In the last installment, I mentioned putting together the major encounters on the level: one “TPK” challenge and seven “somebody’s gonna die” challenges, and then many more lesser challenges from there.
Now, I could just randomly assign monsters, but I’d rather have some sort of story for the DUtM1, something to help the encounters hang together. That usually involves some sort of villain.
I start by looking at the different DUtM levels (all available from RPRNow.com):
- Level One: Random rooms–the classic “I made this up with a generating table” dungeon
- Level Two: The “abandoned dwarf city” level
- Level Three: A huge underground river and a strange alien city *cough*Shrine of the Kuo Toa*cough*
- Level Four: “The Web” (their description, not mine. Let’s call it the “D3/Q1 Level” shall we?)
- Level Five: “The Citadel of the Four” Ooh…that’s promising.
- Level Six: “The Shaft” where deep dwarves and trolls battled it out.
- Level Seven: The Evil Demon Strongold Level
- Level Eight: The Undercity, a suburb for beholders, mind flayers, et al.
Okay, I have to say that “Level Six” doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the sequence. I’d have put Level Eight at Six and left Seven at the bottom, but 0one’s got to make a buck, I guess. In any case, you basically have a series of levels going from more random to more organized, with increasing danger on each level (except for Six, which seems more like a “wilderness” level).
So, a story. If you read my previous attempt at putting this dungeon together you’ll know what I came up with, but I’ll retell it here. I think that most classic fantasy stories have a big, evil wizard as the villain. There’s no real mystery about why: wizard’s are innately more otherworldly and dark, while a really powerful warrior villain is just a big guy with a sword waiting to get an arrow in the neck. It worked for Robert E. Howard, and it works for me. Wizards also seem to be more likely to seek the solitude of a large, underground complex; a warrior villain would be more likely to build an above-ground empire. But there’s still a good question of why, of establishing motivation. How about this for a start?
Xelat was an ancient, powerful demonologist who desired to become the consort of a major female demon. In order to both increase his power to be a possible consort and to show his devotion to her, Xelat created a massive complex of fortifications where worshipers could gather, corrupt acts be committed, and dark magics discovered.
Yes, it is a hackneyed trope, but it works, especially with novice players looking for something familiar in a fantasy genre. Xelat reminds me of Thanos from Marvel Comics, who fell in love with the female persona of Death and eventually acquired the Infinity Gauntlet (only to discover that, in the process, he had become more powerful than Death and suborned her). Is Xelat living at the Citadel of the Four, still competing for her love? Is he her consort on Level Seven? Or has he died, and his many lieutenants taken over Level Eight?
In any case, the story also explains why there are so many pentagrams on Level One: doubtlessly part of many shrines to his demonic love. But why a random level at the top? The solution is elegantly simple and vaguely realistic: to keep out troublemaking do-gooders. I can’t imagine an evil archvillain wouldn’t have ongoing trouble (I’ve just read Heroics for Beginners: a novel by John Moore) and decide that the best thing to do would be to stock the upper level with a few traps and a bunch of worthless, easy-t0-replace menaces to keep the riff-raff out. It’s confusing and disorganized to essentially serve as a fortification. Ergo, the first level will be scruffy little vermin like kobolds, giant rats, and skeletons (they require little upkeep).
Every Cave of Chaos needs a Keep, and so I’ll put up top a sleepy and fairly generic town full of dour people who hate living so near someplace so terrible, but are willing to gouge adventurers who might travel there. As a real twist, I’ll put at the dungeon entrance a temple of minotaurs who have been convinced that Xelat himself is a god, and that these people who keep going down into his lair are actually sacrifices (since so few come out). Originally intended to be an exterior fortification, these bull-men have slowly evolved into a cult around their job, perverting into something twisted and wicked. They’ll cheerfully help the PC’s go in, and perhaps grumble a bit when the PC’s come out for air.
So, with that background in mind, I’ve got a couple of starting places for the major challenges:
- Undead. Obvious low-maintenance guardians.
- Demihumans like goblins or kobolds; the “major” challenge could be a chieftan of some kind. These guys would essentially be the “tenants” of the upper level.
- A half-mad minotaur who wandered down there and is now stuck.