Friday, August 10, 2018

The Doom that Came to Dannerhall

I suppose I'm in the business of writing a dungeon today.  This post is just a collection of fragments.

I didn't start with a map or a plot or a villain.  I start with all the interesting ideas, the revelations that you hope will give your players pause, the spectacular moments that may or may not happen.  I collect a few of these and then I try to stitch them together.

This time I started with a list of body part monsters, and then invented a story to go along with them.  Here's the story first. . .

by Juan Valverde de Amusco's Anatomia del cuerpo humano (1560), who plagiarized most of them from Andreas' Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica.
The Story

Dannerhall was a lonely town, isolated by snow and crag, a rustic cousin on the wrong side of the Nothic Mountains.  It was known for blackberry wines and a famous musician, who had long since mouldered.  Their nearest trading partner is Havenholt, a long journey away through an unfriendly forest.  They hunt the Poison People.  They war with the Red Caves.  

In the short days of winter a prophecy went winding through the streets, and it reached the ears of the king.  The prophecy told that the king of the Red Caves would topple Dannerhall and sit atop its throne.  The king, and his three sons, would all be dead before spring's full bloom.

Word reached the king, as it must.  So great was his fear, and so terrible his fury, that the sun dared not show its face that day.

The warriors were marshalled.  Wrapped in bearhides, they crossed the icy gaps and sky-bitten passes that led to the Red Caves.  Their mission was to kill the king of the Red Caves, and only return once he had been beheaded.

The small army reached the Red Caves without any losses, against all expectation.  No counterforce rallied to meet them in the murderous chokepoints.  Their terraced farms were found to be abandoned.  The stormed the gates and slew its few defenders with relative ease.  The city seemed to be largely abandoned.  A few people seemed to be residing in its halls, but they fled at the coming army.  Cave goats bleated in the streets, their udders stretched and unmilked.

More caves, more portcullises, more poisonous gases.  There seemed to only be a handful of defenders.  Had they caught them during a migration?  A religious holiday?

The invaders were initially amazed at their luck, which turned to boorish joviality, which finally gave way to a creeping sense of dread that only grew as they descended.

Standing outside the throne room, their ears pressed against the bronze doors, they heard gutteral voices.  A crowd that whispered and laughed.  Not a syllable was understandable.

When the door was flung open, their lanterns revealed an empty room and a mad king, wide-eyed and babbling, squatting beside the ashes of an offering pyre.  Silks and robes were piled around him like so much detritus.  Of the numerous voices, there was no sign.

The king of the Red Caves was decapitated.  His body was burned and the soldiers returned with his head.  

They brought with them rich treasures from the vaults, a line of newly-caught slaves, and the youngest and fairest princess of the Red Caves.  Her elder siblings had been cut down, attempting to defend the vaults.

In the castle of Dannerhall, a feast was thrown.  It was a great victory over an old enemy.  The treasures were added to Dannerhall's own and the slaves were distributed among the king's allies.  The orphaned princess was to be wed to the king, in a ceremony that would take place in a mere month.

The girl wept and pleaded at this isolation from her people, and so the king allowed her to keep a servant from the Red Caves.  The one she chose was an old man that she knew from earlier years.  The slave was made a eunuch, and allowed to attend to her.

A week later, a smaller army was sent back to the Red Caves along with some peasants who hoped that they might claim the land for their own.  Of them, nothing was ever heard from again.

The day of the wedding drew night, and the castle once again took a deep breath, readying itself for another great feast.  The candelabras were filled with fresh candles, a pair of hogs were fattened, and newly-woven tapestries were hung.  A thousand preparations and it was done--the wedding would occur tomorrow.

The survivors spoke of the noises that occurred at exactly midnight.  At first, the news was that the orphaned princess' eunuch had gone mad and cut off her head.  Or perhaps he had dismembered her entirely.  The eunuch had been killed.  No, the eunuch had escaped into the night.

Whatever the details, the pieces of the dismembered princess must have swelled and thickened with unnatural growth.  Perhaps they fell off the blood-stained bed where they still rested and plopped on the floor where they continued to grow, instructed and fattened by whatever unearthly power that also gave them animation.

Nearly everyone in the castle died.  The few that escaped spoke of gargantuan body parts and colossal organs, slithering down hallways and gallumphing into the courtyard.

That was two days ago.  The castle is dark, the drawbridge is still halfway raised, and the screams have stopped.  Everyone that has ventured inside thus far has failed to return.  The villagers are already speaking of departure.  All agree that the town is cursed, and no one wishes to stay another night. The mountains roads are treacherous at this time of year, but perhaps less treacherous than remaining.

The Monsters

They're in the dead castle.  The orphaned princess has been dismembered and every hateful part of her stalks the castle, empowered by fell magic.

