Cliffhangers Adventures

The Hallowed Hills
by Miguel Duran

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In Miguel Duran’s 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.
1. 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.

The Cliffhanger

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. . . .

The Story So Far

In Episode One of The Hallowed Hills, we presented an introduction to the adventure, several plot hooks the DM could use to bring the characters into the action, and the entryway to the cavern complex.

2. Those Who Remain -- EL 4

No one knew there was a cavern complex beneath the Monastery of the Risen Star until an earthquake opened a passage to it. In the last episode, the adventurers made their way into the first of the caverns. The story resumes as they begin the first leg of their search for the Order's missing brothers.

Read the following aloud to the players:

The floor of this roughly circular cavern is extremely uneven. Jagged chunks of rock raise some areas several feet in elevation, while other sections are pockmarked with deep craters. The remnants of several smashed coffins lie strewn across the chamber.

The cave is about 80 feet in diameter, and its only exit is a tight passage leading out from the east wall to Area 3. Two dozen coffins tumbled through the breach that the earthquake created. The remains of these as well as the burial effects of their occupants (wraps, ceremonial urns, and a good selection of material goods) lie scattered throughout this room. There are two items of note among the debris -- a single shattered lantern and, beside it, a silver holy symbol, the back of which bears the inscription, "To Brother Durham, for Faithful Service."

Because of the uneven surface of this cavern, anyone who attempts to traverse it quickly or perform any sort of acrobatic maneuvers must make a Balance Check (DC 15). Failure by a margin of less than 5 means that the character has stumbled and is incapable of movement for 1 round. Failure by 5 or more indicates that the character has lost his or her footing and fallen prone.

Creatures: Some of the more malevolent spirits from the tomb above have taken on unlife, now that the accident has freed them from the restrictions imposed by their funeral rites. Four ghouls lie in wait behind a rocky outcropping near the southern face of the cavern. Although they are perfectly hidden, one or more of the adventurers may hear their movements. A successful Listen check (DC 22) reveals the ambush before it occurs.

Ghouls (4): hp 20, 18, 14, 9.

Tactics: The ghouls wait until the party is particularly vulnerable, preferentially attacking either a lone character or a small group. Splitting the party to explore the debris or entering the cavern one-by-one from the crypt above incites an immediate attack; otherwise, the ghouls wait until the characters have either spread out a bit or are about to leave before striking.

The creatures attack in an intelligent, coordinated fashion, singling out a non-elf opponent first if possible and attacking as a group, flanking when feasible. Once their victim is paralyzed, they move on to the next target. Only after all the party members are paralyzed or unconscious will they try to finish off any characters.

Treasure: Beyond the recoverable coinage, which totals out to 47 gp, 146 sp, and 257 cp, the only items of note are a religious statuette of pure silver (worth 105 gp) and a gold ring with a jade inset (worth 90 gp). The remaining goods are of standard quality; the DM should choose appropriate items from the equipment list in the Players Handbook.

3. Stampede! -- EL 3

Though this passageway through the rock is only 5 feet wide, its walls seemingly extend upward forever. In fact, however, they come to a halt at the cavern's top, some 60 feet overhead. The characters must make their way through these cramped quarters single-file for 110 feet before the tunnel opens into Area 4.

Creatures: A swarm of stirges is perched near the top of the tunnel. These creatures descend upon the characters from overhead as soon as the party reaches the midway point of the passage.

Stirges (6): hp 7, 6, 5, 5, 4, 2.

The Cliffhanger

Read the following aloud to the players when they enter Area 4:
A wave of torrid humidity washes over you as you step into this cavern. The floor is soft and covered with thick, damp moss. Immense, rootlike, brown-and-gray tendrils of vegetation dangle down from the ceiling overhead, lightly brushing the tops of the varied fungi that fill most of this circular chamber.

