Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Not-So-Empty Crypt of Baljessor (Swords & Wizardry)

Preface
This is another low-level Mini-Adventure ideal for use as a one-shot or the seed of something bigger. It is geared for 1-4 player characters from 1st to 3rd level, but you can certainly ramp it up for more powerful groups.

Introduction
The Crypt of Baljessor is a minor, often ignored and already heavily plundered old tomb that keeps cropping up on cheap treasure maps. No one has figured out how to remove the Throne of Baljessor, so far, and no one claims responsibility for erecting the mysterious barricade blocking-off one of the passages. All anyone really knows is that it has become something of a tradition to leave behind a small holy symbol or vial of blessed water or something similar on the barricade. Cynics grumble that this must be some sort of scam, that someone is going in there and harvesting these things for a quick and painless profit. But others aren't so sure...


Location
The Crypt of Baljessor could be anywhere an old, neglected grave-site might fit-in, as long as it is somewhat close to a mid-sized city or trade-town.


Background
What is actually known (or at least a matter of local record) regarding the Crypt is as follows:
  • The Crypt was built 720 years ago by mute slaves that were executed upon completing their work. Their bodies were rendered down to bones and they were all sealed within large ceramic urns, but were not then converted into reanimated skeletons.
  • The main entrance to the Crypt was sealed by a mass of super-heated stone that still radiates a faint magic. Anyone tampering with the seal risks getting burned. It is still hot.
  • Less than a dozen years ago a family of itinerant Tomb-Looters, seriously down on their luck and recently run out of town for a botched 'extraction' decided to test-out the crappy old map that their mad aunt Hilda won in a nude arm-wrestling contest (don't ask). The map turned out to be more or less accurate and after digging out a tunnel just over 120' into the earth, they were able to breach one of the walls of the main gallery. They spent the next two years systematically plundering the site, until they were ambushed on the way back and killed by a band of goblins.
  • We know these things from the journal kept by Simus, one of the more promising children who was being readied to enter into an apprenticeship with a local wizard, before the family uncovered the Crypt. No one knows what happened to Simus.


Rumors, Lies and Innuendos
For the cost of a few drinks, or just taking the time to listen in any of a dozen run-down ale-shops, grog-houses or inns, you might hear some of the following tid-bits of local lore and speculation. Some of this might be true, but no one can say how accurate any of it is until they've gone down into the place on their own:
  1. At least half of the drunkards in the surrounding area seems to believe that there's something evil locked away behind the barricade down in Baljessor's Crypt. Most of these are convinced that all those holy symbols are the only thing keeping it in there. Whatever 'it' might be.
  2. Quite a few others believe that someone is running a scam, collecting all the holy symbols and other trinkets and re-selling them to whomever might be going down into the Crypt, for whatever reason. So far no one has been actually been confirmed or proven to be doing this, but that just makes these folks more convinced than ever that someone too clever for anyone's good is up to mischief.
  3. A small group of pious individuals has started to make regular pilgrimages to the Crypt to add more holy symbols to the barricade as if it has become something of a shrine or altar to them.
  4. No temple or church has openly spoken on the subject of Baljessor's Crypt. Anyone buying holy symbols, etc. to take to the Crypt is doing so without any formal sanction or specific blessing at this time. But this might be subject to change as some of the smaller sects have noticed the way this fad of placing sacred things in the crypt has positively affected their cash flow.
  5. A lame veteran of a dozen border wars was found drained of all blood and hung upside down from the eaves of a local tavern after he made a big noise about his intent to tear down the Barricade and see what really was back there. No one was arrested in this crime. So far. Speculation as to who--or what--might have done this terrible thing is running rampant.
  6. There sure seem to be a lot more wolves in the area these days. It's getting so that hunters and trappers are having to go around in well-armed groups so as not to invite an attack.


