KNOCK! Vol 2: The Rot King's Sanctum Session 2


And we are back in the sewers of Cliff's End for the second session of The Rot King's Sanctum (first session here). When we last left off, the PCs had just staved off an assault from the cult of Nithis. Grim the dwarf met his end.


#7 CELLS: PCs find a secret door on the north wall. Open and proceed due north in a rough-hewed hallway. Turning right they hit a dead end but surmise there is a corresponding secret door. All of this is against the wishes of Melvin the gnome merchant who would rather get the hell out of there.

#14 ROT KING'S QUARTERS: As PC push open the door they come face-to-skull with THE ROT KING! Ambrose the Kcyran cleric charges forward to fell this foul thing. Melee ensues, but the is short as the Rot King's wicked beaked mace find purchase against Ambrose's soft skull.

With his death, Melvin bolts, and Desdemona and Snorri follow soon after. The Rot King's laughter echos down the hall and the PCs run smack into Melvin. He beseeches them to leave with him and so the party makes their way to the Central Hall.

DM NOTE: So if you remember, the party is motivated to find the tomb of a great tempest mage. But I am surprised the player attempted to press their luck a little further. But that is sometimes the fun of 1st level characters-- go big and/or home in a body bag. Kidding-- your body is most likely digested by an ooze.

#8 CENTRAL HALL: The PCs scout again the area and proceed quietly past the first bridge, but break into an all-out run toward the east door at Melvin's urging. An alarm is raised by the cult and cultists move to intercept at the PCs rush past the west bridge. Fortune favors them and successful initiative rolls allow the PCs to maintain distance as they slam into the door!

#9 EMPTY ROOM: Desdemona wedges a knife in the door frame and Snorri drives it in with a discarded shovel. WHAM! The cultists fail at their attempt to break down the door, giving the PCs time to escape into the sewers.

INTERLUDE: The City of Cliff's End

DM NOTE: All of the above happened with 1 hour of IRL time elapsed. I told my player (remember this is a 1:1 game) that we'd take some time to play out hiring of new people, outfitting them, and figuring out what else they might want. After all, saving Melvin earned the remaining PCs 500 gp.

DAY 1 MELVIN'S PLACE: PCs are allowed to use his warehouse as a base of operations. Still puzzling over a scrap of the treasure map, the first 100 gp is spent on a scribe to answer questions about a copper hand, the tomb, and the cult of Nithis.

DAY 2 CITY TURNS A DEAF EAR to the CULT ISSUE: The PCs next try to encourage the City Watch to get involved with their plight. After all, wouldn't the city want to know about this cult problem? Nope. City Watch as enough to do without running around in sewers. So the player starts spending money to attract like-minded fortune seekers. After 30 gp, the PC get two new recruits with the promise of a full share each and proper outfitting.

DAY 3-17 SCROLL MAKING: Desdemona creates a scroll with Magic Missle and Shield on it.

DAY 18 KCYRA TEMPLE: Attempted to beseech the temple to get assistance against the cult. But like the city watch, PCs were denied and suspicion leveled against them. Instead, the temple wants the PCs to bring back the body of Ambrose. PCs do part with four emeralds as a gift to the temple and received a bit of thanks from them.

DM NOTE: Alright, so I rolled a "4" on the encounter reaction table which is "Unfriendly, may attack". I figured a wizard and chaotic halfing attempting to seek aid from a lawful church after their cleric got killed, but they didn't bring back the body was a "not gonna happen" on aid. And in lieu of an aggressive action, I figure the temple would more make a demand to prove some sorta of loyalty or at least honesty.

DAY 19 CAROUSING GONE WILD: Desdemona is locked in the stockades while Snorri makes a fool of himself publically. 150 GP owed to Melvin to get Desdemona out of the stocks and fully rested.

DAY 20 CONSULT THE STARS and BACK TO THE SEWERS: The stars offered nothing to this newly formed band of heroes and so it was back to the sewers almost a full month since their initial delve. Surely the cult has forgotten about them.

Yellow is Session 1,
Orange Session 2 ACT I, Pink Session 2 ACT II


#9 EMPTY ROOM: The PCs attempt re-entry back through the secret door where they first must dispatch swarms of rot flies. Their dagger still in place indicated the cult has not been here recently.

