At the dawning of Saturday March 5th, in the year two-thousand and eleven, four brave adventurers sacrificed their lives on a desperate suicide mission designed to strike back and stop the dreaded horror plaguing the land: The Iron Lich.
This is their tale.
The following post has explicit and detailed spoilers on the adventure Revenge of the Iron Lich.
This post is long as hell.
(Side Note: Anyone attending PAX East this weekend and wants to play this adventure on Sunday morning, hit me up!)
(Side Note: Anyone attending PAX East this weekend and wants to play this adventure on Sunday morning, hit me up!)
We assembled a ragtag team of dungeoneers for this Delve, two teams of two who had never met before. There was supposed to have been a fifth (and sixth!) dungeoneer, but alas, they bailed out on us at the very last second. I only remember a couple of the character names, by the end of the game everyone was so agitated that we could only manage to shout out one syllable descriptors, as in “You, Dwarf, move there! Monk, help me out!”. So, for this post we’ll refer to them as Mage, Dwarf, Monk, and Charlie Sheen. See? You can have comedy in your fourthcore games. Everyone coming in knew that this was a killer dungeon, and knew the basic tenets of fourthcore, although none had experienced it firsthand.
I arrived first at Mage’s house at 9:30am and began setting up before anyone else got there. My alarm was set for 2:00pm. Previously, I had printed out all of the maps (with secrets, etc. blanked out) at full scale and had them cut out and stacked in a pile. The old black and white map style was very well received. I also have access to a large printer, so that even the big set-piece encounters (Room M, for example) were just one solid piece of paper. That turned out to big an enormous boon to the dungeoneers, as we were able to waste practically no time at all fiddling with Dungeon Tiles or drawing out the map on an erase mat. God help anyone who uses Dwarven Forge. Room A was laid out on the table with everyone’s figures on the stairs by the time the first dungeoneer arrived. I had everything related to the Deck of Mortals, including the handouts that I created, all ready and in my hands. All of the many, many other handouts were already cut neatly and organized into little piles.
When everyone arrived and settled down, it was already creeping past 10:15am. Their slack hurt them, although some of the players used that time constructively to cut out the power cards of their character sheets and have them ready and organized. I had all of the rumors and random junk cards laid out, face-down on the table. The rumors immediately struck a chord with everyone, and there was an instantaneous break out of comparing rumors and formulating strategies around them. They drew conflicting password rumors, which really got them riled up and produced uncertainty in them that would come up in play later. They also drew the rumor telling them that the golem’s ruby eye was important and that the steelsun amulet was the phylactery and could be destroyed in a lake of molten mithril (unreliable). Sheen was very excited about finding a lake of molten mithril. “That sounds epic!” Sheen is quite excitable, in general.
The session began with a quick reading of the Introduction.
Room A - Hypostyle
The game started out with everyone extremely cautious. No one touched the pillars (wisely) and the dungeoneers were convinced that a laser would shoot them or a steamroller would crush them or something if they entered the area in the center of the room that is two squares wide, in line with the throne. Skirting the edges of the room, they approached the helmeted skull and debated for awhile as to what to do with the thing. Mage Hand was bantered about quite a bit. I guess they were worried it’s touch would rot your soul or something, which, in hindsight, is probably an appropriate effect. Sheen got impatient, and crushed the skull, allowing Dwarf to pick up the gems (word of the day: gemerald), careful to use a spare bit of cloth so that they didn’t touch his tender, stubby hands. They then skirted back around to the throne. I was describing the environments as you would expect, and at this point the players were getting a little freaked out and worried by the décor. For the rest of the day, they kept watching and waiting for a giant, rusting steel vise to crush them. Monk led the way to the throne, but once they saw the cards they immediately connected it with a Deck of Many Things and ran up to start grabbing. Mage did, however, get some arcana in there to determine that they could only pull one card each.
Mage pulled The Jailer, and lamented that the Controller is now always going last, when the enemies should no longer be clumped up. Monk pulled The Charioteer, although with his already high Speed and Initiative it proved not as useful as other Red Cards. Sheen pulled the Magician, but was surprisingly conservative about his Action Point expenditures. And lastly, Dwarf pulled The Oracle, which he used later to determine what was the iron lich’s phylactery. With such a great turn of luck, right off the bat, the group proceeded with a very upbeat attitude and cheery demeanor.
This feeling would not last long.
Room B – Cobblestone Path
Monk had tweaked his skills out to be the consummate “trap guy”, with exceptional modifiers to both Perception and Thievery. With the initial tip of the hand being placed in front of the adventurers that there were pit traps in the hall, they easily scurried out where the remaining four hidden pits were located. The pits were easily avoided, with Sheen and Dwarf auto-succeeding on jump checks to get across, and then tying a rope bridge up so that Monk and Mage could Acrobatics their way through.
Now at the edge of the hallway, Monk was confronted by the door’s spectral guardian and was asked the password to proceed. He knew it, but was unsure due to the unreliable rumor contradicting the right answer, and so flubbed on the time and got the whole party seared pretty badly. As the time clicked close to the next burst of searing, he blurted out the answer, under a lot of yelling and shouting from the other dungeoneers telling him to just do it. It was intense, like cutting the right wire to disable a bomb.
