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!

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Scarlet Caverns

Because I wanted to keep trying solo dungeon runs separately from some urban adventure, I rolled up a character specifically for delving and finding gold. In the Red Tide setting, the stereotypical dwarven lust for gold is explained by their “religion” or at least their metaphysical views about using it in the afterlife to attack a goddess or something.

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Text-based RPG campaign ideas

I have difficulty finding time to play RPGs lately due to other obligations (family, work, etc.) While I like solo play, that provides a different sort of experience altogether. Roll20 presents an interesting alternative, but most folks want to play with voice chat, and that creates more real-life conflicts because my house is generally noisy except when we’re all asleep.

Because of that, I have started trying to get into play-by-post games. Currently, that only includes a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign using Sine Nomine’s Red Tide setting. This might point the way to a better method for me, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to every type of campaign. “Urban” campaigns, focused on intrigue, diplomacy, and espionage seem to lend themselves more naturally to this format, because they focus more on character interactions and less on crunchy mechanics (at least in my experience).

Dungeon exploration, however, seems less interesting to me in a forum-based campaign, although in a “live text” game via instant-messaging or IRC or similar that would probably go very well. My recently-acquired copy of Castle Gargantua (review pending!) in particular should support that type of campaign. I’d like to run a traditional megadungeon at some point, such as Rappan Athuk or Stonehell, but my life right now doesn’t support that so easily. When it does, I will probably do so via some sort of open table campaign since that also tends to work better for adults.

So right now I am leaning towards one or both of the following types of campaigns:

  1. Urban intrigue via play-by-post, using either Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition or A Song of Ice and Fire. The latter lends itself much more closely to this type of campaign, but I feel like it will be harder to find participants due to the smaller player base. The new season of Game of Thrones might grab some players’ attention, but that seems like a long shot. 5e has enough social mechanics that I could use it for this (and the DMG has some explicit advice in this regard).
  2. Dungeon exploration via text chat, probably with Castle Gargantua the first time around. This might actually be a good candidate for continuing to use Roll20, where I have a Pro membership. The updated LotFP character sheet and support for maps (CG only uses them in a few places) would help here.

That said, I probably won’t start either of these until later in the spring as I have some other (non-RPG) projects that require my attention first.

Scarlet Dungeon


Most of the time when playing Scarlet Heroes, I run an urban adventure. This time, I wanted to see how the solo dungeon adventures work. So I took my magic user Ye Xue into a temple to see what he can find, looking for some magical knowledge or something.

Type: Temple (Heretic Hideout)
Size: 1d20=14 locations
Inhabitants: Massacre (Hungry ghost / Ghoul / Jiangshi master / Ghoul mage / Confused ghost)
Threat adjustment: They’ll send for help. Your first expedition is at a Threat equal to the PC’s level. Any further expeditions are at Threat + 1d4.

Xue learns of a temple where an atrocity occurred generations ago that holds secret scrolls of arcane knowledge. He prepares for his expedition as best he can…

Buys new equipment. Starts with 188 gp. Buys backpack, lantern with 2 flasks of oil, rope, a day’s worth of rations, and a wineskin of cheap wine. Total cost is 5gp.

Prepares Amber Cloud of Somnolescence.

Turn 1:
Enter temple via a garden. No encounter or hazard. Hidden treasure. Feature is present: an unusual piece of movable furnishing, religious in iconography or purpose. Scrolls of something relevant to nearest community. Check for treasure: 2d8 + Intelligence(3) + Scribe(1) vs 11 = 11, success! Treasure is 1/10 of C-type trove appropriate to place. Minor hidden treasure: 5gp.

Xue finds a long-abandoned garden just inside the gates. Among the pots and dust, he finds a concealed scroll with the story of a local saint. He stuffs it into his backpack and heads out.

Turn 2: Exit garden to the east into an altar hall. No encounter. No treasure. No hazard. Feature is present: bath or large pool with an item of information, whether book, note, or talk. Appears to be worth 50gp (will turn out to be worthless).

In a nearby altar, Xue finds a ceremonial bath and a ritual book with what appears to be a gold inlay in the cover. Happy with the score, he places the book carefully in his backpack.

Turn 3: Exit altar hall to southwest into a sickroom. No encounter. No treasure. No hazard. No feature.

Check for wandering encounter: no.

An empty room with bed frames and cabinets. Despite his best efforts, Xue is unable to find anything in any container. Despite his disappointment, he knows he still has plenty of rooms to check out.

