Keep on the Borderlands (Sort Of)

At Free RPG Day, I got to game with a buddy who runs the local RPG con–B/X is his jam, and I love him for it.

He runs his somewhat uniquely, and there are aspects I disagree with (using a d8 base for semi-non-variable damage rather than d6), but there are others which I’ve stolen to make my own game run smoother (rotating initiative by side).

But the most important way he runs his game is that it’s fair–he’s not going to kick you when you’re down, but when you’ve goofed you’re done. PC death can and will happen in his games.

He’d run off some fairly wacky pre-gens from a site that gave stats and equipment that were all over the place. I ran a thief with 17 STR, 18 Dex, 8 Int, 18 WIS 14 CON, and CHA 4. Crusty Jim! I’ve learned from my own players and realized that Thieves have the potential to be the most stupid overpowered class, especially at lower levels. I cut my way through several orcs, bugbears, and giant spiders with my trusty Zweihander. With an AC of 4 and the potential to do over 20 damage in a single hit, I was a force to be reckoned with!

It’s also nice to play Borderlands without the moral quandaries that modernist gaming culture has tried to impose on it. We were told up-front: there are no orc babies; greenskins are creatures of evil that are born from, created by, and composed of evil and chaos taken shape. The goal was to kill them, rescue humans, recover treasure, and work to make the Borderlands just a little bit safer.

It wasn’t run straight from the module, but rather thematic, adjusted for a one-off. The keep was there, but we were given the choice to look for caves, small ruins, or large ruins (all home-made content). So I’ve still never played Borderland proper, but it was still a lot of fun cleaving through gobbos.

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Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The Artificer’s Workshop

The artificer’s workshop is below the south end of the abbey. It can be reached either by the stairs in the annex behind the hidden door or via the well.

Dungeon Level 3 - Workshop

  1. Artificer’s Bedroom. Skeleton*. Desk w/notes–Read Language will reveal his attempts to build “Daughters”. +1 Plate.
  2. Inner workshop. All manner of tools & blueprints, cogs, springs. A desk, tables, half-assembled bronze constructs. 4x “Daughters” 4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round). Scrap worth 6k gold.
  3. 2x Iron Living Statues. 500 steel ingots.
  4. Workshop supplies. 100 hammers. 25 screwdrivers. 50 wrenches. 25 unknown tools.
  5. 3 patrolling bronze walkers. HD2, AC4 30′ 1d6 (will flee if attacked and summon LS then Daughters.
  6. Anvils, barrels of springs (5x 100 gp each) and gears (5x 100 gp each).

*:active if seal in L2-26 is broken.

Death Crypt of the Ultra Lich – Old Buried Abbey (Level 2)

This second level is the lower, original abbey that was buried under a layer of dirt and ash. The hole in the chapel of the newer, upper church leads to room 10. The stairs north of 1 lead to the Library. Well in 22 is the back door to the Artificer’s workshop. Capstone in 26 leads to the Crypts (Level 3). Stairs in 27 are the main entrance to the Artificer’s workshop.

Space between 16, 19, 22, and all between 17 and 20 used to be an herb garden for soap-making; it can theoretically be cleared enough to create a “short cut”, but it would hardly be worth the effort. Exterior doors open to solid walls of dirt, stone, and ash. These can be excavated, but will take much longer than the upper tunnels.

