Revenge of the Iron Lich – AGD report

Great Ceasar’s Ghost! We just played the Hell out of Revenge of the Iron Lich.

It’s a rare day that I get to DM and I picked a very difficult 4E module to run. Revenge of the Iron Lich is a single-session D&D delve with a hard 4-hour time limit. The players don’t get an extended rest, so they aren’t able to recharge their most powerful abilities. Many of the delve’s challenges can only be solved by the player’s cleverness and not through die rolls.

I was up at 6 AM this morning to get necessary chores out of the way and ran up to Zombie Planet for Albany Game Day. I arrived about 9:15 and walked through the store for a few minutes before heading upstairs to set up. There were a number of obstacles to prep this week and I didn’t have time to create tokens for the delve’s denizens. Just before I ran out of the house, I printed up some 1-inch graph paper to draw my own tokens on-site.

Hand-drawn counters

Can you tell where I ran out of inspiration for drawing?

We didn’t have all of our players right away and it wasn’t until 10:30 before the game was under way. Three of the players had been in touch with me in advance—Everyone had brought their own character! Three of the players are experienced DMs in their own right. I had my game-face on by then but if I hadn’t, I would have been floating for all the butterflies in my stomach.

From here on will be spoilers!

Game On

I refreshed everyone on the restrictions of the dungeon. I asked one last time if anyone had questions and then I started the timer. Our players brought a Cleric, Shaman, Assassin, Barbarian, Sword-Mage, and a Ranger.

Room A: The pillars drew some eyes but no-one touched them in their examinations. The skull on the pedestal was determined to be a cheap reproduction of the Iron Lich’s head but they took it anyway. Everyone drew a card when offered by the skeleton on the throne.

Cards drawn: Leper, Hangman, Curate, Dancer, Witch, and Jester.

Room B: They found the first two pit traps, triggered the third (miss) and the fourth. The shaman made a saving throw and grabbed the rope that the party had previously secured to assist in traversing the other pits. She slid 10 feet in before slamming into the wall. He familiar winked out before it hit bottom and was quickly restored.

The assassin took several ‘stabs’ at the password at the door and struck out after three tries and a lot of fire damage. The trap was ultimately disabled and the lock picked.

Room D: The players enter cautiously and explore their end of the room. They were about to discover what lurked in the corner when the cube in the center sinks into the ground to reveal the Iron Golem. The golem lands next to last in initiative and is bloodied by the time his turn comes around.

Dark Bishops begin their barrage of ranged attacks from the corner balconies, striking several PCs from behind. Already distressed, the golem laid down a fog of potent poisonous gases, vomited up vile ghoul-stench on the shaman, and then disappeared from view. Despite this amazing display, it had used every trick in it’s book by the end of the third round where it stumbled about with 11 hit points left. (The barbarian, who had drawn a Witch from the Deck of Mortals, spent a lot of time as a hamster in here.)

While his friends mopped up the dark bishops (and played with teleporting disks), the sword-mage finished off the golem, opened the secret panel, and pulled a lever. Rumbling is heard in the distance which sets the party in motion to investigate.

Room E: The party found a swirling crimson portal and a secret passage. They tried the passage first (leading to room F) but they didn’t like the look of the cavern that they found. Instead they decide to go back and give the portal a try.

The sword-mage, who was ever on the forefront of doing questionable things, tied a rope around his waist and went through. The party was to follow after a fixed time if he did not return.

The sword-mage entered room J and promptly gravitated towards the riddle. He guessed wrong and suffered the consequences before his friends showed up. The party struggled to discover the secret to the riddle first, because they seemed more concerned as to which treasure chest was real rather than how their defender turned to gold. The barbarian guessed wrong and was also afflicted by the Midas curse. Two adventurers down before they finally get it right.

This room contained cast wealth and magical items. The survivors were very pleased with the haul and counted their losses worth it, especially with the additional inheritance that their fellows left behind! 😉

Room K: The players find no way across the spectral bridge. They spend some time examining the large face carved into the wall and eventually determine that it is the face of the Iron Lich’s wife when he still lived. then they realize that the gems that they need to put in her eye’s are in the sword-mage’s back of holding, which turned to gold.