Turn 4: Exit sickroom to north… no, just a passage back to the garden. Exit east into storeroom. No encounter. No treasure. No hazard. Feature is present: noncombatant inhabitant of dungeon, motivation is feed on inhabitants or just kill them. Scavenging small beast.

In a small storage room with empty shelves and rat droppings, a raccoon dog is sniffing around. Nothing else grabs his attention. 

Turn 5: Exit storeroom to east into another garden. No encounter. No treasure. No hazard. Feature is present: a piece of original artwork blocks an exit to the northeast. Destroying it would take 1d4 turns of noise. Oracular adjective: Truth.

In another garden, he finds a pathway blocked by a large statue that has fallen. He inspects the personification of Truth carefully but finds no gems or other objects worth removing. The statue itself is far too large to take without specialized equipment.

Turn 6: Exit garden to northwest… no, passage to altar hall. Exit north into pilgrim quarters. Encounter with treasure and feature but no hazard. 4 HD worth of Minions and Elites (Hungry ghosts, ghouls). No encounter treasure but M2 worth of room contents. Feature is stolen artwork, despoiled by the locals’ atrocities.

In a dormitory, the angry undead rise from the dust itself and are upon him in seconds! Whatever terrible massacre occurred here, the spirits of the unfortunate victims never found proper rest. The intruder must suffer their wrath…

Fight: 2 hungry ghosts, 1 ghoul
Round 1: Attack ghoul with dagger
Attack: 1d20+Atk(0)+Dex(-1)+AC(6) = 20, hit!
Damage: 1d4=3, 2 points of damage, ghoul is killed
Fray die: 1d4=1, no damage

Hungry ghost 1:
Bite: 1d20+Atk(1)+AC(9)=27, hit!
Damage: 1d6=2, 1 point of damage

Hungry ghost 2:
Bite: 1d20+Atk(1)+AC(9)=30, hit!
Damage: 1d6=6, 2 points of damage

Round 2: Attack ghost 1 with dagger:
Attack: 1d20+Atk(0)+Dex(-1)+AC(7) = 19, miss.

Hungry ghost 1:
Bite: 1d20+Atk(1)+AC(9)=23, hit!
Damage: 1d6=2, 1 point of damage.

Xue is dead… Perhaps he has simply joined the ranks of the lifeless monsters and may pursue his goals from beyond the grave? Or perhaps the machinations of a life have reached their end.

Urban Adventure in the Red Tide setting


Now that I’ve created a Scarlet Hero, I ran through an urban adventure. Unlike previous efforts, I decided to rely on the oracle tables as much as possible and try to fashion a narrative from the procedural generation. For the most part, this worked well despite a few complications. I set the adventure in the Imperial city of Xian and tried for a bit of a noir feel.

Weather: Wet season (concealing downpour)

Plot: An Antagonist seeks the assassination of a Target

Draw or choose either the Antagonist or the Target, whichever your hero is most likely to care about. Draw the unknown actor only after a successful Investigation scene spent discovering their identity. Scenes revolve around identifying the assassins, learning when and how they are to strike, and protecting the Target from one or more attempts on their life.

Antagonist: Relentless bounty hunter

Xue hears a rumor that a feared bounty hunter has arrived in the slum neighborhood of Naozishan and decides to investigate further. Perhaps this will help him find a patron to latch onto.

Scene 1: Investigation

An allied Actor can get you a Clue at great personal risk. Skill check to help them succeed.

Actor: Crime victim, human, numerous piercings, compassionate, desires cure for sickness.

Wu Song is a city magistrate responsible for the market in Virtue Square. She recently had to spend considerable resources to repair the market area after a bounty hunter damaged it apprehending a fugitive. During the cleanup, she was warned that the bounty hunter remains in the area on another job. Xue asks her for assistance in identifying the hunter.

Check: 2d8 + Charisma (+0) + Knows a city magistrate (1) vs difficulty (9) = 9, success.

Song identifies the bounty hunter as an Eshkanti man named Habib al-Qattan, staying at the Secluded Cloud Hotel.

Clue: 1
VP: Xue 1, Habib 1

Scene 2: Investigation

Search a Location related to past events where a Clue can be found and face a Fight.

Xue decides to investigate the Secluded Cloud Hotel. Knowing he is going into a potentially dangerous situation, he prepares the spell Amber Cloud of Somnolescence and makes sure his “ornamental” dagger is concealed but easily reachable inside his robes.

Who does he talk to? a Promising Artist
What is the Promising Artist’s general reaction? Flat refusal
Check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + Strikingly Attractive (1) vs difficulty (9) = 13, success

Xue strikes up a conversation with a young artist painting a mural in the hotel. At first, she wants nothing to do with his questioning, but after some flirtation, she finally gives him a clue.

