Adventure Backdrop: Deep Roads

I’ve been playing a lot of the computer game Dragon Age: Origins recently and I’ve really enjoyed the great writing of the game: they really put together a deep and interesting history for the game’s setting.  One of the elements of this history keeps inspiring me with adventure ideas and encounters every time I think about it: The Deep Roads.

In the game’s history the dwarven people once had a vast underground empire.  The cities of this empire were connected by a massive series of tunnels that the dwarves had dug and that spanned hundreds of miles underground.

This idea, a series of underground highways, just keeps inspiring me as a DM.  What heroic adventures must have been undertaken as those roads were first carved?  What difficulties must have faced those undertaking the creation of such an ambitious work?  What troubles and opportunities did the Deep Roads create during the heyday of the dwarven empire?  And after the empire’s fall, when the deep roads were lost to them, taken over by horrors from below, what opportunities for adventure do they present?  Who could resist the lure of the lost treasures of a dwarven empire?  What needful items might be lost down their dark and crumbling avenues?

In the coming days I will be posting some encounters, creatures, and adventure seeds that take place against this inspiring backdrop.  For today, I refer you to one of the creatures that slithers along the dark passages of the underdark: the Crawling Drake.

Crawling Drake

This creature’s common name is something of a misnomer, as this dragon-like creature has no legs, just a scaly, sinuous, serpentine body and a pair of muscular wings. Able to rise and strike by propping itself up with its wings, these drakes deliver vicious wounds with their snapping jaws.

The origin of their species is speculated to be a mixture of dark things of the underlands, such as a corruption of fang dragon touched by creatures from the outer realms of cruelty and madness. Able to speak a few words of broken draconic and undercommon, crawling drakes are not especially intelligent, but they are tremendously fearsome, nasty and cruel.

Crawling drakes are crafty combatants and adept stalkers, and so will ambush their prey when possible. Once they pick a target, they will attempt to crush them in their coils while delivering bite after bite.  If possible they will attack the weakest-looking member of a group first.

Presented below is the wyrmling version of this monstrosity, as it is encountered while still young and relatively small.

Wyrmling Crawling Drake Level 5 Elite Lurker
Medium Aberrant Magical Beast (Reptile)- XP 400

Initiative +11 Senses Perception +9
HP 96; Bloodied 48
AC 19 Fortitude 17, Reflex 18, Will 16
Vulnerable 5 poison
Saving Throws +2
Speed 4, fly 8
Action Points 1


Venomus Bite – At-Will, Standard Action, Poison
+10 vs AC, 1d10 + 4 damage, the target is grabbed, and make a secondary attack:
Secondary Attack – Venom
+8 vs Fortitude, 1d6 + 4 posion damage and ongoing 5 poison damage (Save Ends).

Crushing Coils – At-Will, Minor Action
Target must be grabbed
+8 vs Fortitude, 3d8 + 4 damage and the target is weakened until the end of its next turn.

Hypnotic Coils – Immediate Interrupt when Attacked, One target within close blast 5, Recharge 4-6
As you prepare to strike the loathsome beast, its moving coils cause a sudden disorienting vertigo.
+6 vs Will, the target is dazed (save ends) and takes -4 on the triggering attack’s to-hit roll.

Alignment Evil – Languages some Undercommon, Draconic
Skills Perception +9, Stealth +12
Str 18 (+6) Dex 21 (+7) Wis 15 (+4)
Con 12 (+3) Int 9 (+1) Cha 9 (+1)

A character knows the following about crawling drakes with the following Dungeoneering skill checks:
DC 15: These large aberrant reptiles, called Crawling Drakes by the dwarves, are dangerous hunters of the caverns below the surface.
DC 20: Crawling Drakes use a venomous bite and their crushing coils to kill their prey, and have strangely hypnotic power over men’s minds.
DC 25: Ironically, though venomous, Crawling Drakes are themselves particularly susceptible to poison.

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Phylactery of Faithfulness

This small container holds pieces of parchment bearing holy tracts.  Worn tied to the head with leather straps it serves as a constant reminder of your god’s commandments.

Level 8
3,400 gold
Head Slot Item

Effect: while worn this item gives a +2 sacred bonus to your Will defense against attacks with the Charm keyword.

Power (At-Will, Standard Action): by praying to your god for guidance, you learn weather a stated course of action will violate your god’s code of conduct or offend your god’s principals.

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Altar of Transfixion

Altar of Transfixion
Level 5 Warder (500 XP)

The ziggurat altar ahead has a swirling aura about it, oscillating wildly in scintillating patterns.

