We’ve been exploring tips and methods to steal from existing products to make your home game better. If you’re just joining us, catch up here.
The Scarlet Citadel megadungeon has been our template for how to do it, but the principles in this series can be used with any adventure. This time, we’re storming the dungeon level by level to see what we can pull out and use somewhere else.
Six distinct levels lie beneath the ruins of the Scarlet Citadel, and each one can be pulled out and used independently. When used in conjunction with the tabletop battle map-scale map folio, this can provide tremendous value for home games, even if you don’t intend to play through the entire adventure.
The Ruins Above (Level 0) feature the lairs of an owl bear and some harpies. That isn’t a lot to go on if we cut if off from the dungeon below, but the map can serve as a fallen fortress or outpost at any time. Hobgoblin armies could mass there to strike the local village, or it could double as the hideout of bandit raiders. It could be the inspiration for an adventure about a castle that exists spread across time, and clues to navigating it might be found in the present day rubble.
The Dungeon and Crypts of Level 1 lie just below the surface. The Dungeon is the lair of the Gaoler, a nasty brute who waylays and tortures travelers. You can cleanly pull his part of the dungeon out by using only Areas 101–111. This gives us his torture chamber, a few shrines to dark idols, and the oubliette. It makes for a tidy one-shot or villain lair.
The Crypts can be similarly used independently. We could take Areas 113–119 and drop them into any graveyard to attach them to most dungeons. The open portal to the Dry Lands provides a limitless supply of undead and a clear problem that calls for the adventurers to solve.
Delving deeper, Level 2 has two themes as well: the Arcane Scriptorium and Alchemist’s Furnace. Areas 201–208 are packed full of ooze shenanigans, the results of Danaska Maksilov’s experiments with the titular furnace. Again, this can be a great one-shot, as your players are sure to remember the devious scientist and the dire gelatinous cube. Just place the lab underground in a densely populated city and let a few strange oozes loose to set the players into investigation mode.
The Arcane Scriptorium is composed of Areas 209–218. While Maksilov experiments with oozes in the other half of the level, Cagoth-ze tinkers with time in these chambers. While the two work well together in their dangerous arcane experiments, The Scriptorium can be pulled loose just like the other parts. Use it to reveal elements of the past and future of the elves, or replace the elves with whatever chronomancers best fit your setting.
It might be preferable to remove Area 214 because of its connection to the Crypts above, but who’s to say that the wizard wouldn’t have accidentally opened a portal to the Dry Lands that he then had to seal behind a wall of light? It can be a fun complication if the spell is broken with Cagoth-ze’s defeat, and the undead are set free to roam.
The Dwarven Barracks of Level 3 are packed full of trollkin and clacker beetles. We’ll return to them in the final entry in this series as we explore this level in detail. If you don’t have the book, you can still play along as the Dwarven Barracks are available to check out for free on Roll20.
After passing through the Dwarven Barracks, we reach the Bat Caverns of Level 4, but your players could just as easily reach them during any underground exploration. The Bat Caverns offer a complicated balance of power between three rival factions, the derro Cult of Camazotz, another group of derro, and Imortra the Debased and her summoned devils. Again, classic material litters this level: cultists, deep dwellers, and an infernal wizard.
Options for different play styles make this level particularly appealing. The text gives advice for running it with groups that want to exploit the social tension to turn the factions against each other, or for groups more inclined to mount and a frontal assault. This is very helpful, as the united factions would be more than most level 6 or 7 characters could handle.
Level 4 can be conveniently subdivided into Areas 401–412 where the cultists dwell, and Areas 413–418. Either half can be run by itself, perhaps dropped into a journey deep below the surface world. In that case, Imortra might be the patron of the derro of the village, rather than the balancing power between the other two groups.
The Black River flows through Level 5. This environment draws from some of the classic roots of the game, with alien entities from beyond known reality.
The Black River winds through this level and convenient extensions are provided for those brave enough to venture past the primary area. While the dark truth of the Scarlet Citadel lies here and on Level 6, the villains can still be run independently of the upper levels if you foreshadow them adequately.
Finally, Level 6 is the home of the Howling Halls, a challenge for level 10 characters. Full of elemental dangers and the threat of the void, it can be a dangerous multiplanar nexus to challenge mighty heroes.
For All Levels
When you set out to remove these levels and sub-levels to repurpose them, stay mindful of a couple of things. The first is the physical connections between levels. This is pretty easy to manage in the Scarlet Citadel. Each level is concise and self-contained while still offering nonlinear routes. Watch out for entrances and exits and things should run smoothly.
Foreshadowing is also important. The main villain on Level 5 and the forces they tinker with on Level 6 are hinted at through encounters on the upper levels. If we break those connections, the followers can be adequate villains in their own right. However, try to devise and include enough foreshadowing in the form of revealed secrets and clues to provide a satisfying experience for players. With those cautions in mind, each of these levels functions as an enjoyable mini-dungeon on its own.