The last time we had a session (back in June), the party had gotten distracted from its pursuit of the slaad and his frogmen cavalry and lost two characters as a result. They did, however, survive a couple of combats within the bowels of the Black Tower they had no business getting into in the first place.
It is here that I have to admit something about the Black Tower. I have never mapped nor keyed this dungeon. Given the proclivities of my group, the Black Tower was never much of a priority until my players suddenly made it so (“Oh, crap — they are actually going to go in!?”).
I armed myself with three things:
- A purpose for the tower itself — therein is the ability to transform oneself into a lich.
- A really cool map.
- An inspiring collection of monsters (The Tomb of Horrors Complete [THC]).
One of the things that I adore about the THC is that there are a whole slew of “themed” monsters — blood, sand, cold, clockwork, fire, etc. I was thus able to immediately determine that each “level” of the dungeon had a theme — each related to the concept of death and necromancy. I settled on sand, blood, cold and water.
Since the map itself suggested that there were four keys scattered about in order to open up the sphere at the center of the dungeon, I figured that these keys were necessary to get to the same location — where one could choose to become a lich. The instructions would be on the sand level inside the pyramid. Thus, the slaad was looking to take advantage of the location and secure himself some serious undead power before moving on to conquering bigger and better things.
What was left was riffing off the themes in order to make memorable-looking rooms that the players could interact with. I used a combination of fiat and die roll to determine where monsters and treasure were (sometimes the geography suggested an antechamber with a guardian in front of a treasure horde). When it was time to have a monster show up, I simply leafed through the pages to find whatever themed monster suited my fancy at the time and ran with it.
All-in-all it was a tremendous amount of fun for all. I got to be pleasantly surprised by the dungeon — I had no idea going in what was there until my players got there. My players got to experience a combination of a cool map, cool monsters and the creativity they inspired in me. I heard on more than one occasion “That’s so cool!” and “I’m stealing that for one of my dungeons!” (which I heartily endorse).
- The blood level was coated in a layer of blood except for one particular area which appeared clean and dry. At the center of this area was a ginormous blood suckle bush (tree, really) to which I gave max hit points and double the number of attacks. My players don’t know this, but they really dodged a bullet here. My die rolls were really bad.
- In the cold level was a room half encased by ice. Inside the ice was a warrior guarding a treasure chest. I really enjoyed this for two reasons. First, it was really inspiring to my players. They got really creative about how to get to the treasure. Secondly, a die roll entirely transformed the room. The players cast Detect Magic, so I had to roll to see if the treasure horde had any. It did. The resultant two items changed the warrior from a passive guardian to an active one that (due to surprise) put some serious hurt on the party. The other item is a bane weapon.
- The first key that the party found was encased in a column of ice. What they didn’t realize was that the interior was hollow and full of flammable gas.
- One of the guys in our group has really earned himself a reputation for having his characters die on him (he is on character number eight in our AD&D campaign). Some of this can be chalked up to the fact that he is a newbie. Increasingly, however, the dice just seem to hate him. He lost two characters this session. Both times, he died because of residual damage (other players set off an area effect trap/spell) that on average should have been survivable. Both times, however, he failed a saving throw and my damage dice were just absolutely nasty. Fortunately, he has developed a really good sense of humor about the whole thing. He doesn’t even name his characters until they actually survive an entire session.
- The players found the slaad and the resulting combat was a lot of fun. The reaction I got from my players was truly precious when my first two actions were to use Power Word Stun and Gate in another slaad. But, as happens, the dice favored the bold and (while seriously hurt) the party managed to fell the two beasts without any casualties.
- The gate that now stands open over the Black Tower is incrementally getting bigger.
- There are still heinous things crawling around inside the Black Tower itself.
- The only means that the party has to control the gate is on the petrified figure of Ahkmed.
- Dn. Goram has urgent need of the party in the Elflands.