Deconstructing Dungeons – Beneath the Sands

Welcome to the first instalment of Deconstructing Dungeons, a weekly article in which I go back through my old adventures and talk about how they were made, what inspired me, and what resources helped me write them.The first adventure in line for review is Beneath the Sands, which I wrote in February of this year (2018). This adventure is one I pulled straight from my home campaign, which is almost entirely homebrew. The characters were at a stage where the next BBEG they planned to tackle was Rah-Ziel the Devourer; an ancient blue dragon sorcerer whose influence has spread throughout Bleak Sands, a southern desert that falls under his rule.CoverI knew that my characters were going to need to level up a few times before they fought Rah-Ziel, and that there were some more personal story arcs I wanted to finish up first. We also just had a HUGE turnover in the group; we started with seven, lost four, then gained one. The new player had only dabbled in D&D before (though is now a season professional running his own game) and so I wanted to show him each of the ‘pillars of the game’; exploration, combat and social interaction.Because of this, I elected to tell the characters that there were four artifacts (one per character) that they would need to uncover before they could defeat Rah-Ziel. Not only did this make Rah-Ziel seem more god-like and badass, but it also gives me the chance to build on existing story (they already had one of the relics) and cultivate each item to my players. On top of this, they’d have enough time to gain a handful of levels.promo1So that’s the inspiration for this work, it’s pretty much setting neutral, although I provide some ideas for placing it in the Forgotten Realms, and it’s also relatively flexible in terms of level requirement. As written, it caters to Tier 2 (5th-10th level) characters, but much of the combat involved is with multiple foes, some of which can easily be removed, and the traps in the dungeon can easily be scaled down.In this adventure, the characters are searching for a dragon slayer greatsword. My new player is a dwarven barbarian named Thorek Wrath, and although he has a penchant for throwing all his weapons about the place, I figured a huge sword he could cleave through minions with would please him greatly (I was right). I wanted the whole adventure to have an Indiana Jones-ish feel, and also to be more fantastic than most of my previous adventures. Tomb of Annihilation had also just been released, and I loved the hexcrawl aspect of that campaign, so I figured I’d brew up a mini-ToA for my characters.promo2The adventure consists of two main parts; the Dungeon (heavily inspired by Indiana Jones & the Traps Revisited Unearthed Arcana/ Xanathar’s Guide to Everything) and the Jungle (Tomb of Annihilation meets deathtrap dungeon). The characters have to make their way through the dungeon, solving puzzles that give more information about Rah-Ziel, and dodging some pretty deadly traps. Once they’ve made it through that, they open a final door, expecting to find the sword, and instead find themselves deep in an enormous underground cavern filled with dinosaurs, even more lizardfolk and even a gauth!As mentioned, I wanted to make the hexcrawl come to life in the second part of the adventure, so I added different locations within the subterranean jungle, each of which with their own story, but tried to weave these stories together in some way so that even if the characters didn’t visit each location, they’d get a feel for the place as a whole. To further motivate the exploration, I made it clear that they wouldn’t be able to enter the central ziggurat (where the sword lived) without first destroying four obelisks which were channelling magical force into the building, providing it with a shield.Long story short and spoilers removed, the characters successfully got the sword and got out of dodge, gained a level or two and had some interesting roleplaying with the Hantu fairies and Ixchel the weretiger.promo3As always, I used homebrewery for my layout. Many people have gone off this tool in recent years, but I still stand by it. It’s a quick and easy way to make professional looking layouts, and has a good UI. For my maps, I went back to using Inkarnate thanks to their commercial license, and also dabbled in Photoshop for the first time. I think both were a success, and I’ll certainly be trying to do more with Photoshop in the future. I also commissioned a cover for this adventure through Fiverr, the first I’ve ever done! I was happy with the overall result, though would probably use a different artist in future, as the style wasn’t exactly as I hoped.What I did well: I think I did a good job of encouraging exploration in this adventure, and adapting the travel system from ToA to a smaller environment, as well as adding enough variation of encounters to keep it interesting. I was also really pleased with my statblock for the Hantu.What I did poorly: Because this adventure came straight from my homebrew game, it lacks a real internal narrative. There’s no reason to be running it unless you need a place to store a relic, and there isn’t an awful lot of opportunity for roleplay or social interaction. If I were to expand the adventure, I’d perhaps include some lost explorers in the jungle, and try to think of a more complete narrative for it. Hopefully, when I release the other adventures in the Dragon Relics series, I will achieve this.GIVEAWAY! Remember, if you share or retweet this article you’ll be entered into a draw to win a free copy of the adventure! Winner will be announced this Sunday (July 8th 2018).promo4

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