Modular 5-Room Dungeon: The Dark Castle

First off, let me say that the picture for this post comes from user legendary-memory on Deviant Art and is the middle section of a painting called Dark Castle.  The pic was amazingly done in 10 minutes!  I can’t believe how awesome people are!  Anyway, check her work out here: https://legendary-memory.deviantart.com/

It seemed like my previous attempt at a modular 5-Room Dungeon design was a hit, so I’m attempting another one.  My goal is to make each room of the dungeon have at least 4 different options that could happen while not being dependent on the previous room.  It took me quite a while to come up with the last one as I felt like things wanted to branch off naturally as the story progressed.  I’m going to see if I can include more hooks this time that can chain together regardless of the randomized room challenge.  We’ll see how it goes!

Also, I was thinking of trying to make the options for each room have various success conditions so if you wanted to tailor this scenario to a specific play group rather than solo-play, you could choose the option that works best for your players.  For example, I’ll try to put some dexterity based skills checks, wisdom or intelligence based skills checks, charisma based skill checks, and combat encounters within in each room.  This way if your group loves combat, you can always choose the combat option.  If you want to spotlight different character abilities, you can choose an option that fits a different character for each room.

Background

The hills south of northern ArRala mountain range are normally quiet.  Sure there are lots of random mountain beasts about, but the Mountain Dwarves usually keep them somewhat under control when they come up to the surface.  The heroes were staying at Jural, one of the Air Cities of the dwarves (so called because they are up on the surface and open to the air), just south of one of the main entrances to the underground dwarven kingdom in the northern mountain range when an odd storm appeared.  Clouds didn’t roll in on the wind as much as they just coalesced with an eerie green glow in the sky accompanied by bright streaks of purple lightning running horizontally through the clouds.  Jural was near the edge of the storm with a site several miles north, midway up to the mountains proper, at the eye of the storm.  As the heroes watch, several purple streaks of lightning strike simultaneously and hang in the air.  Like hands grasping at invisible curtains, the purple lightning bolts slowly pulled apart from east to west to reveal a thick, black gulf of nothingness for about 30 seconds before the whole storm instantly disappeared.  Even in the lower light of late evening, everyone can see the dark outline of a castle that wasn’t there only moments before.  In the morning, the heroes pack up their adventuring gear and head north to investigate.

Room 1: Entering the Castle

  1. As the heroes make the trek through the mountains and get closer to the newly arrived castle, they discover that the castle is really floating 50 ft in the air. Some strange looking red vines with purple leaves hang down randomly from the edges of the clod of earth the castle sits on and seem to twitch with a life of their own, but they are still at least 15 ft in the air.  The climb doesn’t look too bad, but there appear to be thorns on the vines and they may be moving with a purpose.  Who knows what poison they might inject into the adventurer unlucky enough to misplace their hand during the climb?  The climb is easy enough, but the vines attack on the way up.  The weight of the heroes on the vines keeps the portion of vine above them tight, but anything below them can snake back up and attack.  They’ll have keep attacking all the way up.
  2. As the heroes make the trek through the mountains and get closer to the newly arrived castle, they discover that the castle is really floating 50 ft in the air. Large rocks are slowly swirling within the space from the ground up to the edge of the clod of earth the castle sits on.  The swirling rocks appear to be big enough for a person to stand on, but will the heroes be able to balance and time their jumps correctly to make it up to the castle?  HINT: Characters can fail forward by taking damage from falling but realizing that their weight on the rocks slowed down the movement of the rocks therefore making each subsequent attempt easier.
  3. As the heroes make the trek through the mountains and get closer to the newly arrived castle, they discover that the castle has a shimmering, nearly transparent, purple field surrounding it. Rubble and rock displaced by the castle’s appearance appear to interrupt the purple field in some places, but they would be a tight squeeze.  Moreover, finding the correct path and squirming through the rubble would be hard enough, but can the heroes make it past the field without causing the rubble piles to collapse on top of them?
  4. As the heroes make the trek through the mountains and get closer to the newly arrived castle, they discover that the castle has several dark purple comets swirling around the castle. Upon closer inspection, the comets are discovered to really be incorporeal heads with fangs and horns swirling around the castle in all directions.  A larger head comes to rest in front of the heroes and says, “Do you come in service of the master?”  The heroes look at each other realizing that one small misspeak could result in violence.  Can they convince this demon-like head to let them pass or will it lead to a fight?

Room 2: The Antechamber

Approaching the castle, the heroes notice that it is crumbling and very old in many parts while others seem brand new.  The main entrance is still intact, but much of the castle has either collapsed or is open to the elements.  The parts that appear still newly constructed look like they shouldn’t even be able to stand with the broken down pieces below them.  The architectural support is simply not there.

Entering the antechamber of the castle, the first things the heroes notice is that there are several tapestries hanging on the walls of this 60 ft by 60 ft room.  The only exit from this room that hasn’t collapsed and become impassable is a wide double door straight ahead.  The once vibrant tapestries on the walls are decayed, but scenes are still visible.  Crudely drawn graffiti covers most of the tapestries that contain a knight.  Horns have been drawn on the knight or fangs, and the words “KILLER,” “MONSTER” or “DEMON PET” have been written in red over the knight.

