The Caverns of the Iconoclast - A D&D Adventure

What Edition?

The following D&D Adventure can be run in any edition of Dungeons and Dragons with very little modifications needed from the DM to make it an interesting and memorable adventure.

When doing skill checks simply use the appropriate skill from the edition you are running.

What Level?

I recommend at least level 5, regardless of what edition you are running this in. The DM should see fit to modify monsters or add extra monsters to suit the actual level of the PCs, and their power level (higher than normal stats, magical items, etc effect power level).

Back Story

The Caverns of the Iconoclast was once the home of a reclusive wizard named Xorek, who later in life achieved lichdom and became a demilich - and had many clones of himself, which also achieved lichdom. At that time in Xorek's life he was focused on attacking various religions, destroying their religious artifacts, artwork, shrines and temples - and he would purposely misrepresent himself as a powerful cleric sent from the gods in order to overturn religions and cause people to rebel against the religions, thus destroying a lot of the temples and shrines in the process without Xorek having to personally do all the dirty work.

Within the caverns Xorek stored a number of broken religious items, many of which were magical in some nature and are still valuable - especially if they could be repaired. He also stored a variety of gold and silver items there, taken from various temples. There is plenty of valuable items there, both mundane and magical.

During his time there, Xorek also made a number of portals which allowed him to travel to distant kingdoms. As such any group of adventurers who manage to clear all the traps and monsters that now roam the caverns would not only have a good headquarters for adventuring, but also a valuable way of traveling from kingdom to kingdom.

PCs who successfully make a History or even a Religion check (or an Intelligence or Wisdom check in 1st Edition) will have heard of Xorek and will know a little about his back story and the Caverns of the Iconoclast. Depending on how good their roll is the DM can decide what additional information they want to provide.

Possible Adventure Hooks

  • NPC asks if the adventurers are in town to try their luck at the Caverns, as the locals are well aware of it and it attracts adventurers regularly.
  • A priest approaches the PCs and asks if they could retrieve a religious item said to be in the Caverns.
  • A wizard returns from the Caverns, with their entire party killed by the traps. He regales them with how they managed to avoid 2 of the traps before most of his party was impaled and killed by the 3rd set of traps. He decided to not go any further after that. For a small fee he offers to use Dimension Door so the party can avoid the first two traps.

The Entrance + Traps

Getting into the caverns is arguably the most dangerous part, unless the party has a skilled trapper. Each of the cavern entrances (regardless of what kingdom you are entering from) is guarded by the five following traps which must be avoided or removed in some manner.

Layout of the caverns and their entrances is up to the DM, but the order of the traps should stay constant.

Trap #1. Blast Marks

The floors and walls of the cavern are marked with various burnt and blast marks, suggestive of Fireballs (appropriate skill check to recognize they are not actually from a Fireball, as the individual blast marks are too small). Three tiny alcoves and cracks in the ceiling suggest there might be something up there lurking, but PCs would need either a Light spell or need to levitate up to the ceiling to look closer to determine what is up there. A skilled climber or someone with a ladder could also get up there to have a look.

Venturing under the alcoves or cracks causes a fiery ray of energy to shoot out of the alcove, dealing 5d6 fire damage to the person who triggered it (save for zero damage). As such, walking under the alcove to have a better look will trigger it, as would climbing up there and peeking in. Staying in the same location will trigger a second shot of the ray at the end of the PC's turn if they did not move out of range.

The way around this is to use a mirror or reflective surface to look closer at the three devices, preferably attached to a 10 foot pole. A trapper can then use the pole or similar long item to try and disable the device, while using either a light spell or a mirror to see it while they work.

It is possible to use a shield or similar object to protect a PC from the rays, but doing so will leave a hole in the item and ruin it permanently. Magical shields/etc can also be ruined this way if they fail an item saving throw.

Even if temporarily disabled, these traps will later reset themselves every 24 hours.

Trap #2. The Flooded Cave

This part of the cave slopes downwards into a flooded section and the water is murky and dark - Infravision, Lowlight Vision, Light spells, etc will not work in this murky water. However a Purify Food and Water would decrease the murkiness, although not completely. Appropriate skill checks will be needed to swim through, with negatives if the swimmer cannot see.

The real danger is currents under the water at the halfway point to the far end of the flooded section of cavern. The currents are caused by rotating fans which deal 4d6 damage to anyone sucked into them. PCs who fail their swim checks are sucked into the fans, and will suffer negatives if they do not know the fans are there. (If an ally swims back and tells them, they can hug the wall and gain bonuses to avoid the fans.)

