Undermountain: The Ultimate Delve

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Hey guys and gals,
I'm new to the site here, but a veteran player and DM.  I've run many games on multiple systems, but haven't run anything DnD related since 2nd edition, so it's been a while.  Recently I got a friend intrigued in PNP games and suggested we give the newest ruleset a try.  Since this guy has never played any kind of PNP game, and since I have great memories of playing Undermountain back in the days of RUINS, I thought an extended delve would be a great, fun way to introduce a new player to RPing since it will have plenty of opportunities for combat and skill tests, but also reign in the players ability to run off the rails and leave me scrambling to improvise the story.  I know Undermountain can be a scary, exciting place, and one that's very easy lose a life in, but I'm experienced enough to keep my player alive and still on the edge of their seat about whether they can survive the next encounter. 
Anyhow, my player is super eager, and knows he'll be playing in "a-big-as-hell" dungeon, and would be cool with something as cheesy as just starting the campaign with him standing in the dungeon.  I couldn't do anything that lackluster though, and I've come up with a whole "Prologue" for his Golliath Barbarian.  I haven't run a DnD game in years, and my Faerun lore is pretty rusty, so let me know if my ideas are totally off base, or help me to flesh out some of the individual nuggets...

After reading about Goliaths in the campaign books, it was pretty clear that combined with my players created background (mountain dwelling tribal leaves home after being dishonored in order to seek glory and prove himself valuable to the tribe) that his home range would be most likely in the Far East, and after a little more digging I settled on the Thesk Mountains.  Of course I still need the character to make it over to Waterdeep, so I planned on a storyline that involves a slaving ring capturing the player and transporting him across the Sea of Fallen Stars and into Cormyr to be sold to the expedition force in Mersamber (sp?).  From there a caravan north to Waterdeep where the expedition would of course begin. 
I've built a small group of NPCs that make up the expedition group, the Boss (human Warlock), his two capos (Ranger and Fighter) and the major slaves that make up the rest of the primary NPCs (a minotaur fighter, human cleric, gnome rogue) and then a handful of nameless npcs tasked with mule-duties. 
My main goal with this prologue is to introduce the player to combat (through a small skirmish with mountain cats) and simple roleplaying (through limited interactions with the slavers and fellow slaves) as well as create a nice story that demonstrates how massive and varied the world is before dropping him into a dungeon.  I actually intend on killing off a bulk of the expedition force fairly early on, leaving the players character hopelessly lost in Undermountain.  

So if you've survived the 1d100 damage from this wall of text, and you've got any tips or thoughts, I'd love to hear some, specifically thoughts about groups that engage in slave trading across the Sea of Fallen Stars, cultural differences that characters from the Far East might notice when travelling to the Western coasts, ideas about characters forced into the role of slave of a NPC group, or just general thoughts on Undermountain campaigns.  I have the "Halls of Undermountain", "Return to...", and a pdf of "Ruins...", so I'm pretty well covered for material on the dungeon, but if you have any thoughts on other materials that could help, feel free to suggest. 

Thanks for reading folks,
Evil DM
A slave-ring openly marching toward Waterdeep would be fairly begging for trouble.

  --

  If you want to ease in to Undermountain, the recent "Halls of Undermountain" adventure hardcover is probably your best bet. The players can probably come up with reasons for their own for being there (and given that the goliath is out to prove himself, he probably doesn't need to be hauled there against his will - choosing to take on and surviving Undermountain is more than enough to establish his credentials).
As I'm not a fan of planned storylines, I'd probably just start the PC in the middle of the dungeon. That's not cheesy - it's starting the action from a point at which the PC can make meaningful choices. And there's nothing cheesy about that if you believe D&D is a game about meaningful choice.

You already know the PC is going to end up in Undermountain. Everything that comes before the dungeon, including why the PC is in the dungeon in the first place, has effectively been determined by deciding that the campaign is about Undermountain, right? Thus, all that prologue is easily covered with shared storytelling between the player and DM. The DM can just ask framed, open-ended questions and see what the player says to fill in the blanks. The DM makes a note of the answers and asks follow-up questions to get specific things he can use later in the fiction organically. When the DM and player have a good sense of the character and the world, you're ready to play.

Then start with compelling action in the dungeon...

