 15 minute workday (in order to make up for smaller, targeted dungeons I amped up the encounters to generally APL +1)

So now that I'm getting ready for the reboot I'm weighing the pros and cons of both styles. Any comments?

Go with far, far larger dungeons. Consider planning different sections of a dungeon similar to you would a single room. Such as "section A, section B, section C" and so forth. That'll let you plan what I call the "macro sections" before working on the "micro sections" such as individual rooms.

For example, you may determine that section A comes in from the surface, and is inhabited by certain types of wandering monsters, has certain features and so forth; while section B might revolve around a large underground spring, possibly with flooded rooms and entirely different wandering monsters and such.

If you friends like lots of fighting and the like, consider throwing together a few mini-encounters and wandering monster lists. A few NPCs like kobolds on some cue cards or note paper (or bestiary entries plus notes on what their "NPC gear" entries include). Have most encounters actually be CR = APL or less, but make those encounters fun and dynamic. Play it loose. Have some ideas as to what's going on in each section of the dungeon, but be willing to adapt and move encounters around based on the party's activities (if the PCs are making noise, maybe enemies come to them, for example).

Don't just make most enemies (especially not sentient enemies) rush the party and leap on their swords. If the party encounters 2 kobolds, have them fight dirty. Have the kobolds run away at first (using their 30 ft. speed) and hide, before peppering the party with arrows or alchemist fire. Keep things mobile and fluid.

Plan out a few mini-encounters for your random monster chart. Using the kobold example, write out a cue card or note what kobolds do, their general strategies, and what they do if in certain parts of the dungeon (if they're encountered in an area with lots of traps, they'll use those traps to their advantages; for example).

Have some simple conditions for determining random monsters. Anytime the PCs are in a fight, there should be a fair chance that they attract even more attention. Another great reason to keep encounters at APL=CR or less. That way re-enforcements or other random creatures can come investigating without severe risk of overpowering the PCs.

If you're like me and enjoy details, include some cliffnotes in your notes about each room; such as...

Section A-R1: Armory, tattered tapestries of war scenes, old books on warfare, combat dummies;
Section A-R2: Lavatory, 12 stalls, roman style river toilets, large mirror;
Section A-R3: Collapsed room, old wooden desk, broken bed, faded parchments depicting old text (DC 15 Linguistics finds a clue about something in the dungeon);

To keep the dungeon from just being a grindfest, consider throwing in some simple hazards as well; or have encounters occur in locations that have unusual circumstances. A battle with a giant spider inside of a vertical shaft, or tilting rooms that require acrobatics checks to navigate, or the occasional situation where you have to go underwater through a flooded room to reach another pocket of air, and so on.

Here's another cute trick I typically use.
Devise a list of items and mark their values from lowest to highest. This is what I call my "treasure table". Just a list of generic items of similar value, which I can grab and scatter about the dungeon as needed.

For example...

Consumables
15 gp - 1st level wands (per charge)
20 gp - alchemist fires, 2 acid flasks
25 gp - 1st level scrolls (CL 1)
50 gp - 1st level potions, antitoxin, tanglefoot bags
90 gp - 2nd level wands (per charge)
150 gp - 2nd level scrolls (CL 3)
225 gp - 3rd level wands (per charge)

So if I need to throw together some treasure, I might look and see that the PCs have earned 3,000 gp worth of treasure thus far, so I might grab 500 gp worth of gems, 1,000 gp worth of art objects, and fill, 1000 gp worth of trade goods, and toss in 500 gp worth of consumables, (maybe a 3rd level wand with 1 charge, a 1st level wand with 7 charges, and 5 1st level potions). You don't have to have it this detailed. You might split it into item groupings; such as...

500 gp - 1st level wand (CL 1, 10 charges), 3 1st level potions/oils (CL 1), 20 quartz gems (200 gp)

Finally, another tip is if you want to write out some NPCs before you begin, feel free to shorthand them. Here's an example of a fully written NPC in shorthand from my own notes.

