Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting the Band Back Together

This past Saturday, after a long hiatus, I finally got a game of D&D in with my buddies. An old friend, (whom I hadn’t played with in close to a decade), and a new guy (who was new to 4e) joined the group for a session. I’ve historically struggled to get enough players together, so this was great!
Although the dungeon was rather hastily thrown together, overall I think it was a success.

When I let the old Shadows of Asteron campaign die, the overly ambitious game had an absolute glut of dangling plot ideas that I had no idea how to satisfactorily reconcile. It would have been a bloated mess, even if we got together regularly. Given that I (as the DM) was having difficulty keeping track of the plot, I could not rightly expect my players to do so.

So I culled the campaign and took what was most memorable and cool: the Twin City of Basillon and the leader of the cult of Vecna: the Faceless One.

When the PCs faced off against the Vecna Cult in the sewers of Basillon, they confronted the Faceless One, and as they struck the final blow against the demagogue, he melted away into a pool of icy water. The bastard was a simulacrum!

The PCs now hated and feared him (for he was clearly a powerful spell caster). He was too perfect not to come back to. Enter the new session:

I want to play a game with you…

This dungeon was largely inspired by the movie, Saw. The PCs awoke in a dungeon chamber with no memory of how they got there. From the coalescing vapours of a bubbling well an apparition of a masked figure (i.e. the Faceless One) appeared and spoke to them:

Hello, Dungeoneers; I want to play a game with you.”

"You are likely wondering how you got here. Bemused and disoriented, your fleeting memories betray you. What is this place? How did you get here? The unfortunate reality is that you have no time for such deliberation. You have all been infected with an insidious disease. As it pumps its way through your veins, this magical affliction is slowly transmuting your living tissue into that of the undead. Within days you will become my mindless slaves.”

“But do not despair, dungeoneers; the means to reclaiming the lives you once knew is within you. In the chamber beyond is an adamantine vault; the cure to your condition rests within it.”

“Act quickly and with conviction; you may yet return to the privileged lives you once led.

The group was at the initial stage of the following disease:
 The look of horror on the new guy’s face when he read the final state of the disease was priceless.

A similarly imprisoned orc NPC then decided that he had had enough of the bullshit. He boldly strode forward and was promptly electrocuted by the trapped door, his smoldering remains acting as a warning to the rest of the group.

With the mage and thief working in concert, the door was then safely bypassed.

The dungeoneers emerged in a large chamber containing an adamantine cube (the vault). Four stone archways lined the eastern wall, and a skeleton dangled from a wood crucifix on the western wall.

It was at this point that the thief noticed a gnarly scar on his arm that hadn’t been there before. The rest of the dungeoneers soon realized that they had similar scars. The paladin braced himself, opened the wound, dug around, and found a hexagonal stone surgically implanted in his arm. It bore a symbol of a crescent moon. The other PCs opened their stitching and found similar stones engraved with various symbols. Then the party turned to look at the two remaining NPCs. The human female frowned, accepting what had to be done. The elf on the other hand… the blood drained from his face and he began to back away, horrified at what was being implied. The bard was able to calm him down with some gentle encouragement (and a kick-ass diplomacy roll), and soon the field surgery commenced.
The dungeoneers collected their eight surgically implanted hexagonal stones. There were four matching pairs. One successful perception check and one successful arcana check later, they realized that the symbols corresponded to the keystones of the four stone archways, and that they were keys to activating the portals.

As they were deliberating which portal to activate, the bard decided to approach the skeleton hanging from the crucifix. As he approached it, the thing came to life, points of red light burning within its ocular cavities. After attempting to parley with the thing and only receiving hisses in response, he promptly retreated.

The paladin then decided that the undead creature was a slight to his patron, the Raven Queen. He attempted to remove its head, and as soon as he touched it the paladin disappeared.

The mage correctly identified this as a teleportation effect. The dungeoneers decided that they would all touch the thing in turn.

They found themselves materialized in a small crypt filled with acid-logged zombies and a large vat of acid. The dungeoneers quickly dispatched the zombies and the mage valiantly retrieved the NPCs from the vat of acid. When they emerged from the crypt, the dungeoneers found themselves in the same chamber as before; they had come through a secret entrance behind the vault. They had wasted both time and precious resources.

The thief inspected the door to the vault and found it magically sealed. It also had four keyholes. Eureka.

The party decided to gather the hexes engraved with a mountain and activate the corresponding portal.

The dungeoneers materialized in a room with 2 doors; they disabled the traps and headed east into a flooded hallway with a wooden bridge extending to a stone platform. Four statues animated and attacked when the party reached the platform. The gargoyles hit the paladin pretty hard with some thrown stones, but some well-placed teleportation effects on the mage’s part allowed the party to lock them down and dispatch them without too much difficulty (despite the bard falling through the bridge and into the icy drink below).

After finding an arcane rune that restored one of their healing surges, the dungeoneers headed north. There they found a room containing a giant-sized throne. The floor was engraved with strange runes. The mage cast a tongues ritual and was able to decipher the Giant language. However, they still appeared to be randomly placed letters. The party was able to decipher several possible words among the letters. After much deliberation, they decided to try walking along the path spelt POWER. It was a wise choice, and they traversed the room unharmed and retrieved a magical battleaxe. They then walked along a path spelt TOR to the door on the western wall. From here they entered the lair of Kryton, the Mountain King.

This area was really a half-baked idea that I never had the time to fully realize before the game. As such, it came off pretty weak tactically. I had originally intended the labyrinth area to be covered in vines that would snake out and attempt to restrain the dungeoneers, while Kryton hurled fireballs at them from afar. I never actually did this in the game, and the labyrinth didn’t accomplish anything other than eating up time while I drew it out. However, Kryton was a beast, so that kept the players on their toes.

After easily mowing through orc minions in the labyrinth, they quickly locked down the manticores. They then absolutely hammered Kryton with daze and immobilize effects. He was still dangerous, but they were eventually able to put the flaming chain-wielding Cyclops down. From his corpse they retrieved a key.

We ended the session there, with the party in possession of one of the four vault keys and debating whether to risk a full-rest.

Despite the haste in which I threw the dungeon togehter, it was a pretty fun session.

It sure was great to get the band back together!


  1. NIce job! Make sure to tell us about any new puzzles and devious traps you concoct!

    1. Thanks! I'll have the time to inject some more creativity into the puzzles and traps I had come up with for next time. I had intentionally dialed back the difficulty a bit from what I normally do (for the sake of the newcomers). Such a grace period is now over (if it was even necessary at all).

      It will be fun to see how this thing evolves moving forward, as the healing surge and disease situation deteriorates.

      They were SO close to stepping on TOWER instead of POWER. Oh well, I'll get them next time!

  2. it was good times, the new guy's name is Alex.
    we should get together soon, just got books for my last university class, I'll have to read 13 books in the next three months or so, I'll probably be ok through May though.