Note: Heresiarch is a difficult word to pronounce.
Room G – Iron Gallery
They found the one secret at the bottom of the first pit, went to Room G, and got frustrated with the puzzle and left. Later, they came back here looking for the quartz's to put in Room K's statue's mouth for the secret door. Of course, at this point everyone refused to sit in their seats and they were all shouting, worried about the time limit.
Room D – Hall of the Iron Golem
This encounter started tentatively as well, but the party was doing well (in their eyes) and so had a bit more confidence. Not content to simply walk around the steel cube in the center of the room and see what was behind it, Sheen jumped up on top of the thing, seeing the ruby-eyed door and starting the encounter. After a round of fumbling about, they figured out that the golem was vulnerable to forced movement and Dwarf (with a +5 vs. poisons, making him able to withstand the death poison) repeatedly Tide of Iron'ed the golem back out of the room and into the closest pit. They didn’t realize how deep the pit was, having avoided the hidden pits, and were astounded at the bone-crunching 90 ft. drop. That didn’t kill the iron golem per se, it put the thing out of the fight long enough that it was a moot point. While all that was happening, Sheen and Monk went after the Dark Bishops directly, while Mage lent supporting fire to whoever needed it and used the room’s pillars for very effective cover. Monk was very fast and had bonuses to saving throws against restrained, and so the Dark Bishops were killed very quickly. It was an incredibly thrilling, decisive and quick fight, something I’ve never seen happen at this high of level. Mage had extra Move actions that weren’t needed, so he messed around with the unstable ritual circle, losing training in Streetwise. He saw the teleport pads, but the fight was basically over by the time he understood what they did.
Dwarf was really an amazing bulwark against the golem. He did let a few attacks slip away from him (Mage got ghoul vomit’ed hard, which put his Fortitude in the crapper the whole rest of the game), but for the most part was able to absorb everything the iron golem could dish out and keep the bursts/blasts focused on just him.
Remembering the rumor the party had received regarding the golem’s ruby eye, they promptly yanked it out of the faceplate and pocketed it. There was some discussion involving putting the ruby in the skull right away, but they never did and kind of forgot about it.
The party explored to their left (a common path, and mentioned here, finding the altar and mind-erasing book. Mage knew the book was magic, so he touched it and lost training in Streetwise. Annoying, but not too bad, really. Dwarf was disappointed: he had expected it to be an infernal guestbook to sign in, and was hoping to find out who had been here before.
Room H – Dismal Ascent
Next up, the group passed. They saw all the complications of the room, saw the horde of undead floating up, and promptly left. Monk goes first in initiative, always, so that was a huge advantage here.
Room E – The Crypts of Iron
The dungeoneers found and opened up the 'special' sarcophagi quickly. They opened up a few more just in case, and carefull put back any disturbed skeletal remains. They were genuinely worried that bad things (curses?) might befall their characters if they did not. Mage got the broken holy symbol as his random item and he chucked it into the crimson portal (copper sarcophagus) to Room J to see what would happen. Some of this was outside the script a little, but I allowed the item to go through (the description mentions only what happens to creatures), and then I later allowed his arm to go through, grab the item, and come back with it when they realized they needed it for the Handmaiden’s spirit. Anyway, then they messed with the Lich transformation sarcophagus, throwing all sorts of shit in there, but never themselves. I had my hand ready on that lich card, let me tell you! They then took the tunnel (from the mithril sarcophagus) to see the cave.
Room F – Cave of the Obelisk
Having great Athletics and Acrobatics for 3/4 of the group, they got across the chasm with no trouble whatsoever and left Mage on the safe side to ranged attack away. With the giant’s having no easy means of forced movement, the pit was absolutely no threat at all, and could have been omitted from the adventure without any impact. (Sorry Sersa, that’s just how it played out.) The group immediately attacked the giants. They were getting rambunctious. Although incredibly successful, and utilizing the forced movement + spiky stalagmites combination, Monk was killed by the giants’ devastating soulgem-enhanced attacks. Those soulgems are great! To the Dungeon Masters out there; don’t be afraid to pop them quick. The giants, with their low defenses, die really fast and might not have a chance to put the hurt on otherwise. The symbol of haste worked really well, although the players had a hard time getting that it was the symbol helping the giants out, or that they could redirect the haste power. I blame the players and lack of arcana checks for that. Another 16th Level combat encounter that was fun, decisive, and fast. How often do you really have those?
With Monk dead, the party regrouped and broke open the obelisk door. Inside, they found the loot and discovered the Handmaiden and her box. A real “doh!” moment, as the dungeoneers remembered the Handmaiden’s symbol that they had checked into a portal going to an unknown destination. They ran back and got it, breathing a sigh of relief and using their wish to resurrect Monk back to life, albeit with the appropriate death penalty.
Mage: “but the card said it was useless!”
