Running the Sunless Citadel

The_Sunless_CitadelMy group has now wrapped up the Sunless Citadel. I may run it again for a future group; actually, that would be fantastic as this is really a lovely adventure. Here are some notes for my use. Maybe you can find some use for some of them as inspiration for your own campaign! I also played in another group’s version for a session, mostly just for the tomb section.

This adventure took some time to play through. I think we spent a total of about 20 hours from start to finish (six sessions of 3-4 hours each). Groups that spend less time in roleplay or in larger chunks might be able to cut this back a bit, but in reality the dungeon has so much material that it takes a while to explore. That’s a plus in my view!

As you might expect, this post contains spoilers after the jump. If you’re playing through this, don’t read past this paragraph!

I ran this adventure via Roll20, so we did not use any player mapping options. They made their own notations here and there, but at any given time they had the visualization of what their characters could see in front of them. Dynamic lighting and line-of-sight, of course, meant they didn’t have any record of where they’d been beyond their own notes (sometimes including cropped screenshots, apparently).

For Oakhurst, I used the Village of Kith by Dyson Logos. Looking at the central plaza as a lock, the general store used the building at about 2:00; the village hall, at 5:00; the Old Boar Inn, at 10:00; and the blacksmith, the building to the southeast that backs up to the hill or escarpment.

I played Vurnor Leng as at fat, heavily-jowled old man with lots of “harrumphs” and “now see here”s. He had a bowl of lollipops on his desk that the players loved. Kerowyn Hucrele, the general store proprietor and mother of two of the lost adventurers, saw herself as the pillar of the community but was also slightly uppity from her years of being the big fish in a small pond. When playing Felosial, I went with sort of a Ripley (from Aliens) feel: solid and no-nonsense. She just wanted to make sure the lizardfolk didn’t cause trouble, and otherwise stayed out of the way. (By the way, doesn’t a total force of 21 guards seem like a lot for a place this size?) Rurik Lutgher spoke with a bit of a Russian accent – something I picked up from the Red Tide campaign setting – and helped with the breadcrumb to Forge of Fury. Also, it seemed like the text implies that the lost ranger Karakas might have been a local, so the news of his death met with a somber reception by the townsfolk.

Reaching the Citadel takes about two hours by foot, so a group that sets off at dawn might get there mid-morning. (I did not realize that goblins used Dethek as their script until this adventure.) Also, I found the map of the Fortress Level in the book really small and hard to read. This was a layout mistake, in my opinion.