Random Encounters in the Immediate Surroundings
  1. 1d6 Bandits: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. They are disguised as merchants. They are very curious about the player character's intentions, especially if they are headed to the Crypt.
  2. 1d6 Wolves: HD 2+2; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 Bite (1d4+1); Move 18; Save 16; AL N; CL/XP 2/30. The wolves will chase anyone, but they will not go down into the hole that is the entrance to the Crypt.
  3. 1d4 Pilgrims:  HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d4); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. Each one is carrying 1d4 holy symbols worth 1d20 gp each. There is a chance that one is actually a Cleric (1st or 2nd level) in disguise.
  4. 1d2 Weird Wolves:  HD 2+2; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 Bite (1d4+3); Move 18; Save 16; AL C; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Radiate magical Confusion in 12' radius.
  5. 2d6 Bandits: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d6); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. Fully half of these bandits are badly mauled and in need of immediate medical attention. The group is eager to bargain for assistance.
  6. 2d4 Hunters or Trappers: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. They all are carrying short bows in addition to their knives and other weapons. They are also getting really spooked and are highly likely to shoot at anything that moves before checking who it might be.


The Crypt of Baljessor

Entering The Crypt
Things You Might Notice:
  • The opening is your basic hole-in-the-ground, with a pair of old, broken doors dragged over on top of it. The doors come from a tavern; the owner has offered a reward for their return, but both times they were returned, the doors were re-appropriated by someone--or something--and returned to this site.
  • A set of creaky old boards and some frayed ropes have been set up to help people get in and out of the hole. This is a good thing as it is roughly 8' deep.

Area A: The Tunnel
The Tunnel runs just over 120' in a slightly zig-zag fashion. It has been expanded only in the most rudimentary manner, at the bare minimum of effort. It is quite haphazard and looks like it could collapse at any moment, but it is stable.

Things You Might Notice:
  • The ceiling is between 4' and 5' high and varies every ten feet, making it awkward for taller characters. this variation also makes torches a bit more of a hassle as it would be all too easy to accidentally set someone else on fire if people don't pay attention.
  • The floor of the tunnel is loose soil, only packed-down along the middle of the passage, and it would be really easy to trip or injure an ankle in this stuff.
  • The supports are all salvaged and stolen from wherever things could be taken, seemingly at random. It doesn't take much to notice clearly that these supports have been maintained for a long time now, by diverse hands.

Area B1: The Main Gallery
The ceiling is approximately 5' from the floor at its highest point. The floor is uneven and covered in hard, dried mud. Loose gravel, broken stones and tumbled columns litter the place. The air is stuffy and stagnant. Open torches will quickly start to sputter and fill the place with acrid smoke within a half an hour. There is very little ventilation. Anyone staying in this gallery over half an hour must Save or begin to suffocate, unless they make suitable arrangements.

Careful investigation of the ceiling will reveal a set of 1d4 holes, each roughly 1" to 2" in diameter. These holes look like recent things, freshly scratched around the edges. Alongside the rubble at either side of the original breach in the Crypt's wall are 1d6 iron-headed shafts of good quality oak, each one ends in an iron sleeve that screws onto the top of the next section. They are not spears, though they could be used as such. The shafts are there to let people poke the air-holes open to allow for some fresh air to get into the crypt. It takes at least four sections to really get each air-hole cleared, and assembling the shafts to do so takes 10 to 15 minutes per hole. Clearing the holes will prevent asphyxiation, at least for a while.

Area B2: Baljessor's Throne
Carved from a lump of meteoric iron, Baljessor's throne weighs close to two tons. It is one solid piece. It is also bonded to the dais it rests upon, which has stymied previous attempts to drag it free with cables and lots of muscle-power. It has remained in-place for over 700 years and it won't be moving anytime soon. A closer examination will reveal numerous small scratches and gouges in the metal made by looters trying to scrape off at least some bit of the thing to take back with them.

Sitting on the Throne will cause all metallic objects carried by that person to become highly magnetized for the next 1d4 hours. The magnetization is not restricted to just iron, it will also affect copper, bronze and all other metals.

Area B3: The Funeral Stairs
The stairs were built from heavy slabs of dark blue-gray stone that is not like anything in the local area. At the top of the stairs is a smoldering mass of stone on the very verge of melting. Intense heat radiates from this very hot stony mass. Contact with the mass will inflict 1d4 damage per touch. It radiates a clear and present, and very old magical aura.