The fans can be disabled by a trapper, or they can be jammed up by ramming something large into them (a proverbial wrench stuck in the cogs), preferably something large like a great axe.

At the far end the caverns slope back upwards into an airy section thick with moss.

Optional - The moss may be of a glowing phosphorescent variety which provides light equal to a candle, which may be useful later but have a shelf life of 1 week unless cared for by someone with an appropriate skill (eg. Agriculture, Knowledge Nature, etc). If the moss dies it is no longer useful.

Trap #3. The Sticky Spikes

Large rough hewn stairs have been added to this section of tunnel leading upwards, with 21 large wide steps total. Each of the steps have been painted Red, Blue or Yellow - in that order.

Stepping on the wrong steps will trigger a spike trap that deals 3d6 damage from multiple spikes and is sticky (see the Web spell for additional effects). Avoiding the spikes can be done with a successful saving throw (zero damage) or by successfully guessing which steps to skip or jump over.

Trying to jump over 2 or more steps at once requires a successful skill check.

  1. Red - Normal
  2. Blue - Normal
  3. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap
  4. Red - Normal
  5. Blue - Normal
  6. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap
  7. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  8. Blue - Normal
  9. Yellow  - Normal
  10. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  11. Blue - Normal
  12. Yellow  - Sticky Spikes Trap
  13. Red - Normal
  14. Blue - Sticky Spikes Trap
  15. Yellow  - Normal
  16. Red - Normal
  17. Blue - Sticky Spikes Trap
  18. Yellow  - Normal
  19. Red - Sticky Spikes Trap
  20. Blue - Normal
  21. Yellow - Sticky Spikes Trap

A trapper can disable each of the traps individually, or the traps can also be triggered with a 10 foot pole with 100 pounds of pressure. Any object weighing 100 lbs or more triggers the trap. Once triggered, the PCs can choose to jump over the steps they know to be trapped.

PCs who weigh less than 100 lbs (including all their gear) can go up the steps without injury.

Herding a flock of chickens up the stairs will not trigger the spikes, but a herd of pigs who weigh enough would work.

Trap #4. The Side Splitting Laughing Gas

When passing through this section of caverns the DM should ask the PCs to each roll d20s and place their roll in front of them. The DM should then note which characters would have failed a poison saving throw.

Three minutes later the PCs will begin to be effected by the Poisonous Laughing Gas, which deals 2d6 damage to anyone who failed their saving throw.

Any players who roleplay their characters with lots of giggles and laughter should be awarded bonus XP.

Trap #5. The Stone Block of Death

The squished remains of bones, armour and other items lay on the cavern floor ahead. There are obvious seams in the ceiling, but no visual way of determining how to trigger the stone block into falling.

Anyone who triggers the stone block while crossing beneath it takes 6d6 damage and begins to crush their lungs. The stone block then retracts back into the ceiling a minute later, so if trapped under it the PC may suffocate to death from their lungs being crushed during that minute of time.

In truth the stone block is only triggered by those people who are cowards. (Optional - The DM can have a riddle or poem scrawled on a nearby wall indicating the bravery and cowardice are clues to crossing it.)

  1. The first person to volunteer to cross the space is clearly brave and thus gets past it for free provided they did not try to do it cautiously, slowly or quickly. If they did, they still count as a coward.
  2. The second person gets a Wisdom check to get a clue as to the possible manner to cross it, otherwise the DM should ask them to describe how they cross it. If they describe themselves doing it cautiously, slowly or running across, then they are a coward.
  3. Additional people going through also get a Wisdom check to get a clue. Likewise if they describe themselves doing it cautiously, slowly or running across then they get squished.
  4. The last person to cross is automatically a coward.

Various spells can also be used to cross the trap, such as Remove Fear. Any spell that boosts bravery or courage or morale will also prevent the trap from triggering.

There is no way to disable this trap. Any trapper who succeeds their check will learn that the trap is triggered through some unknown means. Any objects placed under the stone block will be crushed flat.

The Portal of Hopelessness

Now that the PCs have reached the inner caverns, they reach a glowing purple portal with swirling motes of lavender, white, grey and black within the more vibrant grape purple of the magical portal. The sides of the portal are carved from stone and show people destroying religious artifacts.

Any person passing through the portal will be struck with a feeling of hopelessness, temporarily believing that there are no gods. PCs do receive a saving throw, but Magic Resistance does not work on this magic as they willingly went through the portal and did not attempt to resist the magic.

