Need advice on a setup -- getting PCs into a dungeon


The dungeon is a prison / interrogation center / temple to Asmodeus / devil summoning center. It's run by Chelaxians. It's crawling with Hellknights and devils. The PCs will be a group of Shoanti on a commando mission to retrieve or destroy the McGuffin, which is of course in the possession of the local boss. Everything is around level 8 / CR 7-10.

So: how do I get the PCs in reasonably intact and with their stuff? Not quite high enough level for teleportation magic (and the methodical Chelaxians would ward their dungeon against that anyway). I'm willing to handwave in one (1) Chelaxian traitor. The traitor can open a door, but the dungeon complex is under a fortress. (Castle Vraid, if you're that deep into Golarionology.)

Maybe they arrange to be "captured", and then the traitor gets their stuff to them, kills the guard and cuts them loose? Not unthinkable, but a bit clunky. Also, a motivation for the traitor would be nice -- why would a Chelaxian help Shoanti? The obvious answer would be "because she works for a rival Chelaxian faction that wants to see the leadership of Castle Vraid humiliated", and I guess I can go with that, but I'm open to other ideas.

Thanks in advance,

Doug M.

What if instead of healped by a true traitor, they are helped by a slave. If I'm correct, Cheliax has widespread slavery of halflings and tieflings.

Or just provide them with a scenario to acquire stuff to help them get it, Like a really seedy merchant, selling scrolls that grant effects like earth-glide, or tunnel speeds, or a bunch of Tunnel Creeper alchemical reagent.

Disguise spells, things to help them steal a set of keys. Have them pull some heist to try and sneak a party member in through the carriage of the rich prison warden after he makes his weekly trip to the theater. Have them try to charm a rich politician who goes to visit the prison for corrupt "financial responsibilities" so that he invites them a The possibilities are endless

Provide them with some consumables that are so specific for breaking and entering that the hint almost drops itself. Allow the party to split (without punishment) for the purpose of obtaining entry.

I think that If you need them to eventually get inside in order to tell your story, then you are really in control of that. Allow them to brainstorm and come up with a plan, but if they do struggle or falter, don't be afraid to just straight up subdue or capture them.

Few modules were as fun for me as a player than being a mid level party, stripped of their gear and most of their abilities while imprisoned.

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Personally I'd generally let the PC's figure it out, it's not my problem it's theirs. My problem is to figure out all the details of the operation and lay out of the prison and its surroundings. And let them create their plan based on what they learn. Where are the guards and guard posts? How does the prison deal with receiving food and other goods needed for daily operations? How many guards and other 'trustees'/slaves are used to bring in supplies and to take out trash ... or what ever happens to the waste. What sort of visitors are allowed access and to what? Where's the McGuffin and who/what guards it specifically? What are the procedures surrounding access to the McGuffin? What are the routines of the prison and for the various areas of the prison? How many and how common are prisoner arrivals? Who carries keys and what is accessed by those keys? What magic is used in warding the prison? How often and who if anyone is renewing those magics as needed? Are there passwords needed and used anywhere and by whom? What happens if a prisoner escapes or can't be located? What is the response to an escape or other 'situation' (fire/smoke/flooding/rioting etc.). What is the McGuffin? Is it easily transportable or not? Alive or not? Magical or not? What's the response to its disappearance or theft likely to be? And probably many more some of which will get made up on the spot based on some question or idea the PCs come up with while planning the raid. And of course some groups will really get into the planning (maybe planning it into oblivion) others you'll have to hope they make some sort of plan at all and everything in between.

How about an escaped prisoner? Say a halfling that use to be a slave in the Fortress who made a mistake and was thrown into the prison. He managed to find his way into the drainage that feeds into a swamp and escaped from the dangers of the swamp.

He is willing to tell the PCs about his route if they will consider breaking out the halfling slaves. He'll even come along and watch a boat or wagon for the escape. If any of the PCs try, he'll lead the party through the drain and show them where they can break into his cell. They will need a way to open the cell from inside (or break through the bars into another part of the fort the drains lead to).

They could find the prisoner as they check out the area around the fort (he just escaped). You could also have a rumor of a prisoner that escaped the fort being brought back by guards tomorrow. (so the PCs can ambush them on the road, comes with its own wagon and horses) Or you could have it be an old halfling living in the slums that hears about the PCs and wants them to burn the place down when they go to escape. Or just sells them a map. Or both.

Okay, some clarifications.

This is a one-off scenario, not part of an ongoing campaign. The point is to have a challenging dungeon crawl with 8th level characters. It may connect to the greater campaign but the dungeon itself should be a one-and-done. So while I'm willing to take a small amount of time to get the PCs inside, having them spend large amounts of time coming up with whacky schemes is not on the menu. Stripping them of their gear makes a fun setup -- I've done it before -- but it doesn't fit here, unless they're going to get their gear back in the first or second room.

The dungeon is under Castle Vraid, a frontier fortress on the Storval Plains. There could be a small settlement nearby, but not a large town or village. I suppose I could move it to a city, but that would change the flavor noticeably. In this scenario the castle is a forward base by Cheliax for the clearing and eventual settling of a border march along the Storval Plain. "Clearing" here means clearing out all the dangerous animals, which includes the Shoanti.

The PCs will be mostly Shoanti -- there might be one non-Shoanti in the mix. Played straight, Shoanti have a limited set of class and RP options. That's part of the reason to run a one-off. Playing Shoanti PCs for a full campaign could get kind of limiting, but for a couple of sessions it's more likely a fun diversion.

Finally, Chelaxians are intelligent, organized opponents who'll have pretty good security. That's another reason this is a one-off: there's a pretty good chance that the PCs may screw up at some point and get swarmed to death by enraged Hellknights. That would end an ongoing campaign! A one-off gives me the chance to pit the PCs against a dungeon that's not just a collection of monsters in rooms but an active community full of disciplined combatants. They get a chance to raise their game. I get a chance to TPK.

Doug M.

Well if its just a one-off and more about improving playstyle and combat strategy rather than developing an ongoing story, then it seems like the "how and why" they are there doesn't seem too critical in achieving what you want to achieve.

Just have some old Shoanti Shaman teleport them inside, or reveal some sort of ancient tunnel system that nobody knows leads into the dungeon. Or maybe for a more natural shoanti tribal feel, the shaman polymorphs them into animals and then they make there way inside.

Chelaxians may be disciplined and organized, but I doubt any hellknight would bat an eye to a hawk flying into the belltower with two rats in its clutches.

Then I'd just give them the access or route in planned out by their 'sponsors'. Is this to be more a castle (keep plus walled in area) or just a keep? Sounds like just a keep. A secret door/postern gate with a traitor/agent to let them in. Maybe add a provided partial map(s) showing the route to the bosses area. Mistakes or changes could be thrown in to up the danger/difficulty. Besides a postern gate or secret door there's always entry/exit points not intended as such, like onto/over the roof and battlements (largely what Archimedes is suggesting), sewage/lavatory/potty chambers, arrow slits or other small 'holes' that vermin and the like might use that magic using PCs might employ. This might put them on a timer. PCs need to get it done before the magic wears off allowing escape (an easy one anyway).

Traitors are said to be motivated by 4 things known by the acronym MICE. Money, Ideology, Compromise and Ego. Pick out or decide which motivates your traitor (if any exists) or go with the one a moment in game provides the most fun.

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