The Plain People of Gaming: Dissecting the Dungeon

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Eyes of the Stone Thief, the megadungeon campaign for 13th Age Roleplaying Game, is out now!

If your ongoing 13th Age campaign doesn’t have a place for a gigantic megadungeon like the Stone Thief (listen! Can you hear its plaintive earthquake-like whimpering as it begs you to let it rampage through your game?), then the thing to do is get out your shiny +3 Axe of Book Dismemberment and chop the dungeon into its constituent parts. With a few choice hacks and a little sewing of plot threads, the Stone Thief’s thirteen interconnected levels become thirteen regular dungeons suitable for an evening’s delving.

 

The Maw

The Maw, together with the Gizzard, are actually the two hardest levels to convert – they’re both tied to the Stone Thief’s schtick of eating bits of the surface world, which doesn’t translate neatly to a stand-alone dungeon.

For the Maw, drop the Chasm encounter entirely, so the players have to enter via the Front Door. They make their way down past the Ghouls and Spear-Fishing Bridge as normal (optionally, sub in a standard fight scene for the Goblins). Leave the Stolen Palace as a cryptic side quest, then have the Doorkeeper’s door open onto the Gates of the Stone Thief, so the PCs have to surf down a landslide of rubble (that runs under the Spear-Fishing Bridge) to get to a final encounter of your design. Maybe…

  • it’s the lair of an orc shaman with elemental earth powers (explaining the churning landslide, and the orcs)
  • A natural gate to the plane of elemental earth has opened, and must be sealed before it turns half the world to stone
  • A swarm of monstrous subterranean beetles are digging their way to the surface, and the hive queen must be slain before they undermine the city. The orcs and ghouls are opportunistic scavengers, drawn by the anticipation of carnage.

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet’s easy to convert. Drop the Giant’s Causeway and the Belfry encounters, and you’re left with a killer dungeon in the ruins of an ancient dwarven temple to the gods of the forge. The objective of the dungeon is to recover Grommar’s sword from the body of the fearsome minotaur who killed the dwarf master-smith. The party enter by the Falling Stairs… and well, if they survive the traps and trials of the Gauntlet, they deserve a death-slaying sword. You can reskin the Mad Butcher as Grommar’s vengeful & insane ghost if you want to make the place even more dangerous.

Alternatively:

  • Grommar’s buried library contains some fabulous treasure, or lost secret of the dwarven smiths that must be recovered
  • It’s a race against another party of rival adventurers to get through the Gauntlet and recover the sword
  • The Gauntlet is a prison used by the Dwarf King to punish those who have really offended him
  • It’s a competitive dungeon-arena under Axis where teams of adventurers race to complete the course as swiftly as they can

The Gizzard

The Gizzard best pulled apart for parts. You can use Jawgate and the Slaver Camp as part of some other orc-themed saga. The Halls of Ruins and the Gizzard chamber itself could be presented as a weird dungeon where a crazed wizard, the Architect, tries to build a patchwork city out of the ruins of past Ages – the Stone Thief writ small, effectively.

The Ossuary

The Ossuary’s a self-contained crypt dungeon, and requires next to no changes. You might wish to rewrite the imprisoned Gravekeeper as another undead – maybe the Gravekeeper is an emissary of the Lich King, charged with protecting this ancient tomb complex, and the Flesh Tailor is an arrogant, upstart necromancer who’s taken over and is endangering the balance between the living and the dead.

  • The Flesh Tailor can be a recurring villain in your campaign – start off with the PCs encountering his masked undead spies, then they track the necromancer down to his lair and slay him – and only then does he come back in his augmented undead form.
  • Move the Ossuary to Necropolis, and you’ve got a tale of intrigue and body-snatching among the nobles of the Undying Peerage, where the Flesh Tailor stole the palace of the Gravekeeper.

Dungeon Town

Dungeon Town is best pulled out of the dungeon entirely. Reimagine it as a settlement of castaways and survivors – maybe they’re shipwrecked on a monster-haunted island, or trapped on a flying realm, or on the back of a Koru Behemoth, or stuck in some extradimensional plane. The Wild Caves become the perilous landscape just outside this little fortified community of survivors.