PCs so affected will automatically submit to the demands of others, surrender without a fight, flee in the face of danger, and otherwise behave as if there is zero hope. (Remind the players that they get a XP bonus for roleplaying accordingly.) Even if players do not wish to cooperate, PCs with zero hope will do nothing 25% of the time and flee 25% of the time.

The feeling of Hopelessness can be countered by any spell effect that gives a character more hope in the spell description. eg. The 2nd Edition "Emotion" spell can be used to counter this effect. If such a spell is cast in advance before going through the portal, the effect will be negated.

The spell effect wears off after 10 + 1d10 minutes, or until countered or dispelled.

The Inner Caverns

The PCs have arrived in the main chamber in the center of the caverns, which is large and spacious, with walls and a domed ceiling that have been clearly cut to make the place more sophisticated looking, with columns cut around the outer circle of the cavern. Between the columns are a series of 8 smaller tunnels which lead to other sections of the Inner Caverns.

In the center of the domed cavern is the Portal of Hopelessness, which is identical and leads back to the entrance cavern.

Within the main chamber is a group of 5 or more Drow Slavers. They drow immediately (in Common tongue) demand that the PCs surrender to them. Any PCs who resist will be shot with hand crossbows loaded with Drow sleep poison. Any individuals who are resistant to poison or immune will have nets tossed on them until they are captured. Failing that, the drow will club them into unconsciousness.

For every 5 Drow Slavers present, one of them should be a wizard armed with Sleep or Deep Slumber spells (Deep Slumber is a more powerful 3rd level spell which causes targets to fall asleep and effects more HD).

If the drow capture everyone, they place them in cages and take them through tunnel #1, which has a portal that goes to the Underdark (or some equivalent location where drow can be found in your campaign world).

Tunnel #1. To the Underdark

Within this tunnel the PCs should encounter 5 or more Drow Slavers. If the PCs proceed cautiously and quietly they should be able to ambush the drow. If they do not however, the drow slavers should be expected to ambush the PCs.

The drow in this tunnel have gathered together a pile of gold and silver religious icons and similar valuables. Amongst their loot should be 1 broken magical item, which will need repairs before it can be made whole again.

Within this cavern will be a portal that goes to the Underdark, but has no effect on creatures going through it to the Underdark... coming back however, the person passes through the Portal of Hopelessness again and ends up in the main chamber again.

If the PCs thoroughly search these tunnels they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #2. The Dragon's Lair

This tunnel contains the burnt corpses of drow. If the PCs continue they will find a slumbering red dragon of a size that should provide a suitable challenge for the PCs, with a large cavern serving as it's lair.

If the PCs provide a challenge lasting more than 3 rounds, the dragon should spend the 4th round collapsing the tunnel so that the only means of escape is through the portal - which takes the person to a volcanic island. Returning means going through the Portal of Hopelessness and back to the main chamber.

Once that is done, the dragon will drink a Haste potion hanging from around its neck and use their full power to kill any spellcasters first.

The dragon has amassed a sizable hoard which includes various religious items, and also religious coins. The only magical items are a few potions the dragon may decide to use during the combat.

If the PCs thoroughly search the dragon's hoard they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #3. The Hallways

These tunnels have been cut into 10 foot by 10 foot hallways. The perfect size for 1 or more Gelatinous Cubes. The PCs should find the acid dripping remains of drow skeletons in various locations in the hallways.

Various chambers within these hallways contain a small library containing mostly journals and diaries, a study, a kitchen, a latrine, bedrooms, etc. Anything not made of metal, bone or stone has been destroyed by the Gelatinous Cubes.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden inside a journal with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #4. The Seaside

The drow have captured a number of owlbears and keep them in cages and drugged with drow sleep poison. The portal in this cavern is larger and wider, and goes to the seaside, so the owlbears don't appear to be from that region. The drow have been using the portal to stage slaver raids against villages that are near the seaside.

If the PCs are cautious and smart, they can release the owlbears and wake them up to attack the 5 or more drow that also dwell in this cavern.

A handful of small sailboats are placed in rows near the portal and can be fit through easily and carried through the cavern to the seaside. Some of the boats are best described as "decorative pleasure boats" and are quite valuable.

If the PCs thoroughly search the largest of the small sailboats they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden in a small compartment inside the mast with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #5. The Mists

This tunnel contains strange mists that come from the portal and the drow have blocked the entrance with stone rubble to try and stop the mists, but have evidently given up. The mists limit sight to 5 feet in all directions, making missile combat almost impossible and giving full concealment to anything within the mists. The cavern also contains a pet displacer beast that belongs to the leader of the drow, which has become accustomed to the mists and has superior smell and hearing, thus allowing it to attack anything within the mists.

