We’re in it for the Money: Holiday of the Dead

GM Note: The thief is referred to as “Armando Bond” in this adventure.

Following the resolution of the terrorist takeover of SecureExpo ’75, our heroes were rewarded with an all-expenses paid vacation in the country of Faerun. “All expenses paid” does not, however, mean that the group gets to do whatever they want and expect to be reimbursed for it. They are instead provided with a comprehensive holiday package for the famous Hollow Mountain ski resort. The resort, nestled in the town of Skógar at the base of Hollow Mountain itself, is one of the country’s foremost luxury tourist locations, roughly akin to Aspen, Colorado on Earth. The vacation package provides lodging, meals, lift tickets, and gear rentals for the party over the course of a week; a rather generous offering considering the otherwise consistently on-call nature of the party’s employment contract.

After landing at the Duke Eltan Memorial Spaceport in Baldur’s Gate, the players rent a civilian vehicle and hit the road, heading north towards Skógar and a solid week of much deserved relaxation. The journey north begins in much the same way as any road trip; fights over occupancy of the front seat, approximately 500 ounces Big Gulp, and showtunes. As they approach  Skógar, however, anticipation is slowly replaced by apprehension.

For starters, the roads, which in a place like this would presumably be subject to frequent clearing by large plows, are buried under nearly two feet of snow. In addition to the apparent absence of any maintenance personnel there is also a distinct absence of people of any kind. From their vantage point on the edge of town, they are unable to see a single living soul anywhere. Vacant, silent, and covered in freshly-fallen snow, the entire place seems not much more than a frozen ghost town.

Pulling into a nearby gas station, the party disembarks and goes to have a look around. They enter the small convenience store and call out an inquisitive greeting, to be met only with silence. They search behind the counter and in the back rooms but the place is deserted. Armando looks around for a security camera to see if he can get an idea of what led to the place being abandoned, but the store is outfitted only with a convex security mirror. Norm, for his part, takes advantage of the lack of security and raids the cash register.

Leaving behind their car for now as it is unable to traverse the deep snow, the party advances further into the town, hoping to find more clues. As they walk along the deep snow covering most of the town’s main avenue, they find more deserted homes and businesses that have been similarly deserted. There is no sign of any kind of violent altercation anywhere, as none of the windows are broken and the doors all appear to be securely locked and undisturbed, as if everyone in the town simply got up and left. Clearly no one told them that they were already in one of the world’s foremost vacation spots.

Rounding a corner and turning off Main Street they find themselves in the town’s central square. A number of small souvenir retail stores ring the perimeter, along with several restaurants and cafés. On the far north end is the town hall, standing adjacent to a major armory outlet store. To the East is the visitor center, which houses a gondola station that leads up the mountain. To the West is a luxurious-looking four-story building, its ornate double doors flanked by two imposing-looking lion statues. The travel guide identifies this building as the Blessed Hotel, the world’s premiere upscale brothel. In the center of the square stands a towering 15-foot statue of a Goliath, a double-bladed battle axe raised triumphantly above his head and a mischievous grin plastered on his face. A bronze plaque at the base of the statue reads “This statue is built to commemorate the services of Gorag the Blessed, in gratitude from the people of  Skógar. 1372 DR.”

GM Note: Gorag the Blessed was a character that the thief (Armando in this session) had portrayed in a game approximately four years ago. Even the town (though I had at this point forgotten its original name and had to make one up) was a place that Gorag had saved from a monstrous creature in a previous campaign… with a bit of help from his friends.

Armando: “Nice statue. Clearly this was a man of great importance and incredible prowess both in battle and in-”

Norm: “Yeah, whatever. Let’s just keep looking around.”

Scanning the square for a potential lead, Norm’s gaze falls on the armory standing next to the Town Hall. While he doesn’t know exactly what benefit searching the store will provide in regards to finding out what happened to the town, he knows what benefit it will provide in regards to him having more swords. Dashing towards the front doors, he prompts Armando to pick the lock and then bursts inside, looking for all the world like a kid in a candy store. A sharp, deadly candy store.

As Norm fills his arms with every bladed implement he can find, Strauss browses through gunsmithing section of the shop, scooping up a few boxes of jacketed hollow point ammo and some various rail accessories for his rifle. Armando, for his part, once again seeks out a security system, and this being an armory, finds one much more readily. The tapes that the shop’s various cameras record to have long since been filled to capacity. Their last recorded footage is from three days ago, and Armando has to rewind through several hours of uneventful footage before he arrives at what appears to be the last bit of detected movement on the tapes.

