THE CRYPT BELL CHIMES is a 30-minute Dungeon Challenge, as set out by Tristan Tanner in his Bogeyman Blog. I hope it will inspire other people to create some of their own and send them to me - so I can hand out free copies of Forge Out Of Chaos as prizes in the January 2020 competition
I used Tristan's optional tables to create an extra discipline for this 10-room dungeon: empty rooms that point to a combat, reveal history and offer something useful to PCs; the special room provides a boon for a sacrifice; the NPC is a rival; the combat encounters are a horde of weaklings, a pair of toughs and a tough boss; the trap is incapacitating.
The masked and hooded Lichkeepers preach that death is annihilation and undeath the only afterlife. They perform the rites of Animate Dead on corpses of the faithful and seal them away in tombs. The tombs are guarded and trapped to prevent the undead escaping.
Ulurok the Unclean was a feared heretic. Now her crypt bells are ringing: the alarm means tomb robbers have entered the crypt. The Lichwardens send the PCs into the crypt to intercept the robbers before they can rouse Ulurok. The PCs are given a Lichkey - a 6" long iron key studded with gems - which can activate or deactivate traps inside the crypt. First, the key opens the gates to the underground tomb and a long tunnel stretches down into darkness,
Each room is given a time that the PCs will spend in the room if they examine or interact with it fully. The keyhole symbols indicate points where the Lichkey can be used to interact with a location.
1. THE GUARDIAN GOLEM (5 mins)
A 9' tall statue of an armoured reaper dominates the room.; it carries a scythe and am hourglass. It faces into the crypt. A key slot on the dais allows the Lichkey to 'lock' the golem so that it cannot activate. An inscription reads: "Here stand I / Scythe at the ready / Against heresy / And the unquiet dead."
The Golem is 6HD, 30HP, AC as plate mail, attacks with scythe for 2d6 damage, unaffected by non-magical attacks.
Above the passageway (2) is another inscription: "Ulurok the Unclean, twice cursed, twice buried, let none disturb her nor trust her lies."
2. THE PASSAGE OF TIME (15 mins or less)
Hourglass symbols mark the entrance to this passage, which has a Lichkey slot in the wall to the right. An open pit blocks the corridor: it is 10' deep and there is a secret trapdoor in the E wall of the pit, about half way up. The pit is 10' across. Descending and climbing up the other side will take at least 15 minutes, 10 minutes if using Climbing skills or grappling hooks; using spikes and rope to cross along the wall might take 5 minutes but falling in causes 1d6 damage.
Beyond the pit is a pit trap which opens onto a chute that deposits victims at the bottom of the pit; they are unharmed but need to climb out again.
If a Lichkey is inserted in the slot it prevents the trap from activating so long as a key remains inserted.
3. BALCONY OF REGRETS (1 minute)
From the balcony, the Bonevault (6) can be viewed, 20' below, where therre is a key slot to raise the bridge that will reach the exit in the opposite wall. PCs can descend directly (using rope) or take either stairway to the north or south.
4. THE KEY ROOM (5 minutes)
Both entrances to 6 are blocked by mesh gates that must be torn or lifted (treat as portcullises). This room has the key slot that lifts both gates. There is a Lichkey inside it. If the LIchkey is removed, both gates open. Every minute there is a 50% chance 1d4 scarabs will enter this room or 5 if PCs are present.
5. THE SOUL-RIPPER (5 minutes)
A 10' diameter mystical circle is engraved on the floor with a cage above it suspended from a chain. A Lichkey inserted in the key slot will lower the cage. A living being in the cage is converted into an undead zombie, albeit with some trace of their former identity (low intelligence, recognition of friends). This process takes 5 minutes. A zombified PC will be ignored by the scarabs in 6 but will activate the Golem in 1 if it tries to leave the dungeon.
6. THE BONEVAULT (1 minute + combat)
Flesh-eating undead scarabs occupy this room, feeding on the corpses dropped through a chimney over 50' overhead. There is a keyslot that will raise the central section of the floor to create a bridge from 3 to the exit corridor.
