The players can actually go here first if they get rope and descend to the bottom of the ravine, which is outrageous deep. Like, 200 feet down, and crooked, so no light reaches the bottom. Bring a torch.
This is a weird place, and might have something to do with the loss of the town. For the bottom of the ravine is PAVED! Yes, it is some creepy subterranean road built by peoples stranger and older than any known.
It will also strongly violate classic dungeon design and be, essentially, a linear set of encounters. The north route gets encounters 1, 3, 5, and the south route gets encounters 2, 4, 6, etc, and they both lead to Depth 5.
RAVINE ROAD NORTH
Barghest and a hound archon. But instead of a demon goblin thing and a dogman angel thing...
An ancient corpse of a dog lies on the road- a dog that fell to its death. In life it wavered between being a 'good dog' and a 'bad dog' and now its soul is trapped. It will act as a normal dog and attempt to please surface humans. If it is called a good dog/good boy/etc 3 times, it goes to dog heaven and will watch over the players and bark at things in the night if they are in danger, but if it is scolded, attacked, or reprimanded 3 times it will go to dog hell and become a hellhound, which will return to 'help' the players.
1d6x100 feet later... Darkmantles and a young adult white dragon? Hmmm...
Let's steal the Parasite Dragon from Skerples. This wretched creature was a guardian of the ravine road and chained in place, and so it couldn't rid itself of the leechlike creatures sapping its strength. Perhaps this dragon was set here with the parasites as punishment. Intelligent players may note that someone must feed it, as its in no shape to get food as it is, and that it rests on a sizable hoard of human bones. Players may also wish to make an elaborate climbing route above and around this creature rather than fight it, which is fair, but the next encounter should probably show up if they try to set something like this up.
|Just imagine a dragon wrapped in like 8 of these things.|
After that disturbing encounter, we have... a gargoyle and d3+1 ghouls. Well, the north route seems to have a theme of dual choices and punishment, so lets try to work that in here, too.
This is a handcart with d3+1 people tied up in it, being pulled slowly by a gargoyle. These groaning prisoners are slated to be dragon-fodder, and apparently this is not at all uncommon. Good replacement PCs, or simply morality bait. The prisoners have brands and their tongues have been cut out- slaves? Wicked criminals? It's hard to say. As for the gargoyle, it defends its human offerings as best it can and does not speak, though it won't pick a fight until engaged.
Next up is d3+1 grimlocks and a 5 headed hydra. Let's think about the point of these monsters- grimlocks are humanoid enemies whose gimmick is they don't rely on sight. Hydras are offensive brutes that get less scary as the fight goes on and they lose heads. So something that puts the players at a disadvantage, is initially very scary, but nothing that's supposed to be really mind-bending or anything.
I think this is a gate into the realm of the subterranean dwellers, with 2 visible guards and like 10 more who will pop up from behind rocks in ambush flanking and surprise and all, if the players get fresh. These are the Undermen, who probably took the townsfolk above as slaves when the foolish surface dwellers failed to pay tribute. And speaking of tribute, the Undermen will demand 50 coins from each and every person wishing to pass through the gates, though other payment could doubtless be arranged. Blood sacrifice, for one. Their people likely had a relationship with the wizard, but not with the lord who defeated him and moved in a bunch of filthy surface-dwellers later. If pressed for info, they might mention a 'king below' but won't give important details to strangers.
If the players force their way through, they won't get the vital information from the guards- whether to take the left fork, or the right fork, through the entrance hall. Both lead to the same place, but the guards have a pet monster. The next entries are gray ooze/mimic, and both are a sort of amorphous surprise monster, so I think combining them into a Trapper (the entire floor is a monster big enough to fold over and swallow the entire party in the surprise round) makes sense. A huge, flat, hard grey thing masquerading as the floor. Careful examination may reveal the 'worked stone' doesn't look quite right, but uninformed and unaware players may walk into the devouring monster. The Trapper changes which fork it lurks in occasionally.
