31 March, A.D. 1601
The explorers stand in a circle round the narrow shaft, peering down into the darkness below. The air above it is cold and dry, and its heavy odour of earth and immemorial decay is tinged with an insalubrious animal smell.
"I wish there were another way in," says Beate.
"We'd run out of supplies before we found it," opines Lalie.
"How deep does it go?" asks Margarita with a barely-repressed shudder.
Artuš drops a torch down the hole, which only falls about 30 feet before landing on the dirt floor of the chamber below. A collective sigh of relief runs through the little band. "Thank God," says Artuš. "I was afraid it would go all the way down to hell."
"I knew it wouldn't go quite that far, mon vieux," says Éliane, "for hell is certainly located beneath a Protestant land."
[I ran the dungeon with a hastily filled-in Schweig's Themed Dungeon Generator. For colour and the development of specific items/effects, I used the tables at the back of the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion (hereafter LL AEC).
Since the three clerics were quasi-NPCs, I rolled 2d10 for each of their spells and chose between the two results; Fr. Fredrik and Brother Paulus thus ended up with Cure Light Wounds, Margarita with Protection from Evil.
Artuš is in the lead with a torch, Fredrik in the middle with a lantern.]
A rope is secured above ground, lashed to a stake driven into the hard soil beneath a cracked flagstone. Artuš descends first, and picks up the torch at the bottom to have a look round the chamber below. His cry of "Ježíš Maria!" sounds hollow as it comes up the shaft.
"What?" calls Lalie. "What is it? What's down there?"
"Something... something you'll have to see for yourselves. It isn't a pretty sight."
Éliane slides deftly down the rope next, her curiosity almost overpowering the feeling of dread gnawing at her insides. Lalie follows her, and even Éliane's curiosity cannot dissuade her from watching her descent. Éliane puts her hands up and takes Lalie by the waist to help her safely to the ground.
[Area 1 : Special - font]
A pair of very unladylike phrases spoken in the French language echo up to the top of the shaft when they behold the thing that the torchlight reveals. An overlarge baptismal font occupies the middle of the northern half of chamber. A crude framework of branches has been constructed over the top of it, on which the complete hide of a human man has been stretched to dry.
One by one the rest climb down the rope into the large rectangular chamber, and each in turn must see the awful sight: Sister Margarita crosses herself, Paulus sheds a tear, Fr. Fredrik vows to undo the blasphemers who have desecrated this holy place.
[Q: water still in the font? 50/50: O2 C6 - No.
Q: Anything else? 50/50: O4 C8 - Yes.
LL AEC Random Container Contents: skin, dried]
"What do we do with it -- with him?" asks Beate.
"He's in God's hands now," answers Fr. Fredrik. "Now it is time to rid these catacombs of evil." He draws his sword to punctuate his words.
A single exit leads out of this place, a passage longer than the torchlight can reveal. Artuš leads the way with torch and sword. The passage is about 5' wide -- enough room to fight, thinks the mercenary -- with a low curved ceiling. The walls are of unfinished stone, and bear hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rude crosses carved into them by long-forgotten pilgrims.
[Area 2 - Trapped room with treasure]
After 50' the passage opens up into a 15'x10' chamber carved into the rock. On one wall three long alcoves have been hollowed out. Two hold merely dirt and rat droppings, but the in one lies an ancient corpse, reduced by the inexorable march of years to a crumbling skeleton in shreds of putrid cloth.
[Search rolls for each PC in marching order (A,B,L,É,F,P,M,W): Éliane is the first to succeed.]
The first three explorers pass by the dusty bones, but something catches Éliane's discerning eye: a copper amulet lies round its neck, covered in strange sigils.
"Lalie!" she calls, "look what I see! How wonderful! Here, let me get it for you..."
"Éliane! Wait! Let me--"
A terrible shudder passes over Éliane's whole body as her fingers close round the amulet. She takes a tottering step backward, and Lalie puts her arms round her lest she fall.
"Are... are you?"
"I just had a turn," says Éliane. "Must be the air in here. I'm fine. Here, this will look pretty on you if you get it cleaned up."
[Polymorph trap; she made her saving throw (just).
The amulet has a single use 1d4=4th level M-U spell on it. Lalie can activate it at any time, but she will need to Identify it before she knows what it is.]
Lalie realises that scolding Éliane won't work, so just smiles sweetly and wraps the amulet in a bit of cloth before securing it in her pack.
There is another corridor in the northern wall. As the explorers progress along it, it becomes ever more hazy, with dust filling the air. Those who have handkerchiefs use them to cover nose and mouth so they might still breathe. Those who do not must resort to their sleeves.