Locations

  1. The giant ratsRodents Of Unusual Size – could be clever enough to try to push their targets off, in the hopes of feasting on the corpses below later.
  2. This would be a great place for a sword fight… if there were any such enemies here.
  3. It took me a bit to realize that the masonry debris and the creatures within are around the citadel, should any of the players want to climb out of the courtyard. For players and DMs unfamiliar with traps, this provides a great introduction.
  4. The spear pinning the goblin that hides the runes makes for a nice touch, as do the references to Ashardalon (which can provide a hook for future adventures).
  5. My group never even thought to look here. That’s a shame because magical ammunition would be pretty cool.
  6. Every group I’ve seen come to this door doesn’t even think about a knock spell. They find it easier to get it as a quest reward from Yusdrayl. The giant rat in the rubble seems to serve the purpose of pointing out how few enemies exist in the sealed tomb once they enter.
  7. I love this little feature! Other than maybe falling into the pit trap, the effect of the orb doesn’t affect the characters much. It has a great effect on the players, though, who all find it somewhat eerie.
  8. One group had a strong, tall character jump across the pressure plate and put up a shield in front of the arrow firing mechanism. Because of this, I gave them XP for defeating the trap.
  9. The art here is really evocative – but the spell is so easy that both groups got it in less than five seconds. The magic mouth spell is now my headcanon for how animatronic figures like Chuck E. Cheese work, too.
  10. Bad rolling can turn this spiked pit into an extremely dangerous obstacle. Everyone wants to jump it instead of finding some way to create a secure path, like tying a rope to a statue. Providing a bit of a hint about the secret door might be worthwhile for groups of newer players. Jot could be a fun recurring villain, although they took him out so fast he didn’t get to torment them much. Since he’s a demon, he could reform and show back up later even so.
  11. This just bypasses that pit but could also be a decent place for a short rest. Note that the passage actually uses trapdoors.
  12. I feel like the dragonpriest, while suitably foreshadowed, doesn’t get enough attention as a character. Give the players a chance to interact with him a bit before combat starts; he could provide some interesting backstory to the citadel as a whole.
  13. Reusing this tag for empty rooms confused me. Importantly, note that the random encounter table starts on locations with this number and higher. A 30% chance every twelve hours is a little low to me. I’d increase the rolls to every hour, personally.
  14. Not much happened here. The swimming dragons didn’t quite tempt my players enough to focus on it.
  15. Meepo is a fan favorite and a great chance for DMs to make funny voices. Note that the scars are a hint as to how Calcryx really feels about her imprisonment by the kobolds. Also, the fire pit is either a cremation device… or worse. Based on what kobolds do with unransomed goblins, it’s probably worse.
  16. Like 13, this “room” exists in several places. If the characters make a deal with the kobolds, this might provide a safe place to rest. That trap is gross – at one point, Calcryx herself triggered it, which sent her into a rage.
  17. The characters barely remembered this door existed, even though they (and the players) could literally see it in front of them.
  18. A kobold cook pot could be added in room 15. My group knew better than to trust them and brought them back in manacles to the hobgoblins.
  19. Make sure the kobold elites get an appropriate attitude. They are high up in the hierarchy and attend to the leader herself.
  20. Murderhoboes may be tempted to clean this room out. If so, be sure to point out how helpless and nonviolent many of the tribe members are. Make your players realize the moral implications of their actions.
  21. I played Yusdrayl as a self-proclaimed prophetess. Kobolds see themselves as practically dragons themselves, or at least mine do. The “back way” is definitely the long way; give the characters the chance to ask about the “front way” (room 24) and maybe talking her into opening it up for them. My groups immediately twigged to the idea that the key in the mouth of the altar goes to the dragonpriest’s tomb.
  22. I’d add a goblin on one of the meathooks.
  23. For some groups, this could lead to Out of the Abyss chapter 2. That has several smaller fully-contained dungeons itself.
  24. This is the front way. If the kobolds let them go this way, they should point out the trap to them in advance.
  25. More reused rooms, but with good clues to one of the major quests the party may have here.
  26. While the text for this fountain doesn’t specify the language required, the similar fountain in area 29 does (Draconic) so I used that here. The characters may want to come back when their cleric hits level 2 or if they rescue Erky in room 34.
  27. Remember that the skeletons here will pursue anyone who desecrates the sanctuary. Also, this has a permanent magic item, but one that only some sorts of characters will even want.
  28. These giant rats shouldn’t be much of a threat, but somehow they are. They mostly are a hint about room 30.
  29. Savvy players recognize the trap immediately. Regardless, they probably make enough noise that room 30 turns into an ambush.
  30. This room killed a rogue who ran in ahead of everyone and got surprised. Guthash and her brood are no joke! Note that the corpse here belongs to the ranger that the mayor mentioned back in Oakhurst.
