The Hall of Tentacles

This week I am focusing on an individual encounter. Our basic D&D group was nearing the end of their second arc of adventures, and I put The Hall of Tentacles together to give them a challenging boss fight.

My villain was initially a lone spellcaster. This presented me with a challenge in terms of how to set up the fight and make it entertaining for my players. I wanted to avoid an anti-climactic fight, where the 5 party members simply rushed the antagonist and beat her into submission. On the other hand, if I built her strong enough to take a beating, my fear was that she would be too deadly.

I settled on using a bit of DM fiat and making up some special mechanics & creatures specifically for this fight. While my players are fairly new to the hobby, I wanted to keep them on their toes. Rather than pulling directly from the Rules Cyclopedia or Creature Catalog, I created some things of my own. If you are a stickler for RAW, this type of thing might not be for you. That said, my group was really engaged for the duration of the fight and at times you could cut the tension with a knife.

As always, I will keep this system agnostic and refrain from any specific stats. Instead, I’ll simply lay out what worked from me. Hopefully it will be useful to spark some ideas for your own games. From there it should be an easy matter of dialing things up or down to suit your needs.

The wicked D’Sara Shahari. Artwork © 2015 Dean Spencer, used with permission. All rights reserved.

The Setup

A Kosantian witch named D’Sara Shahari has been the driving force behind a number of the party’s early adventures. Hoping to impress her patron, she has been on a streak of dastardly deeds. D’Sara has recently taken up residence in Rohrbach Castle, on the outskirts of the small village of Brindle.

Baron August Rohrbach has always dabbled in the dark arts. Never able to obtain any real power, he leapt at the chance to offer shelter to the witch and hopefully learn her ways. Unfortunately for the nobleman, he learned too late that D’Sara had no desire to take on a pupil but rather was interested in something sinister below the castle.

Over the past few weeks, the witch has effectively taken control of Rohrbach Castle. Most of the staff have run off and the baron has been reduced to being her mindless thrall. Gaining access to the laboratory in the catacombs under the keep, she summoned a tentacled horror from the murky waters below. Having kidnapped two young children from the nearby village, she plans to sacrifice the youths in a gesture to honor her patron.

The party tracked D’Sara to Brindle, where they learned of the missing children and gathered enough intel to believe that the witch was residing within the castle walls. After surveilling the structure, the party discovered a cave entrance along the riverbank.

Wading through ankle-deep water and catching occasional glances of something slithering on the periphery, the party made their way through the caverns below the castle. Finally coming to higher ground, they saw light coming from the passageway to the north. This ultimately lead them to location #13, the entrance to the laboratory cavern.

The Laboratory Cavern

This large room is well lit with torches around its circumference. Tables with various jars, bottles, and equipment will make it immediately clear to the party that this is some type of laboratory.

Already aware of the party’s presence, D’Sara will be waiting for them at the top of the stairs (location #14). Baron Rohrbach stands nearby (location #15) awaiting the bidding of his master.

Interspersed about the room are 12 pools, open to the water below. Each is circled with a bronze band featuring strange runes. The reflection of the torchlight on the water gives the cavern’s ceiling a queer look, as if it is undulating.

Suspended 10’ over the pool at location #3 is an iron cage holding Ulli & Greta Stoll (the children from the village). The cage is held by a rope that goes up to the ceiling and then over to the far wall (location #16) where it is tied off.

The Fight

When the party enters the room, allow them a moment to take in their surroundings. Unless immediately rushed, D’Sara will deliver a villainous soliloquy and the children will call out for help. As soon as any of the party members start to close the distance to either the children or D’Sara, roll for initiative and the encounter will begin in earnest.

The crone has no intention of going toe to toe with a party of adventurers. She will hold her position and hurl spells at the do-gooders when they come within range. If things start to go poorly for her she will not be averse to the concept of turning and attempting to flee.

Baron August Rohrbach. Art by Bartek Blaszczec.

Baron August Rohrbach has been under the witch’s spell for weeks and is barely clinging to his humanity. Gaunt from lack of food, he could easily be mistaken for some type of undead. At this point he is really no more than an automaton mindlessly following orders. Dressed in his family’s ceremonial plate armor and carrying a longsword, the baron moves at 50% of the speed of a normal human.

His ensorcelled state will leave him immune to charm or fear effects. He should have fairly high HP but only dish out moderate damage. He will ignore ranged attacks but will immediately turn and engage anyone who enters into melee with him

With a word from his mistress at the start of the fight, Baron Rohrbach will shamble to location #16 and start hacking at the rope that holds the children’s cage over the pool. Unless interrupted by the party, he will succeed in cutting the rope in 3 rounds and the cage will splash into the pool below.

If the rope is cut and the cage hits the water, it will be fully submerged within 2 rounds. The combination of cage and children weigh a total of 190 lbs. The water under the cavern is shallow enough that the cage may be reached even if fully under water. The children will perish if they are underwater for more than 3 rounds.

If the evil witch, her mesmerized lackey, and the trapped children were not enough, the party will face one final peril. D’Sara chose this location because she wanted to make a sacrifice honoring her patron. She knew of an unspeakable horror residing in the river that runs alongside the castle. This tentacled monstrosity is lurking and waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Grid/No labels

I never had any intention of having my group face some giant beastie here. However this served to build the tension while also making the encounter more interesting. At the top of every round, roll a d12. A hideous pink tentacle will then burst out or the corresponding pool. The tentacles have a reach of 5’ from their point of origin and will attack the closest party member that they can reach.

Play with the tentacle mechanics as you see fit, based on the level and capabilities of your party. For my group, I kept things easy and avoided bogging things down. I had a hit indicate that a tentacle had grabbed the party member. A grabbed party member would suffer 1d4 points of damage from being constricted each round that they were grabbed. They could not move and made attacks with a -1 penalty. Grabbed party members are freed either through destroying the tenacle (I made this relatively easy, giving each tentacle only 4 HP) or after making a successful “Open Doors” check.

The tentacled creature itself will never make a full appearance. Once D’Sara has been dealt with or fled, the tenacles will retreat into the murky depths.

Recap

This yielded a fun encounter for our group. I realize it is a bit unorthodox, but it gives you a number of variables to tune as needed in order to challenge your party. The abilities for D’Sara & Baron Rohrbach are obviously wide open for you to play with. The tentacles themselves could easily be tweaked by adding greater frequency, longer reach, or more damage.

No grid/No labels

I purposely strayed from known creatures and tried to focus on mechanics that would make for an exciting evening around the table. Thinking back to Robert E. Howard or HP Lovecraft stories, I always enjoyed how the abilities and origins of magic users or eldritch horrors were left very vague. While it may be blasphemy to some, I think it avoids a lot of meta gaming on the player side to keep them on their toes a bit and show them something that they have not seen before. Let me know what you think and thank you for stopping by.