Welcome back to Deconstructing Dungeons, the article series in which I take a look back at adventures I have already published, summarise them, talk through their highs and lows, and discuss the resources I used to help create them. This week we’re taking a look at the Minotaur Trilogy – Minotaur’s Bargain, Minotaur’s Betrayal and Minotaur’s Bane (coming soon). I wrote these adventures with Phil Beckwith of PB Publishing fame. Our aim was to tell a story that showed minotaurs not as beasts, but as a civilised, martial race capable of influencing the politics of the world, and with a rich history of justice and honour.
The first adventure in the trilogy sees the characters turn to a community of minotaur for help, after their inadequately prepared hometown is threatened by an orc war band. Hoping to hire the minotaur as mercenaries, the characters find themselves accused of trying to ‘buy the minotaur like cattle’ – a dire insult to these honourable folk. Whether as punishment, or as a way to fight their cause, the PCs end up in the arena – a proving grounds for youn minotaur warriors. If the PCs can overcome the varied traps and fights within the arena, they prove themselves worthy allies to the minotaur, who agree to help them dispatch the orcs.
In part two, the story line is continued as the PCs and minotaur take on the orc encampment. Unfortunately, the orcs have foresight, and have planned a distraction attack upon the town, as well as a coup within the minotaur fort. The PCs have to make a decision about how to proceed, and weight the cost of their actions again the futures of both societies. Then, they have the chance to take their revenge upon the orc war chief; Guthma One Eye, and his troll ally Fleshrend.
In the final instalment of the trilogy, the bloodshed which has occurred throughout the story, mixed with some dark abyssal magic, causes a demonic rift to sunder the material plane. The PCs must endeavour to close this portal, but will not be able to do so without first defeating it’s master – Baphomet; Prince of Beasts.
Since Phil first came to me with the idea of a trilogy of adventures following a band of minotaur, and their interactions with the PCs, I was hooked. I’d written longer form adventure before (see Serpent Isle), but the thought of writing a trilogy with such an esteemed writer was thrilling indeed. Although I’d not read any Dragonlance novels before we began writing the adventures, I loved the idea of taking a creature traditionally viewed as bestial and monstrous and re-framing it not just as a potential ally, but one with a unique worldview that would both aid and hinder the PCs throughout the adventure. Later on, the project would gain the support of Richard A Knaak, which continues to make me proud of what Phil and I achieved.
I think there’s a lot to be said for twisting people’s preconceptions in adventures. In my view, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the classic dungeons crawls that one might find in Tales from the Yawning Portal, or adventures from the older editions of D&D. I think these somewhat cliched stories still have a place at most tables, and sometimes it’s exactly what both a DM and players need to detox from an emotionally taxing, character driven game. Having said that, it’s always great to see unique spins on the classic tropes. Tales from the Yawning Portal does contain a lot of these once you start to look beyond the obvious, perhaps the most ironic one being that not only does the adventure start in the tavern, it sort of remains there too! Writing a twist like this in the Minotaur Trilogy was a great way to practice its implementation, and shows that the theory has legs. If you can take a trope and look at it from a different angle, you’re sure to come up with a bestseller.
Something else I thoroughly enjoyed whilst working on this project was the ability to delve deep into the different societies of the orcs and minotaur. Volo’s Guide to Monsters gave us an amazing, in-depth look into the society of orcs, and I wanted to be able to use that, and create something similar for the minotaur themselves. I think Phil and I managed to show both of these cultures in stark contrast to each other, whilst also creating NPCs that showed the diversity of individuality – not every creature of a certain race conforms to the norm. It’s also fun to see how the society of a certain race can influence the place it inhabits. We took the base orc camp from VGtM and reworked it for MB2, allowing us to delve deep into the traditional presentation of orcs, but in the context of their rivalry with the minotaur.
It’s also been great to work again on a longer story line, one that is spread over several products, and forms a cohesive narrative across the adventures. The advantage of splitting a campaign arc over three products is that each could feasibly be run as a one-shot of its own. From a creators perspective, this allows you not only to market each individual adventure on its own merit, but also to promote a community of fans who will follow the story line as it develops. It also gives creators the opportunity to bundle the individual parts into one product once all have been released, and if my sales are anything to go by, people love bundles!
It’s also worth mentioning that Phil and I alone are not the whole team for this project. We’ve been supported along the way by the amazing editing of Ken Carcas, featured great artwork from the likes of Dean Spencer, and cartography from Chris Bissette of Loot the Room fame. Phil carried a lot of the publishing weight himself, creating custom layout using InDesign, and contributing to cartography and play testing, as well as narrative support and writing the bits I couldn’t nail. Working in a team like this makes me wonder if there’s space on the DMsGuild (and beyond) for more publishing companies. So far, the biggest 3rd party publisher of 5e content I’m aware of is Kobold Press, who’ve been around for a long time. Perhaps we’ll start to see smaller companies, such as LoreSmyth, begin to pop up in the coming years.
What I did well: Although this article is really an overview of the entire trilogy, I still think there are some stand out moments that I nailed. In general, I think the quality of dungeon design in the adventures is great. Phil and I worked hard on the arena, orc stronghold of Varg-Kala and the Abyssal Rift to make sure they’d not only be a challenging fight for characters, but also provide opportunity for role play, and reveal the narrative of each society that the adventure focuses on. It’s also clear from reviews and playtesters that we did a great job creating memorable NPCs, from the lovable Perseus to the malefic Fleshrend.
What I did poorly: Although I’m extremely proud of these adventures, there’s always room for improvement. The first and last in the series are quite linear, guiding PCs down a specific route with, at times, quite a heavy hand. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with this style, it would have been nice to include some side-treks and expansions to the main story line that provided a little more player agency.
GIVEAWAY! Since two of the three adventures are already published, Phil and I are giving away two free copies this week! By retweeting or sharing this post, you give yourself the chance to win a free copy of Minotaur’s Bargain or Minotaur’s Betrayal! The winners will be announced this Sunday (August 12th 2018). Good luck!