Sunday, May 22, 2011
Last month I ran some friends through the Revenge of the Iron Lich module from savevsdeath.com. I thought I'd write a bit of a report for posterity.
The module is a very deadly "Tomb of Horrors" style dungeon full of traps and puzzles, instant death effects and random effects. It is not a standard 4e playstyle. It went really well. They scored 410 points, slain by the Lich as soon as he appeared. I was pretty impressed they made it that far, but Power Word Kill got the best of them all. No, it was not fair.
I told the players this in advance and they showed up with 16th level characters. The PCs were a Shifter Monk, a Deva Wizard, a Human Warlord, a Human Rogue and a human Paladin. I handed out the random gear cards and the rumour cards and pre-drew a couple of the rooms. I ended up using dungeon tiles for quite a lot of the dungeon. Pre selecting these would have helped. Or better yet pre drawing each map on grid paper.
The cards were a hit. Between the short intro reading about the Iron Lich trying to take over the universe and the rumors, the players were instantly comparing notes and establishing a bit of the story of the dungeon.
I tried to emphasize a sort of looming backstory of epic inter dimensional travel that lead to the party's arrival at the gates of the dungeon. I described the entrance as a house sized horned skull rising from an endless plain of ash.
The players were very very wary. In the first room they were afraid to touch anything. They did not pick up the skull, nor approach the throne.
In the Cobblestone Hall the monk flew directly to the other end of the room. The spectral skull began to appear as he approached so he landed in front of it, luckily and unknowingly avoiding the last pit trap. The skull demanded the password, but the unreliable rumour the Deva had heard about the password was not correct and the Monk was blasted with fire. As I looked at the encounter later I wondered if I should have waited for the party to tinker with the door before triggering the trap. It was an ambush for the monk, but probably saved them in the long run because he was the only one to be hurt. Then he walked back and danced around the pit traps that opened up. The party discovered the secret door at the bottom of the first pit and followed that path. The Wizard cast Comprehend languages to read the prayer written on the wall, but "Hesiarch" wasn't much of a clue. Next time I would write out a prayer to the Honor and Martrydom of the Blackguards of Stormhold or some such.
More hints and more back story are good.
They found themselves in the triangular room of purple eyes. The rogue entered alone and placed an old lantern on the pedestal. He was blasted with psychic energy. They later discovered a hollow sounding panel in the room, but were not tempted to try the pedestal again.
The party then tried the other fork in the dungeon and came to the room of the 8 Statues of Kings. A player had the Scroll of Heraldry and he immediately asked if he could figure out who the kings were. I read the stories of the kings and how they died and it was pretty rad. I brought out a bowl full of Scrabble pieces for the letter puzzle. I felt the need to clarify that the pieces should be arranged one per king. The premise of this puzzle is a little vague. They started going on about spelling various names of the kings and such, and finally I gave what turned out to be a big hint. I reminded the paladin that the Lich was known for his hubris and great ego (I had previously allowed the paladin history checks to know some of the Lich's history as a paladin of Stormhold.). Thus resulted in one player immediately solving the puzzle. Too much help? I'm not sure. Unfortunately they failed to arrange the pieces so that the kings could read them and therefore failed anyway. The Cloudkill sucked 5 surges from everybody. However, because they partially solved the puzzle and started in order, I had the secret door open and offer another way out. They took this route and skirted carefully around the Book on the Altar.
I asked the Wizard if he wanted to open the book. He had previously cast Comprehend Languages so I ruled that he could read the cover which I said was called "The Book of Laughter and Forgetting". He did not touch it.
From here they came to the Dark Descent. The Wraith Captain attacked and nearly drank the soul of the paladin. The wizard cast a spell that rendered the party resistant to 11 points of necrotic damage which nullified the spectral minions, though not before they did some damage. nobody was knocked into the abyss, though a couple heroes were crushed trying to jump through the blocks cages that kept popping out of the walls. Nobody jumped to the iron spikes. The party slew the Captain and then picked the last medallion at their leisure, slotting them in their places and then making their way into the mouth of the Lich's Wife.
Next came the Test of the Chests. This they solved after some discussion. I handed out all kinds of treasure cards. Great stuff. This was all they had for their attack on the Lich. It was now too late to turn back.
The party made their way to the Balcony of the Stairs. They used the Ask the Dungeon scroll and I had the ghost Embecar appear and mock them for not having the Sunsteel amulet but he emphasized the power of the radiant light of the amulet so the paladin suggested casting bless weapon to make the stairs passable. I allowed this to go forward and the party rigged a long tight rope to the entrance to the tomb of the Lich.
In the final battle nobody explored much, but jumped in on the Necrolith and had it dazed for most of the rounds it was active. Some good rolls for them and some weak saves from me had the rust bucket down for the count fairly quick. The 4 hr buzzer rang at this point, but since we were in the final battle i let it ride. It didn't matter anyways. The little tiny Lich head appeared and spoke the Power Word Kill. This is a crazy deadly and strangely worded power, but it makes sense to me in that it just mops up everyone who would be close to death anyways. Only one character had more than one surge at that point, the Warlord. She survived another round managed to get to the sarcophagus. I told her the Bride lay in the coffin. She threatened to decapitate her with one hand while she unfurled the Scroll of Imprisonment with her other hand. I told her that the Lich paused in a moment of indecision. She respond that she was going to decapitate the bride and imprison herself in the Demiplane of the Bahamas, safe from the Iron Lich!
On reflection, great dungeon. We could play it again and it would be very different depending on random elements (rumours and gear) and route selection. I was surprised by the path they took. The dungeon has a nice suggestive backstory and I think it could be brought forward even more.
As for the 4thcore playstyle, i dug it alot. I think I could have been more ruthless, but I didn't need to be. The Lich held his own. I was impressed with the challenge but do-ability of the puzzles. One thing I think I would do next time is emphasize that in the style of play, exploring the surrounding can yield boons as well as curses and traps. The party missed a few opportunities to strengthen themselves. On the other hand, being less curious was good for beating the clock.
All in all, awesome. I recommend this.
Here is a timelapse video of the session: