Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Castle Totenkopf (Skullsburg): A Dungeon for 3rd level Characters

Castle Totenkopf is an adventure that I designed for our ongoing Holmes Basic edition D&D game. My design does include elements of 1st Edition AD&D  as well (magic items mainly) so any Dungeon Master who plans to run the adventure should read it carefully, making changes to the Dungeon Key to reflect the rules system being used.

Totenkopf is an old German word for skull or Death's Head (approximately-- and with apologies to linguists!). It does not translate exactly into "Skullsburg" but the latter was the name given by peasants to their Barony as it was overseen by the evil warlord who dwelt at Totenkopf.

I still have not learned how to create PDF's (alas) but as with all my dungeons I upload to my blog, I do grant permission for Skullsburg to be made into a free PDF and distributed in the gaming community via the Internet, although I do ask that my name be credited.

If you don't have a PDF, you can simply cut and paste the Dungeon Key into Word and print it up with the map.

I would dearly love to hear from anyone who plays and enjoys Skullsburg. Please check out my previous posts to see the ideas for playing maps I put out--they are simple and nothing astounding but they will greatly increase enjoyment for your players. This adventure was really designed to include props at the gaming table and I have given you some suggestions on how to prepare for the game.

The map is not the prettiest as I was detained by other responsibilities but it will suffice! Also, the font I used turned out a bit sickly so you may wish to copy and paste it into Word, then change the font to your preferred one. The wilderness map used for the campaign I designed Totenkopf for (Avamere) is also posted on this blog

Thanks for looking.

Castle Totenkopf

A D&D or AD&D Adventure for 2nd-3rd Level Characters
By J.E. Becker

In the days of the Old Empires, an evil warlord named Baron Von Totenkopf  ruled his barony with an iron fist. Legends relate how the Baron won his power by means of a magical sword he named Life Stealer, and how he maintained his wicked reign through cruelty and subterfuge, laying heavy tribute on the lands about and dealing swiftly and harshly with anyone who dared question his edicts. Some say the Lord of Totenkopf was a member of the secret brotherhood of black knights known as  The Order of The Black Helm. Taking the name "The Lord of Skulls", he dwelt at ease in his stone fortress, called "Skullsburg" by the people round about. Skullsburg is rumored to have stood within what is now the Valley of Ghosts at the edges of the Bitteroot Mountains. The Baron's subjects finally rebelled, laying siege to Skullsburg, and killing the Baron and his swordsmen. The days of Baron Totenkopf are long since gone and his environs are now but wilderness, but some say the Baron's treasures were never unearthed, and that fabulous wealth still waits to be claimed from the ruins of Skullsburg. It is said that the famous sword Life Stealer was never found. Through strange devices of fate, your party of adventurers has found an ancient Map revealing the location of Castle Totenkopf. Now you have only to journey to the Valley of Ghosts and find the ruins of the Baron's famed Keep and find his lost gold…

Notes for the Dungeon Master

"Castle Totenkopf" is a dungeon maze adventure designed for D&D or AD&D characters of 2nd to 3rd level. It consists of two levels. The adventure is a short and simple one, designed to be finished in one or two game sessions. It is actually an ideal adventure for introducing new players to the game although pre-generated characters of 3rd level should be used. 

The DM can introduce the adventure by allowing a Map of Skullsburg to fall into the players' hands in the city of Kravekos (or suitable city from another campaign environ). If desired, a town adventure can transpire wherein the map is obtained by a thief character form the library of the Thieves' Guild, or the Map can be obtained from another dungeon. The DM can, alternatively, simply narrate the above introduction and begin with the players at Castle Totenkopf (getting right into the Dungeon) or the overland journey to the Valley of Ghosts can be played out, whichever course the DM finds most expedient for the game session and the campaign .

