Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"The Forgotten Crypt of Atachalat", Chapter 3 of The Fates of Kalmath

Joroon, alone in the dark, wearing little more than a shift

This week, the company makes an unlikely acquaintance, defeat some cannibals, talk to a long dead king, and free some prisoners. Somewhere along the way they also topple a local ruler and help start a rebellion.

The Company:
Ser Valerius, Armiger Errant, Executor of Justicia (Human Level 5 Paladin)
and his Celestial Lion Mount.

Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Draconic Priest of Bahamut (Dragonborn Level 5 Cleric)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 5 Half-Elf Wizard)

Absent this Week:

Gravy, Priest of Thumn (Human Level 5 Cleric)
And Introducing:
Joroon Hicks, Storyteller of the Hillfolk (Halfling Level 5 Bard)

The Lost Brother of Braxton Hicks
The company moved out of the chamber of the great stone head and into a disgusting foyer filled with human blood and excrement. Small bare footprints indicated recent passage through the chamber of filth. They followed the footprints through the door beyond into a short hallway. There they met a diminutive hillfolk survivor clad in little more than a burlap shift. The hillfolk introduced himself as Joroon Hicks. He had come to Horek looking for Aline, the last person to see his brother Braxton alive. Aline, astonished, introduced herself and the company exchanged introductions.

Joroon explained that he was a storyteller, and that he sought Aline to learn what happened to his brother so he could tell his story. While in Horek, he had managed to insult the satrap with a poorly worded jest. For his transgression, Joroon was sentenced to several months in the stocks outside the prison. Joroon, instead, took the option of exploring the Crypts below the prison of Zothalech, hoping to find the fabled secret exit. He had been wandering the crypt for several hours prior encountering the company.
Valerius heard the sounds of life beyond the next door at the end of the hall. They gave Joroon a crossbow and prepared for entry.

Blind Young Cannibals
Upon bursting open the door, they found a room filled with almost a dozen pale beings drinking from an upwelling of black oily ichor emerging from a small crater in the floor in the middle of the room. The beings looked as if they were once human. Now they were grotesque, pale, with long stringy hair and sharpened nails and teeth. Their eyes had fallen out, leaving only empty sockets. They were bestial, deranged, and carried sharpened human bones as makeshift weapons. Whatever the black ichor was, it had mutated them into this current state and kept them alive in the darkened gloom. Their leader was attended by several of his chosen in the rear of the room. Upon sensing the intruders, the pale beasts shrieked and charged, with some covering the door and others rallying to their leader’s defense.

Aline responded instantly by waving her Wand of Wonder. Suddenly, the entire back half of the room was filled with a massive swarm of monarch butterflies. The butterflies obscured all vision and protected the pale beasts from ranged attacks.

Meanwhile, Balatan summoned into existence a magical hammer, a weapon of the gods, that danced around and attacked targets at his direction.

While Valerius and Balatan held off the attackers at the doorway, Aline once more brandished her wand. This time the wand emitted a gust of wind the blew down everything in its path. The wind also cleared a path through the swarm of butterflies.

Balatan then used the last remaining charge in his Necklace of Fireballs, throwing the gemstone into the mass of pale beasts at the rear of the room. The resulting explosion reduced the cloud of butterflies to small flakes of ash and killed every one of the creatures within the blast. The leader, blackened and charred, rose to his feat and limped towards the company, but was soon dispatched with a bolt of flame.

Giving Voice to the Long Dead
The company continued their exploration of the Crypts, soon finding a silver door sealed with lead. Upon prying the door open, they found a crypt with eight sarcophagi, within each was interred a warrior of some reknown. A door in one wall was engraved with the visage of a mighty crowned king holding a small griffon in one hand and an amulet in the shape of a heart in the other. Joroon recognized the image of Atachalat, the mythical king that legend says built the fortress whose foundations would one day become the Fortress of Zothulech. Joroon recalled a legend that spoke of the king’s treasure buried beneath the fortress and of the curse placed upon said treasure. They carefully broke the seal on the door and warily entered the chamber.

The chamber contained a large crypt on a dais and a plinth containing a chest. The lid of the crypt was carved to resemble the great man interred within. Valerius, ever the cautious conscience of the company, advised the others that no treasure was to be removed from this place.

