The chamber, as stated, was exceptionally large…so much so that the light of Blaarthislaarv…and even Sweet Tito’s dagger…could not reveal the room in its totality. And it was a pretty damn unusual room. Rectangular in shape, the chamber was composed of a number of descending ledges running the perimeter of the room. Each ledge (the party appeared to have entered on the uppermost one) was 10’ wide, and then dropped 10’ to the ledge directly below it, forming four ledges in total with the barely visible floor below.
What’s more each level of the chamber (besides the ledge of the party) was inhabited. The ledge directly below the party was filled with water, all the way to the level of the ledge on which the party stood…preventing the water from spilling downwards was what appeared to be a thin, translucent wall (Glass? Crystal?). Within this aquarium swam half a dozen giant crabs, each as large as a man in plate armor with huge snapping claws. Wherever the party went with its light source, the crabs swam to congregate near the edge…apparently anticipating some sort of impending meal!
The level below the crabs also had a 10’ high translucent wall, but this level was dry and covered in sand. Scuttling along this level were several huge scorpions, each the size of a pony, their wickedly barbed tails obviously envenomed.
The level below the scorpions was filled with water, similar to the crab level…however, swimming through the depths seemingly un-troubled by the darkness were the giant forms of four polar bears.
The floor, as mentioned was only barely discernable from the party’s ledge…anything present there was safely shrouded in darkness.
Reviewing the riddle-note of the wizard Keraptis (I had been kind enough to re-read it at the beginning of the session), the party decided that this must be the “inverted ziggurat” of the poem, beneath which was supposed to lie the blade Blackrazor. Their whole freak-out regarding the darkness and the levels and the monsters was thus tempered by their excitement at the knowledge that one of the prizes they sought was close at hand!
Now…what to do?
[we started our game sometime between 8:15 and 8:30 if I am remembering correctly…definitely later than usual, perhaps even closer to 9…and the group spent nearly the entire time in this chamber. And we didn’t get out of the Baranof until close to midnight. This, more than anything, accounts for my frustration with the evening…one room in 3+ hours?! However, in debriefing with my brother later on, he did point out that it was an exceptionally complicated and challenging room…and the players seemed to have fun, and that was the main point, right? Okay, AB]
After much discussion, it was decided that the circumstances seemed ideal for the use of Sweet Tito’s lightning bolt spell. By using the light to draw the crabs together in a pack/school, Sweet was able to launch a charge of electricity into the water, flash frying every single one in an explosion blue fire and sizzling seafood.
[personally, I’m fairly unfamiliar with the actual physics regarding lightning and water; however, I can recall the 1st edition DMG ruled lightning bolts underwater were treated as fireballs, and I saw no reason not to do the same…hell, it’s certainly what the player s expected]
Having thus overcome the “first hurdle” (and giving high fives all around), the players decided they needed a little more intelligence on what “lay below.” Giving Brian the Halfling the dagger of continual light, the diminutive adventure used his ring of waterwalking to venture to the very edge of 2nd ledge by walking on the water’s (now slightly lower) surface. Holding the light out as far as he could reach, he could see SOMEthing move on the sand of the chamber’s floor…and a reflection of strangely human eyes from something that shuffled like a great four-legged beast.
And then he was hit by something like half a dozen crossbow bolts.
“Shit! Shit! Pull me back!” (I forgot to mention the party had tied a length of rope around the Halfling for just such a quick retrieval). Much discussion and commotion from the players. Do we know what they are? How much could we see? What the hell just happened?
Did the creatures look like the manticore on the front of the module?
Yes…and the fact that the characters were 7th level meant I was fine with them knowing anything they possible remembered or could dredge from their mind regarding manticore. Brian had seen (in the dim light) that there were at least two shuffling around below, huge bat-like wings folded and/or dragging in the sand. Their ability to fling foot long spikes at anyone that popped over the edge was putting a decided cramp in the party’s style.
Randy spoke up: Hey, I get a bonus language still…can it be manticore?
The party does the magic ring shuffle and Sweet T walks out to the edge with glowing dagger in hand. “Hello down there!” he calls in the creatures’ own tongue. Reaction roll indicated the manticores were still feeling feisty (remember Sweet had a charisma of 7) and he’s hit with a barrage of spikes. “No wait! Wait! We come in peace!” The manticores paused.