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Ok, great quick answers.
 Let me clarify how I intended to run the prologue.  Other than the basic combat with the mountain cats, I was going to give him a brief narration detailing his capture and trip across the water and sale in Cormyr.   I actually intend on the caravan (not slavers at this point but mercenaries with slaves in tow) rolling continuosly from Mersamber to Waterdeep, using outriders to enter the cities for supplies, allowing me to avoid bogging down the narration with endless descriptions of all the cities.  With the characters hooded upon entering Waterdeep, there will be some additional quick narraction regarding the sounds and scents of Waterdeep and the dialogues between the Merc boss and the men who have been sent ahead to arrange entrance through the Yawning Portal.  Once I have them in the entrance room, they are unhooded and the adventure proper begins.   I'm expecting all this to take place in the first game session and probably concluding somewhere briefly after they get deep enough in the kill off the majority of the NPC group.   I've not fully decided who to keep alive to travel with the player (it's just a single player in this campaign), but I'm leaning toward the cleric and rogue (or maybe just one of those), and perhaps having the Boss stay alive long enough to come after them again later.  
Here's how I would do it. I'm not saying it's the only way, just what I find to be the best way.

Other than the basic combat with the mountain cats,



I wouldn't run this combat. I can see some value in using it as a "training exercise," but if I know the outcome of an encounter before I play it, it gets cut out of my adventure.

I was going to give him a brief narration detailing his capture and trip across the water and sale in Cormyr. I actually intend on the caravan (not slavers at this point but mercenaries with slaves in tow) rolling continuosly from Mersamber to Waterdeep, using outriders to enter the cities for supplies, allowing me to avoid bogging down the narration with endless descriptions of all the cities.  With the characters hooded upon entering Waterdeep, there will be some additional quick narraction regarding the sounds and scents of Waterdeep and the dialogues between the Merc boss and the men who have been sent ahead to arrange entrance through the Yawning Portal.



I'd let the player tell me all of this by asking him framed questions. If I thought canon was important to preserve, I'd chime in with city names and flavor as needed.

Once I have them in the entrance room, they are unhooded and the adventure proper begins.



This is where I'd start the action, probably with a combat.

I've not fully decided who to keep alive to travel with the player (it's just a single player in this campaign), but I'm leaning toward the cleric and rogue (or maybe just one of those), and perhaps having the Boss stay alive long enough to come after them again later.  



I'd let the player decide this too, through framed questioning.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Other than the basic combat with the mountain cats,



I wouldn't run this combat. I can see some value in using it as a "training exercise," but if I know the outcome of an encounter before I play it, it gets cut out of my adventure.


I've not fully decided who to keep alive to travel with the player (it's just a single player in this campaign), but I'm leaning toward the cleric and rogue (or maybe just one of those), and perhaps having the Boss stay alive long enough to come after them again later.  



I'd let the player decide this too, through framed questioning.



I could just do some basic playtesting with the player to get him used to the game mechanics, but it seemed more fun to let him use his character in game to accomplish the same thing.  But it may well make the game flow a little smoother if I just skip it altogether. 
As for which characters survive the initial slaughter, I was thinking the survivors would be largely determined by the players initial interactions with them (and because it's a one player party, which NPCs will effectively fill the needed roles). 

Do you have any suggestions regarding the lore of the route I've detailed?  I couldn't find much written about slavery through the regions of Thesk and Sea of Fallen Stars, and it's not really essential, but I'd love to have some established in game characters to draw from.

I could just do some basic playtesting with the player to get him used to the game mechanics, but it seemed more fun to let him use his character in game to accomplish the same thing.  But it may well make the game flow a little smoother if I just skip it altogether.



Your call on that. It goes against my GM philosophy which is why I wouldn't do it. You could just as easily let him train on the initial combat encounter/opening scene in the dungeon and kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

As for which characters survive the initial slaughter, I was thinking the survivors would be largely determined by the players initial interactions with them (and because it's a one player party, which NPCs will effectively fill the needed roles).



Still speaking personally, I would view the "problem" of a one-player party as an opportunity. The challenge is: Survive without all your backup. It's a problem to be solved by the player. The DM needn't worry about putting solutions in front of the player as long as you are saying, "Yes and," to the players ideas on how to resolve it.

To that end, I'd let him choose which NPCs make it. "Two of your retinue are smashed into a pulp as you pull your hood off. Who just died?" (I wouldn't have any actual interactions between the NPC and PC before the initial action scene. I'd simply ask questions and let the PC establish his relationships with each of those NPCs as part of a conversation with me.)

Do you have any suggestions regarding the lore of the route I've detailed?  I couldn't find much written about slavery through the regions of Thesk and Sea of Fallen Stars, and it's not really essential, but I'd love to have some established in game characters to draw from.



