After my 10th GM’s Guide Podcast, I’ve gotten some people asking for examples of how I combine the Climactic Event Structure I talked about in episode 9 with the Four Act Event Structure I talked about in episode 10. I mentioned that you should put the two of them together after all.
So here it is, the Tomb of Frozen Souls.
The Tomb of Frozen Souls
Note: This was originally designed for a D&D camp adventure. It’s tightly scripted, but comes across as very organic when you’re looking at it from the player side of things. I’ve run it in many different campaigns for a variety of groups since its initial design. I should note that the campaign setting this adventure takes place in is inspired by classic D&D, but the nature and capabilities of the creatures are often very different than the official monster manuals. So don’t be surprised if an Imp does something it shouldn’t normally be able to do in the monster manual
The adventurers are in a tavern, celebrating their latest victory. People are treating them with respect and kids are asking for stories. Flirtations with admiring men/women may be involved
Event 1 Kickoff (Negative)
A brash, arrogant young man – perhaps irritated at the tavern’s focus on them – begins mocking their victory. He doubts they can even hold their ale, much less (insert prior victory being celebrated here) and becomes utterly insufferable. The players will naturally respond and possibly challenge him to back his words. If they do not, he will challenge them.
Event 2 (Positive)
The players shame the young man tremendously and drink him under the table. Alternatively, if they refuse to rise to his challenge, he will leave embarassed as the crowd sides with the heroes.
Event 3 – Huge Left Turn (Negative)
The next morning the players find the arrogant youth they confronted was the proud son of a noble house (they may have learned this already, it’s not important that it be a reveal but it’s nice). In retaliation for humiliating his son, the noble father has insisted that the heroes be banished from the town.
Event 4 – Positive
The heroes do not have access to easy transportation, so they seek passage. They have nowhere particular they want to go this early in the campaign, so they gravitate to an option that will actually pay them money – hiring themselves out as caravan guards. The merchant caravans are all traveling through the mountains to a glorious seaport, a much grander and more exciting city than the one they are being banished from. After being offered a choice of several merchants to hire on to, they eventually choose one (the choice affects the way you roleplay the character, but not the rest of the adventure). Once the players leave town, the merchant seems extremely protective of his cargo, almost comicly so. It comes off more like a character quirk, but if players are suspicious that’s fine too.
Event 5 – Negative
After some roleplaying, during which you attempt to portray the merchant as likable as possible, snow begins to fall despite the warm season. In minutes the players sem caught up in a tremendous blizzard, out of which explode howling ice spirits tinged with the taint of the infernal planes. They attack the players at first, the merchant screaming for them to protect the caravan.
Event 6 – Positive
Despite the supernatural nature of the attack and a vicious initial ambush, the heroes begin to take the advantage. The fight begins to look won.
Event 7 – Negative
In a last pathetic effort, the remaining ice spirits attack the caravan. They shatter a few boxes, breaking some of the crystal goblets inside. Seeing this, the merchant lets out a horrified scream, like he’s watching his soul break in front of his eyes.
Event 8 – No Turning Back (EXTREME Negative)
The merchant’s scream is still in the air when a chuckling ice imp appears. He makes reference to a bargain that he made with the merchant, which has now been broken. Apparently he requested the merchant’s soul and property as collateral for moving these items secretly (below the notice of the area’s clergy). The merchant had been offered a fortune enough to retire on for simply moving the items… But it had, of course, been a ruse. The Imp had wanted the man’s soul all along. Now he’ll be taking the man’s soul and his caravan, leaving the heroes stranded hopelessly in a blizzard-covered mountain without supplies or weather gear weeks from civilization. The imp also mockingly reveals that the merchant’s soul is the last that he needs for his master to complete the ritual that will feed the collected souls to a long-dormant dark entity entombed within the highest mountian in the range. However, more souls would certainly speed up the process from a week to as little as a day.
Event 9 – (Positive)
The heroes, realizing their position, might take it upon themselves to bargain with the imp here – trying to get him to leave them the caravan. He will refuse. Instead he will hint at things that steer the players toward suggesting a wager, or suggest one himself outright if the players don’t reach the idea on their own. If they can defeat his master before the next dawn, he’ll return the caravan to them and naturally the blizzard would dissapear. If they fail, he’ll take half of their souls (if there are 4 players, for example, he’ll ask for 2 of their souls). The players can bargain here, either attempting to reduce the risk to them (perhaps arguing that if they destroy his master, he won’t be enslaved anymore) or pleding more or all of their souls in exchange for better terms (such as the imp taking them directly to his master rather than making them walk through the blizzard, extending the time limit for victory or anything else they can think of). The imp loves to bargain and should eventually budge on one significant item if possible, though clearly making it difficult for them, in order to make the players feel they’ve accomplished something here.
In either case, the heroes will be setting off to the mountain’s peak.
Event 10 – All Hope is Lost (Negative)
Surprised this event comes so soon? Well events 8 and 9 take quite a while of player deliberation. So it’s later in the session compared to most event points.
After geting to the mouth of the cave, whether through grueling skill checks of hiking or magical transportation via shrewd bargaining, the heroes discover the cave has a guardian. A young white dragon (a VERY dangerous foe for the heroes at this stage) has been chained and locked in a magical collar marred by claw-marks. The dragon is asleep.
The villain is thus established as someone that has defeated and collared a dragon that should be the boss of the adventure on its own. Furthermore, the heroes now face another, very dangerous obstacle before even meeting the villain himself. However, they now have a choice. Do they attack the dragon while it’s sleeping? Or do they recognize it probably isn’t happy about its situation, waking it up to try and convince it to help them (or at least let them past to try and kill its enslaver)?
Event 11 – Positive
The players choose to talk to the dragon. No, they aren’t forced to but they always do. If they don’t, fine – you’ll have a miniboss fight. But they will almost certainly talk to the dragon. If they choose to fight it, it begins to curse its master while at half health… Giving the players a final chance to get a dragon on their side.
Though proud and loathe to accept aid, clearly insulted at any implication of its weakness the players make, the dragon is very willing to be convinced to turn on its enslaver. However, it will need to be freed of its magical collar. This will involve the best magic-user of the group going right up to it, putting his hands on the collar (still around the dragon’s neck) and attempting to disenchant it. After enough time, the players will succeed. The dragon is freed (or killed if the players decide to go the combat and murder route but of course they want a dragon on their side) and leads them down the long tunnel to where the warlock (the imp’s master) is overseeing the ritual.
Event 12 – Climax (Epic Fight, will involve positive and negatives)
The heroes and probably their dragon clash with the warlock and his minions over the frozen mouth of the long-dead entity. Inside the frozen ice above its teeth are the black outlines of harvested souls from the imp’s handiwork. The players can break the ice to free the souls, reducing the warlock’s power in combat, as well as just fight. With only slight convincing, the imp can be persuaded to avoid the fray.
Event 13 – Resolution (Extreme Positive)
The heroes defeat the warlock, send the imp running (if they didn’t have a deal) can free the trapped souls in the ice, stop the ritual and gain some dragon treasure. If the dragon is alive, he bestows a sizable portion of his treasure upon them as a reward. If the dragon is dead, the heroes will be able to loot all the treasure anyway.