Posts Tagged ‘dragon’


Last week, I wrote about my desire to create more undead of varying challenge ratings. I need a ton of these rotting beasties for my world of Enora. Up next are skeletal dragons!

By the way, if you like these baddies, you might enjoy my zombie dragons available on the DMs Guild in the pay-what-you-want product Arachnids, Wraiths, and Zombies.

Dragon Skeletons

Animating the bones of a dragon is no small feat. A huge infusion of dark magic must be brought to bear to make the skeleton of an ancient wyrm rise. Even more power is required to maintain control over the bones. While such beasts are most often created by intentional rituals, if a dragon’s grave is desecrated, over the course of a century or more dark magic can seep into the bones. This causes the skeleton to rise and wreak havoc on the world of living for no reason other than it was not allowed to rest.

Not Your Average Skeleton. Dragon skeletons are more mentally capable than their boney counterparts. They can think critically and improvise. These undead sometimes lead other minions as a result.

Undead Nature. A dragon skeleton doesn’t require air, food, drink, or sleep.

Want the Stats?

Here you go. I put them into a nice little PDF for you:

Skeletal Dragons

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I sit down with Allison Rossi, Rudy Basso, and Round Table newbie Patrick Dennis to discuss the official Curse of Strahd announcement. Then it’s a bonus panel with Liz TheisRich HowardDave Gibson, and Topher Kohan dishing on the free Adventurers League adventure The Occupation of Szith Morcane available through Dragon+ and on the DMs Guild. Then it’s an interview with designers Gregory Schulze and Stone Lovecharm of Creepy Assassin about their new RPG StoryCube. This podcast was recorded on January 12 and 22, 2016.


This weekend was nuts! First I spent a lot of time recording interviews and preparing for the Round Table‘s OGL, SRD, DMs Guild, Strahd Spectacular. If you haven’t listened to it yet, check that podcast out. It’s the largest Round Table ever recorded, clocking in at just over two hours with ten guests commenting on the biggest fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons news since this iteration’s launch.

When I wasn’t working on that, I spent my time turning my fifth edition archons and catastrophic dragons into PDFs for the DMs Guild. The Archons PDF provides the lantern, hound, and trumpet varieties of the titular creature while Catastrophic Dragons converts the blizzard, earthquake, tornado, typhoon, and volcanic dragons from fourth edition D&D at every age category. That’s 20 shiny stat blocks in one PDF! If you download the PDFs please leave a rating and/or review and let me know what you think. To be honest at the moment a rating is probably more valuable to me than paying for the PDF.

As part of the terms of service, those monsters can no longer live on this site but I classified them as Pay What You Want PDFs. You can still grab them for free anytime. If you want to preview the story of those creatures before downloading, checkout their World Builder Blog entries: archon and catastrophic dragons. The PDFs are pretty nice and filled with DMs-Guild-provided and Public Domain art!

It took me a long time to get the layout for these PDFs correct. Thank goodness yesterday was a holiday or they might not have posted by today. I was using Word (rookie move, I know) and so it was a learning experience. I have plans for one more PDF going up on the DMs Guild by Thursday and then it’s back to the races of creating the Exploration Age campaign guide and providing DM tips.

If you’re looking for the products I post on the DMs Guild, there’s a few ways to find me. First I’ll put “World Builder Blog,” in all of the titles so you can search for that. Second you can find one of my products and then click my name at right under “Author” under “Product Information” to get a master list of my products. Finally to keep things simple, I will link any PDFs I post on the DMs Guild to the Free Game Resources section of this site.

That’s it for todays update. I know it’s short, but laying out and editing those PDFs and preparing the massive podcast took pretty much all my free time. Thanks so much and please check out the PDFs.


Archons on DMs Guild

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my products on the DMs Guild and podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

So I’ve been on vacation so I don’t have much new to share in today’s post.

Instead I’m giving you a new version of the Prison for Dragons adventure. I’ve had a lot of folks downloading and checking out the adventure and got some great feedback from folks. I’ve really changed two things…

  1. I’ve added some space between the columns so the words don’t run together.
  2. Someone on the EN World forums pointed out there might be a copyright issue with a specific term for undead dragons (it rhymes with “lacodrich”) which I have now changed to “undead dragon mage.”

Prison for Dragons is a fifth edition adventure for four to six level 12 PCs.

Below is a link to the updated version of the adventure in a nice, downloadable, FREE PDF. You can grab it in the link below or you can head on over to the Free Game Resources section of the site where it will live forever alongside plenty of other resources for your game like monstersD&D fifth edition rules modules, backgroundsspells, magic items, and more.

Prison for Dragons


I’ve got more links below of the individual dungeon maps, both with and without grids, for you to use however you like. Personally, I’ll be bringing them right into Roll20 as I play through with my group.

All these maps were made using Pyromancers‘ Dungeon Painter tool. I love it! So fast, easy, web-based and free!

All of these maps also live on the Free Game Resources section of this site.


Shuzal 1 No Grid 57x66 Shuzal 3 No Grid 100x100 Shuzal 2 No Grid 131x63 Shuzal 4 No Grid 102x100


Shuzal 1 Grid 57x66 Shuzal 3 Grid 100x100 Shuzal 2 Grid 131x63 Shuzal 4 Grid 102x100

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I sit down with Joe Lastowski, Andrew Kane, and Vegas Lancaster to discuss the newly launched Dragon+ app and the results of the second D&D 5th Edition survey. This podcast was recorded on May 21, 2015.

Please rate and review us on iTunes, it helps a boat load!


