Monday, 14 January 2013

The Maze with the Invulnerable Guardian

Dominic Matte
Check out this post for a download link to run the dungeon yourself - it's suitable for parties of level 2 to 4.

I've been DMing for 8 years and I've never actually run a proper dungeon, so recently I decided I'd try my hand at it. I didn't want to run just a series of rooms with fights and treasure in them, so I figured I'd need one or two unique mechanics that run through the whole dungeon and tie everything together, so that each room feels like part of one big encounter rather than isolated battles or puzzles.

I settled on a maze with a phasing invulnerable guardian. That probably sounds a lot scarier than it actually was, though I'll admit that it was in fact pretty scary.

You can reflavour this dungeon any way you'd like, but the story behind it in my game is that it's a four-hundred-year-old tomb housing an emperor. Inscriptions claim that it's the resting place of the last human emperor, which doesn't seem to fit in with the history - as far as everyone knows, the line of emperors has been unbroken for over six hundred years. Mysterious plot hook! The players were there investigating rumours of a powerful weapon on behalf of their secret organization, the Doomguard, who protect the world from weapons of mass destruction.

The dungeon itself is a maze with a sandstone floor and obsidian walls, built inside a mountain. The emperor believed in an afterlife where he would literally rise out of his grave, so many of the rooms scattered through the maze were created for the emperor's enjoyment and relaxation - a feasting hall, a library, a steam room with baths, and so on. 
The version of the map to show the players.
Right click and open in new tab for a six-inch printable version.

The tomb hasn't fared extremely well over the centuries - parts of the ceiling have cracked, allowing water to pour into some of the rooms. The whole place smells damp and musty, and the contents of many of the rooms are in very bad shape or completely destroyed. A few varieties of hungry and hostile creatures have also found their way into the tomb through the cracks and crevices, and wait in ambush for a meal.

Here's where the two twists come in.

When I gave my players the dungeon map, I showed them the whole thing briefly, and then covered it up with an opaque sheet of paper with a tiny hole cut in the middle. What the players can see through the hole is how far their characters can see within the maze. The tiny window simulates the feeling of actually being inside a maze, since neither the characters nor the players have a full view of the maze or any idea of the route to the centre.

As the players began making their way through the maze, they could hear a heavy pounding sound, as if something extremely heavy were slowly walking. Because of the curved passages and weird acoustics, they had no way to tell where the sound was coming from... but they quickly figured it out.

Every time the players entered a room or tried for a short rest, I rolled percentile dice. Each round there's a cumulative 20% chance of the maze's guardian appearing, so it's guaranteed to show up after five rounds have passed. When it appears, the guardian phases in through the obsidian walls, blocking the chamber's exit. The guardian is a fifteen-foot-tall obsidian construct, enchanted to be completely invulnerable to all damage, as well as the normal construct immunities. The guardian can be themed as whatever creature is appropriate to the culture of the tomb's builders - for this game it was a horned and tusked ogre.

The guardian will follow the players through the entire maze, harassing them and preventing them from resting. They can still heal in the corridors, but they can't stop moving, or the guardian will find them. 

While invulnerable, the guardian can be defeated: if and when the players arrive at the centre of the maze - the emperor's burial chamber - they can try to push it into the deep pit surrounding the platform housing the sarcophagus. Once the players get rid of the guardian, they can safely rest. And as a bonus, there's a map of the maze inscribed in the floor before the sarcophagus, so the players can now see the full dungeon map and explore the remaining rooms at their leisure.

I had a lot of fun designing and running this dungeon, and the players had a blast holding off and battling the guardian. Check out Dallas' writeup of starting new characters for the session and a runthrough of the dungeon and how the characters handled it.

Solved maze, with the path from the entrance to the centre.

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