So, on Labor day when I found myself with nothing better to do, I decided to do make my own as my players were about to start Seige of Bordin's watch. Using KoalaBro2's pictures and description, I spent about $25 for supplies and about 8 hours that day shopping, drawing, and cutting til I had my own 3d Nexus much like KoalaBro2's.
I'd used a piece of PVC pipe for the center because I wanted my model to be sturdy and using a cardboard tube I'd found around the house, made one of the two pipe "arms". I decided to reverse the direction of the pipes because the front was already really "busy" and it made more sense to me for the pipes to come out the back. Plus, they'd be easier to secure. I had some copper spray paint in the garage to give the pipes some color. I then decided I want to add a little more 3d to the map and dug my old Legos out of a closet for some obstacles.
The initial results:
Proud of my work, I snapped a few pictures and sent them to some friends who aren't playing in my game (and sent KoalaBro2 a message introducing myself and thanking him for the inspiration!) The next day, one of my friends who is very artistic offered to make some graphics for me to make it even cooler. How could I turn that down? So after a few emails back and forth, the next time we saw each other at a game we both play in together, he handed me asmall portfolio of graphics he'd made just for me. There were metal platform 1" square pieces, stone floor and wall 1" square pieces, some "freeform" stone papers, and lots of smaller graphics like patches for the pipes, manholes and grates for the floors, a few different stone textures for "broken" pieces of floor, and pipes for the walls.
The next week, I spent more time on the Nexus, gluing the new graphics onto it, and I found a second tube I could use as the other small pipe, so it started to really come together. After I was done I realized I was really proud of my work and it sucked that all that work was going to go to one, maybe an hour or two worth of fight. I felt like Wizards had given us this awesome playground, and I wanted more of a reason to play in it than just the Tusk fight.
So I started visualizing ways to force the players to move to the back of the first floor and use all of both platforms and the pipes. What I decided I needed was a puzzle that they'd have to solve that would take them through the entire area. And then I needed a way to give them that puzzle that was believable, and more than just "Kalad knows" because I'd established that Kalad didn't know much about the Nexus itself except where it is, what it looked like and roughly what it did. I decided first to give them a reason to go to the back of the bottom floor.
The orcs had built a very rough jail over there to throw the bodies of the fallen, both Dwarf and Orc, and the Dwarves who surrendered. They'd decided not to kill the 3 who'd lived, but if they starved to death before they had a purpose, so be it. Tusk thought maybe he could use them to bargain with later.
The Dwarf Acolyte Madrid, a guard who'd only been knocked unconcious, Rangrim and a Dwarven Engineer who'd never seen battle before, Gardain were made, and and then I bult a very unstable "Jail" out of Legos for the back corner of the Nexus. Madrid kept the other two alive and they survived the few days they'd been there by drinking the water dripping off the pipe high above. Gardain, however, had gone mad with the horrors he'd witnessed (he'd always been a little unstable) and now, he sat in the corner muttering the same thing over and over to himself.
I had to rebalance the entire dungeon. In the end, I took the Gauntlet fight out entirelly, replacing the trap there with another, less deadly trap and saying the Gauntlet couldn't be reset but by a Dwarf who knew how. I also completely struck the barracks fights, just placing a piece of well-hidden loot in a chest. The entrance fight, the vents skill challenge and the temple fight I left as-is. I also gave the party a bonus for purifying the temple of Moradin as part of a personal quest for one of my players. I moved all the XP for the removed fights into things in the Nexus itself.
The entryway had its own fight, with some orc archers shooting at the party from the bottom platform. One player tried throwing his grappling hook onto one of the steel scaffoldings that held up the top platform. By the time he made it over to swing to the next platform, the other players had killed the archers up there, so it was amusing. Orc Millitants and Sergants battled the party below, and amidst all this, those with good perception occasionally, faintly heard someone calling out in Dwarven from far away. Our Avenger, Sif, ran over there and took on two more Orc Archers and another Sergeant guarding the jail, and the Wizard, Ranger and Kalad on the bottom platform came to her aid.
I'd planned out what I felt was a really neat skill challenge that took all my players into account to get the 3 dwarves out of the very rickety jail. I was annoyed but had to hand it to the players when instead, they just went up to the platform above and lowered the Deva Cleric and Wizard down intot he jail, then Kalad and our Warden pulled them back up, avoiding the skill challenge all together!
