Trolfgar the Terrific’s Titillating Trainseum (and the Terrible Tragedy Transpiring Therein): A 5thEd adventure for 4th level characters (but can be adapted to any level)
I ran this one-shot last Friday with some randoms on /r/lfg. Prior to that I asked this subreddit to help me design it. Most of the suggestions I received were not what I was looking for, but they were useful nonetheless. Especially /u/8-4's suggestion for rust monsters on display. This adventure was great for a group of 4th level unoptimized adventurers, but could easily be fit to a party 1st to ~14th level.
Trolfgar the Terrific's Titillating Trainseum (and the Terrible Tragedy Transpiring Therein)
Enter Bagsus McSanders: Kind, lovable, excitable gnome. Less than a week ago ago he worked security and maintenance aboard a continental express train that offered more than transportation and food: It was a renowned museum with attractions spectacular and foreign.
Then comes Ausael, a beautiful human woman that seemed nothing but curious and innocent. Bagsus was all too happy to answer her questions regarding the exhibits, guards, and security features…
"And then she asked about one of our recent acquisitions: An obsidian plate, framed in gold, with some strange writing on it. I didn't know what it was and Trolfgar wouldn't tell me anything about it. That's when she got angry, and attacked me! When I realized she was nothing but a thief looking to knock something off the train, it was too late; I tried to warn Trolfgar, but he fired me for being a 'nuisance.' I would go to the authorities, but I'm afraid they'll make me an accomplice. I can't get anywhere near the train, but I need someone to guard it that knows the plate is in danger. Someone I can trust to protect the innocent passengers and priceless property I've endangered."
In my game, Bagsus supplied the party with three magic items as payment: a Belt of the Monkey (double prof bonus on Athletics and Acrobatics checks; curse: Your simian instincts make you treat the world like your playground), a Bracelet of Seduction (1/day cast DC 15 Charm), and 2 doses of Laughing Powder (ingest poison, DC 15 CON or laugh uncontrollably).
Otherwise he does not have much to offer the party, with his unemployment at all. He can assure them they'll be heralded as heroes and offered a lifetime ticket to the trainseum, but if that doesn't satisfy them he can (barely) afford their WBL guidelines. A more creative GM may be able to offer a more tangible service as befits their campaign setting, such as being owed a favor by a trade union/labor organization/guild Bagsus belongs to.
Regardless, most of the "rewards" the party can receive from participating in the adventure do not come as payment; there is a number of things the party could reasonably obtain/steal that are more amusing than a +1 wooptiedo.
The Fine Details
"I don't actually think Ausael could steal anything from the train; there are four guards, in addition to Trolfgar, the staff, and even the exhibits themselves she would have to fight through. That being said, anything that happens is my fault, and she seems like the kind of person to get violent as soon as there's a hitch in her plan."
There are a couple of details to give the party through Bagsus:
- The train's primary security feature is that each exhibit door is locked, as well as every display case and attraction, when the train is not moving. This means anyone outside of the common areas when the train stops is locked in with whatever they want to steal, or that if something is stolen the thief has nowhere to go but out a window to avoid being caught.
- Trolfgar must not know why the party on board. He cannot be convinced that Ausael poses any threat.
- Getting on board requires a ticket. A regular, deluxe, or super-deluxe ticket is available for purchase (only access the museum, museum + sleeping car/a meal, museum + sleeping car and fully fed), all at exorbitant prices. Bagsus can provide tickets if pressured, but it comes out of the reward money. Otherwise the party can sneak on board, steal tickets, or otherwise find a way.
- Some of the exhibits are dangerous, and have caused "accidents" before
- Bagsus provides a floor plan for the trainseum
- Bagsus expects Ausael to attack with 3 henchmen, who will board the train at the next stop from where the party currently is. You can connect two locations in your campaign setting, or assume the party has 2 hours until they expect to arrive where Ausael boards.
- The train has 1 conductor who remains in the conductor car at all times
- Trolfgar communicates with the conductor magically from his office
- The windows on the train are locked, but can be unlocked with a simple DC10 STR or thieve's tools check
"You need to steal the train."
Bagsus wants the party to hijack the train and cause it to overshoot its destination, never giving Ausael and her cronies a chance to get on. In theory it will give him enough time to warn the authorities and find her. They could attempt to overpower the conductor, temporarily interfere with the train's controls, or send a dispatch from Trolfgar's office to the conductor telling him not to stop.
As soon as it's evident the train is going too fast to stop where it should, Trolfgar will want to find the conductor and find out what's going on. The party will have to find a way to (nonlethally) neutralize or distract him. The conductor won't question orders, but will have to be dealt with to avoid him fixing any sabotage done by the party.
Trolfgar's office is watched 24/7 by a single guard. The guard captain typically stands at the top of the rotunda, where he can see the new exhibit and watch both floors. There is a guard on the stairs near the conductor's car entrance and sleeping car entrance to prevent trespassing.
Here is the floorplan the party is provided with. It is accurate. To the left is the conductor's car, which only has one floor (accessible from the ground floor) but can be jumped onto from the second floor of the museum. There is a skylight so the party can drop in. To the right is the private car, where passengers sleep.
The conductor's car and sleeping car do not have maps. They're rectangular, featureless spaces. The players don't have any reason to go into the rear car that would require a more thorough description than "a tight, rectangular car with bunk beds and food trays." The conductor's car provides ample cover for the party to sneak up on and incapacitate the conductor, as well as stash the body, and lots of grinding gears and hissing steam to call for some dex saves if they decide to attempt sabotage. The doors to both are unlocked.
If the party has a reason to remove the linchpin fixing any of the cars together, they can attempt to do so with a DC 40 Strength check (and even that is being generous! Can you imagine overcoming 300mph+ speeds?). It has an AC 14, Hardness 20, and 20 HP. Becomes brittle and breaks if it takes 10 or more cold, acid, or fire damage.
Aquatic Attractions: There is a large, glass-topped tank full of aquatic life. In case of it breaking, the contents are inside a steel cage. There is a baby dragon turtle, some jelly fish, a miniature shark, and a troglodyte tadpole. There is also an interactive trough full of starfish, crabs, and slugs that can be touched.
Living the Barovia Dream featuring Strahd von Zorovich himself!. Coffins, cobwebs, Gothic horror: This display laims to have the infamous Strahd. Infographics and plaques (incorrectly) describe the vampire's curse, confusing its details with mummies and werewolves. There are also artifacts from Strahd's castle, like a stuffed vampire bear, his sword, and coffins full of mummies.
Nature's Bounty: If stepping into the Barovia Dream is like walking into a graveyard, NB is like the garden of a beautiful estate. There are talking mushrooms and awakened shrubs milling about at the direction of a Dryad, whose home tree is a massive oak someone uprooted and planted in the car. The Dryad is very clearly not a fan of her situation, but party members that are nice to her/the exhibit and can speak Sylvan or Elven may be able to befriend her. She can cast Goodberry and Speak With Animals at will.
Hall of Horrors! This strange room is full of some mundane (but scary) creatures, such as Rust Monster mites in wicker baskets, as well as monsters captured from the Abyss. Snake Bat Frogs, Jars of Squidflies, and a Scorpofrog are on display, and small jars of the flies can be purchased in the gift shop.
Archives. The least exciting exhibit. There are bookshelves full of collected maps, journals, mad ravings, spell research notes, ancient languages, paintings, and other "guff" (as Trolfgar says) on display, dusty and unappreciated. A party member may be able to nick a 1st-3rd level spell scroll or notes on a new spell if the DM allows. There is also a translation guide for "Ancient Zharvakian."
Fantastical Inventions and Whirlmagigs! Trolfgar's third-favorite exhibit (behind the store and EWCtW). There is a model Autobeholder and Mechaflumph on display. There is essentially a magic 3D printer which can Fabricate any medium or smaller sized object for 1 hour for 20 gold. There are clockwork contraptions and nonsense. And there are wands, pigments, and charms that grant advantage on Disguise Kit checks and Deception checks for 1 hour.
Museum Store. Kitsch crap, models and clockwork contraptions from FI&W, seeds from NB, jars of Barovia dirt, links from the chainmail of Atkinson the Destroyer, jars of slime, busts, molds, statues, jars of squidflies, and replica weapons from other campaign settings. Everything is 10-50gp, with a 20gp "security deposit" for the squidflies and and slime jars. There have been "incidents" in the past of careless passengers opening the jars while on the train.
Rotunda. A staircase goes up the wall on either side of the rotunda, taking passengers to the second floor. The middle of the rotunda is filled with a glass tube, which goes floor-to-ceiling, in the center of which is the party's target sitting on a velvet pillow. The obsidian plate is about the size of a page in a book, and has red writing in Infernal chiseled into one side. The tube covers an Antimagic Zone, and blocks Detect Good/Evil as well as a Paladin's Divine Sense (but the Barovia, HoH, and Atkinson rooms radiate pretty intense evil).