Joroon then set about casting two spells. The first allowed him to speak and understand any language. The second called forth the spirit of Atachalat to ruturn into his body in order to answer five questions. There was a strange feeling like the inhalation of the world accompanied by the groaning sound of the spirits of the long dead. Having cast his spell, Joroon tentatively asked, “Can you answer me, o great king Atachalat?”

A muffled response came from within the crypt.

Cursing his stupidity, Joroon asked Balatan and Valerius to carefully remove the lid of the crypt and open the sarcophagus within. Inside were the remains of Atachalat, still holding a heart-shaped amulet in one hand and a figurine of a griffon in the other. The eyes of the mummified remains of the ancient ruler opened and glowed with supernatural life.

Joroon inquired of the king’s remains if they could take, with the king’s permission, any of the king’s possessions stored within this sanctuary without falling prey to the curse placed upon them. The king replied, “No. They are mine.”

Joroon, with Valerius’ help, told of their mission to install Princess Murti on her rightful throne, emphasizing the righteousness of their cause, asking the dead king once again if they might sway his judgment.

The king, moved by the description of their quest, offered this, “You may take my belongings from this place with no fear of the curse so long as they are returned to me before the sun sets tomorrow. Ere you fail, my curse will set revenants upon you to hunt you down to the ends of time, there will be nowhere you may hide.”

Valerius and Joroon contemplated the offer. Aline and Balatan urged Valerius to accept it. Ultimately, Valerius declined, citing the uncertainty of what lay before them. He refused to make an oath he could not in absolute certainty keep.

Joroon then told the king that his legacy has become lost to legend and that few in this day knew of his time and deeds. He asked Atachalat where any written records or accounts might yet remain. The king replied that the annals of his rulership were kept in his treasury.

For his final question, Joroon asked if the treasury was cursed. The king said that it was not, but that it was protected by the Chamber of Eternal Serpents. Valerius and Aline immediately recognized this as being the room filled with undead vipers.

The company took their leave of the king, closing the sarcophagus and returning the lid of the crypt to its original position. They were careful to leave all as they found it, taking nothing.

The Chamber of Eternal Serpents
The company rested for an hour in the outer chamber of the guardians before they retraced their steps to the Chamber of Eternal Serpents.

The chamber was as they left it, a large room with raised platforms in three corners and a dark tunnel in the fourth. Stairs descended from each platform into a floor filled with writhing undead vipers, waist deep!

After tentatively experimenting with destroying a handful of undying vipers with ranged spell attacks, Balatan eventually channelled the power of his god, Bahamut, to destroy half of the vipers in the room. The company then rushed through the cleared areas to a passage in the corner of the chamber. Balatan, Joroon, and Aline made it into the hidden treasury area but Valerius became surrounded by swarms of unliving snakes. Valerius was bitten multiple times before he extricated himself from the writhing mass by turning the snakes away from the holy might of Justicia. He then joined his friends in the treasury.

Within the treasury, they found piles of precious coins and gems, along with a broom, a helmet that resembled the folds of a human brain, a pair of goggles, and a torc to be worn around the neck, as well as several volumes written in an ancient unknown language.. The company spent several hours resting, counting coins, and studying their new acquisitions. The broom allowed anyone who held it to fly. The helmet allowed its wearer to read and send thoughts. The goggles made their wearer charming to the point of being irresistible. The torc allowed the wearer to breathe easy in any environment.

Having rested, they searched for and found a secret door hidden within a niche that allowed them to leave the chamber without passing through the writhing mass of vipers. They explored some corridors before finding another teleportation chamber. They entered the chamber and emerged from a niche in a hallway they had recently marked with chalk. They followed their chalk marks to another teleportation chamber and emerged from the same niche from which they entered the chamber of the great stone head.

This time, Joroon recognized his position and led the company back to the entrance.

Out through the In Door
The entrance was located in a large chamber and consisted of a twenty-foot wide rectangular column against the far wall. The column was located atop two stacked stone platforms surrounded by a bottomless chasm and reached to the ceiling. The company used the flying broom to easily cross the bottomless chasm and made their way to the top platform. Joroon explained that he was placed upon the top of the column and that the guards magically controlled it to raise and lower. It lowered him down to this level before it raised back to the ceiling.

