2nd Steading: Revisiting Revenge of the Iron Lich
Whenever a muggle asks me about role playing I always stress that the people you play with make all the difference. Using the same rules and playing the same adventure can produce very different results when you bring in different players. The moral I mean to share, such as it is, is that if you tried role playing once and didn’t like it, you may want to try again with new people.
But that lesson was driven home in full effect this past Friday when I ran Revenge of the Iron Lich for my regular group. That’s not to say that I want to play with different people! It’s just that play proceeded at a much more sober pace than the game I ran for strangers at Albany Game Day. My party went in an entirely different direction than expected and handled challenges that are not to be seen in our regular play with the ease of pros. I’ve game with these people for a while and they defied by expectations which were based on playing/running Revenge of the Iron Lich with strangers twice before.
My friends never found the Iron Lich, but they did explore a good deal of the tomb and delved deeply into it’s secrets.
I left for Simon’s straight from work and arrived just before 6 PM. All of the others were seated and ready to play:
- Simon as Mel B, the 1/2 Orc Fighter
- Eric as Pyke, the Human Wizard
- Tony as a Halfling Warlord (forgot the name :/ )
- Jody as Xune, the Drow Rogue (multi-class Assassin)
- Jack as Vandergraff, the Dwarf Fighter
Jack, Simon, and (I think) Eric have been playing since first edition. I’ve been playing since second edition. Both Tony and Jody have been playing since at least third edition, maybe longer? Except for Tony, who joined us over a year ago, we’ve been playing D&D together for more than 6 years.
I ran through the introduction again and answered a few questions regarding the rules. Simon is our usual 4E DM but he has introduced a number of house rules that I would not be using for the evening. We wanted to be sure that we understood the RAW correctly before moving on.
Room A: The Hypostyle
Straight outta the gate, the party was playing it overly cautious. Xune was willing to skip everything in the room to move on and Pike refused to move in any further than the entrance until everyone else finished their investigations. A few of the players wanted to investigate the skeleton seated upon the throne. When they approached, it drew the Deck of Mortals (from the Fourthcore Armory) and offer to let each player draw a card.
- Xune draws the Magician and gains 2 action points, training in 2 skills and may spend more than 1 action point in an encounter.
- Mel B draws the Hangman and is cursed! If he fails any death saving throw, he will die immediately.
- Undeterred, Pike draws the Knight and gains +4 to all defenses. In addition, he could now declare total defense as a move action.
- Encouraged, Tony steps up and draws the Summoner. A level 27 Balor appears in the center of the room and attacks the party for 3 rounds before disappearing!
- Reluctantly, Vandergraff snatches a card from the skeleton looking for a little help against the Balor. He draws Curate to increase his current and maximum hit points by 30.
The balor far out-classes the characters but they receive a little help from my laziness. I don’t own Monster Vault and so I ran the balor out of Monster Manual 1 as is. The monster’s sword attack does much less damage than it should. However, rather than slowing the game to look for errata, I used the balor’s dual attacks each turn. The sword hit whomever did the most damage in the previous round and the whip kept people within the fiery aura. By the end of the three rounds, the players were mussed up some, but they had reduced the balor from 634 to 322 hit points—just shy of bloodying it!
Shaken, the players collect the reproduction of the Iron Lich’s skull from the shadow pedestal and proceed on to the next room.
Room B: The Cobblestone Path
The rogue, Xune, immediately finds the only pit that he will detect in this senses in this room–the open pit that lay by the entrance. The party investigates the shallow trap and discover the secret passage leading west. Before taking the passage, Pike reads the Abyssal runes and makes note of the prayer to the Heresiarch.
Room C: The Fane of Sight
The players correctly deduce the puzzle on the first try and open the treasure vault. Among the items recovered are a mithril icon of the Iron Lich’s skull.
Rooom G: The Iron Gallery
Still very wary, the players investigate the gallery fully before Mel B disturbs the tiles in the wide basin to see what letters are available. This triggers the trap that locks the party inside and the sound so moving sand begins from behind the wall. I was certain that this particular puzzle was unfairly difficult but it was solved in under 5 minutes like the seasoned pros they are. They did not get the extra, super-secret solution but they did well enough to avoid the consequences of the trap and to escape the room. Tempted as they were, no-one dared the red portal.
With no other avenue for exploration, the party returns through the secret passage.
Room B: The Cobblestone Path
Xune proceeds to fall into every pit in the room after failing to detect each of them. After the second, painful fall, that party ties a rope around his waist to avoid further injury (although embarrassment is another matter). Xune discovers the broken gem key in the bottom of a pit.
Upon approaching the exit, Pike is cowed by the apparition that warns them from entering. Pike utters the password, previously deduced by skill checks and rumors. The door unlocks.
