Monday, November 13, 2017

Monday Recap: Tomb of the Serpent Kings
"A feeling of unease and dread" - perfect!
One of my sub-hobbies (D&D is a hobby. This is a hobby within that hobby) is taking cool old adventures I find and converting them to 5th edition D&D. If you couldn't tell by the blogs listed to the right, I am interested in "Old School Rules" style play, where the point of the game is interacting with the environment and trying to avoid combat. Of course, I do my fair share of epic fantasy, too.

So, this past weekend, I put together a 5th-edition conversion of Tomb of the Serpent Kings, a fantastic little dungeon that's designed to be a "tutorial" for OSR-style play. Also, it's supposed to help Dungeon Masters understand how to run the dungeons as well. It's free, and unless you are the players listed below, you should download it and check it out.

Now, this would be my fifth (!!) concurrent campaign, so instead of putting together a full, brand new group, I decided to continue the experimental storyline I started in the game without character sheets. So, the players used notebooks full of information about their characters, instead of sheets with numbers.

I think this made the game a lot more tense and exciting. Of course, I had to describe things very well, but the players seemed very invested. However, I don't think I could keep track of more than two character sheets at a time. And higher levels will prove interesting...

Also, as usual, spoilers if you haven't played this adventure. I placed this game in Auraglow, a city of magic and wizards within Garlancia.

Monday Recap: Tomb of the Serpent Kings

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Zylphia Radcliff, Human Dragon Sorceress, smooth talking fire-wielder
Shannon: Ruby Goldberg, Human Wizardess, dreams of being a monster hunter and an inventor

In their first adventure, Zylphia and Ruby had gone on a mission to raise money and save their school's 4H Club (Hippogriffs, Harpies, Homunculi, and Horses). Now that they had completed their task, they were given a new assignment: pick their specializations for their senior year at Academy Realis. Zylphia was taking her Instinctive Magic classes, and Ruby had to pick a new magic tutor based on her topic of interest.

Ruby, after a heartfelt talk with her Basic Magic advisor, decided to sign up for the Artificer specialization, taught by one Osvifur Sigurfinnursson, aka Professor Oz. Feeling a little awkward, Ruby asked Zylphia to come with her when she introduced herself to her new teacher.

Must resist... using Harry Potter art...
Professor Oz invited them in and offered them cups of tea, which created steam in strange colors. He said he was excited to meet his new student, and wished her the best of luck. However, he also mentioned that, in the interest of full disclosure, he may not be her instructor for long.

The girls pressed further. Oz told them that there had recently been an outbreak of student disappearances, and he had been tasked as Student Safety Council Overseer to address the problem. His research had pointed towards the existence of a vampire somewhere on the campus, and he had placed garlic and holy symbols across the school to prevent further kidnappings.

However, just that day, he had found out there had been another kidnapping: Jess, another girl from the 4H Club. Now, his position was in danger unless he could figure out the real culprit. Ruby and Zylphia were shocked. Professor Oz warned the girls not to go investigating the catacombs of the school, where the vampire was rumored to be laired.

So, that night, Ruby and Zylphia went into the catacombs.

They wandered the catacombs for some time, passing the graves and holding places of various wizards. Some they recognized from their textbooks or history, others were from some distant time or not important enough for a place in the textbooks. Along the way, they were guided by sconces containing Never-Ending Flames. As they went deeper, the sconces became further apart.

Deep underground, they found a strange hallway that was built from poorly-laid stonework, rather than the smooth carved tunnels of the rest of the catacombs. Zylphia used her Ember's Glow spell to light up a handful of gravel with a dim orange glow, and tossed the pebbles down the hallway. It went on for quite some distance, with four small alcoves divided evenly along its sides.

The girls cautiously checked each alcove. They contained wooden coffins, painted with strange scenes and containing clay statues of humans with snake heads. Zylphia was sure they would leap to life, and was too scared to touch them directly. Ruby was much more interested, and wrote down everything she observed in the alcoves. One of the claw statues had a silver ring on its finger, and the pair decided to leave it be, out of respect for whatever society had made these statues.