Area C: The Barricade
Originally this was a four-way junction, but one of the passages has been boarded-up, blocked and barricaded by dozens of people, each adding their bit to the on-going process much like it was some sort of a shared sculpture. Hundreds of tokens, medallions, charms, small figurines, icons, idols, and other holy symbols are affixed, hung, glued, tied into, nailed to, and otherwise incorporated into and upon the Barricade. The whole thing radiates a powerful Protection From Evil that has developed organically from all of the offerings, votive candles, and other bits and pieces that have accumulated over the years.

There is a 20% Chance of a Pilgrim being present. (See Table Below).
Breaking through the Barricade would take close to an hour of heavy labor. But it could be done. However, doing so will run the risk of being interrupted by another group of Pilgrims (70%) or other Looters (30%). (See tables below).

Areas D1 & D2
Both of these areas are essentially the same. They are both ledges overlooking crescent-shaped pits strewn with broken pottery and other fragments, including shards of bone. Down in the pits are dozens of indeterminate shiny-bits. The pits are steeply sloped and extend downwards over 20'. Anyone going down into the pits to search for treasure must Save or make a DEX check (either works fine), every ten minutes they spend sifting through the debris. Failure means that they have either stepped upon or brushed up against a particularly sharp splinter of bone and taken 1d4 damage. Every half hour spent rooting around in this junk will produce a few loose coins or some minor treasure (roll on Loose Coins Table below).

Anyone taking time to really examine the bone fragments will notice that all the finger bones, toe bones and teeth are completely missing.

Area E: The Deep Ravine
This sub-chamber is located more than 60' below the rest of the Crypt. It is a reworked cavern. The ledge overlooks a very steep drop of 30' and there is a broken statue on either side of the entrance. One is reduced to a pair of clawed feet snapped off at the ankles, the other is broken-off at the hips. They are distinctly reptilian. The broken fragments of the statues are scattered down below amid literally tons of broken pottery, splintered bones, dirt and gravel.

What isn't immediately obvious is that the entire ceiling is studded with hundreds of finger and toe bones.

At the far end of the cavern is a set of three heavy urns. These are filled to overflowing with teeth.

Area F: The Sealed Chamber
This chamber is roughly trapezoidal in shape. There is a ledge all around the outer edge of the room, roughly 7' wide. The sunken area is almost a shaft, with incredibly slick stone walls that appear to have been blasted with enough heat to make them appear almost glassy.

At the bottom of the glass-walled shaft is a crude sarcophagus fashioned from a peculiar greenish-tinged bronze alloy and inlaid with raw gold and rough chunks of jade and other precious and semi-precious stones.

There are also five golden rods set at the corners of the shaft, surrounding the sarcophagus. Each of these rods is 3" in diameter, weights 1,000 pounds and is hot to the touch, causing 1d6 damage on contact.

The sarcophagus radiates Fear (as per the spell), forcing any who attempt to descend into the pit after it to Save at -2 or suffer the Fear effects for 1d4 hours.

The Sarcophagus is trapped with both poison gas and poison needles in the latches. The poison is pretty-much evaporated and inert after all the centuries (Save at +2).

Should someone succeed in opening the sarcophagus, inside is the shriveled and mummified body of a ring-mail armored ghoul; none other than the Warlord Baljessor himself. Fortunately the old buried warlord is thoroughly dead. His heart was removed and encased in black amber and buried in another location just to make sure it was that much more difficult for him to rise ever again.

Once the Sarcophagus is opened to the outside air, Baljessor's body rapidly crumbles into a fine black dust that will then begin to swirl about like a mini-sandstorm at the bottom of the pit. Anyone caught in this swirling black vortex of dust and ashes suffers 1 point of damage per minute. Anyone reduced to zero hit points by the dust dies only to rise again in 1d4 turns as a ghoul. The black vortex will not settle down. It becomes a new and permanent feature.

Those converted into ghouls by the black dust of Baljessor suffer from complete insanity for 1d6 hours, after which they begin to recover their memories, after a fashion. They are evil minions in service to an undead liege who can never leave this Crypt...unless they were to discover some way to recover or release their foul master. A lot has changed.