If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s time for part six of the prison for dragons series! If you’ve been following these posts than you know that the dungeon I’m building in each entry is inspired by this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme, “Unusual Dungeons,” which was chosen by Nils Jeppe of Enderra.

The dungeon I’m creating is a prison made to hold dragons built by aberrations. Here’s all the blog posts I’ve written about the subject so far.

  • Part I – A general overview of dragon prisons
  • Part II – The historical background and character hooks of a specific dragon prison, Shuzal
  • Part III – A description of the area surrounding Shuzal and a table of random encounters
  • Part IV – The surface level of Shuzal’s ruined entrance citadel
  • Part V – The lower level of Shuzal’s ruined entrance citadel

So now it’s time to tackle Part VI – The upper level of Shuzal.

The Upper Level of Shuzal

Shuzal 5

In the demiplane where Shuzal is found everything was engineered toward keeping dragons in their cells. The aberrations didn’t count on losing the war and they certainly didn’t count on a tiefling necromancer turning one of the prisoners into a dracolich. Now that necromancer, Akros Sepora, rules the surface level of Shuzal and is building an army of undead ogres to destroy her old home, the Amber Spire.

One of Sepora’s soldiers, a vampire ogre named Sveja the Crow, was created only a month before. Sepora created the intelligent undead as an experiment to see if she could control captains who could command her undead armies in battle. Sveja despises Sepora, but is bound to do her bidding, which includes making forays back into the entrance citadel’s catacombs to murder her Ox Tribe friends and family to add undead to Sepora’s army. Sveja is looking for a way to break her thrall and the PCs could be just the solution she needs.

Features of the Area

Illumination. The sky of the demiplane shines a red light through thick, impenetrable clouds and braziers burn bright in the guardhouse. The entirety of Shuzal’s upper level is bathed in bright light.

Ageless. While on the demiplane creatures do not age and require no food or water to survive.

Braziers. The braziers in Shuzal are powered by the aberrant magic of the prison and never go out. A creature who moves into or starts its turn in the same space as the brazier takes 5 (1d10) fire damage.

Finite Demiplane. The edges of the map are impenetrable walls of reality. This demiplane is finite and creatures can travel no further than the walls. The cloud layer of the plane sits at 100 feet above the ground and this too cannot be pierced in any way. A creature burrowing into the ground finds it cannot dig further than 100 feet for that is the bottom of the plane.

Limited Flight. Creatures who can fly who are not aberrations or constructs cannot fly higher than 20 feet above the ground. The strange gravity of the aberrant magic holds them close to the ground.

Psychic Moat. The moat around Shuzal is a torrent of crackling psychic liquid. If a creature falls into the moat, its senses are completely assaulted and overwhelmed. That creature must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw. Creatures who fail take 55 (10d10) psychic damage and contract a random form of short term madness. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not stricken with madness.

Towers. The towers of Shuzal are solid adamantine pillars with arcane cannons on top. The helmed horrors in Shuzal know how to operate the cannons.

Walls. The walls of Shuzal rise 50 feet into the sky and dive 100 feet below the ground to the bottom of the demiplane. The walls, gates, and doors of every structure here are adamantine (AC 23, HP 300, damage threshold 50). The walls are perfectly smooth and trying to scale them without a rope requires a DC 20 Strength (Athletics) check.

Arcane Cannon

Large object

Armor Class: 20

Hit Points: 100

Damage Immunities: poison, psychic

Special alchemical canisters are loaded into the muzzle of these magically reinforced cannons. The gems along the barrel of the cannon can be charged with magical energy which is used to propel and explode the canister.

An arcane cannon is supported in a metal frame fixed to the top of the towers. Before it can be fired the cannon must be loaded and aimed. It takes one action to load the weapon, one action to aim it, and one action to fire it. The weapon must be fired by a spellcaster or helmed horror, who feeds an amount of magical energy akin to casting a cantrip into the cannon.

Force Canister. Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, range 800/3,200 ft., one target. Hit: 55 (10d10) force damage.

Frost Canister. The frost canister can be shot 800 feet. It explodes in a 30-foot-radius sphere on impact. Creatures within the area must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) cold damage and have their speed reduced by 10 feet for one minute. Creatures who succeed take half damage and do not have their speed reduced. A creature whose speed is reduced in this way may repeat the saving throw at the end of its turn, ending the reduced speed effect on a success.

Lightning Canister. The lighting canister can be shot 800 feet. It explodes in a 20-foot-radius sphere. Creatures in the area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. Creatures who fail take 33 (6d10) lightning damage. Creatures who succeed take half damage.

C1 – The Portal

A sky and wall made of red clouds crackling with energy encloses the area you have just entered as you climb through the well. Across a river of bubbling blue energy looms an enormous black structure, the prison of Shuzal. High walls enclosing something long forgotten, but still active.

Normally an alarm would go off in area C9 when the portal is activated, but since Sveja the Crow is watching the monolith which controls the prison. She immediately quiets the alarm and watches the adventurers, using the monolith’s magic. She wants to gauge their strength and hopes they will free her from Sepora’s thrall.

Random Encounters. As the PCs spend time trying to figure out how to enter Shuzal, they may run into some of the denizens of the upper level of the demiplane. Sepora isn’t expecting an invasion, but she knows her attacks on the Ox Tribe have begun to draw attention so she keeps patrols wandering the area.