Thugs CR ¼ (100 XP)
NE Medium humanoid (human) warrior 1; Init +2; Senses Perception -1; Hp 11 (1d10+5); AC 12 (+2 dex), touch 12, flat-footed 10; Fort +4, Ref +2, Will -2; Melee club +2 (1d6+6); Ranged club +2 (1d6+3); Str 16, Dex 14, Con 14, Int 7, Wis 7, Cha 7; Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 16; Feats Power Attack, Toughness; Skills Intimidate +2, Perception -1; Equipment none

War Hound CR 1 (400 XP)
N Medium animal warrior 2; Init +2; Senses scent, low-light vision, Perception +8; Hp 28 (2d10+2d8+8); AC 22, touch 12, flat-footed 20 (+2 dex, +4 natural, +6 armor); Fort +8, Ref +5, Will +1; Speed 25 ft.; Melee +5 (1d6+6 plus Trip); Str 15, Dex 15, Con 15, Int 2, Wis 12, Cha 6; Base Atk +3; CMB +5; CMD 17; Feats Power Attack, Weapon Focus (Bite); Skills Perception +8, Survival +5 (+9 scent tracking); Equipment chain mail


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A good blog post, somewhat on topic: Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus.

More on topic, personally I think I'd enjoy a bigger dungeon with fewer big enemies, but more total enemies, than a smaller one packed with tough fights (if that's an accurate description of the options). Making sure that a bigger dungeon can still be dealt with in the same time frame might be a challenge though.


@ Ashiel: so applying what you're saying to my dungeon concept I have a surface ruin in a forest, an underground component, then 1 BIG area overlooking all of this that is a gigantic shrine. Originally I'd planned 2 5-room dungeons with 1 room both physically leading to and thematically relating to the next, but with your suggestions I would then bump the size out a bit on both the surface and underground levels and then compartmentalize and randomize both areas into sections. Ex:

When the PC's first arrive they have to climb up the face of the fallen head of a colossus and then descend through its eye socket through the back of its head back down to ground level. Once through they find a rough path through the woods into 1 surface level entry. Around this entry (since it's less accessible) I'd have a few traps and some wandering monsters, but this is more the "back door" of the place.

Then the second surface level area, near the "front door" has a few more monsters and instead of traps could have a hazard or two. Since the monsters in this section are more likely to be fey this is where I could introduce some of my homebrew hazards that wouldn't bother them like pixie pollen (ingested poison mechanic that causes a faerie fire effect) or a mead font (a drinking fountain of pure fey mead that heals but also instantly intoxicates if save is failed).

The only other reason I considered a small dungeon was timing. With limited gaming time I don't want to waste it w/the party wandering around. How do I get them to the major scenes in the larger dungeon without outright railroading them?


Mark Hoover wrote:

@ Ashiel: so applying what you're saying to my dungeon concept I have a surface ruin in a forest, an underground component, then 1 BIG area overlooking all of this that is a gigantic shrine. Originally I'd planned 2 5-room dungeons with 1 room both physically leading to and thematically relating to the next, but with your suggestions I would then bump the size out a bit on both the surface and underground levels and then compartmentalize and randomize both areas into sections. Ex:

When the PC's first arrive they have to climb up the face of the fallen head of a colossus and then descend through its eye socket through the back of its head back down to ground level. Once through they find a rough path through the woods into 1 surface level entry. Around this entry (since it's less accessible) I'd have a few traps and some wandering monsters, but this is more the "back door" of the place.

Then the second surface level area, near the "front door" has a few more monsters and instead of traps could have a hazard or two. Since the monsters in this section are more likely to be fey this is where I could introduce some of my homebrew hazards that wouldn't bother them like pixie pollen (ingested poison mechanic that causes a faerie fire effect) or a mead font (a drinking fountain of pure fey mead that heals but also instantly intoxicates if save is failed).

All of this sounds quite cool.

Quote:
The only other reason I considered a small dungeon was timing. With limited gaming time I don't want to waste it w/the party wandering around. How do I get them to the major scenes in the larger dungeon without outright railroading them?

Consider running the game like a video game. Now before anyone goes "wait WTF!?", allow me to explain. A practiced developed in quite a few PC and console games over the years have allowed games to become very broad and open without causing you to miss out on the action. What I'm talking about is bringing events to the PCs. A lot of PC RPGs, for example, will run certain events when the PCs hit a variety of conditions; so in one play through, you might meet a certain NPC or encounter early on, while in the next you meet them in a whole other city later.

