Musings of the Chattering Skull

This week’s adventure is a nod to ChattyDM, who has always been a fantastically positive presence in the D&D community. If you haven’t already, check out his blog and follow him on twitter; he’s full of useful information, ideas (to steal!), and is always eager to discuss the fun and possibilities of DMing.

I based the idea of the skull and ice elementals from a post he had a while back, and in general the encounter is full of a bunch of poorly-written and poorly-hidden puns. I didn’t originally plan to make Chatty himself the villain, but it just all fit oh-so-perfectly with the theme, and if I’ve learned anything from reading his blog–he’d be thrilled to know players everywhere are teaming up to take him down and shut him up! 🙂

Note: this map is really big, so if you’re not planning on printing it out to use, I’d recommend loading the mapless pdf.

Musings of the Chattering Skull is a standalone encounter designed for five 16th to 18th-level adventurers. A wizard’s skull has taken up residence in a frozen citadel, protected by icy servitors as it torments a nearby town. The players need to enter the stronghold and shatter the skull, fighting elemental servitors and the icy power of the wizard.

Built into caverns behind the towering canyon walls of the frozen north, the town of Ibgoln is one of the few places along the northern passage where passersby can find shelter from the relentless weather. Carved into ornate storefronts, the outer wall of each cavern warms the hearts and minds of weary travelers, promising a soft bed, a hot meal, and a good night’s sleep. Adventurers from all across the icy tundra count the days until the canyons come into view, braving the elements in search of a night free from the howling winds, cracking ice, and pounding hail. To those navigating the frozen north, the town offers a much needed respite—Ibgoln is the calm and peaceful eye of a savage storm.

At least it used to be. For months now, the town has known few quiet nights—or days, for that matter. An ancient stronghold, buried long ago by an massive blizzard, has come back to life under the rule of a wizard named Menardo, a once-prominent elementalist. Though he died years ago in a devastating avalanche, a twisted version of Menardo’s soul has been resurrected within his skull, which lies frozen behind a wall of ice, deep within the citadel. Known to most as the Chattering Skull, Menardo has taken control of the citadel, sending forth icy elemental servitors to attack Ibgoln and the nearby passage.

As inconvenient as the elemental attacks are, the town is never in much danger—the buildings, after all, were designed to protect against the harshest weather imaginable. The problem comes with Menardo’s epithet; the chattering skull talks, endlessly, magically amplifying its voice to a deafening volume. The skull critiques, threatens, and brazenly mocks any and all residents of Ibgoln, its continuous stream of insults echoing in the canyons and caverns below. Night and day, Menardo prattles on, promising doom upon the town, the travelers, and the world itself.

Unable to find a moment of silence for rest or sleep, many adventurers have climbed the walls and attacked the citadel. Few return alive, and their failures are revisited often by the chattering skull, who excitedly retells the tales of their defeat. Now, after months of the incessant talk, travelers have begun to avoid the town altogether, preferring to sleep miles away in the midst of howling winds and icy rain—anything to escape the chattering skull and find the slightest bit of peace and quiet. Back in Ibgoln, a grand bounty waits for any adventurers able to shut the chattering skull up, proving what most travelers already knew—a little silence is worth a lot.

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Life Is a Lonely Business

I’m trying to introduce some new combat hooks to make your players put away their cell phones and lean in. In this encounter, there are two planes, right on top of each other, that the players can switch between. They can still see the other room as ghostly images, but they’ll need to touch an orb or be pulled into another plane by the monsters. There’s also an optional skill challenge for the players after the encounter has been resolved. Enjoy!

Life Is a Lonely Business is a standalone encounter designed for five 15th to 17th-level adventurers. In an attempt to solve the puzzle of life and death, a cleric named Alfrenk has breached the thin wall of the Shadowfell, inadvertently releasing ravenous wraiths and restless ghosts. The players must defeat the spirits in both the living realm and the Shadowfell, passing between the two planes during combat.

Formerly a crowded city of bustling markets and towering buildings, Vicene now lies quiet and forgotten, left behind by the masses as more profitable trading routes emerged. For those remaining in the city, relocation was never a choice; poverty, sickness, and fear of hunger deterred the weakest residents from travel, and the city turned into a ghost town. The boisterous laughter of crowds were replaced by the hollow echoes of wind and empty streets, the skittering and chattering of vermin, and an almost inescapable silence—for all purposes, the city was dead.

Although most avoided its ghostly streets, others were drawn to them. Arriving in surprising numbers were followers of the Raven Queen, who felt an instant connection with Vicene and those remaining in it; the cold and lifeless town seemed to emanate the inevitability of death and passing on. Temples were erected to the goddess of death, the streets were adorned with her symbols, and as far as the rest of the world was concerned, Vicene and the Raven Queen became inexorably linked.

Death in Vicene comes and goes without emotion, curiosity, or regret; each passing is considered natural and necessary. Those who would delay or fight their demise are scorned, mocked, and often removed from the city, for the Raven Queen would not approve their actions. Each and every life comes to an end how and when it should, the circumstances and timing each demise are unimportant—mere details of the inescapable embrace of death.