If the displacer beast is hungry (50% chance) it will try to attack and kill the weakest looking members of the PCs - especially if they wander off from the group in the mists. The beast is also quite smart and will know when to hide in the mists and avoid trouble. If the displacer beast is not hungry, it will wait for its master to be present before attacking.

Using spells and magic do not seem to effect the mists itself. They detect of necromancy and alteration magic, which is rather unusual. Dispel Magic temporarily gets rid of a bit of mists, but quickly fills in that space with more mists in 2 rounds anyway.

The portal in this library can go to a kingdom or location of the DMs choosing, but ideally it should go to Ravenloft. Any PCs who go to Ravenloft through the portal can return via the Portal of Hopelessness to the main chamber, making it one of the few ways to travel safely back and forth to Ravenloft.

If the PCs thoroughly search the walls of this cavern they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden under a rock near the west most wall with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #6. The Great Library

Not everything Xorek took was destroyed or broken. This tunnel leads to a great library which contains a great number of books from every culture and language, with all the books being at least 1300 years old. The library is three stories tall with stairs going to the 2nd and 3rd levels. Some of the stairs have collapsed and fallen apart with age.

To guard the books from intruders however, Xorek enticed multiple Mimics to live there and transformed them to resemble large books. The Book Mimics present themselves as looking like more expensive spellbooks in obvious locations that are readily spotted, and lay in wait for any wizards foolish enough to try and read them.

The portal in this library can go to a kingdom or location of the DM's choosing.

Many of the books within the library would be valuable to historians.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion hidden under the broken staircase with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #7. The Scrying Eye

This round cavern contains an abyssal beholder from Xorek's explorations of the various planes, a Crystal Ball (broken) that was used for scrying, and several pentagrams on the floor. Everything in this chamber is covered with dust, so much so that the beholder looks like a dusty stone statue, and the chalk pentagrams on the floor are impossible to see. The beholder is trapped in suspended animation within its pentagram. Getting too close to the beholder can cause the chalk pentagram to get smudged and free it from its prison, at which point it will awaken and attack immediately.

If the combat lasts longer than 3 rounds, the Abyssal Beholder will go through the portal to return to its home in the Abyss, which is where the portal goes to.

There are signs that the drow walked into this chamber, but then walked out of it. Perhaps they took one look and thought better of it?

The Crystal Ball can be repaired and used for scrying.

If the PCs thoroughly search the library they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion on a dusty table near the Crystal Ball with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical.

Tunnel #8. The Morgue

The entrance to this cave has been blocked by stone rubble by the drow. It would take about 10 minutes of moving rocks about to clear a section large enough for the PCs to crawl through.

Xorek kept many of his undead experiments in this cavern, with various bits of them preserved in jars of wax and chemicals. The PCs should find a number of undead creatures, mostly zombies and skeletons, laying about on wooden tables. If they are smart, they should destroy them all immediately.

If they delay, the Undead Mindflayer takes notice of them and decides to attack. The undead mindflayer has all the abilities of a normal mindflayer, plus the ability to command undead creatures at will as a bonus action. It orders all of the undead creatures to attack.

Even if the PCs do start destroying all of the undead they see, they should only destroy half of them before the undead mindflayer notices it is no longer alone.

The portal in this cavern goes to a huge cemetery near a large metropolis. Xorek would steal corpses from the cemetery using the portal.

If the PCs thoroughly search the morgue they should find a broken piece of a silver medallion stuck to the bottom of chair with some glue with ancient symbols on it that a wizard may recognize as necromancy symbols. This is 1 piece of 8. It does not detect of magic, although it is magical. 

Sprinkle Mundane Artifacts About

The DM running this adventure should sprinkle mundane (non magical) objects around the caverns, mostly made of gold, silver, gems and clearly valuable despite being broken.

Magical items should be kept to a minimum and always broken. The cost of the mundane items should help pay for the repairs to the magical items, but if the PCs choose to repair all the magical items then the cost of the repairs should actually be more than all the gold value of the mundane items they recovered.

Thus PCs will either need to decide which items to repair, or to repair all of them and lose gold in the process.

The Bonus Optional Superboss

If the PCs manage to find all 8 of the silver medallion pieces, the medallion can be repaired with a Mending spell.

If the party then takes the silver medallion to the portal and finds a specific round section on the side of the portal, they can unlock and open a staircase in the floor.