Adapt this concept to your game. Consider having a place in your dungeon that certain events or important NPCs (say you really want them to have a battle with some fey and their charmed bugbears) hang out, but also consider that they may go to investigate certain disturbances in the dungeon, or might be at different portions of the dungeon at different times (sometimes in a barracks, sometimes a spa, sometimes a dining room, exploring parts of the dungeon unknown to themselves, etc). This way you can have your major scenes appear more or less on demand (or even randomly if you like surprises for yourself).

Alternatively, without railroading, you can set up the dungeon so that if they follow the action they get to the right places; or set it up so all (or most) directions lead to different major events anyway (for example, if you have to take a left or right, perhaps both get to the BBEG's main chamber at the end, but the challenges and treasures are different depending on your path; and that sort of thing).

If you'd like any clarification, feel free to ask. If this is enough concerning your pacing, flow, and events; I'm open for other questions as well. Ask, and I'll do all I can to help. ^-^


Make the dungeon itself largely linear. Make side passages short, collapsed or something similar. Leave some areas empty of encounters, and try to keep the players from searching every nook and cranny (out of character at least). So, establish some search DCs and results before you begin and then let the players roll for the room as soon as they begin to search it. It might take some of the interest out of the exploration aspects, but that doesn't seem to be what your group is most interested in anyway.

You might also want to mostly avoid puzzle-type obstacles. Those tend to burn up a lot of player time. Non-puzzle traps, on the other hand, tend to be resolved fairly quickly in my experience.

Edit: Ninja'd. BTW, that's what Schrodinger in that blog post referred to. The idea is that while you know the fey were camping in room 7, the player's don't. Wherever they happen to appear is where the players will assume they were supposed to appear. So you could even make an empty dungeon and just keep some index cards with encounters on them separately.


I'll try the drag and drop method of monster placement. That is; I plan to have them in room 3 but if the party bypasses 3 I'll drag and drop them in 7.

I don't know if I'm ready for total free form just yet. Having every encounter just be a notecard seems like it would take some on the fly planning of just what forewarning the party might have. For example if I've got the party approaching an unlit interior chamber into which I'm going to suddenly drop a nest of rattlesnakes they'd likely hear the things first whereas if I was going to throw in some troglodytes I'd have to consider what the party's smelling on a decent perception check.

Still I think having some generic cards, based on CR, might not be a bad idea. I already have been ad libbing extra filler encounters for my previous 5-room versions to extend them a bit; this would just be more structured.

So yes I like these thanks. Ash; i also like that you mentioned video games since I'm borrowing another mechanic: triggers. There will be certain key moments when the party will reveal environmental hazards like residual dark revel energies acting like haunts or certain monsters will suddenly take notice of them in the ruin, that sort of thing.

Now M squared, you said "no puzzles" (I'm paraphrasing). Ironically one of my players picked up an updated old-school game called Grimrock and he says the thing he's loving about it is the puzzles. I know they're time-eaters but I was thinking of throwing some in here and there for that player. Nothing earth-shattering or game stopping (not holding up choke points of the dungeon but in a couple side chambers for extra loot or whatever) but some interesting brain teasers just to keep things fun.

As for mechanical/magical traps; yes. All 3 players at our character gen session decided that they wanted to be relic hunters a la Indiana Jones and since then they have been comparing their characters to the series. So far the rogue has a whip and has requested a Fedora of Returning while the monk has requested a hand to hand fight scene involving a mustachioed ogre and a spinning propeller.

Seriously though, I know they're probably jonesing for something OTHER than just simple fight scenes so I'm trying to make the dungeon as dynamic as possible (a living thing almost); another reason why I started weighing the small dungeon/big dungeon question.

Even the feel of the place is a departure from our previous campaign. The last game involved a lot of undead, a horrible disease, political intrigue and paranoia. The plot was long and convoluted. Our locales were even dark: just off the top of my head I remember running them through 3 crypts, a cursed cloister, 2 decrepit ruins and the major land feature was an oppressively evil swamp perpetually shrouded in fog.

This first dungeon is a major departure from all that. Its a ruin yes and the fey inhabiting it are evil, but mischevious evil if that makes sense. The ruin is outdoors with massive trees and wild growth all over the place (like the Ta Prohm Temple) and even some of the traps I have planned are just more fun than lethal. I want this to be the kick off to a much less uptight game where we can all just cut loose.