Room D: Hall of the Iron Golem
Inching through the room, Mel B finally triggers the encounter that releases the golem. The golem loses initiative and is bloodied, prone, and blind by the time it’s turn comes round. It stands, uses it’s whirlwind to attack everyone and expel a cloud of deadly gas, then burns an action point to vomit and misses. (damn!)
The golem is very quickly dispatched. The dark bishops in the corners take longer because of their position, but Mel B brings down one balcony and then, in full comprehension of the consequences, doggedly takes down another.
The unstable ritual circle dissipates, unused. The party opens the panel and pulls the lever. Hearing the secret mechanisms at work in the the east, they elect to exit through the western door instead.
In the adjoining passage. Pike investigates the ritual book on the altar. I allows an arcana check to identify the binding as made from a medusa’s skin. This is a direct reference to the introduction to the game but he doesn’t take the bait (he doesn’t know that the trap was disabled by their earlier actions). Instead the party enters the next room.
Room H: Dismal Decent
The party wastes a lot of time in this room.
This room is a large open pit with a staircase that spirals down along the edge to another set of double doors below. Spikes just up form the depths in the center of the room. Charred remains piled upon the spike writhe in torment. and a large stature of a woman carved into the wall appears to blow a kiss toward the corpses.
Rather than split the party, I wait until everyone has entered before triggering the trap. The entrance locks up and the Wraith Captain appears to deliver his challenge, “You will bow to the Iron Lich, alive or dead!” The immediate response was “OK, take us to him! We want to join up.”
Now, by the time our Friday games begin, I’m usually exhausted from the week. This evening was no exception and I was momentarily stunned by the attempt to RP, even though it came from Simon whom I know to enjoy doing more than the hack & slash antics from the rest of the players. To my shame, rather than play it out I replied, “Then joins us in undeath!” and attacked anyway.
The Wraith went down quickly but his Greater Sword of Draining inflicted horrible wounds upon the party. Smite Living upon Vandergraff was particularly devastating and evil. The ghostly minions were little more than minor obstacles that slowed the party’s movement as they spread out over the stairs. Tony reach the bottom first and shouted out which pyramid keys that he needed to open the doors at the bottom.
Now it should be said that when the encounter began, two traps were sprung. Each round, random sections of the wall pushed out over the stairs, spelling near certain doom for anyone in their path. Secondly, the kissing statue starts blowing flame upon the spikes and the top of the stair.
Using readied actions, the players start gathering pyramid keys from the hollowed sections of wall as they push out over the stair. Vaandergraff manages two of those needed for the puzzle before being pushed off into the Abyss. Without the keys, the party is locked within the room forever.
Faced with certain death, Pike produces a Raven of Timeless Omen (Fourthcore Armory) and sends a message to himself back in time. Forewarned, Vandergraff now chooses to stand elsewhere and avoids his doom!
The puzzle is completed but the party has lost so much time as to become reckless for the rest of the game. As the puzzled is solved, the doors at the bottom are proved to be false but the entrance unseals and the mouth of the statue opens to reveal a portal. They party takes the portal and are transported away.
Room K: The Spectral Stair
Mel B nearly falls through the stair. They move quickly to the east looking for clues.
Room I: The Steelsun Vault
The party collects the Steelsun Amulet. Acting upon a rumor, they backtrack to to the spectral stair and throw the amulet into the depths below where they believe to be a lake of boiling mithril. When I don’t announce that the Lich’s phylactery has been destroyed, they move back through the vault and beyond into Room E: The Crypts of Iron. Here, the four hour time limit expires and so do our adventurers.
My group did not score well but I think that they played well. Everyone gave the adventure good marks at the end and I think that they are willing to try again soon. I was particularly proud of how quickly they handed the puzzles!
But the crowning achievement of the evening was that they found Room X, the super-secret handout that is not included the adventure but may still be available direct from Sersa V if you ask him nicely. Although this report is full of spoilers, I am sworn not to reveal the location or contents of the room. However, I think that it is safe to say that my group was the first to discover it and in doing so have earned a bonus for SN02: Fane of the Heresiarch (due later this summer at www.saveversusdeath.com).
Especially since I was tired at the start, I’m pretty happy with my performance. I didn’t make any major errors (that I’m aware of). As a DM though, I find myself withing that the Iron Golem Souldriver could take some more punishment. This is twice now that a party has taken it apart before it got to show it’s stuff due to a bad initiative roll.
There also something that feels like a flow issue with moving from the west wing to the right. The whole west wing feels like a big fake-out. I haven’t to experience to say whether that is a classic trope of old dungeons but now that I have seen it in action, the risks don’t seem equal to the rewards. If my players go back for a second shot, I don’t seeing them touring the west wing again because they think that there’s something essential there. Maybe the simplest thing is to move one of the more useful items into the west wing but I wouldn’t do that to a group that already knows what to expect. Maybe for the next group?
Regardless, Eric and Jody are game for a second try and I think that the others will agree to it. I don’t think that we will go back again too soon though because it’s time for Simon to take the reigns again!