Unlocking the staircase releases a Xorek Clone from suspended animation, where it has been waiting for centuries. This version of Xorek is a powerful lich which likes to use a combination of necromancy and chronomancy (time magic) spells. He will use spells like Haste, Slow and various spells causing instant death, ability damage and debilitating effects. Any battle with him should feel extremely unfair for the players because he clearly outmatches them.

(For more about Chronomancy, I recommend reading the 2nd Edition AD&D Chronomancer book.)

The PCs are not necessarily meant to fight Xorek. He is an optional Superboss. If they are smart, they could just run through a portal and avoid him.

Note - Unlike normal liches, Xorek does not have a phylactery. He doesn't need them because his solution was to make multiple clones of himself, each of which have reached lich, demilich or greater status. Many of his clones stay in a state of dormancy until activated.

If however they manage to defeat him, they should find the following in the chamber below:

  1. A command word that turns off all the traps and removes the effect of the Portal of Hopelessness.
  2. A collection of broken magical and mundane artifacts. The DM is encouraged to determine the magical items ahead of time, as Xorek would certainly use any useful items in combat.
  3. A large spellbook containing a variety of spells, including Necromancy and Chronomancy spells (note - some Chronomancy spells should really be limited to Chronomancers only and not allowed to normal wizards).
  4. Gold, silver, gems, etc.
  5. Optional - An item or clue leading to another quest, possibly another lair that belongs to another clone of Xorek.

Three Quests to Rehabilitate Murder Hobos

So the problem with "Murder Hobos" in D&D is that they tend to ruin games. They don't like to roleplay and typically have 2-dimensional characters who only live to kill and loot things. Hence the term "Murder Hobos". The term has become popular in recent years thanks to 4th Edition and 5th Edition and newer players being rather "murder-y". Older players who emphasize roleplaying and 3-dimensional characters usually don't have this problem.

But it is possible to cure players who have this affliction. The trick is to create quests which have a strong balance of roleplaying and combat.

#1. The Rescue Mission.

The shieldsmith's daughter has been kidnapped by *INSERT MONSTERS HERE* and he wants the PCs to rescue her. He offers to give them a magical shield as payment.

Roleplaying - Find ways to add extra roleplaying in here, not just with the smith's daughter, but also the villagers and even the monsters that they were sent to kill.

Bonus - The local mayor / burgomaster / lord / sheriff / whatever also agrees to pay the PCs X amount of gold coins for each villager the PCs also rescue. So if they say 50 gp, and there is 20 villagers that is 1000 gp.

Effect - The PCs are being encouraged to kill the baddies so they are still satisfying that need to kill stuff, but they need to rescue the smith's daughter and the villagers. The more they save, the more rewards they get.

Added Bonus - Depending on how well the party behaves you should reward them accordingly with the magical shield. If they do poorly, the shield is only +1. If they do reasonably well or quite well, reward them with either a +2 or +3 shield.

#2. The Mystery of the Thief.

So murder mysteries are not a solution as Murder Hobos can still just murder everyone. The goal here is actually much more complex since the PCs have to not only talk to witnesses, they need to identify suspects, find clues that lead them to other witnesses or suspects, interrogate them and find a way to convince the thief to tell the PCs where the stolen item is.

So here goes...

The actual thief is a pixie with 1 hp and they have stolen a valuable key that opens a magical vault, and the key itself is protected from scrying and other forms of magical detection. It is also small and easily hidden. The pixie really only wants something that is in the vault, a vial of pixie dust, but to find that out the PCs need to actually talk to the pixie and make a deal. The pixie will agree to the deal, but warns the PCs that if they betray the agreement that they will suffer the Pixie's Curse (which causes all rolls of 2 to be an automatic failure, just like rolling 1s - and a Pixie's Curse can only be removed by another fairy casting Remove Curse).

Beyond that just make a few witnesses who saw the key floating in midair, a few false leads that go to the stableboy or maid who each have a motive to steal the key, but each of them have alibis and other witnesses who saw them elsewhere. Eventually one witness should tell the PCs that they heard noises in the attic, causing them to investigate and they find the pixie hiding in the attic.

For combat you should also include a fight with some local drunks just for fun, and try to make it slapstick so that even the fight has a comedic / roleplaying element. Murdering the drunks in front of witnesses would be bad...

Bonus - The lord or lady or innkeep (whomever makes sense for wherever this is taking place) may have offered to store the PCs valuables in the magical vault for them, giving the PCs extra reason to recover the key. The same person should also allude that someone (not the pixie) has been stealing things of late but he hasn't been able to prove it yet, thus motivating them to store their things. If they don't store their things in the vault, they get stolen (the butler did it).

