As you enter, you smell wet moss and can almost taste the humidity in the air. The two plinths in the corners emit a soft hum and blue glow that lights up the room. Large chunks of rock litter the floor, showing the age of this room. An alter sits in the middle of the room, oddly well kept. Beyond you see a small pool of water flowing like a spring, but the water doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Upon crossing the threshold, the blue light from the plinths goes out. Before anyone’s eyes can adjust, they burst with light, momentarily blinding you. You feel a small tremor as tentacles burst from the pool. Skeletons and zombies appear from behind the altar and crawling from the rubble.
I threw this room together, which is the easy part for me, but where do you all get your inspiration for stories? I seem to struggle with creating the narrative to get the adventurers into the tomb/crypt/dungeon. Any go to ideas for hooks to build around? How do you think this room sounds? Too many baddies for one encounter? I’m new to the DM side of gaming, but I love it.
"Pro" tip (trust me I’m not a pro…)
Never prepare the dungeon before the players has decided to actually GO there.
Create a story and see if the players bite the dangling worm, listen to their own comments about it if they have any, ask them what they want to do NEXT game and create your next session after that.
That way you don’t have to force them in any way and you won’t get the negative blowback of a cool idea not played. BUT
If you really WANT them in that freaking cool encounter you just created then kidnap a loved one or have someone steal their most precious loot and have that bastard flee into the dungeon/encounter
If this is the first session, just start past the point of no return. You came together to play, that’s the reason for entering the dungeon.
If you want story, create four encounters and arrange them afterwards. The story is then the simplest connection between them.
Also, it’s perfectly fine to have no story. Good alternatives are theme/similarity or location/proximity.
For session two etc there are basically two ways to present hooks. Either, as @GMagnus says, you listen to what the players suggest and/or ask them straight up “where do you want to go next session”. Or, you place a clue in the last room that leads to the next session. For example: a spellbook revealing who the cult leader is - next week, you sneak into her castle to find something that leads to session 3. If you are a new GM, always do this even if you ask the players where they want to go next session. Otherwise, your players will get frustrated that they don’t know enough about the game to decide what to do next, and you will be frustrated that they seem so passive. So always offer something, before asking if they prefer to do something else instead.
This is a great encounter. You can scale the monsters up or down based on party strength. A bunch of newbies? The skeletons shamble slowly, their weapons dulled by the ages. A stronger party? The skeletons move in formation, as though their martial training in life has been infused into their bones.
Strong agree about not prepping too much in advance, but also agree about having a few items ready to go. It’s a balancing act.
Drop some clues to your players. Have a few encounters roughed out on paper. Then you can impress your players by being ready for whatever they do. They won’t know that the encounter they run through tonight was originally prepared by you for some other event!
Why is the dungeon there? Why did someone spend the time and energy to animate skeletons to protect it? Are they protecting something? Is that something still there?
Have others been here before? Are there legends about this place? Are there other legends about other places that might be interpreted as being about this place? Who wants to keep it secret? Who wants to find it?
I like to have dynamism in my game worlds for my players. I give them a variety of plot hooks, and let them pursue the ones they want. But the world moves without the players, so the hooks they elect not to pursue might have an effect on the game world later on.
If your players don’t clean out this dungeon, who might do it for them, and what boons might they discover?
If your party does clean out this dungeon, what might happen on the surface during this time? Did someone else know of this dungeon, and are using the players to clean it out for them?
There are few wrong choices for you. Whatever you decide to do should be influenced by your players, and their choices will in turn be influenced by what you present to them.
You have a great start! Can’t wait to see where it goes!
They were in the same mini box? not sure, I just started with the room layout and then added monsters I had. I had the zombies and skeletons out because it was Halloween, I think most of it came from just wanting to use the tentacle mini.
The idea was a one shot that started the players in the dungeon. This wouldn’t be the first room, Tentacle monster possibly being a BBEG in a 5 room dungeon.
