The Caves of Drachenfels, a 3-4hr dungeon crawl adventure.

So today I ran my party through the upper levels of the caves beneath the castle of Drachenfels.
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I will present this in a few parts.

Edit: One thing which I chose to do, to keep up the tension in the cave exploration was to go through the adventure using non linear narrative. So, I opened with them debriefing the Burggraf on what happened and would cut back and forth to the room where they explained what they did. It allowed me to do time skips, as well as just asking the players "So how did you cross the chasm?". Obviously, this is something to discuss with players in advance, so that they know what is happening and that they buy into the assumptions necessary for the non-linear nature of the storytelling.

Part 1: The people and monsters

The castle

The lord of the castle is the Burggraf: Gottfried “the old” von Drachenfels (born 1151, count since 1176, 71 years old but in great health when characters meet him, dies in 1225) then his son Heinrich von Drachenfels. He bought the castle from Philip I.

. Likes to hunt, had some military success serving under six different Archbishops.

He supports the Welf over the Staufen, and has taken part in several battles: the battle of Whitsuntide against Barbarossa (won), Wassenberg (defeated, 1206) and fought the armies of the dukes of Kleves and Limburg from 1217-1220. Was in charge of the defence of Bonn while one Archbishop was in Rome and again when Engelbert went to fight the Albigensian crusade.

He’ll mentioning knowing personally the previous Count Diedrich of Kleves (which he used to call young Diedrich), "who helped found the Teutonic Order and died on Crusade in Acre as I heard it”.

The Burggraf and his descendants have the Unaging virtue, depending on the ST's wishes he may have made a deal with the Dragons in the caves. His father was Rudolf II knight von Wolkenburg and grandfather Rudolph I von Wolkenburg took charge of it's defence in 1125. The Wolkenburg is smaller than Drachenfels and is now just an outpost.

List of Burggrafen:

1151-1176-1225† Godart von Drachenfels, he has a full head of hair and short pointed grey Van-Dyke goatee and extremely piercing eyes. He is extremely sharp and smiles like a predator, wears fine hunting clothes, fiddles with a beautiful dagger while he talks. He is inquisitive, commanding and aggressive in his thinking. He respects courage, fortitude and bearing wounds stoically (having done so himself in battle).

1177-1225-1258† Heinrich von Drachenfels, Mid-late forties dark hair, looks strong, driven. He looks a lot like his father, dresses well in fashionable clothes in the colour of his house. He has a short-trimmed beard and a bowl haircut. He looks very healthy and energetic. Has a single sword slash scar on his left cheek, that healed well.

1205-1258-1280† Gottfried von Drachenfels, late teen, looks like his ancestors, awkward, world’s worst moustache. He is an awkward teen, but inquisitive and will bombard the party with questions about magic should they reveal themselves to be wizards.

Regin and his brood

After Siegfried killed Fafnir, he became aware of Regin's plan for betrayal and struck him. However Regin did not die but was mortally wounded by Notung. The blade of Notung broke on the Tarnhelm that Regin had already put on. He used the Tarnhelm to take the form of a dragon, like his brother before him, which merely holds the wound stable (effect as per binding wounds) and the rest of his clan gradually turned into draconids. He is stuck in pain forever bleeding (explains flooded corridor, see later) and breathing out poisoned gas (explains gassed corridor, again, see later). He is tended by a flock of his fellow dwarves whohave by now turned into draconid monsters.

Draconid brood member

These draconids run on two stubby legs, balancing their long snake like body back and forth as they go. Their heads are akin to a spiny snake’s, end in a triangular horned beak. A double spiny ridge runs from their forehead all along their body down to the tail.(effectively small lindwords, use the stats of Varkos, the fire Drake, RoP:M p75)

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Part 2: The dungeon itself

The Caves of Drachenfels:
The players can simply see the cliff under the castle (see picture in first post), partway up, there is a cave going into the cliff and a magic aura can be detected (one of the PCs in my game has InVi, which makes plot hooks easier to sow)

The cave can be entered from two places: either the cliff side (easier if they can levitate/fly) or through the castle's catacombs (the Burggraf knows that the crypt has a false sarcophagus which leads to the depths).

