Death Crypt of the Ultralich – Level 1

I’ve been meaning to post these, and now that there’s no chance that the players might be seeing portions of the dungeon that they haven’t explored yet, I can finally start.

These will give you an idea of what I’m working with, and I’m copying my key notes word for word from my legal pad. The great thing about this dungeon has been I’ve managed to run most of my sessions with virtually no prep-work beyond what’s already written down on my notepad. Mostly, I’ve just been winging it, which is good, because I haven’t had time to do much else.

I’ll note that the first floor is rather empty at the moment; this is meant to be an exploration-themed game, so I didn’t want it to be stacked floor to ceiling with monsters. Plus, as in-game time progresses, the side tunnels will be excavated and vagrants or monsters might start taking up residence in this upper level.

Short version of the setting:

-Big war between wizards 500 years ago.
-Monastery was built on the site of… something important that happened during the war.
-300-400 years ago, the monastery was buried by “rain of dirt” (probably a volcano)
-200-300 years ago, a smaller monastery was built on the origin site; it too was buried by a “rain of dirt”.
– < 100 years ago, small town was founded near the site; rather than build another monastery, they put a historical marker on top of the hill underneath which the ruins are buried.
-Present day: at the founding day festival, history wonks are showing up to see the marker because it’s the anniversary of the end of the wizard war, so it’s a bigger deal than usual. The young son of a local innkeeper is out playing on top of the hill when he falls down a sinkhole and into the upper gallery of the newer temple.

Dungeon Level 1.png

  1. Stone debris & dirt. Boy huddled & leg hurt
  2. Empty room w/dusty floors.
  3. Large, high-ceilinged room. 1d100 bats + 1d10 giant bats.
  4. Dusty, empty room.
  5. Broken, rotten barrels. Floor is stained.
  6. Empty room w/cracked flagstone floors. 5 “caches” 1 empty; 2 w/2d4 centipedes; 1 w/silver dagger + 2d4 centipedes; 1 w/scroll of Light
  7. Empty room w/cracked flagstone floors, 3 “caches” 2 empty; 1 2d4 centipedes + sack of 5d10 gp.
  8. 6 stone benches. Small piece of tooled metal
  9. Very dusty shelves. 2 empty glass bottles. Cloth fragments on floor. Mice
  10. Mouse & rat droppings. Venomous snake hiding in NW corner hole in wall.
  11. Wooden detritus; 5d10 rats + 3d6 giant rats; 4 silver torchieres (100 GP each)
  12. 2 rows of stone benches, cobwebs. Altar w/2 gold candlesticks (25 GP each). Hole down in west transept hidden by webs. 50/50 mage spider is here, will cast sleep [scroll] then flee.
  13. 2HD mage spider (will cast shield from a scroll; also knows Darkness). Scroll w/sleep + magic missile. Table. Skeleton. Holy Symbol (silver). Chest 500gp.
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Further into the Ruins – It’s a Cruel World…

The thief who survived the last session with over 7k banked XP hired some new companions and low-level adventurers to guard the known entrances to the dungeon.

Rather than take lots of time to prepare and coordinate, they opted to go straight back into the dungeon the very next day. Because it took them the better part of the morning to resolve the previous session’s adventure and recruit new party members, they didn’t have their new guard posted before the rival adventuring party had a chance to start poking around the ruins of the buried monastery.

My players decided to try to talk things out with the rival party; it was nominally led by a cleric of the same local order as the PC who’d died in the TPK session. Cleric convinced the party that they were mostly looking for items of religious significance and were tasked with surveying the lower ruins. They wouldn’t join up as henchmen/hirelings, but would be willing to exchange information. Cleric also warned about the artificer’s workshop supposedly located off the south end of the abbey.

Satisfied that the party had bought their story, the Cleric’s party continued their looting while the players found the back entrance to the East Chapel’s relic room. The fighter made his poison check to open the reliquary cabinet and the party retrieved the blessed shield and mace within. While they could’ve kept the cabinet, the fighter smashed it up instead, costing them a decent chunk of loot XP. In a room off one of the naves, they found another +1 mace, and then, in the narthex, they found the secret passage to a supply room.