Piecing together the story beneath the defacement, it seems that this castle guarded a small kingdom that was constantly under attack, and they usually lost.  At their most desperate hour, a heroic knight showed up and started winning battles for the people.  He was crowned ruler of the castle and brought forth a time of prosperity.  He was revered and loved by all.  At least that’s what the last tapestry shows.

  1. As the heroes look at the last tapestry, they notice a small inscription in the stone. It appears to be an ancient form of Common but mostly likely reads, “He made the bargain, and wove the thread.  At his choice, the curse has spread.”  Uttering these words, some of the foes depicted in the middle tapestries begin moving.  Within a few heartbeats, they expand and jump off the tapestry to attack the heroes.  Can the heroes defeat these thread-borne combatants (who probably have a weakness against fire, just saying).
  2. As the heroes examine the final tapestry, it begins to crumble and fall to the ground in a pile of dust. A spectral voice announces, “You dare attack the great Kingdom of Ba’trudia!  We serve the master faithfully, and thou shalt perish!” and ghostly guards materialize and attack.  Can the heroes defeat these ghostly guardians?
  3. After looking at the tapestries, the heroes move on to examine the door going deeper into the castle. It is locked and trapped, but also barred from the inside as if keeping someone from getting out.  Can the heroes get past the locks and traps to explore the remaining sections of the castle?
  4. After piecing together the story from the tapestries, the entrance door slams shut, and a wailing banshee appears. Each round the characters are in the room, they get weaker, and the far door is locked.  Attacks don’t hurt the banshee as it is chained between two pillars.  Characters must figure out to cut the ethereal chains to release the banshee or else pick the lock to get to the next room.  This can be an intelligence or wisdom challenge to figure out how to free the banshee or a charisma challenge to calm the banshee down long enough that it dissipates.

Room 3: The Great Hall

Upon entering the next room, the heroes find themselves in a long, grand hallway that is 40 ft wide by 300 ft long.  Huge pillars line the hallway as do elaborate statues that have all been defaced in some way, most having their heads removed.  The closest statue looks to be knight from the previous tapestries.  A female ghost lies on the floor, cradling the fallen head of the knight’s statue.  She seems to be lost in the past, or perhaps a remnant of the past herself, as she continues whispering the same conversation to herself over and over.  “Why is this happening?  You promised you would protect us, protect me. … It was your choice?  Why would you choose this?  I loved you…”

  1. The heroes soon notice that the hallway floor is crumbling in many places with holes dropping down to a purple outlined abyss below. Can the heroes tumble and balance their way across the floor without falling to their doom below?
  2. As the heroes try to continue down the hall, the female ghost disappears from the statue base and rematerializes in front of the heroes, barring their passage. “You must not seek him.  He is evil,” she repeats over and over again.  Any attempt to move past her is met with a ghostly touch that momentarily drains the energy of the character.  Further touches from the ghost makes the fatigue and weakness last longer each time.  Can the heroes convince the ghost to step aside?
  3. When the heroes begin to move down the hall, shadowy demons covered in purple flames burst through the far door. They stop short at seeing the heroes as if surprised, but quickly smile and attack.
  4. At the end of the hall, large 10 ft by 10 ft cubes of ectoplasm bar the way forward. Inside each cube can be seen tiny demon swarms seemingly incubating inside.  The cubes don’t appear to be anchored to the ground and can be pushed, but it may bar further passage forward.  This can be an intelligence or wisdom base skill challenge to figure out how to push the blocks a way that allows the heroes to move forward.  If the heroes just try to hack their way through it, the ectoplasm absorbs the force of their blows and heals nearly instantly from physical attacks.  Fire or magic may get through, but that may release the tiny, impish demons inside.  HINT: Pushing forward isn’t a good idea.  Just push each cube that is in the middle of the hall to the left or right wall, whichever it is closest to.

__       __
|X     X   |
|   X     X|
|X     X   |
|   X     X|
|X     X   |
|             |

Room 4: The Throne Room

The heroes find themselves in a once elaborate throne room.  Banners of the kingdom still hang on the walls, and raised throne sits at the far side of the room. DON’T READ THE ITALICIZED PART SET APART AS BULLET POINTS UNTIL FINISHING THE NUMBERED SECTION.