It is left to Referee/DM discretion whether or not anything valuable can be retrieved from the Sarcophagus, aside from the player character's lives. Should the player characters facilitate a high level Cleric coming into the chamber and performing an exorcism, the party will gain 2,000XP each, for expunging this pre-human evil once and for all from the world.


Loose Coins and A Little Loot
  1. (1d6) Silver coins of recent vintage.
  2. (3d4) copper coins, all covered in verdigris and stuck together in one lump.
  3. Fifty feet of good rope packed in an oilskin bag.
  4. (1d4) antique coins: silver oblongs marked with stylized birds. (worth 1d4 sp each)
  5. 1 gold coin cast in the outline of a bat, but otherwise flat. (worth 1d4 gp).
  6. (1d4) chips of exceptionally clear and smooth quartz ground to lens-like shapes. (worth 1d6 gp).
  7. (2d6) Silver bells, squashed flat. (worth 1d4 sp each).
  8. (3d6) Twisted copper tubes. (Worth 1d4 cp each).
  9. (3d4) blue-stone beads carved with wavy-lines. (Worth 1d6 sp each).
  10. (1d4) trapezoidal plaques of jade, each hard-carved with a scene from Baljessor's life. (worth 3d6 gp each).
  11. A stone tablet incised with the formula for raising a wrathful entity to smite one's enemies. (Spell takes effect at far end of Chamber E and produces a golem-like humanoid entity formed entirely of human teeth: HD 8; AC 7[12]; Atk 2 'bites' (1d8, each); Move 8; Save 6; AL C; CL/XP 12/2,000; Special: Hit only by magic weapons, Immune to cold and acid, recovers 1 HD by removing all the teeth of a victim.
  12. (4d6) Silver Spindles decorated with zig-zags and whorls. (worth 2d6 sp each).

Random Tools
  1. Garden shovel with bent blade.
  2. Pick-head, no handle.
  3. (1d4) bunches of wolfsbane bound in red thread.
  4. (1d6) Buckets. Filled with rubble.
  5. Good quality spade.
  6. (1d6) Hawthorn stakes and some stale garlic buds.
  7. Pry-bar, bent almost in half.
  8. Chisel, badly warped.
  9. Maul, made from heavy, old wood. The handle is cracked.
  10. (2d4) Stout burlap sacks, filled with gravel.
  11. Trowel. Bloodstains on blade, (can be used as a dagger for 1d4 damage, but at -1 to hit).
  12. (1d4) Wedges, cast from pig-iron. Shatter or bend when pounded on with any real force.

Pilgrims
  1. 1d4 Pilgrims:  HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d4); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. Each one is busy adding their respective holy symbols to the Barricade and will ignore others, unless attacked or disturbed.
  2. Eremite: HD 3; AC 5[14]; Atk 1/Mace +1 (1d6+1); Move 12; Save 13; AL L; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Spell-Use as cleric level 3 (Cure Light Wounds, Protection From Evil). They are investigating the Barricade. They will try to stop anyone trying to dismantle it.
  3. 2d4 Pilgrims:  HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d6); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. These pious pilgrims believe that the Barricade has become a sacred site and will fight to the death to defend it from any who would despoil or destroy it.
  4. 1d4 Pilgrims:  HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d4); Move 12; Save 17; AL L; CL/XP 1/15. This group of pilgrims are more circumspect around strangers and will attempt to delay or hinder anyone's attempts to dismantle the Barricade, while sending their fastest member back to town to raise an alarm and bring back an armed mob to deal with anyone trying to wreck the Barricade.
  5. Heretical Cleric: HD 3; AC 5[14]; Atk 1/Hammer+1 (1d6+1); Move 12; Save 13; AL C; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Spell-Use (Cause/Cure Light Wounds, Light). They intend to destroy the Barricade and could use some assistance.
  6. 3d4 Pilgrims:  HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d4); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. This is a mob of believers who were summoned in response to events that took place more than a day ago--the pilgrim who is stirring them up got lost on the way back to town. Since there's no sign of the previous malefactors, the player characters will be called upon to explain themselves and to prove their good intent...or else it could get ugly.

