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Dungeon DIY: The Runestone

November 20, 2013

dungeonDIYDungeon DIY is a featured series that showcases Mike’s Dungeons & Dragons creations. Things featured in this series are used in the”City of Splendors” campaign, which he DMs for a quartet of miscreants and real-life pals

The last time I created and shared a setpiece from my D&D campaign, the party was a group of young, fresh adventurers full of hope and idealism. Now, two years later, they’ve lost one colleague and gained another, and have come a long way in our semi-regular play sessions. We recently finished the first major story arc of the campaign (I’ve been considering it the first “season” of the game), which culminated in a complex and dangerous adventure in the deepest depths of Undermountain. When the characters first arrived in Waterdeep, a great earthquake had shaken the city, leaving districts damaged, and questions unanswered as many citizens insisted they received mysterious visions on the night of the quake. Through their travels, the party learned that the quake was caused by the death of Halaster, the legendary Mad Mage who has made his home in Undermountain for a century, keeping its labyrinthine tunnels secure from outside harm. He was able to do this with the help of the Runestone, a powerful arcane artifact that he used to oversee and control the hundreds of spells, portals, and traps scattered throughout Undermountain. And with his death, the Runestone was left undefended, up for grabs to the first group to track it down and secure it. And so the party was tasked with locating it first, to ensure it did not fall into the wrong hands.

For such an important part of the story, I wanted to create a memorable climax for my players. The Runestone itself is located at the top of a small mountain, deep within an isolated cavern in the most remote part of Undermountain. They would have to make their way up the mountain’s spiral path, fighting Halaster’s magical guards along the way, and researching the cryptic clues left within a series of caves in order to understand just how to harness the Runestone’s power. The mountain is massive on all scales, spanning a wide area and towering above the characters, which meant that I would have to build it in tiers.



I created a series of patterns and cut them out of thick sheets of styrofoam insulation. Each layer was composed of walls and a roof, glued together, and stacked so that the whole setpiece could be disassembled and rebuilt as the party made their way up.


Once the ramps were carved and arranged, I used expanding foam to build up form and texture, giving the set a massive, rocky texture. The paths themselves were hewn by Halaster’s magic, and so I was able to sculpt the spiral path in a more deliberate manner.


After allowing everything to set, I gave the whole mountain a base coat of latex acrylic paint to prevent the spray paint from eating through it. With the primer in place, I build up a series of earthy reds, ambers, browns, and blacks, finishing with a gritty stone-textured layer of paint. In the end, the whole thing looked like a massive chocolate cake.




Each level had its own cave, which contained close-quarters encounters with some Drow researchers. Shards of arcane crystals pierced through the stone, made up of random bits of beads and costume jewelry.




Further up the mountain, the party was attacked by a patrol of flying Flameskulls, which led to a fun ranged encounter as the skulls kept swooping at them, staying out of range of their melee weapons.



When they finally reached the top, the found the Runestone itself, which I crafted out of a piece of soft stone found in a Science Shop, surrounded by a handful of quartz — er, arcane crystals. I carved the sigils by hand with a thin awl, and coloured them with a wash of magenta paint.



By the end of the two-session adventure, the party had been through a truly epic quest full of hard-fought battles and were left to decide the fate of the Runestone. The setpiece lent an unforgettable  sense of realism to the game, and sets up some great encounters for the next season!


One Comment leave one →
  1. November 21, 2013 1:08 am

    Damn, that’s freakin awesome

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