Lately, however, death has been embracing the residents of Vicene with startling frequency. Rejecting the Raven Queen in an attempt to conquer death, a masterful cleric named Alfrenk has discovered an entrance to the Shadowfell, and, hoping to release the souls within, has opened a gate between the two worlds. Unfortunately, the only spirits to pass through were ravenous wraiths, which quickly turned their insatiable hunger toward the souls within the city and growing more powerful with each spirit they devour. If something isn’t done soon, the ghost town of Vicene will change once again—this time into a town of ghosts.

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Maws Attack!

Maws Attack! is a standalone encounter designed for five 13th to 15th level adventurers. A coastal town, Sojanse, has inadvertently mutated a shark into a giant, many-headed monster called Maws. The PCs are tasked with descending the nearby cliffs and killing the shark, which fights as a solo monster.

There are shark attacks, and there are shark attacks. The coastal town or Sojanse has a problem with the latter. Built on a lifeless chain of craggy cliffs and held together by rope bridges, Sojanse relies heavily on the fishing trade for its economy and sustenance—a dependency that often proves troublesome. The ocean life is fickle, and weather, predators, and other unforeseeable events leave the inhabitants of Sojanse hungry.

Fortunately, those that live on the edge of the world are nothing if not flexible, and employed a passing alchemist to create a permanent solution to their predicament—a simple concoction of nutrients and plant life that would lure in a bountiful catch each and every day. The mixture worked perfectly, bringing in more fish than the nets could hold; the waters below the cliffs were teeming with fish of every species. Even better, as the fish ate the nutrients, they began to grow in size; Sojanse began to export record-breaking fish on a regular basis, displaying the monstrous catches in every city market able to trade. Each week the fish were larger and more plentiful, and the town thrived.

However, as large as they might become, prey is still prey, and larger prey eventually lures in larger predators. The waters of Sojanse had become overwhelmed with sharks looking to feed on the over-sized fish. At first, the sharks were dispatched without much trouble, though it was noted that some began to grow larger as they fed on the giant fish—it became priority to kill sharks as soon as possible, before they could grow larger and more dangerous to not only the fish, but anyone looking to enter the now dangerous waters.

To this end, the fisherman have been successful, with one exception. Though it bears many scars as proof of trying, one shark has consistently eluded death, growing to an enormous size and mutating into an abomination. The shark has grown several additional heads, and though it retains some semblance of its cartilaginous form in the body and tail, it resembles a deformed hydra at first glance. Appropriately called Maws for its many sets of jaws, the monster claims the life of any foolish enough to venture near the cove, and mentioning its name in Sojanse brings a chill to every spine and invites a warning from every mouth—don’t go in the water.

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One Page Dungeon Results

I’ve posted the results on twitter a couple of times, but the One Page Dungeon Contest has come to an end! I was fortunate enough to win the category of Best Lost City with my entry Velth, City of Traitors (found here) and tied for second most popular entry out of the 63 total entries. Not too shabby!

There are some pretty awesome entries, and definitely some ideas that I plan to shamelessly steal for my own campaigns. Here’s a link to a PDF of the winners, and here’s a link to the PDF of all the entries. Thanks so much to the fine folks that put this on and those other fine folks that sponsored it with prizes.

Now, to find more contests! 😀

How to Train Your Golem

I missed last week, so I’ll be working on putting two shorter encounters up next week to make up for it (blame the Detroit Red Wings, if they would win in fewer than 7 games it wouldn’t be an issue). These latest two have been three-encounter adventures and they’re quite time-consuming, but both ideas only seemed to work as a series of encounters.

Also, not that I’m not proud of my other adventures, but I am less proud of them than this one. I think I’ve finally started to get a feel for levels of complexity and detail needed to keep players entertained without overwhelming them – this week’s adventure has just the right amount of stuff-to-worry-about and stuff-that-doesn’t-matter, and I hope it’s more enjoyable for both the DM and players.

How to Train Your Golem is a collection of three short encounters designed for five adventurers of 12th to 14th level, taking place on the small and remote island of Brak. After arriving on Brak, the players will be tasked with training a golem with the skills necessary to defend the island’s inhabitants from dangerous dragonspawn. First, the players will train their golem to move against small and quick dragonspawn. Then the players must teach their golem to fight, practicing against a pack of larger, more volatile dragonspawn. Once the golem has been properly trained, the players will test it out in battle against a cunning group of lurking dragonspawn.

Isolated from higher society, the island of Brak sits alone, its erratic weather and currents deterring most passersby who would trade or visit. Some settle on the island for this very reason, seeking solitude and peace—an escape from the overcrowded cities and selfish wars found so often on the mainland. Here, the inhabitants find simple lives, enjoying the calming tranquility of Brak’s lush valleys and pristine shores.