This actually came up last session. I am currently running my daughter through the D&D Starter adventure and the last dungeon has plenty of baddies in it. As this is her first time with a tabletop game, I thought using the ICRPG character designs would be easier for her to grasp and I like the way combat moves better. Anyways, about halfway through the last dungeon, she left to heal and wanted to see if the townfolk had any other quests for her to do. Trying to help her get past the video game mentality of always be at full health, but I think a small adventure for some extra magic items is needed. (She is playing two characters, so I am not completely throwing her to the wolves in this one, even if she did get attacked by a stray pack in the mountains.)
I think this is more so what I am struggling with. I’m glad you wrote that as sometimes you don’t really know the question you are trying to ask, but putting an idea out gets people to talk and finds the answer. for the most part, I have only DM’ed premade modules with a few side missions littered in here and there.
I appreciate all your advice and tips! I think this will help us out in making it through our current dungeon and give some good starting points for where the adventure leads us next.
Putting time into a dungeon is never a waste even if you don’t have story fleshed out or if your players don’t seem interested in the path that leads them to it. Keep your notes on your dungeon and you can plug it in later when the timing is right.
Just a hint here: Allow your players to make choices and feel like they have some control over the flow of the story (its a joint venture really). However…all roads lead to that dungeon even if you have to re-skin it to fit the flavor of the characters choices. What I’m getting at here is make your players feel like the choices they make have lead them to that dungeon/room/place. This will significantly reduce the amount of prep you have to do ahead of time for encounters/dungeons as well as keeping the players engaged. I hope I am communicating this right. Example: “Your characters come to a crossroads in the dark wood. You have three paths before you, which way do you go?” - You only have the one dungeon created and the players don’t know that all three roads lead to the same place. I know this sounds a little shady but it really does work to simplify and keep the work load down.
Eldritch/Undead Flavor: These horrifying tentacles seem to feed on the flesh those that enter this place. The process of having ones flesh stripped clean from their bones seems to infuse their skeletons with eldrich energy, causing them to rise and defend their new, otherworldly
Non-Magical Flavor: Tentacle monster has offspring that hide inside the bones those slain here (using the skull like a hermit crabs uses an abandoned shell). Upon closer inspection of a skeleton, it appears the to have a network of tiny tentacles and tendrils that all lead back to the skull. The tiny creature housed in the skull is using the skeletal remains like a puppet.
Time spent reading how others approach encounter and campaign design is time well spent. I liked The Complete Guide to Creating Epic Campaigns even though I only use about 10% of what I read in there. The guidance is a little too formulaic for my tastes, but it did help me put a couple of loosely connected ideas together in ways that improve my games.
The ICRPG GM Worksheet is also helpful. I don’t use it much, but it’s one more piece of the puzzle.
This post was also helpful:
I have that image printed out and taped to the wall next to my desk to help me keep it in mind as I’m noodling through the next couple of sections of my campaign.
My players always surprise me by digging deep into things I considered throwaway window dressing; and they often waltz right past the big clues I present to them. Of course they will, because they see only what I present to them, rather than the larger backstory I’ve spent hours working and re-working in my head and in my notebook.
But all those hours, and all those notes, help me wing it successfully when the players do the expectedly unexpected. As @rpgerminator said, all three roads go to the same place. It’s Schroedinger’s fork in the road! If the players later backtrack and select a different road, then and only then does that road lead somewhere other than the original destination.
Making the world “keep going” can be a challenge, but it also doesn’t need to be a game of SimCity where you micro-manage everything. Most of the world is “steady state”, doing whatever it was doing when the players last encountered it. Only the villains and those bits of narrative device you choose (for good, ill, or just variety) alter the world. The players learn that the town they chose not to visit had a fire, or was overrun by bandits, or had a great harvest festival.