Dungeon Level 2 - Main

  1. High arched wall w/stairs going down; spider webs
  2. 1d4 crab spiders
  3. 1d4 crab spiders; rack w/tattered clothes
  4. 1 Mage Spider (2HD)–Light, Read Magic; Scroll of Magic Missile x3; 5pp
  5. Several tables w/books. Most crumble at the touch. 1 is open to an illuminated page showing battle of wizards. Falls apart when touched.
  6. Webbed antechamber
  7. Narthex. 2 empty fonts. Door cannot open. Lever to secret door by west font
  8. 1d4 faded wraiths (2HD, drain only on a 6); 8 vials of holy water. 3k gp, 8 holy symbols
  9. Caved in room. Can be tunneled/excavated
  10. Four Saint Statues making holy gestures (1k gp each)
  11. 1d4 crab spiders; 22 cp, +1 mace
  12. Rows of wooden benches; Altar w/book (scroll of Bless, 5x charges)
  13. Missing door, 2 skeletons*
  14. (Monks’ cells) 2 skeletons*, 85 sp in d
  15. Long tables w/benches
  16. Kitchen. Oven. 4 bottles of wine (bad); rotted, useless ingredients; 24 blackened silver plates (1gp each)
  17. Prayer room w/empty pool
  18. Cabinet reliquary, trapped door (poison needle on cabinet door); Gold Chalice (500 gp), +1 mace, +1 shield
  19. 1 wight*; 700 gp, tapestries/fur blankets, +1 robe
  20. Soap making chemicals, dried plants, 20 bars of fragrant soap (10 gp each)
  21. A piece of tooled metal
  22. A well in the middle of this room goes 50-ft deep; there are buckets (4), rotting rope and 60 ft of chain; 1d8 fire beetles in the well
  23. 3d4 skeletons*; south door has holy symbols and writing. Read magic, languages or local cleric “Beware the life curse”; below is carved “Blessed be the Resurrection”
  24. A bronze, bi-pedal construct [1.5′] wanders these halls clockwise. 4 mauls
  25. Shelves. 2x sets of thieves tools
  26. 9 ghouls – 3 in each alcove. Attack when party enters the room. Jars w/3k cp, 5k sp, 900 gp, jeweled bracelet (1.2k gp), and rosary. Stone circle [capstone] in center of room. Sigil reads “Beware the life curse”
  27. Two metal faces in corners of the room. Stepping into the room triggers them. 1d6 arrow. 1 per round. Attacks as 1HD monser, 30 arrows. Disassembled, worth 1k gp each
  28. Barrels of nails (3), scrap metal (all rusted together)
  29. Barrels of scrap copper 4x (200 gp each)

*Become active undead if capstone seal in room 26 is broken.

The Ghouls’ Chapel

Last session, we had our largest party yet. One of the new players rolled a Cleric and I convinced another to play a MU to take advantage of the surfeit of scrolls the party had stockpiled.

A player who’d been a Fighter the previous session misplaced his character sheet for a bit (it was found later that evening) so ran a Cleric. The guy whose thief died last session rolled another thief, and we still had a thief who lived and was level 2.

Unfortunately, someone who’d played a fighter last session wasn’t there and had taken his character sheet and the party’s +1/+3 vs undead sword with him.

With some Clerics finally in the party, they had a bit of the benefit of the NPC party being led by a fellow member of the order. They got to know the layout of the lower abbey, some more of its history, and what the order was looking for. I figure I’ll give them more hints as they level up. If they survive…

On the way in, they noticed one of the 4 saint statues at a principal junction had been removed, but more on that later. They found the old abbot’s cell, looting it of some, but not all of its treasure (they missed out on the +1 robes). They also checked various doors that opened onto solid walls of dirt and rocks and figured out that a small central garden had probably been buried with the rest of the temple.

In the well-house, one of the thieves found the “back entrance” to the artificer’s workshop, but determined they’d be unable to easily carry any of the heavy loot through the side tunnel and back up the well. He went back up before any of the metal walkers (think children of Karras)  made their patrols through the room.

The party found a workshop for making soaps using the herbs and flowers from the now-buried garden before checking out the southeast corner of the abbey, which is just above the entrance to the crypts.

Here, there was a room full of smashed up and battered skeletons, all outside a door with the cryptic phrase “Beware the life-curse” and an indistinguishable reference to “the Blessed Resurrection”.

One of the clerics opened the door and stepped into the room, which had a large capstone on the floor with sigils. Nine ghouls sprung out of various alcoves and were all over the cleric. And somehow, out of nearly 30 attacks, all of the ghouls missed! To be fair, the cleric was in plate and had something like AC 1 or 2, but still!

There was a brief argument about the treasure value of scrolls vs. their situational efficacy, which ended in the MU fireballing the room. But with 13 damage rolled, and half of the ghouls making their saves and clinging on with 1 HP, they weren’t out of the woods by a longshot. Oh, and the Cleric was barbecued and the loot from the soap room ruined. The party managed to kill most of the rest of the ghouls, but one lone ghoul kept dodging and taking down party members one-by-one. The MU was prepared to run when the thief finally got him. I would’ve laughed if a single 1HP ghoul had TPKed them after his buddies had all been killed.

