Solo Skald |||

I’d like to dig into some dungeons again. I’ve done this a few times without blogging it because sometimes writing out descriptions is more work than I want to do. But rather than typical D&D settings, I’m going to use Cinderheim by Jack Shear (who also wrote the Krevborna setting I’ve used before). It’s a system-neutral setting, for the most part, but I want to use it with some form of D&D.

While originally I statted up these characters using White Box FMAG (an OD&D retroclone), before I got started in the adventure itself I swapped to Searchers of the Unknown, specifically SOTU Refired v4 (SotU). This version does a few things I like, notably scaling trap damage to dungeon level (so they actually matter) and using a d6 for dungeoneering.

It lacks actual spells for the wizards, but that’s fine because I will just use the spell list from Spellcasters of the Unknown. As Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series was a major influence on Cinderheim, using Vancian seems appropriate.

Setting Overview

Cinderheim: The Land Under the Demon Sun details a large desert on the wild continent of Hygaea that was created by a magical weapon of war. This weapon awoke powerful demons and turned a once verdant expanse into an arid wasteland. Cinderheim is suffused with malign corruption—the land itself is tainted by an unbroken connection to the Abyssal Disunion.

An unrelenting, demonic sun beats down on the blighted dunes of Cinderheim, making it the hottest place in the world. Despite being a largely barren waste, the desert is a dangerous refuge for outcasts, barbarians, the desperate, and the depraved.

The setting is built around seven oases that host permanent encampments, each ruled by a different warlord. The warlords venerate different demon lords and thus fall under their abyssal influence in ways they do not always understand.

Of course, the setting owes a lot to Dark Sun, but also the Dying Earth genre, sword and sorcery like Conan, and even a bit of Slayer. This is not a place with a lot of moral ambiguity: nearly everyone is evil in some sense, but the majority (including the adventurers) are simply trying to survive.

A shrine dedicated to Razz, the Demon Lord of Slaughter, located in an underground dungeon setting. The shrine features exaggerated elements of horror and decadence, with sinister altars, demonic statues, and gruesome offerings. The scene is depicted in black-and-white line art, emphasizing the eerie and macabre atmosphere of the setting. Image generated by ChatGPT

This adventure will start off in the settlement of Koraaz:

Koraaz is supposedly the most democratic of the encampments in Cinderheim, but since the only citizens possessing the right to vote on its leadership are members of Andastros Qualenethi’s legions, the elven warlord faces no serious opposition to his continued rule.

  • Population. Half of Koraaz’s population are elven refugees from Raben Vol Shai, but large numbers of humans, half-elves, and dwarves are also present. Minotaurs and goliaths are among the minority.
  • Aesthetic. Ancient buildings of white stone, carved columns, triumphal statuary depicting revered warriors.
  • Supplies. Copper, wine, grain, leather, stone. Water is drawn from five public wells with extensive subterranean cisterns beneath the encampment.

Specifically, I want them to start by infiltrating the Cryptorum, a vast, underground dungeon in which Andastros Qualenethi keeps dissidents, prisoners of war, and lawbreakers.”

Characters

I’m starting each character at the maximum HP for their class; SotU Refired wants us to reroll HP each day but I’ll see how this goes first. I am also using the name and sobriquet tables from Cinderheim to give each character a bit of flavor.

Per the game rules, all PCs begin with regular clothing and a backpack containing a waterskin, supplies for a week, a rope, a tinderbox, and 6 torches.”

  • Antigone the Bestial (F1 AC4 MV8 HD1d6+2 HP8 Save +3, bone armor, shield, helm, spear, dagger, sling). She is a human who is motivated to protect her reputation. Fighters attack with d20 + level + target AC and attack twice per round if they have at least twice as many levels as their target has HD. Add 1 point of damage per 2 levels for melee attacks (round down). Add +1 to dungeoneering rolls for feats of prowess (swimming, jumping, forcing doors, lifting gates, etc.)
  • Iason the Vandal (T1 AC9 MV10 HD1d6 HP6 Save +3, lizard leather armor, ritual dagger x2, sling, jimmy bar, lockpicks). He is a human who seeks vengeance. Thieves attack with d20 + level + target AC (assuming they are using bow, dagger, sling, or sword). Add 1 damage die per level for melee attacks by surprise. Add +1 to dungeoneering rolls for feats of subterfuge (sneaking, climbing, cracking logs, disguise, forgery, etc.)
  • Nammah the Butcher (M1 AC9 MV12 HD1d6 Save +4, staff, spellbook, ink, quill). She is a human who is trying to answer a question. Mages attack with d20 + target AC. Add +1 to dungeoneering rolls for feats of lore (reading scrolls, operating wands, deciphering runes, addressing nobles in court, concocting potions, etc.) She has the spell Light/Dark.

