Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 10: "Are You Acererak?"

Knowing that desperate times call for desperate measures, Kurson ran toward the jeweled skull and launched himself into the air. A successful Athletics check allowed the deva invoker to jump high enough to reach the skull, which was floating in midair ten feet above the floor. If he could just grab the blasted thing, they could stuff it in their handy haversack and see what happened. Unfortunately, Kurson failed on his grab attack (Strength vs. Reflex, and the Acererak construct’s reflex was 26). As the deva landed empty-handed, the skull slowly turned toward him and then its blood-red ruby eyes glowed with terrible power as it blasted Kurson with its Drain Soul attack power (+18 vs. Fortitude; when a victim of the drain soul attack fails its second saving throw, the victim’s soul is trapped in one of the construct’s soul gems).

Session 10 of our Tomb of Horrors adventure took place this past Thursday night at Total Escape Games. By this last session of play, Acererak’s tricks & traps and the Tomb’s various monster guardians had all taken a fearsome toll on the party and everyone was on their second or third characters. The final version of the adventuring party would consist of Adaka (githzerai shaman), Drek (drow ranger), “Jeff” (drow warlock), and Kurson (deva invoker).

Session 9 actually ended with the party exploring beyond the False Treasure Room (where they fought the efreet urn slaves) and discovering a section of passageway that led to a large, empty chamber. The PCs found that two portals on the far wall of the chamber could not be activated, no matter what they tried. Literally finding themselves trapped between a rock and hard place (the stone plug beneath the statue in the False Treasure Room had closed behind them), Jeff suggested they try using his Hand of Fate ritual. As the warlock performed the ritual, a translucent blue hand appeared and, with a gesture, it “answered” the PCs three questions about possible courses of action in finding Acererak. The Hand of Fate’s answers allowed our heroes to discover a secret door that opened onto a small, empty room. Upon closer examination, they found a single hidden keyhole that was set at the center of the room’s far wall.

Jeff had his devil lackey insert Key #1 (from the Ruined Laboratory) into the keyhole. With a rumble, the entire wall sank down into the floor, revealing a burial vault whose arched ceiling rose 25 feet overhead. The room appeared to be empty of everything but dust. Upon closer examination, though, Drek found another hidden keyhole beneath a thin layer of painted plaster in the center of the room. Jeff again had his devil lackey try Key #1, but this resulted in the lackey being blown 20 feet into the air (2d6 necrotic and radiant damage), then taking falling damage as normal (2d10 damage). After that, Mr. Lackey could safely insert Key #2 (from the staircase outside the Mithral Gates). Inserting that key and turning it to the right more than once caused the floor of the empty crypt to begin to slowly rise. Once the floor began to rise, each character in the room had one action with which to leave. Everyone was able to skeedaddle safely out of the room just before the slowly rising floor suddenly slammed upward at high speed.

A new wall of gleaming mithral stood where the old wall had sunk down. A door was set in the wall, and an inset ring hung at its center. As depicted in the photo you see above, after Adaka (with assists from Drek and Jeff) rolled a sufficient Strength check to open the door, the party found that the true crypt had risen from beneath the floor. A stone dais on the far side of the chamber holds a jeweled skull that sat amid bone shards and dust. Its eyes were blood-red rubies, and its teeth were set with diamonds. (I used a little Lego Stormtrooper helmet to represent the Acererak construct.) Treasure lay scattered across the floor of the crypt. There were many gems, as well as a couple of magic items and several potions or elixirs.

After everyone eventually (cautiously) entered the chamber, there was much eyeballing of the various treasure items, especially the potions and elixirs. They also thoroughly checked the small room for secret doors. An Aracana check on the skull didn’t tell them very much. Finally, Adaka decided he would pick up two of the potions. As he did so, dust swirled on the far side of the crypt as the jeweled skull ominously rose into the air. Slowly, it turned from side to side, as if appraising the members of the party, and then it attacked!

The Acererak construct used its drain soul power as often as it could (recharge on 5 or 6, and it could use it in the crypt even if it hadn’t recharged). On the initial hit, the target was dazed and restrained (save ended both). After that, on the first failed saving throw, the target was instead stunned and restrained (save ended both). With the target’s second failed saving throw, they died and their soul was trapped in one of the skull’s soul gems. The soul’s former body crumbled into dust at the end of their next turn.

Each round at the start of the construct’s turn, I was supposed to roll a d6 to determine if teleportation magic moved the fight to another chamber in the Tomb. That sounded like a huge pain to me, but I went ahead and did it. As you can see from the photos that accompany this post, the fight eventually moved from the crypt to the Chamber of Mists to the False Treasure Room to the Chapel of Evil and then back to the crypt, where it remained for the duration of the encounter after the skull was bloodied.

Adaka ended up being the only PC to succumb to the construct’s nasty drain soul power. Korsun was hit with it a whopping four times, but he managed to succeed on his first saving throw each and every time he was hit. Wanting to spread around the love, I made certain that Drek and Jeff were also hit, but they too managed to succeed on their saving throws.

I reduced the Acererak Construct’s hit point total to reflect the four member adventuring party, but otherwise I chose not to mess around with its stats. In the midst of the encounter, I also made a decision not to use its consume soul power (as a minor action, the construct could expend a consumed soul to regain a quarter of its hit points). I made that decision for a couple of reasons. One, even without using the power, the encounter was proving to be difficult enough for the party… and since I had already racked up a TPK previously (see the post on Session 9), I didn’t feel the need to annihilate everyone in this fight. Second, I wanted to leave open the possibility that Adaka’s trapped soul could be rescued at the end of the encounter. Anyway, even with reducing the construct’s hit point total and not using consume soul, the fight still lasted an astounding sixteen rounds.

At one point during the encounter, Drek’s player was questioning whether they were really in the midst of the big boss fight or if it was simply another example of Acererak yanking their chain, so he decided to use a free action to ask the skull, “Are you Acererak?” Hence the title of this post. The skull didn’t answer, but after the fight I told the players that the skull construct wasn’t really Acererak. As a demilich, Acererak’s soul now resides on another plane of existence where he nurtures an insidious plan to make himself into a god. Acererak built the Tomb of Horrors as an altar where countless adventurers would sacrifice themselves for his purposes. Each group of adventurers destroyed in the Tomb would generate spiritual energy, which the demilich could siphon to a hidden phylactery in preparation for turning himself into a deity.

Although they ultimately failed to break Acererak’s power, as Drek, Jeff, and Kurson defeated the powerful construct and left the Tomb (toting a soul gem that glowed with an inner light, revealing an image of a tiny figure inside it), they could take satisfaction in the fact that word of their accomplishment in surviving the infamous Tomb of Horrors will spread into the wider world and garner them lasting fame.

“This ends the expedition to The Tomb of Horrors. We hope you and your players will have found it exciting, challenging, and rewarding.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for writing up the entire series. It was really entertaining to read!