Delving Dave’s Dungeon
Adventurers complete quest.
Adventurers get a reward.
Adventurers’ reward will generate more adventures.
The latest ale, spirits and wine shipment has gone missing. (Bandits)
The beer has gone bad. (Angry fey creatures or are they just having fun?)
Enemies invade the keep through the secret tunnel. (Who betrayed the adventurers?)
A marauding monster in the countryside is terrorizing the farmsteads. Several hunting parties have dispatched, but none have returned.
A visiting dignitary has vanished in their territory. They were last seen entering the region. Their kingdom of origin is holding the local lords responsible. (Will this lead to war?)
What about a drow or duergar invasion coming from beneath the keep?
From Ted’s Head
From the Nerditor’s Desk
This week’s topic could not be more appropriate since the Nerdarchy crew is in the UK as guest Dungeon Masters for the D&D in a Castle event!
(So weird, right? Like we planned it this way…)
One of the many fantastic takeaways after guiding players through an epic three-day campaign is how much adventure there is to be had without leaving the castle grounds.
Lumley Castle, the setting for the event, is massive! There are so many corridors and chambers, rooms, halls, gardens, and courtyards in this incredible location. The castle was constructed in 1389, and wandering the grounds I was struck by the sense of history contained within. Everywhere I went, I discovered little details to inspire imagination. I wondered what had taken place within these walls.
Did castle defenders battle invaders in the guard room where we played D&D?
What sort of performances did medieval troupes put on in the banquet hall where modern-day bards entertained our own dinner feasts?
What sort of reign did each of the lords rule with? There are so many portraits and busts of former rulers decorating the place.
Libraries contained straight up secret doors and hidden alcoves behind bookcases, narrow spiral stairs wound up towers (one leading to my room at the top!), and the castle entrance commanded a view of the surrounding lands for miles.
In essence, a castle is as lively — and populated — as a small village all by itself. In fact, there’s way more staff and guests at Lumley Castle than there is in the small coastal village where my home game takes place!
Castles hold many secrets, and history, inside. They are a bastion against hostile forces (real or fantastic) outside their walls and homes to folks of all stripes. In our D&D adventures, it’s not uncommon for a castle to be a one-time quest location, cleared of monsters and treasure before moving forward with the story.
But I’ve fallen in love with the idea of a game set entirely within and around a castle. And since we’re talking D&D, we’ve got the tools to make the myths and mysteries come alive in the campaign.
That’s exactly what the Nerdarchy crew did with our players, too! We took our inspiration from the real history of these places and guided our groups through fantastic stories where these castle legends became all too real. Ghosts, hidden dungeons, and noble family curses are just a few of the elements our adventuring parties were thrust into, but what really had an impact was the denizens they came to know and genuinely sought to aid.
A castle is not just an edifice of stone. It is a place where families live. The ruling nobles, as well as staff and their families, form a microcosm of intertwined lives.
Here are a few tips I learned that helped inspire story elements the awesome players I was honored to welcome as new friends got to interact with and weave their heroic tale through:
What brought the ruling family to prominence? In our case, the Phasiandae family grew from chicken farmers to a powerful lineage who raised exotic birds, most notably peacocks. This was a huge part of the story that also inspired the characters’ actions like the peacock-shaped fireball sculpted by the wizard in the final encounter. So dramatic and cool!
Who are the castle staff? The people who keep things running know as much or more about the castle than the nobles! Franny the scullery maid, Edvard the sage and Gileas the gardener were all key NPCs with a major impact on the story we wove together. But having a list of everyone in the castle was a tremendous resource the players really loved since we were prepared for their investigations with colorful characters ready to go.
What secrets, legends, myths, and mysteries surround the castle? A covered up murder from long ago, a guarded family curse and a slow-moving coup by sinister forces are just a few of the plots going on in our adventure.
What factions exist at the castle? There are the nobles of course. But in my game, there were two outside factions waging their own clandestine battle under everyone’s noses. Even the evil extraplanar threat was opposed by a second force — also evil — making for strange allies of the heroes.
What fantastical elements does your castle contain? In my game, there was a dark mirror version of the castle inhabited by opposite versions of everyone. Cultists devoted to Abalor the Abhorrent were poisoning the cistern beneath the castle, and the family crypts went much deeper beneath the earth, concealing an ancient burial chamber where the first of the family line plotted in the darkness to seize power and dominate the world.