Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Well of Demons

The third and most significant mini-dungeon in Thunderspire Labyrinth is the Well of Demons.

That's a dramatic name. It's got "demons" right there in the title. But jaded players might be too burned out by the repeated disappointments of the Labyrinth to really get excited about it. "Oh boy, demons," they'll be declaring sarcastically as they make their way to what will probably be another laundry list of unexciting beat-'em-ups. Demons are a classic enemy dating right back to the earliest editions of D&D, and it's just plain cruel to tease them if you're not going to follow through.

So it's great, then, that Thunderspire finally delivers.

The Well is crawling with demons. Your players are probably going to see more of the extraplanar buggers in the next ten encounters than they will in any place outside the Abyss itself. Once the players get past a couple of introductory encounters they'll barely be able to go two steps without running into an Evistro or a Barlgura.

This is the promise of 4th Edition, finally made good: Epic Tier encounters on a Heroic Tier budget. Players don't have to wait 20-something levels to go toe-to-toe with the fiery fury of the planes beyond - they can do it right at the start of their careers, and feel damn good about it all the while.

Demons aren't even the best of what's on offer here. The Well features the best-designed encounters in the module, starting with a exotic match-up against a group of grab-happy abominations, continuing to a trio of clever puzzle rooms and concluding in style with two fantastic set-piece boss battles. This is classic dungeon-crawling done well, and it's almost good enough to single-handedly lift the rest of Thunderspire Labyrinth out of mediocrity and into the ranks of the halfway decent.

So what's going on here plot-wise?

The Well of Demons is yet another piece of local minotaur history. In the days of Saruun Khel the Well was a monastery dedicated to Baphomet, demon god of the minotaurs. It included barracks for the minotaur priests, and an inner complex known as the "Proving Grounds" designed to test the dedication of potential Baphomet devotees.

Today, the Well has been invaded by a band of gnolls. Their leader, Maldrick Scarmaker, is intent on rededicating the Well to the gnoll god Yeenoghu. He's obtained two slaves from the Duergar that he intends to sacrifice on Baphomet's altar as part of the rededication ceremony. These, naturally, are the two slaves the players are still trying to rescue.

Maldrick's got some kind of vague deal going on with Paldemar. Paldemar's giving him... something... and in return Maldrick's providing Paldemar with any "artifacts and items" he finds in the Well. That relationship is never really elaborated on in any form that the players can get to grips with, which leaves the Well feeling like yet another disconnected station on the all-stops Thunderspire railroad. Thankfully, the inherent quality here is high enough to stop you from caring.

The goal for players, then, is to overcome the gnoll guards, solve the riddle of the Proving Grounds, and burst into the inner sanctum of Baphomet just in time to stop Maldrick from sacrificing the captives and completing the rededication.

Sounds easy enough, right?

4 comments:

richgreen01 said...

Great series of posts!

We finished Thunderspire Labyrinth last night in a very tough battle with Paldemar. Looking back on the whole adventure, the Well of Demons was definitely the most fun section although we also enjoyed roleplaying in the Seven Pillared Hall which is a pretty cool setting. You're right about the bronze warders - complete pain the arse to kill! Still disapppointed at the complete lack of actual minotaurs though.

Greg Tannahill said...

@richgreen01 - Thanks! As of writing this our group is one session into Pyramid of Shadows with the second coming up tomorrow. If you're moving on to Pyramid, feel free to share your experiences so I've got a wider pool of anecdotes for that module when I get to it.

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James said...

The disconnection between the zones was something I too found really bothersome, enough so that I made my own hopefully useful attempt to resolve. Originally I used Splug (the captive goblin in KotS) as comic relief and occasional damage/flanking, but he grew into someone the group really enjoyed. I used him as the hook for Thunderspire labyrinth. He is captured by Bloodreavers for standard slave purposes. When adventures conclude with the bloodreavers they learn that he has been sold to the Duergar. The Duergar want him because they are aware of a heavy bounty Maldrick has placed on live goblins. Ultimately splug ends up in the hands of Maldrick who wants to turn him into a norker and thus another of Paldemar's minions and in return Paldemar is divulging secrets concerning demonic rituals. Reads well enough, but its still a bit weak of a connection for the players to enjoy, but I'm hoping Splug can fill the gaps. In either case I'm excited to see how it plays as we're just about to start tonight.

Smidge long, but I hope that helps anyone who was looking for a bit more of a connection enjoy the adventure :D