How far away is the hunter? The other side of the room

She points out Habib, drinking tea in the lobby. Hotel guards notice the conversation and tell him he needs to leave immediately.

Hostile NPC reaction: Qualified consent

“We won’t beat you this time, stranger, just leave.” Xue decides that discretion should win out, since now he has confirmed Habib’s location and knows his face.

Clue: 2
VP: Xue 2, Habib 2

Scene 3: Investigation

Stake out an Actor or a Location. Whether or not you win the check, your opponent gains a VP due to delay.

Xue leaves the hotel but doesn’t go far. Instead, he sets up across the street in a tea house to keep an eye out. The rain has slowed to a light drizzle.

Oracle: Has traffic started to resume (likely)? No
Does Habib leave (unknown)? Yes, but a twist to the relationship between the people in the situation.
Relationship: coworkers
Check: 2d8 + Intelligence (+2) vs 9 = 11, success

Xue observes Habib talking and then paying the young artist woman with whom he himself conversed earlier. She thanks him very politely.

Oracle: Does she point to anything (unknown)? No
Does she give Habib anything (unknown)? Yes, but an adjustment to the physical environment
Does the adjustment relate to the painting (likely)? Yes

Habib pays the young woman and follows her to the mural, where she makes some changes to the painting in progress. He nods affirmatively before leaving.

Clue: 3
VP: Xue 3, Habib 3

Scene 4: Investigation

Bribe an Actor to give you a Clue. Pay a reasonable bribe or fail the challenge.

After Habib leaves, Xue motions for the artist to talk to him in a private alcove in the hotel.

Reaction: Unfriendly NPC – Considered refusal

She informs him it would not be in her favor to tell him her business with the bounty hunter. He offers to pay her 5gp (minor bribe) and promises not to ever tell anyone. She finally accepts.

Does she know the target (unknown)? Yes
Actor: Exiled pretender, Dwarf.

The artist, Ushi, points out a place on the mural where a dwarven underking is blessing two of his children. “One of them eventually took the throne, but the other lives here. Underking Pyotr has many friends in Xian…”

Clue: 4
VP: Xue 4, Habib 3

Scene 5: Action

Pass an incriminating or disgraceful Clue to an Actor who can make sure important people learn of the evidence.

Xue returns to Song, the city magistrate, to inform her of what he’s learned: the bounty hunter-cum-assassin has been sent to eliminate the brother and rival of the dwarven Underking Pyotr. He doesn’t know where or when, nor indeed who has sent the killer, but perhaps she might be able to make something happen.

Check: 2d8 + Intelligence (+3) + Knows a city magistrate (+1) vs 9 = 16, success
Oracle: Can Song do anything about it (likely)? Yes
Do her contacts want the pretender protected (unknown)? Yes, but an adjustment to the physical environment
Do they want the pretender moved to a different location (unknown)? No, but an adjustment to the physical environment ((this oracle is getting frustrating, heh))
Oracular Adjectives & Motivations: Forgetfulness

Song indicates that her contacts would like something more complicated and sends him to meet with a contact.

Clue: 3
VP: Xue 5, Habib 3

Scene 6: Action

Bring in an outside authority or useful Actor to oppose the foe.

Actor: Feared court blackmailer ((now we’re in the thick of it))
Reaction (NPC stranger): Qualified consent
Memorable trait: Tends work constantly
Ruling temperament: Garrulous
Immediate desire: Destroying evidence
Name: Nuwa

Xue is sent to Peace Blossom Manor to meet with “Nuwa,” a Ravenmistress. She runs a significant espionage operation and is known to be connected in some way to the Imperial Court. Rumors swirl about the specific connection, but in the cloak-and-dagger world of Xian, what appears clear one day fades into the shadows the next.

He is ushered into her garden, finding her trimming flowers while periodically interrupted by servants who bring her parchments to read and sign or otherwise give the briefest of directions. At his approach, she stands and smiles. “Ah, the neophyte has arrived and a new stone is laid on the board. You’ve found something useful to me, something I will appreciate.”

Check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + Scribe Background (1) vs 9 = 17, success!

Xue gives a concise recount of his experiences at the hotel with Habib and Ushi. Nuwa nods. “We can turn this to a benefit, but first we must find out how and when Habib will strike. In the meantime, I will have additional protection placed around Fyodor – another stone on the board, after all.”

Clue: 2
VP: Xue 6, Habib 3

Scene 7: Investigation

Infiltrate a Location where the activities relate to a Clue. On a check failure, face a Fight.