[Area 3 - special: dust cloud - chamber with Trap & Treasure]
The room at the end of the corridor is obviously very large, even though the dust cloud hanging in the air makes it nigh impossible to see from one end to the other. The vaulted ceiling is very high, but parts have fallen in, and tree roots protrude downward, twisted and dead. Rubble litters the floor, and in places the chamber is impassable. On the north wall, a carven dais has been cracked by falling rock. Five huge sarcophagi occupy the room's centre. Their enormous stone lids, carved with the sleeping figures of their knightly occupants, are too heavy to shift without tools, but the easternmost has suffered from falling débris, and is partly smashed open.
Éliane peeks inside the broken sarcophagus and motions for Artuš to bring his torch closer, seemingly unaware of the disapproving looks of the clerics.
"I'm sure if we went more slowly," she says, "we'd see more hidden jewels. Like these! see! let me see your sword a moment. Lalie will be cross if I stick my hand in there."
"Attends, ma bichette," says Lalie. These words, whilst not understood by the others, are at least comprehensible in meaning. The words which follow out her mouth, strange and guttural syllables that name and command invisible spirits, once known only by the high priests in Ur of the Chaldees, are not. Marvel follows then upon marvel, for at another few words from her, this time in the Latin tongue, a sparking gem flies seemingly of its own volition out of the broken sarcophagus and into Éliane's outstretched palm. Another follows, then another, and soon Éliane's hands are full of semi-precious stones. [Lalie cast Unseen Servant, which will last until turn 11. The pile of gems is worth 1d20x50=600sp].
The display is so amazing that Fr. Fredrik has already forgotten to caution Lalie against the employment of such deviltry. Nor does he think to stop Éliane from depositing the handful of jewels in her own pack. Artuš is about to offer a kind admonition to share the spoils later, when a loud grinding fills the chamber, and part of the ceiling gives way, sending stone fragments clattering to the floor and stirring up the omnipresent dust into a blinding, choking fog.
[Trap: partial ceiling collapse. 1d8 damage, save vs. breath for half.
Since everyone was milling about the room, it strikes them randomly, with a 2-in-6 chance for each to be affected. Only Beate ended up beneath it, and she failed her saving throw, taking 4 damage -- she's down to 1hp again.
The dust cloud is similar to the Choking Dust result in my appendix α rules: everyone must save vs. poison (at +4 since they were prepared) or suffer -2 attack rolls for 1d6 minutes after leaving the room.
Only Artuš, Éliane, and Lalie make their saves.]
Beate has taken a nasty bump on the head from falling masonry, which would most certainly have been fatal had she not been wearing poor Waldemar's helm. She insists (her words punctuated by coughing and sneezing) that she is fine, and that the best thing for her would be to get out of this dust. The others readily concur, and leave by the closest exit.
The corridor [Area 4 - Trapped: floor subsidence] goes straight for a short way then bends 90 degrees to the left. No one notices the cracked floor due to the dust filling the corridor. There is a slight grating sound...
[The trap (hazard) affects the first 1d3=3 people in the marching order: Artuš, Beate, Lalie. Each gets a save vs. paralysation, but if the person behind them fails then their failure is automatic. But the dice were kind.]
...and then Artuš, Beate, Lalie feel the stone floor slipping under their feet, and rush back into the chamber before it falls away. The entire section on either side of the bend has collapsed, and it is decided that trying to cross it will be too much effort.
The explorers proceed instead through the other northern) passage, which leads directly into a square antechamber [Area 5 - empty]. The dust is a bit lessened here, so that they can almost breathe normally. The chamber contains broken furnishings and the worthless remnants of ritual implements, which do not even seem worth rooting through.
Beate takes a turn and drops to the floor. Brother Paulus rushes to her aid. She tries to wave him away, but he won't hear of it. He kneels before her and takes her hands. "Pray with me," he says, "that our Lord and Saviour give you strength to face the horrors of this place." He bends his head and whispers a fervent orison. Beate sits still and holds her tongue, but the strong yet gentle piety of this man does seem to fill her with a sense of peace, and the throbbing in her head even abates. [Cure light wounds restores her to full hp].
The only exit leads north to a rectangular chamber [Area 6 - Special: Inscription (clue) + Encounter]. Five hulking humanoid shapes are visible when the explorers enter. The four in the corners are but large statues, but the fifth is a gigantic, grotesque parody of the human form, a thing with fierce red eyes, and black, curving talons. Its livid, bruise-coloured skin is riddled with weeping sores, and it exudes the smell of a sickroom.
