Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 5: Another One Bites the Dust

With his companions stunned by the bloodied vat ooze’s Foul Spew attack, Zerbitt leapt into action. The daring thief quickly lit the torch which he had prudently removed from his pack the round before. Then— scattering clay pots, urns, bones, and random skulls in every direction— Zerbitt rolled over the workbench (“Dukes of Hazzard-style”according to Zerbitt’s player, Andy) that was between him and the yellow ooze. After using his legendary catlike reflexes and agility to nimbly land on his feet, the thief launched himself into a charge against the sludgy predator. Hoping his stunned allies were watching, Zerbitt wielded the fiery torch like a rapier and, with a dramatic flourish, plunged it into the formless creature. A split-second later Zerbitt realized that, while some varieties of ooze are indeed quite vulnerable to fire, this particular one was not. Vulnerable to fire, that is. “Well, stink,” the thief thought. “But still, I bet rolling over that table with the torch and charging this yellow blob of goop looked pretty darn impressive.”

I knew this past week’s session of Tomb of Horrors would be a bit of a challenge to run since 1) there’d only be 3 players and 2) they would start off in the midst of an ongoing encounter where 5 of them had been getting the tar beat out of them. I would’ve felt pretty rotten handing them a TPK (even if they totally deserved it) under those circumstances, so I cut short the getting-the-tar-beat-out-of-them encounter and then I adjusted the next encounter (in the Ruined Laboratory) by removing one monster and modifying the remaining monsters’ stats. Nice of me, huh? It’s not often you find mercy in the Tomb of Horrors, but I thought that— just this one time, mind you— it might be best to cut them some slack. So with that disclaimer…

“I Want to Sit on the Couch!”

At the end of Session #4, the surviving members of the party (Elric was dead-dead) were getting smacked around but good by the false lich. Correctly surmising that a TPK was in the offing unless they retreated, our heroes had wisely decided to scramble out of the crypt as fast as possible and skeedaddle. I mentioned in the write up for the last session that the party missed finding an item that would’ve helped them quite a bit in this encounter. That item was a+3 Disrupting Mace (Created in ancient days by priests of Pelor, this weapon is the bane of undead everywhere.) that was hidden in the blue altar back in the Chapel of Evil. As it was actually written in the adventure, the mace was just lying at the foot of the stairs there in the False Crypt. I thought that was rather lame, so I moved it to a secret compartment in the blue altar. A living creature touching the altar would’ve caused the secret drawer to pop open and the mace would’ve been theirs to wield in this fight with the lich. Sorry, guys.

Okay, so at the beginning of Session #5, Zerbitt was actually the only one still left in the crypt with the false lich. He quickly scrambled up the stairs, slammed the door, and moved as far as he could up the Corridor of Fear (the corridor with the two flights of stairs and the fear gas). Marrak also moved as far as he could up the corridor on his turn. Jack thought she was the only one left in the hallway back in the vicinity of the door, so she was startled by a blur that shot by her. The blur was shouting, “The crown! The crown!” as it opened the door to the False Crypt and disappeared from sight. A second later, there was a terrible bellow and a loud roar, followed by a flare of unholy black light that burst from the open doorway and then all was quiet. Jack cautiously tip-toed over to the doorway and peered down the stairwell. At the bottom of the stairs she could see two piles of ash and a crown. The crown was spinning around like a top, and then— as Jack watched— it slowly came to a stop, resting between the two piles of ash.

After Marrak and Zerbitt rejoined Jack, they all decided to take a much-needed short rest before heading back down into the crypt and seeing what on earth had happened. When they were ready, Zerbitt crept down the stairs. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, so Jack and Marrak quickly joined the thief. Jack used a crowbar to pick up the crown and place it in his pack. After that was taken care of, Zerbitt started to move around the golden couch to check on Elric’s body. Before he could get there, though, a zombie slowly rose up from behind the couch! And the zombie looked like it might have been a drow warlock in its former life! Elric? Oh, no!

Just as the zombie started to rise up from behind the couch, there was also a dull rumbling and the room began to shake. Stones and chunks of plaster started to rain down from the ceiling as a great grinding noise came from behind the walls. All three heroes took 8 points of damage from falling rubble (1d10 damage). At this point, you probably need to know that over the course of her two ‘visits’ to this chamber, Jack had become quite obsessed with the golden couch that stood in the center of the room. Apparently she thought it might be the “throne” mentioned in Acererak’s message (from back in the Tomb’s entrance hall). Knowing of Jack’s obsession with the couch may help you understand why she dashed over to it, even as the ceiling in the crypt was collapsing, and declared, “I want to sit on the couch!” So while Zerbitt and Marrak were quickly grabbing some loot that was lying about and then heading for safety, Jack was sitting down on the golden couch. Much to her chagrin, nothing happened except she took 2 more points of damage from the falling stones (1d10 damage) and the zombie started to come around the couch to grab her.

