I ran Save Versus Death’s Revenge of the Iron Lich dungeon delve yesterday at the game store. I had wanted to get started at noon and told players that we’d have a hardstart at 12, but by 12 there were only 4 players and I wanted to get a full group. So we waited a bit and 3 more people showed up. 1 of the players had made his own 16th level character so I let him use that and we rolled with 7 PC’s. The extra PC was an elf hunter, similar to the character that the player is playing in my Friday night game (Break the Iron Circle).

I was excited that we had a full table but unsure of how it was going to go down. Everyone at the table was new to 4th edition, including me. Some had only played at D&D Encounters for a few weeks while others had only played a single game of 4th edition before. As for myself this was the 2nd session of 4th edition I’d be running but that turned out not to be a problem, as I’d read the delve plenty and figured out what the monsters and such were going to do.

I’ll explain more of what happened below, but I’ll say here that they did not complete the delve. They succumbed to the time limit without even facing the Iron Lich himself. It was an intense four hours of gaming but they all seemed to enjoy it.

 

The rest of this entry will have spoilers  so if you plan on playing the delve I recommend you stop reading now.

[SPOILER ALERT]

 

Still with me? Allright.

This delve is really big for 4 hours of gaming. The path my players followed was Entry Room, Hallway, Souldriver Golem Room, Dismal Descent, Area K, Battle with the Necrolith.

By the time they finished the traps in Dismal Descent there was 40 minutes left and I knew that if I teleported them to Area J like it says to they would never have made it to the last fight in time. I wanted them to at least die fighting the last bosses so I had the portal take them to Area K instead, right in front of the spectral stairs. They messed around in the area for a bit but didn’t the secret door to take them to Area L and they didn’t investigate the hallways on either side. They knew they were almost out of time and figured that they needed to get up the stairs. They didn’t have the steelsun amulet, so I let the cleric make a Religion check to know that the stairs were insubstantial. From the previous battle with the Wraith Captain he knew that radiant damage made insubstantial things solid, so he used some powers that dealt radiant damage and I had the stairs become solid. From there they climbed the stairs and entered the room to the last battle.

I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me go back to the start before I tell the details of how it all ended.

I started the game with a character draft, each player rolling a d20 and the highest number choosing a character first, then the second highest number, and so on until all the characters had been chosen. I gave them 10 minutes to familiarize themselves with the characters and then started.

The session almost ended in a TPK in the first room. They discovered the deck of mortals and the mage made her check to realize what they were. But instead of trusting to blind luck the cleric used his Hand of Fate ritual to aid them in choosing cards. I figured that was clever and allowed it and had the hand pantomime whichever action was most beneficial in response to the question the cleric asked (“should someone pick up the top card?”). I drew the first card and looked at it; it was the gain 30 HP card, so that hand made a motion to pick up the card. The thief picked it up and was very happy.

The cleric asked again and I looked at the second card. It was the “A Balor appears and attacks the party” card. The hand made a motion of shrinking away from the deck so the party stopped drawing. The skeleton vanished and they moved into the hallway. If they hadn’t used that ritual they probably would have all been killed by the Balor, as they were encouraged by the first card, they probably would have chosen the second one. This delve is lethal, but it’s most lethal to greedy players. Players that act safe will most likely not succumb to the instant death traps, which brings me to the first character death.

The thief found the first 2 pits in the hallway but stumbled into the 3rd and he fell in. Good thing the party had tied a rope around him so he only feel 10ft before they pulled him out. My players were inexperienced with 4th edition but they definitely know how to go through a dungeon crawl. 🙂

They started exploring the Hall of the Iron Golem and triggered the encounter. No PC deaths and only one PC got hit by the falling balconies. So they are exploring the rest of the room when the Bard gets it in his head to stand in the unstable ritual circle, AFTER the mage made her Arcana check and told the part that random things would happen to people standing in there. The first roll he got a mundane item card. Then the thief stepped in. The thief got a Rumor and the Bard lost training in one skill. At this point the thief left the circle, but the Bard stayed even though all the players were telling him he should get out. He should have listened as the next roll was the death ring of fire. He failed his saving throw and was burned up.

The players all gasped and were a little shocked at the instant death. It shook them up a bit and instead of using the red gem that they took from the golem and putting it into the northern door, they went down the west corridor and the thief opened the book without hesitating. Boom. Lose your rituals, skill training and the book vanishes. The players were nervous but knew that time was running out so they went into the Dismal Descent.

This encounter actually went very well for the players, all things considered. They failed to challenge the captain to single combat, even though I all but spelled it out for them that that might be a good idea.  During the fight they got sandwiched between the captain floating on one side and the legionaries on the other side. It was going badly until the cleric turned the captain, making him lose the insubstantial trait, and after that they really put the hurt on him. By this time about half of the walls had popped out so when they defeated him they had seen the keys inside and someone had gotten down to the northern door and they had put the 2 together. They raced to search the areas behind the walls for the keys and got them all into the door just before the last wall pushed out. So…that meant they had 2 rounds to get to the top of the stairs and jump onto the statues hand before the walls slid back in. Here’s where they improvised again.

