Light of Despair
Episode Two: Dangers of the Cliffside
By Robert Wiese
The Light of Despair is a short adventure for four 5th-level characters. The adventure takes the characters from the high plateau of a semi-seaside community down a steep cliff and to a haunted lighthouse long disused. It is an acceptable challenge for characters of levels 4-6. It is not adaptable to lower-level characters due to the creatures involved, and higher-level characters would find it far too easy. It uses the Lighthouse map from the January 2001 Map-a-Week feature.
The one constant throughout all of the episodes is the weather.
Weather: The DM should consider having one of two things happen during the story when it comes to weather: drizzle or sun. Using the sun makes the storms that the ghost calls forth even more impressive. However, setting a more horror-oriented mood with a gray day full of drizzle and a hint of chill to the air might be even more effective. Gauge it by how your players normally react to situations with their characters. You could even start with a sunny, brisk day and transition it into more gloomy, threatening weather as the PCs approach the lighthouse. Just keep in mind that the ghost has her own ways with the weather!
The characters found a dying man in the road, who had a key to an abandoned lighthouse. He was a descendent of smugglers that used the lighthouse for illicit activities, and he was going to claim their abandoned treasure. On the way there, other descendants attacked him; they wanted the key. Now the group of PCs stands atop the cliffs that form the border between Oceanside and the sea. Far below, the lighthouse awaits.
Dangers of the Cliffside (EL 5)
It is very unlikely that all the characters can fly down the cliff, so at least some of them have to climb. Whether they fly or climb does not materially affect the encounter in this part of the adventure.
The cliffs are 300 feet high at this point and are fairly level. There are sufficient handholds to climb down without ropes, but this is very difficult without a number of ranks in the Climb skill. Climbing the cliff without ropes requires a successful Climb check DC 20 (rough surface with some narrow handholds). With a rope, the DC on the Climb check is only 5, but there are no visible ledges on the side of the cliff to perch on, so they have to tie together 300 feet of rope to use this method all the way down or use pitons. A successful check allows a character to cover half their base speed in feet. Lots of checks are required, so you might want to have them make a check at the start, one at 50 feet from the top, one at 150 feet, and one at 250 feet. They have to make checks every round while under attack.
About 100 feet down the cliff, a cavern entrance opens up, though it is not visible from the top of the cliff. Inside the cavern lives a manticore that hears the characters on the cliff when they make their Climb check at 50 feet (unless the players specify that their PCs are taking care not to make noise and succeed). The manticore flies out of its cave upon hearing the PCs and fires a volley of spikes at the one(s) nearest his cave as he circles for another attack. He continues to use spikes until he runs out, and then tries to pull characters off the cliff with its claws. If it is reduced to 10% of its hit points, it flies off to heal. It is defending its home, but it is not suicidal.
Manticore: 62 hp; see Monster Manual page 130.
The manticore gets a +2 circumstance bonus to attack characters that are climbing, and climbing characters lose their Dexterity bonuses to AC (and any other bonuses lost when they lose their Dexterity bonus, like a monk's Wisdom bonus or a bonus from the Dodge feat). Characters injured while climbing have to make a Climb check when injured (DC appropriate to their method of climbing); failure means they fall at least 250 feet and take 20d6 falling damage (and probably die).
Characters can try to climb faster; see the description in the Climb skill in the Player's Handbook on page 65.
Assuming the characters survive this encounter, they can continue downward, or investigate the manticore's cave before continuing downward. The cave is large and smells rather like a lion lives there. They find it littered with bones and ruined armor and equipment. The PCs can discover three ruined backpacks with normal adventuring equipment (including climbing equipment if the characters need it), a total of 85 gp in coins, and two broken longswords. The manticore had not acquired very much treasure, as the equipment from his victims tended to fall to the water below.
Rest is probably needed, and the only places to rest are the manticore's cave or the top of the cliff. The manticore returns in 24 hours, so they should probably not stay too long. If it returns, it has a new arsenal of spikes for the day and has healed 9 hit points.
Crossing the reef bed to the lighthouse should not be hard. They can swim, or they can climb over the submerged reef, or the group could find something to use as a boat.
The characters have reached the island and stand before the lighthouse. Some of them might be dead or severely injured at this point. Will the lighthouse prove even more dangerous?