The tapes show several individuals dashing frantically through the store, grabbing every firearm they can carry before heading back out the front door. They don’t appear to be robbing the store, as the last figure out the door turns to lock the doors behind him, indicating not only that he had authorized access to the store, but that he didn’t want anyone else getting in after him. Beyond that, the tapes show nothing out of the ordinary, and aren’t angled properly to see very far outside the front doors, restricting the viewing angle to the interior only.

Scratching his chin, Armando heads back into the main room of the store, nearly colliding with Norm, who at this point can hardly be seen behind the haphazard bundle of weapons he has tenderly clutched in his arms. He stumbles a bit and a less-than-ideally perched longsword cuts a small gash in his left arm.

GM Note: I actually made him roll a reflex save for this. I figure if he’s carrying that many weapons then he’d have to make an effort to hold on to them all. As it happens he failed and actually lost a bit of his already meager HP. Let this be a lesson to you: there is such a thing as taking too much loot.

With a shiny new helping of armament, but without many more clues as to what’s been happening in the town, the head back into the square and decide to go check out the Blessed Hotel: as the oldest and sturdiest building around, they assume that if there’s anyone left hiding out in town then they’d probably be there.

As they approach the building, a sharp crack, followed by a lighter ping echoes throughout the square as a shot ricochets off the ground in front of the party. A voice calls out from one of the windows above, though they can’t see its owner.

Voice: “That there was your warning shot. Take another step and the next one goes into that walking pincushion you got with you!”

Strauss and Armando shoot withering glances at Norm, still weighted down by his collection of swords, who simply shrugs awkwardly around the tip of a claymore. Gorak takes a more direct response.

Gorak: “Are you open?”

Voice: “Are we-? Son, you don’t have much of an idea what’s goin’ on around here, do you?”

Gorak: “Not really. We just got here.”

Voice: “And you ain’t seen nothin’?”

Strauss: “No, we were meaning to ask about that, actually.”

Voice: “So you ain’t been attacked?”

Armando: “You mean apart from by you? No.”

Voice: (Pause.) “Alright, come on in the front doors, but do it slowly. Any funny moves and we’ll put you down.”

The party cautiously moves towards past the imposing lion statues flanking the steps that lead up to the equally imposing oak double doors, which slowly creak open before them. Stepping inside, they are greeted with an entry foyer even more ornate than the building’s exterior could have suggested. Rich crown molding rings the walls and ceiling, deep red carpet covers the floor, and brass light fixtures hang from the walls, still lit via the original gas lines. Standing around the foyer, and with a variety of weapons all aimed menacingly, if unexpertly, at the party, are a collection of high-class… let’s just say working girls. Women of seemingly every race, clad in the vestments of an early 20th century bordello, stand in strikingly un-inviting postures with rifles propped against their shoulders. The players are rather confused as to the appropriate course of action to take in such a scenario.

A tall readheaded human woman in a crimson-colored corset steps forward and gestures towards the reception desk with the muzzle her shotgun, indicating that they should disarm. The party, not especially wanting to fight a room full of heavily-armed prostitutes, grudgingly parts with their weapons, setting them on the front desk in a large, deadly heap. Norm has a heap all his own, albeit a far pointier one. When he’s relinquished all of his other bladed, pointed, and otherwise sharp instruments of death and is left with only the swordcane he acquired from Jack Flash, he decides to take a page out of Tolkein’s book and follow the example of Gandalf the White.

Norm: (Innocently) “You wouldn’t deprive a man of his support, would you?”

The redhead is having none of it, however, and gestures again with her shotgun toward the counter. Norm acquiesces and places the swordcane on the counter, and after letting go immediately rolls a bluff check and collapses to the ground with a distressed grunt. A blonde woman standing to the side rushes forward and helps him to his feet, checking to see if he’s seriously hurt, then shooting a glare at the redhead, who for her part looks at least a bit sheepish but still doesn’t allow Norm to retrieve his weapon.

Soon after, a man carrying a scoped hunting rifle descends the stairs, accompanied by another man with an old-fashioned doctor’s bag clutched in his hand. The party tries to ask what’s going on, but the man with the rifle holds up a hand and nods to the man with the doctor’s bag, who then approaches the party and begins examining them, checking any exposed flesh and taking the temperature of the group. When finished, he steps back and looks to the man with the rifle.

