Monday, February 3, 2014

The Lair of the Wretched - Harrow Home Manor

Work is closed, it's a snow day in the north east, so let's roll out the next installment of Harrow Home Manor, my 2014 megadungeon project.  The section below details areas 11 through 21 on the first level map - mostly involving something I'm calling "The Lair of the Wretched".  I'm collecting everything on a Harrow Home page for ease of reference.

A few notes.  First, I'm posting these weekly as I write them.  The notes are more than the bare-bones I'd use for the home game, to convey enough info, but they haven't been play-tested.  I figure we'll have enough 'critical mass' for Harrow Home by this summer, and the players should be done with level 2 of the Black City by then, so it'll get some run on the table top then.  I'm sure the draft will change after an encounter with real players.

For instance, the Wretched is practically "ogre-powered", a tough fight for first level characters, and it uses extreme hit-and-run tactics.  My groups tend to be large, with plenty of henchmen, and I'm okay if they retreat after getting a bloody nose to regroup and come up with a new plan.  Or they'll have a Sleep spell handy, right?  So the toughness of that particular "boss" could ratchet up or down after my gang gets their hands on it.

I'm also trying to incorporate a "show-don't-tell" approach to the writing style.  I could put a whole background together explaining the story of Wil Fuller and how he came to become "The Wretched", but there's no way the players will learn that at this point in time.  Or what is the story behind the creepy mask in room 12 - besides an excuse to blast the players with the collected works of Clark Ashton Smith?  I'm trying to stick to those things that can be observed or learned by the encounters at hand.  It's tough not to blab blab blab and let the readers in on the juicy secrets.

Apologies to all who voted for Xibalba in the 2014 dungeon poll.  I realized upon reflection that Harrow Home has a ton of readily available depth, whereas my Xibalba notebook is going to take some time to get to the same point.  I'll keep plugging away at it.

In the meantime, grab some hot cocoa, stay warm, and enjoy this week's piece of Harrow Home Manor as we continue to explore a horror-themed dungeon.

========================

11.  Undercroft
----------------
There are four stone crypts in the room, one near each corner.  They were looted and emptied of corpses long ago.  However, a small satchel has been stuffed deep into the crypt in the north east corner - it holds a pile of silver pounds (196 sp).  A large adder is hiding in the crypt as well.

Adder (hp 7)

In the middle of the south wall is a large painted eye (right in the middle of the secret door).  In the southeast corner is a jutting brick.  Pushing in the brick opens the secret door to room 12.

Note:  In the hall east of room 11 is another secret door - it leads to a narrow spiral staircase up to the chapel.  A disguised handhold allows the door to be pulled open.

12.  Secret Room
-----------------

A pair of stone pedestals in the south corners hold reddish light that illuminates the room.  The light is a continual light magic effect, and dissipates if the pedestals are moved or broken.  Hanging against the south wall is the effigy of wraithlike figure, heavy cowl and robes, with a ceramic tragedy mask hanging in the cowl (the Mask of the Caretaker).  Behind the robes, hanging off a peg, is a crystal scepter.

The mask is enchanted.  If a character puts it near his face, the mask latches on to their skin, and psychic tendrils burrow from the mask into the character's face.  The character writhes in pain, assaulted by otherworldly visions through the eyes of the mask, before lapsing into a coma-like unconsciousness.  The mask releases its hold in about 12 hours - but the others won't know that.  A Remove Curse also forces the mask to drop off.  The mask only works once.

A character wearing the mask is exposed to Hyperborean magic and visions of ancient Hyperborea - humans worshipping loathsome giant toads in cyclopean ruins, the first workings of magic inscribed on clay tablets, a black object streaking across the sky and destroying a hilltop temple in a fiery explosion, cataclysmic waves and the sinking of Atlantis.

A magic user or elf wearing the mask gains 2,000 XP from the visions and ancestral knowledge, and has a 1 in 6 chance of absorbing how to understand and read Hyperborean from their sojourns from beyond.  When the mask is removed, their eyes are permanently red-hued and bloodshot, reducing reaction rolls by -1 around ordinary people and frightening peasants.  They are hence spell-marked.  (Other character classes won't gain any XP, but still have a chance at learning Hyperborean and are spell-marked).

As a physical artifact without any further magic, the mask is worth 100sp.  The scepter is hardwood inlaid with gems and gold and worth 2,000sp.

