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Kobold Cave Conundrum

Production Time: game design 80h, visual 80h

Product: D&D 5e adventure module

Team: Solo

Focus: Level/Encounter Design

Kobolds, caves, and a unique dragon boss!

Have your players crawl around in the tiny tunnels of kobolds or the great chambers of their dragon patron in this prison break style adventure module. Meant for 8th-level players, the characters starts imprisoned by a kobold clan, only to realize soon enough that there are bigger lizards to fry in these caves. 

Designed to be highly adaptable, this module presents a map with multiple paths to freedom and many options for difficulty. 

 

Download it directly here, or google drive, or Dmsguild, where it has been downloaded over 100 times!

Kobold_Cave_DM_Map.png
Work: Video Player

Design Goals

To design a modular adventure I find it important to have a simple and clear theme to guide the design, and allowing both Dungeon Master and players to quickly understand the tropes at play. This theme should also be embodied by the main event of the adventure, which I in this case wanted to be a boss creature of some kind. 

Given the plug-and-play nature of one-off adventure modules, I chose to focus on a few key aspects that allows the Dungeon Master to easily fit the module within their game:

  1. Adaptable difficulty through several clearly provided buttons and levers for the dungeon master to manipulate to provide a difficulty that matches the players and the play experience.

  2. Multiple paths and environmental challenges giving the players options, but also giving the Dungeon Master some guiding control.

  3.  Memorable key moment to act as a payoff for the players and cement itself as a talking point after playing through.

  4. A contained setting with little context around it, but a few threads to expand on. this gives the Dungeon Master a lot of freedom to fit the adventure in as they see fit, but also give them a few way to potentially connect the module to their world at large. 

final map draft.png
Design Goals

Level Design

With my  4 Design Goals and boss in mind, I designed a level to funnel the players into encountering different aspects of this centerpiece boss, focused around a large central chamber. Each path provides different possibilities and limitations, while also giving players options to switch at certain points. 

The level presents one major player path, to help players navigate and anchor their orientation, but has several smaller paths that can bypass dangers on the main path, at the risk of encountering new dangers. 

 

I largely designed the challenges around encountering the boss, its minions, or their contraptions.  Importantly I created several environmental factors for both players and Dungeon Master to play around with. This was especially important as a means to bridge the gameplay between encountering minions, or avoiding the area of effect of the boss.

I Playtested in four phases. Initially, I used a test group of characters and ran through the intended design myself. This helps me find obvious flaws with layout, pacing, and encounters. Next, I run the encounter for friends. If they are willing to tell me something is bad, it definitely needs fixing. Next, I run through the module with strangers, to gather more reliable feedback. If I had the time I would repeat this several times, but having to finish up the project, I put my finishing touches to the map and created a formatted document, and published it!

Read more here.

Kobold_Cave_Grided_Map.png
Boss Design

Boss Design

While researching I decided to focus on Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft and classic myths. Two common themes I found were divine punishment for hubris and malicious twists of desires. Duchess Saidra d'Honaire and Ankhtepot from Ravenloft are both excellent examples of the former, and the Jinn, Faust, or any deal made with Loki from Mythology often takes the shape of the latter. 

An adaptable boss was key to achieving my design goals, so I wanted a boss able to have a presence even if the player characters never physically encounter them. It was key to be able to do this without losing thematic substance, something that became a strong guiding principle for this module. This would make it easier to make memorable moments across multiple paths.

 My key focus was to identify ways to project a boss' presence around the dungeon environment while restricting their movement. This led me to focus on a unique description and use of area of effect abilities and controlling minions. This would allow the boss to assert itself without being directly present. A classic D&D dragon lair with a kobold cohort seemed like a strong thematic place to start.

 

Twisting things to add flavor, Zandafrax is a cursed and disfigured dragon now too massive to move through most of its lair. Serving it is a kobold clan to drive the players around the dungeon, while  Zandafrax has regenerative powers, a rhyme-themed curse, and a bit of a body horror flair to it to make for a unique encounter. 

While retaining many classic dragon abilities, they have been twisted. Their breath weapon summons demons. Instead of frightful presence, they have a large aura that forces characters to speak in rhymes or take damage, and anytime they take damage they regenerate health but gain an extra tumor of a writhing face. All of these combine to create a very unique encounter, with flexible tools for the dungeon master.

Read more here.

Level Design

Design Documents

20230124_155344_edited

20230124_155344_edited

Refined Sketches

Refined Sketches

First Map Draft

First Map Draft

Final Map Draft

Final Map Draft

Kobold_Cave_DM_Map

Kobold_Cave_DM_Map

Design Documents
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