Doctor: “They’re clean.”

Rifleman: “Alright then. I guess we can afford to let you stay. You look like a well-armed bunch, anyway, might be you could help out.”

Strauss: “Exactly what’s going on here? We show up for a vacation, the whole town’s apparently vanished, you start shooting at us, and now we’re getting checked over in a room full of hookers and not by any of the hookers. We want some answers.”

Rifleman: “Sorry about the unkind greetings, but it’s a necessary precaution given the situation. My name’s Doran, I’m the mayor of this town. These here are the girls of the Blessed Hotel. The lass with the shotgun there is Rebecca, she runs this place.”

Rebecca nods at the party, breaking open the action on her shotgun and tucking it under one arm in a manner far more practiced than one would normally assume a Madam to have in regard to firearms.

Doran: “Just about everybody that’s left from this town is holed up somewhere in here, too. As for your vacation, I’m afraid you boys won’t be finding much in the way of relaxation here.”

Armando: “We’re starting to get that.”

Norm: “Why’s everybody hiding in here?”

Doran: (Sighs) “It all started about three days ago. Three of the local kids went exploring up on the mountain. There’s plenty of old trails up there that you can still navigate even in the winter, and it’s something of a popular past time for kids playing adventurer. Nothing out of the ordinary, but the thing is that only two came back. They were pale, worn out from running all the way back here, and generally scared out of their minds. They say they don’t know what exactly happened to the third boy, only that he disappeared into the mountain somewhere, and then strange creatures started coming out of the mountain after them. They booked it back here and they’ve been damn near comatose ever since, terrified half to death most like.”

Strauss: “You mentioned something about ‘creatures’?”

Doran: “Yeah. We thought they were just making up stories, trying to cover up some accident or somesuch. But then we lost contact with the summit lodge. We sent up people to check on things, but they never came back down, so we shut down the lifts. Then that night the creatures showed up here. Attacked anyone and anything they got close to and kept it up all night. Then soon as dawn came, they just turned around and headed back up the mountain, left a lot of my people dead behind ‘em. Others though… others got right back up and went with ‘em. What used to be men and women, just walking along like nobody bothered to tell ‘em they’re supposed to be dead.”

Norm: “Great. We try to get a few days of rest and we walk right into a Romero movie.”

Strauss: “Is this everybody who’s left?”

Doran: “Not quite. Like I said, most of us are taking shelter in here, and most of the residents are in the various rooms, this is just the… ah, staff. There’s a few more that barricaded up the Temple of Pelor down at the end of the street. We’ve got a few runners going there and back during the day to keep in contact and supply. Everybody else either got themselves killed or ran off the first chance they got. I don’t imagine any of ‘em scraped together enough cash to pay a guard company to come and clear these things out, so we’re on our own here.”

The party exchanges looks and lets out a collective sigh, aware that they’re about to sacrifice their vacation time for overtime.

Armando: “Sir, in light of the current situation (and for adequate compensation) then the Gillespie and Haggard Active Consulting Agency would be happy to extend their services and assist you in liberating your town from this plight.”

Doran: “That’s great news, when can they be here?”

There is an awkward silence. Gorak coughs.

Strauss: “Uh, that’s us.”

Doran: “Oh.”

More silence.

Doran: “Well, I’m sure you’re very qualified. Is there anything you need from us?”

Armando: “I’d like to see your security footage, if possible. We’d like to see what we’re up against.”

Doran: “Right. This way.”

Doran leads the group past the front desk and through a door leading to a maintenance corridor. At the end of the corridor is a door that opens into a small security booth. Doran sits down at the console and cycles through a few old recordings until he comes to the one he wants.

Doran: “This was the night of the first attack.”

Doran hits the play button and the recording playback starts. It shows an exterior camera angle looking out at the central square. Though the angle isn’t lateral to the ground and therefore the viewing angle only extends for 20 feet or so, it is more than enough. The screen plays images of citizens, running frantically across the square, silent screams bursting from their mouths as the CCTV camera lacks an audio component. They are pursued, slowly but diligently, by shuffling humanoid figures, arms outstretched and bits and pieces falling from their obviously decomposing bodies. Several creatures sit hunched over still corpses of villagers, doing what zombies do.

Gorak: “Are they..?”

Doran: “Yeah. They eat the dead. If they don’t finish ‘em off too much they stand back up in a while and start acting like one of them. Any dead we find, we burn, even if they don’t seem like they were bit. I don’t want to take any chances.”

