At this point, I began to use a slightly modified version of Mr. Raggi's module Death Frost Doom. For those of you who don't want any spoilers, I suggest you stop reading. For the rest of you, what follows assumes a certain level of knowledge of the module, but hopefully not so much that it can't be enjoyed by those who as of yet are unfamiliar with it.
Personally, I had a lot of fun with the NPC Zeke Duncaster. Since I had changed the timeline of the adventure (the death cult was something that happened in the distant past) I was sorely tempted to get rid of this encounter; however, I am glad I kept him in for several reasons.
I recast him as a Fool for Christ-type of hermit — someone who seems crazy, but is really someone who sees past convention and false fronts and is interested in exposing truth. A such, I had a lot of fun role playing him. I especially enjoyed the fact that he assumed the party were all dead since their goal was to find the death cult's lair. This, in retrospect, was essential for setting the tone of the adventure. While it was darkly funny, it also set the player's teeth on edge.
This paid immediate dividends when the party got to the field of tomb stones. When they noted that the wooden grave markers carved by Zeke were now stone their paranoia was immediately palpable — they quickly started scouring their equipment lists for mirrors (none were to be found).
The biggest change to the module I made was necessitated by geography. There is only one (small) mountain range in the region and that is already occupied by another of Mr. Raggi's dungeons (as well as the main Dwarven colony). There is, however, a huge cliff wall that might be better described as a giant mesa. I placed the entrance to the dungeon in a cave carved into the side of this cliff wall. This choice is important, because it had major consequences for the outcome of the adventure.
Once inside, the party didn't pay much attention to the cabin/now cave. Though they did take the mirror from the main room. After they found the trap door down, nothing much else seemed to matter. However, once they descended into the pit, they went into all-out exploration mode. They used the mirror to look around corners, they checked for traps and outlined a routine for going room to room.
This meticulousness paid huge dividends. The party managed to avoid (with a little luck) all of the death traps as well as most of the curses. Once they found the tombs where the cultists were interned, they spent a lot of time and resources trying to bless as many as they could with holy water and then burning the corpses. Thus, I was willing to rule a significant number of the warriors neutralized.
Once the party found the altar guarded by the plant creature, they hypothesized that once they removed any one of the items from the altar (one of which was the McGuffin that justified this whole adventure) all of the bodies that they found would rise as an undead army. Thus, they carefully went through the entire dungeon locking doors, vandalizing locks, placing obstacles, burning and defacing anything that might prove useful to said army and otherwise doing anything they could think of to expedite their escape/last stand.
The irony is, that had the party gone with their first instinct — use the two potions of Gaseous Form they had to bypass the plant — all of their preparation would have been for nought; however, they feared what might be guarding the altar and decided that they wanted to be able to bring the entire party to the potential fight. Therefore, all that preparation proved necessary as they hacked their way through the plant.
Since their goal was the McGuffin on the altar, Dn. Goram ran in, grabbed all the items (to make sure they actually got the real McGuffin) and then the party hightailed it out of the dungeon. Their caution gave them plenty of time to escape unscathed. They then used a scroll of protection from undead to allow them enough time to set a package of various explosive materials the party has collected over the course of the campaign (they have a particular love of setting things on fire and making them go boom). This package was hung halfway down the entrance pit under the trap door. Once detonated, it effectively buried the coming undead army under several tons of rock (given that I had placed the dungeon in a cave rather than under a cottage as the module does).
We ended the session as the party was exiting the cave to the sight of ghouls breaking through the frozen earth. At this point, I do have a thematic criticism of Mr. Raggi's module. I understand from a practical point of view why all of the bodies inside the dungeon become zombies (it makes the module survivable even for low-level parties as long as they bring a cleric along); however, it doesn't make sense thematically. Why would the cult elite (warriors and priests) only come back as zombies while their victims come back as ghouls? It doesn't make much sense.
Thus, I am left with three conundrums:
- How long will it take the undead army to dig its way out?
- When they do get out, what variety of undead should they be?
- How is the McGuffin going to help save the Winter King and therefore the elves?