The dungeon they left half-explored, in order to heal, was cleaned out by some other brave party. Is this other party friend or foe? Did they find the Big Secret in the dungeon? Can collaboration and discussion reveal something, or did they just sell the Gem Of Power to a passing tinker without realizing what they had found?
None of this do you need to plan in advance! Jot down a couple of broad ideas. Sketch out a couple of high level flow charts: if the players do X, then Y happens; but if the players do W, then Z happens… Then you can pick Y or Z when players do A. While the players are busy doing Y, the villain does B and C, which sets up another fork in the story for your party to choose what to do next!
Having another party clear the dungeon is something I have heard, but never thought about in detail. My concern, for my current dungeon, is that we are exploring Wave Echo Cave at the moment. I don’t want to post much about the module, but it is the capstone of the adventure. She have seen the map, so maybe I’ll adjust the layout a bit, getting her to the more important areas. Maybe have the creature who is guarding magic loot in a smaller dungeon, giving her better gear before heading back to fight the BBEG.
Again, all of your input had been amazing! I am excited to finish this module and have her character do some exploring on her own after she has established herself as a champion in this town.
What is the TN for the encounter? Are you using a timer at all and if so, what happens? Are there any treats? I am assuming this is for ICRPG but you mention Wave Echo Cavern which I believe is unique to D&D so I’m not sure if you are using ICRPG for this.
I REALLY liked @TicTac’s answer! I am personally leaning more toward the villain’s motive // reason for existing and when I saw your post I immediately wanted to know how do the two monster types relate to each other. That response was perfect.
The best games I have personally ran for friends and family stem from their character sheet. Even a one-shot. If you can tie the player into the session with something that matters to them, you have a great game. It is even better when they create the thing that matters, you as the GM attempt to destroy it, and they either succeed or fail.
In terms of your room design – > you could EASILY take the thing the player loves and strap it to that brown alter. In 1D4 rounds the tentacles are going to crush whatever it is. Make the glowing pillars a TREAT; give the players a chance to notice it BEFORE it activates to avoid the zombies maybe? Destroy the pillars to stop the zombies from attacking.
I have heard this said more than once and found it to be sage advice – > if you put it in the room, make it matter!
The coolest part about room prep is the ability to always drive whatever the room / adventure contains toward whatever the players care about. At least that’s my new take on how to do adventures. Just put an ‘x’ on your design and a note that says ‘x’ = what the players want or need. But you won’t know the answer by planning it out in advance. You first need the player to make their character and help you get your juices flowing.
I am running the D&D Starter Campaign, but using ICRPG character and monster rules. My daughter, who is 12, has never played a tabletop before this. She has two characters - a mage and a ranger - because I didn’t want any of her ideas to be squashed because she chose a mage over a more physical character (she chose both characters). She wanted to play a spooky game go I started laying out a main chamber and populated it. I love @TicTac’s answer as to how the tentacles feed/control the beings that were lured/trapped in the room. Unfortunately, she decided she didn’t want to play part way through the creation process so I haven’t run this room yet. I will probably find a way to incorporate it in next week’s session as a way to help her get some better loot - could barely roll over 10 last week and lost a piece of gear to a slime. The dice were not playing in her favor. I usually start a session with a TN of 12 and scale it up or down depending on how well she does. I usually leave it for a room or two (sometimes I forget to adjust it and she definitely won’t tell me), but this also allows me to jump it up 2 or 3 points when the situation gets dire - the person you were supposed to find is being held hostage in this room and you have to save them before they get killed. Treats are the two treasure chests on either side of the portal. I like the idea of being able to destroy the pillars to stop the zombies/skeletons from attacking.
All this good advice - I will post the finished dungeon and a brief idea of each room when I have it finished. Least I can do with all the info you all have thrown my way.
In # XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery by Tracy and Curtis Hickman’s book, Chapter 4: Story is everything! Has excellent models for story telling and development. It even has a section on how to “lead” the players to what you have prepared.