As a writer, I often wonder if other writers follow a similar process to mine, or if I am unique in the way I create my adventures. Rarely do I have a clear vision for how a Mini-Dungeon story will play out beginning to end. More often I really have no idea how I am going to finish an adventure. I begin writing and let the story grow organically. Such was the case with Snowman Mayhem.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post for Slumbering Titan, as Mini-Dungeon authors we have no control over the maps we are given. We must write a coherent story from whatever the cartographer has created.
The map for Snowman Mayhem presented a couple interesting challenges. First and foremost was the sheer number of snowmen on the map. Of course, the immediate thought was to have them animate and attack the party. I quickly abandoned the idea for two reasons. First, if the snowmen began moving around it would be difficult for a game master to track their location, since the graphics on the map would be static. Second, a horde of creatures that size would be difficult to manage for the game master. Combat would slow as each snowman made their attack, tracking their hit points would be tedious, and inevitably the players would grow bored. As a GM myself, I try not to create those kinds of conundrums for other GMs.
I also wrestled with the proper tone for this Mini-Dungeon. The snowmen suggested something more lighthearted, and I even considered trying to write a more family friendly adventure GMs could use as a fun one-shot for a group of young players. I had the idea perhaps a group of fey creatures, such as pixies, had created the snowmen. As I was browsing through the available options for various fey, I stumbled on redcaps. Their resemblance to evil little versions of Santa’s helpers was too enticing to pass up, and I realized I wanted to shift directions and write a darker, more sinister themed adventure.
The next challenge to deal with were the areas marked “2” and “3” on the map. Why would those two snowmen be singled out, and what was special about those two patches of icy ground? After running through several different scenarios, I decided on the idea to have the redcaps hiding in the snowmen marked with the number 2. The areas marked as number “3” on the map would be the bodies of the redcaps’ previous victims buried under the snow.
Another very dominant aspect of this map, aside from all the snowmen, was the large statue. I still hadn’t addressed the purpose of the statue. Considering the theme of the map, it seemed reasonable it would represent a goddess of winter. Leaving the specific goddess unnamed allows a game master to tailor it to their world or campaign, but the premise of a grove dedicated to this goddess seemed a good premise.
This also provided a convenient explanation for why another group of people had been killed by the redcaps. Worshipers of the goddess were in the grove leaving an offering when they were ambushed by the redcaps and murdered. To give the adventure an even darker tone, the redcaps constructed the snowmen as a way of mocking the goddess and her followers. After killing the worshipers, the redcaps replace them with a congregation of snowmen.
All these story aspects come together to set a scene the players have stumbled into. The party stumbles onto the grove purely by chance while traveling through the forest. Again, this makes it easy for a game master to insert this adventure into an existing story, either as a side quest, or even a random encounter. The characters see this curious scene, and immediately feel compelled to investigate.
Which brings us to another important point. When writing a Mini-Dungeon, it is important to give the players something to do other than just combat. In this case, they’ve found an unusual sight: a grove full of snowmen standing before a statue. For most players this instantly raises questions, and their natural tendency is to want to investigate. It is impossible to consider all the actions a group of players might take but giving the game master a few key ability and skill checks to use helps lead the party in the right direction.
Whenever possible, I try to find an opportunity to write an unexpected twist into an adventure, however small it may be. In this case I had the idea, “what if one of the redcaps’ previous victims wasn’t actually dead, but just unconscious?” The survivor, Illiana, could fill in details of the story which otherwise the characters might not learn, such as why the victims were in the grove, and the purpose of the statue. Of course, this leads to even more opportunities for non-combat tasks, such as helping Illiana hunt for game and prepare a new offering to the goddess.
At this point Area 5 on the map still needed a purpose. I considered having the goddess appear and thank the party for their help, which seemed too anti-climactic. To end the adventure with a single combat frankly felt boring. For the level of the adventure, the idea of fighting the goddess herself was out of the question. It seemed more likely she would send her minions, in this case the ghostly spirits of a pack of wolves, to deal with the party. But why would the goddess be angry enough to attack the people who just made an offering? Of course, because her grove had been desecrated. The redcaps had spilt blood in this sacred place and mocked her with a congregation of snowmen. The offering was unacceptable so long as this sacrilege was permitted to stand.
Defeating or parleying with the wolf spirits then tasked the party with one last non-combat chore, to consecrate the grove and appease the goddess. Only then would they be rewarded for their efforts.
All this is to say, when I began writing Snowman Mayhem this was definitely not the story I had in mind. But as I have learned, writing is an adventure in and of itself. In the words of one of the greatest fantasy authors:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I was swept off into a sacred grove, defiled by evil little redcaps! Should you choose to join me there, I sincerely hope you enjoy playing Mini-Dungeon #259 Snowman Mayhem as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Bill’s RPG career began like many, playing AD&D as a teenager in 1983. Forever the dungeon master, he quickly honed his craft of creating stories and worlds to challenge and entertain his friends. During the Living Forgotten Realms campaign in 4E, Bill wrote and DM’ed many adventures, until moving to 5E. Since joining AAW Games, he has written numerous Mini-Dungeons. These days Bill enjoys playing many different TTRPGs, including Pathfinder, SWADE, and 13th Age, just to name a few.