Dungeon Days: The Haunted Manor

Prince of the Apocalypse, one of the official campaigns for 5th Edition D&D,  has a side trek wherein your party travels to an abandoned house to negotiate with a black dragon. Cool, right? Well, in theory. When your adventuring party has eight people in it, “talking to a black dragon”, no matter how big it is, translates to “killing a black dragon and taking its stuff”. There was no amount of spooky foreboding that was going to divert this party’s urge for big-game hunting.

So, I had to redesign the encounter. In fact, I redesigned it on the spot. It helped that I had finished reading through Kiel Chenier’s The Hell House Beckons a few days before. Today, I went back to my notebook, transcribed what I’d written, cleaned it up a bit, added some stuff, and redrew the maps. Here’s the result.

Rundreth Manor was once a grand estate—a little remote, but when you’re wealthy, a little remote goes a long way. Something horrible happened here, though, and the manor fell into disrepair. Here’s how it stands now. All doors are made of wood and unlocked unless otherwise noted. Areas 6 and 12 through 16 are pitch-dark unless characters have fallen into them. Other rooms are lit by daylight.

1: The paint has peeled and flaked off the front porch, leaving bare gray wood exposed. The porch can only hold about a hundred pounds of weight before the whole thing collapses; a DC 15 Dexterity save escapes a ten-foot fall into the cellar—and whoever drops into the cellar first is immediately subjected to the effects of the furnace in area 16.

2: The entry hall is laden with cobwebs and debris. The ceiling rises a full twenty feet above the ground floor; neglect has graced the hall with a new skylight to the right of the stairs. The floor has suffered terribly from termites, and the X-marked squares and the shaded step on the staircase will collapse under a hundred or more pounds of weight (DC 15 Dex negates; the floor collapses into the pantry ten feet below, while the step collapses into [50% chance of area 6, 50% chance of bottomless void {the ghost realm}]). The double doors to the dining room (area 5) are locked and act as a lure for an ethereal predator resembling the ghost of a mimic. When the handle is tried, a DC 16 Dexterity save evades a set of vertical jaws that gnash together for 5d6 crushing damage, potentially severing the hand at the wrist. If the Dexterity save is failed with a natural 1, the gnashing teeth pull the offending character in and swallow them into the beast’s gullet in the ghost realm.  The door to area 6 requires an Investigation or Perception check to discover. It cannot be seen from the entryway.  Once the threshold into the entry hall is crossed, leaving Rundreth Manor requires a DC 15 Wisdom save. Failure indicates that the character acts normally for 1d4 rounds and then suffers a hypnic jerk, waking with a start somewhere in the house (roll d6; 1: guest room bed [area 4], 2: child’s bed [area 8, immediate save vs. disease], 3: cupboard under the stairs [area 6; being transported here activates the fungus and locks the door but does not send the character to area 9], 4: master bed [area 9, immediate save vs. suffocation], 5-6: the character is trapped in a wall in a random room of the house [roll a d20, rerolling 1s and any result higher than 16]).

3: The kitchen is a different kind of dirty from the rest of the manor: most of the other rooms are dusty and forlorn, but every surface in the kitchen feels like it’s coated in a thin film of grease. A rusty cauldron sits in the fireplace (the ceiling buckles above it), and a thick wooden preparation table dominates the room. A rusty set of spiral stairs leads down to the prep area (area 12).  Dozens of cooking knives, mostly meat cleavers, are embedded in the walls, floor, and ceiling of this room, all perfectly polished and sharp. A rusted spiral stair case in the upper right corner of the room leads downstairs to the pantry.  Taking a knife forces a DC 20 Wisdom save; failure indicates that a giddy feeling creeps into the afflicted character. The character must keep the knife drawn under all circumstances and react violently to forceful attempts to remove it from their grasp. Dealing damage to any sentient creature with the knife (knife functions as a +1 dagger) forces another Wisdom save to avoid slipping into a berserker frenzy (as the barbarian class feature); the character continues to hack and slash at the target with undisguised glee until the target is dead. Once all hostile targets are dead, the character may make another Wisdom save to break the curse; failing this save means the character turns on the nearest neutral party, or the nearest ally if no neutral parties remain. The character may make another save every turn of combat against a neutral party or ally to break the curse.  If anything in the guest room (area 4) is disturbed, the knives will fly from their sticking places and attack the next person who enters the kitchen (one attack, then five attacks, then the effects of a cloud of daggers spell filling the kitchen for five rounds or until the offending party is dead).