On top of the taller platform was a series of black and white tiles. After some experimentation, Joroon was soon able to press the right tiles so that the column descended. The company stood on top of the column and it soon began to rise.

When it reached its destination, the company found themselves in a small dark chamber. They opened the door to see a long wide corridor with rusted iron doors to either side. The corridor was dimly lit by wan torches at the far end where stairs ascended to the upper level. These were the dreaded oubliettes. Valerius directed that no one should release any of the prisoners until they had fulfilled their mission.

The company climbed the stairs and were in a room covered in straw with several locked iron doors. Joroon informed Valerius that common prisoners were kept beyond a set of locked double doors. Valerius put his back into it and burst the doors open.

The Prisoners Freed
Beyond, they found a vast low-ceilinged chamber supported by massive columns. The chamber was separated into dozens of large barred cages, each cage capable of housing twenty prisoners. The royal guard were housed in five such cages, exactly as Aline saw through the scrying glass.

Four prison guards shouted for others to run and get help and charged the intruders with spears. The prison guards were quickly dispatched. One guard was reduced to sobbing tears by nothing more than Joroon’s bitter taunts. The took the keys from the guards and opened what cages they could to free the royal guards. The doors of three of the cages were inaccessible, located on the other side of the chamber, so Valerius, inspired by Joroon’s encouragement, used his prodigious strength to bend the bars separating the cages apart with his bare hands.

Valerius then introduced himself to Captain Fariss of the Royal Guard of Kalmath, explaining that Princess Murti lived and had orchestrated this escape. The royal guards were to follow Valerius out through the Crypt where they were to join the princess in retaking the throne. Hearing this, the royal guard erupted into cheers.

Soon, a full contingent of dozens of prison guards were fighting with the now freed one hundred royal guards. The prison guards were clad in chain mail and carried spears while the royal guards had only their fists and the hope of freedom. The royal guard fought a defensive battle, taking weapons from their fallen opponents and freeing the other prisoners to maximize confusion. They retreated with Valerius and the rest into the oubliette level and barring the doors behind them.

The company and the surviving royal guard made their way through the Crypts to the hidden teleport chamber. On their way, they stop in the chamber of the Great Stone Head where Valerius asked Captain Fariss if four of the royal guard could grab two of the statues to carry out of the dungeon. Fariss, confused about the request but grateful to be freed, agreed and ordered his men to carry the statues.

Soon the royal guard were reunited with Princess Murti who was waiting for them in the Under-City of Horek.

An Insurrection Among Friends
Princess Murti warmly welcomed Captain Fariss and gave her heart-felt thanks to Valerius and the company. The company was told where they could find their payment of two thousand gold pieces.

The princess said a battle waited for them. Her royal guard would soon be armed with weapons she had arranged to have placed in a cache in the under-city. Valerius told her that Captain Subhadar, captain of the city guard, would lend his men to her cause, leaving the Satrap only his palace guards. Horek would soon be hers.

The next few days were a blur as the princess’ rebels, along with the city guard and the help of the company, made their presence known to the satrap and ordered him to recognize her rule. The satrap, who was allied with the Mantri, refused. Captain Subhadar, however, allied the city guard with the princess and soon overthrew the treasonous satrap. By the end of the day, the satrap himself was imprisoned within the walls of the fortress of Zothalech.

The princess had a long road ahead of her in retaking her throne, but she now had a foothold in Horek. Soon other cities would follow, but she knew that the Mantri and his expansionist ideology was popular with many other satraps. She would eventually have to face the Mantri and his magical army of elementals in battle.

After the chaos subsided, the company took their leave of the princess, now firmly in control of Horek. Valerius had hired a complement of architects, workers, stonemasons, men-at-arms, and servants to accompany him back to the hidden fortress. The company, now numbering many dozens, along with a young bronze dragon, returned to the gateway to the Xanthus River Valley.


After Thoughts

Thus concludes the Fates of Kalmath.

The blind cannibals were Gricks. I brought back the corrupting black oil from early in the campaign as a reminder that there’s something deep under the earth that’s mutating creatures into evil monsters. It’s also a convenient excuse of how something can survive in a subterranean environment with no food or water.