Although the fungi cluttering the center of the room and the roots hanging from above tend to obscure vision in the cavern, the PCs may still notice something peculiar as they enter this room. Have each player make a Spot check (DC 21). Success reveals two bodies lying facedown near the center of the cluster. Their simple black robes mark them as members of the Order. . . .

The Story So Far

In Episode Two of The Hallowed Hills, the party entered a mysterious set of caverns seeking three members of the Order who had gone missing after setting out to explore the caverns. Now, as the adventurers enter a new cave filled with strange vegetation, they may already have noticed two bodies lying still at its center.

4. The Submerged Garden -- EL 4

This roughly oval-shaped cavern is 40 feet wide by 60 feet long. The exit at the south leads to Area 5; the one at the west leads back to Area 3. A rockslide in the eastern wall has covered another possible exit, but the severity of the collapse is such that it would take days of excavation to reopen it.

Creatures: Three shriekers and a violet fungus are positioned in a square patch at the center of the room, with the violet fungus occupying the northeastern corner of the patch. The bodies lie in the midst of these creatures. If the PCs approach to investigate, the noise from the shriekers alerts the orcs in Area 5 to the arrival of visitors.

Shriekers: hp 20, 13, 10.

Violet Fungus: hp 16.

Examining the Bodies: Once they have dealt with the fungi, the PCs can examine the corpses. These two extremely pale young men were the acolytes who accompanied Brother Durham down here. Both are dead, slain by the violet fungus. They carry basic cave exploration gear, leather armor, and maces, but nothing else of value.

A successful Heal check (DC 15) on either corpse reveals something very peculiar about these bodies -- namely that they have been completely drained of blood, which explains their unusual pallor. Depending upon the party's experience with violet fungi in the past, they may or may not be aware that such a phenomenon is somewhat out of place in these surroundings.

Leaving the Room: Once the characters move to the southern exit, a successful Wilderness Lore check (DC 18) made by any character with the Track feat reveals that a small band of humanoids recently passed through this area, emerging from the now-sealed eastern entrance and leaving through the tunnel to the south.

5. The Reluctant Sentries -- EL 6

A chasm stretches across the center of this cavern from east to west, splitting it neatly in half. Overgrown stalactites and stalagmites clutter the chamber, making it seem like a pair of giant, open jaws.

The ceiling of this 80-foot-diameter, dome-shaped cavern rises 25 feet above the floor in the center. The chasm, which runs the entire length of the cavern, is 10 feet wide and 75 feet deep. A boulder currently covers the only other exit, which is in the southern wall. With a successful Strength check (DC 22), a character can move the boulder, revealing a passage that leads to Area 6. On the southern side of the crevasse is an extinguished campfire, built by the sentries on duty in this room.
Creatures: It's been a long few weeks for Homzahk and his scouting patrol from the Crookedtusk tribe. The orc adept was leading an expedition through these caverns when the earthquake sealed them in here. The orcs hope to reopen the tunnel in Area 4 that leads to their home caves in the near future, but another power has coerced them to stand guard here until commanded otherwise. Though resentful of the situation, the orcs have lost enough of their brethren to this creature to know that further resistance is likely wasted, so long as they are trapped here. Their fear and fury regarding their situation is so great that they refuse parley with anyone who approaches.

Orcs (6): 7, 6, 4, 4, 3, 2.

Homzahk: Male Crookedtusk orc Adp 4; CR 4; Medium-size humanoid (orc); hp 24; Init +4; Spd. 20 ft.; AC 10 (touch 10, flat-footed 10); Atk +6 melee (1d6+4/crit x2, masterwork club); or +2 ranged (1d6+3/crit x2, javelin); SQ darkvision 60 ft., light sensitivity; AL CE; SV Fort +3, Ref +1, Will +6; Str 16, Dex 10, Con 14, Int 11, Wis 15, Cha 10.

Skills and Feats: Alchemy +4, Concentration +5, Knowledge (religion) +2, Wilderness Lore +7; Combat Casting, Improved Initiative.