The players return to their gilded comrade and decide to try cutting their way into the golden bag of holding using the assassin’s magic sword. He easily shaves of layers of gold but the party flubs an Arcana check. The botched operation causes a temporary tear in the fabric of reality that consumes the magic sword.

Dissuaded from further tampering, they load the the golden guys onto Tenser’s floating disk (cast by the cleric), cross Room K, and enter Room I

Room I: The players retrieve the Steelsun Amulet with no trouble. However, acting on a tip, they toss the amulet into the depths of the chasm in room K, presuming it to be the Iron Lich’s phylactery. The boiling mithril lake below made short work of the amulet, but the players were still stumped on how to move ahead.

Backtracking through Room I, they re-enter Room E.

Room E, revisited: The party was on their way to Room F but decide to investigate the coffin with the glowing necromantic runes again. As they were down two players, they decided to put the statue of the sword-mage into the coffin.

Now, I must confess that I performed a kindness here. I had my own experience, as a player, in this same coffin and it may have influenced my decision. The sword-mage was supposed to be “permanently and irreversibly turned to gold” but as the trap didn’t say that he was dead (because that would be less evil than enduring as a living, immobile statue), I allowed that the coffin turned him into a lich.

The process did not work when they put the barbarian in afterward though, as the magic had been expended.

Restored, the sword-mage’s damaged bag of holding opened to disgorge its contents onto the floor (including the assassin’s lost sword). The party raced back to room K and inserted the gems into the woman’s face, revealing a secret passage.

At this point, the party has an hour and a half left on the clock.

Room L: The players discovered the puzzle inscribed on four swords. They also discerned that the slot into the forge is for a bladed weapon. They were unable to solve the cipher and decided to use the scroll of Whispers of the Edifice to ask four questions about what happened within that room in the past:

They learned…

  • What happened to the last weapon that the Iron Lich inserted into the forge.
  • That the swords must be inserted in the proper order in order to activate the forge (but not where to insert them).
  • That the Iron Lich left the room after he enhanced his weapon but not where he went.
  • The proper order for inserting the swords, but not where to use them or the meaning of their inscriptions.

The sword mage took the assassin’s magic sword and inserted it into the forge before taking action based on their new intelligence. The magic sword disintegrated and the swordmage-turned-lich died instantly, counting as the second loss of both the sword and mage.

The assassin discovers that a statue in the room can be moved. He reveals the slots where the inscribed swords must be inserted. They properly activate the forge, enhance one of the stock swords from the wall with vorpal runes, and retrieve the Arcane Occulus of Clarity! The shaman identifies the Occulus as an artifact of great power and asks for help installing it in her left eye socket.

Although they have achieved much, the players still had no means of crossing the spectral stairs in room K and they knew that time was running out. The cleric then reasoned that since the floating disk was a force effect, it should be able to glide over the spectral stairs as if they were solid. I agreed and the party crossed to the Iron Lich’s tomb.

Room M: Wherein I screwed up big time. I’ll get to that in the moment.

I should mention that throughout the entire game, the players were absolutely awesome. They were experienced, engaging, held great banter, and exhibited a euphoric good humor throughout the entire game. There was never a point at which I felt that we weren’t absolutely thrilled to be playing together. I’ve only met these people briefly a year ago, and yet we rolled right along at breakneck pace like seasoned pros.

Entering the final scene, our emotions and our brains were on fire. We were reeling along at such a pace as I’ve never run a game before. With the clock winding down, we knew that this was a race to the finish.

I laid out the Iron Lich’s tomb and described the scene. The shaman made a bee-line for the sarcophagus. She looked inside and saw the preserved corpse of the Iron Lich’s wife. On the second round, she used the power of the Occulus to destroy the corpse—the Iron Lich’s phylactery.

My mistake is two-fold. first, the phylactery is only supposed to appear to the bearer of the Occulus *after the Necrolith was defeated*. Second, having allowed the phylactery to be destroyed, the game should have ended immediately in victory (3 hours and 20 minutes).

(Actually, I made three mistakes here. I started the Congregation of Lich Necromancers on the table instead of waiting until round two, but I’m not the first to make that mistake. I saw it done at PAX too.)

