As novitiates, Abraxo and Guruff pair up with a level 1 mentor from the Maidens and Magi, respectively. The mentors are full members of their cults, with the PC novitiates technically subordinate to them. These NPCs were not simply meat shields doing the party’s bidding. They didn’t lead, but they occasionally advised or issued cautionary observations and insights.
Sativa— fighter, HP5, AC5, short sword.
Souvlacus— MU, HP3, AC9, silver dagger, ventriloquism.
Their first stop is the last unexplored, non-cultist room on Tier 3. They peek in, see noxious yellow fungus coating everything and poke it from the hall with a pole sending spores everywhere. They wisely burn it out and depart.
Shunning the descending ramp and the ghouls, they descend a hatch to Room 35 on Tier 4. They opt for the less-trafficked east door (the one Sativa and Souvlakus have never used).
While there may once have been adventurous Cynidiceans, they are now a rarity. The cultists shun parts of the Ziggurat not actively in use by them, and they always take the safest and most direct route to their quarters. Only drug addled or insane Cynidiceans wander unknown hallways.
Creeping slowly through eerie stone halls (ever alert for traps and secret doors) brings the party to Room 36 (Chamberlin’s Burial Room), at whose locked door they hear nothing. They batter it open, heedless of the noise. Zombies shamble out into the hall one by one, and are dealt with without too much fuss. The room is empty of treasure.
Now eager for more action and booty, they move west and crash into Room 40 (Master Thief’s Burial Room), which contains a carrion crawler. With seven attacks against the 13HP creature, they should have had no trouble. But Souvlacus refused to get close enough to engage (he was often “defending the rear”). Almost everyone else fell to the paralyzing tentacles… except for Wilfer the paralytic-immune Elf. [Throughout the campaign, Matt would cast many low to-hit rolls, such that Wilfer didn’t shine very often. This was one of his better moments.]
While juices of the hacked-to-pieces carrion crawler leak everywhere, Wilfer and Souvlakus attend to the unconscious, bar the door, and search the room. When the others awake, they help pry precious gems off the coffin. They also locate, and promptly forget, a set of lock picks on the mummified corpse.
Everyone is operational after about an hour. They creep north along the 250’ hall. A dead-end hall to the east infuriates them when they are unable to find the secret door they know must be there. At the northern end, someone triggers the pressure plate outside the door to Room 39 (Rolling Boulder Trap).
There is a low rumble in the darkness ahead, quickly growing to a cacophony, like a castle wall collapsing. They hear and feel a tremendous thud, followed by another and another… accelerating towards them. The lantern doesn’t penetrate far enough to see, and the darksight of elf and dwarves makes out only a vague mass.
They panic. Each has their own escape plan and I do not let them coordinate. Most dive into the unknown of Room 39. Guruff flees to the dead-end hall, while Wilfer flees all the way south and back around to where the zombies were. Guruff is the only one to get a glimpse a stone mass run by on two stout legs. A few moments later a crash and then silence. He creeps south to see a mound of stone blocks strewn everywhere. Wilfer is isolated on the other side.
The main group stumbling into 39a (Noble Lady’s Burial Room) find a surreal scene. A sarcophagus dominates the room, lit by flames emanating from brass jars at each end. Four Cynidiceans, clad in bird masks and papier-mâché wings, “fly” around the room. They leap atop the sarcophagus in fright when “Carl” and Honey Boo-Boo snap at them. The party quickly concludes that these folk pose no threat.
Meanwhile, As Guruff and Wilfer wonder how to rejoin, the mass of rocks takes shape again. Once more they flee, only to hear it return and reset into the north wall from which it came.
[This is one spot where the module as-is (with a giant, ten foot diameter boulder never having been triggered in hundreds of years) bends credulity too far. The existence of this un-triggered trap is one of the reasons Philotomy gave for his modifications to the Ziggurat—in particular, creating the hatch to from Tier 3 to 35 to facilitate movement of the cultists through this extremely dangerous level (and to bypass this trap). Anyway, a multi-ton boulder can’t put itself back in place, and I couldn’t imagine the cultists or Goblins having reason to reset it either. So, I turned it into a no-stat magical-summoned/created earth elemental-type-thing, meant more to scare than to harm, with the ability to reset itself.]
This whole chaotic mess, while harmless, gave the players a lot to puzzle and fret over. Unseen threats are way scarier than those seen and fully described. RPGs are like horror films this way—the imagination produces more anxiety than the eyes.
The heatless flame in the brass jars presents a puzzle too, which they eventually just accept. They find a partial map of this tier hidden in a jar, and though it does not give them new intelligence, they enjoy figuring out how it relates to their map.
After stripping the “birds” of their masks, freaking them out a bit (“You ripped off our faces!”), the reassembled party makes it last stop in Room 37 (Giant Rat Lair). The rats score a few nibbles, and the PCs slice some rat. The rest flee, and the party burns out the nest, eventually salvaging two valuable gems from the ashes.