13.  Chamber
-------------
The room is empty.  The doorway to room 22 uses a heavy post and lintel frame with runes and symbols engraved into the stone.  The runes act as a ward against lycanthropes (although players shouldn't learn this property without expending a Read Magic spell and deciphering the intent).

14.  Cistern
-------------
The vaulted room here is dominated by a murky cistern surrounded by a low circular wall.  On the far side of the cistern, a heavy ring is attached to the side of the water and a chain stretches into the murk.  When a character walks around the cistern (perhaps to pull on the chain), they step on a loose stone triggering a blade trap.  A scythe blade swings out from the south wall, sweeping anyone south of the cistern at ankle height.  The trap does 1-6 points of damage.  If a 6 is rolled, the character must save vs Death or lose a foot!  Dismemberment is mortal without quick first aid.

There are clues to the trap - discolored stains on the floor south of the cistern, and a long groove holding the scythe blade isn't hard to see if the wall is inspected first.

If the characters succeed in pulling up the chain, a heavy load is hoisted from the water - a bucket of rocks.

15.  Entry Room
---------------
This room is lit by a smoky torch in the southwest corner.  In the southeast corner is a wooden chest, opened, and piled with enticing silver coins.  Stretching across the east half of the room in front of the chest (north-south) is a tripwire; anyone approaching the chest has a 2 in 6 chance of triggering the trip wire, dropping a 20' net down that envelops the eastern 2/3rds of the room.  Metal bangles on the net make a loud racket when it falls.  The Freak in room 16 shambles forth to investigate the noise, wielding a heavy club.  He strikes to subdue, preferring to knock victims unconscious.  "Master prefers live food."

Characters trapped by the net can cut themselves free in 1d4 rounds if appropriately armed; they lose dexterity and shield bonuses, are +2 to be hit, and can't attack while under the net.

The chest is full of real silver coins, 235sp.

16.  Servant's Room
--------------------
The room smells rancid and subhuman.  It is the noisome lair of a once-human - The Freak.

The Freak
(AC as Chain & Shield, HD 3 + 1, HP 21, attack 1 club, D 1-6+1, MV 9, ML 9, AL C)

The Freak is a human that has mutated into an amalgam of ursa, man, and insect.  The left arm is chitinous with a bear claw on the end, the human head is bulbous, with antennae and mandibles making speech difficult, while the body shaggy and partially carapaced.  Despite these infirmities, the Freak is preternaturally quiet and surprises on a 1-3 out of 6.

Once a condemned prisoner named Gordon Davis, the Freak was saved from the hangman by the Mistress, and geased to protect her descendant.  Each time he breaks the geas, a different piece of himself has gone "monstrous", a curse nearly as bad as his fallen masters, and he's resigned himself to lurking in the dungeon, capturing meals for his master, and hoping that death is an eventual release.  He's not so sure.  An expert trap maker, many of the traps on level 1 that capture or maim victims were placed by the Freak.

If engaged in a drawn out fight with the characters, the Freak identifies his condition as the price of making deals with wizards and the true cost of magic.  He and his master are warnings - turn back now or face similar fates in the depths of Harrow Home!

The room has remnants of clothes and footwear that no longer fits, shredded bedding destroyed by the Freak's carapace, and buckets for water.  Buried amidst the detritus are keys to the shackles in room 17, and a golden locket (value 285sp) with a woman's painted portrait, a reminder of a life forfeited.

17.  Prison
------------
A half dozen shackles dangle from the walls here.  If characters are knocked unconscious by the Freak, they'll be imprisoned here.  The slain are dragged to room 18 for "the master".

18.  Scrawling Chamber
----------------------
Note:  Rooms 18-21 are the lairs of a creature that calls itself the Wretched (and named its servant the Freak, back when it cared about such things).  There's a 1 in 6 chance the Wretched is hanging around the ceiling of room 18 waiting for a meal, otherwise it's somewhere in room 20.

Cracked human bones and skulls litter the floor, evidence the marrow has been slurped.  The walls are covered with chalk scrawlings and drawings, like cave pictures - but all of them are 8' off the ground, in the vaulted part of the ceiling.  They depict a spiral motif with a giant egg-like object in the middle of the spirals.  In some of the pictures, the egg is cracking and a horned man with a devil beard is coming out.

19.  Cistern
-------------
Another murky cistern sits in the center of the room.  Up near the vaulted ceiling, difficult to see unless actively searched, is a chalk scrawling:  "I left my life beneath the flagstone of the tower."