#8 CENTRAL HALL: With a much more violent plan in mind, Snorri scouts ahead to perform a ranged sneak attack! One cultist falls, but the new fighters Vayloc and Seranes are able to follow up with bow attacks killing the other one.

#12. TEMPLE SANCTUM: The party bolts across the west bridge and into the sanctum. There they behold the horrible sight of Ambrose's body hung upside down beneath the weeping icon of Nithis-- black tears trailing across the body and into a pool below.

Enranged, the party attacks the priests and cultists performing rites there! One priest is beheaded and the other cut to ribbons by the fighters. But all the fighting draws the attention of the Rot King appearing at the southern door.

The king's fearsome presence and vile chants cast Hold Person on the group freezing Vayloc in his place. Seranes, Snorri, and Desdemona counter with a volley of arrows and magic hitting the Rot King from all directions. Withdrawing south, but far from finished, the Rot King unleashes a swarm of flies to engulf Desdemona in a cloud of suffering-- killing her.

DM NOTE: The player had pretty good tactics here and brought the Rot King from 22 down to 3 hp. I almost thought about making a stand with the King, but figured they would be a little smarter than that. Especially since they still had 2 wererat underlings to send after the very hurt party.

THE RACE TO GET OUT: The next minutes are spent by the party just running back toward the jail cells (#7) and trying to avoid the guards. As they turn south toward #1 ENTRANCE HALL (avoiding the central pressure plate), they are attacked from behind by cultists. Well-placed daggers find their mark in Vaylok and Seranes.

Leaving the halfing Snorri, the PC with the worse stats, alive to escape!


SUMMARY: Great adventure (get it here on itch). I think one I will certainly keep on file as an intro to D&D. And what I cannot stress enough is that The Rot King's Sanctum provides so many little single-sentence seeds to build out a world from. This is vital because a DM can slowly build out which prevents DM burn-out and building things the player(s) have no interest in. And does the adventure itself build hooks for further games? Well, the player now has:

  • A real reason to hate the Cult
  • Still needs to find the lost tomb & who are the Tempest Mages
  • An enemy who will hunt them in Cliff's End
  • Want to better understand the relationship between the gods of rot & healing
  • NPC friend and somewhat a home base
All of which seems like enough to me!

KNOCK! KNOCK!-IN' ON TONISBORG'S DOOR: Using KNOCK! Vol 2 to Individualize a Megadungeon

KNOCK! Vol 2


A recent review of KNOCK! Vol. 2 notes that:

However, there is an issue with Knock! #2. There is just too much of it, too much of it to review, too much of it to read, too much of it to use. 

There IS always a lot in each issue, but it is far from being too much to use. Instead, I think it just requires thought on how articles can be used in prep. Here is my "utility review" for Vol. 1, where I look at how it will help you build a dungeon. 

Let's dive into KNOCK! Vol. 2 and how it will help you livin' up a bare-bones or more vanilla dungeon.

I recently received the Lost Dungeon of Tonisborg which is a megadungeon created and run by one of the original Blackmoore bunch in 1973-- one year before the publication of D&D. Its a very interesting beast that is utilitarianly keyed on purpose, I think, in part to get it to the table quicker. Since the creator understands what they want and is more focused on reacting to the players, less attention is paid to writing keys. In one instance there is: "Balrog. 10,000 GP". 

KNOCK! Vol. 2 seems to have a lot of good tables and articles for spicing up the familiar and fleshing out the bare bones. So, here is how I turned it toward Level 2 of Tonisborg.


#2:0 LEVEL OPENING: Order Draconae has incomplete control of the dungeon; Portions of the level have collapsed or lead to natural caverns

#2:1 WYVERN (powerful 8000 sp type E): Not much to help to change the monster, but we do have "Combat Objectives" (pg 90); roll under the "instinctual" creature collum and get "Attack the nearest NPC or pack animal- drag them into the underbrush". We could also use "30 Tomes of Magic on pg 130. And after rolling get a half shredded tome containing Levitate and Reverse Gravity.

