Once Upon a Delve

I could wax lyrical about the delve format of adventure design. I could talk about its use as a three-act play with exposition, obstacle and climax forming a framework for a tightly packed single session. I could talk about how it makes Games Masters of all of us where even the laziest player in your group can throw together an easy to run session packed with adventure and role-playing potential.

I could do all that. But I’m not going to. I’ll show you instead.

In a few weeks’ time I’m going to be running a session where we are down one player, but gaining a new one at the same time as one of our old buddies is paying us a visit. I don’t want to derail our current campaign, so a one-shot adventure would be perfect. I also want it pretty light hearted as there’s going to be plenty of beer and catch-up chatter at the table at the same time.

Last night, it came to me: fairy tales. They’re packed full of tropes and familiar figures, and perfect fodder for a D&D session. One quick trip to the Monster Manual, and the game is ready in under 30 minutes. Job done.

Once Upon a Delve
An adventure for five 7th level heroes

Introduction
Our heroes are watering their horses by a lakeside and resting up in preparation for another days’ travel when they catch sight of the moon’s reflection in the still waters. The face of the reflected moon turns into an image of a beautiful pale-skinned woman who smiles at them silently then vanishes as ripples cross the reflection.

When the PCs look up the world seems different somehow. Dawn is breaking and vibrant birdsong fills the air. The grass and leaves appear more verdant, and the air feels much cleaner and fresher, filling them with renewed vigour for their journey ahead.

 

Encounter 1: The Three Little Pigs (XP 1550)
As they make their way in the early morning mist, they come to a crossroads around which stands three buildings. The largest is a brick-built house, opposite which stands a wooden cottage and another with a straw thatched roof. Roaming around the houses is a single Werewolf, clearly scaring the daylights out of the occupants within if the squeals the PCs hear are anything to go by.

At the sight of the PCs, the werewolf turns and attacks. When bloodied he turns into Wolf form (a Minor Action) then flees with a with a double Move run (20 squares, but grants Combat Advantage).

When (and if) the Werewolf escapes, the doors to the houses fling open and a pig-nosed Orc storms out of each one. The one from the brick house shouts "You! You brought the wolf to us! Strangers!" then spits on the ground, and charges before the PCs have chance to protest their innocence. The other two follow their leader, and attack.

  • Werewolf, Level 8 Brute (XP 350)
  • 3 "Little Pigs", Orc Bloodragers, Level 7 Elite Brute (XP 600 ea)

Terrain: Both the thatched and wooden cottages have roofs low enough to climb on with a DC 16 Athletics check, though it takes another DC16 Athletics check each round to avoid falling through the one with the thatched roof (1d10 damage + embarrassment).

Outcome: When the first Orc dies, or all three are Bloodied, one Orc shouts "Yield!" and drops his axe on the ground. He speaks, interspersed with grunts.

"Yeh fight well fer Strangers. Mebbe yer can ‘elp instead of spillin’ our blood some more. Blasted Werewolves turn up every month wi’ the Full Moon, regl’ar as clockwork. Kill that one ‘n’ see if you can stop it fer good, an’ I’m guessing you’ll find your way back to where you want to be. What you say, Strangers?"

He holds out a meaty hand, offering to shake on it.

Major Quest: Defeat the Werewolf, end the curse, and find a way home. XP 1500 total (XP 500 for each completed objective)

Skill Challenge (XP 300)
Tracking a bleeding Werewolf isn’t hard (4 successes before 3 fails).

Suggested skills and examples: Nature (knowledge about where an injured Werewolf is likely to go, DC23), Perception (follow tracks and blood trail, DC16), Stealth (avoid giving away your approach, DC16), Diplomacy (find out more about the surrounding land from the Orcs, DC11), Athletics (help the others cross a fast flowing stream, DC16), etc.

As ever, player ingenuity is rewarded with a +2 bonus on Skill checks.

Failure: The heroes hear a howl not too far away and the werewolf has had time to recover before the next encounter.

 

Encounter 2: Red Riding Hood (XP 1550)
The trail rises then suddenly crests to a steep and muddy drop. Athletics DC16 to avoid sliding ass-first downwards! If any of the PCs fall, they land at the black stocking’d legs of a strikingly pale-skinned woman wearing a red hooded cloak. They are in a clearing surrounded by woodland with a small pool and a rough-looking cottage to one side. The werewolf is cowering by the water’s edge.

"So you are the ones chasing my quarry, are you?", she gives a smile with her blood-red lips, "then I guess that makes you part of the hunt. Boys, we have new targets to hunt today!"

