DM Burnout: While I was preparing this one, I was thinking about writer’s block. I think most of us DMs have, at one time or another, hit a wall, creatively.
Back in middle school, I ran my first campaign, which was well-received. In high school, I ran my second. Also well-received! 10th grade hit, and I hit a wall. I had some ideas for the third campaign, but everything felt very stale and I just couldn’t come up with anything worth running.
I actually stopped running games for the group, and other players filled the void. I still ran a few long term side campaigns (Al Qadim and 2e Ravenloft), but I just couldn’t get my own homemade setting straight.
The First Campaign: I think everybody has that big storyline they want to run. Usually it’s a variation of the "big bad guy out to take over the kingdom, the world, the multiverse, etc" story. Once you run your first campaign to completion, some DMs can pull off a follow-up campaign that builds off of the events of the first one.
The Second Campaign: Usually, this second one pales in comparison and the DM starts to feel a bit of pressure. You can’t compete with the memories of the “golden time”, the first 7 or 8 sessions of D&D that people ever play.
As a DM, the pressure can build and you start to press yourself to match what you did before. It can become stressful, almost like a grind.
The Third Campaign: When that third campaign hits, you might find yourself in a weird spot. You’ve told the story you wanted to tell. Twice! All your life, you had these ideas. You used them. What now?
The Cure: That’s the spot I was in. It took me a long time, but by the end of high school I figured out the solution. For me, it was a combination of 3 things:
- Use published adventures and campaign settings.
- Use your players. Most players have a vision of their character and the cool things they want to do. Do those things!
- Build off of each previous session. The things the group did last time determine what happens this time. That story never ends, and it’s exciting because nobody knows where it’s going.
Pathfinder Trouble: Preparing for this one was not what I thought it would be. I was set to run a simplified version of Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth, an adventure in the maze of Baphomet, demon lord of minotaurs! This will be awesome!
But I read it, and it wasn’t what I expected. Most of the adventure takes place in a prison. There are very few encounters set in the actual maze. I dug up the 4e Baphomet article and read about the maze. Nothing too useful!
So I sat there and asked myself if I could make a maze in the time I had before the session. I tried to jot down some cool ideas, but I drew a blank. I turned to google. I found the one page dungeon site, which was a huge help. I looked at their encounters, which got the wheels turning.
What really helped the most was the 3e Book of Challenges. That is an absolutely fantastic book full of encounters for you to pull out and use.
I got rolling and ended up with too many ideas! I combined some and eliminated others, and I was excited.
Detour: Then, as I was polishing this up, I started having awesome ideas for stuff that could happen two sessions from now. It would take forever to explain. By the end of my preparation, I was dying to run that and was almost bummed I had to run this maze instead.
(Jessie) Bidam - Platinum-Scaled Dragonborn Fighter
(George) Theran - Elf Wizard
|Baphomet, Demon Lord of Minotaurs|
Last time, the group had obtained a divine shard that contained godly power inside of it. The heroes decided to go home and rest before heading into Baphomet’s maze to see about shutting down the portal that connected to Thanatos.
Employees: We did a bunch of joke-stuff with the group’s employees. Their talking cat is in love with a tabaxi and the group hired a new worker – she is an ooze para-elemental (a lady made of lime jell-o, basically) named Doot Fluidia. I couldn’t wait to say that name out loud.
The Greatest Thief in Sigil: The group ran into Ash Vodiran, a thief who stole a huge pile of money from them way back when. He was hitting on Theran’s baby mama! I just wanted to see if the group still hated him. They do!
Theran quietly handed Bidam his arrow of demon slaying. Bidam crept up on him and tried to stab him with it, but his stealth roll was not good. Ash immediately turned into a shadowy wisp and fled.
The group has ghost-grinding dust that can force Ash to remain substantial, but they keep forgetting that they have it. I’m in a weird spot here where I have this NPC that the group absolutely despises and I can’t figure out how to fit him in to all of these stories. He is one of the many children of
Graz’zt and Iggwilv, so I should definitely get on the ball.