Added Fun - Design the layout of the map to look like the map from the boardgame Clue. Or better yet, just use a Clue board.

Effect - This is a roleplaying intense adventure that relies on sleuthing, forcing the PCs to not murder everyone. Trying to engage in combat with the 1 hp pixie just kills the pixie, and the party then NEVER finds the key.

#3. The Night of Endless Nightmares.

The PCs arrive in an abandoned village but are unable to fall asleep. Worse, a dense fog surrounds the village, which causes them to get lost in the fog and when they do walk out of the fog they are back in the village.

As the night progresses they continue to be unable to sleep as they keep hearing strange noises. When they investigate they find one of the following:

  • A horde of juju zombies. Don't get bit, they turn you into a zombie too! Ghouls or ghasts also work well.
  • The wandering shade of a person who was hideously murdered, who tries to lead the PCs to a clue to end the curse. The shades may or may not speak in riddles...
  • A person who is still alive, but traumatized. They might be unable to speak, they might speak but only in snippets, or they might ramble nonsense that emphasizes all the horrible things they saw without a lot of details. With some extra roleplaying however the alive person might give clues as to what happened to the village, but have no idea where the medallion pieces are.

The PCs need to find 5 pieces of a silver medallion, use a Mending spell on it, and then return it to a place in a cursed temple to end the curse. In the meantime however it is the goal of the DM to keep the PCs alive and force them to try and find the 5 shades who will lead them to the silver medallions. Some of the shades will require certain tasks to be completed before they reveal the location of the medallion piece.

Effect - The PCs can only leave this village by removing the curse. Finding the shades is easy, roleplaying is really the only task they need to do. The zombies/ghasts/ghouls are really only there to provide some brief combat - and an opportunity to temporarily turn PCs into undead.

The Finale - Once the curse is lifted, everything goes back to normal. Any PCs who were undead realize it was just a nightmare. The villagers are all alive, but are traumatized from the effects of the nightmare. It is as if nothing had happened now that the medallion has been restored to the cursed temple. (Taking the silver medallion will cause it to shatter and restart the curse again.)

#4. The Crossbow Duel at High Noon.

A NPC becomes slighted by a PCs "Murder Hobo" behaviour and challenges him or her to a duel at High Noon the following day. Other NPCs should immediately start gambling on who might win, chatter should ensue, and the fight is clearly delayed. The PC should feel discouraged to just attack immediately because of the amount of lead up to the fight. Even if they do attack immediately, other NPCs should pull them apart and insist that the fight happen tomorrow.

Following the rules of a duel, the PC and NPC both need a seconder. (The seconder fights if the duelist is somehow unable to fight.) The local sheriff or magistrate etc serves as the judge. A local cleric or druid is asked to serve as the healer.

The rules of the duel are until first blood. Once first blood is dealt, the duel is over. So the goal here isn't to kill the opponent, it is to be the first person to draw blood. Thus rolling initiative and being the first person to shoot will be very tight. Roll d4s for initiative instead. The smaller initiative dice for duels gives the faster person a distinct advantage.

The NPC duelist has at least a 18 Dexterity (and depending on the edition you are playing) extra feats that boost their initiative speed.

On the day of the duel each duelist is provided with a crossbow (light crossbow or hand crossbow). They will each walk ten paces, and then turn and fire when asked by the judge.

During the duel the NPC will taunt the PC and engage in roleplaying, trying to psyche out his opponent. The PC will need to roll multiple saves or Sense Motive checks etc to avoid penalties to either initiative or attack roll. The PC will also be given an opportunity to psyche out the NPC too.

In the lead up to the duel and after the duel, there should be an air of excitement in the town. Almost like it is a festival. These should be purely roleplaying opportunities as the NPCs (and possibly PCs) gamble on the results of the duel.

The PCs could even deliberately bet against their friend and have him throw the fight. (Which could be funny if the NPC duelist also bet against himself...)

While the duel is integral to the plot, it should only last 1 round. Or a few rounds if both duelists are trying to lose on purpose.

Effect - This quest teaches the PCs it is possible to interact with the NPCs without murdering all of them. Even the opponent should not be murdered, as once first blood has been given the NPC should give a speech admitting defeat or praising the PC for their bravery despite defeat.

Other Things That Should Happen To Murder Hobos

If the Murder Hobos in your game refuse to be rehabilitated, here is how you need to deal with the problem.