Armando: “Smart.”

Strauss: “I think we’ve seen enough here. Let’s go check out your defenses.”

Doran nods and shuts off the recording before leading them back into the corridor. As they head back to the main foyer, they hear a whimpered moan emanate from a room on the right. They freeze.

Armando: “What was that?”

Doran: “Oh. That’s Alex.”

Without stopping to ask any more questions, Armando turns and throws open the door, revealing a small medical office. Sprawled out on a cot in the corner of the room is a woman, the aforementioned Alex, clearly in pain and drenched in sweat, a bandage wrapped tightly around her left arm. A nurse sitting beside her looks up in surprise at the sudden intrusion.

Nurse: “Doran? What’s going on? Who are these people?”

Armando: “What the hell is going on here?”

Nurse: “I’m looking after this woman. You are the one barging in and getting in the way of that.”

Strauss: “Doran, what happened to her?”

Doran: “Alex is one of our runners. She was out getting supplies and stayed out too late. Got back here just as the creatures started showing up. We managed to get her inside, but she got hurt.”

Strauss: “Bit?”

Doran nods grimly.

Norm: “Right then. Let’s bash her head in and be done with it.”

Nurse: “What? No! Are you insane?”

Norm: “Are you? This woman is a time bomb. Either we kill her now or she dies later and then helps herself to a six course prostitute brain buffet.”

Nurse: “We have no proof of that. She’s sick, yes, but I intend to help her. Until she dies, she is in my care, and I won’t have you murder her on nothing more than suspicion!”

The players take another look at Alex, who lets out a wet cough and shifts slightly on the cot. They then look between the angry nurse and Doran, his rifle still slung over his shoulder.

Armando: “Fine. On your head be it.”

Strauss: “Now about those defenses?”

Doran: “This way.”

Doran leads them back into the foyer where he points out the barricaded front door and windows. He then heads upstairs to demonstrate the sniping positions he and several others set up. Norm and Gorak stay downstairs to “assess the combat capabilities of the staff”, as they put it. Norm strikes up a conversation with the blonde woman who helped him up after his staged collapse earlier, though she doesn’t seem to notice that he now walks just fine without so much as a limp. Meanwhile, Gorak somewhat awkwardly approaches Rebecca, the Madam.

Gorak: “Um, do you guys have any, uh, dwarven girls working here?”

Rebeccca: “Well sure. Lynette is the local favorite, she’s upstairs right now.”

Gorak: “Do you, uh, do you think she’s taking clients right now?”

Rebecca: (Smiles) “That all depends on how much you got, sugar.”

Gorak reaches into his pocket and fumbles around for a moment before withdrawing a fistful of crumpled bills and some change.

Gorak: “How much will…” (He consults the fistful of currency) “$3.17 get me?”

Rebecca: “A glass of cheap whiskey from the bar. And my pity.”

Upstairs, Strauss is checking the sightlines from the windows with Doran, trying to find the ideal location for him to set up with his rifle come nightfall. Armando watches from just outside the door in the hallway. Turning to his left, he notices a rather large orcish woman, clad in leather, looking at him. She waves coyly at him and then turns and walks away. Armando blinks once then turns back to the open doorway.

Armando: “Doran?”

Doran: “Yeah?”

Armando: “An orc just waved at me.”

Doran: “Oh, yeah, that’s Helga.”

Armando: “Helga?”

Doran: “From what Rebecca tells me she’s here for some of the more… unique clients.”

Armando: “When you say unique…”

Doran: “Let’s just say that if we’re turning this place into a fortress, her room would be the dungeon.”

Armando: “Ah.” (Pause) “I think I’ll set up downstairs, if that’s okay with you.”

Doran: “By all means.”

As the players retrieve their weapons and establish their defensive positions, night slowly falls over the town. As the skies darken, so too does the demeanor of those in the Blessed Hotel. A light snow begins to fall, but it does nothing to lighten the mood of the men and women standing on guard at the windows of their makeshift castle. Doran orders the lights extinguished, plunging the hotel and its surrounding area into darkness. As their night vision is gradually established, there is nothing to do but wait.

They do not have to wait long. From the edge of town nearest the base of the mountain, the dead begin shuffling their way into the town square, arms outstretched as if reaching towards some as of yet unseen opponent, and their unnatural moan reverberating off the walls of nearby buildings, creating an unnerving echo.

