Adventure: Through the Desert (Part 2-The Epic Ordeal)

Every Sunday night, I run my 20th level D&D 4e home campaign.  Most of the time, I prepare my own adventures.  For those other times, I modify heavily.  What follows is the session we ran last night, complete with DM commentary…

… wait, before you skip this as “boring”, check out Encounter 2 – It’s Epic.  Seriously, you should steal it.

Through the Desert (The Epic Ordeal)

The Setup

The players are crossing the desert, leading a caravan of 12 refugees, 1 cart, 6 barrels of water, a weeks worth of food for all, 2 sheep, and 1 lamb.  Last week, I purposefully made it easy on them.  They ended their day literally laughing at the at the dangers of the desert.

In this weeks session, I wanted to change that immediately.  This is how their morning began.

You wake to the sound of Smith cursing, trying to light a fire for the morning meal.  The sun has risen and brings with it a heat that sears your skin and splits your lips.  Farmer jay is ladling water onto his sheep’s bellies.  The halfling child, Chundri, is fussing loudly, grumpy at the early morning heat.  His parents coddle and coo to him to quiet him down, but most seem to have awoken already.  You do a quick headcount, all are accounted for.

I had the Thri-Kreen Druid, who was awake already and out scouting, roll a Nature check.

Nature: DC 18 – Another Dust Funnel, swirling far in the distance, seems to be heading this way.

Nature: DC 34 – The cloud patterns above the Dust Funnel indicate the winds aren’t consistent with the Funnels direction.

The Thri-Kreen came back during a little breakfast role play session, explained in insect terms what was heading in their direction, and suggested they leave (remember, a Dust Funnel was the thing they laughed at last week).  They continued to talk to some of the refugees for a while before heading out for the day, at which point I had the Thri Kreen roll Perception to see that the Dust Cloud was a lot closer.

What was in the distance was not a Dust Funnel, it was the clouds of sand churned up by a charging Rampager, downwind of the horrible smell of the party’s armor.  Apparently a Rampager hates man-made objects.  Boy is he going to be pissed when he sees that cart full of barrels.

With another successful Perception, they spotted a dot within the cloud on the horizon that told them it was not a dust cloud at all, but something. They decided to find a good defensible position and take a stand.

On the Fly tip:  To administer their choice to find a defensible position, I gave them 3D terrain; three rocks and a tree for them to place on the board however they wanted.  Then I threw down a few Desert of Athas dungeon tiles around their setup for some visual interest and difficult terrain.  Total setup time (for me), 12 seconds.

Encounter 1: 1 x Rampager (DSCC pg. 82).

Tactics: His first goal was to destroy the caravan, likely destroying the barrels of water too.  After that, he wants to rip that armor off the minotaur fighter.  He attacks with his claws until the maximum -5 penalty to AC is accrued.  Then he turns back to any man-made objects he can see.  Completely obliterating them into pieces, trampling them beneath the sands.

In play, the Rampager had to use an action point in the first round to get enough movement to attack the cart.  I was thinking four attacks against the cart for him to completely destroy everything they had.  He was able to stay adjacent to it for one round before the party forced him away and immobilized him.  He got in two attacks, but that destroyed half their food, 5 barrels of water, and enough of the cart that in the end. they decided to leave it behind.

The Rampagers second motive was to rend all the parties armored characters.  Immobilized next to the minotaur fighter, I had him use a full onslaught of attacks against the minotaur, one of which was a crit.  In the third round Rampager unloaded again and spent his final action point to actually fell the minotaur.

Of course the minotaur fighter got healed, the Rampager was defeated, and the party tried to sort out their losses.  Healing surges spent, they strapped on their last water barrel and headed off.

Segway

Now, here was a little bit of Not-So-Subtle, on the fly railroading.  The players had two choices. either head toward the oasis deep within the defiled lands, as they had planned to do back when they had a cart (last week).  Or, head toward the equidistant Sunken Tomb, which they had earlier learned was a set of stairs descending beneath the sand… nice for shade.

I really wanted them to go toward the temple.  So with a Nature check, the Druid remembered their was a forest of Blood Trees (DSCC 138) between them and the oasis.  Not such a tough problem for the adventurers, but trouble for the refugees.  With a History Check, the Warlord/Bard remembered many of these desert rulers were buried with a supply of water, considered a luxury in these sands.  And as simple as that, they headed toward the stairs.

The Sunken Tomb

Descending the stairs, they came to a cave in blocking them from the rest of the complex.  They decided they didn’t necessarily need to continue.  So again, a Nature check “smelled” water behind the rocks, a Dungeoneering recognized the rock slide as natural and ancient, and a History remembered there was often treasure buried within tombs.

So they cleared the rubble, and found this, an old Dark Sun Encounters map.

This map includes my dry-erase brainstorming session for this Epic encounter.  The players began in the top right.  The first thing they saw was the two bowls, covered in a black greasy-tar, with snake statues posed over it as if hissing.  Then they saw the well, they played with the water for a bit, so I played with them.

As they tried to pull the bucket out of the water, they could feel resistance, and the bucket would only ever come up about a third full.  They experimented for a while, and left confused.