I had planned on the PC’s taking treasure from the burial chamber. Doing so would have triggered the curse, animating 8 mummies and a spectre. However, my players showed remarkable restraint and forethought by casting “Tongues” and “Speak with Dead”. Joroon’s player was so proud that he finally got to use those spells for something useful and productive. In all our years of playing D&D, rarely have any of us had an opportunity to cast those spells.

For the Chamber of the Eternal Serpents, I filled the room with swarms of poisonous snakes. Only I made them zombie snakes, which means I gave them the same Dexterity and Wisdom as zombies and made it so they could be turned. I treated every ten-foot-by-ten-foot square as a swarm. The room could regenerate one swarm per turn, generally next to a player character. Because there were so damn many, I reduced their venom damage from 4d6 on a failed save to 2d6.

This room was meant to be fairly straight-forward. Instead, my players spent a lot of time tentatively experimenting and gently probing before finally committing to a course of action. They were very afraid of a swimming pool filled with undead vipers. At one point, I just wanted to shout “For god’s sake, just go!” They eventually got around to it and once they did got through pretty quickly.

For some reason, I thought my “puzzle” for raising and lowering the stone pillar was going to be tougher, but not only was it not challenging, it was essentially “pushing a button to summon the elevator”. I don’t know what I was thinking there. In the end I decided to skip it and move on to the rescue.

I also assumed the random teleport chambers would be more vexing. However, my players wisely marked the walls with chalk and could easily identify their location. Also, of the three times they used the teleport room, the second time was to a niche a few dozen feet away and the third time was to the same niche they were teleported the first time. Talk about underwhelming results.

Finally, by the time they freed the prisoners, it was getting late and we had to wrap up. I didn't want this adventure to go for another week so we summed up the rest.

I’ll be writing up the dungeons from my notes for others to use in the coming weeks.

The Great Hall, aka the Yard
The Dungeons and the Pens

The Oubliettes

The Crypts

What’s Next?
The players have expressed an interest in returning to stories of adventure and fortune over tales of geopolitical intrigue. Valerius’ player expressed frustration at playing a paladin. He always felt obligated to respond to these political crises, and that meant drawing all other player characters into that responsibility. He didn’t like that and wanted a return to more treasure-motivated stories.

As a result, he is retiring Valerius as a PC, again, and for the same reason as the first time. Valerius is a great character but he tends to dominate any group in which he is a member.

Valerius will take some time off from the group to perform the following tasks:

  1. Bring Sablius to a bronze dragon reputedly living on Mount Zinnober.
  2. Return home to his wife and household in Wince to check in.
  3. Oversee the refurbishment of the Hidden Fortress in the Defile of Castragon.
  4. Re-build the gates of the Defile of Castragon.
  5. Re-build the watchtowers that overlook the Defile.

He might pop up from time to time as a patron for the player characters, hiring them to perform certain missions or sending them on quests for treasures to fund his projects.

In the meantime, he’ll be replacing Valerius with something more mercenary and independent. Expect to see more tales of treasure hunting and ruin exploring and less tales about doing the right thing because it needs to be done.

Coming Soon
The company bids farewell to Valerius and decides to investigate why, for the first time ever, the Xanthus River Valley is experiencing a cold winter.

Monday, January 5, 2015

"The Great Stone Head of Zothalech", Chapter 2 of The Fates of Kalmath

This week, two members of the company will perish! Who will survive the deadly Great Stone Head of Zothalech!

The Company:
Ser Valerius, Armiger Errant, Executor of Justicia (Human Level 5 Paladin)
and his Celestial Lion Mount.
Absolom, Justicar (Human Level 4 Cleric/Level 1 Monk)

Gravy, Priest of Thumn (Human Level 4 Cleric)
Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Draconic Priest of Bahamut (Dragonborn Level 4 Cleric)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 4 Half-Elf Wizard) 
Thaddeus, Under-City Scout from Swallow (Human Level 5 Ranger)
First, Some Personal Stuff
I apologize for not updating this blog much. I got a bad case of cellulitis, a type of skin infection, in my right leg in early December. This put me out of commission for several weeks. Then, after that, we had Christmas and New Years. As a result, we have not gotten together to play D&D since December 5th. I am happy to report that my leg is nearly completely healed and Christmas went very well. I hope everyone else had a happy and safe holiday season.