Kalad and our Dwarven-speaking Wizard translated the mad Engineer's ramblings after a short time to common. He kept repeating a chant, over and over. The other two said that except when he slept, he did nothing else.
The Black Thieves watch from slithery vantage
Then move as one back to shadow
The Grey Peasants bow to the king together
Then the Captives Return
The King in Gold rests alone on his throne
At the end of the copper road
The White Priest stands near the King's hand
His blessing brings light to the darkness
Moradin stands proud, watching over his people
And the Nexus is our domain.
The party spent some time pondering this, then the Avenger noticed that some of the pipes that come out of two different stone columns almost look like they "snake" in and out of stone. (You can see some of them in the jail closeup picture above.) In the ceiling above there, and another location with "slithery" pipes, were knobs that needed to be pushed back into their hiding places, simelteanousely, with DC 15 strength checks. (I'd also planned DC 20 athletics checks to climb to them but the players later circumvented this by lowering the Avenger and Ranger down with ropes!)
After searching, they then found the "Grey Pesants" behind what looked to be two patches in the big pipe on the lower platform. These, two, had to be flipped (down) at the same time. After figuring this out, but not flipping them yet, the group decided to check out the rest of the room. They headed up to the top, where they were taken by surprise by 2 Orc Bombadiers pelting them with fire from the broken part of the top platform. The party then charged up to the top where Tusk, Myrissa and all of the rest of the recommended Nexus fight awaited them. The Avenger nearly died, but the Warlord saved her just in the nick of time, and although Tusk also took our Warden down to 1hp, the party prevailed, though quite bloody all around.
Having time to look, the party searched the entire room, while Orcs (drudges) started gathering at the 6 passgeways, all of which had gates closed. Tusk had been furiously trying to figure out how to restore power to the Nexus and get the gates to the passageways open. What Tusk didn't have was the knowledge of the chant.
The party found the "King in Gold" and the "White Priest" as switches hidden in the big pipe at the end of the small pipes. The dexterous Ranger and Avenger were stationed to flip these after the Black Theives were moved. The Wizard and Cleric were stationed to flip the Grey Pesants, while Kalad and the Warlord held onto ropes to keep the Avenger and Ranger from killing themselves. The Warden stood at the top to flip Moradin's switch, located at the back of the top platform, easily found.
When the Peasants were flipped down, the orcs were released from the 6 side passages, then the King and Priest were flipped and the Nexus was lit again, though the power in the control panel was not restored until the Warden pushed the Moradin lever up. The warden hoisted the cleric straight up from the bottom platform to the top while the Warlord and Avenger covered for the Wizard, then everyone ran up to the top together, slaying orcs and pushing them off ledges along the way.
At one point, an orc swung badly and broke a pipe coming out from the cavern wall. Steam poured out of this pipe, he was thrown off the edge and the rest of the party behind him had to find a way to dodge the steam or take 3d6 damage going through it. Most of them took the damage.
Then, with the control panel powered again, the Dungeoneering check was successful and everyone made it out alive, including the 3 captive Dwarves.
The players LOVED it. One thing they said was that having the 3D map really made them think in a way that was totally different than the 2d map. They said that they probably would have gone along with the jail skill challenge and the climb check if they didn't have the visual that they could just lower ropes down, instead. They also found fun new ways to use the map, like the Ranger attempting to swing over to the bottom platform in the beginning.
I also tried to make the terrain interesting EVERYWHERE. I left the top platform "dangling" on purpose and instead of a ramp from the side down, I said that as part of the defenses, the Dwarves had waited until many orcs were charging up that ramp and had released it, sending a dozen orcs plummeting 70+ feet down to their doom, putting two large dents into the floor below that caused 1' deep crevices, and difficult terrain. They also had carts and other "trash" blocking their way they had to go around and cound hide behind.
I feel like I've gone on long enough, but if anyone else is interested in building their own, or implementing any of my changes, I've got all the graphics patterns I can share, plus an Excel spreadsheet mapping out the dimensions of the grid and special items, and can share any tips on the building process. I've also got a few more pictures in my profile if you're interested!
Thanks again to KoalaBro2 for the inspiration. This was by far the most fun I've ever had DMing and the players said one of their most memorable sessions, too. Looking forward to pushing on to Umbraforge now!