Only one player attempted (and made) the jump check to get across the chasm to the giant hand. The rest of them raced up the stairs and out of the room, and then waited 10 minutes while the mage used her Floating Disk ritual. Then she simply ferried everyone across and jumped through the portal, which takes us back to before, with the party briefly exploring Area K  before climbing the spectral stairs.

They had 40 minutes left when they started the fight with the Necrolith and I knew they had no chance to defeat him. All through the dungeon the mage hadn’t been able to affect the big monsters (Souldriver & Wraith Captain) with her attacks, so she was relegated to minion and other creature duty. Unfortunately there weren’t other creatures in this fight, until the Congregation showed up and started owning the mage, cleric, and thief. It teleported in between them so that all 3 were adjacent and it kept them locked down while the 2 rangers shot uselessly at the Necrolith and the Fighter went toe to toe with it.

The party found 2 of the soul orbs in that chamber and attacked both of them from range, not bothering to get close enough to see who was inside. They were afraid that the Nercolith was going to draw power from the orbs like the Souldriver did, so they shot them first. The first orb attacked the Necrolith while the second one attacked the party. After a few rounds of fight the Congregation was finally bloodied but the Necrolith wasn’t anywhere close. At that point we reached 4 hours and everyone died.

When I was reading over the delve before hand I didn’t think it was that big, but from actually running it I don’t know how a party can get all the pieces they need to destroy the Iron Lich and defeat him in combat in 4 hours. To get the required items you have to find secret doors, which takes you off the main path of the dungeon. Following the main path is time consuming enough, so a party would have to be working together almost perfectly, in game and out of game, in order to get the items they need, navigate the dungeon, and finish the final battle. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying that it can’t be done with inexperienced players.

In order to beat this dungeon your players are going to have to be at least 2 things: Experienced RPG’s, in that they understand the concept of a dungeon and have a general idea of how to act in a dungeon run. They also need to be comfortable with 4th edition rules. If they are novices to 4e, the powers and rules will trip them up, while if they are novices to dungeon runs, the actions they take will get them killed.

From a DM’s perspective, the delve was easy to run. I read it through twice, printed everything out and cut out the cards and such and had my tiles and whiteboard ready for the game. I paused the game when I was drawing out the map or placing tiles because I didn’t want those DM administrative actions taking away from their ability to complete the dungeon. I want to reiterate that this was my 2nd 4e session that I’ve DM’d. After reading the delve and figuring out what went where, actually running it was very smooth, at least from my side of the table. I’m not a novice DM so that should be taken into consideration, but I think it’s a credit to the makers of the dungeon that a DM new to 4e can run the dungeon, albeit after careful prep time.

That said, I do have some criticisms of the dungeon. Even with multiple readings before the game, I was still flipping through the pages to see where this door went or what was beyond that chamber, etc. Having clearer entry and exit notes for areas would have been helpful, such as a text box for each area with a brief listing of where the exits go.

I also noticed some odd sentences.  Pg 5: “Tattered banners bearing the symbol of a dangle from the walls on rusted chains.” Just a missing word, but it tripped me up the first couple of times I read it, and I assumed that it was a symbol related to Stormhold, as that’s what the History check revealed.

While not a criticism, I found that I didn’t use the Tiefling Ghost at all. I had planned on making it a halfling ghost for greater comedic value, but by the time the party was in the hallway checking the pit traps I had completely forgot about him. Each area and encounter has enough going on that without a little reminder box on the encounter page I forgot all about the Ghost until the dungeon was over.

There were only a few things I noticed about the pre-generated characters. I think each player stuck to 1 or 2 of the powers and used them for the entire dungeon. I can probably attribute that to them being new players and once they found something that they knew how it worked they stuck with it. The other thing I noticed was the mage not being to really affect the big monsters, as I wrote earlier. In addition, the ranger didn’t use any of his practices, and the Hand of Fate and Floating Disk were the only ritual the Cleric and Mage used.

There’s a lot in this dungeon. If there wasn’t a time limit and the party could work it over multiple sessions it would be awesome to drop into a regular campaign. But I recognize that wasn’t the intent of the dungeon. It’s fourthcore and it’s designed to be challenging and unforgiving, requiring knowledge of character abilities and how to work together. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not for DM’s that like to fudge things to make it easier for the party. Before I ran it I considered making a number of changes that would make it easier, but I decided in the end to run it as is to truly test it and see how far the players could get (not withstanding the change in teleport location, but that was just sympathy for them so that they could at least have the fun of dying while fighting the last bosses).

I would run this dungeon again and I hope to someday, but I’ll make sure that I have a group of 4e gamers that have a firm grasp on the rules. And I’ll remember to remember the Halfling Ghost. That would have been very funny.