What you want? They growled up at him in the glow of the magic light. We hungry, where’s our meat?
“We just want to pass, we can offer you food…cooked crab meat!”
Reaction roll comes up snake-eyes. We only eat LIVE meat! The elf is hit with another barrage and takes a spike through the brain killing him instantly. The party…who has been standing well back in the hallway outside, feel the elf go limp in the rope and pull his body back down the corridor.
After de-spiking Sweet T, Heron (or rather, Terril the Cleric) casts raise dead to bring the elf’s soul back to his body, and the party props his bloodied form up against a wall of the corridor. “Can I sleep here?” No you need two weeks of complete and comfortable bed rest…not even magic cure spells will bring you back from one hit point. “Damn. I need a Bed & Breakfast!”
Terril decides the party needs to get a better idea of what their dealing with and casts continual light somewhere near the middle of the room. Thus lit, the party can see there are three manticores, all of whom have had their wings clipped (and explaining why they remain below).
Flightless or not, they remain a serious threat and problem. “If they only eat live meat, maybe we should have fed them Sweet Tito,” suggests someone (probably AB). “Wait, wait! I’m alive now!” But we could always raise you again after the manticores eat you…um…maybe. Can you raise someone after they’ve been digested? “Wait, wait!”
[funny enough, when I related the evening’s events to my wife later, the first thing she suggested when I told of Tito’s death? “They should feed the elf to the manticores.” She thought it was the most “practical” thing to do]
AB still couldn’t believe they’d refused the crab meat. “Don’t they know how delicious Dungeness is?” (there had already been more than a few comments about melting butter) Maybe the crabs had been their friends? Or perhaps they just weren’t big seafood eaters.
[actually the whole “live meat” thing came from the module which was specific that the creatures were only fed live food and couldn’t be bribed with rations…a common enough B/X trick]
“Well, if they can’t fly, maybe we can drown ‘em. Does it look like we could break the glass wall retaining the crabs water?”
It was decided they would try. Although, Sly had the gauntlets of ogre power, Farnsworth had many more hit points and a huge AC (-1) AND had a natural 18 strength. Heron gave him his mace +2, Brian lent him the ring of waterwalking, and the fighter excepted the noose…er…rope around the waist as he hesitantly inched out to the edge of the water.
[actually, the courageous Gustav tried first with his warhammer…though he did it completely in the dark and made nary a scratch]
According to the module, a character with 18 strength and a good, heavy mace can break the glass in 2-5 rounds. I rolled the full 5, but decided to reduce the time to 4 rounds due to the magic mace. Farnsworth started swinging with purpose and the manticores started shooting…after three rounds, Farnsworth announced he’d had enough (actually he started announcing this after the first or second round hit him for huge damage, but the party offered him healing to keep going that long).
So here we were…Mexican stand-off. The dam nearly ready to break (the glass was splintered and spider-webbed) and AB refusing to go back on the ledge…and the manticores were actually out of spikes! Each manticore had a total of 12 spikes that could be hurled six at a time. I’d already decided that only two manticore would shoot each round (total of twelve spikes)…and after shooting Brian once, Sweet T twice, and Farnsworth thrice, the leonine creatures were totally tapped out!
If memory serves, I do NOT think Farnsworth ever actually finished the job…I may have ruled he did enough damage for the glass to shatter by itself (it WAS a +2 mace after all)…I know I was trying to move things along by this point. The water washed out through the crack, and quickly filled the level below, drowning the scorpions…but being (mainly) held in place by the glass shield around their level.
Eventually, someone decided to “count” how many spikes were left on the tails (a couple of the players…including Luke, who finally showed up around 10…suspected that the creatures ammunition was limited). When I told them it appeared only “baby nubs” remained on their tails, Borgnine agreed to risk possible manticore fire to break the glass. He slipped on the ring of waterwalking AND a ring of protection AND the gauntlets of ogre power AND picked up the magic mace AND looped the roap around himself.
It only took the dwarf two hits. Then water was sluicing out through a crack in the scorpion level, washing over the polar bear ledge and drowning the helpless manticores below. Fortunately, the party had tied off the dwarf as they had with all the other characters, and the burly warrior was left hanging rather than washing out into the lower levels himself.