Ah, well my advice was based on misunderstanding what your party wanted, so it wouldn't apply. :)

Side puzzles may be a good way to go, but in my experience that won't really change how much time they'll take. Most players I know would stop and solve the puzzle, even if they knew it didn't lead to the main objective. Your players may be different though. You'll probably just want to keep time and bypass methods in mind when picking or designing puzzles.

Actually, incorporating the puzzles more as bypass methods for some traps might keep things moving. Either they solve the puzzle or weather the trap.


So...

You come to a hallway with a potential trap; say, a bunch of faces on either wall and slumped in the corner a skeleton in rotting adventurer's garb. As you arrive a magic mouth appears on the keystone of the archway overhead saying: "you may pass by and by if you have that which may never lie and always looks you in the eye."

The party can either 1) sprint across and hope for the best, 2) try to disarm the light-sensitive dart trap or 3) produce a mirror (answer to the riddle) to maintain the light beam projecting from the other side of the keystone.

Doesn't that sort of defeat the whole "don't put a puzzle in a critical area" rule that others have so vehemently spouted?

I forgot option 4 (my players might too): go back the way they came and try another way.


Having multiple ways through both the dungeon and any particularly tough puzzles/trap should help. Multiple ways through the dungeon could be troublesome though in that it'll increase the area available to explore. A lot of players would go back and check the other way for more treasure, or just to see what's there. You could apply Schrodinger again here though and seal those areas off (collapsed, suddenly became a dead end, etc.) once they've successfully traversed one path. You couldn't do this every time though or they might get suspicious.

Anyway, that's drifting a bit from your question. You know your players better than me. Which option do you think they're likely to try first? If that fails, will they just keep trying, or take a different approach?

Still, you could probably keep the puzzles simpler on the main path in any case.


Just one more question on puzzles, then I'll be done. I keep getting told in multiple threads to make puzzles simpler. I've got 3 grown men with lots of college, high reasoning skills and a penchant for puzzle type video games and other such diversions.

How simple are we talking? I thought the mirror example was pretty obvious but I've been burned by these same players not getting other puzzles in the past.

Are we talking "you walk into a room with 3 large stone cubes; one has a star on every face, one has a hand on each face, and the third has a sword on every face. There's a cube-shaped niche in the wall, at the back of which is the relief of a star" where the answer is, obviously, get the star cube in the hole?


Mark Hoover wrote:

Just one more question on puzzles, then I'll be done. I keep getting told in multiple threads to make puzzles simpler. I've got 3 grown men with lots of college, high reasoning skills and a penchant for puzzle type video games and other such diversions.

How simple are we talking? I thought the mirror example was pretty obvious but I've been burned by these same players not getting other puzzles in the past.

Are we talking "you walk into a room with 3 large stone cubes; one has a star on every face, one has a hand on each face, and the third has a sword on every face. There's a cube-shaped niche in the wall, at the back of which is the relief of a star" where the answer is, obviously, get the star cube in the hole?

If you use puzzles, I'd recommend puzzles that have relatively simple answers that are presented in less than obvious ways. Such as geometric shapes instead of numbers. For example.

DM: "You come to a great doorway that has no visible lock, and appears barred from the other side. There are several raised sections in the wall on each side, like button panels in various shapes. A triangle, a diamond, a square, a pentagon, a pentagram, an octagon, and a circle. Along the doorway, markings in sylvan (or other language of your choice) read Seven champions came, followed by their ten servants. They were attacked by eight ogres, and only four stood at the end. Weep not for the lost, but sing for the ones that remained, for the number of ogres was none."

The story secretly holds the combination for opening the door. Each geometric shape has a value assigned to it as follows:
Triangle = 3
Square = 4
Diamond = 4
Pentagon = 5
Pentagram = 5
Octagon = 8
Circle = 0 (enter/reset)

The pattern follows the characters of the story. Seven champions (the first buttons pressed must be a combination that equals 7, such as triangle + diamond), ten servants (pentagram + pentacle), eight ogres (the octagon), four stood at the end (square or diamond again). Weep not for the lost (13 died, so square + diamond + triangle), sing for the ones that remained (square or diamond), for the number of ogres was none (circle = 0, and either resets or completes the code).

So each time they press the circle, have it click and let them know that it seems to be resetting, until they input the correct pattern. There may be no outward sign that the code is being input correctly, but if they follow the story, and can count the number of corners on the symbols, they might figure it out.