The Slaves

Former citizens of the Red Caves.  They are pale and their speech is dense, turbulent.  The princess has so far not killed any of them.  They would leave the castle if they could, but outside the castle are mobs of people who would quickly kill them.

The princess--now the rightful king of the Red Caves--calls for them from the throne room.  Some avoid that horrible place.  Some enter, where they are made to swear fealty to the thing in the chair.  All of them have armed themselves and are likely to attack anyone else they find wandering the castle.

The Prince and His Knights

Probably holed up somewhere.  A tiny handful of trained killers, terrified and easily manipulated.

The Warlock Eunuch

He is almost certainly still alive.  Things have gotten a little out of hand, perhaps, but he is very adaptable and utterly determined.

At Least One Actual Demon

Who did you think was behind all this?

The Hands

Each hand is large enough to grab an adult human around the torso.

HDDef chain  Slap 1d8+grab
Fly dwarf  Int Mor 20

Abilities -- Whenever a PC attempts to harm one of the Hands with a hand-held object (or their bare hands), their hand cramps and prevents them.  (The Hands cannot be harmed by hands.)

The Feet

HDDef chain  Kick 1d8
Fly dwarf  IntMor 20

Abilities -- When the target has at least 30' of clear space above them, the Feet can turn their kick into a stomp, doubling the damage and causing all other creatures within 10' to take 1d4 damage (Dex for half). 

The Feet are initially encountered in the courtyard, where they can make use of their Stomp attack.  If they can be lured indoors, they become a lot less threatening.

The Torso

It is a hostage taker.  Without any hands, feet, head, or internal organs, it lumbers through the darkened halls atop bloody stumps, blindly and clumsily.  The queen of Dannerhall is trapped inside of the rib cage.  She will beg to be released, a pale hand poking out, grasping at nothing.  

When the Torso is damaged she will scream at them to stop--the Torso is crushing her alive.  And if the party continues to attack, it will.

HDDef leather  Slams 1d10/1d10+swallow
Move human  Int 10  Mor 10

Abilities -- The Torso can hold up to two people.  Swallowed characters are allowed a single Str check at a -8 to escape.  The Torso can damage any passenger as a free action, doing as much damage as it wishes.  It is capable of breaking a passenger's body as easily as a grown man can snap a kitten in half.

It is too large to move down any passage less than 10' wide, limiting it to the larger rooms and hallways.

DM's Note: I'm not really sure how the party is supposed to rescue the queen.  Perhaps the torso compulsively attempts to swallow its missing organs, so if the PCs present it with the corpses of say, the heart and the lungs, the Torso will swallow them and, lacking the capacity to retain her, eject the queen.  If I want to do this, I should put the Torso early in the castle so that avoidance becomes the smart option early on, and killing it becomes more viable later.

Alternatively, perhaps the ribs could be restrained with lassos?  Or perhaps a suit of armor given to the queen, to protect her from being crushed.

Honestly, I don't need to think of a way for the players to rescue the queen, because (a) I've already thought of some possibilities, and (b) it isn't essential for them to rescue the queen anyway.  Fuck it.

The Heart

Less of a monster, more of a trap.  It blocks a vital passage.

HDDef none  Atk none
Move none  IntMor 20

Incite Rage -- Usable 1/turn.  Target must save or fly into a barbarian rage.  Like a barbarian rage, an affected target must attack a creature every turn.  Ending the rage early (before all opponents are slain) requires a successful Save.

Blood Calls to Blood -- Whenever the Heart takes damage, that damage is mirrored onto the person that struck it.  Indirect damage (starting a fire that then spreads to the Heart) does not trigger this.  Throwing a molotov directly onto the Heart does.

One passive ability and one active ability.  Looks like a pain in the ass to fight.  Good.  I'm done here.

The Lungs

Frothy sheets of pulpy membrane, pulsing through the air like a dying butterfly.  The trachea waves through the air like a searching head.  The wind blows over the cartilaginous lips like breath over the top of a beer bottle.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6
Fly crow  IntMor 20

Envelope of Wind -- Arrow are at -4 to hit.  Once per turn as a free action, the Lungs can redirect an missed arrow attack at a target of its choosing.

Gust of Wind -- Usable 1/turn.  Strong enough to throw objects at people, or throw people off of the tops of battlements.

I guess I should put this guy up in the battlements, huh?

The Liver

The liver makes you drunk when you fight it.

HDDef leather  Slam 1d6/1d6
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Alcoholic Fumes -- Every creature within 50' gains 1 point of drunkeness every turn.  (Holding your breath doesn't work; it soaks through your skin.)

