This is the second post in a series documenting my full dungeon process. Check out the other posts in this series here.
The background of a dungeon is important information for the referee to have. At the same time, long pages of dry backstory can really hinder the enjoyment of reading/running a pre-made dungeon. I often find my eyes glazing over three sentences into an adventure introduction before skipping ahead to the room key to see the goodies.
Even long-winded room keys make me bored. It always boggles my mind to read a review on Bryce Lynch's blog and read "this eight page adventure features seven rooms." Less than one room per page? Insanity. I crammed the entirety of the 98-room Cherry Crypts into only fourteen pages (and that includes TWO copies of the map, and a couple pages of tables at the start). Obviously that's a little terse for some folks, but it works for me. I don't need to strive for that much concision for Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep: I want the layout to work in my favour more, and that often requires larger headings and white space.
Some dungeons can be explained in a handful of words. Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep (SBLUK) could too, but it does contain some specific things going on that deserve a bit of explanation.
Slime Baroness and the Lady of Unterbranch Keep
"Unterbranch Keep sits atop a rocky promontory overlooking a backwater village and valley. It is common knowledge that the Keep has been abandoned and deeply haunted by slime and spirits for 33 years, ever since the Lady Unterbranch—a renowned warrior—went missing. At the last new moon, some brigands thundered into the valley, brigandized the innocent country folk, and retreated up to Unterbranch Keep; they have not been seen since."
This is the elevator pitch for the dungeon. Getting across basic information in only a few sentences. This allows the referee to picture the location in their mind, and start some wheels turning in regards to the possible creatures and contents. This isn't necessarily written to be read to the players, so it doesn't need to contain any explicit hooks (like mentioning treasure). It might be a good way to deliver the basic common knowledge regarding this locale, though.
- The Lady Unterbranch slew many foes; her final victory before her disappearance was the young Lord Hornwallow, an arrogant youth decapitated at the lakeshore in front of his mother, who swore revenge on the Lady.
- The Lady Unterbranch wore an enchanted breastplate which would curse anyone who struck a mortal blow to her body. As far as anyone knows it may still be in the Keep.
- The brigands stole all the diamonds from the hetman Horace's floorboards; they were to be used to pay the 33-year back taxes to the Duke.
- The brigands stole some bread and meat, but not enough to feed themselves for a month. Probably they were killed by dark spirits rather than starving, though.
These rumours are the primary method by which the dungeon is introduced to the players. Each one should stand alone (without context from the others). But each one should also provide a tantalizing detail or helpful hint. If there is no action that can be taken with this new knowledge, then it is useless. It's sometimes difficult to write these rumours before the dungeon is complete, so I've written four now and will return later to write another four (and edit the first four if needed).
For the Cherry Crypts I wrote some rumours before I had finished writing the full key. But since I never revisited them once I had finished, they didn't really make sense in the end. They also didn't provide a call to action, a helpful hint, or any useful information for the players. I want to avoid that mistake again, and to provide meaningful rumours which will actually make a difference in play.
- After the Lady Unterbranch slew the young Lord Hornwallow, his mother the Baroness Hornwallow became engulfed with relentless rage. She vowed to seek revenge and kill the Lady Unterbranch.
- Baroness Hornwallow entered the Keep in the darkness of the new moon and stabbed the Lady Unterbranch in the chest with her black blade.
- However, the Lady's enchanted breastplate cursed the Baroness to never leave the Keep, and to slowly transform into ever-excreting black slime.
- To survive her mortal wound, the Lady Unterbranch entered a sorcerer's capsule in the Deep Tomb of her ancestors, where she lies in stasis to this day, the black knife protruding from her breast.
- Now 33 years have passed, with the Slime Baroness cursed to roam the halls, seeking, seething, and sliming. She wishes to complete her revenge and kill the Lady Unterbranch but she cannot find her. The slime has driven her mad, and she sloughs off living slimes which act as her minions.
- The Lady Unterbranch, ensconced in the sorcerer's capsule, eternally wounded by the black blade, now extends her spirit beyond the Deep Tomb, animating objects throughout the Keep with dark powers.
- When the brigands entered last new moon, their trespass gave newfound rage to both the Slime Baroness and the dark energies of the Lady Unterbranch. They have been tortured, trapped, and transformed.
- Treasure can be found in the slime and haunted darkness, for those brave enough to enter. The Slime Baroness and the Lady Unterbranch have existential goals which they wish to accomplish, and a party so inclined to help either or both could receive a great boon from a grateful noble. Or, by defeating either or both in combat, could win the enchanted breastplate or black blade as a prize.
This is the full explanation of the background. I feel like it is still a bit too long and wordy. I might be able to cut it down a bit further. It also includes some commentary (like about the possibility of helping one or both noble ladies). This set of bullets should be essential reading for the referee, as it gives them the full context of what is happening. Hopefully they can glean enough from it to feel confident running the rest of the adventure straight from the book.
I might need to return to this once I've written the full thing, again to add anything new that I invented during the full writing, or to edit things that no longer make sense.
See all the other posts in this series on this page here.