Aline left Swallow on her long journey to rejoin the company. On her way, she took a detour to the cave that once belonged to the ogre that menaced a young farmer. The cave was on a ridge with a magnificent view of the lower Xanthus river valley. Mist constantly blew up from the humid jungles below. Braxton Hicks had once proclaimed that he would one day retire to this cave.

Aline took the clay jars containing the last remains of Braxton Hick and placed them within the cave. She then performed a magic ritual to cast a spell onto the cave's entrance. From this day forward, any time anyone approached the cave, a voice would proclaim, "Welcome to the cave of Braxton Hicks!"

She paused for a moment to admire the view, then turned and continued her hike to Flinch.

How Much for Your Dragon?
Dawn broke over the desert city of Horek, eastern-most city of Kalmath. Valerius and the company rose and prepared to leave the hospitality of the satrap of the city. A messenger informed them of an invitation to the court of the satrap, they accepted.

The court of the satrap was populated with courtiers, advisers, gnomes, a few dwarves, some dragonborn traders from the north, and tieflings from the southwest. The satrap rose from his high seat and approached the company. He walked past Sablius, inspecting him and admiring him like he would a horse for purchase.

The satrap asked which of them was the owner of the magnificent beast. Valerius politely responded that Sablius had no owner but that he considered himself himself the dragon's guardian.  The satrap offered 50,000 gold pieces for the purchase of the dragon. Valerius politely refused. The satrap pressed, offering slaves, land, fortresses, even offering a male winged saber-toothed dragon-tiger (an offer that made Absolom whisper into Valerius ear to at least consider), finally asking what could he offer that would change Valerius' mind. Valerius continued to politely and respectfully decline.

Seeing that no sum would sway Valerius, the satrap acquiesces, "I see there is no price that I can pay. This is a city of commerce. I am a man of honor and I recognize the ownership of property. The ownership and transfer of property is the root of trade.  You may take your leave.

The company was informed they could stay in Horek until sundown at which point their passports would no longer be valid. With that, Valerius and the company left the court of the satrap.

Princess Murti Makes an Offer
The party exited the city and stopped in the hostel and inn known as the Drunken Merchant. There they reunited with Balatan and Princess Murti, who was disguised as a simple slave girl. Also present was Aline, who had traveled from Swallow to Flinch, learned of the company's plans to go to Horek, and had finally caught up with the company this morning.

Princess Murti met the company in a private room. She thanked everyone for helping her reach Horek. She has found her secret cache of gold intact and instructed Ashlor to stand guard over it. Ashler is prepared to pay 1000 gold pieces to the company for helping her reach the city.

"However, I have an additional offer. Help me free my royal guards from the Prison of Zothalech and I will reward you with an additional 2000 gold pieces!"

The company agreed and asked for details.

"While I was in Horek, I did some research, consulting some trusted sages. The prison of Zothalech used to be an ancient fortress. It was built on the ruins of an even older fortress. Its roots run deep below the city. The fortress is today used as a prison. It is run by the gnomes of and houses both common debtors and noble prisoners.

"The prison is surrounded by a twenty-foot thick outer wall and a forty-foot wide moat filled with vicious carnivorous fish.

"The only way into the dungeon is as a prisoner or a supply wagon. The only prisoners it takes are those unable to pay their debt to the gnomes, the strategically important, relatives of nobles who are willing to pay to commute a death sentence, be more valuable alive than dead, or otherwise receive a sentence other than beheading for whatever reason.

"Normally, the only way out of the dungeon is to serve your sentence, have your ransom paid, or death.

"There are three known dungeon levels beneath the fortress. The level closest to the surface contains pens for commoners, the perimeter is lined with dungeon cells for nobles. The lower level contains oubliettes for prisoners given "life sentences". They are lowered into a pit and left to die a slow and horrible death.

"The lowest level is known as the 'crypt'. Prisoners are told that somewhere within the crypt is an exit to the outside. Any prisoner may choose the crypt over their current sentence. Should they do so, they are lowered into a pit from which they are never head again. It is not known if there is, in fact, an exit or if it a cruel lie. No one has ever escaped the crypt to confirm the story.

"I have learned from trusted sages that, according to legend, the crypt does, indeed, contain a secret escape route built by the original inhabitants of the fortress. The secret route is a hidden teleport gate that connects the crypt with the under-city beneath Horek. I have learned the location of the gate in the undercity and the magic phrase that activates it: 'Sesallah-Setah'.