#1. Alignment Shifts + Associated Consequences. eg. Clerics losing access to spells from their god.

#2. NPC investigators with access to Speak-with-Dead and similar magicks will determine who the murderers are, sparking further investigations.

#3. Bounties on the PCs who become known as Villains, causing good heroes to seek them out for the bounty.

#4. NPCs recognize the PCs as Villains and refuse to help them.

#5. Villains begin approaching the PCs to hire them to do evil deeds, because their reputation has become so bad.

#6. Villains betray the Murder Hobos and hand them over to the good guys in exchange for a pardon and the bounty.

#7. When the Murder Hobos kill innocents, make the combat boring and whatever they find to be commonplace and boring. Don't even bother with attack rolls. Just let them murder them outright so that they don't even get to roll dice.

10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

10 Boring and Clichéd Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Caravan Guards.
#2. Summoned by Royalty or a Noble.
#3. Everyone meets in a Tavern or Inn.
#4. The Town or City is attacked, thrusting the party together mid combat.
#5. Everyone has Amnesia.
#6. Shipwrecked.
#7. Call for adventurers on a Wanted Poster.
#8. Everyone is kidnapped / captured
#9. Everyone is teleported against their will.
#10. On a ship, which is attacked during the voyage.

10 Better Ways to start a D&D Campaign

#1. Festival or Holiday. Possibly with gift giving.
#2. Natural Disaster, eg. Flood or earthquake.
#3. Wedding. All the PCs are put at the misfit table.
#4. Funeral. All the PCs somehow knew the deceased and are named in their will.
#5. At a large contest. Eg. Jousting tournament, archery, wizardry, etc. It could also be something low key like a fishing derby.
#6. At the signing of a treaty, ending a long war.
#7. Public Bath House or Hot Springs. Could actually be quite funny...
#8. Marketplace during a sales event. Everything is 30% off.
#9. During a refugee crisis, PCs are fleeing the horrors of war.
#10. PCs are conscripted into an army against their will.
If you use your imagination you can come up with a number of different ways and places the PCs could meet.
  • Hospital
  • Brewery
  • Weapon-Smithy
  • Forest Fire
  • Public Execution or Trial
  • Royal Visit to the local village
  • Strange Chasm or Rift cuts a major road apart, causing travelers to seek an alternative route together. Or to possibly attempt to build a bridge together...
  • Etc
Whatever more imaginative thing you do, it will doubtlessly be better than the old "you all meet in a tavern" cliché.

The Superboss in Dungeons and Dragons

A Boss with his Nightmare steed.
First lets start with a few definitions so you know what the difference is between a Boss and a Superboss, within the context of Dungeons and Dragons.

The Boss - A big bad monster or person that is central to the plot of a D&D game. They are typically scaled to a level or HD appropriate to the levels of the group of adventurers. Completing the adventure usually requires that you defeat the Boss in what is typically called a "Boss Fight".

eg. Strahd, Zuggtmoy, Acerarak, Vecna, etc are all bosses because they are integral to the plot.

The Superboss - An optional monster or person who is so powerful they make the regular Boss look weak in comparison, but the good news is that the Superboss is completely optional and is not integral to the plot. Superbosses are also typically insanely powerful, with the ability to one-shot a character or temporarily disable them, tonnes of hit points, and PCs really need to be on their toes to defeat one.

Note - Superbosses are not just found in D&D. You can also frequently find them in video games. Including D&D-based video games.

A Few Examples

#1. The Mummy in The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar.

So the original module HHoE is appropriate for levels 1 to 5 and contains a wide variety of monsters to fight, and half the dungeon is left blank for the DM to add whatever they want in there - typically monsters and traps which are level appropriate.

The Mummy however is ridiculously powerful in comparison to the standard fare for the dungeon. It is possible to defeat the mummy, but the party should be fully rested and come prepared for a serious fight. The Mummy is also infamous within the game as many games have ended in a party wipe, wherein the Mummy kills everyone. Hence the infamy. This is why the Mummy is a Superboss. You aren't actually meant to fight it, but if you do then you had better be prepared.

Worse, when the Mummy does appear the PCs can often be caught off guard, so it is often like you were basically ambushed by the dang thing.

#2. Flamewing in The Tower of Doom.

So Tower of Doom is an old D&D-based arcade game set in Mystara, but Flamewing is an excellent example of an optional superboss. Your main goal in the game is to defeat an Archlich named Deimos and his three lieutenants, which include a troll, a black dragon and a shadow elf.