[mutated degenerate (AC: 13, HD 5, HP 25, Move: 120', 1 attack, Dmg :1d6 , ML: 9, Special: touch causes disease)
neither side surprised, PCs win the initiative]
Four of the explorers have room to attack it. Artuš leads the way, and delivers a punishing blow with his sword [7 damage]. Beate skewers it with her rapier [4 damage], and even Éliane's dagger cuts open its arm [1 damage; it's down to 13hp]. Lalie hesitates to jump in, and Fr. Fredrik pushes past her, though he too balks at getting too near [miss].
The thing swipes at Beate. Its claws take a chunk out of her buff coat, but fortunately do not break her skin. The impact does send her back a few feet [3 damage leaves her with 2hp, but she makes her poison save so does not contract a disease].
Beate keeps stumbling backwards, so Lalie courageously takes her place, lunging forward and burying her rapier nearly up to the hilt in the thing's breast [7 damage puts it at 6hp]. It strikes back wildly at her, but she dances back just out of its reach. The others' weapons meet only empty air as the thing zigzags after her.
Then Artuš manoeuvres behind it. His sword lays open its whole back, and it collapses to the floor [6 damage drops it to 0hp], twitching. Moments later the mercenary puts the gurgling thing to the sword.
With the nightmare vanquished, the explorers are free to examine room at leisure. Artuš, Fredrik, and Werner stand guard as the others examine the statues. Each stands on a low pedestal inscribed with a name -- MATTHÆVS, MARCVS, LVKAS, IOANNES -- though the identities of these four would be obvious to all but the most ignorant inhabitants of Christendom. Of more interest is the black marble plaque in the midst of the floor. Lalie stands over it, and reads the inscription aloud: "Si quis dinumeret evangelistas IV, clavem maiorem inveniat."
"I regret," confesses Fredrik, "that my Latin is much diminished since I left the seminary. What does it mean?"
"If someone should count out the four evangelists, he would find the greater key," translates Sister Margarita.
"A most un-Christian slogan," opines the priest.
"Check the statues again for clues," says Lalie, her mind turning over and over. They all look closely by the light of the priest's lantern, but nothing unusual is discovered. Then suddenly Lalie cries out, "Oh, of course! How could I be so stupid? It's right there: reckon their number."
"There are four," says the priest. "I should think that's obvious."
"That's not... Oh, Éliane, tell me you have at least solved it."
Lalie whispers something in her ear, but Éliane just mumbles "J'comprends pas," and looks even more confused. Lalie whispers in her ear again, this time for much longer, and the others watch the look of comprehension slowly come over Éliane's face.
Lalie reveals the answer to the others, and they seem as confused by it as was Éliane. "I'll tell you how I got there later," says Lalie with a smile.
"Even if you're right about it," says a somewhat dubious Paulus, "whatever can it mean?"
"I suppose it will make more sense when we've found another key," says Lalie.
to be continued...
[Here begins another experiment. One of the things I really like about group RPGs and published solo adventures is solving puzzles. This is probably the hardest thing to emulate in solitaire gaming. You can fake it with skill/attribute rolls, but this is a little bland. When I filled in the dungeon generator, I had entered two Special results as 'Clue to tomb opening' with the intention that the party would have to find both before they could open the tomb itself.
When the party came to the first one, I just recorded it in my game notes and kept playing. The statues were just added as a decorative feature, and since there were four it seemed obvious that they should be the four evangelists. I marked off one turn for examining the room, and just kept playing.
When the party found the second clue, I started to think about having to write this up, and that it would be necessary to figure out what the clues actually were. And that's when the idea hit me: making up the puzzle can be the stand-in for having a puzzle to solve. As a bonus, you are left with something you can throw at players of your own, or share on the Lone Wolf forum so others can add it to their solo games. In the Random Dungeon Generation for Solo Play section of the 1st ed. DM Guide's Appendix A (p.173), Gary Gygax wrote, "For special areas you can have a friend or correspondent send you sealed information." I never managed that as a kid, but always wished I could have done.
So here are some brief guidelines if you want to try it:
- The only real requirement is that is needs to fit the setting (in this case, it was devised by Christian monks some time between the 11th and 12th century).
- However long it takes to think it up in real time becomes the approximate game time it takes for the PC/party to solve it, if time matters (e.g. round to the nearest Turn if you're using an OSR ruleset). If it's a two or more part/location puzzle, just average the time for each section.
- It can involve skill rolls if you want it to
- XP are only gained if the solution would normally earn them in the game you're playing
- You can use reference works to create it (e.g. I needed to consult a vulgate bible)
- If you're offering it up to the community for their own use, please put the solution somewhere easy to find, but hard to stumble across accidentally.
- If you get stuck and give up, so do your characters. If you have a flash of inspiration afterwards, it means they need the help of an NPC or an item/spell they don't currently have.
I'm sure this a is a less-is-more kind of thing; one or two per dungeon ought to suffice, and maybe not in every dungeon, either.]