For every ten minutes the PCs spend outside the walls of Shuzal roll on the table below to see if a random encounter occurs.

d10 Encounter
1 – 6 No encounter
7 Psychic moat tendril
8 1d6 + 5 ogre skeletons
9 1d6 + 5 ogre zombies
10 1d4 + 1 helmed horrors

Psychic Moat Tendril. Sepora has been tinkering with the aberrant magic of the demiplane and now the psychic moat sometimes experiences energy surges as a result. If you roll this result, the next time a PC comes within 30 feet of the moat, a tendril of psychic energy reaches out and attacks the PC with a +8 bonus to the attack roll. If the attack hits the PC takes 5 (1d10) psychic damage, is grappled (escape DC 15), and is pulled 10 feet toward the moat. The tendril remains attached to the PC and continues to pull it 10 feet at the end of each round. The tendril retreats back into the moat if the PC escapes or if it is dealt 50 damage. The tendril has AC 15 and is immune to poison and psychic damage.

Raise the Alarm. If the PCs encounter enemies, combat longer than 5 rounds attracts the eye of the four helmed horrors working the walls, who alert the rest of the complex by firing off the arcane cannons at the PCs.

C2 – The Gates of Shuzal

A massive adamantine drawbridge creates the front gate of Shuzal. Currently the door is drawn up and perfectly flush against Shuzal’s wall.

Four helmed horrors float along the tops of Shuzal’s walls, ready to raise an alarm by firing the arcane cannon if they notice any enemies with their passive Perception 14.

The monolith in area C9 controls the drawbridge. If the PCs cannot figure out a way to cross the moat or scale Shuzal’s walls, Sveja the Crow uses the monolith to lower the drawbridge, hoping they’ll storm the prison.

C3 – Shuzal’s Grounds

Inside the black walls of Shuzal, the first thing to draw your eye is a deep pit in the middle of the grounds shielded by a field of blue energy. Behind this pit lurk three dome-shaped buildings connected by adamantine-enclosed hallways. The middle building is the largest standing 40 feet high, while the two smaller buildings are only 20 feet in height and much smaller around.

Eight ogre skeletons and eight ogre zombies patrol the grounds within Shuzal’s walls. If they are aware of the PCs or if the four helmed horrors on the wall raise the alarm, the undead converge on the PCs and attack. If things seem to be going the PCs’ way, more reinforcements from area C5 come to take on the PCs.

If a battle breaks out, there is a 10% chance at the end of every round of combat that a helmed horror patrolling the grounds outside of Shuzal flies over the wall to join the fray. Sveja the Crow makes sure the drawbridge is raised once the PCs are inside to make sure skeletons and zombies in the outside of Shuzal do not have a way back in.

Facing the enemy directly is a deadly encounter for the PCs. Make sure they are aware of the risks before they rush headlong into the battle.

C4 – The Pit

The pit here drops 100 feet to area D1.

Energy Field. The energy field here is controlled by the monolith in area C9. Any non-dragon creature can pass through the field without a problem, but creatures of the dragon type are stopped in their tracks. For the purposes of this energy field, dragonborn count as humanoids and are unaffected by the field.

C5 – Welcome Chamber

This adamantine chamber is flickers with the light of braziers and is filled with undead.

The ceiling in this chamber rises 30 feet. Sepora cleared out all the furniture and decoration in this room and uses it to store reserve troops. Eight ogre skeletons and eight ogre zombies stay here. If a battle breaks out in the grounds and the PCs appear to have victory close at hand, four ogre skeletons and four ogre zombies exit this area to join the fray in area C3. Sepora always has some undead stay back to guard her.

C6 – Abandoned Construct Lab

A large pit toward the back of the room is the only feature of note here aside from the braziers.

Three ogre wraiths (same statistics as a normal wraith, but size is Large) float about this room. They are an angry experiment gone wrong, but Sepora has managed to use her magic to keep them confined to this room. They abhor all life, even Sepora, and will attack anything that lives.

This room was once a laboratory for building and repairing constructs, but Sepora used all its resources and needed the place to store undead soldiers (and then later a place to bind the wraiths). All of the furniture and tools from this room and area C5 have been broken up and placed into the pit.

Pit. The pit is 30 feet deep, but 20 feet of the pit is filled with broken pieces of furniture and tools. A creature who falls into the pit takes 3 (1d6) bludgeoning damage and 3 (1d6) piercing damage after landing prone.

Treasure. Searching the pit with a successful DC 20 Wisdom (Perception) check finds a diamond worth 5,000 gp. Sepora bound the wraiths to this diamond and they must remain within 30 feet of it at all times.

C7 – Meeting Room

The small room has a stone table set with plush chairs and a bubbling fountain shaped like a many-tentacled beast nearby.

This quiet room was a place for aberration guards to hold meetings or socialize while not on duty.

The Fountain. A creature who drinks from the fountain regains 19 (6d4 + 6) hit points. The creature can only regain hit points from the fountain in this way once per day.

C8 – Sepora’s Chambers

A purple bed at the back of the room, a pool of red water, a bookshelf, a table, two chairs, and a chest are all which can be seen in this room… oh, and a hulking construct made of stone and steel which runs at you.

Akros Sepora is in this chamber, but odds are by now she knows the PCs are headed her way. She quickly casts improved invisibility on herself and climbs the walls of the chamber using her rod of arachna. She then sends her shield guardian to attack the PCs as they enter the room.

If Sepora’s shield guardian dies and she drops to less than half her hit points she tries to negotiate with the PCs. She first offers them the location of the diamond in area C6, hoping the wraiths will tear them apart. If the PCs don’t go for this she tells them that Maxathaltros, a silver dragon held below, has a large treasure hoard which he will use to reward any person who frees him. She offers to help the PCs get to the lower level of Shuzal and hopes the dragons finish them off.