  1. Halfway to the throne is a grotesque onyx altar upon which lays a woman surrounded by a vibrant blue field of magical energy. As the heroes watch, her breast rises and falls as if breathing, but very slowly with a long time between breaths.  Kneeling on the far side of the altar is a spectral knight who looks like the one from the tapestries.  Upon noticing the heroes enter the room, he stands, draws his sword, and begins approaching the heroes menacingly.  He says, “Ye shall not survive here.  I shall make it so.” The heroes must defeat the knight in a grueling battle where eventually the knight seems to lose his power and cohesion rather than truly be defeated.
    • He then reveals that a shadow demon prince cursed him with the ability to always defend the castle as long as one citizen of the kingdom lived.  He points to woman on the altar who is his wife held in stasis.  As he tells the tale, his power begins to come back to him and it looks like he will attack the heroes again.  “The only way I can be defeated,” he says sadly to the heroes, “is for her to die.  And I won’t abide that.  Not ever.”
  2. Near the throne, shadow demons are having a heated discussion in their guttural language as the heroes enter conference in the throne room. In the center of the demons is an extremely aged knight looking haggard and feeble.  The demons shout and point at the heroes, and the knight sighs and draws his sword.  As it leaves his scabbard, an aura of power seems to liven the knight’s steps and movement.  He is suddenly a deadly killing machine despite his appearance.  The demons fight the heroes, but the knight tries to defend the demons more than attack the heroes.  He attempts to block blows, disarm the heroes, or distract heroes so the demons can strike. The heroes must defeat the demons.  
    • After all the demons are defeated, the knight explains that his curse is that he must defend the rightful owner of the castle, and that the terms of his agreement with the demon was that he would have a long life by which to defend the castle in exchange for the ownership of the castle passing to the demon prince once the kingdom ended.  In a tricky fulfillment of the bargain, the demon prince attacked the kingdom with his army shortly after the bargain which while not killing everyone, effectively stopped the kingdom from functioning.  The knight was left alive while the whole castle was sucked into the shadow realm where the knight served as defender since he was guaranteed a long life to defend the castle.  The knight believes that destroying the castle will finish the foolish bargain he made.
  3. A portal of blackness has overtaken the throne and continues to grow larger as purple lightning slowly pulls the portal wider. Demons are pouring out of the portal, many injured.  A spectral knight soon follows and attacks everyone he can in a furious rage of bloodlust.  Shortly after the attack begins, red, thorn-tipped vines shoot out of the black portal and wrap around the knight trying to pull him closer to the portal again as if trying to drag him back to the abyss.  The heroes must defeat the demons and free the knight from the grasping and attacking vines.
    • If the heroes can dispatch the demons and cut the vines binding the knight, he will explain that he offered to go to the shadow plane and serve the demon in exchange for bringing about peace for his kingdom.  At first, his kingdom won many battles, and prosperity came.  However, the demon hordes began to attack shortly after that.  The shadow demon prince said the only way to bring about true peace in the kingdom was to eliminate the inhabitants who continued to live in violence.  The demon destroyed the kingdom, and the knight was bound to go to the shadow plane to serve the demon prince.  He believes if the portal can be closed, his soul will be free since he did fulfill his part of the bargain by going to the shadow plane.  As long as he doesn’t get sucked back in that is.
  4. A skeleton in knight’s armor sits on the throne, and slowly rattles up to a standing position. The heroes hear in their minds, “Ye trespass here.  Ye must pay.”  The skeletal knight raises his right hand, and tiny rifts of black and purple pop into existence bringing forth shadow demons who join the knight in attacking the heroes.  The heroes must defeat the demons and the then the skeletal knight.
    • After defeating the demons, a final narratively impressive blow shatters the skeletal knight.  As the heroes watch, the bones begin to shake and move towards each other, but in their minds they hear, “Haste!  Ye must make haste!  Destroy mine blade and break the curse!  The demon will hold no sway here!”

Room 5: Escaping with a Magical Artifact

Before the heroes can choose a course of action, the room begins to shake and dust falls from the ceiling.  A larger portal begins to make its way through the ceiling and towering form of a shadow demon prince can be seen trying to make its way through the ever-growing portal.  “The knight belongs to me, pitiful mortals!” booms a voice from the portal.  “Perish now or perish later as I claim this realm.  The choice is yours.”  As the portal widens through the ceiling, part of the east wall of the throne room collapses revealing a small alcove with a hunting horn on a pedestal that is pulsing with a green energy.  Could this item be part of the puzzle to help the heroes break the curse before the shadow demon prince can fully enter this realm?

  1. The horn will temporarily stop all magic in an area, long enough to break the curse perhaps? Afterwards, it has 3 more uses.
  2. The horn calls forth the spirits of true heroes of the fallen kingdom from ages past who are now almost angelic beings made of light that will fight with the heroes. With their help, can the heroes fight back the demon prince while the curse is broken?  Afterwards, it has 2 more uses.
  3. The horn will cause an earthquake large enough to damage structures. It may be enough to bring down the castle, but can the heroes also escape?  Afterwards, it has 1 more use.
  4. The horn creates a portal to another plane. Can the heroes use this to send the demon prince back to his own realm and still break the knight’s curse?  Afterwards, it has 4 more uses.

Aftermath

The demon prince screams, and the portal collapses in on itself.  The knight, or what remains of the knight, simply fades out of existence.  The castle, or what remains of the castle, begins to shake and crumble.  The threat of the shadow demon prince has been avoided…for now.

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