I've always enjoyed the flavor of alchemy in the Forgotten Realms setting, unfortunately in 4e its power level makes alchemical items all but useless past early levels. Our friend Douven has entered himself in the Waterdeep Alchemical Societies annual Fireworks Competition, but he needs our party's help. While they are sitting down for tea with his wife, he manages to blow a hole in the roof of his workshop. It seems his propellant isn't quite as stable as he would hope. Luckily, he just so happens to know the location of a tomb that a famous Gnome alchemist occasionally used as a workshop. Contained within are some formulas and components that can be 'liberated' and will hopefully help him wow the crowds. He'd recover them himself, but of course, recently Gnolls have been using the tomb as a base to send out raids on travelers in the area. The Gnoll threat has been increasing of late - the PCs cleared out a nest of them for Daggerdale last week, and they've been encountering some of their raiding parties as random encounters.
The tomb itself is based on the level 4 chapter in Dungeon Delves, a great Wizards book for DMs who want balanced, quick combat encounters that are ready to drop-in to existing campaigns at the last minute. They are mostly combat-oriented, so they let players flex their tactical muscles and get a feel for new powers or items. Anyways, I decided to spice the stock delve up a bit with a few traps and extra rooms. To let them take a breath from hack-and-slash, there's an old standard, the chess room. The magic of the board forces any character that steps onto a square to only move in the manner of the corresponding chess piece. By sitting in either throne, a player sees other characters as chess pieces, and can psychically compel them to perform legal moves. The challenge here is provided by pre-loading some pieces (I used Stone Golems for stats) in a puzzle. Move into any of their threatened squares, and you get a nasty melee attack. Another addition I made was a light-sensitive trap. As players descend into this dark room, they soon see this (simple) riddle engraved on the wall: "The less you have of it, the more you see". I whispered this to whichever player decided to search first, but before the party can figure it out (shadows or darkness), ghosts start materializing around them. After 1 round, I also spawned a Trap Haunt for their fun dominate ability, it provides a fun change-up from 'beat on the monster' - now they have to deal with an ally. Of course these ghosts are driven by the light that the PCs brought with them, and if they continue after a few rounds of combat, I allow an insight check to determine this. The next room is something right out of an action movie - a rickety rope bridge over a lava pit. A trio of ranged homunculi (homunculuses?) pepper the characters with bolts as they cross the lethal chasm. This gives an opportunity for some ranged combat and acrobatics checks to avoid falling in. The last encounter in this Tomb is a straight melee attack-fest. A Gnoll Demonic Scourge leads three of his companions, but just when the PCs think nothing is new - BAM, out pops a Grell from the well in the center of the room! Floating brains with tentacles provides plenty of nightmare-fuel, and its grab attack manages to keep characters wary of getting too close.
After this, the only thing left to do here is loot the Gnome's workshop. I had a great time creating all kinds of esoteric books and potions for the party to shift through. Eventually, they discover the formulas and supplies they came for, and via a handy teleportation circle, find their way back to the entrance. In addition to a handful of nice items, the players also find a mysterious letter in the possession of the Gnolls. Despite some trivial misdirection, its relatively obvious that this letter discusses the Gnolls selling slaves to a 'Chief Krand of the Bloodreavers.'
This is the second note that the PCs have found that will lead them to Thunderspire Labyrinth, the set of adventures that I plan to run next. Interspersed with the seriousness of stopping evil wizards and slave-trading Hobgoblins, I plan on mixing in the ongoing tale of Douven and his quest to create award-winning fireworks.
I've attached the maps that I created for this adventure, if anyone is interested, I have versions with grids available for battlemaps.
|Douven's Home and Workshop|
|Level 1 of the Lair|
|Level 2 of the Lair|
|A flyer advertising the Fireworks Competition|
|The mysterious Slavers' note|