If you’re making Dungeon Town the centre of an adventure, then you may wish to make the Provost into more of a villain – perhaps recast him as the Jailor, who deliberately trapped the other survivors here for some mysterious purpose.

  • You can drop Dungeon Town into some other dungeon of your design. Maybe the people aren’t trapped – they’re drawn to the dungeon by the promise of wealth (the dungeon’s a gold mine) or power (it’s a well-spring of magical energy, or youth, or it boosts spellcasting ability) or devotion (it’s a temple taken over by monsters, or a holy site).
  • Alternatively, rework Dungeon Town as a criminal stronghold – a thieves’ city underneath Glitterhaegen, perhaps, or a pirate port out in the Spray.

Sunken Sea

Drop the “sunken” part, and you’ve got a perilous archipelago of mystery instead of a flooded cave network. Swordapus, the sahuagin and their demonic temple don’t need to be changed at all; neither does the wreck of the White Dragon. The Lonely Tower gets teleported here by accident instead of being eaten by the dungeon. The biggest change is to the Cascade – obviously, it doesn’t lead to an exit from the dungeon or to a control room, so you’ll want to put something else at the bottom of that slippery staircase. Maybe:

  • It’s an arcane version of the Bermuda Triangle, and the magical relic at the bottom of the Cascade is what draws all those ships to their doom.
  • It’s a magical lighthouse, built by a former Archmage, and it needs to be relit to re-establish his spells to tame the Middle Sea (or, if the PCs are allies of the High Druid or some villanous icon, it needs to be quenched to free the wild waters).

The Grove

There are two obvious ways to approach this dungeon – make the Elf Tree the centre of events, or put the Breeding Ground as the core encounter. (Or make it into two separate adventures!) If you make the Elf Tree the main encounter, then clearly the High Elves tampered with Things Men (And Elves Too) Were Not Meant To Know, and the Breeding Ground is a hideous magical accident that can only be stopped by closing the magical portal in the observatory. In this set-up, move the Elf Tree so it’s in the centre of the Grove.

If you want to make the Breeding Ground central, then obviously it’s the rest of some evil druid’s machinations, or demonic perversion of natural magic, or the Crusader trying to turn druid magic against demons – whatever works for your campaign. The monsters from the Breeding Ground drove the Elves out of their tree.

When converting the Grove to a stand-alone dungeon, drop The Castle With Your Name On It encounter, and make the Herbarium less of a mysterious ruin – turn it into a ruined Elf stronghold, or a druidic temple. Hag Pheig can be left unchanged, or cast as the villain of the dungeon. Maybe she’s trying to gain control of the Druid Circle, and the horrors of the Breeding Ground are her sins made manifest.

Deep Keep

Drop the Secret Sanctum encounter, and describe Deep Keep as a captured fortress instead of a weird patchwork castle, and you’ve got the front lines of the Orc Lord’s armies. They’ve taken an Imperial fortress and enslaved the population – now you’ve got to take out their leaders and organise an uprising against the invaders!

Take the Giant’s Causeway from the Gauntlet, and Jawgate and the Slaver’s Camp from the Gizzard, and use them as encounters on the way to the castle. Replace the Vizier with some other evil advisor – who’s the Orc Lord working with in your campaign?

  • If you want to keep the deep, so to speak, then make it a subterranean dwarf fortress
  • Introduce a different divide between the orc factions – maybe Grimtusk’s followers want more loot, while Greyface’s are all about honourable conflict. Alternatively, perhaps Greyface is secretly possessed by the ghost of the former lord of the castle, and that’s why he’s willing to rebel against his warlord.