MagiMaster wrote:

A good blog post, somewhat on topic: Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus.

More on topic, personally I think I'd enjoy a bigger dungeon with fewer big enemies, but more total enemies, than a smaller one packed with tough fights (if that's an accurate description of the options). Making sure that a bigger dungeon can still be dealt with in the same time frame might be a challenge though.

I'll suggest the opposite. In a slow-moving game, I'd much rather have a small dungeon with big encounters than vice versa. If my time is limited, I hate spending it saying "left or right?" or "you search the eleventh out of fourteen storerooms and you find nothing".

Of course, there's nothing accounting for taste, YMMV, etc.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules Subscriber

It really, really depends on the players. On how good they are at reasoning, and on how much they enjoy puzzles.

Also, for me, the presence of puzzles can be very jarring, because often they are so poorly integrated into the dungeon that it makes no sense in-character.

The worst I ever encountered was some sort of weight puzzle which could be solved fairly easily with a particular bit of mathematical knowledge and the right approach. I can't recall what that bit of knowledge was, or any real details of the puzzle. I know we had a lot of trouble with it, and that it felt like the DM had said "and then I pulled out my book of mathematical brain teasers and stuck a page from it in this room because I could." I can't recall anything approximating a rationale for a puzzle being present in the dungeon, either in general, or for one like this.

So moreso than simple, I look for a puzzle to fit. Is this segment of the dungeon designed to allow only people with certain levels of intelligence, or certain specific areas of knowledge, to pass? Is the puzzle effectively how to bypass a specialized defense? If so, why is there even a hint about it? If I design a passageway to hurt anyone who comes through without knowing to use a mirror in a specific way, I'm not going to give invaders a clue.

Finally, puzzles, as something to solve as players, rather than as characters, can take you out of the game. Especially ones that seem to involve knowledge that is more part of the modern world than the game world.


Verisimilitude is a big deal, and I've never quite worked out a good reason for a puzzle in a dungeon, but then again, I've never quite worked out a great reason for a dungeon.

The trouble with puzzles is that (for good ones) once you see the answer it seems completely obvious. Of course, before that you nearly have to read the puzzle-makers mind to figure it out. Be generous with clues. (Escape games are basically one-room dungeons with a series of interconnected puzzles. Try some out to see what I mean.)


@ MM: Just read the blog post you've linked to; very cool stuff. I am going to slaughterhouse the ruin I'm designing for the first game. Only one question: I only intend it to cover one level (1st level to get them to 2nd level). How many zones would I have then, just 2? And if just 2 zones, with about 8 encounters in each, I'm going to really be challenged at medium xp advancement to get them to 2nd level unless they hit EVERY single encounter. Advice?


I do like that blog post, but I hate to say, I've never gotten a chance to really use it. Also, it's been a little while since I've read it fully, but IIRC, it was made with the expectation of some exploration and returning to previous areas counted in.

If you only intend for them to visit each zone once, then you could either add an extra zone, or just make sure they do hit all ~8 encounters (you could lump a couple together, or make 2 150% encounters, or something to add a bit of variability).


@ MM: since you're the ONLY person who's ever linked the Angry DM blog post... critique my slaughterhouse!

Zones: outer shrines, Lupinoszk Shrine.

Layout

outer shrines: 3 ruined shrines (combo of viking style with egyptian grandeur) dedicated to ancient kings surrounding a circular courtyard. The whole of the place has been overgrown for 2 centuries by the forest so that there are gnarled trees and wild growth everywhere, even on top of the ruins themselves.

Each of the outer shrines has 3 "rooms", the circular courtyard has actually been overtaken by a bog and is now partially submerged (crossing it is a skill challenge with half-pillars and ruin piles jutting out of the water) and the grounds themselves are dotted with huge stands of trees making them one big open "room" as well.

Lupinoszk Shrine: on the far side of the bog is a wooded hillside w/a single door at the top of an arched stair leading up out of the water. Behind this is a 2 level, 7 room inner dungeon with a couple exits to an outdoor landing with a winding stair up the hillside to the top. Here there is one last HUGE long-hall style shrine towering over everything but also just as overgrown as below. This last area is dedicated to King Lupinoszk, first of the corrupted rulers of the so-called "Bloodmoon Court" (the nobles made a deal with witches, hags and fey to get lycanthropic powers and then hunted their own subjects.)

