So the players in my game will soon be invading a 3 story mausoleum full of vampires with necromantic magic. The general themes are undead, vampirism, spectres, traps and necrotic power. I'd love some ideas for encounters, rooms, fun little details that add flavor, or anything else that might fit. The map isn't finished yet, so room ideas are especially appreciated. This is a level 15 party of 3 FYI.
Things I'm thinking of so far:
The walls of the zigguraut/mausoleum are made of crushed obsidian mortared with blood. The entire population of the town has been drained of blood to provide blood/magic for a powerful necromantic ritual that is building in power. This should provide some impetus for the PC's to act quickly. I'm going to try and drum up some atmosphere by emphasizing the eeriely silent town that the PC's will make their way through. They are expecting to have to assault the town walls, but they will be strangely undefended. I still need a good image for the pc's when they first find the inhabitants. I'm thinking that they will either be stacked like cordwood around the perimiter of the town square that fronts the mausoleum, or perhaps nailed to the walls of the buildings. I think the town square will be covered in ravens that are attracted by the corpses, but refuse to feed on them. This might give the pc's some warning that the corpses are all corrupted with dark magic.
I mostly need ideas for filling the ziggauraut. It's the home to a powerful group of vampires that are decadent and vicious. Obviously there will be a crypt room deep inside. There will be a ballroom with blood fountains. This is where the necromantic ritual will be taking place. I'm not sure if they will be summoning a giant blood demon or what, so ideas for that are also welcome. Since they are vampires, most of the service rooms that a normal mansion would have aren't necessary, so I'm not sure what to put in their place. I guess a shrine would work, but I need more. There's going to be a crudely made pendulum trap at some point, but other trap ideas are appreciated. These should be recent additions, since they are only put in when the vampires learned that the PC's were coming a week or two ago.
The cohesive properties of blood make for a poor mortar. In that when it dries it leaves little behind but the mineral content in it which results in the staining often seen. Human fat is better, as fat molecules are more stable chemically than the water in blood. Hydrogen bonds being loosely stable at best.
Though walls covered and bound in skin are more fearsome to behold than what's between bricks.
Also, fear exists best when it cannot be seen at all. Describing the town as empty and never finding the denizens of it will leave a more lasting impact than finding them, even if they're found dead. Unanswered questions like "Where did all these people go" will haunt players more than "Oh, there they are, all stacked up nice and neat."
It depends on your vampire. Subtle vampires wouldn't feel the need to display bodies. You wouldn't find them hung up or really dropped anywhere. But your Vlad Tepes types, would love impaling them on spikes around the city. In fact it would likely be more unnerving to have bodies impaled all around the city rather than a big "mass grave". You could even include them in encounters, giving a "fear aura" to any body impaled on a spike. Giving players penalties (nothing super severe) when close to anything if they can't save vs fear (also would encourage players to take feats that give bonuses to saves vs fear.)
Look at diagrams of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, the ancient mastaba and the Egyptian step pyramids (look for the step pyramid of Djoser)
Because ziggurats are kinda boring. They're a long climb to a shrine up top. But mastaba, step pyramids, and pyramids were built as tombs, some with complex underground passages. So, architecturally for DnD: Ziggurats for life, Pyramids for death.
Also, the complex of pyramids were called a "necropolis" the city of the dead. The pyramid complex at Giza being one of the most famous.
Nothing I've ever seen on vampires makes me believe they're "squatters." If they took up some place I think them more likely to redecorate it to their style. Meaning, they might move in to a city, but they wouldn't occupy someone else's mansion, they'd build their own. This also gives another excuse for a lot of "worker" type undead around that aren't vampires. Vampires are lavish at best and wretchedly opulent at worst.
You're already describing something lush for their home. It could be recent construction. An architecture not fitting with the surroundings of the town.
Vampires need a crypt to retire to for rest, and when defeated in combat in the DnD world. I believe the monster manuals mention this, vampires get all misty and retreat when near defeat. There'd be an entrance lobby, libraries for study, an arboretum / nature preserve of some kind, your ballroom you mentioned, possibly a chapel devoted to whatever dark god they serve, or devoted to their memories of a past life, a dining room, a kitchen (which could be a very gruesome sight)
Vampires have servants in a lot of popular lore. Sometimes humans that pledge allegiance to them, which could also be interesting to see humans that vowed dark servitude to be spared from the fate of their fellows in the town, succubi / incubi, wolves / werewolves.