Bookshelf. Sepora’s bookshelf holds her spellbook which contains all the spells she has prepared as well as another 20 spells of your choice. Remember Akros specializes in necromancy.

Pool. The pool of red liquid here is contact poison which sprays in a 20-foot cone originating from the pool at the end of each round in a direction of Sepora’s choosing.

Creatures in the cone must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 11 (2d10) poison damage and are poisoned. Creatures who fail take half damage and are not poisoned.

Treasure. The adamantine chest (AC 23, HP 100) in this room is locked and requires a successful DC 20 Dexterity check made with thieves tools to pick the lock or a DC 22 Strength check to force the chest open. If an attempt to pick the lock fails or the chest is forced open, the poison mister trap activates (see below).

Inside the chest are two diamonds worth 1,000 gp each, some robes made for Sepora, a journal which details all of Sepora’s exploits against the Ox Tribe and hatred of the Amber Spire, and a wrist spider.

Sepora carries, a key to the chest, a rod of arachna, and the amulet used to control the shield guardian.

Poison Mister Trap. A nozzle connected to a vial of poison gas is hidden in the chest’s lock. When the trap is triggered the nozzle creates a 15-foot cone of gas originating from the lock. Creatures within the cone must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) poison damage and are poisoned for 1 hour. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not poisoned. A DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the nozzle and vial. A DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the nozzle and gas vial from the lock.

C9 – Monolith Room

As you enter this room a magic hum can be felt deep within your chest. A large ogre with glowing red eyes and sharp fangs bows as you enter the room, standing before a massive glowing pillar.

The Shuzal monolith in this room allows for monitoring and controlling various aspects of Shuzal. Sveja the Crow watches over the monolith by order of Sepora. Sveja was told by Sepora to guard the monolith and let no one touch it, so if the PCs attempt to use the device while Sepora is alive, Sveja must attack them.

Monolith. The Shuzal monolith is a magic item which can be attuned to up to three creatures at once. It is attuned to Sveja and Sepora at the start of the adventure. A creature must spend 1 hour with at least one hand or body part touching the monolith to become attuned to it.

While standing adjacent to the Shuzal monolith an attuned creature immediately knows if the portal into Shuzal’s demiplane has been activated.

Creatures attuned to the monolith can use the following actions when they are touching the pillar.

  • Cast scrying anywhere within the prison or demiplane
  • Raise or lower the drawbridge in C2
  • Turn the energy field over the pit on and off in C4 (this requires at least two creatures attuned to the Shuzal monolith to use their actions in the same round)
  • Activate the enormous psychic net in area D1

Sveja the Crow. Sveja the Crow does not wish to fight the PCs. She wants them to kill Sepora and free her from the necromancer’s thrall. She believes the PCs can take out the necromancer and if they haven’t by the time they approach Sveja, the vampire is very blunt in her request. Kill Sepora and Sveja will tell the PCs all she knows about the complex. She tells them she must attack them if they touch the monolith and explains why if given the time.

If the PCs have already killed Sepora, Sveja has watched the event through the monolith and expresses her gratitude.

When Sepora is dead, Sveja tells the PCs that Kerrinalastraya is planning on breaking out of her prison and has the means to do so. If she gets out it could spell disaster for any who feel her wrath. Sveja is worried that her Ox Tribe family will be the first to go.

If this doesn’t appeal to the PCs, Sveja tries to tempt them into the lower levels by telling them they aberrations kept weapons of great power in their vaults and now Kerrinalastraya is using them to escape the prison. If they stop Kerrinalastraya perhaps some of those weapons could be theirs!

Sveja will help the PCs in any way she can… from the upper level of the demiplane. She fears Kerrinalastraya’s power as does not want to fall into the thrall of another soon after escaping the grasp of Sepora.

Next Time…

…let’s head into the cell block!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme of “Unusual Dungeons” chosen by Nils Jeppe of Enderra has inspired a series of blog posts about some abandoned prisons built to hold dragons by aberrations. So far I’ve written about dragon prisons in general, the specific history of the prison of Shuzal, and the area surrounding Shuzal. Now I’m going to flesh out Shuzal post by post and hopefully have a nice dungeon to show for it in the end. My plan is to put it all into a PDF and throw it up on the Free Game Resources section of this site.

The Ruined Entrance Citadel

Shuzal Entrance Citadel Map

Built in Pyromancers online Dungeon Painter.

Shuzal’s entrance citadel lies in overgrown forest ruins, picked over by the ogres of the Ox Tribe. Having been exposed to the elements for thousands of years, the citadel’s roof has collapsed, walls have crumbled, and trees have grown right through the floor. While the Ox Tribe has some guards posted on this first level of the citadel, most of its members are out raiding or living life in the underground section of the complex.

As you trek through the forest, through the trees you can see curved stone structures rising from the ground. These walls seem to have grown as naturally as the trees growing amongst them. Though crumbling and forgotten there is no mistaking the strange curvature of the walls, identifying this structure as something built by aberrations.

Features of the Area

Illumination. Because there is no ceiling on the ruined citadel, it has the same illumination as the forest directly outside.