Dining Hall. There's a bar and several tables, which are covered in animated tablecloths (Rug of Smothering stats). Animated suits of armor serve meals and clean, and the tablecloths wrap themselves around dirty dishes and roll to the kitchen. There is a quartet of gnomish women and men who sing different diddies, such as Abalinga Mail and When the Train Comes Along,.
Atkinson the Destroyer. The mummified remains of this ancient Zharvakian warlord are on display here, surrounded oddly by vampires (his mummy army is on display on Strahd's room). The whole exhibit is decorated like a desert and covering in pulsing hieroglyphics (if someone uses the translation book, the room is decorated in nonsense gibberish and "Atkinson" is spelled wrong). Atkinson groans and sometimes mumbles in his ancient language. He has been blindfolded and restrained, and a nearby sign reads "Avoid eye contact. You have been warned!" His sword, God-Destroyer, is on display next to him; it is a crumbling, bronze khopesh with replicas available in the store. The ghost of his dog is a favorite among regulars, as it is incredibly friendly. A hazy, thin, amber gas floats through the room, which solidifies into a jelly-like solid if Atkinson breaks free of his restraints. A lever in the hallway outside of the room activates this effect. Anyone who looks into Atkinson's eyes must succeed on a DC 15 Charisma saving throw or suffer short term madness and take 1d10 necrotic damage.
Entrepreneurs who Changed the World. Trolfgar is the main focus here. A model of the train is held in the hands of a wax statue of Trolfgar, depicting him as a heroic and dashing and fierce hero. The inventor of the Autobeholder (a dwarf named Abrahm Putsk), the inventor of the LIghtning Train (William Cannith), and the Rubixerous Cube (Rubixerous the Mad Mage). The attached theater has a narrator with a tambourine and a permanent programmed illusion that provides a biography of Trolfgar's life.
World of Slimes. The slimes display includes an Ooze Troll from the dwarfs in Skagbottom, which is a large ooze with Regeneration 10 filled with mud and troll bones. There is also an ochre jelly and a gelatinous cube. The Cube is in the corner, so any player that tries to enter the room by window has to make a DC14 DEX save to avoid taking 4d6 acid damage as they pass through the creature. If the slimes become agitated (like, if someone breaks in through a window and passes through one), there are nozzles in the ceiling that spray a neutralizer that makes the oozes shrink one size category and relax. It's also poisonous to anyone who fails a DC 13 CON save (poisoned for 1 hour). Same as Atkinson, a lever in the hallway near the WoS door activates the effect.
If the players free Atkinson or agitate the slimes, it will cause the nearest guard to leave his post, pull the lever, and keep watch outside the door to stop anyone from entering. When this happens, the party could overpower the guard, knock him out (or kill him?), and throw him in the room, then convince Trolfgar to visit the exhibit and do the same to him. The other guards and passengers won't come in and discover the body.
The party could open a 2nd floor window and jump onto the roof of the conductor's car, then break in through the skylight. The conductor is a CR 0 frail old gnome that can be knocked out from 1 point of nonlethal damage and fails spell saving throws. The party can try to temporarily sabotage the train with appropriate insight/intelligence/relevant knowledge checks, or they could permanently sabotage the train-which leaves them stuck on a runaway train until it's fixed.
The party could send a dispatch from Trolfgar's office. There is a guard posted by the door who can be dealt with however the party pleases. The door to the office is not locked. In Trolfgar's room is a single bed, a Masterwork Teddybear (when resting, a "short rest" requires half as much time), and some personal belongings. At his desk is a Sending Stone and a list of commands in his handwriting, which are scribbled and crossed out because he can't remember his own complicated passwords. The party can attempt as many insight/intelligence/wisdom/whatever rolls as they want to decipher the code; the conductor is used to Trolfgar constantly forgetting and will follow the party's commands as soon as they're rendered correctly.
The party could detach the museum from the conductor's car, so they never arrive in the next city.
It doesn't really matter
Fortunately it doesn't matter what the party does: Ausael's plan initially was to take the plate peacefully, but she has a plan B: Instead, she and her cronies have a real Autobeholder, which they will use to attack the train if it shoots past its destination or doesn't arrive at all.
Choose any room on the train; it, and all the adjacent rooms, lose their exterior walls. Ausael and her 3 henchmen all disembark from the Autobeholder in a different room (1st and 2nd floor) and beeline for the rotunda, where they will attempt to shatter the glass and seize the plate, then retreat back in the Autobeholder to escape. If Ausael is defeated, the kobold and the goblin will try to escape in the Autobeholder early. The orc fights to the death. The relevant stats are listed below.
Why is this plate so important?
The infernal writing is 3 true names of Demons. As we all know, knowing a demon's true name allows you to summon and control the demon. The first two belong to long dead creatures; the third is Ausael's name. She wants to take it back to the Abyss and throw it into the screaming chaos of Pandemonium, where no one can find it for a few thousand years (she would dip it in the River Styx or an angel's blood if she had access to either).
If the party defeats Ausael, takes the plate from Trolfgar, and knows how to speak Abyssal they can force a succubi into their service. Hopefully even if you have zero DM experience you recognize that has the potential to make your game really weird and uncomfortable very quickly, which is why I would advise having the plate destroyed in the fighting or taken by the local church for destruction instead.
How to scale this to different levels?
Easier: Change the Autobeholder's "Prone Deficiency" to be activated any time it takes damage, allowing the party to knock it over (and knock it off the train) as quickly as possible. Change the kobold and goblin to a normal kobold and goblin, change the orc to a bandit, and change Ausael to a mage (as the Monster Manual entries)
Harder: Sky is the limit. Ausael could summon a Yochlol, the kobold could be an Assassin, and the goblin could be an Archmage.
Ausael: Stats as Succubus/Incubus
Kobold: Stats as Bandit, but a spear with +5 to hit and 1d8+2 damage.
Goblin Mage: Stats as Cult Fanatic, except: Cantrips (light, sacred flame, thaumaturgy) 1st level (4 slots Command, inflict wounds, shield of faith) 2nd level (3 slots *hold person, spiritual weapon)
Orc Fighter: Stats as Knight, plus ability Leadership (1/day): As a reaction, the Orc Fighter can add 1d12 to an ability check, attack, or saving throw of one of his allies.
Autobeholder: As Autobeholder.
Trainseum Guards: As Guard
Trolfgar: As Noble. Trolfgar Tragyrhand is a half-elf.
Oh shit three party members are down wtf do I do!!
Remember how Atkinson groans and mumbles? Well, he's still alive-and he's mighty pissed off at whoever just woke him up! He gets one attack with God-Destroyer (+20 khopesh 1d8 + 20d20 necrotic damage) before it crumbles, afterwards he can attack with a mummy's Rotting Fist. As long as the party doesn't do anything to draw his attention, he swings at the bad guys. If the party befriended the Dryad, she also comes to their aid, casting Mass Cure Wounds and Heroism. The oozes are also prone to breaking free, and attack whatever makes the most noise (Autobeholder, perhaps?). Finally, Atkinson's dog comes to the rescue! (Stats as a Blinkdog)
If the party has purchased a jar of slime or a jar of squidflies, they can hurl them at opponents. The slime does 3d6 acid damage on a hit and the squidflies attack as a Swarm of Bats that afflict targets with short term madness.
Anything interesting on the train for those annoying players that always want something to interact with?
The Dryad's name is Sylvestia. If she is befriended, she can cast Speak with Animals to talk to Atkinson's dog. The dog isn't very intelligent but is very friendly, and can try to answer questions the party may have. It knows the obsidian plate is desired by Atkinson, that it's from Hell, and that Atkinson is not on speaking terms with Strahd von Stuck-up-o-vich.
The Dog's name is Scruffy the Destroyer.
Trolfgar is a self-centered, self-important, pompous idiot. Reeeal smarmy elf that takes every opportunity to talk about himself or the train. If the party asks for a tour, he's always excited to say "yes" and will take them anywhere in the museum, including rooms that have been locked because of escaped exhibits.
You can use the party's attempts to interact with other passengers as an opportunity to plant seeds for future adventure. "I'm travelling to so-and-so, it's struck gold" "I'm on my way to see my family, now that the war's over" "I'm an evil assassin and will be murdering the king soon" that kind of thing.
You can also use the Entrepreneur's room and FI&W to showcase your campaign setting's anachronistic inventions. If you're playing Eberron, throw in a lightning train and its real inventor; if you're playing some cliche steampunk, throw in a model airship.
The slimes and rust monsters can all be fed like animals at a petting zoo.
You can use an exhibit room to showcase marvels specific to your campaign setting.