They pressed on, and reached the end of the hallway. There was a large stone door, sealed with a stone bar set on iron pegs. Ruby noticed that the ceiling above the door seemed unusual - like it might drop down on them. Further inspection revealed the iron pegs were actually sitting in vertical slots that they might slide up.

Ruby decided to cast Cloudfall on the ceiling, trying to make whatever would happen, happen slower. They then worked together to lift the stone bar off of the pegs. Sure enough, the iron pegs slid upwards, and the ceiling turned out to be a large hammer, slowly dropping on them to smash them against the door.

Moving as quickly as they could, the girls dropped one end of the stone bar and lifted the other end together, causing the dropping ceiling to be stopped by the bar. They wedged it tightly, making sure the ceiling wouldn't drop in on them.

Moving to the next room, they found an area featuring two coffins and a large snake statue. They inspected the coffins, finding snake-person skeletons inside them. However, unlike the statues from the alcoves, these leapt to life, drawing rusted shortswords and rushing towards the girls!

Spooky snake attack!
Zylphia drew on her dragon magic and unleashed her Fire Breath spell, catching one of the skeletons completely in the blast and blackening its bones. The other leapt out of the way, though it was still charred by the gout of flame.

Ruby unleashed her Wizard Bolts, sending a ray of magic into the charred skeleton's ribcage and making it explode from the inside out. The other skeleton was also hit by the Bolts, but it blocked most of the damage and rushed forward, striking at Zylphia with its blade.

Zylphia threw up her daggers in response and just barely caught the sword before it struck her. She then reached up into the snake-skull face and unleashed a blast of fire from her hand, blowing the skull from the skeleton's shoulders and making the body collapse to the floor.

The girls took a quick breather, then moved to inspect the snake statue. Ruby determiend that it was actually a statue of a Snake God, Dendar the Night Serpent. They also realized there was a secret passage beneath the statue, where a trickle of water had eroded away a small gap into a deeper passage.

Ruby summoned her bat familiar, Coco, and sent it scouting ahead. After it had determined the area was relatively safe, they ventured down into the next tunnel. Ruby was very excited to actually be on a monster-hunting mission! Zylphia was less enthused, since her main interest in monster-hunting was to hang out with Ruby and build a foothold for her eventual political career. She wasn't interested in actual danger.

They found themselves in a long hall lined with six menacing statues. Ruby noticed one was slightly out of alignment, and discovered it was hollow after throwing a pebble at it. Zylphia pushed it aside, and they discovered another secret passage!

However, it only lead to a room full of broken furniture and dust. Zylphia eyed some polearms hanging on the wall, but they looked too unweildy for either magic user to brandish effectively. Ruby found a small silver snake totem, and pocketed it to sell later.

They returned to the statue hall, and pressed forward into the darkness. Zylphia kept throwing small pebbles around them, dimly lighting the area.

They came to an octagonal room with a pool in the center and eight doors/archways on each wall, including the one they had just passed through. Zylphia ventured close to the pool, hoping to drop a pebble into the water and see how deep its murky depths were. However, when she did so, she saw something moving in the water, climbing up the walls of the pool right towards them: two disembodied hands!

One of them jumped out of the water and latched onto Zylphia's leg, crushing it with inhuman strength. Ruby leapt into action, coating her fist in crackling energy and pummeling the hand off her friend's leg. The independant appendage flew off, twitching on the side of the room.

Custom art by Shannon! How cool is that!?
However, the other hand reached the surface, and leapt up at Ruby's face, hoping to scratch at it with its sharp fingernails. Zylphia returned the favor, blasting the hand away with her Flame Shot spell. The hands were defeated.

Zylphia formed a magical hand of her own out of grey ash, and sent it down into the pool to retrieve some objects, now illuminated by her pebble. The first two turned out to be valuable: a golden chain, and a silver ring! The ring eminated odd magic, and Ruby decided to put it on to see what it did. After a bit of experimenting, she realized she could now pop out one of her eyeballs and still see through it!