At her words, four brawny lumberman step out of the forest, each armed with a long-handled axe. The cottage door opens and out steps four more followed by an old crone of a women. There’s a definite family resemblance between the aged hag and the red-cloaked woman.

  • "Red Riding Hood", Shadar-Kai Witch, Level 7 Controller (XP 300)
  • 8 Lumberjacks, Human Lackeys with Axes, Level 7 Minions (XP 75 ea)
  • "Granny", Howling Hag, Level 7 Controller (XP 300)
  • Werewolf, Level 8 Brute (XP 350 – currently at 3/4HP, or full HP if the PCs failed the Skill Challenge)

This is a tough encounter with two Controllers in charge of two groups of Minions. The Werewolf will fight anyone who comes close meaning cunning players can push the Lumberjacks toward him and let him chew them up. Nice.

If Granny falls, Red Riding Hood gains an Action Point and fights with renewed fervour, attacking the PC who struck her down in preference to any other foe.

If Red Riding Hood falls, Granny just cackles. She’s like that.

Terrain: The forest can provide some degree of cover, though it is at least 6 squares away from the PC’s starting position. The pool is lightly enchanted (provides +1d6 HP if a Healing Surge is spent while drinking from it).

Outcome: The Werewolf lays on the ground, barely breathing. Slowly he changes back to human form and the PCs recognise his tattered clothing as coming from their home region! Clearly, he too was a Stranger here, trapped by his curse. With his last breath he points to a cave at the end of the pool.

"Kill her, kill her and end the curse. Please, before she traps you too. Beware the dwarfs!……….."

With that, he dies.

 

Encounter 3: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (XP 2,350)

The journey through the cave is uneventful, and the trail opens at the other side of the hill. The heroes see an idyllic setting with a beautifully maintained cottage with dwarf-sized washing on the line and a perfect little vegetable garden to the side. Close by is an open mineshaft from which come the echoing reverberations of metal striking stone. As the PCs draw close they hear a woman singing from inside the cottage in time to the blows.

  • "Snow White", Eladrin Twilight Incanter, Level 8 Controller (XP 350)
  • "Bashful, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy", Derro Vocalist, Level 5 Artillery (XP 200 ea)
  • "Dopey and Grumpy", Derro Madguard, Level 5 Elite Soldier (XP 400 ea)
  • "Doc", Derro Venomblade, Level 9 Skirmisher, (XP 400 ea)

For the Derro stats, see here.

Snow White rules this little patch of Faerie with an iron hand, and amuses herself by (among other things) capturing Strangers who are drawn into the realms and using her magic to transform them into all manner of foul beasts. The unfortunate Werewolf was just the latest, of many.

The Derro are utterly loyal to Snow White and come running from the mineshaft at the first sound of trouble. Bashful, Happy, Sleepy and Sneezy arrive in Round Two. Dopey and Grumpy turn up in Round Three and Doc finally makes a huffing appearance (he was deepest in the mine) in Round Four.

Terrain: Watch out for that Washing Line! It’s a Snare Trap (use the Daggerthorn Briar, DMG 90) which takes up a 2×5 space and whips around the neck and body of anyone who isn’t Snow White. She put it there to stop the Derro from stealing and hiding her underwear. Perverts.

Treasure: Along with the gold mined by the Derro, Snow White has hoarded many trinkets over time. Inside chests in her bedroom are items worth a total of 1,500gp, gold ore worth 400gp and one Level 9 magic item of the PC’s choosing.

Outcome: Inside the cottage is a large magic mirror shaped like the full moon. Step through that, and the heroes may leave this Faerie realm.

For now, at least.

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9 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    That’s funny stuff. Very clever.

  2. Elton says:

    A werewolf is a brute? I tend to think of them as psychopaths.

  3. Oh, I like this, lots of flavor and fun, and I even approve of the Skill Challenge. Nice work.

  4. Oz says:

    Very well done. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Xarathos says:

    I think this may be the best version of those fairy tales ever.

    Of all time. :D

    I really have to use this idea at some point. . . it’s just too perfect not to.

  6. Cool. This reminds me of the old D&D modules EX1 & EX2, based on _Alice in Wonderland_ and _Through the Looking Glass_, where all the characters were turned into deadly monsters. It’s occasionally fun to give the players something familiar, yet not quite, to deal with.
    http://www.wizards.com/dnd/article.asp?x=dnd/dx20020121x8

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  1. December 3, 2010

    […] Over in the Dungeon 185 Editorial, Steve Winter talks about Dramatic Structure and how it applies to scenario design, but he misses the opportunity to tie the Three Act Play to good Delve design. At the risk of blowing my own horn too much, this is something I’ve already written about and demonstrated with Once Upon a Delve.  […]

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