The party waited for their paralyzed companions to come round while they gathered the coin treasure that had been scattered throughout the room (the fireball had shattered the jars that coins were in). They left the charred meat of their cleric friend on the capstone to see if that would bring him back to life. I mean, it will, but they’re not doing it right, and when it works, it won’t be what they were hoping for. Other than the faded wraiths guarding the stash of holy equipment, level 2 has been mostly empty. Because as soon as they open that capstone, the abbey will become haunted as fuck when the sealed powers of the least-lich necromancer who’s been buried there will seep out and taint everything.

On the way out of the dungeon, they ran across the NPC party trying to move out the other two statues (this time without the help of the elf’s magic; she’s a scroller and only had one Floating Disc). Unfortunately, the party had their hands full with other loot and were pretty banged up, so they declined to help the NPC party with the last statue. So, they’re slowly losing a chance to get any XP for those, or the saint statues in the library.

Still, the party got a decent haul for the session, with just over 900 XP per person. That was enough to bump the longest-lived thief up to level 3.

The only thing the party has left, really, of the lower abbey is the sealed annex to the artificer’s workshop and the more-or-less empty monks’ cells. If and when they unseal the capstone, there may be more stuff in this level of the dungeon again, but things are pretty cleared.

If I remember, tomorrow I’ll post my map of the lower abbey with my notes for it.

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The North Library

Since my players have only explored the north part of the second level of the dungeon, I’ll avoid posting it here for now. But I will eventually, I promise.

This is a faction sub-dungeon off the north of second level. It’s the monastery’s library and at one time, it boasted a rather impressive collection. Some of it is still intact. The large collection of knowledge attracted a clan of Mage Spiders who have peacefully inhabited the ruin for nearly 200 years. Content to study the old scrolls and tomes, none have bothered the nearby village in all their time occupying the site.

If cleared out, other inhabitants from the wild or brigands might take up occupation here in this easily defended complex.

Note that the southern defenses are included on a different map. Because of the open layout of the interior, spiderlings will be quick to spread the word about intruders so that the other spiders can mount a coordinated defense. The exits lead to the north side of the hill; it’s an easy climb back up to the historical marker the level 1 entrance and only adds maybe 5-10 minutes or so to the walk back to town.

Dungeon Level 2 - Library

  1. An owlbear has made its lair here. 3k SP. 3 jewelry 800 GP each. Sword +1/+3 Undead. [1a: webs in this hall discourage the owlbear from bothering the spiders]
  2. Spider Archmage – 6HD, AC5 – Read Magic, Charm Person, Magic Missile, Phantasmal Force / Scrolls: Ventriloquism, Charm Person, Protection from Evil, Levitate, ESP / Ring of Protection +1. 2 Spiderlings 2HD AC7.
  3. 1000 gp in a chest. 100 jars of ink % still good. 20 blank codexes. 100 feather quills. 4 crates of good paper.
  4. Reading Room. 1 Spider Mage 3HD – Magic Missile, Read Magic, Light / Scrolls: Mirror image, Locate Object
  5. Lower Stacks. 1d4 Crab Spiders, 2d4 Spiderlings. Scrolls: Continuous Light, Locate Object, Mirror Image, Fireball, Know Alignment, Bless, Snake Charm, Growth of Animals
  6. Reading Room. 1 Spider Mage 3HD – Detect magic, Protection from Good, Silence 15′. 2 Spiderlings 2HD AC7. 1 Prayer book w/cleric scroll Protection From Magic, Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Remove Fear, Protection from Evil.
  7. Scriptorium. 1d4 Spiderlings. Golden quill (100gp)
  8. 1d4 Spiderlings. 3x illuminated manuscripts (150 gp each)
  9. Upper Stacks. Spider Mage 3HD – Floating Disk, Read Languages, Phantasmal Force. 2d4 Spiderlings. 10 books 20gp each + scrolls: Shield, Ventriloquism, Detect Magic, Phantasmal Force/ [cleric scrolls] Light, Protection From Evil, Detect Magic, Snake Charm.
  10. Webs cover this statue of a saint. 1 Black Widow
  11. Webs cover this statue of a saint. 1 Tarantella

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.

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.