Trap: This shrine is linked to the Abyss, and attempts to daze those in its area of of effect while its allies strike.

Perception: No skill check required.
Additional Skills: Religion
DC 20: PC recognizes the altar.
DC 30: PC can read the runes on the altar.

Trigger: An enemy approaches within 3 squares.
Free Action, One enemy within Close Burst 3 Attack: +10 vs. Will
Hit: Target is pulled 1 square and dazed (save ends)

Countermeasure: An adjacent character can disable the trap with a DC 24 Thievery check or a DC 24 Religion check (with a holy symbol).

Additional Description: Runes run along the steps of the ziggurat spelling out the name “Tharizdun” in Abyssal and the horrors that he inspires.

Additional Effect: If Tharizdun’s name is uttered in Abyssal in the aura of the altar, the altar makes an attack at +10 vs. Will against all enemies within close burst 3, dealing 3d10 damage to all affected.

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Dark Hounds of Sin

Dark Hounds of Sin wander the earth, tempting humans and their brothers with sin. Some take the forms of humans to lure their prey into dark alleys and private homes where they can strike.

There are different dog types for each sin, each of which embody a particular sin. Here is an example of a Dark Hound of Gluttony, who may be encountered at a banquet in the court of a castle.

Dark Hounds of Sin (Gluttony)
Size/Type: Medium Outsider (Evil, Extraplanar, Lawful)
Hit Dice: 16d8+32 (103 hp)
Initiative: +9
Speed: 50 ft. (10 squares)
Armor Class: 28 (+5 Dex, +10 natural, +3 hide armor), touch 13, flat-footed 16
Base Attack/Grapple: +16/+24
Attack: Bite +18 melee (1d10+5/19-20 plus 1d6 poison)
Full Attack: Bite +13 melee (1d10+5/19-20 plus 1d6 poison)
Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.
Special Attacks: Breath weapon, poison bite, rend
Special Qualities: Darkvision 60 ft., protection from good, scent, vulnerability to water, shape shift
Saves: Fort +14, Ref +11, Will +12
Abilities: Str 21, Dex 21, Con 15, Int 8, Wis 11, Cha 4
Skills: Intimidate +22, Jump +20, Listen +16, Spot +18, Survival +10*, Tumble +12
Feats: Alertness, Improved Critical (bite), Improved Initiative, Weapon Focus (bite)
Environment: Outer Planes and urban environments
Organization: Solo
Challenge Rating: 12
Treasure: None
Alignment: Always lawful evil
Advancement: 17-26 HD (Large)
Level Adjustment: —

A typical hound of sin stands 5 feet high at the shoulder and weighs 140 pounds.

Hounds of sin are always encountered alone.

Shape Shift (Su): Three times a day, hounds of sin can shape shift into humanoid forms in order to tempt their humanoid prey.


Hounds of sin sneak up behind their prey, employing razor-sharp teeth to bite into and rend their opponents.

The natural weapons of hounds of sin are treated as evil-aligned and lawful-aligned for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

Breath Weapon (Su): 10×10 area of noxious poison that quickly fills an area, dealing 2d6 poison damage, Fortitude DC 25 to negate. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Poison Bite (Su): Hounds of sin deal an extra 1d6 points of poison damage every time they bite an opponent, as if these bites are a poison weapon.


Hounds of sin have a +10 racial bonus on Hide and Move Silently checks, which are commonly used.

*They also receive a +8 racial bonus on Survival checks when tracking by scent, due to their keen sense of smell.

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Mirror & Door Puzzle

Everyone loves puzzles thrown into their games every now and then.  They provide an opportunity to stretch the player’s brain-muscles in a different way, and can really draw the players into the adventure by giving them a compelling reason to explore their surroundings carefully.  This area is a locked and warded room with a puzzle-locked door and a couple of trapped items.    

Comfortable furniture adorns this room – a chair and small table with a lit oil lamp, and a closed wooden chest.  On the walls hang several paintings of priests ministering to the needy, and a small framed mirror hangs on the west wall.  Other than the door you entered by two closed doors lead out – one north and one east. 

Upon the false door to the north and the empty chest are magical petrification traps (Hard DC Thievery or Arcana check to spot, DC hard + 5 Thievery to disarm) for intruders that trigger when opened – blackness pours out and attacks at +(Level -2) vs Fortitude, on a hit the target is slowed (save ends), on first failed save target is immobilized (save ends), on second failed save target is petrified.

This door is arcane locked (DC Level + 26 Thievery or strength to open) with an inscription: “I am deaf, dumb and blind, but I always tell the truth”  Reading the inscription phonetically backwards opens the door.

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