The supply room was haunted, and while the party leader was investigating the boxes, three faded wraiths rose up and attacked. (“I didn’t touch the chest, though!” “It wasn’t actually a trap. It was a ghost.”) The faded wraiths couldn’t get hits on the fighters, but they DID kill party leader before they were dispatched.

And just like that, 7000+ party XP was gone with one character.

Now, they DID have a chance to save him. There were no wounds; he’d just stopped breathing. He expired right next to a box full of holy water and holy symbols–I would’ve allowed the players to use those to revive him, since he’d been killed by monk ghosts; if the party had a cleric, they would’ve known this could’ve worked. Also chest compressions could’ve worked. Instead, they dragged him back to town, where the healer said he was probably too far gone to help.

On the plus side, one of the thieves who missed the TPK of the second session got enough XP to reach level 2.

 

Death Crypt of the Ultralich: The Library

I didn’t write much up from the previous session, as it was mostly finalizing the exploration of the (more or less empty) 1st floor and a brief foray toward the northern sub-dungeon. That night, they almost got TPKed by a Spider Mage with a sleep scroll, but it rolled low, so the Fighter hireling was still standing while it made a run for it. They fought a handful of spiders in the gallery that led towards the library. It was a near run, but no one died–with a few characters hurt, they decided to return to town. This was good for them, since if they camped in the side room, the other Mage Spiders would’ve had them trapped and killed them all.

Last Friday’s session was an absolutely spectacular cluster-fuck worthy of note in the annals of B/X D&D.

The group essentially tried to clear out the library of Mage Spiders in one go. The library has an openish floor-plan, with two parallel halls of reading rooms running on either side of the upper and lower stacks, which meant a cascading large-scale encounter in the upper stacks. They ended up killing 20+ giant spiders and spiderlings*, a black widow, a tarantella, 3 Mage Spiders, and a Spider Archmage.

Keep in mind, too, that this party is made up entirely of Thieves, except for the hirelings, who were a fighter and a halfling.

At one point, after 2/3s of the spiderlings and both the Tarantella and the Black Widow had been killed, the Mage Spiders tried to surrender. “Stop! We’ve been minding our own business in this library for centuries! We only attacked you because you invaded our home!”

One of the PCs used this opportunity to backstab and murder the Mage Spider trying to surrender. This is about the time that the Spider Archmage has shown up to figure out what the hell is going on.

The party had been pretty torn up after the battle when the Spider Archmage showed up. Because they killed the last Mage Spider, talking’s off the table, so the Spider Archmage casts Magic Missile and hits the halfling-hireling for nearly 20 damage–the party’s best tank gets misted; gibs of halfling coat the remaining 3 PCs and one hireling. Unfortunately for the Spider Archmage, that was his ace damage spell. The players’ action economy gets the better of him, and he’s not able to get another spell off.

The surviving PCs clear out the library and find one of the alternate exits from the dungeon–a branch from which leads to the lair of an Owlbear.

The existence of the Owlbear had foreshadowed; the mage spiders would’ve hired them to drive it off if they’d made peace with them, and the PCs would’ve been paid double to deal with it, since Crazy Jim had promised 1000 gold for Owlbear meat.

The thieves listened down the tunnel; they hear a gentle hooting/cooing snore. They try to sneak up on the sleeping Owlbear, but they rolled lousy on their move silently checks. The first thief, who was going to try to throw burning oil on the sleeping Owlbear, found himself face-to-face with critter. They tie initiative–the Owlbear is set on fire just as it bats the thief across its lair, killing him with one hit.

When we roll for regular initiative, the Owlbear wins; another thief is crushed in a bear hug by a burning Owlbear. The last PC thief manages to get behind it and kill it while it’s tearing into his buddy.

After all of that, the party is down to one thief and one NPC fighter hireling who rolled lousy the entire fight. The last thief murders the NPC to claim all the treasure and 7200 XP from session for himself.