#2:2 BEDROOM; 6x GIANT WEASELS: Again, let us give them a combat objective, and let's also use "What Are The Spiders Doing?" (pg 140) to not just have them sitting around. Sure these are weasels, but the premise is the same. So 3x weasels are (roll 18)... munching on the body of an orc but will... (rolls 2 on Combat Objectives) attack the smallest PC. 3x other weasels are...(rolls 13) grooming bristly faces with shining eyes staring back, but will... (rolls 1 on Combat Objectives) attack nearest NPC and drag them off.

#2:3 STOREROOM w/ 3 FIGHTERS lead by a LEVEL 5 SWASHBUCKLER with TREASURE: One of the fighters is level 1 so could be a squire. Simple enough. And we can use the "Knight Errant" generator (pg 16) to flesh out the others.

So for both the level 4 & 5 Fighters, we have a colored field of ermine depicting a crane; Brunor the Mirthful fights with a crossbow; Palomedes the Bully employs two axes. Their squire is named Ector who fights with a sword.

#2:4: JUMBO BACON: There are 12x giant hogs in this room. Let's give them some sort of malevolent intelligence so their "Combat Objective" is "hold position until reinforcements arrive" and so they will make a lot of noise. 

How else can we make this interesting? I once saw tattooed pigs so what if these things have some weird 12 part scripture on them? Also a reason for their malevolence? Rolling on "d44 Cursed Scriptures of Petty Gods" we get (2,4)... if all 12 pigs scriptures are read you will transcribe Klakyon- Geode Avatar of Incomprehensible Geometries and the reader's flesh will become pristine crystal (AC 18, STR 18, CON 18), but quickly become tumorous as dust crystalizes as well causing them to lose -1 DEX every hour; DEX = 0 is immobile. Maybe pigs have some crystal taint as well.

That's a pretty fun room and sorta gives a reason there might be rival MU factions or clerics here. Also why the Order Draconae might give a lot of guff to MU/clerics.

#2:5 BEDROOM & LABORATORY: So here we have sorcerors and followers also a magic sword made of kill fighting-men. Hmm, I think this has a good connection to #2:4 and the pigs are some ongoing, failed, or incomplete experiment. Certainly, since we have our first MUs, we have to use "12 Sorceror-Corpse Hazards" (pg 33).

...(rolling) So for the 9th Level MU, the weapon used to kill them will stick to the body magically and the body will explode after a few rounds. The 1st & 2nd level MUs do not have any curses on their bodies.

The three Fighters located here are given some character with the "Knight Errant Generator" which we used above; colored field-green, 2 ordinaries, cross, cross, like to duel and all these folks are mirthful and named deBors. They are trying to resist some form of temptation (?).

Since the magic sword "Fregsallo" kills fighting-men, maybe the knights are trying to free one of their number from the curse of the sword (?) or the temptation to use it?

#2:6 6x WEREBEARS: Okay, it's entries like this that make stocking difficult. By Tonisborg standards, because there is a monster section, werebears are lawful, 7HD, and AC 18. Also, this 10 X 20 ft room is far too small. But some of Tonisborg is supposed to be cavernous, so how about these werebears have just dug into this room. There is actually a sublevel that holds their lair. KNOCK! Vol. 2 has some great maps, so let's use "Tomb of Horrors" (pg 165).

And from the "Knight Errant Generator", their quest is to "protect a child from an affair"-- maybe one of the Order Draconae.

#2:7 HALL WITH 4x GARGOYLES: Hmm, the stairwell leads up to Level 1 which is under more complete control of Order Draconae and is near two secret doors of the Sorceror of #2:5. The sorcerer put these creatures in place mainly to keep the Order Draconae out and they have the password on their person. There is a table, "Monster Modifiers" (pg 60), that can help livin' up standard monsters...(rolls a 14)...these gargoyles are 'brutal'.

