Today we played our first session in the new Neverwinter campaign. I choose to start the adventure in medias res to quickly reintroduce the concept of the mechanics quickly instead of starting with (the usually) awkward describing the characters to each other.
For inspiration I’ve used Runehammer’s excellent video on room design, more specifically Prisoners of Molok. In our version the players have been captured by a mad alchemist – Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist and her seven derro. In their underground lair they are using an unholy machine that uses gelatinous cubes to dissolve trolls in to a very potent slime that can be used to reanimate the dead, and if further distilled as a somewhat disgusting but useful Potion of Regeneration.
Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist herself is connected to the Thayans in Neverwinter as the player will find out as they make their escape through her various underground laboratories. Her dungeon is a couple of stringed room encounters designed to help the new players understand the rules, get some action and use their wits to manage. The combat encounters themselves was not especially dangerous – yet proved lethal when one of the characters decided to go toe-to-toe with a gelatinous cube as a level 1.
Following is a quick outline of the encounters that I used:
1. Prison Room
The players start out as prisoners, naked and without any equipment. They are shackled to a wall in rusty manacles and as they wake up from unconsciousness they witness a tall pale skinned woman dressed in a scarlet robes observing them from a distance. Gathered around her are seven dwarves, that upon closer inspection actually are derro. She orders the derro to handle the latest batch of prisoners, singling out humans, dwarves and halflings to be brought to the labs, while any other species are to be disposed of. Still weak, the players watch the woman along with the derro leave. Two ghoulish servitors approach the party. They grab an elf NPC, and drags him screaming towards a deep and drop him down a deep cleft. They turn towards the PCs.. ROLL INITIATIVE!
The players need to figure out how to escape their cages and prepare to fight the ghouls unless they want to be killed or worse. Scattered around the chamber are chests and crates containing some of the players equipment. They are able to retrieve their armor, their primary weapon and a few random item. I also introduced an NPC here that survived to help the party along and to feed them information.
This encounter is a directly inspired from Runehammer’s prisoners of Molok.
My players approached this encounter very carefully. Being slightly underpowered in the initial fights made them fear the ghoulish servitors even when they had retrieved their gear. This led to a very interesting approach, trying to use the environment and other smart solutions to defeat the enemies.
2. The Troll Room
The players free from their prison follow the sound of screaming through twisting corridors to a large chamber. In the middle of the chamber is a troll suspended in chains from the ceiling. Below the screaming troll is a large pool containing a gelatinous cube that is already enveloping his lower body and slowly dissolving him. Positioned around the pool are ghoulish servitors that scrape off the gelatinous cube to allow the troll to regenerate. A lone derro stands upon a balcony overseeing the operation. The tormented screams of the troll makes stealthy approach possible. Metal pipes are connected from the pool leading out into the next chamber.
A straight up combat encounter that introduces elevation and difficult terrain into the mix. The lone derro will try to flee when detecting the party, but must first manage to unlock a door with his key. If he escapes he will alert the two derro in the next room. There are a few chests in the room allowing the players to scavenge for equipment. I used equipment such as flint & tinder, rope etc.
This is as far as my group got on the first session. Room 1 took about an hour and the second room about 45 minutes. The players was trying lots of different things, exploring the chambers instead of quickly advancing. The party managed to stop the derro from fleeing into the workshop but they did kill the troll by releasing him from his chains into the pool with the gelatinous cube. In its weakened state the troll was engulfed and dissolved quickly. With the silence of the troll, the nearby derro’s in the workshop started out to investigate…
3. The Workshop
Two derros are busy and bent over what seems to be an alchemist laboratory. They are filling up a greenish slime (refined troll-gel) into small vials. The players will be able to get they by surprise if the Troll is still screaming. If they released the troll – or killed it, they will go out to investigate if it fell silent.
This is an easy combat situation and is mostly about the players figuring out the connection between the slime and the regenerative troll blood. They will be able to find a six-pack of troll juice (will regenerate 1D4 HP / round for 5 rounds) if they have the stomach to drink it. In our campaign I’ve also placed a few letters to tie Vivecca with Neverwinter and the Thay faction.
4. Machines of Vivecca
The large chamber is smokey and have thick rotting sweet smell in the air. Two large machines dominates the center of the chamber and thick pipes connects them to each other and to the previous troll chamber. The machine are making loud noises, and belches noxious puffs of smoke now and then. In front of each machine is a derro operating the machine. Two ghoulish servitors are duly feeding the machines with coal.
Once combat starts in here, roll 1D4 and use it as a timer. After rolled number of rounds, one of the machines belches out a large toxic cloud. Players caught in it will need to succeed a DC12 constitution check.
This encounter is directly inspired from Runehammer’s second Molok video – Machines of Molok
5. The Turning Room
This chamber is filled with apparatus, tubes and barrels along the walls. The far end of the room is separated by large metal cage. Inside the cage are two ragged humans chained to the wall. Two ghouls have the first prisoner in an iron grip, forcing his mouth open while a derro dressed in a dirty leather apron with a large sack on his back is forcing a tube down his throat. The tube is connected to the sack on his back and with the player entering he starts to pump something into the prisoner. This is another use of the troll juice. It kills the prisoner who then reanimates as a ghoulish servitor. The remaining prisoner screams for mercy.
The derro and his ghouls have locked themselves into the cage. The players will have to force the cage or use ranged attacks/magic to save the prisoner before it is too late. Use 1D4 as a timer.
6. Barracks, Kitchen, Latrine, Living Area and Library
This area is the living area of the Derro. It is dirty and nasty and not really anything exciting is here. It can be used to find some equipment or more information about Vivecca and her minions. Investigation is a useful skill here. The library contains several coded books on Viveccas research written in undercommon.
7. The Giant Skeleton
This very huge chamber contains a large skeleton of a giant suspended along the wall. A balacony runs along the walls two meters up. The balcony is reached by a set of stairs in the other end of the chamber. Two derros clad in leather aprons and troll juice backpacks flanks the giant skeleton on the balcony. As the players enter the chamber they both starts to hose down the skeleton with the juice. It is only a matter of rounds before the giant skeleton turns into a giant and very dangerous ghoul.
On the ground floor are four large coffin like machines along each wall. They start to hum and crank and from a random (roll 1D4) machine emerges a ghoulish servitor merged with various metal plates and weapons (e.g. blades instead of hands) every other round. These ghouls will lumber slowly toward the closest target and attack. The ghouls will keep spawning until the machine it self is destroyed. Now where will the players focus their attention?
The giant will be animated in 8 rounds…
This room encounter is inspired by The Tabletop Terror’s channel invasion of Runehammer, an excellent video.
8. Vivecca the Scarlet Alchemist
The last encounter is a chance for the players to fight Vivecca herself – a potent caster. I have not yet determined the design but I hope to make it memorable as well. Most likely it will be Vivecca as a spellcaster with a meatshield of ghoulish servitors.
Final note. It was extremely fun to run the first two encounters for the group. I imagine that we’ll handle another two encounters on the next session and after that we need to step up the actual role-playing a little bit to make sure it doesn’t get too combat focused.