Dungeons & Dragons is a relatively new hobby for my friends and me, and we plan to keep playing. However, in the time since my group completed Wizards of the Coast’s Princes of the Apocalypse and laid what remained of their level 10 adventuring party to rest, my wife and I had a baby. Of course, this is a good thing.
Naturally, however, it has brought forth some pretty severe time constraints. I can no longer spend the entirety of my days-off building elaborate LEGO sets and preparing intricately crafted encounters for our Dungeons & Dragons sessions. I will have to be more resourceful and economic with my planning if I am to continue DMing.
So, for our latest game, I wondered exactly how I was going to plan a fun session; I couldn’t see myself having the time to put together a large campaign. Naturally, therefore, I turned to the internet to provide some inspiration. I was hunting for a simple one-shot adventure. A quick Google search returned a fairly confusing mix of independent blogs posts and detailed Reddit pages, none of which were exactly what I was looking for.
What I needed was a site where fellow DMs can upload and share their own adventures where time-strapped dungeon masters like myself can turn in times of need. Thankfully WotC has this covered with the DMs Guild, an excellent website resource for anyone looking for a quick adventure or material to edit, expand, or embellish an existing one. Here, as well as peer submitted stories and content, you can find a whole host of “classic” Dungeons & Dragons modules.
After a quick browse, I downloaded The Eye of Traldar, a short episode created for the Black Box edition. The plot centers on a hunt for the eponymous eye, a magical gem with the power to subjugate whole villages. It’s essentially a large dungeon crawl with a couple of interesting encounters–the perfect inspiration for my one-shot adventure.
Building the Adventure
Once I had read the Eye of Haldar, I decided to make some minor adjustments so that we could play through it in just one sitting. First, I reduced the size the dungeon (I’m sure the larger version will come into play in the future); I streamlined the encounters, saving some of the dialogue but substituting monsters as I went; and I removed the overall villain, as I felt he was more of a “to-be-continued” bad guy. I also wanted to switch around the order a bit so the dungeon delve came last. If I’m honest, this didn’t leave much more than a shell of the original, but that was OK with me.
I’ve always enjoyed the creative aspect of being a DM, drawing maps and building exciting landscapes, but knew I couldn’t spend the same amount of time on this as I used to. Therefore for the first encounter, a classic goblin ambush, I used my plain one-inch square battle map with a couple of crudely indicated trees and a campfire.
In the Eye of Traldor, it’s actually bandits attacking, but I always think goblins are more fun.
The second encounter, the goblin base, would be a bit more adventurous. I put this together one evening using the Copper Dragon Forest terrain set from DriveThruRPG.com.
Printing it off and fixing it to some foam board was simple enough and provided a really effective battle map for the encounter, one which I will certainly be able to reuse in the future.
As for the dungeon, a few months earlier, I bought some Copper Dragon Dungeons and Caverns tiles from the same site. Fortunately, I still had these lying about, so I just had to work out a sensible layout that included a large area for the final battle.
Deciding on what monsters the party would come up against in the caves was fairly easy too. I had recently got my hands on a couple of Icons of the Realms: Storm King’s Thunder booster sets and this provided me with a couple of sprites, a kenku, a scarecrow, a giant frog, a hellhound, and two fire giants. Naturally, some of these monsters would be way beyond level one PCs abilities, but I had a plan for that…
The Adventure Begins
With the maps, monsters, and story all sorted, I was ready to go. We held a quick session for character creation and then the adventure began. The party consisted of a dwarf cleric named Morden; a halfling monk called BicMac; a human druid named Aquarius Starshine; an elf ranger, Rupert “Cream” Slice; a reformed human necromancer with an entirely unpronounceable name; and Kaös Diuresis the human Bard.
The initial goblin encounter went as you might expect. The players were more used to operating higher level characters and were surprised by the strength of the goblins compared to their decidedly squishy PCs, but they dispatched them once the necromancer and the ranger remembered how to roll dice. Hint: 20 is always better than one.
After fighting the goblins, the party arrived at the remains of a ruined fort and the ranger and druid decided to scout the camp. The ranger used his natural affinity for survival and the druid turned into a tiger. Between them, they ascertained that there were at least 20 goblins, some of which were sleeping in tents. There was also a direwolf chained to a post above a passageway that descended into a dungeon below.
The party decided a surprise attack would work best. After two years, I thought they might have learned better!
The ensuing battle was long and tense and there were more than a couple of moments when any one of the PCs should have died, especially when the goblins who were lurking below rushed into the fray after hearing the commotion. Thankfully there were enough healers in the party, and once the goblin leader was dealt with, the remaining goblins fell into disarray making them easy prey. However, this wasn’t before one of them who was carrying a cockatrice managed to toss it at the cleric, turning him into stone.
After the battle, the party rested, the cleric returned to normal, and they all leveled up. They would certainly need those extra HP as they delved deeper in the caverns below. In the first chamber, they were attacked by two sprites with bows. These were easily dispatched by the necromancer’s magic missile, but not before the bard had taken some falling damage while attempting some advanced acrobatics.
From here, they moved on and would have quickly discovered there was more to the caverns than they initially thought, if only they had bothered to investigate the demonic carvings along the walls. They rescued a kenku prisoner, fought a scarecrow, battled more goblins, and unadvisedly split up. Half of them made their way across a drawbridge into a vast chamber containing two fire giant statues. On the opposite end of the dungeon, the others discovered an altar that held a magical looking thingamajig.
The half of the party that entered the giant chamber found a prisoner tied up, with four goblins holding torches and chanting around her. Sensing some arcane ritual, the heroes attacked, only for a fifth goblin holding a basilisk on a chain to make his presence known. Again, battle ensued, but this time only half of the party were present. Eventually the goblins were defeated; unfortunately, the basilisk didn’t manage to turn any of the party to stone.
As they untied the prisoner, she urged the heroes to leave as soon as possible, ensuring they didn’t touch anything, especially the magical stone (the Eye of Traldar) that if removed would release the Giants from their petrified slumber.
At the same time, the monk, the necromancer, and the cleric, who were on the other side of the dungeon completely unaware of what was happening, decided to take the magical-looking thingamajig they had just discovered.
Instantly the cave walls across the whole dungeon started to tremble and collapse, a wind howled through the cavern, and the petrified giants broke free and roared into action. They swung wildly with flaming swords and fists at the bard, the druid, and the ranger.
And that is when the time ran out and we stopped playing.
All-in-all, the session went pretty well and I really was pleased that my more economic planning had come to fruition. I had to improvise a lot more than I was used to, but was happy with the spontaneous flashes, especially in the final moments as the time ran out and the party split. I certainly hadn’t planned on my level two party coming across entirely vital fire giants, but that is one moment that my players won’t forget in a hurry.
In the planning, I was fortunate to already have some of the resources to hand and so didn’t have to splash out too much or spend a massive amount of time cutting and sticking. But in reality, it did take longer than I wanted to get this adventure right.
I will definitely return to the DMs Guild for inspiration for future stories too, although for the next session we’ll begin playing an edited down version of the Underdark-centered adventure Out of the Abyss. Here, the party will face evil elves and nightmarish demons in a battle to survive a subterranean wonderland. Of course, this really all depends on whether the inexperienced adventurers can escape the newly awakened, rampaging fire giants.