Tuesday, April 14, 2015

D&D Story Starter: The Demon's True Name

Wizards of the Coast ran an Open Call for designers a few months ago.  My submission was good enough to get past the first cut--from approximately 250 entrants to 38 finalists--but not good enough to get past the second cut--from 38 finalists to 9 newly approved designers.  C'est la vie, non?  For better or worse, this is why I work as an engineer.

Anyway, the open call had a few requirements.  Would be designers had to write two encounters, one combat and one non-combat, involving ruins, an elf noble, orcs, a manticore, a pit trap, a secret door, and either exploration or conversational elements.  I may be leaving something out, but that was the jist of it.

My submission follows.  I ran it twice, once for my kids and once for my gaming group, where it became a kind of story-starter.  Now that my PCs have the True Name of the demon lord Orcus (recalling that Wanderhaven has different mythology than, say, the Forgotten Realms), it gives the campaign a recurring overarching theme.  I've slowly been working increasing degrees of infernal elements into the game, and eventually I hope my PCs will realize that Orcus is actively trying to kill them, although he hasn't yet committed substantial resources to the task.

Alas, sometimes you have to hit people over the head before they realize the themes at the heart of a story.


The Demon’s True Name

High in the Misty Mountains stands the Temple of the MoonThere fell House N’Haume in battle with the demon lord Orcus, Scourge of the Abyss.
Lady Allurial Dannon N’Haume, A History of the High Elves
In this short adventure, the party must find a way to safely enter the Temple of the Moon, bargain with the derelict spirit of an ancient elf nobleman, and escape before being killed by a manticore and a small band of orcs.

Part 1: Bargaining with the Elf-Knight
Orcus, as he was conceived in 1e.
After weeks of searching, the party has found the legendary Temple of the Moon, last resting place of Tauriel N’Haume, elf-knight and hero of the Forgotten Age.  The PCs must enter the ruins without disturbing the remains of the dead in order to question Tauriel’s ghost.  According to legend, Tauriel learned Orcus’s True Name in the days before the Last Battle.  With this knowledge, Tauriel defeated Orcus, though he and his House fell during the battle.
Little remains of Tauriel after all these centuries.  A fight in the temple will disturb the spirits, scattering what little is left of the elf-knight’s soul.

Outside the Temple
The Temple of the Moon is a ruin.  A massive battle took place here long ago; now all that remains are the skeletons of the fallen.  The PCs must work their way safely inside without disturbing the remains.

 -- An aura of disquiet blankets the area outside the temple. The dead are restless. If their remains are disturbed, they arise and attack the party. The party discovers this with a DC 10 Intelligence (Arcana) check.

 -- A DC 12 Intelligence (History) check allows a PC to recall that a company of demons attacked this temple, accompanied by minotaur shock troops.

 -- A DC 15 Wisdom (Medicine) check identifies the skeletal remains as elf and minotaur bones.

 -- It takes a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw to avoid disturbing the remains. The DM may waive this check if the Players state that they are being careful. On a failed saving throw, 2d4 skeletons arise and attack the party. There is a 50% that one of the skeletons will be a minotaur skeleton.

 -- A pit trap stands in front of the temple’s entrance. A DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check spots the trap.

If the party fails to spot the pit trap, they trigger it as they enter the temple.  Each PC that triggers the trap must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or fall into the pit.  The fall is only 10 feet, but the pit is lined with stakes.  Falling PCs take 1d6 bludgeoning damage from the fall and 1d6 piercing damage from the spikes.  At the DM’s discretion, falling PCs may make another Dexterity saving throw (DC 12), taking half damage on a successful save.

The Temple of the Moon
More skeletons litter the inside of the temple. These will also animate and attack the party if disturbed, but now a fight will scatter the remnants of Tauriel’s ghost, causing the failure of the mission. The party need only speak Tauriel’s name to summon his spirit.

When Tauriel’s spirit appears, it is initially confused.

-- The party can remind Tauriel who he is by describing how he fell, mentioning House N’Haume, or describing the party’s mission. Any mention of Orcus brings Tauriel fully back to himself but also makes him angry.

-- To succeed, the party must first remind Tauriel who he is and then gain his trust. This can be done with a pair of DC 12 Charisma (Persuasion) checks, or by simply roleplaying the conversation. Tauriel hates Orcus, but he is proud, and if the PCs insult his House or his honor, he will become angry, complicating the mission.