I didn't bother with a stat block, since there's just one faction: a biloko druid using a dark fey ritual boosted by the Lupinoszk Shrine to turn children into mites and inflict the "fey-touched" template on animals/humanoids he's charmed.

Faction Leader

Biloko Druid 4/CR3

Roster
Mite hunting party: 3 mites and one giant spider/CR1
Mega-spider: advanced giant spider/CR1
Mite elite: mite warrior 2 riding a giant spider/CR1
pair of sprites: 2 sprites/CR1
Owl assault: fey-touched great horned owl/CR1
Caterwaul: female young blindheim reskinned as a cat-creature w/the blindness attack changed to deafness/CR1 (they serve as the biloko's... ahem "special" minions)

In order to round the place out a bit I tossed in some standard traps: pits and CR2 scything blades as well as my own personal version of haunts: Echoes of the Dark Revel. A dark fey revel was held here and invoked SO MUCH emotion and power that throughout all the zones PC's will re-experience moments that then inflict things like spontaneous drunkenness, Sickness, Hideous Laughter, and Mad Hallucinations.

Finally I installed 3 named elites the party MIGHT encounter depending on the flow of the game; each has its own Lair within a Zone and will be aroud that lair. Ugmurgh - a young moss troll in the canpopy overlooking one of the outer shrines/CR2; Myrthliss Hane - a young bog nixie in the bog (of course!)/CR2; Brindleflick - a faerie dragon making it's home in the inner sanctum of the Lupinoszk Shrine.

My idea is that the party will enter at one end of the outer shrines or the other. The shrines are basically all open as well as most of the grounds, so they're all interconnected. If they want to get through the door into the hill however they'll have to go through the bog where they may or may not meet the nixie.

Depleted: 1000 xp

Abandoned: 2000 xp

Trigger: if pc's slay both the faction leader AND at least one other named NPC the Lupinoszk shrine is Abandoned.

If Abandoned: all unclaimed treasures are stolen by mites into underground tunnels; another named NPC ascends the Lupinoszk Shrine as it's new lair (or in the case of the nixie an outpost) and all remaining elements in roster not involving mites are managed by new Faction Leader.

So... whadda'ya think?


Sounds like you've got plenty to work from. What's the players' goal here? It looks like they're after the druid just from your description. (Or maybe a treasure the druid has.)

Also, is the depleted/abandoned limits the same for both zones? I would imagine the trigger is different at least.

They way you have it set up, you can basically guarantee that they'll find the boss and at least one miniboss (either they find one while wandering, or the find the nixie going between zones). That covers 350 of your target 2000 xp, assuming they're alone. So yeah, you'll need to make sure they run into about 8 other encounters per zone. I don't know how much time you have, but that sounds like a lot for a single session. Do your normal games manage to get through level 1 in one session?

Anyway, it looks pretty good. It might be a little easier to balance with a third zone (maybe the swamp on the way in). To get 8 encounters in each zone, they're almost certain to hit the abandoned limit. If they go through the first zone slowly, they might manage to clean out enough stuff to hit the limit the first time through. That shouldn't matter too much, but it's something to ready for.


My game is about 41/2 hours but we only meet 1/month. We usually only make it through like 5 or 6 rooms a night in previous games but in those games I was avg'ing APL+1 per encounter because of the amt of players and the smallness of the dungeon.

The idea is to make it to 2nd level after 2 gaming sessions; I actually thought 2 zones would do it but I think I'll take your advice, add a 3rd zone and hedge my bets. I really like that nixie, so I'm considering making her a key player (CR3) and giving her her own zone.

The bog in the courtyard will be expanded to surrounding a vast amount of space on one side of the shrines. This way the party has 2 approches to the final Lupinoszk Shrine zone; both lead to the single door on the far side of the courtyard, but you can approach that area either by dry land through the shrines or mucking right through the outer bog and up into the courtyard.

As to the point of the dungeon: a band of evil fey are blighting the surrounding countryside with their weird dark revels. This dungeon is one of several sites dedicated to their wickedness. The druid is using the Lupinoszk Shrine to turn kidnapped children into mites. Also what initially attracts them is the potential to recover a relic: an ornamental sword once belonging to King Lupinoszk himself.