The DM should create a map of the 1st level of the Dungeon showing all but the secret room and whatever portions have been damage by time, This is mainly a prop for interest. A piece of typing paper can be used, giving it an aged look by soaking it in tea and coffee and when it is dry singing or fraying the edges. The map can have runes or script on it which indicate that it belonged to some adventurer who knew something of Skullsburg.

 If your players are younger or inexperienced, you may wish to provide a clue to the secret door mechanism in the Pillared Hall (see A2) in the form of a notation on the map which says "The Lady of Skullsburg keeps the door to the Hidden Stair."  Older and more experienced players should not receive this clue since the Iron Maiden in the Pillared Hall will be all too obvious to them as the Lady of Skullsburg. However, in order that even these players have a reasonable chance of ascertaining that the Iron Maiden is a more than meets the eye, an alternative clue should be as follows: "Azaghal the Dwarf told me there is a Hidden Stair, but that even he could never find the secret door…."A tapestry of Baron Totenkopf and his Lady hangs in the Council Hall of the Maze…this is intended to be a false clue to make discovery of the Iron Maiden trapdoor lever more of a challenge.

If the DM has time, full scale maps can be painted and drawn on large paper to represent the dungeon environment on a scale playable with fantasy miniatures of the heroes and monsters. Every hour of preparation you put into running castle Totenkopf will pay off in the game session! Dim lamp lighting and appropriately scary music will also be very suitable props for Skullsburg....

Interesting Note: Totenkopf is an old German word for the skull or "the Death's Head"

Castle Totenkopf Dungeon Key

Of the old castle itself, only the bailey and the main keep remain standing, and these are in disrepair. The outlines of the castle walls are discerned in the tumbled and overgrown stone works which form a large square around the place. Almost nothing else of Skullsburg remains. An overgrown courtyard, filled with shrubs, trees and thickets, leads to a ruined wall that was once the entrance to Totenkopf. A hole in the earth, filled with foliage and briars, is visible some distance beyond the broken threshold, lying within the remains of the castle proper--stone steps lead down.

The Old Keep: There is nothing of value or interest to be found here. The DM should tell the players the place looks very worn and damaged by the elements and time--it is e very unsound structure and looks dangerous. Party members who insist on poking around inside have a 2 in 6 chance of bringing down stones or timber upon their head for 1-4 points damage if they fail a Dexterity Check.

The Overgrown Courtyard. The flagstones of this place are cracked and displaced. Flowers, trees, and shrubs abound. Also, here and there, black feathers are found.  As the party nears the old keep and the entrance to the cellars, they will see several birds of fantastic green and blue plumage sitting in the trees and bushes. The birds sing softly, and watch the progress of the party intently. Characters will note that the feathers of the birds are highly unusual, and could fetch a price back in Kravekos. The birds should otherwise be described nonchalantly.

The birds are in fact magical. They have an Armor Class of 7 and only have 3 HP, but they are intelligent and capable of speech. If any player attacks the birds with missiles, roll normal "to hit"--any bird killed falls to the ground and its feathers turn black as it dies. Any other birds will fly away as this happens, never to be seen again by the party.

However, if any party members speak to a bird, it will respond in the Common Tongue. It will relate that it and its fellows are the remnants of an ancient race of birds that lived in the Valley in better days. They have long lived in the trees around the ruins of Skullsburg but they reveal that a party of "Beast Men" have recently taken up abode in the ruins, and have been slaying them for food. They also reveal that a strange plant grows near the entrance to the cellars, a plant that begins shrieking if anyone comes within 10' of it. The Beast Men use the plant as a sentinel--some means must be found to bypass the plant or kill it if the vaults below Totenkopf are to be explored. They also relate that a party of Little Bearded People recently entered the catacombs--they were captured by the Beast Men but their fate is unknown. 

They will warn the party that the Beast Men have very sensitive hearing, are large and armed with curel weapons, and can see very well in utter darkness. If the birds are treated honorably, they will allow each character to pluck one of their feathers and carry with them--these feathers grant +1 on magic based saving throws as long as the bird who gave it is alive.  A mage will play 1000 g.p for one of these feathers, as the birds are thought extinct. Birds killed for the feathers turn black in death. The Birds know nothing else about Skullsburg or the Maze. The DM may wish to obtain peacock feathers from a hobby and craft store before the game to hand out as a prop to each player who gains a magical feather.