4: The guest room. A moldering four-poster bed with a chest at its foot and a nightstand at its side, a corner desk with a candlestick and an inkwell, and a window facing the porch. There was once a painting in a frame across from the bed, but it has rotted away, leaving the frame bare. A dresser on the far wall has fallen forward onto the floor; it is home to a family of raccoons.  The first person to check under the bed is dragged beneath it by dozens of rotting arms; they are dragged through the floor and deposited on a meat hook in the pantry (DC 15 Constitution save or paralyzed by the arms, then 2d10 piercing from the meat hook [until this wound is magically healed, the victim’s speech is slurred, inflicting disadvantage on Charisma-based checks requiring speech and a 25% chance of failure on any spell that requires a verbal component. Consuming liquids also becomes an arduous process, and the character must spend a full round to use a potion in combat]). The second person to check under the bed finds a chamber pot filled with any coinage carried by the previous victim. If two or more check under the bed at once, the chamber pot contains 5 platinum pieces.  The chest is unlocked; it is a quarter full of moth-eaten linens and nightwear.  The drawers of the corner desk contain correspondence of the last person who wrote there. Some of it is degraded past reading, but some is still legible. One page in ten is composed in the same measured hand as the others, but is full of dark, violent imagery or nonsensical rambling. There is a chance that the pages will respond to written or verbal communication by the characters, but whatever produces the frenetic scrawl that materializes onto the pages is terrified, and seems to think the characters are the ghosts in this exchange. There is a further chance that the writing answers one question in an earnest attempt at truthfulness and then ceases communication abruptly as a dark red stain with no identifiable source soaks the page.

5: The dining room features a long table that has buckled and broken, a hutch full of broken glass across from the double doors, and a chandelier that speaks to the manor’s former elegance. Two windows frame the countryside in broken glass along the outside wall. The ceiling above has largely collapsed, and debris and chair stuffing are scattered across the floor.  If several characters enter the dining room at once, one of them must make a DC 15 Wisdom save. Failure means that that character enters the dining room at the peak of its glory: crystal and gold accents and tableware, dark wood and red plush furnishings, the walls a warm rose hue, the chandelier sparkling with hundreds of tiny lights. The glamor sweeps the character up and transports them into the mindset of a hostess, who does not take kindly to interruptions or contradictions from unruly, poorly-dressed guests. The glamor persists until the other party members can bring the character to their senses; if several attempts are unsuccessful, the character might realize that these particularly rude guests weren’t invited at all, and attempt to dismiss them, bringing the full supernatural force of the house to bear on them.

6: Careful inspection of the staircase reveals a tiny door, barely large enough for a grown human on all fours, built into the side of the stairs. The door opens with a squeak, exposing a small room lined with singing fungus. The character who opened the door must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or be hypnotized by the sound, crawling into the room and lying down amongst the fungi. The door swing shut of its own accord and locks once someone crosses the threshold unless another person outside the room makes a DC 18 Strength saving throw to keep the door from closing; this save must be made again every round until the door is jammed open. If the door closes and a character is lying amongst the fungi, that character disappears from this room and instantly reappears in area 9, asleep in the master bed (see area 9; after the character has recovered from choking, they feel groggy, as though they woke early from a poorly-timed nap).  Clearing away the fungi reveals the remains of an undersized bedroom, including a tiny dumbwaiter (no longer in operation, but if it were, it would go back and forth between this room and the pantry (area 13); the pantry end has been bricked over).

7: The upper hallway is also patched with weak spots in the floor; if a character breaks through one, they fall through the ceiling into the entry hall in a shower of plaster, hair, and teeth for a total fall height of twenty feet (another ten feet into the prep area if they happen to land on a weak square of the floor below).

8: This bedroom is unnaturally warm. Everyone entering for the first time must make a DC 13 Constitution save; failure indicates that the character sees the room consumed by embers for a split second before entering. Characters that failed the save contract a rare sleeping disease known in Elvish as balam acab (fever, followed by delirium and coughing. Airborne, incubation time 8 hours, initial damage 1 level of exhaustion, character requires two hours for a short rest and sixteen for a long rest, Con DC 13 or one level of exhaustion if a rest is interrupted. Can be cured with a poultice of honey, fresh chamomile flower, and bone ash derived from a white rabbit, applied to the throat for two consecutive long rests.)  The room contains a woodstove (which has partially fallen through the floor into the kitchen), a bed sized for a child, a small dresser, a chest, and a damaged painting of an idyllic garden scene. The dresser contains sheets and child-sized clothes, all eaten by moths. The chest contains an assortment of shabby toys; if removed from the room, the toys become vectors of the sleeping disease.