Crumbling Walls. The citadel’s 20-foot-high surface level walls are on their last legs. A Small or larger creature adjacent to a wall can use its action to make a DC 15 Strength check to know over a 5-foot section of the wall. Creatures on the opposite side of the wall must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. Creatures who fail take 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage. Creatures who succeed take half damage. Creatures who are adjacent to a wall can be knocked through the wall by another creature using the shove attack or a spell which causes forced movement. The creature being moved must be adjacent to the wall before the shove happens or spell is cast, otherwise the wall stops them in their tracks as normal. A creature pushed through a wall takes 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage. Trying to climb one of the walls requires a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check. Creatures who fail this check break the section of wall they are trying to climb, taking 21 (6d6) bludgeoning damage in addition to fall damage as normal. The ogres in this complex do not hesitate to knock over the walls to make more room for their bulk.

Open Spaces. The destroyed ceiling and crumbling walls of Shuzal mean that anything happening within the citadel can be heard in all other areas on this level of the complex, except in area A7, which has maintained its roof and door. If battle breaks out or a wall is destroyed, any Ox Tribe members in the complex converge on the source of the noise. Consider breaking enemies into waves based on the rooms they start in. If a fight breaks out, bring in a new wave at the end of the round whenever the PCs outnumber the enemies they are currently fighting. Keep the pressure on in this dungeon brawl.

Rubble. The Ox Tribe ogres have pushed the rubble into large piles which hampers less-than-ogre-sized creatures. Rubble is considered difficult terrain for Medium and smaller creatures.

Trees. The trees growing in this area are 20 feet tall and require a DC 10 Strength (Athletics) check to climb. Medium or smaller creatures who climb 10 feet or more into a tree have the benefit of half cover thanks to the branches.

A1 & A2 – Guard-Houses

As you enter the ruined citadel, gaping holes in the wall can be seen on both sides of the hall. A foul stench, laughter, and gross eating noises come from the West side of the hall. Low grumbling and the clatter of small stones on large stones can be heard from the East.

Eight ogres are on guard duty, four in each guard-house. In A1 the ogres sit eating the bodies of four dead human merchants and telling each other bawdy jokes. In A2 the ogres play a game with dice.

Treasure. The hungry ogres in A1 shoved the tattered clothing of the merchants into the corner of the room behind a pile of rubble and can be spotted with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. A character searching through the clothing discovers a blood-stained belt pouch containing 302 gp.

A3 – Tunnel Room

The most prominent feature of this room is the large, gaping hole in the floor, which drops 15 feet onto a ruined stone floor.

If the ogres are in this room, add:

Two large ogres turn to face you as you enter the room. One rushes toward you, the other heads for the hole.

This room used to be the aberrations well-guarded stairwell to the lower portions of the citadel. Now the stair well lies in ruin and two ogres stand guard. If trouble breaks out, one of the ogres heads down below to warn the rest of the tribe.

Tunnel. The tunnel here is really a hole in the ground which drops 15 feet. The height is high enough for large creatures (like ogres) to safely lower themselves down, but smaller creatures need to use rope, magic, or some other method to safely touch down on the lower level of the citadel.

A4 – Training Room

This long room has walls painted with faded frescos of dragons falling in battle before aberrations. On the side of the East wall, a large column painted with various targets lies in ruin.

If the ogres and oni are in this room, add:

An oni feverishly lectures two ogres who hang their heads in shame and fear.

This is the place where aberration guards would practice their combat tactics. Any who wished to access the lower levels of the citadel and the portal to Shuzal would have to pass aberration soldiers ready for combat. Now two ogres and an oni are here. The ogres came to blows over a shiny stone one of them found. The oni has taken the stone for herself and is currently lecturing the ogres about fighting each other while on guard duty.

Treasure. The oni carries a topaz worth 500 gp on a pouch in its belt.

A5 – Processing Room

This forgotten room has a smashed, divot-filled column which was once inlaid with some sort of stones. The smashed pile of rubble in the corner of the room was clearly an old piece of furniture.

This forgotten room is where polymorphed dragon prisoners were brought for processing. The column, once full of magically charged gemstones, forced a permanent zone of truth spell in room. The pile of rubble in this room is a smashed stone desk which held the files of the aberrations, since plundered or lost to the ravages of time.

Treasure. A DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals there is still a large spinel worth 250 gp on the underside of the column. A character can reach under and try to pry out the spinel with a DC 15 Strength check.

A6 – Golem Workshop

A smashed bench and some rusty old tools lie on the round in this room. Faded frescos on the wall depict various aberrations assembling guardians of stone, flesh, and metal.

If the clay golem is here, add:

In the middle of the room stands a silent statue made of clay, resembling a human with tentacles for arms.

One of the onis of the Ox Tribe found this old golem workshop and managed to magically reprogram the clay golem here to work for her. The clay golem guards this level of the complex and runs toward any sounds of battle and attacks any non-Ox Tribe creatures it comes across.

A7 – The Key Room

As the adamantine door opens, a heavy purple mist floats out of the door around your ankles. Inside the room, a great adamantine chest sits behind a huge creature made of iron. Its three heads look your way as it raises its sword. Its feet crush the skeletons of ogres as it moves toward you.

This room was setup long ago by the aberrations to guard one of Shuzal’s portal keys. The ogres have left the room untouched after many attempts to get to the chest failed thanks to the iron golem guardian and the mists within the room. This room is entirely enclosed, has a 20-foot high ceiling, and is shrouded in darkness, though opening the door and leaving it open allows for light from the outside to penetrate the room. The iron golem here does not join battle unless it can see intruders (and it considers the Ox Tribe intruders as well). Its main function is to guard the chest.

Jammed Door. The adamantine door (AC 23, HP 100) to this room has been jammed by the ogres. It can be forced open with a DC 20 Strength check.