Entrance to the Dungeon: This large hole in the earth is rather like a cave opening, but manmade steps, cracked and overgrown, lead down into dense foliage. Amongst this foliage is a Shrieker. The Shrieker looks like a giant mushroom with strange ringed openings around its cap. If players have been warned by the birds, they can easily spot it. If not, they have only a 10% chance of seeing it before they pass by it. If anyone comes within 10', the fungi emits a piercing shriek lasting 1-3 rounds which will startle the party and possibly alert the Bug Bears inside the dungeon (80% chance each shriek), who will then lay an ambush. If forewarned, the players have a chance of eliminating or slipping past the pest, but only if they devise very clever means. magical or otherwise, to do so.  Feathering it with arrows or other missile weapons is one plan they might devise. The Shrieker is Armor Class 7, HD 3 Hit Points 12.

A. Pillared Hall. This vast chamber is supported by a column of pillars that span either side of its center parts. The walls are lined with manacles and ball and chains, making it look as though it was once used as a torture chamber. The whole area is moist and musty smelling and it appears that the elements gain access form holes in the earth above. A slow trickle of water can be heard. The walls of the dungeon have holes in them everywhere. Rats scurry about at the coming of the party. If the party uses stealth, they will hear voices coming from Chamber B if they are close enough. Gaining surprise on the Bug Bears will probably require the use of magic or some clever utilization of party members with infravision if any are present. Scouting and other careful preparations are the only way to surprise the Bug Bears.

If the Bug Bears have not been alerted, this chamber will be unwatched and empty. If they have been warned, then crossbowmen will be set at the archway of chamber C and the holes in the wall of chamber B, ready to fire upon the party as soon as they are clear shots. Bug Bears have infravision and need no torchlight. If the party is too noisy, even if the Bugbears have not been warned, there is a 3 in 6 chance they will notice, and the Bugbears in Chamber B will also be alerted by any visible light that comes within 30' of their location.

A1:Pool of the Secret Door. The Western portion of the Chamber holds a square manmade pool fed by a stream of water coming from outside. The water is filthy and brackish--party members will realize it is undrinkable and not safe to swim in (disease). The pool is some 8' deep. A small cylindrical cage is suspended by a chain above it and a skeleton is in the cage. The Lord of Skulls used to dunk his victims in the pool as a water torture. The mechanism which once lowered and raised the cage is rusted beyond use unless oil is obtained and used to clean it. Players who attempt to chip away at the rust can clear much away but the DM should mention nonchalantly that metal oil would be needed. At the bottom of the pool is a sealed iron trap door which leads to the second level of the dungeons of Skullsburg. It cannot be seen unless the pool is drained by means of the iron maiden (A2).  It is rusted shut but if cleaned and oiled, and the key from Chamber I is found and used, the party can enter Level 2.

A2: The Iron Maiden. An iron maiden torture device rests in the SE corner of the Pillared Hall. It stands open, and a moldering skeleton is chained within. The maiden is securely bolted to the floor. Other skeletons are chained to the walls nearby. Owing to its dreaded reputation within the environs of Totenkopf, the Barony's citizens called the iron Maiden the Lady of Skullsburg. The torture implement served a dual purpose--Baron Totenkopf used  it on those who displeased him but it was also the mechanism by which the Square Pool was drained. If the iron maiden is closed completely and the screws turned down on it, it will open drain vents in the pool which will cause the water to flow out within minutes.

