Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tomb of Horrors, Session 9: The One with the TPK

Since many of you have been waiting with bated breath to find out what happened to our heroes in the Pillared Throne Room, let’s cut right to the chase: No one walked out of there alive, dear readers. Zerbitt attempted to escape the Chamber of Hopelessness by nimbly tumbling, dodging, and weaving his way through the Cursed Armory, but the thief was quickly cut down by the slashing swords and battering shields that flew off the walls and attacked him. Back out in the huge throne room, Laramie and Marrak both eventually succumbed to the mummy crypt master’s relentless rotting slam (double attack) and stunning strike attacks.

After having to miss a week of play because of an unavoidable work obligation on my part, we returned to our Tomb of Horrors adventure this past Thursday evening with the surviving characters in a tight spot. Going into Session #9, I really debated with myself about whether to throw the PCs a rope, especially Zerbitt and Marrak since they were the only two surviving original members of the party. But in the end, I decided to show no mercy. In previous encounters, I had cut them some slack, but before going into the Pillared Throne Room a couple of weeks ago, I had made a resolution to not do that any longer and instead let the chips fall where they may. This— I told myself— is the dread and legendary Tomb of Horrors, after all.

Still, this past Thursday night was my first TPK as a DM and I did feel kind of badly about it. From sitting on the other side of the screen, I know what it’s like to be a player and get attached to your character, so my first TPK isn’t something I approached lightly. But still, I only felt kind of badly about it… This is the dread and legendary Tomb of Horrors, after all, and not a Sunday School picnic.

So after the bodies were cleared away and the blood was cleaned up, I let the guys start over there in the Pillared Throne Room with four new characters. I told them they could think of the huge chamber as their last save point. Their new characters were Adaka (githzerai shaman), Drek (drow ranger), Jeff (drow warlock), and Kurson (deva invoker). Jeff’s character sheet looked suspiciously like Elric’s, but you didn’t hear it from me.

This iteration of the party had an easier time passing beyond the Pillared Throne Room since they quickly homed in on the throne as the key to the exit. When Jeff touched the silver knob on the scepter to the front of the throne where a replica of the crown was inlaid in silver, the throne sank down and revealed a hidden 5-foot-wide passageway leading south.

Mithral Gates

Making their way through the hidden passageway, the party found that a wide landing opened up ahead of them. The landing’s walls and ceiling were untarnished silver and copper, inlaid with ivory. A rising staircase was carved of multicolored semiprecious stone, and two massive mithral gates stood closed above it. Upon the fourth step was a large, cylindrical bronze key. Upon closer examination of the mithral gates, they saw that where the gates met, a hemispherical cavity with a hole at its center was set at waist height.

After picking up the bronze key on the steps, the party decided it would just be a little too convenient for it to be the key that opened the gates. Then Adaka noticed that the hemispherical cavity looked like it would be a perfect fit for the scepter from the Pillared Throne Room. Sure enough, when the gold ball on the scepter was placed within the cavity, the mithral gates swung silently open.

False Treasure Room

Through the open gates, the party could see an imposing chamber. A ceiling of untarnished silver rose above the polished stone floor. The room’s ivory walls were inlaid with gold. Across the way, two iron chests stood to either side of a granite sarcophagus graven with ancient glyphs. A thin stream of smoke rose from a large brass urn set with filigreed gold. In all four corners stand 9-foot-tall statues of fierce demonic warriors cast in black iron, and their fearsome weapons were raised. As the PCs cautiously edged into the chamber, Kurson was able to read some of the ancient glyphs on the sarcophagus. The glyphs across the front of the sarcophagus spelled “ACERERAK”!

The PCs spent quite a bit of time examining everything in the chamber. They decided that Acererak was either in the urn (huh?) or in the sarcophagus, so Drek’s player suggested rolling a die and on an odd number the party would remove the brass topper from the urn, while on an even number they’d open the sarcophagus. Everyone agreed, so he rolled a die and it came up a 1. Now as you know, dear reader, a 1 is always the absolute worst result you can ever roll in 4e D&D, so you’re probably as surprised as I was that— rather than roll again— they still went through with the plan and took the topper off the urn. Ah, well, I had been patiently waiting ten weeks to scare the crap out of them with the cool Efreet Fireblade minis I had purchased just for this encounter, so when they went for the urn, it was fine with me.

As they removed the brass stopper from the urn, it shuddered as two large humanoid forms burst from the top— efreet warrior slaves, howling in murderous rage. Once I explained to them that the appearance of the fierce efreets was part of a skill challenge that involved the party attempting to disrupt the urn’s summoning magic (either through Arcana, Athletics, or Thievery), it was a round or two before anyone actually attacked the monsters. When someone hit an efreet and the party found out it was “just” a minion, a massive sigh of relief could be heard. Adaka, Drek, and Jeff focused on taking down the efreets, while Kurson did Arcana checks on the urn to disrupt its summoning magic. They racked up an impressive number of successes that way, but also a couple of failures, so it came to the point where the next success or failure would determine the outcome of the skill challenge. Kurson arcana’d it up once again and rolled with good results, so the urn cracked and collapsed.

After that, this current version of the party proved that it has just as much trouble opening sacrophagi as the previous version of the party had opening doors. Drek tried to open the sarcophagus and failed, so then all four of them tried to open it with simultaneous Strength checks. And they failed three times. Giving up on the sarcophagus (at least for the moment), Drek turned his attention to the chests. He opened the first one with no problem, but he fumbled the check on the second one so a poison needle jabbed him and he took ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends). And then, quite amazingly, he didn’t save for five rounds! Wow. Anyway, he ended up getting both chests open and found an impressive amount of loot.

After they took a short rest, the party was ready to tackle the sarcophagus again. And again they failed with the simultaneous Strength checks. I let Kurson try to blast it with some invoker-thingy, but nothing happened. So again they tried the Strength checks… and succeeded! Okay, not really, but I had pity on them and there was nothing important in there anyway, so I let them open it on their fifth try. Inside the sarcophagus were bones, ruined jewelry, a broken staff, and a shattered skull. And there was nothing magical or particularly remarkable about any of it. Bummer.

After much searching for secret doors, skull punting, standing in the sarcophagus, and frustration, they finally figured out that the iron statues could move. Of course, it was the last statue they tried that was the one with the ring pull underneath it. The ring pull raised a small plug of stone, and under the plug was a narrow chute that dropped 10 feet down to a corridor to the west.

What will happen as Tomb of Horrors adventuring party #2 explores the corridor to the west? Will Adaka, Drek, “Jeff”, and Kurson succeed in finally coming to grips with and defeating Acererak, or will they be destroyed like those who came before them?

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