Doing extensive research in his Temple’s library, the cleric uncovered proof that the labyrinth he and his fellow adventurers had already explored twice may very well hide additional levels and sub-levels. So the party sets out on a new quest to find and copy an ancient wall fresco depicting the whole dungeon complex along with some shortcuts and secret access points. That sort of intel is worth a lot in virtually any D&D universe: a series of 5 or 6 fresh / unexplored dungeons nobody else knows about? HELL YEAH!!!
Since the PCs already know where the two entrance portals are located – they’ve used one in Game #3 and the other in Game #5 – they buy all the necessary gear, and go straight back to the forest where the closest portal can be found.
Twenty minutes of exploration in empty corridors and vacant rooms with no ancient frescoes anywhere, and then, one of the magic-users – the one with a continual light spell, of course – is suddenly teleported away by a mysterious Shadow Door. And that, ladies and gents, is where the fun begins!
Magic-user #1 appears in yet another empty room – but where is that room in relation to the rest of the party? Well, at the very least, he’s not in complete darkness! A single door on his left, and double doors in front of him. He goes for the double doors...
Elsewhere in the dungeon, the six other PCs are scrambling in the dark, finally lighting a torch just in time to see their second magic-user vanish. Did I mention fun yet? It’s only just begun.
Magic-user #2 appears in a small room with a phosphorescent spirit face on the wall – and that face soon adresses him in a multitude of conjoined voices. It’s warning him and his comrades about a “Crypt Thing” that wanders around the place. “Whatever you do, never attack the Crypt Thing...”
Meanwhile, magic-user #1 opened those double doors, and saw a wide corridor with a lone skeleton slowly getting to its feet. Magic-user shoots two magic missiles and advances on the skeleton; he is one bold fucker, you have to admire that.
The others (now five PCs) hastily resume their exploration, Dwarf in the lead, cleric in the rear, holding a torch. But the cleric is not teleported. The bard is. Boom. Gone. And then, as the four remaining characters reach a long hallway, the Dwarf gets a glimpse of a gelatinous cube slowly turning the corner! At the far end of that same hallway, there’s the elusive Shadow Door – and a mummy priest already preparing some dark spell...
Bard appears in a beautiful room: rich carpet, marble statue, and two huge greenish orbs with stone pedestals – but still no fresco. That’s the mummy priest’s personal room, but the bard doesn’t know that because he’s not yet seen a single monster.
Reassurance is building now, because the players clearly see how their miniatures are all on the same dungeon map – albeit spread out in different corners. Magic-user #1 is cut away from the rest of the party by that gelatinous cube at one end of the hallway, and the mummy priest at the other end. Skeletons keep coming at him and he smites them with his staff.
Magic-user #2 is done talking with the coalesced spirits of previous dungeon adventurers. He opens the door only to be caught right in the creeping fog of doom spell the mummy priest has just unleashed in the hallway.
Bard also have a little chat with some mysterious “prisoner” through those twin orbs. Once he’s done, he leaves that room and comes face to face with a mummy – not the priest, but a regular mummy. The rest of the party is over there, at the other end of the hallway – but there’s an awful lot of nefarious stuff in the way: Shadow Door, creeping fog of doom, two mummies, and now a wraith (spewed by the Shadow Door).
Then, the Shadow Door disappears from the hallway, reappearing one round later, behind the party, right next to that gelatinous cube. Three foul-smelling ghasts shamble out of the Shadow Door – but the Dwarf, cleric, ranger and thief all Save vs Poison, and none of them suffer the -2 To Hit penalty.
Now the Dwarf is locked in melee with the “regular” mummy, the ranger fires +2 arrows at the wraith, the thief tackles one of the ghasts, and the cleric uses up one of his Beads of Karma to cast an enhanced silence, thus preventing the mummy priest from using his remaining spells (and these were potent, like ray of frost and disrupt life). Bravo, padre!
The bard sneaks in from behind the mummy priest and stabs it with his +2 shortsword. He even tries to yodel, but it’s complete, utter silence.
Magic-user #2 is also inside the silence zone, so he only uses cantrips, throws his new +3 dagger, and then a good old burning flask of oil.
On the other side of the map, magic-user #1 isn’t affected by silence. He keeps blasting skeletons and tries his web (plus some fire) on the gelatinous cube, to no avail.
