An Interlude Adventure
If you’re just finding this journal, welcome! This project is my attempt to find an effective way to pass on some of the wisdom I continue to accumulate as an always-learning Dungeon Master. A new campaign was a golden opportunity for me to lay bare my personal process: what I prepare, what I focus on in that prep work, how much prep I do, and how that prep gets used in actual sessions. I’m not an “expert” DM, and I’m not trying to pretend to be. What I am is another person out there stumbling their way through this and hoping to find a way to share what I’m learning along the way with others on the same journey.
Want to start from the beginning of the journal? I’m keeping an organized page with all the journals I write along with any other related campaign materials I post right here.
This week, I wanted a slight change of pace. The party is still on their way to Edge Town, I plan to have them arrive next session and start settling in there. Along the way, though, is the perfect time to throw an interlude-style session at them!
Sessions like this are the closest I’m likely to come to “classic” DnD in one of my games. For this session, I laid out a short adventure the party will be pulled into which is intended to mostly stand on its own. I like to use these adventures as teasers of plot threads coming further down the line.
When you design an adventure like this, there are a few basic questions you need to ask to get off the ground. First of all: how is the party going to find themselves undertaking this adventure? What’s the hook and how can you be sure the players will take it?
There are a few ways to go about this. You could make a plot hook that you know will be difficult for the party to pass up; this requires knowing your players and characters well, and is the least intrusive way to go about setting the party to action. In the case of the adventure for this session, I took a less subtle approach: something interferes with the crystalline core of the Yellowbelly, forcing them to land until it can be fixed, and the party is sent to figure out what is causing the disturbance.
The setting for this interlude is an ancient lake-side shrine, unnaturally intact for its age. This place is a source of power for Areizma, an ancient black dragon that has recently awakened in the world, and one of her brood is here to maintain it. She is fed by suffering and death, so part of the role in maintaining the shrine includes bringing fresh meat to the table, so to speak. To that end, a small cohort of kobolds assists in performing a dark ritual which disrupts the magic within the crystalline cores of passing ships. Once grounded, they are easy prey for the dragon – the ship the party saw last session was one of his victims.
With an idea of the content of the adventure, the kinds of monsters I’ll be working with, and how I’m hooking the party in, I just have to fill out the details from here. I want this to be more of a “teaser”; the party won’t have a complete picture of what’s going on, but this interlude will provide clues and plant seeds for the eventual reveal of Areizma later in the game.
I designed two central environments: the area around the outside of the shrine by the lakeside, and the interior of the shrine where the kobolds are performing the ritual.
I stocked each area with features that hint at the nature of the shrine, including reliefs around the exterior depicting scenes of Areizma at work: devouring kings as nations flee before her, standing over ruined cities, and so on.
The interior was designed with the kobolds in mind. Kobolds are a weak enemy, so in order to challenge the party with them I needed to create an advantageous environment for the little guys. Taking a page out of Tucker’s Kobolds, I created a series of small tunnels dug around the inside of the shrine that the kobolds would use to move about and shoot at the party from various hidden openings in the walls. They would only attack once the party had triggered the net trap which was meant to restrain at least a couple party members if all went well and start the fight with a serious disadvantage for the party.
I placed a good sized hoard of treasure in here, partly because it make sense for a dragon to have a hoard and partly because I want to give my players some money before they get to the city where they can spend it. Once the kobold fight is done, the party will be free to investigate the back area of the interior and find the altar that is the source of the magic interfering with their ship. Destroying the altar will alert the dragon and trigger the collapse of the interior, so hopefully they divide up the treasure before they do that.
Among the loot I planted a Ring of Mind Shielding. These rings can hold the soul of a deceased wearer, which in Dungeon Master terms means that this ring does hold the soul of a former owner. I haven’t ironed out the details about who I want to put in there yet, but this is a fun door to leave open for myself as we move forward.
The dragon fight has me a little on edge going into the session, because I’m not sure how well-equipped the party is for a fight like this at level 5. It’s only a young dragon, so as long as they’re smart they should be able to handle it – especially with the environment I’m giving them for the fight, with a covered canopy and plenty of large objects to hide behind. Even still, one bad breath attack even from a young dragon can wipe out a few party members at this level. I have faith that my players are experienced enough to see the danger and approach the combat accordingly.
Here are my hand-written prep notes for the session, if you want to see how I laid this out for myself:
Session Nine: The Corrupted Lake Shrine
Well, sometimes you end up taking an unexpected hiatus.
I wrote the first half of this post a little under a month ago, a few days after playing the session. Between current events and an impending cross-country move, my attention was pulled elsewhere. I called a hiatus on the game until after my move (you definitely want to keep players VERY in the loop about this – including giving a possible return date). I’m settling into a new apartment now in a new city and ready to get everything, including this game and blog, back on track.