"My royal guard number 100 men. They are being held in two pens with the commoners in the level closest to the surface. I leave it to you to plan the best route of entry and escape."

The company discussed their options and decided to enter via the secret route through the crypt, ascend the various levels, free the royal guard, and escape the same way.

While the company purchased supplies, Aline consulted the crystal ball in the privacy of a room in the inn in order to scry on the satrap and on the prisoners.

She saw a vision of the satrap speaking to a courtier, "I must have that dragon, do you understand?" The courtier responded, "I understand, my satrap. I will make it so. I already have agents following them outside the city." The satrap eyed the courtier warily, "Know this, if you plan on doing anything dishonorable, I don't want to know about it!" The courtier replied with an evil grin, "Of course, my satrap."

Changing focus onto the prisoners, she saw the interior of the prison of Zothalech. A hundred well-muscled men of noble bearing were held in two large cages in a chamber supported by thick columns. Guards occasionally patrolled between the cages carrying rings of keys.

Looking away from the crystal ball, she noticed that her mouth was unusually dry and her throat hoarse.

Into the Under-City
Willie and Drew
Valerius took Sablius to a livery stable that friendly to the Order of the Gauntlet.  He placed Willie and Drew in charge of his safety. Absolom gave them a potion of diminution, instructing them to shrink Sablius in case agents of the satrap came to take him. As an added measure, Valerius left his celestial lion to stand guard with the two comical men-at-arms.

Using their passports, the company re-entered Horek, passing Princess Murti as a slave. Valerius hired ten water bearers and donned common burlap tunics and wrapped their heads and necks in keffiyeh scarves so that they would blend in with the bearers.

The disguised company, hidden among the water-bearers, then followed Princess Murti into the Under-City. Stairs led down from the street to an underground labyrinth filled with people, slaves carrying amphorae filled with water, peddlers offering the crushed root of the Red Lotus, smugglers, and others on daily business. The hired water bearers broke off from the group at various points, leading potential followers on a wild goose chase.

The princess led them to the great cistern, vast chamber filled with millions of gallons of water. The ceiling high above was supported by massive columns. The architecture of past ages was visible everywhere in haphazard strata. The company hired a skiff and crossed the cistern, taking a flooded tunnel. The tunnel led to an abandoned passage blocked by bars. Valerius and Balatan easily pulled the ancient rusted bars out of the wall and they continued. The passage was moist and covered in roots and mold.

They ultimately entered a round chamber, a hemisphere, the walls of which were covered in ancient symbols. Roots and moss dangled from cracks in the ceiling. A silver disk was embedded in the floor, surrounded by arcane symbols. As agreed, Princess Murti would return to the surface while the rest of the company continued. The company entered the chamber and said the magic words, "Sesallah-Setah". The room was filled with light while glowing motes swirled around. The company vanished.

The Crypt
The company was transported to an identical room. Balatan, using his magic dwarven warhammer, could tell that they had descended from their previous location and were about two hundred feet below ground. They left the chamber and entered a wide corridor that stretched left and right. The door into the chamber was made to blend into the wall and be hidden. Valerius marked the door with chalk.

The company went left and after a short corridor found another round chamber with a silver disc and arcane text in the floor. There was one exit to the right. While holding open the entrance as a precaution, they tried unsuccessfully to open the far door. They returned the way they came.

The company found a room used by priests to prepare for ceremonies. Doors on the opposite wall were engraved with the bas relief of a great angry face. They opened the door and found a large chamber. A great stone head with the angry face stood on a raised platform against the wall to their right. Half a dozen white marble statues stood in various poses across the room, all figures captured in a moment of terror, frozen in mid-scream as they looked upon the great stone head. They carefully closed the door and tried another exit from the priests' room.

The Foiled Gas Trap
The wall of the adjoining short corridor caught Gravy's eye. On closer inspection, he noticed a loose brick which Thaddius removed with his thieves' tools. Behind the brick was a hole, large enough for a man's arm. The hole turned down about elbow's length. Wary of a trap, Aline cast a spell known as "Mage Hand" to explore the hole. Just past the bend, the hand encountered a small metal wheel attached to a valve. She turned the valve to the right until it stopped. There was no other effect.