The Cryptorum

The Perilous Wilds (Revised) rules will generate the dungeon as we go. Before starting, I’ll go through the foundation procedure for the Cryptorum. This initial delve has 32 rooms (Huge). This could have been set up as a megadungeon, actually, but I wanted to keep it under control for now and this is more than enough. The underground prison has multiple entrances (some open, some hidden) and was originally built by Raaz, the demon Lord of Slaughter. While still in use for confinement and containment, the place has been damned since its construction.

The next step is to define areas that can be found in the dungeon. I asked ChatGPT to help me with this and ended up with the following d12 tables after modifying the results a bit to fit my needs:

Common Areas

  • 1: Entrance Hall
  • 2-3: Guard Barracks
  • 4-6: Torture Chambers
  • 7-10: Prisoner Cells
  • 11-12: Abandoned Sections

Unique Areas

  • 1: The Pit: A central fighting arena where prisoners are sometimes thrown to fight for their lives against beasts or each other, for the entertainment of guards or visiting dignitaries.
  • 2-5: Shrine to Razz: A sinister altar room where blood sacrifices are made in honor of the Demon Lord, adorned with skulls, axes, blood sigils, and demonic runes.
  • 6-7: The Cistern: An underground water source, crucial for the facility’s operation but possibly poisoned or cursed.
  • 8-11: The Archives: Containing records of prisoners, treaties, and dark rituals, these rooms hold many secrets and are closely guarded.
  • 12: The Infirmary: A crude medical facility for treating injured guards or prisoners deemed valuable enough to save; often doubles as an experimental lab for dark magics or poisons.

Creatures

While TPW provides some generic encounter tables, I’ve learned that I enjoy this much more when I create something more specific to the location and setting. The Monster Overhaul will help a great deal here.

  • 1: Adventurers (thieves, warlocks, etc.). 1d4, HD 1, AC 7, #Att 1, 1d6 damage (light weapons), MV 9, Morale 9, TMO p. 12. Possibly carrying additional treasure.
  • 2-3: Prisoners (either still locked up or wandering trying to escape). 2d4, HD 1/2, AC 9, #Att 1, 1d4 damage (improvised weapons), MV 12, Morale 6, TMO p. 30 as Peasant”.
  • 4-5: Guards (possibly in conjunction with the above). 1d3, HD 1+1, AC 5, #Att 1, 1d6+1 damage (swords), MV 9, Morale 7, TMO p. 24 (as Mercenary”). Possibly carrying additional treasure.
  • 6-7: Monstrous vermin. 2d6, HD 1, AC 9, #Att 2, 1d4 damage (bite or claw), MV 12, Morale 6, TMO p. 54.
  • 8: Oozes. 1, HD 5, AC 7 (possible immunities), #Att 1, 2d6 damage (acid), MV 6, Morale 12, TMO p. 57. See TMO p. 58 for possible treasure.
  • 8-10: Demonic Being (singular), roll 1d6:
    • 1-2: Imp. HD 2, AC 7 (immune to non-magical damage and fire), #Att 1, 1d4 damage (tail stab) + 1d6 damage (save vs poison), MV 18 (fly), Morale 7, TMO p. 153.
    • 3-4: Shivered Beast. HD 5, AC 5, #Att 2, 1d6 damage (bite or claw), MV 12, Morale 8, TMO p. 193.
    • 5-6: Demon. HD 8, AC 5 (immune to non-magical damage, fire, and mind-altering effects), #Att 1, 2d6 damage (hurl fire), MV 18 (fly), Morale 10, TMO p. 149 as Devil”.
  • 11-12: Ghouls: 1d6, HD 2, AC 9, #Att 2, 1d6 damage (bite or claw), MV 9, Morale 9, TMO p. 161. Possibly carrying additional treasure.

I’ll leave the Discoveries and rest of the Danger tables as they are. In the past, I’ve had troubles with them, but those were games that didn’t lend themselves as well to the sorts of magic and fantasy that Cinderheim can include.

Delve

When the delvers enter the Cryptorum, it is nightfall outside. They hope to get in and find the Chain of the Betrayer, a set of ethereal chains that can supposedly bind any creature. Finding some additional treasure would be helpful as well - they are greedy treasure hunters, after all.