B. Bug Bear Camp. There are 3 Bugbears here, Ooglat, Shronk, and Kra. Oomlat and Shronk are armed with axes and Kra with a  crossbow (20 bolts) and war hammer. They discovered Skullsburg only a short time ago and have moved in and made it a  lair. If not previously alerted by the Shrieker, they can be surprised only by stealthy movement and darkness, but if characters shine light around the outside of the chamber, it will be visible to the creatures. Should they be eavesdropped upon by  a player who knows their tongue they will be discussing "how good the gnomes and their ponies tasted" and who will get the best portions of the lone survivor. Characters with infravision unspoiled by torches will see the Bug Bears moving about within now and again. It is up to the party how they face the Bug Bears-lay a trap, ambush, or charge in, gaining a good chance of surprise. The Bug Bears have Armor Class 5, HD 3+1.  The bloody remains of a grisly feast are to be found here…Ooglat has 22 copper, 13 silver, and 5 gold. Shronk has 27 copper, 12 silver and 5 gold. Kra has 20 Copper, 10 silver, and 8 gold. The Gnome trade goods were finely carven wood items that were burned by the cruel Bug Bears to fuel their cooking fires…

C: Hall of the Broad Stair. This old place is entered by means of an archway lined on either side with human skulls. It is largely empty except that a door is in the west wall and some sort of broad stairwell leads down into darkness in the north. The steps are thirty feet wide and are enclosed by a wide hall with a large ceiling. The steps have been piled up with small boulders and rocks dragged into the dungeon from outside---it is obviously a fortification of some kind completely blocking passage by way of the stair. The debris will require 2 Turns to clear.

D.  Bug Bear Guards and Gnome Prisoner. This room has a locked door and no holes in any of the walls. if the Bug Bears have not been alerted by the Shrieker, the two Bug Bear guards, Gloosh and Horg will be in here gleefully tormenting a Gnome Fighter named Zinifrax. Zinifrax is bound with ropes. If the door can be picked by a thief, surprise may be gained, or if the Bug Bears can be tricked into opening it by means of a clever ruse. It can be smashed down as well. The Bug Bears (Armor Class 5, HD 3+1) will fight ferociously. Gloosh has a mace but also a crossbow(20 bolts), he will only use the crossbow as part of an ambush as detailed previously. Gloosh has 12 copper, 13 silver, and 9 gold. Horg has 19 copper, 8 silver, and 6 gold.

Zinifrax will express great thanks at being rescued. He will relate the sad fate of his friends, saying they were on their way to Silver Hammer, the kingdom of the Dwarves in the Bitteroot Mountains, to trade when they were ambushed by the Bugbears and dragged hence. The gnome will say that the Bug Bears were terrified of the lower halls and never went down there since one of their number was found drained of blood. The DM can role play all of this with as much relish as he wishes…hopefully Zinifrax's description of the slain Bug Bear's withered corpse will lead the party to believe a vampire is to blame. If players prepare for meeting a vampire, the encounter with the Gaint Leech in the Flooded hall will be all the more interesting and challenging…

Zinifrax: If using Basic Rules, Zinfrax will simply be a Gnome as described in the Monster Descriptions HD 1 HP 8 Armor Class 5, Neutral in Alignment. If using AD&D rules, Zinifrax is a 3rd level fighter with 13 HP.

The Gnome will gladly join the party for the remainder of their quest in the Castle, and if desired,  can become a regular  NPC companion of the party or perhaps lead them to Silver Hammer where they can have adventures in the Dwarf Kingdom. Or perhaps the party can visit the Gnome warren that Zinifrax hails from. The DM can use the encounter with Zinifrax to lead to all sorts of entertaining adventures.