It’s been nearly a month since the session I’m covering here, so I’m going to mostly re-post the recap I typed up on the discord for my players right after the session. It’s going to read a little differently than other entries – we’ll be returning to typical programming next week!
The next day, as the ship continues the journey to Edge Town, the Yellowbelly’s crystalline core begins to act strangely – emitting odd noises and showing signs of some kind of outside interference.
The ship touches down near a lake until the issue can be resolved, and the party is sent out to find the source of the interference. With Kaltog’s guidance, they make their way to a shrine by the lakeside which seems to be emanating the magical aura interfering with the ship’s core. As they walk, they notice that the area is unusually marshy – their boots stick in the ground a bit as they walk, and there is a stench of decay and rot hanging in the air. The lake appears cloudy, and when tested by Dave’s knife reads as extremely hazardous to drink.
The shrine itself appears to be ancient, and surprisingly intact for its age. Large stone steles depict scenes of a winged creature with a skull-like head: many peoples flee before it in one image, in another it stands over ruined cities, and in yet another it is shown devouring crowned figures. When Kaltog inspects the reliefs, he notices an ancient script written in a lost language that defies translation (“Denaii”, the “language of the gods”). Two large stone doors are cut into the hillside at the back of the structure, which the party proceed through as Kaltog indicates that the source of the interference lies within.
Inside, the party find more of these images carved into the walls. The sounds of chanting echo from somewhere deeper in the interior, and Kana’ti can hear the sounds of claws scraping on stone from behind the walls. The party moves forward cautiously, but as they round the corner to get a better look at the source of the chanting they trigger a trap – a large net falls from the ceiling to hinder them and kobolds attack from all sides, hidden within the walls. The party manages to fight their way through the ambush, defeating the sorcerer and his guard.
The party take a moment to rest here, Sherlynx especially quite injured after the encounter. They inspect the altar the sorcerer had been chanting over; built of wood and bone, splattered with blood both new and old; Kaltog determines that this is the source of the interference that has grounded their ship.
Behind the altar is a hoard of treasure, tossed into the corner in a disorganized fashion but not insignificant in size. After gathering the gold and identifying the magical items among the treasure, Sherlynx and Dave work together to dismantle the altar. Upon pulling out one of the bones, the whole altar collapsed in on itself as though pulled down by unnatural forces, and the ground around the party began to quake. The party wisely made a hasty exit, but as they ran Dave received a sending from Jakob warning the party that something big was heading their way.
Emerging back into the daylight as the interior crumbled behind them, the party found themselves face to face with a young Black Dragon. He challenged them to show themselves, and Sherlynx obliged by stepping out to address the creature. He indicated that they had ruined his work here, and that they were thieves as well for taking from his hoard. When he voiced his intention to kill them no matter the result of their conversation, Kaltog had heard enough and stepped out to open fire at the dragon. The fight was harrowing, with Dave taking the full force of the dragon’s acid breath twice and Kana’ti nearly going down as well. Kana’ti deals the final blow, slicing open the dragon’s throat. The dragon gurgles out a last warning as he falls: “My end does not forestall your doom. The midnight hour comes for you all.”
Well, it’s been awhile, but I recall this feeling like a successful session. The players engaged with the lore etched in the walls of the shrine, even if they didn’t fully understand what it all was yet. It left them with questions that will, hopefully, be sticking in their minds still after this hiatus (I’ll be sure to bring it up during the larger recap I’ll have to do for them this week).
The kobold fight ended up being much deadlier than I expected! I gave the kobolds some good terrain elements to play with and they were effective to say the least. The party adjusted well, though, with Kana’ti especially getting to have some fun with his deflect missiles ability – the kobolds kept shooting at him because, due to the nature of the tunnels and arrow-slit strategy, they didn’t see him catching arrows and thus didn’t learn not to shoot at him. It’s fun to let the monsters play into player abilities like that when you have the opportunity, it lets the player feel cool – and isn’t that most of the point?
The dragon fight, on the other hand, was much easier than I anticipated. I recall being worried about this one, but even with his breath weapon engaging multiple times in the fight the party held their own. Especially fun was Dave failing his save but, thanks to his resistance to all damage but psychic when raging and his daily use of stone’s endurance, only taking 7 points of acid damage. Describing him just standing directly in the path of the dragon’s breath and taking the hit right across the face was pretty metal. The others made great use of the cover and terrain to force the dragon to the ground if he wanted to attack them, and they were able to tear him apart once he was in close.
This session served well as a break from the usual flow of my campaign, which is all I ever want from an interim session. Just some straight-up fighting and looting with a splash of lore for flavor. It also ended up being an appropriate place to break the campaign for a little while; the party will arrive in Edge Town next session, kicking off the next arc of the campaign.
I have many potential plots swirling around Edge Town; I can’t wait to see where the party takes the story from here!