If we weren’t using a Death and Dismemberment variation*, we probably would’ve lost most of the high-ish level characters and most of the rest of the original party members.
On the way down to level 5, the party encountered some hobgoblins who were keeping an eye on the trap door down to try to keep folks out who might be coming to mess with Darius, a high priest of Zargon, while he was collecting funds from the gambling den. This encounter ended up a bit messy and the party couldn’t talk their way out of the bad reaction roll. Some folks got hurt pretty bad, but the party managed to take out most of the goblins, with one escaping and another being bound and gagged and forced to lead them to the gambling den.
Here is where the poor dungeon design came in to haunt me again – how did the hobgoblins get past the two living statues? Again, unless we go with the whole ‘only NPCs can use the secret pyramid tunnels’, the hobgoblins, and anybody, really, would have to go past two living statues/iron golems and two giant rock pythons every time they come up from the city! Well, the goblin led the party toward the gambling den and got a living statue’s axe right through his head – I hand-waved this by pointing out that he may not have been able to make whatever sign or speak whatever passphrase was necessary or may not have even known about needing it, as he very likely wasn’t the leader of his patrol. I hate having to explain stuff like this players, and feel like maybe I shouldn’t, but I’m frustrated enough by the anti-logic of the dungeon’s layout that I try to address stuff when it breaks suspension of disbelief (which this module has frequently).
Anyway, the players searched Demetrius’ room looking for a trap door because there HAS to be a way into the rest of tier 5 that doesn’t involve walking past living statues an rock pythons, there just has to be! They didn’t find a more sensible way out, but they did find the secret treasure room with a closet-boss. What is a closet-boss? It’s when you open the door to a rather inconspicuous and isolated room that just happens to have a boss in it for no good reason. In a 20 x 20 room, there’s nothing but a chest with 6500 XP worth of loot and magic items and a 10HD monster pretending to be a tapestry.
The first thing that the polymar tried to turn into was some vaguely bear-like creature (earning it the name ‘rug-bear’), taking some pretty brutal swats at the cleric. It proceeded to eat one of the level 1 characters while the rest of the party beat a hasty retreat. They ran into the Vultures and hired them to make a coffin for the dead character, just go down and pick him up; naturally, they found the polymar down there and a couple of them got gobbled up. The players joined the fight after the second round, at which point, the Vultures made a run for it, straight into the room with the two living statues. While most of the party was trying to hold off the polymar (which was more or less one-shotting players), someone tried to hold the door as the Vultures came running back screaming, two living statues in slow pursuit.
So, after a couple hours, the party hadn’t made any geographic headway and lost a few level one characters and had a few higher level characters sustain some pretty crippling permanent injuries, so we have a lame, 1-eyed thief (movement halved, no dex bonus, -4 on all ranged attacks) and a cleric with a shattered arm (-2 on all rolls requiring use of the right hand), but at least they ended up with nearly 9K XP to split between them.
The Polymar was probably the toughest thing they’ve fought, and may well be one of the toughest monsters in the top half of the dungeon. With 10 Hit Dice and 3 attacks, it’s nearly guaranteed to hit at least once per round, probably twice, and very likely three times per target, meaning it takes between 1-2 rounds to kill a level 3 character before moving on to the next one. The one saving grace is that it has AC of 9, so luckily the Vultures got enough hits on it with their hammers, else it would’ve been a TPK for sure. The party really needed YOLO to tank for them, but that player is going to be out for the next couple of sessions.
I’m hoping that we’ll be able to wrap on The Lost City within the next session or two – Killing Darius is a pretty good stopping goal, and I’m ready to be done with this module.
*:How I do it is that I allow characters to suffer 1 grievous, permanent and crippling injury per level beyond the 1st instead of death.