Episode One: The Descent
by Miguel Duran
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In Miguel Durans The Hallowed Hills a party of low-level adventurers must explore a system of underground caverns recently discovered beneath the Monastery of the Risen Star. But this is more than just a casual dungeon crawl the group must locate and, if possible, rescue the three members of the Order who went down before them and never returned.
This four-part adventure is designed for four to six 3rd-level adventurers, though DMs should be able to modify it for parties of varying sizes and/or levels fairly easily. For larger parties, simply increase the number of monsters until the Encounter Levels are appropriate. Alternatively, if your group comprises especially potent player characters, you can change the monster types to something more challenging that is, use ghasts rather than ghouls, bugbears rather than orcs, and so forth. The Hallowed Hills is adaptable for use in the World of Greyhawk, another D&D campaign setting, or a world of your own creation.
The Story So Far
The Order of the Risen Star is a peaceful monastic commune whose members dwell within a small chapel upon the crest of the Hartsblood Hills. Its priests often descend into the surrounding valleys to tend to the villages there and perform last rites and burials as needed.
A recent earthquake has opened a passage to a series of uncharted caverns beneath the Order's vaults. The brothers dispatched to explore their depths have not been seen nor heard from in a week's time, so the Order must seek aid from outside its walls.
Hooking the Characters
The characters may be either locals or travelers passing through the area. Any of the following adventure hooks may be used to draw them into the depths of the Hartsblood Hills:
Order of the Risen Star (monastery) conventional -- abbot patriarch; lawful good; 150 gp limit; 4,000 gp assets; 51 population; Isolated (94% human, 4% halfling; 2% half-celestial).
Authority Figures: Abbot Martine Gerrard, male human Clr 7.
Important Characters: Brother Durham (missing expeditionary), male human Clr 4; Brother Ambrose (librarian), male half-celestial, half-human Clr 5; Old Arley (groundskeeper), male human Exp 3.
The Abbot's Tale
Regardless of which adventure hook you used to bring the characters here, the adventure begins with their arrival at the Monastery of the Risen Star. The Order's complex is both small and spartan, made up only of the worship chapel, a few communal bunkhouses, the abbot's chambers, a library, a supply room and kitchen, and the crypt.
The abbot welcomes the group in the chapel and imparts the following details through conversation:
The abbot asks that the adventurers enter the caverns, find his missing brothers, and rescue them if they are still alive. In addition, he would like the lost bodies and items from the crypt returned for reinterment. Finally, he is very worried about the dangers that these new developments may present for the Order, so he requests that the heroes scout out any present or future threats below.
As a reward for these services, the abbot is willing to bestow upon each member of the party a gift of 100 gp as well as a magical item blessed by his god (a benevolent deity appropriate to your campaign).
Once the player characters agree to undertake the task, the abbot asks one of his acolytes to lead them down to the crypt.
The crypt is a network of dimly lit tunnels carved into the hillside beneath the monastery. Rows upon rows of coffins fill hollows within the walls. The deepest passage is near-collapsed, with a gaping pit, 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, at its terminus. The tombs there are in ruins, and several caskets are missing.
The walls of the pit extend downward only about 30 feet before tapering out to form the ceiling of a natural cavern. From there, it is a 100 foot drop into the next room (Area 2). Climb checks to descend safely into the cavern are at DC 15 for the pit and cavern walls, and DC 25 for the cavern ceiling.
Have each character make a Listen check (DC 22) upon reaching the cavern below the crypt. If you're feeling particularly sneaky, you may wish to roll the checks yourself and keep the results secret. These check results determine whether the characters are aware of what waits in ambush for them here. . . .
About the Author
Miguel Duran endured a great deal of pain and humiliation in Skip Williams after-work game when he first arrived at WotC several months ago. He insists that this adventure is a by-product of the fond memories those nights carved into his subconscious. By day, Miguel is the Promotions Coordinator for the Dungeons & Dragons Game. By night, he practices writing and consistently forgets to call his mom and dad. (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!)