Mists of Madness. This mist covers the entirety of the floor in area A7. When a living creature shows any sign of above animal intelligence (such as speaking, casting a spell, using tools or a weapon, etc.) while standing within the mists, the mists rise up and try to enter the creature’s lungs. When the mists try to enter a creature’s body, that creature must first succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. If the creature fails that saving throw, it must then succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or gain one form of long-term madness. Creatures who are aware they are standing in mists of madness have advantage on the Constitution saving throw. A DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals the nature of the trap. A strong wind forces the mists to dissipate in 1d10 rounds.

Treasure. The adamantine chest (AC 23, HP 100) is locked. The key to this chest is long forgotten, but a DC 20 Dexterity check made with thieves tools picks the lock or a DC 20 Strength check forces the lock open. If the lock is forced open with a Strength check or if a creature attempts to pick the lock and fails, the poison mister trap (see below) triggers. The chest contains a Shuzal portal key, a rod of planar entrapment, and fifteen pearls carved to look like eyes (worth 100 gp each).

Poison Mister Trap. A nozzle connected to a vial of poison gas is hidden in the chest’s lock. When the trap is triggered the nozzle creates a 15-foot cone of gas originating from the lock. Creatures within the cone must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) poison damage and are poisoned for 1 hour. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not poisoned. A DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the nozzle and vial. A DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the nozzle and gas vial from the lock.

A8 – Offices

A huge pile of rubble indicates that all of the stone furniture in this room was smashed and pushed into a pile.

If the ogres are here, add:

Eight ogres sit around the body of a fallen comrade, solemnly praying.

Once the prisoners of Shuzal were processed, their information was brought here and poured over by various aberration intelligence officers. Now eight ogres hold an impromptu funeral for a friend who died on a recent raid before bringing him below to be buried.

A9 – Forgotten Room

This room is so badly damaged it’s almost impossible to tell what its former purpose was. It does not seem to have much of one now.

This room’s outer wall is easier to break. A DC 10 Strength check is all that is required to knock it over. A DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals the wall is weaker than the others.

A10 – Armor Storage

A huge pile of rubble sits in this room next to a tree which seems to have grown taller than the others nearby. Rusted pieces of metal sit here and there on the ground, perhaps once pieces of something greater.

Long ago the aberrations stored armor here. Now the highest tree in this section of the forest grows from the floor. The tree is 40 feet high and climbing to the top allows a person to see over the rest of the complex, since all areas have no ceiling except A7.

A11 – Weapon Storage

Rusted blades, spears, and hammers lie about this room.

If the oni is here, add:

At the center of the room, an oni meditates beneath a tree.

The oni in this room is trying to get in touch with the aberrant magic of the ruin. The aberrations once kept their weapons here.

Treasure. The roots of the tree are covering an old deerskin bag, which can be spotted with a DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) check. Removing the bag from under the roots requires a DC 15 Dexterity (Acrobatics) check. If the check fails by 5 or more the bomb of horrors in the bag goes off.

Next Time…

…we’ll get to the lower level of this dungeon!

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We DMs face many challenges. We have to keep track of our campaigns, make maps, improvise, brainstorm, and write adventures for sessions. When the session begins a whole new kind of work starts. Our brains switch from writers to performers. Much like a standup comic, we usually spend more time preparing for the performance than we do actually playing with friends. Yet it is those moments of performance and play the hours of preparation and worldbuilding pays off.

During that performance time DMs inhabit and play NPCs. Goblin bandits, snot-nosed trolls, elf nobles, human peasants, monarchs, and more are part of our one-person shows. We give them ticks, accents, mannerisms, and catchphrases to bring them to life and distinguish them in the minds of players.

Yet there are characters who are more daunting to inhabit than Hamlet’s Cladius. In the arc of many campaigns a DM might have to inhabit archfey, demon princes, primordials, ancient dragons, and gods. Putting on the skin of one of these powerful NPCs can be intimidating. Play it too small and your players will be unimpressed with the mighty being before them. Play it too big and your players will laugh at the over-the-top caricature you’ve created. Unless you play these mighty beings just right, you risk some major NPCs in your game not being taken seriously.

Tiamat – official fifth edition D&D’s most powerful NPC (for now).

Challenges of Playing Powerful NPCs

The daunting task of playing a powerful NPC can be broken down the following ways:

  • They are smarter and less fallible than us. This isn’t a crack about your intellect. The simple fact is these powerful NPCs have the wisdom and knowledge that comes with living a millennia or longer. Their force of personality and confidence are proportionate with their amazing abilities. They can create and destroy with a wave of a hand or single breath. How can a mortal person like DM to the stars Chris Perkins, let alone a plebeian like myself, be expected to inhabit nigh flawless beings and make them believable? My face is nowhere near the level of Selune’s beauty, nor does it match the terror of an ancient red dragon’s visage so it’s all to be about the acting… Right?
  • It’s hard to be scary, impressive, or intimidating. It’s especially difficult to be those things to friends you know well. When the PCs meet Bahamut or the Queen of Winter’s Court, you want the players to know they are before a mighty power, greater than any they ever faced. Of course when I give myself a fake Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady voice and pretend to be The Raven Queen, my players don’t react the way I want them to. They might feel the urge to cry but not from sheer overwhelming power. Rather that urge comes from the endless gales of laughter which have seized their bodies.
  • We put off playing powerful beings. PCs don’t usually meet powerful NPCs until they are higher level at a time when the PCs themselves are approaching godhood. Of course the players are less impressed with these beings. (“You can stop time? So can I, bub.”) Some players might even feel challenged by the fact that a someone, even if that person is a god, is speaking down to them, since most other NPCs rarely do at this point in the game. These players often answer such remarks with their own condescension or jokes, which can really take the wind out of the sails of many a great DM. Waiting a long time to introduce a powerful NPC in the flesh presents another problem. Since they only pop up at higher levels and continue to appear infrequently, DMs don’t have as much experience playing these beings as we do run-of-the-mill villains, henchmen, and patrons. That lack of practice can be harmful to our attempts to play these mighty individuals. To make matters worse, these powerful beings are often talked up over the course of fifteen levels of campaign story before they appear. That means Orcus has hours of expectations, legends, schemes, and battles with henchmen to live up to when he finally meets the PCs for the first time.
  • It’s easy to be cliche. My default for powerful beings used to be a deep voice, turns of phrase about shattering and/or saving the world, and using my DM authority to have the NPC “outsmart” the players at every turn. That meant there wasn’t much difference between Tiamat, Bel Shalor, Acerak, Kord, The Raven Queen, and every other powerful being the PCs met. Boring!