#2:8 CRYPT WITH 3 ZOMBIES: A lot of text here but not a lot to work with in my opinion, just zombies and a hallway. What if these zombies are victims of the Fighters in #2:5- the folks with the cursed sword? Maybe the sword has enhanced one of the knight's lust for battle and killing? And there is a pretty cool monster, The Dreamcrawler, in KNOCK! Vol 2 (pg 180). The Dreamcrawler is a fallen warrior so seeks battle in a character's dreams. Kinda half curse/half-monster. But fits the theme of untimely death due to betrayal.

#2:9 ARMORY WITH 10 KOBOLDS DIGGING FOR WEAPONS: Big question here for me is why, by the map, are they so close to the Order Draconae? Maybe they have been tasked with clearing out the wyverns in #2:11? Maybe they are gonna "milk" their poison? Are they after the swine? Will agree to PC aid if the bargain is good? To give 'em a little extra, I lean on the "Monster Modifier" table again and get a result saying they are "naturally corrosive", immune to acid, and corrode armor on a Nat 20 and weapons on a Nat 1.

#2:10 FOUR GIANT SNAKES: Hmm... (roll 7 on Crab Spider Table of "What Are The Spiders Doing", pg 142) and get "dashing to perceived safety underneath a defaced alter" and (roll 3 on "Combat Objectives) "will hold this spot". Okay, these are results I can work with- so maybe the alter is to the petty god that helped create the swine in #2:4.

#2:11 STOREROOM WITH 5 WYVERNS: Like the bears and zombies, this feels like too much fidelity to a random encounter/stocking table. The first thing I think is what could be in this storeroom worth digging for? Maybe another spellbook from "30 Tomes Of Magic" (pg 130). But there is also a very handy "D60 Pointless Items" (pg 65)

#2:12 TWO ELVEN MAGIC-USERS: The two magic items in this room are interesting- Potion of Dragon Control and Potion of Lycanthropy Control. Maybe the two elves want to control the wyverns in #2:11 or bears in #2:6. Maybe they want to remove the Order Draconae use these two factions to do it. How about they want to locate "Fregsallo" the magic sword stolen from them?

#2:13 SIX GNOLLS: Where did these come from? Maybe time for a setting and luckily KNOCK! Vol 2 also provides for that. There are two hexcrawls in fact: the first is on the inside dust cover, and the second is on page 210. With megadungeons, I think it best to keep play focused toward the dungeon. The small surrounding area can just help provide NPC wants, factions plots, quests, materials, and hook-- but not keep folks gone too long. With that in mind, I think "Fort Levant" is a good choice and it also has a hex containing a gnoll army!

#2:14 GUARDS! Specifically, the 27x Order Draconae guards that collect "taxes", keep the lower dungeon creatures out and are in control of a cannon (!) in the center of the room. Of the 27 guards, 3 of them are officers. Again I used the "Errant Knight Generator" to find that the 3 officers are ambitious, but want to recover a magic veil.

I also drew a map of the circular room and have barricades erected on the western double doors leading up to the surface/down to level 2 and on the southern door which leads up to level 1/down to level 2. The cannon is between the northern and north-western doors to cover the two barricades. I also think there might be tents built in the room to allow guards to rotate and provide some comfort.

THERE YOU GO! Level 2 of Tonisborg is more fleshed out. We have emerging stronger factions like the Sorceror who summoned demonic scripture hogs, but currently is helping cursed fighters who have sinned against their bannermen. And there are werebear and elven infiltrators and a group of kobolds who are going to sort out some wyverns. I also just have a better handled on how I want to run my version of Tonisborg.

But KNOCK! Vol 2 doesn't just stop there. Several of the articles are about running such a dungeon above. The importance of choice, warning, description, and the goals of DMing are all discussed. I think I will certainly review the articles on "Cheap Tricks" and how not to create a "Screw You" scenario given the asymmetry with some of the rooms.

And KNOCK! is still is a must-have. It really is what I wanted Dragon & Dungeon to be.

JENNELL JAQUAYS On Jaquaysing the Dungeon

As part of a Kickstarter for producing a retrospective of her work, I got to ask Jennell Jaquays a question. There was only one question that immediately jumped to my mind and so very nice of her to entertain it!

WD: Hey JennellI have a question: How conscious were you of "Jaquaysing the Dungeon" when you wrote Thracia and Dark Tower? These modules are often (and rightly) held up as excellent examples of dungeon design with several loops, various accesses into rooms, and layered history. So, did you operate with a theory when designing them or was it more "oh this is cool"?

