Continuing from Part 9, after the party left the dungeon to rest in town once again.
Alveric, the thief who had repeatedly used the paralyzing eyes of the statue to great effect, recently retired from the adventuring life (his player moved away). He kindly left his friends the treasure he had been carrying around, which in addition to the statue gemstone eyes, included two very lifelike glass eyes, stolen from the death cultists and carried around since then.
The party took the eyes to an oddities expert on the edge of town and after some negotiation, paid her a generous fee to identify if the eyes had any magical use. She said it would take several days, so in the meantime they brought on some new retainers and set out once again for the caverns.
They arrived back at the mysterious, formerly plastered-over door covered in ominous inscriptions. Before they could open it, several giant rats attacked them from the darkness, but were dispatched easily.
Beyond the door, a hallway stretched into darkness, with a room lit by fire visible at the other end. A brave retainer was dispatched first, who confirmed that the room appeared safe. The party followed.
The room was draped with black cloths on all its walls, and lined with pews, as in a chapel. Several immobile shapes, corpses in black robes sat and kneeled among them. Four braziers, one in each corner, burned a sweet smelling incense. Too late, the party members noticed they were becoming woozy. A strange soporific! Several fell unconscious. Thinking swiftly, Yam Stevens the magic user doused the fires with water from his water skin. Eventually the others woke back up.
Pulling at the black curtains, the party noticed the walls were covered in murals celebrating THANATOS, the god of death, triumphing over all living beings on the planet. There was also a door each on the north and south walls. The party also noticed an area on the south wall that looked uneven, patched over with plaster.
The north door was decorated with a skull with glowing red eyes, and as Jek the Stabber approached it, it beckoned to them in an alarming, high-pitched voice:
ENTER FOOLS! JOIN ME IN THE BLISS THAT IS THANATOS! BECOME ONE WITH BLESSED DEATH! IT IS IN THE FINAL END THAT FULFILLMENT LIES.”
The party decided to maybe not go through that door. The skull repeated its message after a few minutes, and Jek carved the skull from the door, stashing it in their bag.
While some members chipped away at the plastered wall, a retainer, a trained man-at-arms, was ordered to check out the bizzare, black-robed, dried out corpses. Each of them, save one, had a pendant around its neck, a skull with jeweled eyes. The retainer gingerly lifted each pendant away with his knife, stashing the treasure in a sack.
Then he decided, just for fun, to smash in the skull of the one without treasure. As he lifted his weapon, the kneeling figure rose up and lashed out at him with a gnarled, clawed hand! The party sprung into action. The unnatural creature swung several times, but its claws found no purchase on the retainer’s armor, and together the party hacked it to pieces, and it crumbled to dust. In the ashes lay a strange key, adorned with a death’s head.
After catching their breath and clearing away the rest of the plaster, the party found an ancient door, with a keyhole. Naturally, they had a hired peasant try the key in the lock.
A spear shot down from the ceiling, catching the poor young man in the shoulder! He staggered back, wounded but not mortally, and slumped against the wall, bleeding. The door opened.
As the party gathered around him, he stared with horror at the opposite corner of the room. He reported that he saw a man, thin and pale and black-robed, with his arms open for an embrace. He wanted to walk forward and embrace the man. The party saw nothing but the stone corner of the ancient chapel. They managed to convince the young man to ignore the terrifying vision, and helped him up.
They proceeded past the door, and down a long hallway, when they heard the clatter of old bones against paving stones coming towards them through the darkness. A group of four animated skeletons, wielding long spears! One of the party’s clerics raised her holy symbol and prayed to the gods. A blinding flash! The skeletons, all of them, turned and fled. Behind them stood a middle aged man, clad in dark robes, looking somewhat like he had just awoken from a very long nap.
Nothing too crazy this time, from a DM’s perspective. When the party went back to town they wanted to have those eyes identified, and I hadn’t really sorted out rules for that. In fact, I haven’t fleshed out town at all, just sort of running it abstractly as where the PC’s go when they heal and hire more
suckers retainers. I don’t want to make a full on magic item shop, but I decided a sort of traveling expert on oddities who could identify properties of items given time and money wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I think I’d like to flesh out town a little bit more. Rules-wise, B/X really doesn’t care much about who the PC’s are outside of their function within the party, and having a few NPC’s in town could let the players role-play their characters and create a break between relentless dungeoneering expeditions. I also might write up a few potential retainers between sessions, instead of conjuring them up on the spot when the PC’s decide to hire them. Maybe they shouldn’t be an infinite resource.
The man the party encountered right at the end of the session, guarded by skeletons, knows a lot about some of the dungeon’s hidden areas. We ended just in time, because the party is definitely going to interrogate him, and I definitely needed to read up on those parts of the dungeon first.
Admittedly, I have only glossed over a lot of the lower areas of the dungeon, which is going to come back to bite me unless I spend some quality time with the module. The Caverns are massive, complex and deeply interconnected. I’ve printed out separate maps of the first two levels, annotating them by hand and putting them on an inside panel of my DM screen, but the process of doing that is a bit painstaking due to the old school layout of the module. For each page of map you get pages and pages of pure text. There are sub-levels on some of the levels, and flipping back and forth to make sure you know where that secret door comes out, or where that stairway leads becomes a little tiresome. Stat blocks and descriptions are wedged into paragraphs of text. As you can see from the above image, grabbing just the right information at the right moment can be difficult too. When the players are all looking at me to see what happens next, it can definitely bring on the DM performance anxiety. Everyone seems to be having fun though!
Bottom line is that it makes me grateful for a lot of the OSR stuff being made these days with super usable layouts and accessible information.