So, if the party comes upon the dungeon, they have 3 approaches: one to their left through the bog, one dead ahead through a choke point hole in a shrine wall, or one far to their right which is a wide promenade of stairs leading into the main grounds of the outer shrines. Each of the zones of the bogs and the outer shrines will have about 8 areas for encounters each, meaning that clearing one all the way to abandoned would take roughly most of one gaming session unless they got lucky. It also means they have the potential for up to 16 encounters before they even make it into the Lupinoszk zone. If they really stick it out that long I think I'd have the druid either get fed up and whelm down on them or have him uber-prepared for the party.


If they hung around that long, they'd probably hit level 2 before reaching the druid, so it'd be fair to bump the encounter some. Of course, you could also just adjust the XP limits so that if they clear 5-7 or so encounters in one of the outer zones in one stay it becomes abandoned. (2000 xp is about 5 encounters IIRC.) They'll have basically cleared it out and won't meet much more resistance there, so they'll move on. The only problem I can see with that is if they do something like this:
- 5 encounters in the outer shrine (500 xp each)
- Rest there
- 5 encounters in the main shrine (500 more xp each)
- The druid (250 xp each)
- Rest
- Leave by the outer shrine

They'll have accomplished their goals without reaching level 2. I guess you could always put the sword in the last zone they explore, whichever one that happens to be. (Again though, it works, but it's a tactic you'd want to use sparingly.)


So following your scenario they're sitting at 1250 xp ea, and I've got that bog area with all those encounters right? And the principle goal is get the sword with the secondary of murder the druid for turning children into mites? Well then, as the party's leaving the Lupinoszk zone (gotta cross the bog/courtyard to do it right?) then we have one encunter right at the door with clues leading to some extension of the secondary.

Maybe the nixie stole a little girl for her own and the party spots her in the bog as they're fighting some re-skinned water-breathing mites I call bog nits.

Maybe the nixie herself taunts the PC's from the edge of the fight, saying they're cowards for running away or sarcastically thanking them for doing her dirty work.

Worst case scenario I'd have their NPC guide encamped nearby get captured by something that leads them back to the far side of the bog and utilize those last few encounters in a rescue mission for the NPC...


Yep. All good ideas. You just need to get them through all three areas somehow (or else give them lots of encounters in the other two) in case they don't go on their own.


I have to say that that Angry DM post was quite a good read.

I already had the process of writing in a "roster" format, and writing encounters with conditional applications.

The "zones" idea for sandboxing a game is a great evolutionary step to this process that I will definitely consider when writing any future adventures.

It's also satisfying to see that I wasn't wasting my time doing what I did, and that others did a similar process. Kind of the "See! I'm NOT crazy!" reaction I guess, ha!


I find it really good to organize big dungeons and I know Angry's post says you could apply it to small dungeons too, but I don't see putting in that much work for 2 zones or smaller.

I'm not giving up on short dungeons though. The party's going to get an Indiana Jones start to their game I've decided. I was going to start them in town at a fair, but instead I'm going to start them on their "final test" for the relic hunter guild they work for.

From the fluff:

The final test for any Archivist is field work. The clues leading you here were easy enough to follow; a mysterious map with no names,the crest of the noble family of Belthane and a broken shield. 3 days of investigation and research finds you here, with night falling, before a moss covered mausoleum at the lonely edge of a war grave.

Basically since Raiders begins with the hero already at a "dungeon" I'm putting my PC's in the same boat. For the sake of time it'll be a 5 room dungeon: Getting through the door will be a puzzle, followed by a guardian that forms in the main room of the monument (incidentally built for non-lethal), then the PC's have to figure a way to open the sarcophagus, only to find that they face a winding stair obscured by a darkness spell, and finally the re-formed guardian waits for them below, to offer a "round 2". Passing all of these tests puts them in possession of the Sheild of Brinnix Belthane (an NPC sheilded fighter from the last campaign). The final test, of course, is what they DO with the sheild. "This BELONGS in a MUSEUM!" I could hear professor Jones shouting, and since they've supposedly modeled their characters after that infamous archeologist, I have hopes that they would take it back to the Archivists. If they don't no matter; it'll turn out to be a fake. If they do... then amazingly it was real the whole time!

Anyway... I'm reserving the right to pepper in these small 15 minute dungeons every once in a while, despite my PC's favoring more massive dungeon hacks.

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