The company opened the next door, noting that the door attached to a spring to close it automatically and was built to form an airtight seal. Thaddius used pitons to spike the door open. They entered the long corridor beyond. Halfway down the corridor, the door strained to close and a gasp of air was released into the room. The company had bypassed the gas trap by turning off the gas before entry.

Beyond the far door, the company encountered another round room with a silver disc and magical writing. This time, believing that only one door could be opened at a time, they allowed the entrance to close. The moment they did so, they were surrounded by light and glowing swirling motes and vanished from the room.

The Chamber of the Zombie Snakes
They appeared in a niche in a nondescript hallway with several other niches and doors and other corridors. They explored a path to the left, eventually coming into a large chamber filled with thousands of rasping zombie snakes, the sound of which resembled thousands of pieces of sand-paper being rubbed together. They stood on a platform in a corner of the room, stairs led down into the writhing mass. Similar platforms could be seen in two other corners. The fourth corner contained a passage.

Balatan called upon his god, Bahamut, to banish the zombie snakes. Half the snakes in the room crumbled to dust. Aline and Gravy used magic to zap some remaining pockets, but as they did so the snakes from the other half of the room began to fill in the cleared area. Valerius suggested that since this would take forever and since they didn't know if they needed to cross this chasm, they should go back and try one of the other doors.

The Great Stone Head
The company retraced their steps and took another door. They soon found themselves in the chamber of the great stone head and the frightened statues. They carefully entered the room, wary of the statues. Suddenly, the eyes of the great stone head began to glow. Thaddius, Absolom, and Aline looked at the statue and found themselves frozen in place. Meanwhile, Valerius, Balatan, and Gravy managed to avert their eyes or were otherwise not looking at the statue's eyes.

Suddenly, three of the statues came to a jerking scraping life with the sound of scraping stone. The statues closed on Balatan, Valerius, and Gravy and attacked. Aline cast two fireball spells at the great stone head, causing it to crack then explode into chunks of debris. She found herself suddenly free of the freezing grip of the statue's gaze. The remaining two statues froze in place, the source that controlled their actions now destroyed.

Unfortunately, Thaddius and Absolom had lost their fight against the magic of the great stone head. To the dismay of the rest of the company, they remained statues of white marble.

The surviving members of the company briefly discussed their options. It was clear that should this mission succeed, the its secret route would be discovered and would be sealed up forever. There was no way to save their companions. They pressed on.

They took another exit and explored a short passage. They opened the door at the end onto a large dark chamber. Pale white blind beings with long scraggy hair, beings that were once human, turned from their feeding from a font of black ichor, bearing sharp twisted teeth and hissing.


After Thoughts
The gun is good. The penis is evil.
The Great Stone Head was described as looking like the angry stone head from Zardoz. It was depicted on the table with an Olmec head figurine purchased from the pet store as an aquarium decoration.

The way it worked was anyone just looking at the head from outside the room had no effect. Once you entered the room, you made a save. Each player got to choose: Dexterity (to look away), Wisdom (for quick thinking), or Intelligence (to know what was coming). The DEX save had a difficulty of 20. The WIS save had a difficulty of 16. The INT save had a difficulty of 12. However, I didn't tell my players what the difficulties were and that, I feel, was a mistake on my part. Some players chose DEX because it was their best bonus, but had they known that INT had the lowest difficulty, they might have chosen that. As a result, Thaddius and Absolom were turned to stone.

What I now realize I SHOULD have done was either make all three saves the same difficulty or told the players up front what the difficulties were and allowed them to choose.  Ah, hindsight.

Once you started making saves, the only thing that would save you was the destruction of the Great Stone Head, which was a large stone object with an AC of 17 (for its hardness) and 27 hit points, with resistance to fire, piercing, and slashing; vulnerability to thunder; and immunity to necrotic, poison, psychic, and radiant.Destroying the Great Stone Head stops the need for ongoing saves but does not save anyone already turned to stone.

Because I felt bad for not telling them the difficulty, I had a vial of Potion of Great Restoration located within the head so that the players could choose one character to bring back to life. However, both of the players who lost a character protested! They felt that their characters' deaths were justified and added to the drama of the story, and that bringing one or both of them back would be wussing out. They said without the threat of death, there was no sense of danger. So I obliged and withdrew the potion.