The Vault of Madness

With a word, the cleric’s torch blazened anew. His last spell was exhausted, and his friends dragged along a single corridor that seemed to extend for miles. “How far shall we push ourselves through this tomb? Until we need sleep? The denizens will not sleep…”

With a word, the cleric’s torch blazened anew. His last spell was exhausted, and his friends dragged each other along a single corridor that seemed to extend for miles. The undead arms scattered along the floor did not shy away from the increased illumination, but seemed to crawl toward the light with new resolve. The sickly yellow flame reflected in the empty eyes of the cryptic, pointing statues, but down the infinite corridor, there was only endless darkness. “How far shall we push ourselves through this tomb? Until we need sleep? The denizens of this crypt will not sleep…”

The Vault of Madness: written by Andy Schiller. A 4E LFR-style “one-shot” adventure for 4-6 PCs, levels 7-10 (H3). Playable in about 4 hours. Word Count: 2,500 words. I ran this adventure as DM on September 3rd at Tacticon 2011 in Denver, using “Dwarven Forge” style 3D terrain pieces.

This adventure gets away from the encounter/skill challenge/encounter/skill challenge paradigm. The entire adventure takes place in a single long corridor (25′ x 200′) which opens into a 45′ square room, featuring an altar atop a pyramid, surrounded by an invisible maze.

The Puzzle: Statues of the King’s Ancestors line both walls of the entire corridor. The figures seem to be pointing in random directions with their hands. Beneath the statue of each Ruler is etched his name, and the dates of his reign. The King gives only one hint to the puzzle as he sends the party into the tomb: “There is only one path that you can take to successfully navigate the Pinnacle’s maze. Sadly, I was a child when my Grandfather walked it with me. I cannot remember the pattern. But I do remember that my Grandfather looked to the statues of the ancients for guideance.”

The story begins when the King summons the party, and describes how the Royal burial chamber has been desecrated by an unknown evil. He asks the PCs to enter the crypt, to restore the resting place of his ancestors. Only by placing the Orb of White Steel on the marble pedestal atop the pyramid can the corruption be dispelled. The King warns the PCs that the journey through the crypt will be long and perilous. He gives them the Orb, as well as a secret command word that will activate the Orb and keep undead at bay (for a short time). He warns that this spell is to be used in only as a last resort.

The PCs enter the Vault and fight a horde of minions – disembodied skeletal arms that litter almost every inch of floor space. The little nuisances keep coming, seemingly countless in number. When the party has used up all its powers and is low on HP, they will soon realize that there is no opportunity for rest. The adventurers will be forced to use the Orb’s magic word, which summons a white steel cage around the party. This protective magic circle acts as a solid barrier against the undead. Of course, it is up to the players as a group to decide when to use the magical boon. One player must give up his turn to activate the barrier, since it requires a standard action. Also, the party must move together into a group in order to be inside the barrier.

The party regains encounter powers and spends healing surges, as the fowl beasts climb and claw at the magical cage. The PCs have found their first moment of respite. Then, the magical barrier suddenly collapses, and the PCs are immediately surrounded by hordes of vampire rat minions.

The PCs cannot see any end to this vault as they push forward through the darkness. Only when they are finally within 25′ can they see the pyramid shining ahead in the distance.

When the party is low on HP and has spent all its powers (again), they will again realize that there is no opportunity for rest. A successful Dungeoneering or Perception check reveals a column that extends almost to the roof. If they can climb, levitate, or fly to the top of the broken column, they can find a moment of respite at its top. This column top is beyond the reach of the monsters. After regaining their encounter powers and spending healing surges as they like, the a bolt of lightning from the Evil Necromancer (boss monster) collapses the column, and battle ensues. With the destruction of the pillar, there is now no safe resting place.

The third encounter involves a battle with the villain. He stands at the center of the pyramid, at the center of the invisible maze. He cannot be hit by arrows or spells, due to the fact that the invisible maze acts as a solid barrier, and extends from the floor to the ceiling. The players must solve the puzzle, navigate the maze, defeat the necromancer, and place the Orb of White Steel on the pedistal. Meanwhile, the boss summons a soul eater and mummies to attack the PCs.

Distraction: There are alcoves along both walls of the vault. Each alcove features a coffin. Each coffin may have a magic item, scroll, potion, trap, poison, curse, or mundane trinket. These items may be useful in the final battle. Disturbing the remains may invoke the wrath of the King (if he becomes aware of the PCs behavior). PCs could not possibly open every single alcove, since there are hundreds. And, the party is under attack the entire time, so they may not decide to search in lieu of fighting.

There is also a magic circle surrounding the pyramid. Living creatures crossing its threashold are zapped with 5 necrotic damage. The circle gives undead in the area +2 to all rolls.

If the PCs navigate the maze, defeat the boss, and place the Orb on the Pedestal, peace is restored in the resting place of the Royal Dead, and the King rewards the PCs handsomely.

Click here to download Vault of Madness as a FREE PDF file.

Image Credit: RL Fantasy Design Studio

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