Adept Spells Prepared (3/3/1): 0 -- ghost sound, guidance (2); 1st -- burning hands, cause fear, sleep; 2nd -- mirror image.

Possessions: Masterwork club, ruby worth 100 gp, potion of invisibility, potion of cure moderate wounds.

Tactics: If alerted by the shriekers in Area 4, the orcs split their forces, posting Homzahk and a few others in the northern reaches of the room behind stalagmite cover. The others remain at the back of the cavern beyond the chasm so that they can lay down a hail of javelins when needed. Their objective is to split the party's forces and then flank their opponents. Homzahk and his rear guard can then attack the archers and spellcasters remaining on one side of the chasm while the troops on the other side deal with any fighters who cross for melee. They also attempt to bull rush anyone who leaps over the chasm, hoping to knock such a foolish opponent into the breach.

The Cliffhanger

After the characters dispatch the Crookedtusk tribesmen, they can turn their attention to the boulder in the room's rear. Beyond it lies the darkened passage that will lead them to the final truth about Brother Durham's fate. . . .

The Story So Far

In Episode Three of The Hallowed Hills, the adventurers dealt with a patch of shriekers and a violet fungus. Within the cluster of fungi, they discovered the corpses of the two acolytes who had accompanied Brother Durham on his quest. They may also have noticed that the bodies had been drained of blood. Forging ahead, they encountered a fearsome host of orcs who had been coerced into battle by an unknown power. After dispatching them, the characters started down yet another dark passageway in search of Brother Durham and the truth about the evil that lies below Hartsblood Hills.

Area 6: Durham's Lair -- EL 4

The tunnel opens into a small cavern with a ceiling about 8 feet high. A large pile of coins spills from a few burlap sacks lying at the eastern end of the cave. Bodies litter the ground, but only one of them, a blonde-haired man dressed in armor and the shredded remnants of brown robes, is moving. Though bound and gagged, he manages to shout a muffled greeting at your arrival.

The cavern measures 20 feet by 20 feet. The bodies lying on the ground are orcs -- fallen members of the Crookedtusk tribe. A successful Heal check (DC 15) reveals that they have been completely drained of blood.

Although the man in robes was once Brother Durham, he is something quite different now. Anyone who chooses to untie him can do so automatically, but a successful Use Rope or Escape Artist check (DC 25) reveals that his bonds certainly shouldn't have held anyone who was putting up a decent struggle.

Creatures: Brother Durham has become a vampire spawn. The earthquake released a potent vampire, Simone Delcielus, from his stake-induced incapacitation below ground. When the priest and his two acolytes entered Area 2, Delcielus attacked and slew Brother Durham immediately, while the acolytes fled in terror. The newly cursed Durham then joined forces with the vampire, draining the blood of his erstwhile companions and leaving them to fertilize the fungus patch in Area 4. Since then, Delcielus has descended deeper into the caverns to seek out monstrous aid for his plan to overwhelm the monastery above. He has left Durham behind to spy upon the Order and to eliminate any further annoyances that come down from above. Durham has since dispatched the few orcs that dared to move against him.

Brother Durham: Male vampire spawn; CR 4; Medium-size undead; HD 4d12; hp 30; Init +6; Spd. 30 ft.; AC 21 (touch 12, flat-footed 19); Atk +5 melee (1d6+4, slam); SA blood drain (1d4 Con drain), charm, energy drain; SQ fast healing 2, gaseous form, spider climb, turn resistance +2, undead qualities; AL CE; SV Fort +1, Ref +5, Will +5; Str 16, Dex 14, Con –, Int 13, Wis 13, Cha 14.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +8, Climb +3, Craft (gemcutting) +10, Diplomacy +4, Hide +5, Jump +3, Listen +11, Move Silently +6, Search +8, Sense Motive +11, Spot +11; Alertness, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Skill Focus (Craft [gemcutting]).