  31. Caltrops require characters to move at half-speed or else make a Dexterity saving throw to avoid damage. Note the goblins from area 32; I treated 31 and 32 as basically a single room.
  32. Be sure to have the goblins fight with decent tactics: pop up, take a shot, pop back down into full cover. Once the characters get close to the wall, though, the cover might be reduced to half or even none.
  33. Let a volley fly, then have the goblins take off running. They should be lookouts, not a major defense force. Alternately, reinforcements from room 36 could arrive after a round or two of fighting.
  34. Erky is fun – relentlessly optimistic. Pick a deity for him in advance. Remember that he takes a share of XP for any encounters in which he participates. Also note that the lock here specifically requires proficiency with thieves’ tools (this is the encounter that led to that blog post).
  35. Characters at this point often forget about traps because they get the sense they’re about to head into someplace important. At least it holds some treasure for their trouble.
  36. These goblins are unlikely to take anybody prisoner without help.
  37. Finally, one of the major quests! Note that Calcryx will immediately take out Meepo if he comes in, but he may not realize her hatred for him. She can result in a TPK if a group doesn’t realize the danger she presents. Also, note that the scroll case is a breadcrumb to the Forge of Fury. I gave Erky the ability to make out just enough Dwarvish to figure it out – more or less parallel to the average American’s ability to read Spanish (at least in the Southwest).
  38. My group did not like the idea of “elf pudding” one bit and set it on fire. That smoke was nasty, too.
  39. Make this fun and tell them the haze is purple. Remember that a lightly-obscured area imposes disadvantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight.
  40. Bringing in the goblin shaman might provide some interesting RP and definitely adds dynamism to the adventure.
  41. I can’t believe WotC published a dick joke. A purple shaft lined with veins with a dome at the top and a Balsag at the bottom, in which the players are asked to go down? Awesome fun for my group but it really surprised me. (I did some research and found that this is unchanged from the original. Also, the sapling is not really a Baby Groot… but it could be.) This scene has the potential for a lot of great social RP and players who treat it as a boss fight will really short-change themselves (not to mention risk a TPK).
  42. As soon as they drop down, roll initiative. The characters might even get surprised by the ambush.
  43. More Underdark access – I nearly shifted my campaign to Out of the Abyss here.
  44. Note that the holes are created by the fire snake in 45. Characters moving quickly through here should probably make Dexterity saving throws.
  45. This should be a surprise fight for the party unless they have picked up on the clues in 44.
  46. If the party needs a short rest, this provides as safe a place as they will find on this level.
  47. Lots to play with here. The goblins do not expect hostile intruders, so a good “face man” might deceive them into believing they are allied with Belak. Be sure to give the players a chance to explore this area thoroughly.
  48. The bugbear might or might not treat the party as hostile, but this is more likely than the goblins. Note that the walls “prevent sound from entering” the nearby areas (unless you want them to, of course).
  49. Describe the smells here. Also refer again to OotA Chapter 2 for fungus descriptions (one of my players rolled a 24 on his Intelligence (Nature) check so I overwhelmed them with info).
  50. One of my favorite places in the whole dungeon – a fun environment, a nice little puzzle, an unexpected combat, and some hidden treasure. This is a microcosm of a well-designed dungeon.
  51. Note that the scrolls require separate successful checks. I narrated this as telling them that they were searching through different piles because the room had so much material in it. Also, that “tome of dragon lore” could create a fantastic hook for a future adventure. Maybe even to Forge of Fury if you want…
  52. Not much to say here. Add some inscriptions on the walls of the corridor to keep the dragon feeling going.
  53. The door might need to be kicked in, but my group just bypassed it when they realized that one door in the hallway was locked and the other was not. Too bad as they missed out on some good treasure.
  54. I like checks whose results depend on how much they exceed or miss the target number. Again, like in 48, my players RPed their way past the goblins (and got full XP for doing so).
  55. You can turn this into a real challenge. By the time the party got through the Twilight Grove, they were panicky about every single bush being a twig blight and shooting arrows and sacred flame into every extra-thick part of the briars they saw.
  56. First, don’t say “an evil tree” – let the description do that. I also removed the “like a skeletal hand” part of the boxed text, though to tell the truth I never read that stuff verbatim to the players. Also, by this point the party should be level two or maybe even three. Make them have to work on this one. I gave the three humans death saving throws and played up the fact that, regardless of their RP, Sharwyn will die. This made for some real emotion when they captured her and took her back to town…

On their way back, they traded the fruit they’d recovered to the hobgoblin for safe passage back. And this occurred at the end of a four-hour session so we didn’t spend too much time RPing the situation back in town.

 

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