With all these pitfalls, you can see why some DMs (like me) are nervous when they wear the skin of a godly NPC. Well nineteen years of tabletop gaming has given me some tips about playing a powerful being I want to pass on.

Actions Speak Louder

I make television. One of the guiding principles of any producer working in the industry is, “Show. Don’t tell.” Rather than have the dragon boast about how she can fry adventurers to a crisp in a single breath, the PCs should witness her fire in action – melting stone in an instant or reducing a herd of cattle to ash. Gods can stop time and create or destroy matter with a snap of their fingers. Archfey can make a large oak grove spring forth from the ground with a wave of their hands. Before the PCs ever speak to a powerful NPC, set the stage with an awe-inspiring act beyond the capabilities of even level 20 character. Throughout the interaction, remember that these beings are more likely to demonstrate their power than boast about it.

Describe How Others React

Along the lines of showing and not telling, when a powerful NPC first shows up on the scene describe how other NPCs react to the being. Throngs of citizens and soldiers alike flee from the Tarrasque. The land’s mightiest warlord becomes a drooling puppy in the presence of the god of beauty. The way to the demon lord’s throne room is marked by groveling balors. Reactions like this demonstrate the might of these NPC to the players. If you can have a NPC the PCs trust and respect have a big reaction to a powerful being that is great way to impress the players. Imagine the players’ reactions to the strong, just king they have grown to love groveling for mercy at the feet of at the god of death. It’s a lot more moving than the god demanding the PCs kneel before him.

PCs Should Feel the Power

One mistake DMs can make is telling players they feel an emotion. Players can feel like their agency has been stripped away when you tell them, “You see Tiamat rise out of the Nine Hells and you now know true terror.” Unless a PC fails a saving throw against an effect like a calm emotions spell, DMs shouldn’t be providing an emotion for PCs to feel. That being said, I do think it’s fine for a DM to describe a PC’s physical reaction to a situation. The line is thin here, so let me give some examples.

The sheer power of one of these beings could make a person’s stomach churn or the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand. PCs could see an ancient red dragon breath fire a mile away, but feel an overwhelming burst of heat as if it were mere yards from them. Don’t go too far here. The description should be for flavor. PCs might feel their stomachs churn, but don’t make the characters vomit every time they see a demon prince (at least not without a saving throw). Again you want the players to feel the raw power of the presence before their characters, but maintain their own agency.

Introduce Them Early

If it works in your story, introduce a powerful NPC early. Think of all the video games like Skyrim and God of War where the hero meets the big bad and other major powers early in the story. Often the hero is too inexperienced and ill-equipped to take on the baddy or stand up to the gods, so their presence is far more intimidating than an initial meeting later in the game.

Meeting a powerful NPC can make an impression that lasts an entire campaign. If PCs meet the goddess of winter when they’re only level 1 and she freezes and shatters another NPC for insolence, your players will carry that image into every meeting with her thereafter.

Introducing a powerful NPC early in your game is good for you as the DM. It gives you more opportunities to role-play as the being which means you gain practice and confidence with every encounter you wear its skin.

Make Them Memorable

Like any NPC, you want to make the powerful ones memorable. Don’t rely on cliches like speaking with a deep voice and acting threatening or intimidating. Give them unique personalities. Use the NPC personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaw tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to inspire original, creative characters. Maybe the god of the sun in your world is a young boy who is positive and playful, until the subject of the his sister and nemesis, the goddess of death, comes up. Then he turns dark and stormy. His hair changes color, his voice deepens, and his hands become angry, radiant fire. An ancient dragon might actually have a high, flutey voice and constantly talk about his impressive library, which he’s read all of twice. The Queen of Winter’s Court only communicates telepathically and her face always shows the opposite of her emotions. She scowls when she is happy and smiles when she is furious.

Don’t lean too hard on a powerful NPC’s flaws. Most gods, demon princes, archfey, dragons, and others are able to resist any temptation and outsmart any trap a mortal has to offer. These beings have lived a long time and are supremely confident, so save the moments they falter for later in the campaign when the PCs are higher level. If the PCs insight the event which lead the more villainous of these NPCs to fall, so much the better.