Four Balls: I’m guessing you don’t want to hear to much about this, so I’ll keep it brief and vague. Bidam attached a demon scrotum to his undercarriage, so now he’s got four balls. The demon balls are BALOR BALLS that pulse with energy. He went to take a leak and his stream was so powerful that it shattered the thing he was peeing into.
|Graz'zt, Demon Lord of Azzagrat|
Skyshrine: At Theran’s floating castle, they walked in on Graz’zt threatening the group’s succubus nurse friend. Graz’zt was flipping out on her, because he was telling her to charm the group and she was refusing.
She got turned to stone last session, and the group paid to have her restored to normal. They saved her! She is loyal to the heroes, now.
Graz’zt drew his blade, wave of sorrow. Acid dripped from the blade to the floor.
The heroes sprung into action. Graz’zt glared at them and demanded that the group convince the devils help Graz'zt's army get into the layer that Verin (a demon who betrayed Graz’zt) is hiding in.
The group refused. Graz’zt made an ominous threat - “There will be consequences.”
This sets up what I want to do in two sessions. Graz’zt is going to do a bunch of crazy crap that will lead to a chain reaction of epic madness.
Demon-Breeding Farm: The group is in a moral quandary. They’ve been making demon crustaceans known as nephrotics. It turns out that the nephrotics are delicious, and there’s a lot of money to be made in selling them to restaurants as if they were lobsters. The group firmly decided against it. I honestly wasn’t sure what they’d do with this, that’s why I threw that out there.
The group found out that Graz’zt had been here, too. He actually stabbed Areelu, the NPC that runs this place. Graz’zt is in a bad mood because Iggwilv found out that he’s been messing around with Lamashtu (Iggwilv chanced upon the Graz’zt/Lamashtu baby in the nursery last session).
Divine Shard: The heroes studied the divine shard that fell out of the Charnel God last session. I based this off of the Nahyndrian crystals from Wrath of the Righteous. Basically, they can make it into an elixir and keep it in an iron flask. Once opened, it must be consumed within one minute or it EXPLODES for 15d6 in a 30 foot radius. When you drink it, you must make a Con save:
- Fail: In Pathfinder terms, you take 4d6 points of Constitution damage – if you drop to 0 Con or less, you die. I haven’t exactly figured out how to handle this in 5e rules, I might just leave it like that.
- Success: You gain MYTHIC POWER. That’s a pathfinder thing. For this game, I’m saying that it takes you on the road to becoming a god. The group’s friend, Bovina, wants to become the god of minotaurs. Now they have a thing to do it. The problem is that if she drinks it, she might die.
|Soul Larvae, Pathfinder-style|
The group got a huge pile of larvae (keeping them in a herd by using chromatic orb spells and other magic). They split half with their hag friend, Virinis (who lives in the screaming tower from “Umbra”, which I ran way back when).
They had to decide who to give it to. Whichever demon lord got the larvae could use them to gain power. The choices:
- Pazuzu: Demon Lord of the 1st layer of the Abyss. Nope.
- Graz’zt: Get on his good side? Nope.
- Xanthopsia, Queen of Obscenity: Was it finally her time to shine? Nope!
- Uralinda, Queen of the Harpies: She’s the one who asked them to get the larvae in the first place. The group decided not to give it to her, because they were afraid she’d break up with Pazuzu and then Pazuzu would be angry at the heroes.
- Bazuuma: Yes, they gave more soul larvae to Bazuuma, demon lord of positive energy. With her new power, she created a massive floating complex in the plane of positive energy that is safe for demons to inhabit. This is a sort of emergency lair to flee too in case things get dire.
|Odeenka the Marilith|
In my game, Odeenka was very, very open to being bribed. She netted herself a javelin of lightning and other fabulous prizes.
The group ended up wandering the maze for about 10 days. This adventure was an opportunity to build up Bovina, the female minotaur. She helped the group navigate the maze, getting advantage on survival checks (every day you have to make a DC 15 survival check to make progress in the maze). She rolled ridiculously well, so it worked out perfectly.
They actually ran out of rations and were getting worried about food. The maze has all sorts of different sections, some of which I used from Pathfinder and some I just made up.
NPCs: In the pathfinder adventure, Baphomet periodically releases prisoners in the maze so that he and his minotaurs can hunt them. I had found this list of characters from Whose Line is it, Anyway? and I modeled some of these prisoners after them. As the group traveled, they added these people to their group:
- Old Man Glorm: Cowardly old bystander in a western.