From his position in a second-story window, Strauss looks through the scope of his rifle. Settling the crosshairs on the skull of the nearest monster, he flicks the safety off his weapon and rests his finger on the trigger. Doran reaches over and places a hand on his arm, shaking his head.

Doran: (whispering) “Not yet.”

Strauss: “Why not?”

Doran: “These things aren’t smart. Without stimulus, they’ll just wander around until dawn. If we keep quiet, and if we’re lucky, they’ll never even know we’re here. Just hold you fire for now. You’ll know when to start shooting.”

Somewhat grudgingly, Strauss clicks his rifle back to safe, but keeps his eye glued to the scope, vigilant for any sign that the zombies are taking notice of them.

Downstairs, the tension is even higher. Through the barricaded windows, it is difficult to see the threat lingering outside, but they all know it is there. The hotel’s girls sit solemnly around the room, hands resting near their weapons. Helga stands near the stairs, a large whip coiled in her right hand. Few are willing to ask her why she doesn’t prefer a rifle instead and none even consider asking her why or where she got a whip in the first place. Norm twirls one of his katanas in his left hand as he stands next to the window on the far right. Armando sits on the reception desk, knowing there’s nothing to do for now, and hopefully there won’t be until morning. Gorak checks the spare ammo for his shotgun again, silently cursing himself for not bringing more than $3.17 on this trip. $5 would have at least got him some slightly better whiskey.

Outside, the zombies continue their directionless shuffle. Having arrived at the town and not seeing any immediately obvious targets, they appear at a loss for what to do and simply drag themselves from one end of the square to the other; some of them simply stand in place swaying slightly from side to side. It looks as if the night may pass without incident, all they have to do is keep quiet.

But of course, that would be too easy. Suddenly, from the back of the hotel, a piercing scream permeates the quiet stillness and dozens of zombie eyes fix on the Blessed Hotel. Armando and Gorak vault over the front desk and run into the maintenance corridor, already knowing what they’ll find when they arrive at the medical office. Kicking open the door, Armando immediately opens fire on the room with his Tavor rifle, shredding a row of cabinets on the far wall. His bullets fly over the heads of the Nurse and Alex, who has obviously died and reanimated. Her eyes empty and glazed over, she doesn’t even look up at the sound of automatic gunfire tearing over her head. On the ground next to her is the nurse, tears streaming down her eyes and her arm firmly fixed between Alex’s teeth. Bounding into the room a second later, Gorak elbows his way past Armando while flipping his shotgun in his hands. Swinging with all his strength, he smashes the buttstock of the rifle into the side of Alex’s head, caving in her skull and dropping her to the ground as her jaws finally go slack and release the nurse; the nurse which Armando wastes no time in showing the error of her ways in trying to treat infected patients. He applies a more suitable remedy: a 5.56x45mm round.

Strauss decides that this is probably a good indication that things will not go as smoothly as they had hoped and wastes no time in engaging the nearest zombie, sending a bullet through its head. Doran immediately follows suit, raining a fusillade of sniper fire down on the undead horde below. Everyone downstairs follow the example of the two snipers upstairs, taking up positions at narrow slits in the boarded-up windows and firing at the monsters approaching the façade. Armando and Gorak return from the medical office and join in the fight as well.

Though the barrage from the windows is steady, a number of zombies still manage to close the distance and begin tearing at the barricaded openings to the hotel. One smashes through the window on the left and is put down by a close-range blast from Gorak’s shotgun, while another breaks through on the right and another two start pounding at the front door. The zombie on the right pulls itself through the window and lunges at one of the women fighting next to Norm. Obviously unused to the rigors of combat, she drops her antiquated lever-action rifle and throws her hands up in front of her face, letting out a terrified scream.

Norm, thankfully, is a bit more experienced and swings his sword in a wide arc, decapitating the zombie as it leans in to try and take a bite out of the woman. His moment of gallantry costs him, however, as another zombie crawls through the window and latches on to his shoulders as he begins to turn back towards the battle. Caught in the iron grasp of a zombie with its jaws snapping inches from his face, Norm has difficulty raising his weapon to fight off the creature, and it seems that he’ll fall victim to the bite at any moment.

