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Welcome back, dice fondlers! This is the penultimate installment of our first created Dungeons and Dragons adventure outline. We’ve covered an adventuring party, built a plot to hang our story on, outlined how our dungeon came into being, created three NPCs with ties to the story, and gone over some basic rules on how to use the encounter builder and random dungeon generator in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Whew! Now would be a good time to click that “Start Over” button up top if you’re totally lost.
This week, we’re creating both the wilderness where our map doth lie and the nearest settlement where the strange illness spreading from the myconid cave is taking hold.
Crafting the Wilds
We’ll start with our wilderness. When creating a wilderness area to explore, we have to keep our purpose in mind. You’ll want to play around with this idea, as our wandering murderers heroes come from disparate backgrounds. Whether your party chooses to meet each other on the road to the settlement we’ll make later, they’ve met each other and are traveling as an established partnership, or if they all stumble into the area with the map at the same time as the villain’s henchmen, that will be best determined by your table. Some folks would leap at the chance to start a game in a standoff with every other character over the possibility of a payday, only to be forced into an alliance through the emergence of a more merciless threat. Those people usually play Chaotic Neutral characters. Just sayin’.
As the DM, our goal here is to have the heroes graduate from first level to second level by the time they reach the settlement. With that in mind, we can do one of two things. We can plan on awarding an advancement in level as a milestone award or we can manually count XP in order to hedge our bets and try to make sure our party lands where we want. Either way, we’ll take a look at how many players we have and break that down into a number of encounters that works best for us.
Generally speaking, larger groups need fewer encounters. This is because there’s less chance for mass lethality if we’re using the DMG’s encounter builder. However, at smaller party levels, it’s easier for teams to get outnumbered, pumping up the difficulty without necessarily giving larger rewards. Several encounter guides say that the party can expect eight encounters in a single day.
Don’t misunderstand—this includes social encounters or exploration based encounters as well. DnD is built on those three pillars, not just on combat. So, if you are awarding experience for combat per enemy, consider any exploration or social situations introduced are counted towards the daily encounter average. Also, remember, eight is a guideline for high energy adventures. While traveling, you may very well have only one encounter per day… or less! To keep our wilderness memorable, we’ll use the monuments table to pick out two separate locations our party will have to either fight through or otherwise get around before they emerge from our wilderness. We’ll also roll one location on the weird locales’ table to get a perfect showdown point for the first glimpse of our villain.
Our first two rolls land us a 9 and a 19. So, for our first encounter—the one where we find a corpse carrying a map—is at the base of an intact statue of a person or deity. Interesting. Perhaps this is a statue of the evil deity the temple was built to? That would be a nice bit of story-telling sleight of hand. Let’s go with that.
Now, according to the 19 roll, farther down the line (midway through our heroes’ trek), they’ll find a ruined or otherwise toppled set of standing stones. This just gets better and better. First a statue, now a broken, possibly desecrated landmark. This makes a nice spot to have the villain’s henchmen press the attack, or possibly to vary the threat further by having an [avoidable] major threat in the way, like the main villain’s camp.
Finally, we have a roll of 12. That says that our weird locale for the final showdown before heading out of the wilderness is a massive crystal jutting from the ground. This all sounds suitably intense. Now, let’s roll and see what the weather’s going to be like for them today. 16, 13, and 17. This says that the weather will be 1d4 x 10 degrees colder than normal, with light winds, and either light rain or light snowfall, depending on your locale. The weather 1d4 says… 4. So their temperature will be forty degrees below the normal. Let’s assume that this is a light snowfall. That adds some spectacular ability to your narration. In the wild, tracking in newly fallen snow starts off easy, but the longer our heroes delay, the more tracks will be filled back in. This gives us plenty of encounter variation to create as they travel. Meanwhile, in the settlement, the sickness becomes a claustrophobic plot device. People cramped together, hiding in their homes, with anyone who could be a disease vector viewed with suspicion.
Fleshing Out the City Settlement
With a good idea of what our wilderness will be like, let’s move next to the settlement. For our purposes, let’s assume a medium-sized settlement. This probably takes the form of a small city. Our choice of government has little impact on our initial adventure, but if you use this as the beginning of a longer campaign, it matters a great deal. Do we have a rural monarchy? The last vestiges of an old kingdom, coming apart at the seams? Perhaps a strong-willed duchess was “given” this land by a vindictive emperor and keeps this hunk of wildland from devolving into chaos with her wit and the capability of those she employs. Yet again, this could be a commune of wizards and their supply chain, making decisions based strictly on the logistics of keeping their experiments operational. For this, I personally recommend thumbing through an abridged history of the world timeline and looking for inspiration. Just make sure that your timeline isn’t too eurocentric or you’ll miss out on some of the most interesting civilization possibilities.
For our purposes, I’m actually going to choose that the city is ruled by a council of advisers that make the laws. For our first four tables, we have 6-12-1-4. Accordingly, this states “The Council” is maintaining harmony among all the races that inhabit their city. The twelve indicates that our council is a mysterious, anonymous cabal. How exciting. Let us imagine, then, a cloistered secret council headed by an enigmatic figure known only as “The Provider”. This council sets rules, regulations, laws, and penalties from their chambers without direct input from the citizenry. This is tolerated primarily because the city remains quite prosperous and because the last merchant to publicly slander the Provider was found scattered across the city in pieces. The 1 lets us know that this city was built with canals in the place of streets. One can imagine Venice, set down in the middle of Faerun. Finally, the 4 lets us know that this city is known by and large for its artists and writers. So, now we have quite a bit of flavor for our city. A mysterious council, harmony among the people, known for its fine arts, and with canals for streets. Certainly seems like a grand setting to me.
For further points of interest within the city, I prefer to follow the lazy DM method and play mostly by ear based on where the players themselves find interesting. That said, it’s never a bad idea to have a point of interest or two in mind to direct them to. So, we’ll use the random buildings’ table to help ourselves out with that. Instead of rolling for building type, we’ll roll up a residence, a religious building, and a tavern, with a random name. Our residence roll was 6, meaning this is a standard middle-class home. This is an easy spot for our party to meet with our adventure patron. They can be referred to the patron because of their wisdom and skill with local lore. Our second roll is a 19, letting us know that there is a hidden shrine to a fiend or evil deity about. This lines up with the shadowy history of our adventure patron and the temple we’ll be delving into later. I would definitely have this shrine align with the statue found in the wilderness. Our tavern roll is a 16, noting that this tavern is a guild-run tavern. We could make this particularly difficult for our party by requiring them to be thieves guild members or such, but let’s be generous. It’s an adventurers’ guild tavern: a local meet and greet with work postings and gossip. When our team finds themselves in a snowy city on the verge of a plague and controlled by a shadow government, having a bar full of friendlies will be a nice change of pace. Finally, this tavern is known as The Mysterious Jester (17 and 14, respectively.) It is entirely up to you whether this tavern’s name was meant as a jest on the appearance of the Provider or not. That may be a hook for a later adventure if your table is having enough fun. Finally, let’s choose a name for our city. When I want something fully random, I use Mithril and Mages’ city name generator. I’ve populated it for Italian data sets, seeing our Venician parallel. Our city’s name is… Malalbergo.
With that, our adventure skeleton is as fleshy as I intend to make it. We’ll be coming back next with a few final notes. There are still holes left for you to fill in and customize as you see fit in order to make this adventure your own. No plan ever survives the first encounter with the party, so make sure to roll with the punches instead of trying to play conductor on your own personal railway. We’ll see you next time, but until then, remember…
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