Blood Drain (Ex): Brother Durham can suck blood from a living victim with his fangs by making a successful grapple check. If he pins the foe, he drains blood, inflicting 1d4 points of permanent Constitution drain each round.

Charm (Su): This is similar to the vampire's domination ability, but the save DC is 14, and the effect is similar to charm person as cast by a 5th-level sorcerer. A charmed subject allows Brother Durham to drain his or her blood.

Energy Drain (Su): Living creatures hit by Brother Durham's slam attack receive one negative level. The Fortitude save to remove the negative level has a DC of 14.

Fast Healing (Ex): Brother Durham heals 2 points of damage each round so long as he has at least 1 hit point. If reduced to 0 hit points in combat, he automatically assumes gaseous form and attempts to escape.

Gaseous Form (Su): As a standard action, Brother Durham can assume gaseous form at will, as the spell cast by a 6th-level sorcerer, but he can remain gaseous indefinitely and has a fly speed of 20 feet with perfect maneuverability.

Spider Climb (Ex): Brother Durham can climb sheer surfaces as though with a spider climb spell.

Turn Resistance (Ex): Brother Durham is less easily affected by clerics or paladins than other undead. When resolving a turn, rebuke, command, or bolster attempt, he receives a total bonus of +6.

Undead Qualities: Immune to poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death effects, necromantic effects, mind-influencing effects, and any effect requiring a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects; not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, ability drain, or energy drain; negative energy heals; not at risk of death from massive damage, but destroyed at 0 hit points or less; darkvision 60 ft.; cannot be raised or resurrected.

Tactics: Brother Durham wishes to lull the party into a false sense of security. To that end, he plays the victim and tells whatever lies he must to convince the party of his innocence. Any PC can make a Sense Motive check (DC 25) to uncover his lies.

If Brother Durham believes that anyone has detected his true nature, he attempts to charm one of his adversaries into coming to his aid, telling his new "friend" that all his or her companions have gone mad. Otherwise, he accompanies the adventurers and tries to slay them whenever it appears that he could do so with minimal risk, or at the exit into the monastery if they get that far. As he fights, Durham gloats about his new master’s power and mocks the Order’s weakness.

Treasure: Durham's treasure includes his own items, plus the spoils that the Crookedtusk scouting party gained from their previous raids on nearby villages and caravans, plus several pieces he gathered from the broken coffins. His hoard consists of 614 gp, 1,327 sp, a priest's garment woven through with gold thread (worth 120 gp), a silver skull ring with black onyx eyes (worth 240 gp), a divine scroll of dispel magic and prayer, a +1 mace (which he no longer uses), +1 chainmail, two potions of cure moderate wounds, and a helm of comprehending languages and reading magic.

Concluding the Adventure

If the PCs return the bodies of the slain expeditionaries to the Order, the abbot rewards each of them with a 100 gp purse and an enchanted piece of star rose quartz. Members of the Order make these magic items, which are called undiminished stars. In addition, the abbot allows the PCs to keep any treasure they have excavated from the caverns.

Undiminished Star: An undiminished star stores a one-time use of the spell death ward, which is automatically activated whenever its possessor encounters one of the effects that the spell would guard against. After the spell’s duration expires, the stone is no longer magical.

Caster Level: 7th; Prerequisites: Craft Wondrous Item, death ward; Market Price: 2,500 gp.

What Next?

Although the PCs have presumably slain Durham, his creator still lurks deep beneath the earth, forging alliances with any number of monstrous, or even infernal, creatures. If Durham had a chance to gloat about his new master's power, the PCs may decide to seek him out by excavating the tunnel in Area 4. If the PCs remain unaware of the larger threat at the adventure's end, they may encounter the quiet, strangely serene keeper of the Order's library, who can inform them of the evil that has been unleashed below. Even if the characters do not pursue Delcielus, he will not forget their meddling -- he is sure to seek them out later, after he has concluded his business.

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!)


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