Next on the menu is 'owlbear and d3+1 spider swarm.' Dealing with a big brute monster and a lot of swarms could be interesting, but it's gonna be a giant spider +little spiders, not an owlbear. Let's say the halls continue, and there is a sidepassage choked with spider webs. Continuing eventually brings you to an abandoned theatre, complete with chairs, a stage, and a bunch of webbed up corpses. dangling over the stage.
Now, for the record, I think giant spiders are barely ever used right. Not in movies, not in RPGs, not in videogames. Maybe in the Hobbit(book), that was a pretty good scene. In fact, I'm going to make a post about spiders. In any case, here is the deal
1. The spider already knows the players are coming, how many of them there are, and their relative weight and shape from the second the players touched the silked up entry.
2. The spider is lurking above the entrance to the auditorium, behind concealing veils of silk, meaning the player's escape is cut off the moment they enter the auditorium.
3. The spider watched the plays the Undermen put on, and has developed an appreciation for theatre.
4. The spider ate the undermen who put on plays here and now uses their desiccated corpses as puppets to put on plays of its own.
5. The players will be instructed, via large scrolls with written instructions to take a seat in the front row. Anywhere else has sticky webs rather than walkable silk, and will enrage the spider.
6. The players will watch an expert puppet show about a princess, a brave knight, and the wicked and jealous mother who wished to eat the princess, and in fact has already eaten the princesses 600 siblings. By the time the princess eats her brave knight after copulation, it should be clear that this is a play about spiders, by spiders, for spiders, in case it was ever unclear
7. The players must provide a positive but thoughtful and in-depth review of the play. If they demonstrate sufficient aesthetic appreciation, they will be instructed to take an egg sac to the nearest performing arts center. Insufficient appreciation, insincere flattery, or freaking out and trying to kill everything with fire will result in the giant spider playwright descending to block retreat and d3+1 spider swarms appearing to devour the ungrateful philistines, aided by the grappling silk lines of the mother spider.
8. There is a FATTY amount of loot backstage, brought out only in the 3rd act for dramatic effect. Payment could be negotiated for transport of the baby spiders.
Assuming the players escape or ignore this, they will finally come to a vast cavern, where there is a small but overdesigned cathedral adorned with gargoyles and inhabited by a vampire spawn and a minotaur zombie.
Which is fine, as such supernatural inner guardians indicate that there is no good wizard shenanigans about, but I'm going to re-use gargoyle instead of a minotaur zombie, because if there's a petulant vampire spawn stuck on guard duty, her partner better be capable of conversation but also blood-free, and we've used a gargoyle before, so we've got some theme going on again. So the gargoyles can be awoken by a horn the vampire spawn wears, but the vampire spawn will prefer to have all the blood to herself and will avoid blowing the horn unless direly threatened.
In any case, there are several ways to continue- there are exits to the cavern that lead to underground cave system flux space
and though finding the correct paths will be strange adventures in themselves, they do lead down to levels 7, 8, 9, and 10!
Alternately, you can head downstairs in the cathedral and enter depth 5, but the vampire spawn can't let you pass unless you convert to her religion, an act that will require you to sacrifice a living being on her altar. Also she appears to be a perfectly ordinary Underwoman Nun, and in fact can offer various simple clerical services to those who convert to her chthonic god of blood and gold. Her god is pretty evil, but undeniably well-aligned with adventurers. Sacrificing helpless victims turns some of their teeth to gold, which you can then harvest for GP=HP (with a x100 for every bonus point, bonus points being +1 per CHA bonus, +1 for innocent victims, and +1 for every 5HD). And then you can sacrifice gold in quick minute long rituals to get HP=GP/100! And this HP can exceed your max HP! Blood to gold and gold to blood, it's perfect! In any case, this bloodstained nun will do her best to convert the players, and to split them up and suck their blood if that fails, and to honk her horn and have them torn apart by gargoyles if even that fails.