Zylphia was grossed out by this new power, but continued searching for objects in the pool. The next item was a small stone sphere, marked with snake motifs and a phrase that Zylphia guessed was ancient draconian. The final item turned out to be a snake-mummy head, and to the girls' surprise, it spoke once it had been lifted from the water!
Like this but only that top bit. Also very dead.
The girls spent a bit of time talking to the head. It was very rude to them, but it did tell them they were in the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. Ruby remembered reading how the Yuan-Ti had inhabited this area long, long ago, before humans had moved in and established Garlancia. They both wondered how such an ancient place had survived so long. The mummy head called them barbarian mammals and didn't offer much help.

Zylphia wasn't ready to give up on making friends with the head just yet, and decided to take him with them. They poked around in some of the rooms, finding old tools and scrolls. Ruby kept everything of value she could find, especially the scrolls. She thought their Professor of Ancient Languages might take interest in such items.

The next area they opened was a set of stairs, leading further downwards. They began to descend, but on the third step, the stairs sunk into the ground and formed a ramp! Both students and their mummy-head companion tumbled down the stairs, landing hard at the bottom.

They found themselves in another octagonal room, this one lined with shields and built like an arena. On the far side of the room was a lrage archway leading into darkness, and in the center of the room was a huge statue of a warrior with a cobra head. As they picked themselves up, the statue cracked and rumbled to life, and attacked!

The statue raised an arm to the air, and summoned a shield which flew from the wall. Zylphia, taking the opening, rushed forward and doused it in flames from her Fire Breath spell. Ruby tried to follow up with her powerful spell, Faultless Lightning, but the creature blocked it with its newly-aquired shield. Fortunately, the shield crumbled after blocking a single blow.

Zylphia loosed a burst of flame from her hand, and used her Ashen Hand to bring the mummy head up to the construct, hoping to negotiate somehow. The statue didn't seem to respond to the crazed mummy head, however, and with two swings of its massive greatsword, crushed the mummy head and landed a strong blow into Zylpiha's ribs, causing her to collapse in pain.

Ruby ran up, hoping to distract the statue from attacking Zylphia again, but her Lightning Fist spell didn't seem to be doing much. Meanwhile, Zylphia healed herself with a potion, and began firing more Flame shots at the enemy. The statue kept summoning shields to its hand, both making Ruby duck to avoid the flying object, as well as blocking each of Zylphia's flames.

If this were a much nicer adventure...
The battle had become one of attrition, and the girls wouldn't be able to hold out forever. Fortunately, Ruby noticed that the stairs had reset themselves back from a ramp into a stairway. She shouted for them to make a break for it, and they both turned tail and fled. The statue leapt through the air, landing hard and knocking Ruby to the ground, but she crawled to the stairs and made it just in time.

The stone cobra warrior poked at them with his greatsword, but after a moment's scampering, the girls were beyond reach. Zylphia, dually frustrated at the loss of her mummy head and the beating they had just taken, unleashed a barrage of fire upon the statue until it had become completely inert, completely blackened and crumbling apart.

The girls were exhausted and hurt. Zylphia suspected she might have a broken rib, and Ruby was completely drained of magic power. They made their way back past the pool, up the tunnel, into the chambers and hallways above, and back into the catacombs.

On the way out, Zylphia grabbed the silver ring from the statue they had found earlier as a consolation prize. The statue crumbled a bit, revealing another snake-person skeleton and some rotting poisonous gas. However, this skeleton didn't come to life.

They returned to the catacombs, only to find that they were lost. Tired and confused, they wandered for a bit before they were found by Fritz, the school's keeper of the catacombs. He helped them find their way back out.

The sunlight pierced their eyes as they exited: they had been underground nearly all night. However, they hadn't come any closer to uncovering what was down there, or what had happened to their friend Jess. They resolved to return and enter the Tomb of the Serpent Kings once again... after they had gotten a good couple night's rest and visited the nurse's office.
Until we meet again...
Overall, I enjoyed this "tutorial" adventure. The atmosphere of tension and discovery was palatable. It's definitely something that doesn't usually make its way into my more epic fantasy games, and from a strict D&D perspective, I feel like this is more in line with how the game was meant to be played.

That said, I think there's room enough in RPGs for everything from generic dungeon crawls to Lord of the Rings-style world saving games. And honestly, I'd like to be able to tell both kinds of stories: those of dread and those of hope. I am really enjoying the opportunity to learn a style of play that I'm less familiar with!

Thanks for reading!

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