Xue returns to the Secluded Cloud Hotel and looks for a way into the room to see what he can find in the way of targeting information.

Check: 2d8 + Intelligence (3) + Scribe (1) vs 9 = 13, success!
Oracle: How far away is a thing (distant)? The same community
Urban location: Urban palace
Does the pretender live there (unknown)? Yes
Is Habib already on his way (likely)? Yes

The pretender resides in a small palace – really, a villa – in a neighborhood not far away. With no time to lose, Xue heads that way.

Clue: 3
VP: Xue 7, Habib 4

Scene 8: Action

Rally an Actor and their comrades to oppose the foe.

Actor: Foreign Diplomat
Race: Human, Kueh
Reaction (NPC stranger, -1 for risk): Bribeable

Check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + Knows a City Magistrate (1) vs 9 = 9, success

As Xue approaches the palace, he finds a Kueh diplomat and her bodyguards arriving. He informs them that there is an imminent attack and requests her assistance. She raises an eyebrow and starts to object, until he whispers about the Ravenmistress. She blanches and orders her guards to assist in watching for anyone else arriving.

Clue: 2
VP: Xue 8, Habib 5

Scene 9: Action

Sabotage a tool, evidence, or ally of the foe so that it betrays their attempted use of it.

Oracle: Does the assassin know the pretender’s specific location in the palace (likely)? Yes

Xue heads directly to the pretender’s suite and finds several capable-looking rogues sent by Nuwa plus two dwarves attending Fyodor. He directs one of the serving dwarfs and Fyodor to change clothing as a misdirection, intending to then slip Fyodor into another part of the palace.

Check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + nothing vs 9 = 11, success
Reaction (Friendly NPC, -1 for risk): 7, Hesitant Agreement
Oracular Adjective: Pride

Fyodor hesitates. “You are meaning that I am to dress… as a servant?” Xue convinces him that his life is worth demeaning himself for a bit.

Clue: 1
VP: Xue 9, Habib 6

Scene 10: Action

Convince an Actor ally of the foe to betray them. On a failure, face a Fight.

Actor: Instructor to nobles
Race: Elf

An elven tutor is wandering the halls, suspiciously given the late hour. Xue narrows his eyes and explains to the elf about the pain and suffering he’ll have inflicted if he doesn’t come clean.

Check: 2d8 + Charisma (0) + nothing (0) vs 9 = 10, success

The elf goes pale at the mention of flaying and stammers quietly that he was supposed to distract the guards for a moment when the assassin arrives.

Oracle: How far away is a thing (same place)? A few paces away

Clue: 0
VP: Xue 10, Habib 7

Climax Scene: Action

Face the foe’s best warrior- or the foe himself if this is a climactic battle and they’re fit for combat. Face a Fight instead of a check.

Habib steps out from behind a curtain and unsheathes a dagger, moving quickly towards Xue and the elf.

(using Brute statistics):
Brute: HD=T+2=3 || AC=6 || +Hit=+T+2=+3 || Dmg=1d10 || Morale=10 || +Skill=+2 || Move=20’

Oracle: How far away are the guards? In the next room, 1d4 = 2 rounds before they arrive.

Not an Ambush because Xue is here for exactly this, therefore he goes first. Cannot cast Amber Cloud of Somnolescence because the opponent has 3 HD.

Xue unsheathes his dagger and moves closer without considering that the assassin is far more skilled at combat.

Attack: 1d20+Atk(0)+Dex(-1)+AC(6) = 10, miss
Fray die: 1d4 = 2, 1 point of damage

As combat is joined, Xue only makes incidental contact with the assassin as they struggle in the hallway.

Attack: 1d20+Hit(3)+AC(9) = nat 20, automatic hit
Dmg: 1d10 = 2, 1 point of damage

Habib whirls his sword for a moment, then lunges and grazes Xue.

Round 2:
HP: Xue 3, Habib 3

Xue circles warily. His school taught him the rudiments of hand-to-hand combat but he prefers to spend his time reading…

Attack: 1d20+Atk(0)+Dex(-1)+AC(6) = 15, miss
Fray die: 1d4 = 1, no damage

Habib easily dodges the clumsy slash and counterattacks.

Attack: 1d20+Hit(3)+AC(9) = 21, hit
Dmg: 1d10 = 2, 1 point of damage

Xue cries out as Habib gives him a cut to the arm.

Round 3:
HP: Xue 2, Habib 3

The magic user grits his teeth, trying to hold the assassin off until the guards arrive.