Map
Entry/exit points

  1. The castle, access via the catacombs
  2. The blood pool, dead end for now, will lead to level 2
  3. Very poisonous gas, dead end for now, will lead to level 2
  4. The cliff face, need flight to access

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Obstacles/Rooms

a. Castle catacombs
b. Empty caves, walls carved out of the rock at normal height.
c. a chasm with a few human skeletons, wearing rusted away gear on both sides. Roll to figure out that there was once a bridge (almost nothing left of it).
Could be crossed with a sponted CrTe once they get enough light to see the other side
d. Empty corridors with dwarven skeletons
e. a room with unbreathable air, can be solved by sponting CrAu
f. T junction with more poisoned room:
Another room where the gas is much worse and seems to have etched into the walls Using CrAu will lead to the gas blowing slowly back towards the party. Leads to Level 2.
g. T junction, dragons path / castle / cliff
h. An abandoned smithy, things have rusted heavily. A cracked anvil. The place seems to have burned and the walls are covered in soot as are most surfaces.
i. T junction with blood pool blocking:
Dead end with massive pool of what seems like blood flooding (it should be warm and acidic to the touch like vinegar). Leads to Level 2.
j. they have to navigate between the stalagmites, there are puddles of water, some deeper than others, the ceiling is lowish due to stalactites poking down, forcing them to walk hunched. No real risk of injury if going slowly, but will get people wet and a bit on edge.
k. Caves with claw marks on the floor and lower walls
l. Cliff entrance.

The deeper into the cave they go, the weirder things should be. The catacomb/crypt entrance is merely an empty sarcophagus with a stairway that leads to a 10x10 foot room (Magic aura 1) with a stout old oak door at the end. The rest of the caves are Magic Aura 3. Between the catacombs and the chasm, a couple of human skeletons with rusted apart gear are on the floor. The deeper they go, the less human the skeletons get and the less gear they have, by the dragon path, it should be just strewn animal-like bones with spines and maybe a vestigial wing?

Dragon path

a. More corridors snaking into the depth, weird animal skeletons, spiny and seeming to have misshappen wings?
b. Reach area with weird smell and noise from activity
c. Regin has been mortally wounded by is unable to die, his brood tends to him
d. Chased by dragons

A large warm and illuminated cavern has 50 or so draconids and the large dragon Regin. The party can see them if they are stealthy. Once noticed, Regin will tell his brood in Proto-Germanic (Roll Int+High or Low german or West Germanic at -3 to understand) to get the party (plenty of opportunities to collapse tunnels as obstacles to buy themselves time). The Draconids will fire weak fire balls at the party, but it's more to keep them on their toes (PEN 10, stress die+5 dam). This should lead to a climactic escape either at the chasm or at the cave mouth.

If they (re-)enter the castle through the catacombs, the noise and mess in the caves should have woken the inhabitants and the party can have a debrief with the Burggraf.

Even if the party gets injured, Garrinchus ex Misc lives in Cologne and is a CrCo mage, taught by a famous physick.

Room decoration

Human skeletons close to the catacomb entrance point.
Dwarven skeletons deeper in.
Weird spiny maybe animal skeletons even deeper.
Claw marks in walls.
Walls carved either by pick or etched with acid.

Rewards

  • The fragments of Notung (ᚾᛟᛏᚢᚾᚷ), contains 4 pawns of Pe Vis in the hilt:
    “two halves of a beautiful sword, broken down the centre, it is beautiful handwork though the iron has been damaged by the years, you see some carving close to the break which look vaguely like ᚢ, ᛟ and ᛏ” (after a day's work in a smithy, the full runes and craftsmanship can be revealed, Verditius Lore to recognise that the Runes are effectively Elder Futhark). If there is a verditius in the party, reforging Notung can be a long term goal (cf Siegfrid in Wagner's Opera by the same name).
  • Silver dwarven things, to be found. The graf will take a share if the party mention it
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I deliberately set up this dungeon to be one that the party might come visit again as a long term goal. Level 2 is specifically set up so that they might come back a second time once they get better at Aq or Au (or Pe/ReTe). I have not yet planned this level 2.