Scarabs are 1/2HD, 2HP, AC as chain mail, bite for 1 damage, they crawl inside armour so after a successful hit they make subsequent attacks against an unarmoured opponent; 1d3 scarabs attack each character and an additional 1d3 join the attack each round. The scarabs can be turned as Skeletons but new scarabs will keep coming.
7. THE LIBRARY OF THE HERESIARCH (1 minute + variable)
Ulurok's heretical teachings are preserved here in a scrolls chained to the wall. The Lichkey can unlock all the chains if it is placed in the slot on the far wall, otherwise each scroll must be unlocked separately (taking 1 minute each attempt). There are 20 scrolls. The PCs can build up an impression of Ulurok's heresy by perusing several scrolls; it takes a PC 5 minutes to peruse one scroll, half that time if Intelligence is high (D&D: 13+):
8. THE SPIRIT CELL (5 minutes)
A magic circle is set into the floor, inlaid with silver and gems. The spirit of Ulurok is trapped within. It is visible as a beautiful yet wasted woman, translucent, pleading yet inaudible. If Ulurok's spirit sees a Lichkey in the PCs' possession, she will gesture towards the key slot, begging to be freed. If a Lichkey is inserted in the keyslot in the floor, Ulurok's spirit is freed and will bless the PCs (each heals 1HP) and ask to be restored to her body
9. THE TUNNEL OF OBLIVION (variable)
The tomb robbers have broken into this room through the north wall, pushing away the big stone blocks. An earthen tunnel beyond rises to the surface over the course of a mile. The two robbers, Chingiz and Qibilai (see below), are devotees of Ulurok who want to free her from her tomb so that her spirit can speak to her followers again.
The final trapped tunnel has two vault doors but the robbers have no Lichkey to open them. It will take Chingiz 10 minutes to find each trap, 10 minutes to deactivate it and 10 minutes to open the lock: it takes the robbers 1 hour to enter Ulurok's tomb (10).
The first door has a poison gas trap that fills the room with necrotizing gas: save vs Death or be turned into a Zombie (unintelligent, attacks other living characters). The second door fires darts: each character is hit by 1d6, dealing 1 damage each plus a save vs Poison or tun into a Zombie (as above).
Each door has a keyslot and inserting a Lichkey deactivates and unlocks the door; removing the key relocks and re-traps it. There is no Lichkey slot on the inside of the doors.
10. ULUROK'S CRYPT
A key slot in the wall will open the iron coffin, which contains a body swathed in chains. If Ulurok's spirit is here, it will renter her corpse restoring it to life. Otherwise, it is a dangerous undead Ghoul. If the tomb robbers get here ahead of the PCs, it will take them 10 minutes to open the coffin, whereupon the Ulurok-Ghoul attacks them.
HD 4, HP 18, AC as chain mail, 2 claws for 1d4 each and a bite for 1d6, victims must Save Vs Poison or be paralysed
Opening the coffin awakens the Golem (unless it has been deactivated) which makes its way through areas 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9 to confront the awakened Ulurok here (taking 6 rounds). It will attack any characters it finds on the way.
Ulurok's spirit can re-enter her body, breaking its undead curse.
THE TOMB ROBBERS & ULUROK
Chingiz and Qibilai will fight to the death against the minions of the Lichkeepers (i.e. the PCs) but might be persuaded to refrain by Ulurok's spirit, if she is free.
This took 30 minutes to scribble out but I couldn't resist embellishing when I typed out the final draft, so is that cheating?
The scenario could play out very simply if the PCs race through the dungeon, ignoring the library and Ulurok's spirit, and intercept the tomb robbers before the open the tomb up. Chingiz and Qibilai can but up a tough fight (one can hide and backstab, the other is armoured and armed with a magic sword) but once they are dead the PCs can exit through the tunnel they created.
Things get more interesting if the PCs read the heretical library or interact with Ulurok herself. If they realise that Ulurok is the heroine, not the villain, they might allow her coffin to be opened, but then they have to confront the Guardian Golem, a nasty foe. If they delay too long, the robbers will open the coffin, releasing a dangerous super-Ghoul and also activating the Golem, catching the PCs between two deadly opponents and making the release of Ulurok's spirit the only viable strategy.
30 Minute Dungeons
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I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've started writing my own OSR-inspired games - as well as fantasy and supernatural fiction..