The players could disguise themselves as the Undermen guards too, probably, though as a vampire this nun has a keen nose for blood so signs of violence better be scoured clean away. Maybe by a ooze from level 3 or something.
SOUTH RAVINE ROAD
This part of the road stops being paved 1d6x100 feet south, and there is a ravine within the ravine, though the ravine continues south as well. Glowing lights wave and bob down there, and those investigating will find a Lantern Archon and a Carrion Crawler, only they won't cuz that's dumb. In fact they'll just find Skullmoths flittering around, because I want to keep their light as potential light sources both for the players and the Undermen. The Undermen don't see in the dark, incidentally- they have torches or skullmoth lanterns. This ravine has a secret, little used door to level 7, and it does have a random dead adventuring party at the bottom, animated by skullmoth grubs, so there's something to loot for those daring the moth lair.
Next up, 1d6x100 feet past the ravine, our encounter chart claims there are d3+1 duegar, (drow dwarves), and a displacer beast. Rather than that, let's have an Underman Illusionist and d3+1 Undermen Guards. They are looking for an escaped princess, but won't reveal this. They might hide behind a glamour and be all 'greetings fellow surface dwellers' to try to figure out what the heck the players are doing in their territory, or just slip on some annoying Mass Mirror Image and attack or pretend to be more numerous than they really are.
Past that, there's a Janni and d3+1 svirfneblin gnomes (drow gnomes). So actually what we have is d3+1 undermen who have a Janni in a bottle, to be popped in emergencies. They are of course related to the previous party, and can signal each other via skullmoth lantern flashes. The Janni hates its servitude and only obeys the letter of instructions given, so players might be able to help it find loopholes if it is summoned to beat them down.
Past this patrol, we have... a Harpy, and a Wereboar (called it). The theme of such an encounter would surely be 'being lured into danger' and 'a hard to kill brute' and I think I can do this theme and maybe explain why these Undermen patrols were out here AND explain the recent inspiration for the spider playwrights current play- they're looking for a runaway princess and her surface-dweller lover who was an escaped slave and the underwoman princess got seduced by stories of stars and felt bad for this swarthy gladiator slave who missed the surface and blah blah blah. Anyway, the princess is adorned in SCADS of jewelry and looks perfectly harmless (she is, as a matter of fact) and is trying to climb up the ravine but has gotten stuck. She will call for help and agree to surrender if the players assist her, and then whammo, the 'not-a-wereboar-but-still-like-a-level-8-fighter-lover-gladiator' will charge around the corner and begin to fight the players as some of them are separated by the climb. Assuming players listen to the princess's weird phrasing(because she is assuming they are undermen), they might be able to forestall this ambush by convincing her (and the listening lover) that they aren't an underman retrieval squad. This will be ruined by the arrival of the actual undermen retrieval squads, above, if the players made friends with them, and then the players will have to choose who to support, if anyone. In any case, the princess's jewelry is really tempting, like, 10,000GP tempting, but she is a haughty thing and won't part with a single ring even if the players save her from the retrieval squads, and her loverboy will support her completely and fight to the death for her honor.
Moving further down the south ravine, dungeon encounters tells us we must inflict a minotaur and an otyugh on the party. We already replaced one minotaur (zombie) with a gargoyle, but lets see... an otyugh would live in a pool of filth, so lets say this is where the town above's sewage fell down to, creating a horrible swamp of garbage and sewage. Nasty. Well, if the Bad Breath imp of level 2 survived, this is a good place to hang out. Let's also put a miasma here- as disease is spread primarily by miasma dwelling demons and not by anything as silly as germ theory, this is prime spot for disease demons to show up. Also, I'm definitely not putting a combat with two sacks of HP here, no way. Instead, we'll have a Disease Demon, the Imp or otherwise, squatting in the filth, and seeing if it can't tempt the players into getting sick by sinning. The ol' "Honest Woodcutter" fairy tale will be my model here- the demon will purport to be a 'returner of lost items' dig up a pouch of coins and ask the players if they dropped this, and escalate its offers with golden jewelry, sparkling (albeit filthy) gems, magic swords, and so on. If the players don't lie by saying 'yeah that's mine' it can't infect them. It will try to get them to take something by saying things like 'well, can you hang onto it until the rightful owner retrieves it?' in which case the players will be infected if they give the loot away to someone who isn't the rightful owner, lose it, gamble it away, sell it, etc. Also if the players swim through that filth they'll be infected for the sin of breaking the laws of hygiene.