-- The PCs can gain Advantage on their Persuasion check by making a DC 13 Intelligence (History) check to remember facts about Tauriel or by making a DC 13 Intelligence (Religion) check to recall details about the dangers posed by Orcus and his minions.

Once the party gains Tauriel’s trust, he tells them Orcus’s true name in exchange for their promise to lay his spirit and the spirits of his soldiers to rest.

Tauriel’s Journal
If the party accidentally animates the skeletons inside the temple, they disturb Tauriel’s spirit and thereby fail their mission. In such a case, a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigate) check reveals Tauriel’s journal, from which the party may learn Orcus’s True Name.

Part 2: Escaping the Temple
The party must escape from the temple ruins with the demon prince’s True Name.

Followers of Orcus
A war party of orcs has followed the party to the temple’s ruins, led by a manticore. In addition to the manticore, there are six orcs. These are followers of Orcus, and they are determined to prevent the party from leaving the temple with the demon prince’s True Name.

 -- If the party has staged a lookout, he/she can stay hidden with a successful Dexterity (Stealth) check, opposed by the manticore’s Wisdom (Perception) check.
 -- The manticore approaches first from the air, followed by the orcs, who are on the ground. A PC who is standing outside the temple can see the manticore approaching in time to warn his/her companions with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check.
 -- If the party’s lookout stays hidden and warns his companions, the party can gain a surprise round against the manticore when it first enters the temple.

The manticore arrives first and waits at the door for his orc followers. It spots the pit trap outside the temple, preventing the orcs from triggering it. Once the orcs arrive, the manticore and the orcs burst in together, attacking immediately.

Unquiet Dead
The skeletons in the temple animate as soon as the manticore and its followers enter the temple.  2d4 skeletons animate, with a 50% chance that one of those skeletons will be a minotaur skeleton.  If the party has earned Tauriel’s trust, then the elf skeletons attack the orcs.  There is no need to roll for these attacks.  Instead, it takes each orc 3 rounds to fight past an opposing skeleton.  Any minotaur skeleton immediately attacks the party.

Secret Door
There is a secret door at the back of the temple through which the party can escape.  It is a stone wall left intentionally without mortar; the party can push its way out (no check required).  The party can discover the secret door with a DC 15 Intelligence (Search) check or a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check.  If the party has earned Tauriel’s trust, then the elf-knight’s shade tells them about the secret door, granting them Advantage on their checks.
If the party finds the secret door, they can escape.  The manticore still follows, but the orcs are left inside the temple fighting Tauriel’s undead soldiers.

Notes on running this adventure:
I made a mistake in this quest's design in that there is no easy way for the party to learn that triggering a skeletal ambush inside the temple will disturb and ultimately disperse Tauriel's spirit.  I fixed this in play by adding an NPC to the party, an elf noblewoman named Karissa who turned out to be one of Tauriel's descendants.  She warned the party about the fragility of Tauriel's spirit before they entered the temple but promised to talk to Tauriel once he was awakened.  However, I then had Tauriel speak to the party by taking control of Karissa's body, providing a bit of an unexpected twist.

That worked well in play.

Support this Blog:
I write these adventures because I like gaming but also as a way to attract interest in this blog and in my writing in general.  My book, Sneakatara Boatman & the Priest of Loki, is out for the Kindle App and on Patreon.  The follow-up, Sneakatara Boatman & the Crown of Pluto, is out as of November 29, 2015.  Both are D&D-style fantasy adventures; they use the same WTF-style plotting that I use in my RPG content.  If you liked any of my RPG stuff, you will probably like my fiction, too.
I’m not asking you to buy anything right now.  However, if you’re looking for something to read on the beach this summer, and you have a tablet, please at least consider checking out some of the Sneax stories.  There are several free ones up on my Patreon page.  If you like those, and you want to support this blog, then buy my book(s).  That is by far the best way to support my writing.
Thanks in advance.
Previous Adventure Articles:
 -- The Mystery of Malven Manor (blog post & PDF)
 -- Journey through Crocodile Crossroads (blog post)
 -- Story Starter: The Demon’s True Name (blog post & PDF)
 -- The Mystery of Mordecai’s Monster (En5ider article, $2)
 -- Expanding Mordecai’s Monster (blog post)
 -- The Fall of Cahokiantep (blog post & PDF)
 -- Zeke's Mine (blog post & PDF)

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