A different dungeon delve experience

It was my second Zweihänder session with my group where I planned a short dungeon exploration in a dark cavern. However, Zweihänder as a system doesn’t quite support that approach. On page 13 in the core rulebook the designers note that the system isn’t designed for the traditional dungeon romp. At that point I didn’t understood why, but after our game everything got clear for me. Zweihänder’s combat system is a deadly one. Add some close quarter encounters to the equation in a narrow cavern, and you get an even more bitter and deadly combat. The other hand I didn’t want to add a multi level dungeon to our game, just a tiny cavern-type outpost where my players can explore a bit further.

We play our combat encounters in theatre of mind style and this time I wanted to make a refreshing change. Usually, we make a rough sketch on a piece of paper for the given combat situation where we place or draw the players, the enemies and the overall environment. I started to search for random dungeon generators in the hope to find a proper option to make my cavern type dungeon. My first hit was donjon’s brilliant D20 random dungeon generator. With its smart algorithm you can generate a whole dungeon within minutes, even multi leveled ones. It was a good starting point but I wanted to have a memorable experience. So I continued to look up for dungeon tiles and I ran into Inked Adventures printable hand drawn Simple Caverns Cut-Up Sheets on DriveThru RPG. The hand illustrated sheets blew me away and I knew that this would be the best choice for my players. On the other hand it cost me a few bucks, meanwhile I was supporting an indie developer with my purchase. After I printed a couple sheets and drew random lines on it, I cut out the cavern tiles. Marked where the entrance is and the connection points are. In the end I had a full cavern outpost – or dungeon if you like – based on cut up tiles.

The whole Cavern with Wizkids minis for scale

During our game when my players discovered the dungeon entrance, the time has come to present the cavern to them. When I started to place the first piece I saw big and wide dumb smiles at the table. They lost it on the experience. As they were exploring deeper and deeper, I placed the whole cavern tile by tile. We agreed how far they can see with their torch in the dark and we placed a pencil where the borderline was from complete dark to dim light. I planned a few combat encounters for this specific cavern the main purpose was exploration. However, after three giant spiders and two goblin-like creatures one of them grievously injured. The others also had some moderate injuries despite the help of some NPCs. But the overall experience was priceless for everyone and we had laughs and bare fun.

My overall goal was to shake up the overall gaming experience at the table. Pull them out from the same old sketching encounters type of play. If you want random, inexpensive fun that blows away your players, you should check out Inked Adventures map tiles.

My ​world building in Zweihänder

After reading the Zweihänder rulebook, the obvious choice would have been for me to run the A Bitter Harvest adventure as my first game, but I didn’t go that way. I wanted to test myself if I’m able to design my own campaign from scratch. Skipping a decade of tabletop gaming got me a bit doubtful in the success of the task, so I started small.

I imagined a central place where my players are able to meet and have their own motivation to go. This is how the idea of the prosperous merchant city of Danaarso came in my mind and started to design it from the basics. The first question I asked myself, now that I got the name and the basic idea of the city where should I put it? On what continent or country is Danaarso located? My answer was Hilmond, a vast continent with other city-states and realms nearby. I created four other different domains for my new continent, Argessaar, Brondé, Eglan and Ro’Dor. I got the big picture, the brand new, homebrew mainland of Hilmond, where I was able to imagine Danaarso and my players.

From there I continued to design the merchant city a bit further to give some more depth. I didn’t want to have kings and queens to be the primary governor power in Danaarso. I wanted the most influential merchant families on the top of the power chain where merchant lords govern the city. Overall the following four of the mightiest merchant families are the rulers of the capital: the Hildred, the Verto, the Scrada and Bellosta. I also wanted to have some kind of a darker influence from the underclass in the powers, so I put the Scarlet Sparrow-hawks in the equation too, which is the significant thieves guild in town. Shady business, blackmailing, bribing belongs to them.

With four families in the city, I didn’t want my players to get confused when they arrive in Danaarso. I started to design their central function in power and symbols for each so the players will able to recognise them.

The Hildred family is the keeper of the treasury, the wealthiest merchants in the capital. Their symbol is a pearl in a seashell.

The Verto family has the military power in Danaarso. Their symbol is the mighty sea Kraken.

The Scrada family power lies in knowledge, they are the scribes of the realm. They own the mightiest libraries in the city, and their symbol is the dazzling dragonfly.

Finally, the Bellosta family is the ruler of the seas. Excellent seafarers and with the most prominent and fastest navy in the realm. Their symbol is the illustrious Bellosta sailboat.

However, designing a fully living and breathing city is a tremendous task and quite time-consuming, I only laid out the details of the main street, a small portion of the town docks and a tavern called the One way. I knew that my players won’t spend too much time in the city because I just threw them in the middle of quickly unfolding events. I just had the details of the places that I wanted to show them. I know this sound like a railroad for the players but the events that unfold in the city pushed them on their journey to another, smaller town. They could have chosen a different path. I offered them this choice, but they were too intrigued and wanted to find out what will happen if they stick with the flow of the events.

So what would have happened if they choose differently? Well, I should have improvised, a lot, but based on that foundation that I already had in mind. I’m glad they went with the path that drove them to another destination. In the end, we all had fun, and our party of adventurers was on their way to escort the heir of the Hildred family out of the mighty merchant city of Danaarso to meet their faith somewhere else.

What do you think? Did I overlook something here? Which type of world builder are you? The kind who design every bit of a city or you try to guide your players through the base foundations? Share me your thoughts in the comments.