- Dakra: Middle-aged woman who is proud of her body.
- Eo Kaplan: Michael Jackson turning into a werewolf (he’s a gnoll).
The Bone Maze
- Wall Trap: A wall panel smeared Bidam and Theran, crushing them against the opposite wall. They took 4d10 damage per round! Bidam smashed through it and pulled it back enough for Theran to slip out.
- Ettin: A sleeping Ettin completely blocked their path. Stealth checks: everyone rolled extremely high!! Did not expect that!
- Michael "Hee Hee" Jackson: Hi I’m Eo Kaplan. I’m not like other guys.
|Oostarix, Eater of Men|
A maze of towers connected by elevated walkways over a misty void.
- The Iron Door: This door had a mouth and bragged that nobody had ever solved its two riddles! You can’t go through the iron door until you do so. I googled two easy riddles and George was all over this thing! He nailed both in seconds.
- The Minotaur: Old Man Glorm was being chased by a minotaur. The idea was for the group to run down this hallway, while portcullis traps dropped. The heroes might have ended up trapped between two portcullises while the minotaur tore the bars open and came at them. Instead… Theran disintegrated the minotaur in one sizzle. He was Oostarix, Eater of Men! He has cool art, he deserved better.
- Rotating Bridge: Bovina and Eravamont Glask (Sean Connery) fell into the void. I had this whole thing where there’s gnomes and catapults down there. The NPCs catapulted back up, and the group barely caught Eravamont. He almost went over the bridge and back down.
Stairs up and down, spiral stairs, etc. The walls were mirrors.
- The Reflections: Their reflections tried to get the group to touch the mirrors, but the heroes refused.
- Circular Room: Baphomet himself appeared in the mirrors. He questioned the group. He realized that they were working with the devils, and relished the idea of killing them. He told them that the device to shut down the portal was in his tower, the Lyktion! It, too, is a maze. Next session, the group will try to navigate that maze while Baphomet himself hunts them.
- Trap: The central part of the floor dropped out beneath them. All of the new NPCs except for Eo failed their saves and fell to their death. Way down there was a hedge maze full of labyrinth minotaurs… but the group avoided it. They continued on.
- Haagenti’s Bridge: They came upon a bridge outside lined with statues of minotaurs with glowing eyes. At the middle was an amber statue of Haagenti, other of minotaurs. Inside it was a black flame – the vestige of Haagenti. Like the vestiges in Curse of Strahd, you could make a pact with her and receive a boon.
Haagenti’s Ice Maze
- The Slide: The group ended up on a slide with three giants froze in massive blocks of ice sliding after them. Eo got squashed by the cubes, totally dead. The group immediately began brainstorming ways to bring him back to life. He rose up as an undead gnoll (now he’s even more Thriller-like) and we continued.
- The ice maze was melting and the un-frozen giants were chasing them! They came to a hallway with a series of sheets of ice blocking their path. The idea was that Bovina could try to minotaur-charge through them, but Theran immediately dropped a fireball. This melted the sheets, but also melted the dungeon!
The exit was a swirling portal on the other end of a frozen lake with thin ice. The group tried to daintily cross. Theran cast levitate on Eravamont and handed him a rope, pulling the floating dustman across as if he was a birthday balloon.
Theran failed his save and the ice gave way beneath his feet. He tried to hold onto the rope to dangle, but he was unable. He fell into the freezing water.
The three giants jumped into the pool and lunged at Theran. Bidam, Bovina, and Eo were at the portal, but didn’t want to leave without the other two. Theran ended up swimming over to the heroes, but Eravamont was still dangling by the ceiling.
The giants had passed by him and were adjacent to Theran. Bidam tried to pull him out but took three devastating opportunity attacks while doing so.
Theran tried a maneuver. He misty stepped to Eravamont. They both fell in the water. Then Theran cast thunderwave to create a sonic blast to propel them through the air and over the giants. Arcana check! His roll: A 20!
Boom, the group escaped and the test had been passed.
The portal too them right to the front doors of the Lyktion, Baphomet’s tower. They’ll go through that next time!