Crafting dungeons that deeply resonate with the consequences of character choices? Now, that’s what I call top-notch Dungeon Mastering in Dungeons and Dragons. Inspired by a spirited discussion over on Reddit, I’ve crafted the dungeon you’re about to delve into. My hope? That you’ll find it a thrilling addition to your campaign. The premise is versatile enough to slide right into numerous D&D storylines, whenever innocents have perished in the course of an adventure. An all too common occurrence in most campaigns.
Setup: Your players, in the thick of battle or perhaps a morally grey situation, have inadvertently caused the death of innocent bystanders. Little do they know, one of the fallen had a sibling: a devoted warlock bound to a mysterious fey from the Shadowfell. Recognizing the warlock’s anguish, this fey bestows the dungeon you’re about to explore as a “gift” to their loyal servant. Whether your players stumble upon it by sheer chance, through haunting dreams, or any other creative twist you fancy, is all up to you.
This small dungeon is set up assuming a party of 5th level characters but mix and match to your group’s needs.
Dungeon Theme: A Grieving Mind - The dungeon is a representation of the vengeful sibling’s psyche. Each section is a manifestation of his grief, anger, and quest for vengeance. This gives you the chance to use environmental dangers, narrative encounters, and emotional challenges instead of relying heavily on traps.
- Entrance - Mourning:
- The entrance is surrounded by soft weeping echoes. Ghostly apparitions of the deceased peasant show their last moments, playing on a loop.
- Enemies - 5 Shadows (Yes, the CR is low but with the environmental effect I think it’s fine. Particularly for the first encounter.)
- Environmental Hazard: A fog slows movement by half, and characters must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw at the start of each round or be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt (disadvantage on attacks and checks).
- Second Chamber - Anger:
- The large chamber pulses with a fiery rage. Walls appear to be made of burning embers, and the heat is stifling. A guttural sound of someone screaming in rage periodically emanates from a random location in the room where flame erupts.
- Enemies: None
- Environmental Hazard: A jagged and uneven chamber, the players must succeed on 3 DC 13 Athletics or Acrobatics checks to successfully cross the room. Each failure results in 1d10 fire damage.
- Third Chamber - Reflection:
- A vast underground lake where the surface acts as a mirror, showing each adventurer their reflection committing their worst mistakes or sins. The players must traverse a narrow stone pathway that sits just at the lakes water level.
- Enemies: Water Weird (see below)
- Encounter: Each character sees their reflection in the surface of the water and is challenged by it, not as combatants but with questions and accusations, challenging their morals and decisions. If the character tries to respond and defend themselves, they must pass a DC 13 Persuasion check. For every 2 characters that either fail the check, or do not attempt to defend themselves, 1 Water Weird appears and tries to drag a character into the water and drown them. (min 1)
- Fourth Chamber - Descent into Madness:
- A twisting labyrinth filled with whispering voices that doubt and belittle the adventurers, trying to make them doubt themselves. The environment and encounter are a recreation of whatever scene originally initiated this dungeon. For example, a party that fights a group of Kobolds but failed to stop them from sacrificing a group of peasants will encounter that scenario again.
- Enemies: (Whatever enemy the group originally fought)
- Encounter: The core of this encounter is for the players to relive the original encounter, this time randomly being transformed into the bystanders that lost their lives to realize the experience those people went through. The characters have a hard time holding onto their sense of self. At the beginning of each round, the player must pass a DC 13 CHA save or be turned into a bystander for a round and are limited to the Commoners stat block. If they are killed in this form, they return to their true self, prone on the ground, minus whatever damage they took, but can act normally.
- Final Chamber - Heart of Darkness:
- The center of the sibling’s grief. A blackened stone room where the shadow horror resides.
- Enemies: Shadow Horror (use the Oni stat-block), 2 Shadow Demons.
- Encounter: The sibling is there, having been transformed into a shadowy horror, a manifestation of their grief and desire for revenge turned into a dark entity. There is an opportunity for the DM to get creative here in how they want to end this, it should match whatever common theme is used in the campaign. For example, upon being defeated the soul of the sibling rises and is confronted by the souls of their lost family who look at them with disappointment and grief as the siblings soul is dragged away to the Shadowfell by shadowy creatures.
That’s it, with a bit of tweaking this is a simple adventure a DM could drop into almost any campaign. Personally, I enjoy themed adventures that are a bit different and have a narrative undertone. I hope you might find this useful as well.
Now get out there and run some great games.