In “Gothic Brunch,” my Sunday streamed campaign taking place in Krevborna, the characters are currently investigating an assault by drowned zombies that walked out of the lake. Players include @EmKHansen, @TheNerdyNiffler, @PaterVoss, and @MatthewWForeman, and they all do a great job bringing different aspects of this world to life!
I knew I wanted them to explore a small “dungeon” where zombies had been created. A small bit of research yielded this gorgeous art as inspiration:
That doesn’t mean I wanted to recreate it exactly, but it gave me the touchpoints I wanted. After digging through my archive of maps (mostly from folks I have supported on Patreon), I hit upon the Hidden Laboratory from Elven Tower (aka Derek Ruiz). He produces beautiful maps, often with just enough adventure text to get the GM’s imagination churning in the right direction.
Making it my own
I then reskinned it slightly and added some traps and monsters. My exact notes in the Trello card for this dungeon were as follows:
Built in an abandoned church.
Entrance: Trapped with glyph of warding (DC 15 to notice). Effect: darkness (15′ sphere)
Necromantic Skulls: DC 17 Perception check within 30 feet to feel your hairs on the back of your neck. When they see a humanoid within a 20-foot cone, make ranged spell attack (+7 to hit) against each humanoid in that cone, dealing 2d6 necrotic damage on a hit. The skull recharges each night at midnight. The skull itself has AC 15 and 3 hit points.
Altar: Scrapes and whines loudly when moved (on rails). Conceals lever to open floor hatch to basement. Also reveals glyph of warding (DC15). Effect: cause fear on up to 3 creatures that can see it (randomly chosen if more than 3).
Basement: The storage rooms contain old rusty surgery equipment and a few stuffed animals. Inside the actual laboratory, 4 skeletal alchemists and a wight (reduced-threat) wait in ambush. The alchemists are aware of the party’s presence due to the sound from the sliding altar. They each have a Lob Acid attack prepared against the first intruder they see. The wight is hidden in a vat (DC 18 to see when within 10 feet, otherwise concealed).
Treasure: 2x black onyx (150 GP each), black pearl (500GP), scroll of wave of life,scroll of animate dead, deck of illusions (see Roll20 handout), and cloak of protection. Additionally, something that links Dr Kipling to the di Rosalba family.
Players reach level 4 after completing this dungeon and defeating the undead in the basement.
The idea for the necromantic skulls came from 5MWD Presents: Traps by @DnDJester. With the characters at only level 3, the damage as listed was a bit high, but I spent a few minutes with the trap rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and revisited in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. That led to the numbers you saw above.
I also gave the players a handout to set the tone more than just verbal description could. The blog Propnomicon does a great job finding “real” objects that artists and sculptors create that fit nicely into my games. Apparently Instagram is popular among these skilled folks!
I’d done the math for “encounter templates” for this group of 4x CL3 characters. I like having a handful of minion-types plus a more powerful monster with some interesting abilities, so when I saw “4x CR 1/2, 1x CR 2” in my notes I started digging. I came up with the skeletal alchemists from Ghosts of Saltmarsh and a reduced-threat wight from Dead in Thay. This wight actually seemed more interesting than the standard wight (which is only CR 3 and probably would have been fine) because it has an ability to throw an urn that does some nasty necrotic damage and can paralyze or even kill. Things got touchy for a bit – especially due to that urn – but of course the “heroes” triumphed in the end. (Attention to detail might pay dividends in the future…)
One quick note on these enemies: I reskinned the alchemists by treating them more like intelligent zombies and ignoring their vulnerability to bludgeoning damage. Finding just the right art helped, of course!
As we ended, the characters decided to take a short rest in the basement there. That’s usually not a good idea, especially with one uncleared room, but in reality I don’t want to drag that out. We won’t get to play for a few weeks due to several of us having a variety of more important family matters, and when we come back they will get back on track for their investigation quickly. Look for us on July 14th!