Immune to Poison

<sidebar>Drunkeness Rules: For every point of drunkeness you get, your critical miss range increases by 1. Decreases by 1 point every 2 hours.</sidebar>

Since everyone will quickly get very drunk fighting this thing, the strategy is to either kill it quickly, or defeat it using methods that don't rely on die rolls.  The debuff can stick around all day.

The Stomach

Okay, it's an ambulatory stomach that barfs a cone of acid.  Is that sufficient on its own?


The stomach is in the basement, vomiting up a huge cloud of acid gas that fills the whole level.  Once you kill it, the cloud dissipates and you can explore the basement safely.

There's no trick to it.  You just hear the thing vomiting somewhere in the darkness and you charge in there and kill it while your skin begins to melt.

Alternatively, throw molotovs at it until it comes charging up the stairs, acid nozzle all a-whirl.

HDDef leather  Tackle 1d10+trip
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Barf -- 20' cone, 1d6 acid damage.

Acid Cloud -- Constantly emits a cloud of acid.  Will eventually fill the room, and all adjacent rooms, with an acid fog that does 1 damage for every round of exposure.  Fog will not go up stairs.  If the Stomach is killed or removed, the acid cloud will dissipate within 10 minutes.

<sidebar>Acid Rules: Acid damage repeats on all subsequent rounds, dealing the same damage -1 point for every turn its elapsed.  This lasts until no more damage is possible, or until a PC is washed off with water.  This depletes the waterskin.

For example, a PC hit by 1d6 acid damage takes 1d6-1 acid damage at the end of their next turn, and 1d6-2 acid damage at the end of the turn after that.</sidebar>

The Intestines

Two horrible snake-things.  They hunt together, trying to split the party.  One tries to pull a PC up into the rafters, another tries to drag a different PC into the next room.

HDDef leather  Bite 1d6+grab
Move dwarf  IntMor 20

Serpentine -- 20' reach.  Can grapple up to 3 opponents simultaneously.

The one with more HP is the large intestine, obviously.

Don't need to load this one down with mechanics.  The encounter is interesting enough, with a giant snake thing trying to pull a PC up into the ceiling.

The Pancreas

It blocks another key point in the dungeon.  It's more of an obstacle, less of a monster.  It has a powerful regenerative ability, and can scream for help, but it has no other abilities.

HDDef none  Flail 1d6
MoveIntMor 20

Regenerate -- 10 HP per round!

Cry for Help -- Roll on the wandering monster table at the end of every turn in which the poor Pancreas takes damage.

The Gallbladder

Another obstacle monster.  It occupies a key intersection in the dungeon.  It serves as an artillery piece, raining gallstones and digestive bile down on anyone who approaches it.  The best way to get past it is to approach it from two directions, since it cannot fire down both hallways simultaneously.

HDDef leather  Shoot gallstones
MoveIntMor 20

Shoot Gallstones -- 1d10 damage and the target must succeed on a Difficult Str check or be knocked backwards 10' and fall prone.  The Gallbladder is smart enough to ready an action to shoot whoever approaches it.

(This makes it difficult to approach the Gallbladder.  It takes two successful turns of charging at it to reach it.)

Meh.  I might cut this one.

The Eyes

HDDef none  Slam 1d6
Fly dwarf  Int 10  Mor 5

Permanently Invisible -- It makes a squelching noise when it casts spells, though.

Spellcasting -- illusion and telekinesis.  As a level 3 wizard (3 magic dice).

They should probably be accompanied by a 1d3 escaped slaves.

The Mouth

HD 4  Def chain  Bite 1d6+swallow
Fly horse  IntMor 5

Teleport Trap -- Anyone swallowed by the Mouth is teleported to the room with the Gullet.

Runs around, teleporting PCs into terrible place.  Low morale, so it probably flies out a window as soon as things get hairy.  Fun.

The Gullet

Same stats as one of the Intestines.

It lives inside a locked room.  

When you kill it, dozens of bloody corpses will come slipping out, like a waterslide.

The Head

No eyes or jaw.  Huge, crumpled, wet.  Possibly atop the throne.  Is it the princess or the princess' possessed remnant?

Probably another stationary monster.  Is it the dungeon boss?  Sure, okay.

I need to think about this one for a while.  I don't need to come up with the details tonight.  I think I'll write the rest of the dungeon and then come back to this one.

Perhaps it'll be the ol' switcheroo: the princess regrets her agreement with the warlock and now only wishes to die.  Perhaps the real threat in the room is the Brain, which hides inside the skull before it comes levitating out, glowing neon blue and firing off mind flayer effects.


  1. Holy Hell, this is INCREDIBLE. Seriously; such a great re-skin of a classic Lovecraft tale. Truly impressed here sir.

  2. I would play the hell out of this.

  3. Would love to see the dungeon map eventually, this is tasty stuff.