Deconstructing Dungeons – Serpent Isle

We’re back in full swing now with the blog, three posts last week including the new Industry Interview article series, more of those coming up in the future. This week in Deconstructing Dungeons we’re going to take a look at Serpent Islemy first (and only) full campaign on the DMsGuild. The adventure runs from 1st to 8th level, though I think looking back you could probably get all the way up to 10th. It’s setting neutral, because it all takes place on a far flung isle known only as, you guessed it, Serpent Isle. The hook for the adventure is that the characters are all fresh crew members on a ship called the Solent. Captain Farsail herself is an adventurer, as are some of her existing crew, and they’re headed to the island to make a name for themselves.

Serpent Isle Part 1 Cover

In part 1, when you arrive on the island, the characters have a chance to explore Blacksand Cove and the surrounding environment where the Solent is docked. They can also interact with the crew, which gives them leads as to where to explore, and sets up a few mini adventures which help the character learn about the island and gain some XP. At the end of part one SPOILERS the adventurers return to discover that their fellow crewmates have gone missing.

In part 2, the heroes get the chance to discover where the crew have been taken, and who has taken them. This leads them to the tribal folk of RedCrag Camp, where they will have to bargain for the lives of their friends. This results in them having to retrieve a powerful artefact – The Blackheart, in order to recover their companions.

Part 3 sees the adventurers search for the Blackheart, heading to a place named Viper’s Pit ruled over by Hethsha the SnakeMother and her infernal allies. Unfortunately, it resolves that someone has gotten there first, and the Blackheart is missing! This section of the adventure can also be run as a one-shot, and is available on DMsGuild as Viper’s Pit.

In the final part of the adventure, the characters discover that the Blackheart has been taken by Yuan-Ti for use in a dark ritual. They hope to summon their demonic master and deity, Merrshaulk; Master of the Pit. The characters must infiltrated the half-ruined city of Oss’Ithek, take the Blackheart for themselves and escape before the ritual is complete, and before they themselves are enslaved by the yuan-ti. This part is also available as a one-shot.

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It really is quite a monster of a campaign, stretching out to almost 60 pages, and packed with artwork and maps. It’s a product that I’m still really proud of, despite the fact that it was published in November 2016, almost 2 years ago! I think my writing and style have improved significantly since I first wrote this adventure, but I think it’s far better than others I wrote that year. The story structure is perhaps a little linear, but I think for an introductory adventure that’s not too bad, and there is plenty of room for exploration, as well as interaction and combat throughout the whole campaign.

The layout was done in homebrewery, my favourite layout tool of that time. I actually can’t wait to get this one on the Print on Demand list though, as I can then go through the layout in InDesign to make it better, and to better integrate artwork and maps. Speaking of, the majority of the maps in this adventure have been made or drawn by me, either by hand or using inkarnate. Jeff Stevens also helped me out with the maps for Viper’s Pit, before I plucked up the courage to start making them myself. Most of the interior art is from WikiCommons or from the DMsGuild Creator Resources, other pieces of art were sourced from DeviantArt, where artists are often willing to let you use their work for a reduced price compared to commissioning. For more information about artwork, check out this article. Again, I can’t wait to turn this into PoD, as I’ll be able to commission new artwork and maps that really give the adventure a professional touch.

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I actually think that this adventure has a touch of Tomb of Annihilation going on, and it could easily be dumped into Chult if you didn’t fancy going on a trip to a separate island. Because of the tropical, jungle theme, and the emphasis of exploration and random encounters in a hex-crawl fashion, the two campaign could quite easily blend together. There is also yuan-ti present in ToA, so that too would lend some credence to the idea.

Something I really enjoyed about writing this adventure was the scale of it allowed me to play around with lots of different monsters and villains. Obviously the major ones are the yuan-ti, which I delved into quite deeply in the final part of the adventure. This actually came out before Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which means that a lot of the yuan-ti I made myself have since been given official statistics, something I’ll need to keep in mind when the PoD version rolls out. I also got to use devils and a medusa which was completely now for me! Perhaps my favourite part of the adventure though are the caves beneath Oss’Ithek, which contain a population of quaggoth, who might become allies of the adventurers if they play their cards right (that’s assuming they find them first)! Many of the monsters which I created for this campaign also made their way into Monsters of the Guild, so if you’re more interested in bagging some beasts rather than buying a campaign, I’d advice you check that out!

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What I did well: Honestly, I think the achievement of publishing a long-form campaign in itself is something to be proud of! Although the narrative is fairly linear, and the main story doesn’t have many twists and turns, I think presenting enough material to take characters from 1st to 8th level is quite the achievement. I also think the layout is pretty good in this adventure, I managed to get some decent quality art for free, mostly off WikiCommons, which gives it a more polished look.

What I did poorly: Honestly, I think my biggest sin with this adventure is not in the writing, but perhaps in the presentation of ‘tribal warriors’. I’m not sure my depiction of these folk is problematic necessarily, but I think when it comes to doing PoD I’ll take the chance to write a little more about the people of Serpent Isle and their beliefs, rather than just painting them as tribal warriors and their families. I’d also like to expand the adventure further, maybe showing off a little more of the devils on the island, and a few more roleplaying opportunities with potential allies on the island.

GIVEAWAY! This week I’m going to give away a copy of Serpent Isle to one lucky winner, and a copy of both Viper’s Pit and Oss’Ithek, the standalone parts of the campaign! To enter, all you need to do is share or retweet this article link on Facebook or Twitter. The winner will be announced this Sunday (16th September 2018). Good luck!

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