*My only note for spiderlings was that they were the same as Crab Spiders, except they used webs, were smaller, and had a paralysis bite rather than an instant death bite.

Prelude to the Death Crypt of the Ultralich

I don’t have a better name for my current game yet, and it ultimately may not take the direction implied in the name (though the mass combat game I ran two weeks ago did serve as a “distant prologue”).

I’m experimenting with a dynamic exploration-focused dungeon, one which begins… almost empty!

The design concept ties into adventure hook that got the party there:

There’s a small town celebrating its founding day, which is normally a smaller affair, but this is the anniversary of the end of the Wizard War. There’s a stone marker outside of town on a hill, and it’s an “historical site” which Wizard War nerds might want to check out on the 500th anniversary. Between the end of the Wizard War and the founding of the town, there was a “rain of dirt” (possibly a volcano, possibly magic upheaval) that buried whatever was there. Folks didn’t want the spot to be totally forgotten, so they put up a plaque. The party found the ruin because a child playing on the hill fell down a sinkhole.

The complex is actually a small buried temple built on top of a previously buried monastery that was built over a series of crypts to seal up some of the residual evils of a Lieutenant of the Ultralich who was defeated on that spot. Below that are caverns and who knows what; I haven’t even fully keyed the crypt area.

The top level is mostly empty, stripped bare, and even the purpose is somewhat of a mystery until the players find the chapel. There are a few collapsed tunnels at the edges of the map, and a room with bats indicating that the room is near the surface of the hillside. Eventually, these tunnels may become excavated as more adventurers and possibly clergymen and historians begin to explore the upper ruins. These empty rooms will serve as future sites of minor archaeological base-camps or refuges for vagrants and bandits. But for now, the party has the ruins to themselves.

I remembered how much I hated the Bruce Heard game I was in because, despite all of the cool fair and carnival stuff around, I didn’t get a chance to interact with it, so if my players decide to do some carnival games, I’ll let them. We’re going to Millennium Fair it. I’m also allowing them to create a bit of the town themselves, picking what they need to have in the town, letting them name places and people. We’ve already ended up with an awesome tavern keeper named Crazy Jim, whose specialty is Owlbear stew. Over the course of the evening, it was established that Crazy Jim is a retired adventurer of ridiculous level.

My DM (a player in this game) is on a Delicious in Dungeon kick, and I’m happy to oblige. Turns out, the secret to making top-notch Owlbear Stew: you gotta make em good and angry. Most animals if they’re all riled up, the meat can get tough and gamey. But Owlbears are different—when an owlbear gets mad, their muscles get all loosened up, like they’ve done a bunch of stretches and then gotten a massage; makes em move all fluid-like. So, if you want the best Owlbear meat, you’ve gotta get em real good and pissed off before you kill them—the meat’ll just fall off the bones.

So, for now, my dungeon chef is contenting himself with frying up centipedes and mice with the wild green onions he’s picked.

Interestingly, my three players have all opted to run Thieves. They reason that this way they’ll always be able to be sneaky and at least one of them will always get a backstab. They have a fighter and Halfling for hirelings; we’ll see how all of this will work out. The halfling’s probably better at hiding from things than they are at this point, but there’s been very little to hide from so far.

The downside of everyone playing thieves, I can’t use this as an opportunity to really go for broke on sticking to the book on Moldvay magic rules. I went out of my way to stock the dungeon with scrolls to reward someone who picked “Read Magic” as their one first level spell. There’s an NPC elf lady whose spell is read magic, but the party didn’t pick her as a hireling, so she very well may end up as part of a rival adventuring party.

The second level of the dungeon, once they reach it, has two mini-side dungeons off of it. One is a workshop with a few high-loot-value mechanical monstrosities that are terrifyingly out of depth. The other is the original monastery’s library, which has been taken over by Aranea.

A lot of the treasure will be hidden in the crypt below the 2nd level, but opening the vault to the crypt will trigger some stuff that will turn much of level 2 “active”. This could upset anyone trying to set up shop on the first floor, definitely a corner of the 2nd floor, and maybe even the rest of the town.