Although free from the petty squabbles of kings and countries, Brak is not without its problems. Surviving on the island can be difficult; weather is harsh, monsters are large, and lives are short. Left alone for centuries, several species of dragonspawn have made Brak their home, breeding and thriving. The creatures have no fear of humanoids, seeing them as nothing more than a convenient food source. These dragonspawn—found in nearly every shape and size—frequent the settlements of Brak looking for an easy meal, hoping to find a full stomach.

To combat this threat, the island’s residents turned to an accomplished artificer named Cuciph, who, limited by Brak’s few resources, brought the terrain itself to life as stone golems. Controlled by magical amulets, these constructs are big, sturdy, and powerful, and should be more than enough to defend the settlements—once properly trained, of course.

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Deathdusk Passage

Sarah Darkmagic and NewbieDM have kicked off their downloadable delves, found right here. I wanted to contribute something that could work as a full dungeon delve instead of a single encounter, and here’s what I came up with.

Deathdusk Passage is a collection of three short encounters designed for five players of 1st to 3rd level, taking place in an ominous underground tunnel that connects any two locations of your campaign. After entering the tunnel, the adventurers will become trapped in a hallway where they must fight off oozes and attempt to escape. Next, they will discover a dangerously deep pit; while attempting to cross, monstrous bats will descend upon them and attack. Finally, as they near the exit, statues surrounding an ancient gate come to life, attacking the players as they try to make their escape.

Appearing at first glance to be the entrance to an ornate, stone crypt, the Deathdusk passage has existed for centuries as a shortcut for those willing to brave its darkness. Its craftsmanship is of dwarven origin—no other stonework would have endured so long—though the purpose of its construction remains a mystery.

Just inside, stairs descend into the darkness, masking the presence of hungry monsters, just waiting for a party of inexperienced adventurers. What lies beyond the entrance in uncertain; few have seen and survived the dangers of Deathdusk passage, and they refuse to speak of what lies below. But even without credibility, stories surrounding the passage are plentiful. Tales of endless pits, deadly traps, and forsaken travelers, now waiting in the deep to embrace new adventurers and pull them into the dark.

Whether from fear of such stories, or just simple superstitions, most people ignore the passage entirely, choosing instead to follow the slow and winding mountain trail to their destination. Such a choice is wise, and those who make it nearly always reach their destination unscathed; those that enter Deathdusk passage, on the other hand, are more likely to disappear than reach the other side. Most sneer at the few who dare to attempt the tunnel and lose their lives, but to some, those brave, adventurous few—the journey itself has always meant more than the destination.

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Burrowing Bounties

This encounter introduces the Forever Endeavor Trading Company (say it outloud, muhaha), a group of profit-seeking merchants with outposts all over the world, specializing in exotic goods and monsters–the kind of goods an adventurer like you might be hired to find.

Burrowing Bounties is a standalone encounter designed for five 2nd to 4th level adventurers.

A mine infested with kruthik has caught the eye of the industrious Forever Endeavor Trading Company, who is looking to hire any adventurers brave enough to sign a contract and exterminate the pests below. The PCs will face off against mutant kruthik, strange eggs, and the mysterious forces of cadbarium gems—all in the name of a little profit.

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Molten Mischief

Molten Mischief is a standalone encounter designed for five adventurers of 3rd to 5th level.

Settled on the edge of a forest with ties to the Feywild, the town of Yaviras has become accustomed to the harmless trickery of gnomes and faeries. But when a practical joke goes awry and a portal to the elemental chaos is created, fiery elementals begin to cross over, creating a living inferno that threatens to consume the forest, town, and anything else in its path.

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Surface Tension

From now on, encounters will appear on Wednesday mornings each week. Monday is D&D night and will let me test and tweak some ideas, and I won’t need to be up late on Sundays due to my inevitable weekend procrastination. Hopefully that won’t bother more than two of my three readers. 😉 I threw in another detailed skill challenge into this adventure, which determines where and how the encounter begins. Enjoy!

Surface Tension is a standalone encounter designed for five characters between levels 6 to 8.

The city of Stonegate was built on an expansive series of canals and aqueducts, used long ago to divert and carry water to neighboring cities. Now, the sewers are home to a variety of dangerous creatures, including a band of murderous sahuagin. The sahuagin climb to the surface each night, killing and kidnapping the city’s residents, who call for any brave enough to enter the aqueducts and dispatch this new threat.

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Illusions and Elusions

I’ve been trying to think of settings that I can flesh out later as full adventures or cool places of interest. The Halls of Glass are probably one of my favorites–nothing quite like an ancient library of magical illusions.

Illusions and Elusions is a standalone encounter designed for five characters between levels 8 to 10.

The Halls of Glass, a mysterious academy for powerful illusionists, holds many secrets found in—and outside of—reality. Its corridors are lined with mirrors, magic, and tricks, all waiting for those curious enough to try and unravel the layers of deception found in each mirage, apparition, and trick of the mind. As its masters would warn: be on your guard, for seeming means nothing—and nothing is as it seems.

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