While my daughter DMed her first-ever Total Party Kill in another part of the library, eight players crowded around my table today to climb the slime-haunted reaches of the great shaft and batter their way into the hidden uppermost level of Dwimmermount.
They surprised me by leaving Kermit the Fighter behind with a torch to watch their rope and make sure that it didn't get dissolved by slime or that giant spiders didn't climb up behind them to cut off their retreat.
Ferdick (level 1 fighter) guided the group through the red-lit corridors with his characteristic decisiveness, making calls at every intersection as Jager the Elf (level 2) scrambled to keep pace with his map.
Weird Tree Guy: "It doesn't have to be perfect."
Jager: "Yes. It. Does."
Like moth's to a flame, they veered directly toward the first trap marked on my map. I telegraphed the punch a bit, mentioning strange runes on the frosted, translucent door. They surprised me with a bit of prudence, back pedalling and showering the door with stones and javelins in an effort to set off any magical trap that might lay on it.
"I'll use Locate Object to try and find some part of the sigil that's more like a trigger than the rest."
I thought that was clever, so I played along a bit.
"Hmm. Not really clear from your spell, but you think the sigilry is most concentrated around the door's latch mechanism."
They finally decided to shelter out of sight while Jager peeked around the corner and blasted the lock with his Magic Missile. That certainly registered as tampering in my book ...
"You suddenly feel drawn forward and have to steady yourselves, then a second later there is a WHOMP! and a wall of flame fills the corridor. Anything standing in these five feet take [rolling 4 dice] this much damage. Anyone ten feet further back takes [rolling 1d6] this much less. Ten feet further ... [rolling 1d6] this much less ..."
Jager's luck held (fully healthy he has only 7 hit points), and he got off with little more than singed eyebrows.
Their risks paid off and in the room beyond they found a sweet spellbook and heaps of old scrolls. Among the papers there was a log written in High Thullian, recounting the return of a Termaxian expedition from another world -- "When we awoke from the sleep-pods Gorres and Adept Turnus had been reduced to a turbid, green slime ..."
"It's the back-story of the ooze!"
In a final, surprise display of prudence, Ferdick led the party in an immediate reverse march, intent on escaping the dungeon with their gains.
A pair of strange, rolling spheres threatened to cut off their retreat, however, and when speared they released toxic clouds of spores! The halfling succumbed at once as the pary fled. Jack the archer, choking and gasping, swooned while descending the rope down to level 1 and tumbled hundreds of feet into the pit below. Finally, a third PC collapsed at the foot of the rope, wheezed and grew still.
Never one to be swayed by sentiment, Ferdick moved to kick the final victim of the fungal attack down the shaft lest he spread the infection ... but even as his boot met ribs, the sprawled adventurer transformed before his eyes into a shaggy werewolf! [this PC began the game infected with lycanthropy ... we've just been waiting for a triggering event]
A desperate fight erupted at the edge of the pit. While the other three survivors fled toward the Red Gates, Ferdick and Weird Tree Guy continually stabbed and slashed at the wolf man to no effect, and the lycanthrope snapped and bit wildly. At the end of the fourth round, Ferdick shield-bashed the werewolf toward the edge, forcing a DEX check. The wolf man lost its footing and tumbled, howling, down to level four.
"He's gonna infect the minotaurs!"
We rounded out the session with the crew selling their recovered scrolls and books (they really aren't all that interested in the secret history of Dwimmermount) and several of them finally upgraded their armor to plate! Ferdick even became the second PC to reach the vaunted heights of level two!
One development none of the players pondered ... they were so successful in breaching "Level Zero," having spent an entire session on the ascent and a single pair of doors, that no thought was spared for what might come slithering out of those red-lit halls to stalk the party upon their return to Dwimmermount.