Cliffhangers Adventures

Unearthing the Past
Episode Four: Deeper Secrets

by Jesse Decker

Unearthing the Past is a four-part Cliffhangers adventure for three to five 1st-level characters. Characters who survive the adventure should advance to second level. Dungeon Masters can easily modify the adventure to accommodate higher level characters by increasing the number of foes in each encounter. Many of the villains are humanoids, so another good way to adjust the Encounter Levels within the adventure is to substitute more powerful humanoids in each encounter.

Adventure Background

The fourth episode of Unearthing the Past takes place in a dwarven ruin located a few miles northwest of the village of Travensburg. In episodes one and two, the characters traced a group of human and orc raiders back to the ruins. In episode three, they discovered the lift mechanism that allows access to the ruins’ lower levels.

Area 6: Level 3 (EL 4)

The lowest level yet discovered by the Trember brothers, this area boasts sturdy-looking walls, a relatively debris-free floor, and more evidence of the dwarves that once inhabited these caverns.

Two orcs are busy clearing the passageway leading to Area 7. They double as sentries for Aldin Trember, who is currently searching Area 7 for a hidden passage that might lead deeper into the dwarven city.

Orcs (2): EL2; SZ Medium-sized humanoid (6 ft., 6 in. tall), HD 1d8; hp 4, 5; Init +0; Spd 20 ft.; AC 14 (+4 scale mail); Atk +3 melee (1d12+3/crit x3, greataxe); SQ -1 penalty to attack rolls in sunlight; AL CE; SV Fort +2, Ref +0, Wil -1; Str 15, Dex 10, Con 11, Int 9, Wis 8, Cha 8.

Skills and Feats: Listen +2, Spot +2; Alertness

Special Qualities: Orcs suffer a -1 penalty to attack rolls in bright sunlight or within the radius of a daylight spell.

Possessions: Each orc has scale mail, a greataxe, and a pouch containing 20 sp


The orcs waste little time asking questions; as soon as the lift has come to a halt, the orcs see that there are intruders and begin attacking. They yell for their leader in Area 7. If Aldin Trember succeeds on a DC 5 Listen check, he arrives after two rounds of combat. If he fails the Listen check, he may try again during each successive round of combat. Since the orcs yell only for one round, the Listen check during subsequent rounds has a DC of 10.

Aldin Trember, male human Clr2 (Wee Jas): CR2; Medium-size humanoid (5 ft., 10 in. tall); HD 2d8; hp 10; Init +0; Spd 20 ft.; AC 16 (+4 armor +2 shield); Atks +4 melee (1d8+2/crit x2, heavy mace); AL LE; SV Fort +3, Ref +0, Wil +6; Str 15, Dex 11, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 16, Cha 14.

Skills and Feats: Spellcraft +4, Concentration +5, Heal +7, Knowledge (Religion) +1; Combat Casting, Scribe Scroll

Make sure these skill points add up.

Possessions: Scale mail, masterwork heavy mace, large wooden shield, holy symbol, cold weather gear, scroll of cure light wounds, pouch containing 13 gp.

Spells Known (3/2+1): 0--light, mending, read magic; 1st--cure light wounds, entropic shield, cause fear

Area 7: The Grand Hall

The Grand Hall is the current focus of Aldin’s investigation of the ruin. The design on the floor (see below) hints that there is a secret exit from the room, but Aldin has been unable to locate the hidden door.

Supplies are stacked along some of the walls near the door. Once the crews finished clearing out the rubble, Aldin planned to consecrate the hall to Wee Jas. Anyone searching the supplies who succeeds at a DC 15 Knowledge (religion) check can identify the purpose of the supplies. The boxes hold little of interest, but two fine tapestries depict important scenes from the teachings of Wee Jas. If the party can find an interested buyer, the tapestries could be worth as much as 50 gp each.

A secret door leads out of Area 7. Characters who succeed at a DC 20 Search check can find it in the center of the east wall. Aldin has found the door, but has not yet figured out how to open it. The door has no visible opening mechanism, and it is protected by an elaborate "puzzle" locking device (see below).

One of the most striking features of the room is the design on the floor. A shallow circular indentation occupies the center of the room, with six shallow grooves leading out of it to the edges of the room and continuing under the walls. Characters succeeding at a DC 25 Search check notice two key details about the design: (1) There is a slight crest to the floor, the lip of the circular indentation being slightly higher than each of the places where the grooves go under the wall, and (2) the grooves themselves get slightly deeper as they approach the wall.

An additional clue is written in Dwarven at the entrance to the chamber. The letters, carefully engraved in the stone, say: "The dwarven spirit is filled with secrets."

The design looks like this:

The solution to this puzzle is simple: Fill the circular area with water. The water flows down the grooves and under the walls. Its movement releases hidden catches that cause the secret door to open.

Deeper Into the Ruins

With Aldin Trember’s death, the party ends the danger to the inhabitants of the nearby village of Travensburg. However, if the DM wants to allow the party to continue searching the underground dwarven city, the adventure could continue through several possibilities. One of the best is to use the dwarven city map tiles from "Shards of the Day" by Randy Maxwell, a mid-level adventure from Dungeon issue #60. The encounters in that adventure are too difficult for a party that has just completed Unearthing the Past, but the tiles offer a quick and effective way to let the party explore an entire city. As another possibility, the passage from Area 7 could lead to part of the Sunless Citadel, an introductory D&D adventure.

About the Author

Before becoming managing editor of TopDeck magazine , Jesse Decker worked as assistant editor for Dragon. Unearthing the Past was inspired by his current campaign, which he runs for coworkers.

 



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