Dead Parties Tell No Tales
The airquote town of Boarskyer Bridge airquote was nothing more than a collection of tents and carts, reminiscent of that crappy carnival that the the local Lions Club insists on bringing to your town once a year…the one with the questionable rides run by people of questionable origin? You know the one. But this airquote town airquote was the last known location of a dwarf fitting the description of Varram the White, a confidant of the leader of the Dragon Cult and owner of the White Dragon Mask.
Bolo’s Tentside Inn was where he had been seen, so the party ducked into this airquote unique airquote establishment to talk to the halfling proprietor, Bolo. She was interested in the arrival of an obviously wealthy party, but was more than happy to talk about the heroic dwarf who stabbed a airquote snake person airquote to death right in her very tavern! Turns out the yuan-ti of the Serpent Hills (natch) were engaged in a cold war with Boarskyer Bridge, occasionally sending down poorly concealed spies to gather intel on what they believed to be a pending invasion of their lands (pending for the past 20 years no less). When the dwarf had inquired about a guide into the hills, this spy turned unspylike and confronted the dwarf, demanding to know his business, at which point the dwarf gutted the snake on the spot. Then he and his sizable entourage beat cheeks for the hills unguided.
The ranger was able to track a party north towards the Serpent Hills along a relatively unused hunting trail which lead the party to an elaborate cliffside tomb. There were signs of occupancy — live occupancy, although also dead occupancy as the party found seven recent, hastily dug graves outside the tomb. The bard insisted on using Prestidigitation to dig through the graves to ensure that none of the corpses were dwarven, and satisfied that they were not, covered them over again as the party moved towards the tomb.
Before they could close the distance, two ginormous but worse-for-wear statues flanking the path grinded into motion, turning towards the party and capturing their attention. “Didarious grants knowledge, and Didarious grants wisdom. What do you seek?” they asked in unison.
“Wisdom,” the waladin replied almost instantly, and the statues seemed content with this, returning to their original positions.
The tomb was apparently a magnificent sight, carved into the cliff-side and made up of a series of interconnected caverns. The first room that the party found was well lit and flanked on both sides by statues of wizards, their faces heavily obscured by deep cowls. In each of their minds the party felt someone speaking to them: “Don’t look into the darkness”…so they didn’t and plowed right through the room.
The next room was quite the contrast. It was a square room topped by a high dome, lit by shafts of sunlight streaming through slits in the ceiling. The floor was a beautiful tile mosaic of a knight wielding a flaming sword, locked in mortal combat with a chimera. To the north was a single door, and written in chalk on that door was the word “Safe”. To the east were two tarnished copper doors emblazoned with an image of a wizard ritual around a dark pool. Those doors bulged outward in an unnatural fashion. To the south, an open archway lead to a declining hallway.
As the party investigated the room, the tile chimera burst from the floor to attack. This construct was the length and height of a chimera, but had the thickness of a single tile, making it difficult to hit for the ranger who attacked with both swords. The monk opted to pummel the mosaic with his bare hands, while the waladin took several whacks at it with his quarterstaff.
The bard opted to employ Shatter, thinking that such a spell was a natural fit for battling a ceramic beast. She aimed the spell as far from the party as possible, to the corner on the opposite side of the two-dimensional creature. But the shockwave of the spell, buffeted by the backstop of the room’s walls, caused the chimera to buckle outward, spraying it’s tile-blood towards the party members who were arrayed around it.
The party quickly mended what they could, and finished beating the tile-chimera into a pile of small squares. Upon investigation, the titles seemed to be alive with a jittery force, clicking and clacking on the stone floor. The druid considered casting Mend, but thought better of it; best not reconstitute a foe, in case the results were less than desirable.
The room to the north turned out to be a circular room whose only features were a well with a copper bucket, and a strange basin attached to the eastern wall. Beside the basin was a lever. Once again, the word “Safe” was written on the wall here, but the party was wary of such insistence, and decide to skip the layover but not before noticing the small, slimy mushrooms that grew around the well. The waladin collected a few after recognizing them as nutritious if not particularly tasty.
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When reading about Didarious’ Tomb, I realized that this was Old School D&D: a dungeon with inventive traps and a lot of opportunity for a heads-down party to get into trouble. Sometimes this party has a habit of hacking first and asking questions later, so I was concerned that brash behavior would be naturally punished. I made a comment on Twitter denying responsibility for a TPK (total party kill), which the group took to heart: they spent the better part of the trip into the Serpent Hills discussing a strategy for taking or killing the dwarf they were seeking as if they expected him to be dug in with an army at the head of the trail.
Reading ahead, I like this segment because of it’s throwback qualities. A lot of Hoard and the initial parts of Rise have focused heavily on story and roleplaying, which is to be expected when you’re talking about a campaign that stretches over two modules. There’s not been a lot of areas designed — sorry, engineered — in the traditional “dungeon” fashion that older D&D players remember as the hallmark of almost every D&D game. This tomb isn’t just a hole in the wall; it has purpose, whatever that purpose may be, and it’s designed to showcase that. It’s a challenge to run, though, because to do such a design justice requires a good description, and I hope I’m able to do a good job of it.