A (wounded) dragon can also make for an interesting boss for the players to kill as the culmination of a story arc, and once they made it out of the caves, they were frantically planning for ways they could kill/neutralise it.

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very interesting stuff. Once again kudos for taking the time to describe the adventures that you send your players out on.

Good idea to set the dungeon up for later re-exploration. That way it is important for your players to create and maintain good relations with the Drachenfels. It also gives you the opportunity to place powerful rewards in the dungeon without giving them to the players right away.

This time I have some questions regarding the storyguide decisions that you made and how you are planning to take this in the future.

If memory serves me (and it might not, I have not read the story of sigurd(siegfried) & fafnir since I was a kid, and even then in a modern danish retelling) the dragons I remember from the story spewed acidic venom and not fire, which seems also to be the case for Regin, is there a reason why you chose to have the lesser dragons spew fire?

Next up have you considered the magical properties of Regins blood? again if memory serves me Siegfried was made impervious to weapons by bathing in Fafnirs blood, if I was a player in your saga and realized that there was a connection between Fafnir and the dragon here (likely given the location) then I would investigate the blood and perhaps even jump in to see what effects it might have, definitely bring home a sample. Have you considered what properties the blood might have?

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I am happy to put my reasoning "on paper"

This is what I had in mind, also it gives the Verditius a clear long term goal: reforging Notung, and the gung-hoe mage in the party to kill the dragon with the sword (he took both affinity and puissant single weapon). And it gives the party as a whole clear problems to work towards and solve magically: how to get around the "dead end" obstacles. I am lucky to have a very good ST in the game that we play, and he made a similar dungeon (an abandoned, trapped Covenant) that we would revisit from time to time as we boosted our defences and firepower.

Also, if the game is to come to an early end, I have set up a "final boss" early on that they can kill as a climactic saga end.

The big dragon (Regin) did not spew anything in front of the players, they all rolled poorly on their Per+Awarness roll, so I did not give too much detail. The Dragon is wounded and doesn't move much, I chose to keep to the "poison dragon" trope by having him be the actual source of the poisonous fumes (which filter into the upper gas filled caves).

I chose to have the lesser ones shoot fire for several reasons:

  1. Visual: the small draconids had a bit of fire in their beaks which gives off light in the rooms, it also makes it immediately obvious what danger they might pose. Also, fire-breathing dragons is just part of our mental image, even though there are others (the Gargouille of Rouen breathing out malaria etc)

  2. The draconid in the book is stated up to have fire, so this was less work for me as an ST.

  3. Meta: the party has a Ig/Te elementalist. This was the opportunity for him to look awesome by just ignoring the fireballs (they only have Pen 10), and since I suspected that they would try to run back to the chasm, he'd be the one to CrTe a bridge across. So if he went for conc. duration (which he did), I did not want to take him out and TPK the party.

One of the players dipped his finger in it, but seeing as it felt warm and slightly burning (I described the sensation as thick vinegar) he quickly wiped his finger and washed it with a bit of beer (he had a skin of it). Had he declared that he'd taste it, I'd have had to come up with something. Since they went through the dungeon with the "Eyes of the Cat", I gave them all the descriptions as greyscale, so they did not realise that it was dragon blood, but rather they assumed it was a mineral acid.

They rolled meh on the faerie lore and none of them have magic lore (which I decided would be the ability that covers Magic dragons). Since the character who rolled faerie lore was specifically asking about dwarves, I told him a confused dwarf centric version of the events. Later, they went to Koln and met Wilhelm Weiss, and one mage having indiscreet, they immediately told the whole story. So through him they found out, after escaping, that they had explored Fafnir's cave.

They currently think that they saw Fafnir, but since the Niebelungenlied is a myth, there are different versions and they have gotten snippets from different people, just to make them unsure of the truth of the matter (for now).

Also, the elementalist in the party is a smith Verditius, so he is focussed on finding more information on the broken sword Notung. Since Weiss is not an expert on the topic, what they have been told is that the sword was made by Wotan or by the hero Siegfried, or maybe reforged by the Hero. I made sure to describe it as very old and of excellent make.

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