The two sarcophagi in the far corner caught their attention (top-left of map pic).  They pried the lids off to find two mummies, with a gold coin laying atop each eye.  They left the mummies alone and told the refugees to do the same.  Then, they took the lids off the sarcophagi, covered the well with them and went toward the hallway (none of them even mentioned the large pile of bones next to the mummies).

Entering the hallway, they could see a door could fall from the ceiling and close them off.  Next, they noticed the floor sloped down toward the middle of the hall, then sloped back up the other side.  In the middle of the “V” of the hall was two 6″ drain pipes, each leading toward the well (yes, they explored the pipes, with Maggot Form).

Into the next room, the could see four spiked pillars surrounding a 2×2 plate on the ground.  Each pillar had a level pointing toward the middle of the plate.  The spiked pillars and the alcoves lining the walls had lots of holes of all sizes.  On the far end of the room (bottom-right of map pic) they could see two adamantine gates barring access to a rather ornate sarcophagus.

The trap had three parts.

  1. The plate begins raised 3″ off the ground.  A click can be heard within the spiked pillars when a creature steps on the plate.
  2. When the plate is vacated, it raises 3″.  Both doors of the hallway close.  The spiked pillars start hissing as white steam starts billowing out.  In the first room (with the well), a water elemental, the two mummies, and six skeletons raise to the attack. The water elemental begins to flood the room.  The tar-covered snake bowls spew fire and block the exit.
  3. When a creature steps on the plate a third time, it depresses again.  The levers can now be pulled.  The doors to the hallway open, water pours out of the first room and into the drain.  Spectral vermin pour out of the alcoves, and attack any creatures standing on the plate.

Encounter 2 – The Epic Ordeal:

Top Room:  6 x Tomb Guardian Thrall (Dungeon Annual pg. 45), 2 x Great Mummies (Monster Manual pg. 193), & 1 Greater Water Elemental (Monster Manual 3, pg. 83)

Bottom Room:  All described as spectral insects and snakes; 2 x Dragonscale Slough “Scorpions” (Open Grave, pg. 145), 2 x Githyanki Gish Crusaders “Beetles” (Dungeon 167 pg.79, 86), 2 x Electrum Serpent “Snakes” (Dragon 384, pg 21), Dire Piranha Swarm “Rats” (Dungeon 158, pg.73), 1 x Four Winds Trap (Dungeon Delve, pg. 125)

Top Room:

This Epic encounter was designed for the minotaur fighter to reach level 21.  The goal was to get him completely isolated, separated from the group, and put him through an epic ordeal.  It worked perfectly, though not how I had planned.  I figured the impulsive cow would jump on the plate at first sight, instead that honor went to the tiefling, and the cow rushed to the refugees.

When the doors opened and they heard the sound of water rushing into the drain, perceptive characters could also hear the screams of the refugees, “Oh my god, they’re after me!”.  This clued the players into the fact that creatures were in the top room.

The minotaur crit on his Perception roll, and used an encounter power that allowed him to get all the way into the top room and see the horrors there.  Long story short, he destroyed all the creatures and saved all the refugees (except poor Smith, RIP, who was killed by the fire trap), by himself.  It was truly epic.  Seriously, 1 Fighter vs 15,428 in creature xp (hard xp is 6,999) while protecting 10 villagers (Farmer Jay was safe, Smith dead) by either immobilizing, or just killing.  That’s an ordeal.  He immediately hit level 21, no rest required.

Side note:  Remember the gold coins on the mummies eyes?  If removed, the mummy was blinded from anyone except those who held the coin.  Good crowd control to keep them off the villagers, but my players didn’t bite 😦

Bottom Room:

The pillar trap is pretty brutal, and completely effective at keeping these characters from trying to help the minotaur.  They had no idea how to pull the switches, nor what order they should pull them in.  Only after the first lever was pulled successfully, through trial and error, did I let them know Thievery DC 29 could do the trick “out of order”.

The spectral vermin would attack only those standing on the plate and the levers could only be pulled while the plate was depressed.  If killed, the vermin dissipated, still occupying their squares, but stunned and removed from play until the end of the killing creatures turn.  With bursts and blasts, the minions were destroyed as a unit by the Thri-Kreen, but that meant that most squares adjacent to the levers were now inaccessible.

Whenever a lever was successfully pulled down, the Four Winds Trap activated, sliding, damaging, and immobilizing each creature in burst 4.  I ruled that it didn’t affect the insubstantial minions, after all, they’re part of this trap.

Conclusion:

When all four levers are down, the trap deactivates.  In my game, nearly all were dead already (except the vermin).  If still alive, the elemental goes back into the well, the skeletons and mummies fall lifeless again.  The spiked pillars deactivate, and the adamantine gates lift, allowing access to the sarcophagus.  The spectral vermin still pester the party, though they can now be killed and disposed of quickly.

Opening the sarcophagus, they found an Electrum Serpent (Dragon 384, pg.21).

In my game, it wasn’t about the treasure, it was about the minotaur.  Mission Accomplished.

Next week, they head into the defiled lands… at night!  (Someting bad lives there)

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About j0nny_5

Mid-thirties and work a full-time job in beautiful northern Colorado. In my free time I play D&D, video games, and walk my two beautiful Bouvier des Flandres.
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