Room J – The Trial of Chests
Jumping feet first through the portal, the players were now in full panic mode. Time was ticking down, we had less than an hour here, and everyone started scrambling. At this point, it was a rarity that a player was calm enough to sit down and relax, everyone nervously standing around the table, their hands shaking a little as they placed their minis. The group scanned the room and cracked open the plaster. They quickly saw the cipher as 26 letters and surmised that it must be correlated to the alphabet, but probably not for use in the room. The puzzle/poem that was in the room, however, utterly stumped them. It took awhile just for them to figure out what “sooth” meant.
Sheen: “Like a sooth sayer?”
They understood that only one treasure chest was the “right” pick, and cast hand of fate to figure which one between the silver and the bronze. With those astral diamonds in there, clearly the silver chest has more treasure, and hence the ritual led them to victory. They wisely abandoned the rest.
Room K – The Spectral Stairs
They figured out that gems went into the statue quick and were stoked at finding a secret passage. It’s like they were being rewarded for doing a good job, or like they finally felt like they might beat this adventure. The back to back to back (more coming) treasure finds for them was a real turning point, emotionally.
Room L – Silver Maw of Battle
Left to Right: Sheen, Monk, Mage (in the back), Dwarf
The players loved this room. Monk spotted all the silver swords easily, and they were now well entrained in the puzzle-thinking mode. With a good history check from Mage they got the two lines in order, and then figured out the poem (after a lot of thought)
They guessed a little, lucked out, put the swords in the right order, and sharpened up Sheen’s axe in the demon mouth. Despite having not many surges, Monk got the eye, with no hesitation about putting it in. The oculus’ bonus to Perception was deemed too good a combination with Monk’s already astounding Perception modifier.
They were so down and scared, so worried and consigned to their fate. The treasure really perked them up. The scroll of imprisonment they didn't understand how it would be useful, figuring that a helpless enemy is probably dead already. Once they’re dead, it’s over right? The scroll of whispers of the edifice was probably the second most prized haul. They used it to help gain some clues about what the statues were in Room I, leading of course to the top prized occulus.
Mage "critted" on his arcana check. I've never seen someone shout for joy at a 20 on an arcana check before then. The icon of sin was really cool and well-received, too. It went something like this:
DM: And you find amidst the piles of coinage ... (high pitched whispery creepy voice) the icon of sin.
Mage: Ross, do that voice again!
Sheen: What the fuck does the icon of sin do?
DM: The relic's power is unknown.
Sheen: Fuck! Damn it!
Something I noticed in particular in this room was the amount of teamwork being displayed. The oculus went to the character that would benefit the party the most by having it. The same goes for all the other treasures they found, and without any arguments or hesitation. Egos were thrown aside, dungeoneers banding together in s desperate struggle.
They hit the treasure from Room J, the silver chest, and the occulus treasure hoard in pretty fast succession, at least in real-time. So for the players, it was just this avalanche of wealth. I think they finally felt like "yes, we're doing well, we're getting where we need to be, and with these awesome items, we actually have a shot at winning! Winning!!!" After every treasure, there were at least a couple of "oh shit! that's awesome!" from the crowd. And especially once they got the occulus, Monk said "wow, I think we can actually win this!"
It was raising their hopes before crushing them, because that statement, of course, came about 5 minutes before "slay living 1d4 dungeoneers" happened in Room I. Their hope made rolling that d4 all the more sweet.
Room I – The Steelsun Vault
I screwed this up a little, and probably doomed the dungeoneer’s chances of victory. My bad! The group shouldn't have been able to go in the doors this way (from Room K), but I blanked on that detail and they got into the Skill Challenge with Igor the Meditating Skeleton. They flubbed the challenge badly, and kept trying to intimidate the skeleton. 1d4 killed dungeoneers later, Mage is left alone in Room K where he ascends to the finale, sans occulus.
Room M – Crypt of the Iron Lich
Time is almost out, there are maybe two minutes left on the clock. Mage runs in, frantic, gets pummeled by vorpal mouth blades etc. down to single digit Hit Points, and smashes open a soulsphere … and timer buzzed.
It was awesome. That whole thing was so intense, I left there with big sweat stains on my shirt. Thank god Mage's coffee machine was kaput. I think if I drank a little caffeine I might have had a heart attack. Everyone will remember that adventure for a long time to come. All four players are now hooked.
They’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more fourthcore!
Here is a thread from a forum I used to grab a hold of Monk and Dwarf (although I had played D&D with these guys before), in case you want to see some additional banter.
Many thanks to everyone who put this gemerald of a game together. Sersa & Crew at saveversusdeath.com, Jerry at dreadgazebo.com, and Taylor at deckofmanythings.net, and anynoe else I missed in my haste.
Depth Room I: +310 pts
Treasure Bonus Room F: +50 pts
Treasure Bonus Room J: +100 pts
Treasure Bonus Occulus: +50 pts
Quest Bonus: none
Time Bonus: none
Penalties: Lost 3 dungeoneers -150 pts
Total: 360 points