Thanks for the long response. This vampire nest is definitely more Vlad the Impaler than subtle slinking in the shadow types. They actually rule the town, somewhat akin to nobility. So their nest is a combination palace and tomb. It should definitely be lush to the point of decadence. There will also be warrior types that weren't drained of blood because they can fight. But the fighters don't live in the palace, so there won't be any barracks or other accomodations for humans. I like the idea of worker undead. Perhaps some ghostly servitors. Maybe chairs that are made of animated bones and move on their own to where they need to be.
Not sure on lighting right now. Vampires generally see in the dark, but it seems like lighting of some kind would still be better. Not sure if I want to go with candles and chandeliers, or something more exotic. Perhaps skulls with glowing eyes? Or is that too tacky?
As far as the Zigguraut idea goes, that is the general shape. But unlike a real zigguraut, there will be lots of internal rooms. DnD buildings don't have to actually follow pesky things like structural integrity or proper internal supports. But I'll probably toss in a bunch of internal pillars.
Always liked the idea of a vampire campaign. The one I started fizzled off though due to time constraints from the entire group. Though this doesnt sound like a "vampire campaign" per se, I might have a few ideas for you.
This is a nice article: www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/mm/200... about Vampire Lords. Maybe some interesting ideas in there to help you. I add this, because who is part of the necromancy casting? The Vampires themselves, or some summoner/caster who is simply evil and thrown in his lot with the vampires? If it is a non-vampire, I am sure they would have thier own defenders as well (what race are they if so?). If it is the vampires, you must ask yourself who would they associate themselves with? Plus, there should be a multitude of "vampire spawn" to help keep the PC's at bay so they can finish their ritual. Think of a vampire hierarchy as well. Vampire Lord, Greater Vampire, Vampire, Lesser Vampire, Vampire Spawn. With this group of vampires, perhaps the vampire lord and greater vampires would be part of the casting, and leave the guarding to the rest? Since necromancy is in this, undead are a natural idea as well. Regular old zombies may seem cliche, but when you beef them up a little bit in stats, they can become quite dangerous in numbers.
Challenges/Traps: The PC's should know they are getting in to something real bad real quick. No sane person storms a vampire mansion without great cause. There is a book called Book of Challenges for 3/3.5 edition that has a cool trap in it. There is a 20x20 room with multiple mosaic tiles depicting gruesome pictures of different monsters and beings. Some are skeletons, some ghouls, zombies, and vampires. Whenever you step on to one of them, that creature appears/is summoned (the picture that you stepped on). You would want to make the tiles lead in such a way that the PC's figure out the easiest path of resistance. If the room has multiple doors, perhaps the hardest path leads to the next easiet encounter, while the easiest leads to the next hardest encounter...make sense? What doesnt hurt vampires but can hurt everyone else? A good way to invent traps that encourages this. Likewise, what wouldnt be more fun than to include something that appears as though it hurts vampires that can help the PCS, but really doesnt, or maybe even is a trap as the PC's grab it? Further, maybe it is a chaotic evil intelligent weapon hellbent on taking the blood of innocents? Using nondetiction on itself every day to appear good aligned....
Rooms: As stated before, library is a must. And what associates with libraries...ghosts of course! Some sort of experimental greenhouse where they try to grow "blood plants"...( or some other interesting name) to help slake their hunger. Maybe something mutated that wasnt expected... Bedroom/Bedrooms of course. Silk hangings, silk sheets, and jewel-encrusted items with gold-framed paintings should be part of this landscape. Perhaps an autopsy/battle room. A room the PC's stumble in to had a small set of stadium-style seating where the vampires take pleasure in watching their prey battle it out, or have a go at it themselves in a autopsy-like room where they can enjoy the sight of torture. Blood rooms should be relevent. A barracks-style sleeping arrangement that seems to house implements of removing blood from their prey and perhaps even gnomish/alchemist-like machines that helps keep non-vampires alive while slowly withdrawing their blood over time.
As far as the town goes... Even though they are "vlad" types, I would shy away from mass grave. It just doesnt hit home much. I do like the ideas about the crows not feeding, but maybe instead the PC's stumble upon a lone emaciated survivor who has fang marks all about them. With a few last words of foreboding, they drift away in the PC's arms/right in front of them. Maybe the lone survivor has a heirloom they wish passed on to a loved one in the next town... Additionally, thinking about NPC support in this wild place, might think about the lone vampire that looks to crumble this little empire because they didnt want to be a vampire themselves, but couldnt bring themself to destroy theirself? Perhaps a separate party has beaten the PC's to the punch and bit off more than they can chew as the PC's come to save the day for them. Perhaps the last survivor is a priest of Pelor on his last limb...