Satisfied with the foray, most return to the safety of Tier 3 and the Magi (Abraxo and Sativa to the Maidens).
Session 4 ends with no fatalities, some small wounds, and 5635xp divided among five PCs and two NPCs. The Halfling, Abraxo, is the first to level 2.
During the party’s couple hour absence, four more members of the Expedition stumble up the pyramid and are intercepted by the Magi outside. Too weak from dehydration to be a threat, Auriga and Padoma agree to provide succor in 19a, the Magi’s storeroom.
I had a list of about twenty NPCs from the Caravan. I didn’t have a fixed method of how and when to introduce them. I kind of had in mind to start with one or two small batches, before eventually bringing in the balance of them. For this first Caravan event, I rolled a D6 for number and then a D20 to determine who.
The list included four NPCs who could pose a real problem for the Party (either by virtue of outranking them, or having an agenda, or both). There were four likely to be genuinely helpful and competent combatants. The rest were mostly for color, potentially of use if handled creatively.
The Party drew– Eves, lead animal handler; Rudolph, scrivener; and the pair Mengelev and Dongalev, mercenary bodyguards of Viscount Langardeaux. These last two were 3rd level fighters, brave, smart and capable of independent planning and action. Their main goal was survival, but once they realized that booty was on tap, that became a competing priority. Anyway, it was a good role for this group.
The four were too weak for much other than chit chat, so the party decided to set out again after a brief rest.
Accompanied again by Souvlacus and Sativa they descend the hatch and this time head west along halls known to the Cultists. Unlike Cultists, they batter down doors. In Room 29 (Embalming Room) they do not disturb the many pots and tools laying about, thereby avoiding the Shadows, but no treasure.
Room 30 is empty except for the requisite sarcophagus and wall engravings depicting scenes of history or biography.
Outside Room 27 (Councilor’s Burial Room), they note with apprehension that a lower corner of the stone door has been chipped or gnawed away. Undeterred, they bust in. As they approach the coffin, three furious blurs of hair and razor sharp claws launch at them. The shrews kill “Carl” and almost kill Guia in the initial attack. The PCs prevail, but it is a near thing and there is no treasure here either. They retreat to the Storeroom to rest.
Still unconscious and feverish hours later, Guia is left behind attended by Auriga. The rest sally down the ramp to Room 31 (Guard Captain’s Burial Room). In one corner stands a mummy, exquisitely armed and armored, lined by skeletons holding short swords. The front pair enters cautiously. At the front of the marching order this time, Sativa and Abraxo are immediately assailed. Deciding that six vs. nine is too risky, most of the party withdraws. But Sativa is left inside, blocked by skeletons from escaping… and the PCs shut the door locking her inside with the undead. They hear her fierce struggle, a cry of pain, and then silence.
Chagrined, they go to the Maidens to report the tragic loss, editing the account somewhat. Padoma is absent, having descended to the City to check on developments there. Guruff delivers a rousing speech and works the remaining Maidens into a frenzy. They cannot let the death of one of their own go un-avenged, and they certainly can’t leave her on Tier 4 where she will surely swell the ranks of the undead horrors if her body is not recovered.
The Party, now reinforced by six Maidens, burst into Room 31 and shatter the skeletons. Their blood up, they are persuaded to sweep the Tier of evil.
In the hall where the ghouls killed Raina and Blaise (in Session 2), a figure shambles towards them. It is the gnawed-on corpse of Raina the elf. Pausing only a moment to shed a single tear, they cut her down and move on. The two remaining ghouls are decimated. The High Priest’s mummy is unceremoniously stripped of jewelry, before the rampage goes on.
East, they run into 25a (Ghostly Haunts). Two shimmering figures, the very likeness of centuries-dead King Alexander and Queen Zenobia, curse the living interlopers and threaten death if they flee not. Wilfer and all of the Maidens (fail their save and) flee.
Guruff recklessly passes through the haunts and is unharmed. The rest refuse to follow, so he follows the winding passageway alone. It leads to a dead end and he knows there must be a secret door or trap somewhere. With the Party now scattered, he jogs back and everyone regroups once more at the Storeroom.
2980xp is divided among three full-share PCs (Guruff, Abraxo, Igollad), two PCs played in absentia (Wilfer, Guia), Souvlacus and the six Maidens. Guruff and Igollad reach level 2.
By this time, the new players kind of know what they’re doing. They’re not seasoned veterans. They hesitate at unusual places and aren’t attuned to some things the way a veteran player might be. Dickie often steers them in traditional FRPG directions, but he’s actually not the most blood-thirsty hack n’ slasher of the bunch.
They’ve fully embraced the surface level intent of the module—leverage NPC help and go find lots of treasure. I don’t think they know why they’re doing it. But they know it’s fun!