Down the gnoll hole:
The gnolls of Blackbriar might not be particularly strong or bright – but they are numerous. Their subterranean home is a network of dimly-lit tunnels woven between natural caverns and excavated chambers. Three entrances quickly resolve into a single main passage, so it would be easy for careless adventurers to become surrounded if early encounters were avoided.
I used the burrow as a back entrance to a fortification, and jazzed-up the inhabitants as devil-infused variants. There are several options for the gnolls, from the small and weak to the strong and bulky. This gives some flexibility as one may want a warren filled with dozens of manageable foes, or fewer packing more of a punch.
3) Salvage Room
4) Troll Pit
5) Patrolled Corridors
6) Dumping Ground
9) The Chain Gang
10) Sleeping Quarters
13) Sleeping Dogs Lie
14) Brooding Chamber
15) Store Room
16) Throne Room
The area is thick with thorny briar bushes that would tower above the tallest man. Thick runs of ivy and pale tufts of grass seem to be the only other plant life to survive the shade – an ideal hideaway, as anyone in a rush would surely be cut to pieces. You can make out a patch of light further in, and catch the crackle of a fire on the wind.
Several gnolls sit watch around a campfire; their attention held by jostled feasting on some kind of game. Three well-spaced hollows beyond appear to lead underground.
Stealth, charm, the element of surprise – consider that these fellows may head inside if left alone and they hear a commotion.
Dim earthen passages slope gently for approximately 20 metres; the warm glow of torchlight is visible in the distance.
The second and third passages are armed with simple traps; a tripwire releasing a scythe from the ceiling, and a covered spike pit. Perception check DC18 to spot the danger, but a DC20 agility or acrobatics check lets one dodge the 2d6 damage.
The iron-rich odour of blood fills the air, and the floor is tacky underfoot; several naked humans have been piled into a corner – their assorted effects spread across the floor. Two gnolls rooting through a backpack look up as you enter the room, snarling viscously as they stand to their full height.
DC20 stealth check if sneaking is attempted – the gnoll’s primary sense is smell. The human’s were likely trappers, judging by their discarded clothing and equipment.
The floor ends suddenly at a large pit some 15 feet wide; pitch black, you cannot see the bottom. A guttural wailing can be heard from below, and the malodorous stench of rotten meat hangs heavy in the air.
Illumination would reveal the floor 40 feet down, littered with an abundance of bones and fresh remains; the stone walls are covered with bloodied scratch marks. A large green humanoid rocks back and forth, hunched in the corner. This troll’s eyes have been burned out, but he will savagely swing at anything that enters the pit.
Two hyenas patrol the corridors north of the chasm – drawn to sounds of combat if either is attacked or the party make excessive noise.
Mouldering urine-soaked straw lays strewn across the floor, likely from a pair of training dummies that are now a gnawed pile of stakes and sacking. Bags and boxes of pilfered wares have been torn open and their contents cast asunder. A simple weapons rack contains an assortment of swords, bows, and axes.
Almost everything here has been stolen from travellers and nearby camps, and judging by the cobwebs they haven’t been touched in a few months. It’s a good opportunity to dish our some basic weaponry, or perhaps a fine item hidden amongst the junk. The gnolls clearly favour this room as both a store room and a toilet.
The corridor opens into a wide cavern with a low ceiling, spanned by a seemingly bottomless gorge. Three sturdy rope-bound bridges lead across the chasm to the far side, where four gnolls are engaged in some sort of game. The engrossed players have yet to notice your presence.
A narrow ledge traces the walls of the cavern around the gorge’s edges, covered with fungus and other slippery hazards. The western ledge leads past a small opening partially concealed by tree roots (Bolthole).
The root-covered hollow is filled with an assortment of trinkets and toys, a pouch of Dwarven coins, and the skeletal remains of a rat in cage made of sticks. The walls are covered in simplistic charcoal drawings, many of which bear some crude resemblance to gnolls.
A pup’s hideaway, although it hasn’t been visited in a while
The Chain Gang:
The smell of sulphur and sounds of hammers and pickaxes echo down the corridor, interspersed with the occasional crack of a whip or hysterical yelp. A dozen chained humans in poor condition smash rocks at the end of a gnoll taskmaster’s whip, whilst another bearing a crossbow watches over the room. The crude forge fills the air with a heavy smokey haze.
These slaves are being slowly worked to death; how useful they’d be in a fight is anyone’s guess.
The stout wooden door bears a crudely-affixed bar, and groans obstinately as it swings open. Rats scurry into the shadows as the dim light floods the room. The interior is barren, save several piles of ruined clothes and a handful of pails.
The buckets and rags are the lavatory and sleeping arrangements for the slaves; rummaging around might reveal a few personal artifacts.
Metal bars run from the earthen ceiling into the floor; the crumpled form of a man lays motionless in the small prison cell. Various instruments of encouragement such as whips and cudgels hang from the wall.
A careless merchant beaten into submission – perhaps he has some local information of merit.
An intricately decorated metal plate portraying dwarves locked in the throes of battle spans the breadth of the corridor. The metal is clearly thick, however a narrow recess in the centre appears as though it may receive a key.
This place wasn’t always a simple network of gnollish burrows. Dwarves once occupied this area, although the sturdy plate seems to be all that has stood the test of time. This would require an incredible amount of skill to pick, but stores of gold bars and cut gemstones would be quite the reward.
Sleeping Dogs Lie:
This large dark earthen chamber’s floor is dotted with the silhouettes of gnolls curled up on the floor; there is a strong musky smell and the occasional chattering snort from the slumbering occupants. The huddled groups are well spaced out but there’s plenty of room to move unobstructed.
The number of gnolls is variable but it might be a good idea to stack the odds and encourage creative alternatives to a straight fight. Just how many could one coup de grâce before the pack awoke?
Eight pups suckle from a corpulent mother laying motionless. A gnoll adorned with feathers waves a smoking staff, and chants indistinctly as he marks each of the brood with a bright white stripe of wet clay. The shaman lets loose a hyena-like laugh as he turns to face you, readying a pouch to throw in your direction.
The Shaman is a tough fellow, but those slumbering nearby are likely to make things worse. How will the party handle the defenceless mother and young?
Crates, casks and chests line the room; this is clearly where the gnolls store the more valuable plunder.
The good stuff – wine, beer, gold, and jewels!
A crude throne of bone lashed with leather is occupied by an unusually large and heavily scarred gnoll. A bloodied man hanging limply from his manacles raises his head and whimpers in your direction. Several other gnolls lay curled up around the spacious room, but your presence is as of yet unnoticed.
Festilus is just a reskinned devil; the additional gnolls could be fighters or consorts depending on how poorly the group has fared. The prisoner tortured for Festilus’ amusement is clinging to life by a thread – toss a coin for his survival.