9: The master bedroom contains a large four-poster bed, a chest, an armoire, a window facing down the road, and a large, pristine painting of a child’s room in better times. Characters who manipulate the painting find that corresponding and magnified changes occur in area 8.  The master bed is just as decrepit as the other beds in the house. Anyone who falls asleep in the master bed (or is made to by the effects of areas 6 or 2) must make a DC 15 Constitution save upon waking; failure means the character immediately begins to suffocate (remaining conscious for a number of rounds equal to their Constitution modifier before dropping to zero hit points). Anyone who clears the suffocating person’s airway by making a DC 10 Medicine check, reaching a hand into the suffocating person’s mouth, or performing the Heimlich maneuver removes a small but ornate silver spoon worth 1gp. (For every consecutive night that the same creature falls asleep in the master bed, there is a cumulative 10% chance that the spoon is lodged deep in the airway and cannot be retrieved before the creature suffocates.) Elves who trance on or in the master bed are made aware of several buzzing shadow beings that congregate around and loom over the master bed. After the trance, one family member or loved one of the elf’s is indefinitely replaced in all of the elf’s memories by a buzzing shadow being.  The chest contains moth-eaten bedsheets; if emptied out, a DC 20 Perception check reveals a false bottom, which hides a set of gold earrings with rubies (20gp), a rose gold necklace with a jet and mother-of-pearl cameo (125gp), a silver ring set with a large opal (45gp), a pair of matching gold bands (10gp each), and a peculiar doll (0gp).  The top left drawer of the armoire is home to a family of mice, but the armoire is otherwise empty. If the mice are observed for a full minute without interruption, they may rise up on their hind legs and perform a pantomimed version of whatever happened to the last noble family who lived here, with upsetting results (mice pay little heed to the nuances of stage combat).

10: A small widow’s walk provides a view of the countryside. Two wicker chairs and a wicker end table furnish the area. Shards of plate glass crunch underfoot. On top of the end table is a martini glass containing an effervescent pink beverage; a wedge of fresh lemon garnishes the glass.  Jumping from the widow’s walk in an attempt to exit the manor results in a fall of hundreds of feet as the distance between the second floor and the ground twists and stretches. Shrieks from hundreds of tortured souls accompany those of the jumper, who lands with a muffled crash in the meat locker (area 15), probably less dead than expected (thirty foot fall plus 3d10 psychic damage). Everyone in the house at the time hears the screams, and anyone who investigates sees what appears to be the mangled and broken body of the jumper lying just past the porch. As they turn away, their peripheral vision catches the body standing up, and if they look back, it’s gone.

11: A large chunk of what was presumably the library has crumbled into the dining room below (area 5). The chandelier is just visible below if one peers over the edge. When characters enter this room, call for a Perception check. If you have access to the character’s saving throw bonuses, this is actually a Wisdom save. Failure means that the character detects an object of great material value on the chunk of floor past the gap (it’s illusory, of course). Much of the floor here is unstable, but a nimble-footed or small character who can cross it might be able to reach the chandelier from above. Climbing onto it requires a DC 20 Acrobatics check; failure by 5 or more collapses the chandelier and the attempting character for twenty feet of fall damage plus 3d6 slashing from the chandelier.

12: The prep area, where most of the cooking actually happened when this house saw guests, is lined with shelves, most of which are empty (2d4x2 jars with random contents). Doors in the wall lead to the pantry (area 13), the servant’s quarters (area 14), and the meat locker (area 15). Rusted spiral stairs in the corner lead up to the kitchen (area 3).

13: The pantry is empty, save for some insects. A bricked-over section of wall used to lead to a dumb waiter up to area 6. Searching the pantry provokes a DC 12 Constitution save; failure means that food no longer satiates the character, and, in fact, makes them more hungry, until their craving drives them to kill an animal no smaller than a chicken and eat it raw. Consuming all edible parts of a carcass in this way breaks the curse.

14: The servant’s quarters. Eight bunk beds line the walls, their sheets a decaying mess. A scattered deck of cards rests on the table. A badly-worn copy of an unusual book rests beneath a pillow on one of the top bunks (consult Books in the Wizard’s Library or another favorite source). The deck’s five of spades is pinned to the floor by the leg of a bunk bed; if the whole deck is reunited, it will always play in the favor of its new owner in competitive games, but will amplify sore losing in opponents (proportional to the stakes and the number of games lost; most opponents will seek violent action after 1d4+2 losses).

15: Behind a metal door, the meat locker is cold and clean, unless someone came here by way of areas 4 or 10.  Dozens of chains suspend thick, sharp hooks from the ceiling.

16: The furnace room contains a wood pile and a large, empty wood stove, its belly yawning open. Inspection of the stove reveals something painted on the inside of the stove, near the flue; it’s a landscape, a mangrove swamp. Those wishing to get close enough to make out the content of the painting must stick their heads in the belly of the stove; doing so sends the character through a portal into the mangrove swamp pictured in the painting, just outside the lair of a black dragon.

Stay tuned for the next Dungeon Days, where we delve into the dragon’s lair itself… –ð