Other Plunderers
Whether encountered because of the amount of time spent inside the Crypt or as a direct consequence of running off a group of pilgrims or whatever, these are some of the folks that might just show up while the player characters are still investigating the Crypt, or they might be on their way to the Crypt as the player characters are leaving.
  1. 1d6 Bandits: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. They are disguised as merchants, but are a different group than the ones possibly encountered previously. This group intends to prey upon hapless pilgrims, offering them 'safe passage' at a price. The leader wields a +1 hammer and has a nasty scar across his left cheek.
  2. 4d6 Angry Villagers HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d6); Move 12; Save 17; AL C; CL/XP 1/15. An angry mob looking for someone to hang, stone or just massacre. They're a bit divided on the subject. No clear-cut leader has stepped forward to guide the mob. Yet.
  3. 2d4 Clerics: HD 3; AC 5[14]; Atk 1/Hammer+1 (1d6+1); Move 12; Save 13; AL C; CL/XP 3/60; Special: Spell-Use (Cause/Cure Light Wounds, one random spell). They intend to claim the Barricade as a sacred shrine for their temple. They might be doing this on their own initiative.
  4. 2d4 Would-Be Adventurers: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d6); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. Ruthless, amoral and destitute, these ruffians have only just worked up the courage to try their luck in scrounging for loose coins in Baljessor's Crypt. They will fold and run away upon meeting any real difficulties or resistance.
  5. 2d4 Hunters: HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d8); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. They all are carrying short bows in addition to their knives and other weapons. They have tracked a pack of wolves to a den very close-by and thought that they'd check in on the Barricade while they were here; people have been talking about strangers out to wreck the Barricade back in town, and they take a dim view of such things.
  6. 1d4 Heretics HD 1; AC 7[12]; Atk 1 weapon (1d4); Move 12; Save 17; AL N; CL/XP 1/15. Quiet and cheerful, they hope no one realizes that they intend to tear down the Barricade when no one is looking. They will gladly blame anyone else they spot coming into or out of the Crypt. They lie convincingly and often.


Afterword
This is one of those locations that continues to be a possible adventure site even after all the monsters are gone and all the loot has pretty much run out. It is only a matter of time before the local temples get embroiled in some sort of conflict over who has the best claim to the Barricade Shrine. One or more of the local churches will likely attempt to take the site over, or perhaps they'll settle for driving off and discouraging their competitors. Or perhaps an obscure Order of Monks will decide to take the place over and build a monastery upon this site...

Have Fun!
(...and Yes, this Mini-Adventure is Open Game Content. We'll post the OGL thingy for it later.)

8 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I appreciate you getting me to go back to the basics. I'm having a lot of fun drawing these sorts of maps and plan to do a few more.

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  2. Plenty more good ideas in this one too, and weird and even nasty some of them as well, opening up a lot of space for interpretation. There's a great overall tone and general thematic binding, and an evocative sense of the location being a hub for various forces.

    I agree on the long-term potential. I can imagine parties coming back over time to try a new idea, or having to, and finding things have changed in the area in interesting ways.

    This and the last are a masterclass in very natural-feeling, unnatural locations, and with deep potential.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the kind words. I wanted to build something that people could freely adapt and let evolve through play, taking things in any number of unplanned and unexpected directions. I may just adopt your "Unnatural Locations" as a label for these sorts of adventures...

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    2. Go for it. I'm wondering how I could have one or both of these come up in play. If either does, and anyone takes the bait, I'll let you know how it goes.

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    3. Cool. that is a great descriptor for these sorts of places. Let us know if you get a chance to run either/both of these adventures--we'd love to post or link to an actual play report! That would be cool. We'll be posting some supplementary material for these adventures, probably tomorrow, including higher resolution copies of the maps that will be available via our Free folder at BOX. Also, Set 3 of our September Short Adventures from 2011 is just about ready (as a handy revised pdf) and that set of micro-adventures could easily dove-tail directly into either/both of these mini-adventures...or they could...if anyone wanted to mix-and-match them that way.

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  3. Replies
    1. Cool! We're very happy to hear that. Sometimes there isn't much feedback and it makes us reconsider whether or not to continue. It's always good to know when someone appreciates what we're dong. Thanks for the comment!

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