Past the pool of filth and the filthy demon(s) within, 4th-level dungeon encounter charts says the only sane thing to include now is trogolodytes and worgs. Maybe this is the excuse for the trogolodyte zombies that were supposed to be on level 3. I don't want to just use more Undermen though, so lets have an inexplicable encounter of skullgrub infested children corpses riding skullgrub infested dog corpses. Zombies are easily glossed over as 'lol whatever' enemies so making them children is a nasty gutpunch to remind people that undead used to be people. Alternately, if any henchmen, named NPCs, etc, have died in the area and their corpses weren't recovered, use them instead- the key is to have there be an emotional attachment to these rotten corpses, and named zombies>nameless zombies. And as for why they're riding zombdogs, well, that's just to make em fast instead of slow and to totally ruin all that junk about making the undead scary by having a stupid circus rodeo theme instead of a somber memento mori. But by god the dungeon encounter wanted 1d3 worgs so it bloody well gets 1d3 unreasonable canine entities.
And finally, where would we be without the obligatory 1d3 snakes and 1d3 spiders. They're LARGE now- they were medium and small before. Whatever, more skullmoths, this side of the ravine is clearly their lair. But this IS a setpiece encounter, lets make an interesting and topical discovery.
So, the players know that the skullmoth life cycle is grubs into skullmoths, and they like rotten flesh. But what if there's another stage, where skullmoths enter a cocoon themselves and emerge as something else, regressing into... that's right, back to grublike form, but larger, longer, as befitting their growth... yes, now they are Parasites, of the sort that bedevil the chained up guard dragon, and this skullmoth hive is no accident, but a designed garden of the Undermen, who use the larvae for light, the moths for incidental guardians of their ravine, and the parasites for punishment.
So at the end of the south ravine, there is a nasty-ass dragon corpse wriggling with glowing maggots, with the lights of flitting skullmoths all round, and hanging from the skeletal wings, slimy cocoons with parasites inside them, that will leap out and attach themselves to players like facehuggers from Alien, draining 1 level per attached parasite and spitting 1d6 acid damage in a 20' cone against everyone if you try to remove it. If you get level-drained to 0 you die, at best. On the plus side, if you have a parasite on you, skullmoths ignore you and undead might too, and pulling them off/killing them gives you your level back right away.
This whole awful 'garden' is behind a clearly pointless bone fence a foot high, that has a little note saying 'apprentice corpsetakers must not enter ivata-stage skullmoth gardens without supervision' so now we know, the atavistic parasite forms are known as 'ivata' and 'corpsetakers' are behind the whole skullmoth mess. And Dragons are somehow involved. This is probably bad news.
But the players may wish to enter regardless, for this is a BIG dragon corpse, and remnant scales, teeth, claws, etc, of such an ancient beast would be worth a lot to the right buyer, and could be used as arms and armor.
Restocking Encounters- The Chimera of depth 3, especially the Cynocephali, may escape down here through magma worm boreholes. Dead humans down here will become skullgrub zombies within a day, more skullmoths in a week, and perhaps into Itava after that. Artistic spiders may overwhelm the place, catching skullmoths and using them for stage lighting. And of course, things from the unexplored caverns or lower Undermen levels may show up. The nun vampire could take in demon cult survivors and turn them to this cult instead. Maybe the dragon can gain independence and become tyrant of the surface ghost town if freed of its parasites.