One last thought. Lighting should be traditional candleabra with low-light all the way. Skulls could be implemented throughout, but not as the mainstay. Having a stacked "skull statue" with melted candles could work lovely.
Anyway, hope that helps; lets us know how it went!
Is this a 3.x game or a 4e one? Either way, I'd suggest having some sort of Desecrate effect (maybe a variation of the Magic Circle ritual for 4e, I think they did away with Desecrate/Consecrate) in the mansion at all times. When the PCs enter you can describe it as a tangiable evil presence, perhaps even mentioning that divine characters feel more distanced from their gods.
Pretty much anything that emphasizes that the PCs are in an evil, evil place, the domain of their enemies, and on their turf they have the advantage. Traps that do negative energy (necrotic) damage would fit wonderfully, especially since the vampires and other undead would actually be healed by them. Maybe a pit trap that drops the PCs into some sort of necrosis hole that does some necrotic damage every round someone's in it or something. Alternatively, some sort of "iron maiden" trap designed to extract blood from a victim wouldn't be out of place, especially since these guys are harvesting blood for their ritual.
Thanks for the responses guys. Unfortunately, our session got postponed, so I have even more time to come up with fun stuff. This is a 4th ed. game with 3 level 15 pc's. More suggestions are still welcome, but here's the current scene when the PC's enter the main hall.
Two rows of pillars create arcades up each side of the long hall. Flickering candelabra at each pillar do little to dispel the gloom, as the light seems to be absorbed by the pitch black stone of the room. The ceiling is lost in darkness above, but it must be high because the dark chanting coming from the center of the room just fades away into the darkness. In the middle of the room, a circle of hooded cultists stand with arms upraised, chanting twisted words of power. Glowing blood-red runes of power form a circle around the cultists, illuminating them from below with dull red highlights. A cauldron of blood in the center of the circle of power boils and writhes in time to the chanting. The very air around the cauldron seems to twist and darken with black magic. Floating above the cauldron is a grinning creature swathed in flowing ebony robes. His red eyes fix on you as you enter the room, and his welcoming grin reveals gleaming fangs against his black lips. "Welcome to my home, you're just in time!"
I was really tempted to have his opening line be "you're just in time for dinner!" But, while funny and corny, it would probably spoil the dark mood I'm going for. Alas.
The cultists are standing in a Sacred Circle, which gives evil creatures a bonus to attack. The cauldron and the squares around it are a Festering Corruption, which helps undead in it, but hurts living creatures. This should make an interesting dynamic, as the living cultists can be pushed from the circle into the area of corruption. PC's that approach to melee range can also be dragged into the corruption.
I'm still debating the lighting. Dim light makes the most sense, but all the PC's have low light, so it would lose most of it's impact. The pillars should provide cover for the PC's to approach the artillery cultists. I'm debating having alternating patches of light and darkness, so the PC's can ditch their lights and hide in the darkness if they want. Of course, the vampire lord can see in the dark, so that should also add a nice touch. Hmm, I could also have the PC's lights flicker out as the dark room sucks in the light. The candelabra could shed a dull red illumination that's not entirely absorbed.
I also want to have something interesting at the far end of the hall. Not sure what. I've got a second vampire lord I can use here, so he could be sitting in throne doing...something evil? I want to give the PC's the option of attacking the ritualists, or bypassing them and attacking the guy at the end of the hall first. Need ideas for what he's doing and how it would affect the situation. Maybe he's causing the darkness? Or perhaps he's conducting the ritual from his raised dais that is empowering the floating vampire.
I'm also looking for treasure ideas. I usually forget to do this step, as it's the last thing I do, but the most important to the PC's. Probably 1/4 to 1/2 of the 15th level treasure parcels should be in here. Probably some gems in the decorated throne at the end of the hall. The second vampire will probably also be wearing some sort of evil scale armor. Some dark ritual components as well perhaps. I'm not very creative with treasure, so specific examples of those ideas are welcome, as are totally random other ideas. There's a whole mansion that treasure can be from as well. So tomes of dark power from the library, or jeweled chalices from the blood room also work.