Sadly, no. I don't know much about the Forgotten Realms. I would caution against infodumps as well. I find it's better to let the player establish those sorts of details because then they're more likely to remember and be engaged by it than if you give them a bunch of information to process with no real context.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'm actually really looking forward to running a one person party, it's been years since I've had the opportunity to do, so I am a little tempted to kill off everyone. 

Those are some great suggestions though.  
I'm looking for a terrifying creature that can interrupt a ritual the party is engaging in.  They have entered a long hidden room near the entry well.  As the ritual reaches its climax I am going to introduce the monster(s) as a plot device to excuse an unusual result from the ritual.  Additionally I want them to run for their lives as the last of the group of NPCs are killed or dragged off.  The player has expressed some interest in getting to spend some time in Waterdeep before getting too deep into undermountain.  from a story standpoint we have decided it was more than reasonable for his character to want to head straight back into the city (at least for a short time) if he were to become free of his captors (his time in the belly of a slavers ship while crossing the Sea of Fallen Stars convinced him that his life was likely to be short and ugly if he didn't escape). 
With all that in mind, and knowing that I was going to free him of all his captors fairly quickly (2 guards have already been burned to death by a mysterious coin that melted into the floor and disappeared), I wanted to use a big scary critter to destroy all the remaining npcs and chase the player back to the entry well.  
This is where I'm looking for a few suggestions:  should i go with a single large predator or a swarm of smaller ones?  any suggestions for individual creatures that you've had success terrifying players with (keep in mind the setting : subterranean, ancient temple, closed to adventurers for 100+years)? 
I'm kicking around a few ideas myself, and I can't decide, so I'm hoping a little brainstorm will give me the inspiration.

Possibilities I'm Considering:
Balhannoth
Darkmantles
Grell
Nothic Cacklers


That description screams "Beholder" to me.
That description screams "Beholder" to me.

I kinda thought about that too.  Part of me feels that it's too soon to show off such an iconic beastly.  However, considering that I would like the escape to actually involve the creature leaving Undermountain through the Yawning Portal and being destroyed by the city watch and wizards (after ultimately creating much havoc and destruction) so that there are lasting effects to roleplay through, you might be right.  
I'll start reading through the various descriptions of the many beholder options.  Would it be common for a beholder to sleep for long periods of time, or act sedentary without actively entrapping everything that walked past?
Would it be common for a beholder to sleep for long periods of time, or act sedentary without actively entrapping everything that walked past?



It is if you say it is, being a fantasy game.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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^^
Of course I can make creatures act however I want, but I like to keep things close to the established lore when I can.  In this case, the player I am introducing to the game is digging it enough to start reading up all the info on DnD they can find (I'm letting them read the Forgotten Realms handbook currently), so I'd like it if they were to come across the beastly they've faced and think "wow that's just like my DM described it".

 I was just wondering if that kind of behavior is already established as a trait of beholders.    If not, can you suggest any scary dungeon beastlies that fit the scenario as described?
Campaign Update:

We played through our second session recently, which involved the final moments of the players slavery to the evil lord who dragged him into undermountain. 
It was revealed (though not explained) that the evil Lord Scren had brought the slaves into undermountain in search of a long lost temple of Amanautor, which he defiled as part of a ritual lich turning ceremony.  The player watched in horror as the ritual magically pulled a miscellany of organs from the slaves (I've come up with a weird and previously unprinted liching ritual where he is using organs from four different races to facilitate the ritual and become security phylactery's).  As the ritual came to a climax, a large shadow pulled away from a darkened corner of the temple, revealing a massive and furious beholder.  Chaos ensued as the lich wannabe screamed and disappeared in a flash of energy, and the beholder blasted through the guards and henchmen.  My player, naturally, fled and quickly found himself back in the entry well, tossing a pair of hapless adventurers out of the way in time to leap onto the ascending well platform.  Reaching the top of the well, the beholder pursued him, blasting into the Yawning Portal, and before the character passed out from being battered about by the collapsing inn, he witnessed the city guard and mages engaging the beholder in combat. 
Fast Forward 2 weeks, and the player awoke in a nursing home run by sisters of Amanautor (I plan on using the temple faithful as contacts for the player going forward).  Waterdeep is in the midst of winter, and he spent much of the session wandering about the city taking in the sights, buying some new clothes and gear and finding a place to bunk down. 
So far the player has seemed rather happy just hanging out in Waterdeep, he assures me he still plans to return to the dungeon.   I've left some threads for him to hopefully draw him back anyhow (Lord Scren has succeeded in his ceremony for example, but one of the jarred organs has ended up in the characters hands which will lead to agents of the Lich Scren pursuing him.  Additionally I have inflicted some psychic scarring on the character who SHOULD have died as a result of the ritual... He now suffers from a burning, itching and infected looking wound on his chest, which only he sees- this led to some interesting roleplaying as he visited an alchemist to be diagnosed, though he refuses to seek magical medical aid currently. As well, his rest has started to include visions from undermountain, as the game material suggests).  The biggest surprise so far, has been his characters reluctance to visit the site of the Yawning Portal, which is now a crater and construction site since the battle.  I'm cool with running a Waterdeep campaign for now, but still itching to get the guy back into the dungeon to start facing the dangers there.  I am already starting to develop a little storyline with the faithful of Amanautor who want to enter undermountain to reclaim their lost temple, and the faithful of Asmodeus (who Scren defiled the temple in the name of), and additionally am playing with some ideas that involve agents of Szass Tam investigating this previously unheard of liching ritual. 
Next session, the character goes shopping for a pet companion (we`ve discussed a monkey thief or pseudodragon at length, but roleplay will determine all) and will (likely) be looking for a new `home`in the boarding house I`ve designed after he finds his current digs ransacked by agents from the lich in search of the last jar ( a mousy little nursemaid from the House of Respite he woke in had hidden the recovered artefact and a few coins, and put them in his hand after it became clear that he wasn`t going to run right back into the dungeon in search of answers, lol).
Campaign Update:

3rd session is in the bag.   My player is still mucking about in Waterdeep but at least showed an interest in engaging in some combat this time, so I set up a little more violent a session this time (after reminding him that Undermountain will have plenty of combat scenarios).  To start with the player wanted to do a little more investigation regarding his psychic scar and the mysterious jar he's carrying about.  After returning to his rented room to retrieve the jar, he found a Dark One rustling through his things.  After a brief combat, a grab and escape, the Dark One made a lunge for the jar before escaping through the window.  Now he carries the jar everywhere, and returned to the alchemist he had previously engaged to inquire about it.   The alchemist assured him that the jar certainly had magical qualities that exceeded his grasp, wagered that it was a phylactery (which it is) and pointed him towards the temple district.  At the temple of Amanautor, they assured him that indeed it was a phylactery and likely used as part of a long lost ritual turning.  They begged him to leave the jar with him, and even offered to gear him up to investigate the ruins of the temple he was introduced to, but the character has a distrust of all organized faiths and just scoffed at the offers.  Sigh.

He got his wish for combat though, as agents associated with the lich came looking for the jar.  Being a brute and a former slave, the character doesn't respond well to threats and chopped both agents down in the street, and managed to have time to loot a scroll (hit orders) from them before the guards pursued him in an attempt to arrest him for the murders.  Although he spent a bunch of time trying to get the jar and scar checked out, he still never took the scroll (written in Deep Speak) to be translated and shrugged off both the Dark One looting his room, and the skull and crossbones on the scroll, as well as the urging of the church to investigate the ruins.  Additionally, even though he has been told by several NPCs (the alchemist and the priests) that the phylactery is a product of a lich, and holds its life-force and that only by destroying the phylactery can a lich be destroyed, he's STILL CARRYING THE THING AROUND.   So at least I have an easy in to keep harrassing him with the lich's agents.   

Soon I will have Tam's agents arriving in Waterdeep, whether he has entered Undermountain or not, and obviously they are going to be a little more organized than the one's he's been dealing with.

Regardless, our session came to a close as he took up an offer of a FIGHT CLUB run in the basement of a adventurers gear shop, although I hadn't organized anything about it.  We played through the first round, which he won fairly handily, and next session will pick up where we left off, entering the second round of the tourney.   I have planned out a bracket that will run him through three rounds of combat prior to a championship bout (1st round is a straight one on one bare knuckle brawl.  2nd round is called Hazard Pay and has an added element of danger added in as the organizers dump sacks of live cobras into the fighting pit where another one on one deathmatch will play out. 3rd round is called No Mans Land and takes the 4 remaining entrants into a 4 way free for all combat to the death.  The two survivors will be given a chance to heal and then entered into the Finale, where specific weapons and rules will be laid out (I'm thinking something like tying the combatants to a corpse, or having the floor pulled away to reveal a pit they must fight over) although I don't want to get too elaborate since this is just in some guys basement.  LOL... However the player seems to be enjoying it so we will go as he wants. 

After we conclude the tourney in the next session, I'm hoping to introduce a few new NPCs from both the lich's side and the church that will be opposing him, and focus on roleplaying the entry to the dungeon.   Fingers crossed.          
  