E. The Flooded Hall. Once majestic, this hall is now broken and decaying. Its pillars lean, and the earth below has moved, tilting and buckling its floor. Water from the nearby marshes has found a way into here--gnats and bugs have bred, flooding the entire Hall with three feet of water. A Giant Leech has made the flooded hall its abode. It can come and go from the marshes by ways of submerged underground tunnels. It will adventurers who enters the water by attaching itself to the character's legs with a  successful hit (DM should roll secretly. The leech can move perfectly in the water and no one will note its presence if it misses--if it hits there is but a 1% chance the affected character will notice the leech has hit until they lose 50% of their hit points due to blood loss. This is because the leech has an anesthetizing saliva.  The Leech drains 1 hit points per round that it is attached. It is Armor Class 9, HD 1, and has 8 hit points. There is a 50% chance that any character "bitten" by the leech will contract a wasting disease that will be fatal in 2-5 weeks unless cured. To determine who the Leech attacks, you may secretly roll a d6 for each party member or you may choose to allow it to attack the strongest character since this encounter has the potential to be very deadly for anyone who may already be hurt form previous encounters.

F.  Skullsburg Donjon. Here it is that many a former peasant or  official of Skullsburg's environs spent their final days in the Baron's cellars. This chamber is also the resting place of Life Stealer, the Baron's famed sword. There are two entrances to this chamber, both locked portcullis'. Shining a light inside will reveal a number of skeletons. The skeletons are harmless, but there are two Shadows in this room that will attack at the most opportune time. The Shadows are in fact the undead form of the Lord of Skulls himself and the Shadow who killed him, for he did not die at the hands of the peasantry as legends tell. In addition to the 2-5 hit points damage that Shadows inflict with their chilling touch, every successful hit drains a point of strength, and when a characters hit points or strength become 0, that character is turned into a Shadow under the control of the Shadows who killed him or her.
Lying against center of the west wall is a pile of rotting garments and a leather chest. There is also a jeweled leather scabbard and the blade within is untouched by the ravages of time. If Detect magic is used, or if it is used in battle, the bearer will know that it is magical. This is in fact Life Stealer, a +2 Nine Lives Stealer Sword. Aside from its +2 bonus, if the player whose character wields the sword ever rolls a natural 19 or 20 on a d20, Life Stealer draws the Life Force out of the smitten opponent--they die instantly with no saving throw. It affects undead in a similar manner. This power of the Sword will work only 9 times for any one individual who takes it up. However, when the ninth soul has been drawn out, it will ever after function as a +3 sword for that wielder only.  One Shadow will pursue characters from the chamber, but another Shadow will hover here, guarding the Life Stealer. The sword has no alignment, it is not intelligent, but its name will be read in the Common Tongue upon the blade.

 The garments are replete with boots and a golden necklace and hat which lie askew as though the person wearing them simply vanished. The Amulet is inscribed in Old Common with the name of the Baron. This should all be a clue to the players that one of the Shadows is all that remains of Baron Totenkopf. In the leather chest are 1000 g.p., a potion of Diminution, and a scroll with the 3rd level Magic User spell "Infravision". The Baron came into possession of this scroll shortly before his demise and he was of a mind to have it identified by a mage but never had opportunity.

G. Old Guard Chamber. Here is where the donjon guard garrisoned. There are old cots, rotted barrels, and rusty metal tools such as awls and pick axes, as well as bottles of oil used to clean and preserve metal. There is also a key ring whose keys can unlock either portcullis. A red shield crossed by two swords hangs upon the wall--the swords are rusted and worthless but if the dust is cleaned form the shield it will be seen to be remarkably preserved. Emblazoned upon it is a broken arrow symbol. It is in fact, a magical shield that offers +1 Armor Class Protection, +2 against missile weapons. Clever players may realize that the jars of oil can be used to clean the metal parts of the rusted mechanisms in the Pillared Hall.

