First off I’d like to say, from a Dungeon Master’s stand point, Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons was fun. Like, REALLY fun. The combat was streamlined, the mechanics were straight forward, and the players were so seemingly invincible that you could throw horde after horde of monsters at them to spice up any non-dynamic encounter that might slog the gaming session. With that being said (and that basically being fuck you, Internet, you can’t tell me my fun is wrong), Fourth Edition did have its flaws, but that isn’t why I’m posting today.
While digging through my loose-leaf binders and Altara Session Prep notes in an attempt to figure out where and how I went off the rails in my current Fifth Edition campaign, I came across the end of my Fourth Edition Campaign, the Palace of the Jewel Mage. This dungeon was designed to take my players from 8th to 10th level, as well as introduce them to their newest “villain,” Kvon the Jewel Mage (who was kidnapping people from a nearby town, stealing their souls, and using them to power a Warforged army). Feeling that the dungeon was too linear, and mind you I was playing a lot of Skyrim at the time, I decided to make the dungeon a bit open ended. If players could pick higher-level locks, dispel higher level magic, or decide an alternate route to take aside from the obvious, then I would let them; which, in turn, allowed them to enter into situations that could very much kill them (I always wanted to test out the limits of battle balancing in 4E, and boy did I ever!).
One thing I also wanted out of this dungeon was mileage. This took a lot of planning on my part, and I didn’t want all that planning go to waste. I always wanted the players, who at the time were floundering about a bit in the story (not exactly their fault, due to the infrequencies of our gaming sessions at the time, but they did miss a lot of clues here and there – which is still the fault of the DM), to feel as if each section of this dungeon they explored revealed a bit about the story behind Kvon, the Jewel Mage, and what exactly he was doing. To do this I took the easy way out and pulled a Legend of Zelda: “To open the main chamber you must first collect X, Y, and Z,” while at each point a chunk of exposition would be deposited via a misplaced book, a stone carving, or a wandering spirit. The way I saw it, this allowed the players to explore and tackle the dungeon at their own pace, but they weren’t facing the boss until they explored all of it. In retrospect, that’s a pretty cruddy idea. I get it in video games, but something about that – especially so blatantly placed right there in the second room of the dungeon – seems a bit cheap to me now.
The players didn’t get a chance to feel the “cheapness” of it though. After two session of play (exploring only about a quarter of the dungeon), my players found their end due to a party split, a trap, and a monster encounter designed for much stronger characters. There were some lessons to be learned from the experience, the main one was how much a TPK stings for everyone, the DM especially. Of course it’s a bit heartbreaking for the players, they’ve spent all this time exploring this new world, getting the feel of their characters, and learning the impacts of their actions; but the DM had spent the time designing the world, helped the players get a feel for their characters, and ultimately let the players whims dictate the dynamics across the entire map. The TPK stung so bad that I ended up placing my Fifth Edition Campaign some fifty years after the events that fell the party, even going so far as reintroducing my players’ 4E characters as NPCs (some friends, some foes, and some yet to be seen).
But: No use crying over spilled blood, right?
After finding the dungeon, drawn on water damaged 8×11 grid paper, I went ahead and spent my Sunday off recreating the dungeon in Dungeonographer (which is a fidgety program, but its fun to use when you get the hang of it). I took liberties here and there in the design, namely making the dungeon feel a bit more “planned” and less Gygaxian, and I’ve redone a few other odds and ends to make the dungeon “do-able” without having to explore the entire thing.
Over the next couple of days I will be compiling the information I have of the dungeon (and making up new sections as I go), and will hopefully have the entire thing, room numbers, listings, and all, on this blog – as well as a PDF version for any perspective DM to download, loot, and manipulate as they see fit.
For now, here are the tagless maps