Any thoughts on the following:

A group of priests of Amanautor seek to aid their employed adventurer in a remote subterranean location.  To achieve this they have accomplished a ritual that allows one of them to inhabit a suit of armor via remote control.  Because they are old and feeble, the animated armor doesn't fight with heroic strength or skill and the "signal" between controller and rig is weak and cuts out occasionally causing the armor to make strange movements and actions.   My DM goal is to supply combat support for the player while creating some comedic flavor in the encounter.  The armor will teleport into the situation in time for initiative and be recalled shortly after the encounter (depending on how much the player is enjoying having the companion).  I'm just trying to decide what stat block to modify into my bot, or at least thoughts on how you folks might design stats:

golem?
helmed horror?
warforged?
homonculus?
something I haven't mentioned?

Our weekly session played out the other night.  We began in the midst of action, having left off last week with the hero recovering an artefact of clear value and magical intent (it was in the middle of a deathtrap in an ornate chest after all) though he doesn't know exactly what it does.  Just as he left the deathtrap and set up camp for the night, scouts in the service of Szass Tam (a contingent of his agents have recently arrived in secrecy in the dark corners of Waterdeep) who seek the very same artefact burst into the room. 
So we picked up there:  As he exchanged "pleasentries" with the agents, his employers (the elderly priests of a temple of amanautor) manage to reach him with a fuzzy psychic message - "Protect the artefact, we've managed to send you aid".  A portal opens and the remote controlled armor I mentioned in the previous post steps through. 

I decided to build the armor based off the stat block for a warforged captain from the Monster Manual.   In order to represent the lack of combat skill and poor quality of the rituals "wireless signal" I made it's movement speed, attack modifier, and damage modifer represented by a turn-by-turn dice roll (Speed= 1d6 squares, rolled at the beginning of the turn, for example).  Additionally I swapped out several of it's abilities, replacing it's glaive with a great mace that it periodically used as a cane, and giving it something I called Call of The Guardian which could draw all affected enemies to attack just it for a turn, and a grab attack I named Zzap! which recharged on a dice roll basis and could continuosly shock a grabbed enemy, turn after turn.    After the introduction of the Armor onto the battlefield, I handed the stat card to the player to control throughout the encounter. 

The battle went great, with the Armor soaking up enough damage from the agents and their hounds to allow the player to kill the elven weapon-master and chase off the human mage while the dwarven bruiser fell to a combination of electrocution and panicked hounds that turned on him.  At the last moment, the remaining pack of hounds chewed off the final HP of the armor, knocking both it and themselves through the priests portal. 

A  little looting, and some rest and a brief visit from a pestersome imp and the players barbarian was moving on, exploring his way through an abandoned kitchen and into a dusty dining hall filled with restless ghosts. 

Coming up in the next session:
A Meeting with the Ghost King and a offer of aid in exchange for REVENGE!
So the player entered the facility the haunted kitchen was connected to, and met with the ghostly king and his tortured bride.  The whole area is under a curse placed ages past by a vampire under the employ of Szass Tam.   They've suffered in this undeath ever since, but at long last the curser has returned to Undermountain.  The king told the player about the horrendous Scurilous Dog, a villain even amongst pirates who betrayed them all in order to trap them with the curse.  Now that Tam is sending men into Undermountain in search of the new lich on the block, Scurilous has been sent as a commander of the scouting party.   He's a vampire with a gang of thralls accompanying him and our last session ended with the player reactivating an exotic waterpowered elevator and ascending into the room that Scurilous and his men are bunking in.  He stepped out of the elevator and we called the session before anything could take place.  

Now, I'm not looking to create an unbeatable fight for the player, and vampires might still be a little out of reach for him, but I felt like it fit the story and setting.  Scurilous' motivation is releativly straightforward; serve Tams biddings by locating the Lich Scren.  If he can inflict a little more torture on the Ghost King, all the better.   The player is also searching for the Lich Scren and hopes to destroy him, which would only conflict with Tams goals assuming that Scren was unwilling to bend the knee to Tams power.  This is a ways off so doesn't need to have to much affect on this encounter. 

What I'm wondering from you folks, is how you might play this encounter, what kind of desicions you might have come from Scurilous assuming the player doesn't just charge into combat?   How would you disengage Scurilous from the combat if the player was totally overmatched, but still have a level of success achieved by the player?  Ultimately he has been tasked with killing or capturing Scurilous so that the Ghost King can be freed from his undead prison. 

Thoughts?  I can give you more flavor info if needed.     
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