H. Council Chamber. This long chamber appears to have been a meeting place of some kind. The ceiling is some 12' high. There are the smashed remains of a long wooden table, burned books, and old furniture. An old but well preserved tapestry of Baron Totenkopf and his wife hang upon the wall here--it is intriguing, with its depiction of the cruel couple and their malevolent eyes…but it is otherwise only a matter of interest. If sold it could be worth 200 gold as it was remarkably made.   A round iron candle chandelier is suspended over the remains of the table. If the chandelier is pulled upon with a  force of at least 20 pounds, it will lower and pull a hidden iron bar up from its socket in the east wall, a grating sound will be heard, and the secret door to the treasure vault (Chamber I) will be unlocked--the wall may then be turned sideways, admitting the party into the treasure room. Characters searching for secret doors successfully will find indeed find the secret door but it cannot be opened except in the fashion described. However, the floor in front of the secret door is trapped. If anyone steps on the wrong stones as they enter the vault iron spikes will shoot up from the floor. A thief or a dwarf has the normal chances of detecting if a trap is present and guessing the nature of the trap if they succeed, in which case they will note that the only safe route into the vault is to press one's back against the north wall until one has crossed 20' into the secret room. If they fail at their detect traps, this will not be known and there is a 5 in 6 chance on a 6 sided dice that the first characters entering the secret door will be hit by 1-2 iron spikes for 1-4 points damage each!

I. Secret Treasure Room. Skullsburg, while a relatively small scale dungeon, is a potentially deadly place but it has its rewards. If the characters can breach the treasure chamber, they will have earned a small fortune. Secured within the secret chamber are the following wealth and magical items: 2000 c.opper., 3000 gold., 800 electrum, 3 jewels worth 250 g.p. apiece, a rod carved with wonderous runes which is a "rod of negation" (negates magical spells and effects), the Baron's Bracers of Defence (gives AC 2 with no encumbrance penalties) and a Magical Scroll with 3 Protection Spells useable by any character class. The spells are Protection from Lycanthropes, Protection form Petrification and Protection from Magic. These magical items are from the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide but a DM may of course use desired items from the Basic D&D Edition. He or she may also opt alter the amount to be reasonable for the party size.

The coins are kept in respective chests, but they are resting open, the glitter of the coins an alluring sight in the party's torch lights. Lying in front of the three coin coffers is the ivory box containing the magical items.

There is also, however, a not so lucky item: a small silver skull about the size of a man's fist sitting on the ivory box. It's eyes are two emeralds cut perfectly round. The skull is covered with small round marks and small writing. The skull is the Baron's trap against any who would have dared to breach the treasure chamber. It was crafted by wicked dwarves and although it has no magical effects, it's enchantment was of the sort that its appearance and its mechanisms should not age like normal things. If anyone is foolish enough to pick it up without careful examination, large spiky needles will spring to attention from inside the skull, skewering the hand of anyone holding it. The spikes are poisoned and anyone so wounded will take only 1 point of damage from the spikes but they must also  save vs. poison or die. The Baron counted upon the greed and dishonor of thieves to be their undoing…and if a player given to snatching items before anyone else can get them is present, this may prove fatal. If the skull is looked at first, it will be seen that the round markings are in fact holes and the small cursive reads "Death To the Thieving Hand". The skull will pop it's spikes if disturbed by a sword or spear but unless someone handles it, this will be harmless. If any player can transport the skull without touching the spikes or devises a way to neutralize or clean the poison, the skull can be kept. It's "reset" mechanism is a small ring and chain pulled from the bottom.

All of the above magical items can be set upon the table during play if the DM can obtain them somewhere. The skull can be obtained from Halloween item distributors and painted as described.

There will also be, if the DM wishes, a key to the rusted trap door in the Pool of the Pillared Hall.

In Conclusion

We have left the Second Level of Castle Totenkopf for the individual DM to design. If you desire the Maze to be one completed in a single session or two, you may wish to simply add a single cavern or hall with monsters and treasure commensurate to the party's size and composition. Or you can create a whole new level that conceals even more of the Baron's secrets. Conversely, you may simply wish to have the trap door at the pool's bottom to conceal a treasure or magic item. Your imagination and campaign needs are the only limits!


  1. This is awesome. Let's throw it in a PDF and give it away.

  2. Okay--I've cludged together all three adventures into a Google Docs file. I'll make it public when I have a chance to go through and normalize the formatting and do a rough copyedit.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.