Let The Players Drive the Scene

When playing a powerful NPC, my first instinct is for that being to drive the scene. They see the PCs as bugs or pieces in a chess game, so they should take charge, right? Why should they care what the PCs have to say? That attitude can actually be quite boring for the PCs and again, it takes away their agency. Take some pressure off yourself, make the NPC’s introduction, and then allow the PCs to respond to the demands, pleas, or threats of the being. The NPC may be looking to answer any questions, start a fight, grant a quest, or take some other action, but always allow the players a chance to respond and ultimately decide where the scene goes. They’ll often take it to a place that surprises you and in the end they’ll respect that NPC even more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

You may have already read about the dwarven gods of Exploration Age and their religion, Hierotheism. Well each of the seven dwarf gods wields a unique weapon. Today I’d like to show you an excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide about those weapons… well not the weapons of the dwarven gods, but rather their copies which exist on Canus.

That’s right, the Exploration Age magic item preview continues today with a look at these artifacts. After covering wondrous items, weapons, armor, rings, rods, staffs, wands, and bioarcane items, this was clearly the next thing to show off. Once all of these magic items have been shown revealed and reviewed by the public (that’s you!), I’ll add them to the Free Game Resources section of the site.

Say hello to the weapons of the dwarven gods and enjoy the excerpt below!

Tools of Order

Weapons (varies), artifacts (requires attunement)

Hierotheist priestesses preach that the goddesses of the caste created copies of their weapons for seven mighty warriors to rise up against the chromatic dragons. These weapons, the Tools of Order, had the laws of the caste system eventually used in Bragonay engraved into them. The seven dwarf warriors were the leaders of their stations and enforced the divine will of their goddesses. While the weapons were lost in the war with the dragons, their laws remain in place today. Many dwarfs spend centuries hunting for any clue of the Tools of Order.

Some outside the Heirotheist religion claim these weapons are not divine at all but rather made by powerful shardmind mages. In fact these naysayers claim that the dwarves refused to rise up with the shardminds against the chromatic dragons so the crystalline beings created the Tools of Order to appeal to the dwarves’ piety. They say it is the shardminds themselves who hid these weapons so the dwarves would never know of their deception. These sacrilegious claims have only made seekers of the Tools of Order all the more desperate to find the weapons of their gods.

Each of the Tools of Order is a magic weapon which grants a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with it. When you score a critical hit with one of these weapons roll the attack’s damage dice three times and add it together with any relevant modifiers. Each of the Tools of Order also functions as a ring of evasion, defender, and dragonslayer.

If a non-lawful or non-dwarf creature attempts to attune one of the weapons, it must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw. On a failed save this creature takes 8d6 psychic damage taking only have damage on a successful one. The creature must repeat this saving throw anytime it attacks with the weapon.

Random Properties. Each of the Tools of Order has the following random properties:

  • 2 minor beneficial properties
  • 1 major beneficial property
  • 1 minor detrimental property

Dominate Person. While holding one of these weapons you can cast dominate person (save DC 18). Once you have cast the spell you cannot cast it again until next dawn.

Strength of the Caste. If 2 or more of the Tools of Order are within 100 feet of one another, each wielder gains an additional +1 bonus to damage and initiative rolls for every other weapon within range.

Destroying the Tools. The only way to destroy the Tools of Order is by freezing them in the coldest part of the Nine Hells and then breaking them against the hardest stone in the Plane of Earth.


This greatsword is forged of adamantine and has diamonds shaped into Dwarish runes along the center of the blade. Its engraved hilt of gold depicts a mighty army of dwarves working together to slay an ancient red dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Caramey, the Heirotheist goddess of the empress caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.


This sickle’s blade is made of pure emerald. Its ebony wood shaft is marked with silver Dwarish runes on one side and plated with gold depiction of an army of dwarves removing the head of an ancient blue dragon on the other. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Meralla, the Heirotheist goddess of the warlord caste.

Increased Constitution. While wielding this weapon your Constitution score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Lightning. While wielding this weapon you resist lightning damage.

Secrets Released

This dagger is made entirely of obsidian and embedded with small sapphire Dwarish runes on the blade. Its gold-plated hilt depicts a noble family of dwarves executing a bound ancient green dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Zelti, the Heirotheist goddess of the noble caste.

Increased Charisma. While wielding this weapon your Charisma score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.


This adamantine battleaxe is adorned with ruby Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a lone dwarf hero standing victorious over the bodies of several dead green dragons. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Swarvune, the Heirotheist goddess of the warrior caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.


This oversized maul is adorned with Dwarish runes of pearl along its marble head. Its gold haft depicts a hail of arrows taking down an ancient black dragon in flight. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Shalleal, the Heirotheist goddess of the artisan caste.

Increased Intelligence. While wielding this weapon your Intelligence score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Acid. While wielding this weapon you resist acid damage.


This war pick’s head is made of pure ruby carved with Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a group of villagers defeating an ancient white dragon in combat. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Berga, the Heirotheist goddess of the peasant caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Cold. While wielding this weapon you resist cold damage.

Worthy Example

This simple club is carved of oak and inlaid with diamond Dwarish runes around its head. An image of a dwarf slave bowing to another is carved into its wood. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Almahad, the Heirotheist god of the slave caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.

Feedback Please!

Your feedback has been so helpful in designing these magic items. Please continue to leave comments and let me know what you think!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, a few Round Tablers got together for the second time to find out just what high level play was like in the new fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons. So Mike Shea crafted a grueling combat experience for Chris DudleyJoe Lastwoski, Liz TheisTopher Kohan, and me to throw down with the toughest 5th edition monster known to us – Tiamat! If you missed the livestream, check out the videos below! Wrap-up Round Table podcast to follow.


If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!