Flamewing is the quintessential "bonus dragon" in the dungeon. They basically added it to the game because it was Dungeons and DRAGONS and they figured there needed to be at least one huge dragon in the game because the smaller dragon wasn't really much of a challenge.

In the game Flamewing has the ability to munch on characters and knock them to the ground, temporarily disabling them. Later Flamewing drops rocks on the PCs, and since this is an arcade game you are expected to insert coins if you want to revive your character. Thus Flamewing is a Superboss basically designed to suck money out of you by killing the PCs again and again. You can watch gameplay in the video below:

Did you count the number of times they died before they finally defeated Flamewing? I did not, but it was a good number of coins.

#3. The Balrog.

Okay, so it isn't a Dungeons and Dragons example, but consider the situation in the Fellowship of the Ring. They don't need to fight the Balrog. Indeed, they run away from it and only Gandalf dares to stand his ground. The goblins run away from it too. The Balrog is essentially an optional Superboss and is not important to the overall story of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf could have just as easily fallen in a chasm and showed up in the second book anyway, but Tolkien clearly thought a fight between the Balrog and Gandalf would be more interesting. Which it is.

But should you use a Superboss in such a manner in a D&D game, just for a minor point in the plot so you can shift the too powerful NPC wizard out of the picture? Probably not. Or maybe it is the only solution you can think of.

So what makes for a good Superboss?

Right from the beginning it should be pretty clear that the Superboss is optional. The PCs should be given a clear method of escape to avoid the fight if they wish to, even if ambushed. If not an ambush, the Superboss should be located in part of the dungeon/wilderness that is unnecessary to explore as part of the plot. The local goblins or whatever might even have warning signs indicating that the Superboss is in that direction. Skulls on pikes. Old dried blood and lots of it. The PCs exploring in that direction should have clear warnings that danger is ahead.

Warning or no warning? There are pros and cons to this. If the PCs go to a swamp said to be the home of a huge green dragon, the locals should probably warn them to stay away. The PCs are like "Oh, we are only going to slay the ogre. We will stay away from the dragon, don't worry!" Alternatively, going to an ancient fortress to slay an ogre and not knowing there is a dragon there makes for a nice ambush. The PCs won't be expecting it when it happens.

Side Note - What if the ogre is kicking the party's butt, they are all about to die, and suddenly the dragon shows up and eats the ogre - and captures the party for snacks later on. So then the party has to choose, just escape... or escape and try to kill the dragon? The ogre is dead after all. Killing the dragon is optional.

Whatever the boss is, the Superboss should be roughly twice as hard to defeat. Or possibly harder. Now that doesn't mean it should have double the hit points and deal double damage, that would technically be 4 times harder to defeat. Also note that this could still mean that the Superboss might still be vulnerable to instant kill spells...

Thus a Superboss should be immune to various types of spells that kill instantly. So spell immunity to a wide variety of such spells, including spells like Polymorph. Many types of dragons, demons and undead fall into these categories and thus make a good potential Superboss.

The Superboss should be resistant to both combat damage and magical damage. Magic Resistance is a given.

Multiple different types of deadly attacks. Think outside the box for this one. True, the listing in the Monster Manual lists the normal attacks for that monster, but what if the Superboss has come up with some unique attacks they can do using their surroundings or perhaps unusual spells it created?

Multiple attacks per round. So for example a dragon might do claw, claw, bite, breath weapon, an innate spell at will, and a tail attack all in one round. Some players might call foul on this. Especially if the dragon casts Haste.

No underlings. A Superboss shouldn't need underlings to fight for it. A normal Boss fight should have underlings, but a Superboss should never have them for they are merely a distraction from the main fight. So for example a Boss could have a mount, such as a Nightmare to ride (see image way at the top), but a Superboss wouldn't need a mount because they can just fly or teleport.

The Superboss might know when to leave in a hurry. You don't get to become a Superboss in the first place by taking silly risks around adventurers. A smart Superboss should know when to cut their losses and teleport out of there. Or maybe they are so close to winning they decide to take the risk. Or maybe they have a phylactery hidden somewhere and the dragon is actually a dracolich, in which case now is a good time for the DM to practice their evil laughter...


One last thing. A DM should never apologize for having a Superboss in their dungeon. It is optional after all and the PCs should never feel obligated to fight it (not even the Lawful Stupid PCs should feel obligated). The Superboss is there to remind PCs that there are things that are too big for them to take on, and that caution / running away is always an option. If they don't heed the warnings, that is not your fault.

The Superboss doesn't need a steed.

Publishing a fantasy book? Make sure you get a professional fantasy book editor.

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