Maddening Stairs

In the Eyes of the Stone Thief campaign, the Maddening Stairs sets up lots of plots related to the Cult of the Devourer and the ultimate fate of the dungeon. If you’re using it as a standalone adventure, then you’ll need to give Chryaxas and Ajura the Dreamer and Maeglor the Apostate something else to pontificate about. Perhaps the Alabaster Sentinel is an Icon from a previous age, an avatar of justice that once brought unyielding, merciless law to the lands until it fell into this pit and became trapped. Maeglor seeks to restore order to the Dragon Empire by resurrecting the sentinel – Chryaxas argues the case for fruitful chaos and freedom, while Ajura might want to trick the PCs into stopping Maeglor, or perhaps she believes that the resurrected Sentinel will bring about the end of the Age when it decides that the Archmage is too unpredictable to be tolerated.

  • You can also use the Maddening Stairs as a perilous journey – maybe it’s the stairs into Hell, or up to a flying realm in the Overworld

Pit of Undigested Ages

The Pit really doesn’t lend itself to conversion into a stand-alone dungeon. By its very nature, it’s an eclectic collection of weird places from across history. Don’t even try to come up with a linking story – instead, use each encounter on its own. That gives you a buried dwarven treasury, a lost temple of the serpent folk, the ruins of a magical library and a gnoll death cult. The First Master is probably too closely tied to the Cult of the Devourer to make sense on his own, so take him out and drop him into the Onyx Catacombs instead.

  • The dwarven treasury fell into the Underworld during an Age-ending cataclysm. Finding it requires descending into the lightless tunnels and battling past hordes of eyeless monsters.
  • The temple of the serpent folk is somewhere within the jungles of the Fangs; the Black seeks it, with the intent of stealing the primordial magic of the serpents and adding it to her own arsenal.
  • Quillgate was protected by magical wards; when the quake struck, it vanished from this world. It’s out there, somewhere, in the planes of existence. Step into the Archmage’s Faultless And Unerring Dimensional Projector – it’s sure to work this time…
  • And it’s well known that only the Hellpike can slay certain powerful demons. If one of those infernal lords rises to threaten the Empire, then the Hellpike must be found, and found soon

Marblehall

Marblehall’s best used as the result of a magical experiment gone wrong. Instead of getting embedded in the Stone Thief, it’s…

  • Adrift in the skies as the newest flying realm
  • Turning into a Hellhole
  • Spouting elementals
  • About to become a Living Dungeon in its own right

Whatever happened, the Witch and her weird experiments are too blame. Can the adventures save the Artalin family from their own wayward daughter?

Onyx Catacombs

If you take the cult out of the dungeon, then you should also take the dungeon out of the cult. Instead of being a bunch of dungeon-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, make the Cult of the Devourer into a bunch of <insert-dire-noun>-worshipping apocalyptic lunatics, and redecorate their hidden city to match. Maybe they’re demon cultists, or shadow cultists, or wolf cultists, or poison cultists, or tentacled alien god cultists, or discordant-music-that-ends-the-world cultists. Turn their dungeon level into a mysterious lost temple in the depths of the jungle, or in a dimensional fold, or across the wastes of the Moonwreck, and you’re good to go.

Heart of the Stone Thief

Like the Pit, this level’s too tied to the concept of the Living Dungeon to make sense as a stand-alone adventure, so it’s best stripped for parts. I’m sure your campaign can find a loving home for a volcano, a crypt of undead adventurers, or a fabulous treasury of epic-level wonders…

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5 Responses to “The Plain People of Gaming: Dissecting the Dungeon”

  1. Stephen says:

    Having just pre-ordered this, pages 216-219 in the pdf appear not to be formated. I guess this might be intentional.. now I am excited to have the book in hand.

  2. Brent says:

    Thanks for this breakdown. I’m usually not a fan of megadungeons (my gaming group meets too infrequently to play through one of them in any reasonable amount of time; and I don’t usually have time to figure out how to use parts elsewhere) and I’ve been hesitant about purchasing this product as a result. But these ready-made suggestions for alternate use of the content has convinced me to move forward. You’ve done the hard part for me. Bravo!

  3. […] fact, if you wanted to salvage pieces of the Stone Thief for use outside this campaign, the author offers suggestions on how to do exactly […]

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