Cleric turned two out of three ghasts, and later rolled a natural 20 to turn the mummy priest! With his sling, the bard kept firing on the mummy priest until it fled to its private chamber and then through the Shadow Door. It barely escaped with 2 HP even though all damage on mummies is always reduced by one half.
Ranger destroyed the wraith – but not without having suffered some energy drain. Dwarf hacked down not one but two “regular” mummies (there were three mummies in all). Thief fought off a wight that skulked in the corridor.
Resting for a while in the mummy’s luxurious suite, the party studied spells and cured a great many “light wounds”. After a few hours, they picked up their dungeon crawl and went through seven more rooms – all empty except for three ghouls and five more skeletons. These were easily dealt with.
As they approached the room which held the exit portal, the cleric had some sort of “vision”. He saw the wall fresco they are seeking, just as if he were standing right in front of it... but then he realized that it was some black-robed skeleton standing there – somewhere – and that he, the cleric, seemed to be looking through the eyes of that black-robed skeleton!
And the cleric “felt” that he could simply take one step forward and be transported over there, to where the fresco was located...
Dauntlessly, he goes – taking that step forward, and vanishing.
The other PCs don’t like that.
Cleric appears in a big room full of stairs and platforms, with a mezzanine. He is standing in front of a mural depicting the entire dungeon complex, all nine levels of it. And he’s standing next to the ominous robed skeleton: the Crypt Thing they’ve been warned about. (“Whatever you do, never attack it.”)
It’s like the Crypt Thing knew they were searching for that master map, and intervened in order to “help” them get access to it... Very strange indeed. So the cleric grabs his calfskin vellums and charcoal and starts copying the rather large fresco.
After six or seven rounds the rest of the party either stumbles into the fresco room (over a trap, expertly found by the thief) or is teleported there, each one in front of a different “dungeon level” rune. Weirder and weirder...
Oh, and there are quite a few undead lurking in that room: three revenants, one undead green dragon hunched on the second platform, and a blazing skeleton up on the mezzanine. They all seem to leave the cleric alone while he’s busy copying the map. Maybe this is due to the Crypt Thing’s proximity?
Blazing skeleton immediately begins to shoot balls of blue flames towards the PCs, and two of the revenants savagely attack the bard and the Dwarf.
After melee had started, the undead dragon slowly moved from its platform to halfway down the stairs – and then used his breath weapon. Five characters were caught in that suffocating cloud of rotten gas, and can you believe all five missed their Saving Throw? Everyone lost 12 HP, except for the cleric and one of the magic-users. Ouch.
And then the Crypt Thing was gone. No more “protection”. But the cleric was almost done copying that precious map anyway. Two wights crept in through the opposite entrance and angled straight for the magic-users, one of which then cast a web, and the other fired a couple magic missiles.
“Go up, guys!” I was secretly thinking. “Make for those stairs! Use your Rope of Climbing or that 12-foot ladder from the Robe of Useful Items! Don’t stay in the mosh pit: new undead are pouring in through there! The exit portal is up on that mezzanine... Climb, you fools!”
But they remained down, except for the thief of course, who climbed that wall and got within ten feet of the exit – but he had 1 HP left by then and couldn’t take on the very last obstacle: a giant tentacle!
The two healers were still in the mosh pit – and the bard was out cold now (-6 HP).
Then we were out of time, and had to stop.
I’ve got an idea for my next game. Boss fight first, little scenes later.
Why is it that gaming has to follow the same narrative buildup than TV shows or movies? If you jump-start the boss fight in the first half of your session, there are three MAJOR advantages:
• You’re not tired.
• Players are not tired.
• You will have time to wrap up that big scene.
The intro / buildup / climax protocol makes sense in a movie because a movie is only two hours long, not six or eight. It also makes sense in books, since nobody reads an entire book in one sitting – unless your name is Dr. Spencer Reid.
In a game, though, it makes no sense. After six to eight hours of DMing, you’re obviously drained, your players are exhausted, the focus is not as solid as it was towards the beginning, and some of the guys have to leave because they’ve promised their wives they’d be home by eight...
So why not deconstruct that age-old recipe and start your boss fight before halftime? What’s the worst that could possibly happen?
Next time, we’ll see about that! Mark my words.