August 10, 2008

Running the Tomb, Part 8: Death to Acererak!

Back to our “Tomb tale”…

What follows is Spoiler City. Going to play in the Tomb of Horrors? Yes? Then scram! You’ll be happy you did later.

Our current player–character breakdown:

Adrian P. (covering for Mike F.)
Ceralt, 14th-level Fighter
Phelan, 9th-level Magic-user

Ken H.
Dendyr, 14th-level Cleric
Valdamane, 10th-level Paladin
Forethal, 9th-level Cleric

Steve C.
Rath, 7th/8th-level Dwarf Fighter/Thief

Will W.
Quint, 12th-level Ranger
Brandice, 4th/6th-level Drow M-U/Thief

As last we left things, our party had just triggered a switch that caused a small vault (a mere 10 feet square) to rise up. The vault was a mithril box of sorts, with a single door set with a pull ring.

Needless to say, the end of the adventure was clearly at hand. They, with some trepidation, pulled open the unlocked valve and strode into the vault. None of the characters would walk back out that door.

The vault held a small altar of sorts, surrounded by a scattering of items—several swords, a spear, scrolls, two rods, and potions, as well as several huge gems. At the end of the room on the low altar were what appeared to be the final, true remains of Acererak: a skull and a pile of bone dust.

As the party approached, a swirl of bone dust rose from the altar and assumed a man-like shape. The spectral thing moved toward the adventurers, clearly with dire intent! Forethal (or cleric) wasted no time in swinging at the shape with his staff of striking. The shape drew back slightly, and then resumed its course. Forethal swung his staff several more times, expending charges to intensify the weapon’s impact. The shape faltered several times, and finally disappated.

Our two thieves, Rath and Brandice, surged into the vault to assess the treasure. Ceralt the (lawful evil) fighter hung back, happy to let his companions take the brunt of any deathtraps that awaited before he entered to claim his portion of the treasure. Quint maintained a rear guard, trusty longbow at the ready.

The thieves took immediate notice of the skull; its eyes were set with valuable rubies of great size and its “teeth” were actually six marquis cut diamonds. Unable to resist, Brandice reached out and touched the skull.

The skull vibrated and immediately rose into the air of its own accord and Brandice stepped back a pace. Rath loaded his sling with the largest gem (a 100,000 gp black opal!) and slung it at the skull, but his shot missed at the gem shattered harmlessly against a far wall. Acererak’s skull turned, seemingly scanning the room and its occupants, before it stopped and leveled its gaze at Rath. In but an instant, Rath’s body crumpled and dissolved into putrescence and his soul was drawn into one of the ruby “eye” gems in Acererak’s skull!

At this horrid sight, Forethal stormed into the vault, his glowing staff at the ready. Brandice meanwhile cast identify on the items in the room in an attempt to find a strong bit of magic with which to fight this horror; he was convinced that something in the vault could be used against the lich. Brave Forethal charged his staff to full strength and bought it down on the skull … to no effect. The skull again rose, and this time Forethal let out a howl as his body rotted to nothingness and his soul streamed into the other ruby.

Quint ran into the room, drew his sword, and attacked as Brandice desperately searched the items on the floor. Brandice avoided a spear surrounded by evil magic but discovered a sword of great power and a staff of the magi. Soon the dauntless ranger crumbled to ash.

At this Ceralt screamed with rage and charged into the vault. Brandice threw him the sword and took up the staff himself. Ceralt swung the sword down on the bony plate with all his might and actually cracked the skull … but all too soon the skull rose again, its eye gems gleaming with tiny figures visible inside, panned the room, and leveled its gaze on the fighter. Cursing his last, Ceralt joined his companions in the gemstones.

Brandice rose in time with the skull, staff of the magi clutched tightly in this hands. The skull quickly settled its gaze on the drow mage-thief, and with but seconds remaining, Brandice did the only thing that came to mind … snapping the staff over his knee and creating a retributive strike within the 10-foot square mithril vault! The magical detonation whisked Brandice away to the Elemental Plane of Water and presumably destroyed the skull—but whether Acererak was truly destroyed or Brandice’s companions were spared is a tale for another time…

DM aside: I took some caveat in this last room, sparing them the dust ghost. The trick with this creature is that it’s harmless until struck, when it begins absorbing power from spells and hits. If it gains 50 hp “worth” of strikes and spell damage it becomes a full-fledged ghost! The creature was nearly formed but I decided the party had enough problems with the lich skull ahead and I spared them the ghost.

Brandice was also spared an unusually long time from the skull because the skull targets fighters over clerics, clerics over thieves, and thieves over magic-users (though it was a 50% toss who got soul-sucked between Rath and Brandice early on).

I greatly thank all my players—Adrian, Ken, Mike, Steve, and Willie—for a rip-roaring time. (My apologies if I got any details wrong in the retelling, its been a while!) First Edition AD&D proved to still have some life to it, and I was reminded that without Perception or Spot checks why those 10-foot poles came in so very handy!

To the next time!
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