Thursdays in Thracia, Part 19
This is Part 19 of my Thursdays in Thracia B/X Dungeons & Dragons Campaign, an actual play of Jennell Jaquays’ The Caverns of Thracia. For more context, start from Part 0.
Rooms and doors and stairs
Continued from Part 18 when the party found a secret stairway behind a statue, and descended into darkness.
It was apparent that this part of the dungeon was far, far older than the places they had been so far. Stalagmites jutted upward from a floor carved into the stone, indicating that geological stretches of time had past since its construction. The dread of long aeons lay in the air.
First, they encountered a terrifying demon statue in a circular room, (53, above). The state didn’t come to life and attack, or shoot fire, or death rays. It merely turned, slowly, to face Toba, a cleric of Law. Eventually the party ignored it and found a secret door behind an old fresco, leading further downward.
They found a massive chamber like the nave of a cathedral (A). overgrown with geological formations, the floor covered in a layer of dust. There were no signs of life, save a line of reptilian footprints along the stone tiles. Something had been here recently. Exploring the area, they found several doors that could not be opened, either because stalagmites had formed over and through them, or for some other, invisible reason. Searching nearby hallways, they came upon a pedestal supporting a beautiful, gleaming silver mask, fitted for the face of a lizard person.
In the next chamber, a square shaft was cut into the floor, from which shown a gray light, like an overcast afternoon. The shaft ran downward for maybe 50 feet, but then looked down on a sunlit garden, and a gleaming white palace!
They continued exploring the nave, finding a hidden hallway behind curtains at the back of the altar. They passed through a number of twisting corridors and chambers. Everywhere they turned there was a harrowing figure represented in paint and graven stone. A creature like the lizard-folk the party had encountered, yet much larger, standing amongst cyclopean architecture and surrounded by adoring apostles, acolytes in long robes, and sacrificial victims. Unlike the other reptilians it had a pair of enormous wings. It did not discriminate in its victims. In one piece, it was shown eating humans, lizard folk, and other larger reptiles, great beasts with armored plates, feathers and long teeth.
As they entered one small chamber, two piles of bone, dust and tattered rags stirred, assembling themselves into two animate, mummified forms! The ghastly dead reptiles attacked on sight, swinging foul gray talons. The battle was hard fought, and sadly Ferglum Thickwobble, a powerful fighter, lost his life in the melee. The party eventually prevailed, but Glibble the Average, an elf and a close companion of Ferglum, felt the loss deeply. Steeling themselves, the party pressed onward into the next room.
There lay upon the floor a pile of riches unlike any had ever dreamed of. Gemstones and gold coins, heaps of silver and gleaming jewelry. Upon a pedestal in the midst of the hoard sat a figure, cross-legged. A reptilian form, twice the height of a tall human, with great wings splayed out to either side. Its limbs wrapped in layers of yellowing linen wrappings. As soon as the party entered, it turned its head, long-stilled tendons straining, dusty bones creaking. it narrowed its cloudy eyes, then faded away, disappearing.
The party didn’t delay, stuffing their pockets and sacks with as much coin as they could carry, and ran, clinking and rattling back down the hall. They heard a great rumble and grind, stone against stone. They made it as far as the nave, where the great lizard-god-emperor waited for them, standing upright behind a new creature, a pile of gravel, boulders, and tiles from the floor in the shape of a human, an enormous servitor of animate earth.
“Kneel.” said the great lizard, in a voice that echoed in their minds, and after only a moment of hesitation, they obeyed, Glibble last. The immortal lizard indicated the space in front of its feet, and the party dropped their newfound riches before it.
It looked into Thelma Turge’s mind, seeing all that she had seen since her arrival in Thracia. It saw its fallen reptile ancestors, and it learned of the ascendance of the Minotaur King. “Let’s parlay.” said the creature.
It made them an offer: Return with the head of this usurper minotaur, and they could keep this paltry sum of riches. What were these trinkets anyway, compared with the bounty of the inevitable empire that it would raise, once the minotaur was out of the way, and it could take the caverns unhindered? That, or they would die here.
The party agreed to its terms.
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Now back to your regularly scheduled (as if!) Thursdays in Thracia.
Playing the Game
This session was really uneventful, until it really wasn’t. Poor Filgrum was a favorite, with 18 Strength, and the first PC death for a player new to RPGs. He took it in stride though. Now Glibble the Average (that player’s second PC) has become stronger in grief.
This area of the dungeon is really cool. The deep-time stuff reveals the ancient history of the caverns, and the lack of wandering or stationary monsters adds to its sense of long abandonment. The footprints in the dust belonged to G’ruk, the lizard shaman who the party abandoned to a tentacular death a while back.
I was a little torn about how to deal with the immortal lizard king. Jaquays gives us little in the way of explicit motives for these very powerful monsters, and the creature’s presence is practically shouted at the players. Every room they enter, it’s shown, mighty and terrible. But, its stats also look like this:
Essentially, it can look at the party and utterly destroy every single one of them, and barely needs to roll the dice to do it. But Jaquays does tell us that the king will avoid placing himself in any danger. The Immortal King is incredibly powerful, but is also cowardly. So what does this impossibly ancient, newly-awakened lich want? To start a new reptilian / undead empire and reclaim what was once his, when the world was younger, maybe? Sure, let’s go with that. So he decides to use the PC’s greed and fear as leverage and point them in the direction of his greatest obstacle. Why fight yourself when you can have some mortals handle it? He can wait a little while longer.
Now the PC’s have a stronger incentive to go deeper and reach the climactic of the dungeon.
Looking at the map above, this area again exemplifies the looping interconnectedness of this dungeon. The circular area at 41b is actually detailed elsewhere, and accessible from a window on its east side, coming from B on the map. But the window is high above the floor of 41b. The secret door “s” on the north side of 41b is actually above 41b, and connects to another area on level 2.