After Jack had (finally) safely made her escape from the False Crypt, the entire ceiling collapsed, burying the room under tons of rubble. Back out in the hallway, the three adventurers dusted themselves off and discussed what to do next. Realizing that whatever they had just fought likely wasn’t the real Acererak (since there were many things in Acererak’s message that they still had to come across in the Tomb), they eventually decided to backtrack and belatedly check out the small chamber off the Great Hall of Spheres that held the 8-foot tall statue of a four-armed gargoyle. But a funny thing happened when they reached the top of the stairs leading up and out of the Corridor of Fear: a door had appeared in the eastern wall at the top of the stairwell! As Zerbitt astutely observed, “Hey, that wasn’t there before!”

What followed was several rounds of comic ineptitude worthy of a Three Stooges skit. In the adventure as originally written, this secret door was warded with powerful magic to prevent its opening. The door could be opened only after targeting it with a dispel magic spell or a Remove Affliction ritual. Rather than have them do that, I’d decided beforehand that our heroes could simply open it with a moderately difficult Strength check. So Zerbitt tried to open the door and failed to beat the DC (which was 17, by the way). Then Jack tried and she also failed. Then Marrak tried and he couldn’t budge it either. Marrak decided to attack the door (AC 5, 20 hp) with his maul and did 10 points of damage. Zerbitt tried to pry open the door with the crowbar, but he couldn’t gain any kind of purchase to wedge it open. Jack next tried to push it open again with a Strength check, but the door just laughed at her feeble efforts. Marrak once again swung away with his maul and did 9 points of damage. (As you will no doubt have noticed, dear reader, the door at that point only had 1 hp left. Not that our heroes knew that, of course.) Following Marrak’s attack, Zerbitt tried the crowbar again but that was still a no-go. After that, they decided to just leave the door be and return to it at some later time. But as they started through the crawlway leading out to the corridor with the three pit traps, Marrak abruptly reversed course, muttering something about how no blankety-blank door was going to get the better of a dwarf. After backing out of the crawlspace, Marrak readied his maul, charged the door, and crit’d it! The door exploded inward and Marrak fell prone on top of it. As Jack and Zerbitt helped him up, a smug smile of satisfaction could be seen on the dwarf’s face.

The Attack of the Play-Doh Oozes

The corridor beyond led to yet another door. Rather than risk the chance of having to go through another Three Stooges door-opening skit, I just let them open this door without even a Strength check. Marrak easily opened the door and found a ruined chamber that had once been a laboratory. Dusty jars, scrolls, and tattered books still cluttered the shelves that lined the walls. Several workbenches and tables were covered with clay pots and urns, and bones and skulls. Three huge vats stood to the south. Zerbitt and Marrak started to check the shelves and tables. Zerbitt found a book titled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Making a Lich.” Looking around the room, the party realized it was indeed a laboratory… a laboratory where someone had obviously performed the dark rituals by which a lich is created. Perhaps the very lich they had just run across in the False Crypt!

While Zerbitt and Marrak were checking out the shelves and tables, Jack was investigating the huge vats. Using her 10-foot pole to poke around in the murky liquid that filled the middle one (vat #2), Jack saw something shiny at the bottom. She next went over to vat #3 and found the same murky liquid. As she started to probe beneath the surface of the liquid with her pole, two things happened almost simultaneously. First, Jack noticed that her pole was beginning to disintegrate. Second, two play-doh oozes erupted out of vat #3 and I said, “Everyone roll for initiative.”

All things considered (especially the weak party this week), the players handled the fight with the vat oozes extremely well. They focused their fire on the pink ooze and eliminated it before they turned to attack the yellow one. The party handled the dazed (from the oozes’ slam attacks) and stunned (from the foul spew attacks when an ooze was first bloodied and again when it dropped to 0 hit points) effects as well as they could. It only took the characters 3 turns to KIA the pink ooze. The yellow ooze led them on a merry chase around the laboratory, so it took a bit longer to deal with, but by the eighth turn it too was eliminated.

With the oozes taken care of, the PCs once again returned to investigating the laboratory. Zerbitt found a leather-bound folio on one of the tables. Opening it, he discovered some really really awful poetry that Acererak had penned (because we all know that few things are scarier than bad poetry). While Marrak and Jack were heaving at vat #2 trying to tip it over, Zerbitt read them samples from a few of the poems. After the vat was tipped over, all of them were very careful to stay out of the acid, so Zerbitt used his handy stick to snag the shiny object and drag it over. It turned out to be a golden skeleton key that had been cut in half along its axis. Tipping over vat #3 revealed that it held another mirror-image key which locked to the first and made a whole. Jack actually wondered aloud if the key was meant to be used in a keyhole hidden somewhere on the golden couch in the False Crypt (I told you she was obsessed with that couch). Anyway, nothing was in vat #1 except a few feet of murky water. But while searching the bookcase on the western wall, Marrak discovered a secret door! After checking the door for locks and traps, our intrepid heroes opened it and spied a short corridor beyond.

And it was there that the fifth session of our exciting adventure drew to a close. Tune in next week as Robert, Elric’s player, returns to the table with a new character and the party bravely presses on into the Tomb of Horrors!

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