I did not realize these mistakes until I got home. Some of it has come out in conversation with @saveversusdeath and some of it during this writing—as I dissect the game in my mind with the adventure before me.

Despite these errors, the climactic battle played out until the clock ran down. The congregation was bloodied and very nearly destroyed. The Iron Lich’s Necrolith was locked down in its wing by spectral guardians that blocked it’s path. The assassin and the shaman’s companion kept it occupied as it sought to impale them on it’s spiked armor. Half of the remaining players were bloodied by the time the clock ran out.

Wrapup

Despite their apparent failure, everyone had a wonderful time and I walked out of Zombie Planet feeling like a goddamn rock star. As I mentioned, several of the players were DMs and all resolved to run the game for their peers. They had never heard of Revenge of the Iron Lich before signing up to play. They are now converts to Fourthcore and I hope to guest at their tables in the near future.

I feel that, although I ultimately failed when it counted the most, I have performed the best that I ever have in my role as DM. The players were incredibly impressed and after five hours on my feet (we had to stop the clock twice) we were all walking tall as we scrambled to be on our separate ways. That result counts more than the details I had forgotten.

I wasn’t able to stay longer. I had to pack up because my wife and I were—no lie—heading out to pick up an adult bearded dragon that we had purchased. We’ve never owned a lizard before and, after much research and debate, we settled on this one. We picked up her up from a high school graduate who is moving away for college. One could almost believe it to be divine providence that we brought home a dragon on the day that I ran the best D&D game of my life (errors and all).

Many, many thanks to @saveversusdeath and @cstevenross for their support and encouragement. I interviewed them about Fourthcore for Just Press Start. The blog is down at the moment but you can still listen to the show by finding and downloading it on iTunes, just search for Just Press Start and look for the red button!

Additional thanks goes to @dreadgazeebo, who co-authored the delve, and to @scholar_99, who played the barbarian today and organized many of the players online.

Lastly, thanks to @guedo79 for organizing Albany Game Day!

Revenge of the Iron Lich is available for free at http://www.saverversusdeath.com. Look for the next in their series of Saturday Night Delves later this summer.

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~ by Hunter Rose on April 16, 2011.

7 Responses to “Revenge of the Iron Lich – AGD report”

  1. Amazing writeup! 🙂

    It makes me so happy to hear the game created exactly the kind of energy that we’d hoped it would. Both you and your players deserve all the accolades that come your way.

    Quick question – did the players also get the two quartzes from Room G? You need all four plus the two rubies to get into the secret occulus room.

    That aside, and even with the other errors, it’s all less important than the fact that you had a fucking blast, and that the players felt engaged and challenged. 😀

    You planning on running this again? I have something for you. I also have something for anyone in your group who’s running it…

    • Aack! No, they were never in room G.

      I do plan on running this again for some of the people from the group I play with. But if you are referring to the con special (with Room X), I already have it. You gave it to me long ago when I first announced that I would be running at Albany Game Day. I’ll pass the news along though.

  2. Whoa, sounds like you had an awesome time!!! I’m really jazzed to hear that it all went so well. Reading about other groups’ trials and tribulations, their victories and accomplishments, it makes me excited for the game like when I was young and first started playing. Huzzah!

    • I’ve participated in exciting encounters before, but here, the energy built up and was sustained over the course of the entire game. I wonder what the PAX game could have been like if we were all well rested and had no distractions? I really want to play it again, even though I would have to feign ignorance.

  3. Have to say I had an absolute blast playing this (I was the assassin Stere Oty’pe). Our poor Swordmage getting killed, brought back , and killed again. Mission accomplished, this was one of the best delves I’ve ever played, and I would be glad to do it again.

  4. Hey all, Swordmage here! I wanted to thank you again for running such a great game and introducing us all to the module. Despite two deaths (both from an amusing and against-character lack of properly thought-out actions), I had an absolute blast. You forgot to mention the final mistake that the party made in the last room — the swordmage who had a guaranteed 20 on his die, and could have used the vorpal blade to one-shot the lich if only his party had brought him back 🙂

    • I don’t really see that as a mistake as the rest of the party didn’t understand that you could have been brought back to use up that stored 20.

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