JJ: I would love to say that it was actually a design philosophy from the start, but I never thought of it that way. My college degree is in art. I took a lot of art classes in college, both studio classes and art history classes; enough to have both a major AND a minor in art if such a thing were possible.

Part of that study was an appreciation for historical architecture, including tombs, cathedrals, pyramids, Roman ruins and more. In fact, just before starting to play D&D, I had been in Europe as part of a month-long art class tour of cities in the UK and Europe (London, Paris, Chartres, Geneva, Florence, and Rome ... I missed much of the last part of the trip due to being hospitalized in an ancient care facility in Rome for measles, but that's another story).

Many of my early D&D designs were inspired by the structures of classic architecture, which are often intensely multi-level and interconnected. Think of the design of the great European and UK museums, monasteries, palaces, cathedrals (I visited a LOT of famous churches on that trip) and you'll get a grasp of inspirations.

One of the things about historical buildings is that they themselves have history. If one has owned an old house that has been worked on by owner after owner, one might have an idea how the use and appearance of constructed spaces changes over time. That has always fascinated me.

Next, I was intrigued by what would happen if a Pompeii-like event buried architecture and left it intact. Would the occupants of the structures dig their way out? Would others dig down to gain access to the buildings again? That was much of the premise of Dark Tower. That and Robert E. Howard's Red Nails Conan the Barbarian story.

These ideas played out over and over again in many of my designs in both table top RPGS and even to some degree, my canon Quake 3 maps on computers.

While I will admit to many of my "dungeons" having a monster hotel aspect to them, I made some effort to create an eco-system inside the spaces. Something that I have been attempting to improve on ever since.


KNOCK! Vol 2: The Rot King's Sanctum Session 1

For KNOCK! Vol 2 I do have a much larger utilitarian review similar to my first one covering how to use all the bric-a-brac to spice up the Tonisborg dungeon. However, I've not had the energy lately to write that up, in part because I'd like to run at least the first two levels of Tonisborg with some "ZED" -made characters to get a feel for the dungeon itself.

I *did* have the energy to grab a buddy this week for a 1-on-1 BX dungeon crawl through Emiel Boven's very good The Rot King's Sanctum found on page 219 (and here on itch). So, meet our level 1 randomly generated characters (supplemented with a starting equipment table I made for an old campaign- hence the titles) :
  • Grim the Dwarf Barbarian STR 16, CON 08
  • Snorri the Halfing Tomb Robber DEX 11, STR 05
  • Ambrose the Cleric Preacher WIS 16, INT 03
  • Desdemona the MU Fortune Teller INT 13, DEX 06
While HP rolls were high, the equipment rolls were rather poor so few characters started with an AC of more than 12. But never the less, the "heroes" pressed on and found themselves in the sewers of Cliff's End because...

DM NOTE: Really nice to have a little table of hooks to the adventure going. Especially since hooks can provide objectives other than "kill everything". My player rolled a "2" on the hooks table.

...they were in possession of a map describing the lost tomb of one of the nine Tempest archmages buried under Cliff's End. Also on the map was a riddle: Only a key of copper lend you a hand in opening this tomb.

PCs at the start discussing the Cult of Nithis <(;)>

#1 ENTRANCE HALL: Grim steps up to listen at the door. Upon hearing nothing, he carefully pushes it in. The PCs investigated the first set of statues finding them somewhat hollow and having a small pipe protruding from their mouth. However, greed overcame caution, a pressure plate was triggered and it was only the demi-humans who were left standing. The next turns were eaten up by dragging the human MU and cleric to safety and avoiding a cult party.

DM NOTE: Snorri has an attribute bonus of -3. But those lower save throws are literal lifesavers.

The party returns to the ENTRANCE HALL, but this time it was Snorri the Halfing who crept in quietly and ran right into a cultist of Nithis (DM NOTE: both rolled surprise). A short fight ensued where the PCs got the upper hand quickly dispatched 3 of 4 cultists and fourth ran to raise the alarm. The PCs stayed to grab the emerald eyes from the statues. Grim the dwarf then was swarmed by rot flies. Requiring Ambrose to light some torches to burn them away (with a couple of precious HP lost).

