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Dungeon Crawling: Making It All Up

Lords, ladies, lads, and lasses, I am Vinni the Troll and I am a Dungeon Master. I have always loved to create, and that is what I enjoy about being a DM. As a player, I was always happy to have a character die off, as it meant I could then create a new one.

As a DM, that means that I have a sizable retinue of NPCs waiting in the wings. Sometimes, they are ghosts of my own creations, and other times they are stolen from my youthful memories. Recently, on our Sunday night stream of Malhaven, I introduced the real names of the hacker Oracle, and his brother, Captain Happy. They are Pete and Bobby. If Ash had asked about other siblings, I would have gone on to list one other brother and 3 sisters. Quite the bunch.

Sunday nights, I run Malhaven on our Twitch channel. Perhaps you’ve watched an episode or two? I hope you’ve enjoyed the zombies and weird science that I’ve thrown together. On Sunday mornings, I run a D&D game for Crymson, Fluffy, Aiks, Vanri (sometimes), and my lovely Dragon wife. Still I find that is not enough. This new world I’ve created has many places to explore, so I’ve started another weekend game on Saturdays using Discord and playing theater-of-the-mind.

We started with barely anything. Two players and a loosely described city. The Monk was new to town and really playing up the fish out of water. He’d been told that he would find either work, or a fighting circuit at a certain tavern. The Bard, who worked the tavern, came up with the name “The Slaughterhouse.” I’ve already come up with rules and notes for this world, and during a one-shot, one player played a Minotaur. The proprietor had to be a Minotaur. Somehow, in my head, I started with heifer and twisted it into Festus, and he had a name.

Starting in a tavern is an old trope, but cliches are there for reasons. Another is low levels fight Undead, or rats (but I had that twist on my Sunday morning group already). There is a website called Kobold Fight Club; it’s a wonderful tool to help a DM build an encounter based on the level and size of the party. I set it to Undead, then 2 players of level 1. The lowest creature that came up was a Crawling Claw. I have never heard of or seen this type of Undead before, but they seemed really easy and tiny and I knew I’d found my start.

A comical scene unfolded in my head of the Bard and the Monk fighting a cluster of Undead hands straight out of a cartoon, or Sam Raimi movie. I only needed to set the trap.

With over 3 decades of gaming under my belt, I had an advantage. I knew a lot of quest hooks and styles. I decided on “The Milk Run.” It’s an apparently easy task of carrying an object from point A to point B, but it never goes smoothly. They never do.

With a large metropolitan city, I decided that the quest board on the tavern wall would direct the party to the College Arcanum, where a certain Professor Weir (I have no clue where I pulled that name from) had a crate that needed to be delivered. Weir worked in a sub basement of the College called the Dead Wizard’s Library. The hallways of skulls chatted with each other on all manner of topics, serving as reference tools.

The professor gave the crate to the party, along with a shipping strap that would help levitate the crate. His instructions were to take it to The Inner Ring, where all the wealthy estates were, and deliver it to a Lord Krocerian (a name resurrected from my gaming past) for disposal.

I only need to find a moment for the contents to escape. Sometimes while you plot, your players provide the means. As they cross the campus with the floating crate, the Monk wanted to see how much weight the strap would hold. To the chagrin of the Bard, the Monk lept onto the crate and I decided that was the perfect moment.

As the crate cracked, and the contents began clawing their way out, our heroes tried to put it back together again. With a failed attempt at reactivating the belt, the claws emerged.

When the combat had finished, the goods were put back into the crate, and a helpful student fixed the belt. Our heroes were on their way once more.

So far, all of this had been off the cuff. I wanted to finish with a big baddie, but an Ogre Zombie was bit much for the duo. Looking at the page in the Monster Manual, I saw that a regular zombie was probably more suitable.

The Estate of Lord Krocerian was quiet, the gates unlocked, and the guard dead and hidden in the bushes. Turning to call for help, the heroes were interrupted by a hooded figure with a glowing circlet charging from the house.

They won the day and called for the Watch. Statements were taken and then they returned to The Slaughterhouse for payment as the Watch assured them, and signed off on it, that the claws would be destroyed.

Now I look forward to the next game, and the mystery I have seeded. Who was behind the controlled zombie? Why did they want the Krocerian family dead? Would our heroes give a rats ass? We shall see.

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