Attack: 1d20+Atk(0)+Dex(-1)+AC(6) = 24, hit
Damage: 1d4 = 4, Habib is killed

The sounds of boots thudding out momentarily distract Habib. Xue sees his opening and plunges his dagger into the attacker’s chest, ending the threat. For now, at any rate…


Partial Victory (news of the failed attempt will reach Pyotr), 1 experience!

Favor earned with dwarven pretender Fyodor and Ravenmistress Nuwa. Earned 1 Heat (Xian) and 100gp.

Creating a Scarlet Hero

WuYongI started a new solo play “campaign” using Scarlet Heroes, this time sticking in the Red Tide campaign setting instead of using the adventure to build out a new city. This urban campaign will chronicle the rise to power of a Machiavellian wizard, the Imperial Ye Xue. I’ve already run his first adventure and will post it once I have straightened out the narrative a bit more.

Character Sheet


  • STR 8 (-1)
  • CON 10 (0)
  • DEX 8 (-1)
  • INT 16 (+2)
  • WIS 12 (0)
  • CHA 12 (0)


  • HP 4
  • AC 9
  • Atk +0
  • Fray 1d4 (any opponent)


Scribe (background), Long-distance runner, Knows a city magistrate, Strikingly attractive, Has far-flung family


Amber Cloud of Somnolence (sleep), The Daifu’s Bright Mantle (appearance), Lens of the Enlightened Scribe (read languages), Painted Vermilion Eyes (charm)

Coin: 93 gp
Equipment: Ornamental dagger (1d4), Scribe’s tools, Fine clothing.


Goal: Achieve Daifu status

IC: Xue comes from a merchant family and learned the trade of the scribe at an Imperial school. However, his teachers recognized his gift for geomancy and so he received additional training in magic. Xue’s family has never quite managed to achieve the level of commercial success they sought, and thus he has decided to seek his own fortune in the great city of Xian.

OOC: The trait “Long-distance runner” came up randomly, and when I re-rolled it, the dice insisted. So I figured I would go with it and see where it might make sense, but for now it just informs my sense of his build and physical carriage. I also decided to keep his Constitution at 10 but Strength at 8. He’s wiry and has good conditioning. Knowing a city magistrate will almost certainly come in handy. Mages don’t really need to buy much – they can’t wear armor and don’t need much of a weapon. I intend to run an urban adventure (at least at first), so he doesn’t need a lot of gear. Better save that gold for a time when he might actually need it (spoiler alert: good choice!).



Solo RPG Play using Scarlet Heroes

I finally spent some time playing Scarlet Heroes, the old-school D&D-alike from Sine Nomine Publishing and Kevin Crawford. Unusual for these sorts of games, Scarlet Heroes focuses on very small parties (one or two characters) and even provides support for solo play where the GM is also the player.

The system supports existing D&D material with one or two characters by modifying how dice are read. Briefly, NPCs hit points are replaced by their hit dice (so a 1 HD mook is taken out by 1 point of damage). Damage dice instead map a range of rolls to a damage result (so a roll of 2-5 on damage does 1 point of damage, a roll of 6-9 does 2 points of damage, etc.) And heroes get a “fray die”, which allows them to do damage every turn to NPCs at the same or lower HD as the hero’s level.

For solo play, the system provides lots of material for procedural generation. Scarlet Heroes presents three general types of adventures: Urban, Wilderness, and Dungeon. The last two are fairly traditional sandboxes, while the first tends to focus on intrigue and investigations:

These adventures are the catch-all heading for plots centering around urban intrigue, investigation, political machinations, and grim street justice. The “urban” area might be nothing bigger than a village, or even a remote rural villa, but the events that are going on revolve around people and their interactions rather than the exploration of unknown wilderness or the plumbing of ancient ruins. Run an urban adventure when you want your hero to deal with their fellow humans.

This first time I ran through an Urban adventure, which I tracked in a Google Doc. It developed into low-fantasy and (thus far) zero magic in a fake English society, rather than the default Red Tides campaign setting. While I used the procedural generation rules for “scenes” and “foes”, this time around I didn’t use the oracle that much. That would let me ask questions and get variations on “yes/no” answers (such as “yes, but…” with a complication). I didn’t completely follow the rules properly, mostly due to paying insufficient attention, but anyway it was fun.

This will also help my family game where I run some adventures for my kids just because of all the procedural generation to support the GM (even in traditional non-solo play). I am unsure of Sine Nomine’s stance on add-on material such as additional classes, but you could probably backport your favorites without too much trouble once you understand the main changes they’ve made to old-school D&D.