What follows is Spoiler City. Don’t read if you intend to enter the ToH as a player!
Our current player–character breakdown:
Ceralt, 14th-level Fighter
Phelan, 9th-level Magic-user
Dendyr, 14th-level Cleric
Rath, 7th/8th-level Dwarf Fighter/Thief
Forethal, 9th-level Cleric
Quint, 12th-level Ranger
Brandice, 4th/6th-level Drow M-U/Thief
Having triggered a bolt of lightning from the blue altar, Brandice and Quint were fortunate enough to make their respective saving throws and each took only(!) 20 hp damage. The altar now began to pulse with a strobing blue-red inner light. Dendyr marched over and cast dispel magic on the altar, dimming the light instantly.
Rath discovered a circular marking on one wall, beneath which was a carved slot. The group recalled a verse of the mocking riddle left by Acererak in the first grand corridor:
If shades of red stand for blood the wise need not sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal – you’re well along your march.
The heroes inserted the ring they claimed from the chest room into the slot, and immediately a rumbling sound was heard. Meanwhile, behind them, the altar once again began glowing with a red, throbbing light, pulsing ever faster. A triangular slab of stone sank to the floor, revealing a passage beyond. Wasting little time, the party pushed one by one into the opening, the last character barely getting inside the corridor before a violent explosion sounded from the chapel behind them and sent a spray of burnt wood fragments into the tunnel!
The party walked down a flight on stairs into an average-looking corridor. Doors that appeared before them were opened cautiously, and Brandice triggered off several pits. At this point the players were carefully following the clues, and they were focused on the next line:
Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall.
When a third pit was discovered Dendyr busied himself searching for secret doors around and inside the pit, but found nothing. The party turned a corner and came to a door secured with massive padlocks. Phelan cast a knock spell on the door – to no effect! With no other options, the stronger characters hacked away at the door and buckled it in half. From beyond came the sound of frightened people running away and was seen a distant red glow … torchlight?
The party emerged into a corridor with smooth alabaster walls and a floor of polished grey marble. As they walked toward the light, the floor suddenly shifted forward! As this point, I began a slow countdown… Every player immediately stated that their character was reversing at top speed, and the group managed the turn about and avoid a grim slide into molten lava! (On hindsight, I as DM should have had the players made some dexterity checks for slipping, running in place, and such, to put a bit of fear into the proceedings, but such is life…)
The PCs trudged back to the pits, confident that the answer had to lie there. A different hero discovered a secret door inside the third pit, and soon they were on their way. A short tunnel lead to another corridor with a flight of stairs, and the party also luckily discovered a secret door right at the top of the stairs. Walking down the stairs, they encountered masses of magical webbing barring their way, but a few swings from Brandice’s flaming sword soon took care of that obstacle. Near a door, Dendyr discovered a huge mace that glowed with a faint golden light.
Beyond the door lay a door containing a crypt room filled with ruined furnishings and a lich-like figure reclining on a couch of solid gold! A voice demanded to know who dared disturb the rest of Acererak!?
The lich soon saat up and began gesturing with his hands. Dendyr still clutched the mace, which now glowed brightly and the lich seemed afraid of the weapon. Pehlan triggered a round of magic missiles at the undead horror, but they were harmlessly absorbed by a glow that surrounded the lich-being. The fighters Ceralt and Quint joined dendyr in the front ranks and surrounded the figure, raining blows upon it.
The creature flailed out with its claws, tearing at Ceralt. Soon a mighty strike with the glowing mace sent the lich to the floor. The foul creature clutched at Dendyr’s leg and swiped at him, and he responded by swinging down the glowing mace in a vicious arc – rolling a natural 20! The mace struck the lich’s skull in twain, and the creature fell lifeless to the floor. Moments later the mace itself shattered harmlessly.
At this point we decided to break for the night. The players, aware of a secret door that leads deeper into the tomb, realize that their quest is not yet at an end….