DM NOTE: I really tried to use morale in this adventure to determine not only likely hood of the cultists running a way, but also their willingness to engage the PCs in ambushes. If they failed they were more likely to just track the PCs in pairs.

#CROSSROADS A: The PCs made their way through the north door to a crossroads in the hallway: north, a door but after listening nothing behind it; east, a door; west, a hallway that extends beyond their torchlight.

DM NOTE: I secretly rolled the cultist morale here for room #4. They passed, so I had them organize a ranged counter attack from the north and east.

Daggers fly from the north and east! Grim and the MU Desdemona take the brunt with thankfully little HP lost. Magic Missle takes out a cultist to the east as does Grim's two-handed sword to the north. Cultist break and withdraw but not without a warning from large black-furred shapes in room #4.

#PROCEED WEST TO CROSSROADS B: PCs have to choose again: north in the sound of rushing water; south-west where the air is damp and fetid; east toward another door; west down an open hallway where a door is inset. Still interested in the treasure map, Snorri pushes everyone north.

PCs push north to find an acrid green river- two guards argue orthodoxy

#8 CENTRAL HALL: Snorri performs recon moving in the shadows to try and creep by the first hanging bridge. He hangs close to the end, spotting a copper ring underneath the putrid river. The guards argue about Nithis orthodoxy and if followers of Kcyra should be converted then killed or killed outright. Meanwhile, Grim, Ambrose, and Desdemona have to contend with two shovel-wielding skeletons, covered in a velvety yellow mold, shambling into the edge of their torchlight. Ambrose has to hold it together as these desecrated bodies animated by the vile Nithis shamble by and into a door in the CENTRAL HALL.

DM NOTE: Rolled an encounter, but also a "friendly" result on the reaction table, so I decided to see what would happen if the skeletons were just walking by. A potential threat (or not) just to press the player. The skeletons are loaded with yellow mold so just hitting them can be bad news.

#7 CELLS: Not liking the skeletons creeping up behind the party withdraws from the CENTRAL HALL back south and then west. Grim kicks the door in surprising the cultist, Ambrose moved to attack! Desdemona launched another Magic Missle* but it was miscast, causing her to drop asleep. Not good as 2 cultists appeared from the south and east bent on capturing Desdemona for sacrifice. Snorri attacked the cultist trying to abscond with her, but his poor strength made little impact. Grim engaged two other cultists, slicing one in half (10 dmg against 4 hp) but fell to the wicked dagger of the other. In a stunning display of combat prowess, the remaining two PCs won initiative twice and killed two more cultists, causing the last one to run. Desdemona awakened at the shrill pleading the gnome merchant Melvin to hurry up and free him for a sizeable reward in addition to a secret way out! ~FIN, SESSION 1~

DM NOTE: I was using a house rule that MU can "risky" cast after they have used up their slots by making a Save vs. Spell modified by their INT bonus. If you fail, roll a 1d20 on a miscast table.

Grim's last stand. Desdemona is saved!

FINAL DM NOTES: I really like this adventure so far! A theme people immediately get: plague cult, rats, crows, mold, sewers. Great opening room with things to poke and prod, but a big risk and some reward. Small dungeon but a lot of good intersections that make it feel big because choice is always presented to the player.

But there are also a lot of great little extras. A hidden tomb that has nothing to do with the cult. The plague god here is a sibling of a healing god-- debate about who screwed over who. Reference to the city above Cliff's End. And three good hooks: missing person, secret treasure, or because god said so. A small scattered references to other things that a DM could build a campaign from.

All of the above required prep ~30 min before play. I didn't prep anything specific other than a hastely drawn small treasure map and make up a clue in case that hook was rolled. Otherwise I just made myself familar with the general layout. I would have liked to have prepared an Overloaded Encounter Die table for it and included some dungeon weather. And maybe trim the random encounter table a bit. Ten entries seems a lot for a 15 room dungeon. But maybe alterate to a progressive table is the alarm is raised.