Turn 1

They enter through a broken set of bars into an old prisoner cell. Some kind of dark mold grows over the bricks, as though the abyss itself were leaking.

Three ghouls sit muttering, watching, and waiting, but on seeing the delvers they hesitate in confusion. The group is not interested in fighting them, so instead Nammah examines the mold across the floor while Antigone watches the ghouls cautiously with Iason behind her.

The mage finds that the mold can spread spores that might be harmful. She is unable to determine how to create a safe path through it, but fortunately it turns out not to be particularly dangerous itself.

There’s one exit here, forward into the prison.

Turn 2

After leaving the cell, the three shortly find themselves in the Archives! Most of the archives have been destroyed by a cave-in long ago, and Iason fails to find the secret door out of here. Another exit is locked, however, and he is able to pick it open. Antigone leads the way through, carefully.

Turn 3

Unsurprisingly, they find themselves in an abandoned section of the Cryptorum. Dripping liquid from somewhere is pooling, but no one is brave enough to check if it’s water. They find several exits here, including one back up to the surface, as well as a scroll of some kind nailed to the wall.

Before Nammah can do anything with that scroll, however, they see eight monstrous cockroaches scuttling out of the shadows, hissing and baring their mandibles. Antigone roars in response!

The cockroaches have HP 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6 with AC 9. In SotU, for initiative, each combatant rolls 1d6. Iason gets +1 as a Thief; I decide that the cockroaches (as cautiously aggressive”) get -1. As it turns out, the dice indicate the order will be Iason, Nammah, Antigone, then the Cockroaches.

Iason starts off by slinging a stone, but misses. Nammah doesn’t have a lot she can do here - her spell is not useful in combat, and she wants to stay back rather than engage them directly, so she stands near the exit ready to cast Dark if needed to confuse the enemies. Antigone charges in with her spear, connecting and killing the three weakest cockroaches and wounding another (7 damage; I decide that Fighters can cleave and carry over damage to the next target if they kill one as this fits the aesthetic of the game). There are 5 left (3, 5, 5, 6, 6), and they succeed on their Morale check so they’ll continue to fight. This could get very bad, very quickly: they each have two attacks, and of the 10 attacks total, 4 of them hit. Antigone is incapacitated!

Iason slings another stone, but misses again. Nammah casts Dark on the cockroaches to confuse them, which succeeds and she is able to pull back from the room back into the Archives.

Iason grabs Antigone and pulls her back into the Archives as well, then slams the door back behind them.

Turn 4

According to SotU, PCs who take damage but stay above 0 HP can recover that by resting for a full turn to bind wounds and whatnot. However, incapacitated PCs take a full day to recover”. I decide that means that, in the dungeon, Antigone can get back to 1 HP but can’t go above that until she gets a full day of recovery.

During this turn, while she’s resting, Nammah and Iason both search for other ways out. The thief does find the secret door after all!

Turn 5

The secret door from the Archives led directly into torture chambers with no one in them. The skeleton of what appears to have been a guard lay next to the old, rusted torture devices, though with nothing of value left on it. There are another pair of exits here, forward and to the right. Ever forward, they decide.

Turn 6

More torture chambers, which perhaps makes sense as they’d be located near each other. Ten monstrous rats infest this place as well, but there’s no visible treasure. The rats are aggressing the group, who can see exits forward and left. Human bones can be seen sticking out of the rats’ oversized scat. The group flees to the left.

Turn 7

When they catch their breath, they find themselves once more in prisoner cells. Inscriptions line the walls from those who were once confined here, but there are no other exits. They’ll need to try to slip past the rats to go any further, or else go back to a different path. They decide on the latter choice.

Turn 8

Back in the first set of torture chambers, they decide to go right this time (well, left now, from this perspective). That takes them to more of these interrogation rooms”; evidently this is the part of the prison where punishments and questioning were held. An intense stench permeates the air, and perhaps it’s best they don’t question what it might be. There’s one additional exit here, back in the general direction from where they entered, but there are also some prisoners still here.

That’s worth +1 on the reaction roll, which turns out regardless to be a retreat - the poor souls here are frightened of these strangers who have voluntarily entered such an evil place! Nammah and the others would like to talk to them, though, so I’ll have her roll a check to see if she can get them to calm down and parley a bit: failure, they flee deeper into the prison.

The group waits a minute, then follows.

Turn 9

The group finds themselves in the Cistern, the main water supply for the Cryptorum (or at least this general part of it). Mold and fungus grow everywhere, and they can’t see any other exits.