20.  Warren
------------
Niches in the walls are resting places for centuries-old cadavers.  Shortly after entering the warren, the party hears scuttling near the ceiling and might catch glimpses of a large cloak fluttering along the ceiling as something quickly darts around a corner.  They've entered the hunting grounds of the Wretched!

The Wretched
(AC as Chain & Shield, HD 4, HP 24, attack 1 bash (and see below), D 2-8, MV 6, ML 10, AL C)

The Wretched is tall and gaunt and insectile, scuttling along the ceilings out of sight, wrapped in a tattered cloak.  Beneath the cloak, the thing is a human changing inexorably into a giant bug, with oversized hind legs and new arms growing out of the ribs.  A second head, like a giant locust, is growing out of the shoulder, pushing the deformed human head out of the way.

In combat, it can launch itself 60' and bash for 2-8 damage, jumping away next round automatically and scuttling back into the dark shadows, or it can grab and bite with hooks and claws (damage 1-2/1-2/1-3).  The insect head can spit a stream of spittle 15' that forces a save vs Poison or become nauseated (incapacitated) for 2-5 rounds or until the glop is washed off.  The Wretched scuttles around the ceiling, attacking every few rounds from unexpected directions, speaking to itself about the tasty bits of marrow it's going to suck out of the character's bones.

The Wretched's hit and run tactics in the high ceilinged warren is challenging for low level characters.  There are opportunities to retreat in between bash attacks.  The Wretched is vulnerable to a Sleep spell, and clever players will think of something - perhaps trying to use the net from room 15 to catch it.  Calling the Wretched by the name "Wil Fuller" forces a saving throw vs Spells or the creature becomes confused and unable to attack for a few rounds as memories of its former identity rush back - perhaps it asks for death in a lucid moment before the insect brain takes over again.  If the Wretched fails a morale check, it retreats to room 21 (and flees down the stygian well if it fails a second morale check while in room 21).

Scavenging the centuries-old corpses in the niches takes 32 man-turns (4 searchers could get it done in 8 turns) and turns up around 200sp in incidental treasures - silver rings, necklaces, coins, belt buckles, and other salvageable loot from the forgotten dead.

21.  Sanctum & Well
---------------------
A dark circular hole (like the cisterns common on level 1) sits in the room, but there's no water within - the stygian well extends to unknown depths.  There is a large standing mirror in the northwest corner of the room, and a collection of personal effects near the well.  Chalk writing covers the walls.

A shadowy monster is bound to the owner of the mirror.  If the Wretched still lives, the shadow attacks from the mirror, surprising on a 1-5.  If the Wretched is dead, the slayer of the Wretched is the new owner of the mirror and lord of the shadow.  The creature can't detach from the mirror and is very hungry.  It is highly intelligent and offers nefarious counsel to its new owner.  Killing the shadow destroys the mirror and frame; otherwise the grotesque art piece is worth 2,000sp.

The Shadow in the Mirror
(AC as Leather, HD 2 + 2, HP 14, attack 1 slash, D 1-4 and strength drain, MV 9, ML 10, AL C)

Other items in the room include sheafs of papers, a book of spells, centuries old and tattered clothes and footwear that no longer serve a purpose, and a leather satchel of trinkets.  The sheaf of papers are fragments of the Dream Codex; before losing his faculties, the Wretched subjected himself to the Dreaming Angel in hopes of learning a spell to undo the curse turning him into a giant bug.  He's collected 7 sheets (7%) of the Dream Codex.

The spell book belonged to Wil Fuller (the Wretched in his prior identity).  The book contains the spells Read Magic, Feather Fall, Shield, Enlarge, Comprehend Languages, Change Self, Knock.

The satchel contains 40 gold coins, a set of keys (which once opened doors in the ruined castle), and the Serpentine Ring - an enchanted copper ring depicting an ouroboros that allows a magic user or elf to memorize an additional 1st level spell each day.  The ring was a gift to Wil Fuller and is recognizable to many of the wizards in the depths.  Lady Fuller reacts very poorly to anyone bearing the ring in her presence, since it was her gift to her descendant.

The chalk scrawlings on the wall depict a mind degenerating into insanity, and catalog the gruesome transformation - from "I am Wil Fuller, I am Wil Fuller..." to "...the thing growing out of my shoulder is forming eyes..."  A recurring theme involves this sentiment: "It lied to me.  The thing in the pit, it lied.  She lied to me.  The Kept Thing lied."