One of the prisoners from a moment ago has been cut off from the others by a monstrous rust-colored ooze that is advancing with purpose and speed! This one has (surprisingly) only 13 HP, but spears and daggers won’t do anything to it. A skeleton floats inside it, the remnants of a previous victim.

Given that the only weapons they have that can hurt it are Nammah’s staff and Iason’s sling, they decide to see if they can get it to flee. Iason slings a stone at it, but he’s not really very good with it and the stone splashes into the water instead. Nammah tries to whack it as Antigone pulls the prisoner to safety; she misses as well, but Antigone is able to get the prisoner out of the way regardless (rolled a 6 on dungeoneering / feat of prowess).

The ooze is not interested in pursuing them, and they are able to leave the Cistern without further incident.

Turn 10

The group has returned to a torture chamber, having rescued a prisoner that had an ooze bearing down on him. This time Iason tries to reason with him, trying to find out if he knows anything about the Chain of the Betrayer (in particular, where it might be found). I’ll roll a check for him as a feat of subterfuge: failure, this prisoner doesn’t really know anything. It’s unclear whether he’s in the process of escaping or has simply had his mind broken by the Cryptorum and is doomed to wander aimlessly.

They have a choice now: return to the Cistern and try to find an exit in the water (highly dangerous and uncertain) or deal with those rats (similar danger level but obstructing a known path). After some brief consideration, they’ll go back to the rats.

Turn 11

In these torture chambers, the rats are currently in the way and paying little attention to the group. Iason is going to try to divert them with some rations, in the hopes that the group can slip past while the beasts snuffle after food. This check also fails and the group will have to endure a round of combat!

The vermin HP totals are 1, 3, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5. Extremely unfortunately, the initiative order does not favor the group: Nammah, rats, Iason, Antigone. Nammah is not sticking around to fight, preferring to retreat. The rats split their attacks; five of them will attack Iason (needing a 10 or better to hit) and the other five will attack Antigone (needing a 15 or better to hit). But they each get two attacks, so it’s not looking good for the delvers. Iason takes four hits total and is incapacitated, while Antigone (who really can’t take any damage anyway) takes three hits and is also incapacitated.

Nammah could try to pull them to safety, but not with hungry rats on their heels. That’s the end for her companions and, I think, for this delve. 100 XP is earned per hit-die for defeated monsters”, which are just the three cockroaches, so her share is 100 XP.

Lessons

I like Cinderheim just fine for a D&D type setting, but this time around the combination of OD&D-esque rules with The Perilous Wilds didn’t work as well for me. Running into a puzzle” so immediately threw me off the simulationist vibe here. This could be due to the fact that I am repurposing a Dungeon World supplement for what is ultimately OD&D, but even so I can immediately see how to approach it with a group or with a game that focuses more on a narrative style. And then how should I have determined what that magic scroll was, or indeed place valuable” treasure (e.g. the gold pieces needed for levelling)? I had a plan for the sought-after treasure, placing it in the last unique area they would have found, but sadly they didn’t get that far.

Also note that, practically by design, TPW dungeons do not have loops (although they can branch quite extensively). This isn’t generally true of all random or procedural methods, but it does seem true here.

It occurs to me, and not for the first time, that using a pre-drawn map and randomly stocking it (e.g. using the tables from the BECMI DMs Rulebook or Labyrinth Lord) might fit better. I also might have overdone it just a tad with the random encounters I specced out, but to some extent that’s intended in these games.

For the next foray into Cinderheim, either I will use that pre-drawn dungeon method or do something else entirely that isn’t room-by-room underworld exploration.

Up next RPGs vs Wargames 5 Parsecs from Home - Campaign Turn 16
Latest posts Thoughts on Ker Nethalas Sacretta Carnifexa - Part 3 Sacretta Carnifexa - Part 2 Sacretta Carnifexa - Part 1 Undead Without Number - Session 3 Undead Without Number - Session 2 Undead Without Number - Session 1 The Cryptorum - Session 5 The Cryptorum - Session 4 The Cryptorum - Session 3 The Cryptorum - Session 2 The Cryptorum - Session 1 Cinderheim - Session 4 Cinderheim - Session 3 Cinderheim - Session 2 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 20 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 19 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 18 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 17 5 Parsecs from Home - Campaign Turn 16 Cinderheim - Session 1 RPGs vs Wargames 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 15 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 14 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 13 Scarlet Hero in the Undercity - Part 3 Scarlet Hero in the Undercity - Part 2 Scarlet Hero in the Undercity - Part 1 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 12 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 11 5 Parsecs From Home - Campaign Turn 10