GM Note: Zombies in D&D are not at all like the zombies we’ve come to know in other media. They might be called zombies, but the D20 entry for zombie enemies claims that their principle method of attack is hitting their opponent with their fists. I don’t know what kind of zombie fiction the folks at Wizards watch/read but it’s definitely not the kind that I’m familiar with. As you’ve probably picked up on by this point in the campaign, I’m something of a huge fan of genre fiction. If I’m going to write a zombie thriller campaign, then dammit, I’m gonna do it right. After scouring the internet for a bit I found a fairly decent set of rules (or rather, several sets of rules that I amalgamated into one) that allowed for more traditional zombie combat.

Instead of pummeling on its enemies like an undead Mike Tyson, a zombie will instead get a “slam” attack combined with improved grab, allowing them to make a grapple attack upon a successful hit. Once their opponent is grappled, they may make an additional bite attack against them. Here’s the kicker: if you get bit, then congratulations chief, you’ve got a few hours to live, max. At 30 minute intervals (game-time), you make a fortitude save. If you fail, then you progress to the next level of the virus, or at more advanced levels, die. You cannot be resurrected from this death and several minutes after expiration, your character rises again and becomes a mindless undead husk and it’s time to re-roll. While you can be cured of the virus by any appropriately skilled cleric, this makes zombies a much more dire threat and forces the players to treat them with the caution afforded them by survivors in your classic Romero “Dead” film.

Additionally, I also included the classic “you gotta shoot ‘em in the head” aspect of zombie fiction. The zombie’s head has a higher defense rating than the rest of their body, but it also has approximately half the hitpoints. So you can run the risk of missing more often against the reward of possibly killing the creature much faster. All of this made zombie combat for more engaging than it typically is in D&D when the only defining difference is your GM saying “you see a zombie”.

Luckily for Norm, Strauss heard the commotion in the foyer from his position upstairs and leaving Doran to take over sniping duties, ran to provide assistance. Skidding to a halt at the top of the stairs, Strauss surveys the scene in one quick scan of the room, steadies his rifle, and fires. The bullet flies true and punches through the head of the zombie grappling Norm, the bullet only inches away from Norm’s own face. Shoving the lifeless(er?) body away from him, Norm nods his thanks to Strauss and takes up his position at the window again.

By now, the rest of the girls have apparently gotten their game together and are able to concentrate much more accurate fire on the approaching horde. Helga even manages to entangle a few in her whip before crushing them with her not insubstantial girth. The battle continues through the night, until the first traces of light begin to enter the sky and the sun finally rises. As one, the zombies turn back toward the mountain and begin their slow, upward shuffle back to whatever hellhole they crawled out from.

Assessing the damage, which is thankfully minimal, the players decide that they’ll need to head up the mountain and find the source of whatever necromantic energy is prompting the dead to stop being dead and start being aggressors. Before they head up the slopes, however, they decide to go and check on the other survivors at the Church of Pelor. Not to see if they’ve made it through alright, you understand, but just because any kind of divine favor they can gather will likely help in a fight against undead. They’re still player characters after all: never attribute to kindness what can be similarly explained by utility.

Approaching the church, they find the doors and windows thoroughly sealed up, and after several forceful knocks and repeated reassurances that they are not in fact minions of an undead power come to devour the brains of the innocent, the imposing double doors swing open to reveal a sizeable crowd of scared, but still living villagers. A priest of Pelor greets them and apologizes for their suspicion, but the doors of the church have been decidedly less open to all in recent days.

Armando: “Perfectly understandable. And while we’re glad you’re all still this side of a zombie’s digestive system, what we’re really here for is holy water.”

Priest: “Holy water?”

Armando: “Is there an echo? We’re fighting the undead are we not? And last I checked undead are vulnerable to virtually anything with the word ‘holy’ in it, so we could really do with some bona-fide, bright and sparkling, blessed-in-the-eyes-of-Pelor holy water. About a barrel of the stuff should do, so be a sport and roll it on out here would you?”

Priest: “We don’t have anything resembling the amount of water you’re asking for.”

Strauss: “Then just bless us up some more, we’re on a schedule here.”

Priest: “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Norm: “Look, do you want to be eaten by zombies?”

Priest: “Pardon?”

Norm: “Answer the question: Do. You want. To be eaten. By zombies?”

Priest: “I should say not.”

Norm: “Then I don’t care what kind of club charter or whatever you signed here, we need that water and we don’t really care if you break a few rules to get it. So hurry up.”

Priest: “You misunderstand: I mean I really can’t do that.”

Armando: “Come again?”

Priest: “I’m not a cleric.”

There is a confused pause.

Gorak: “But… you’re in a church.”

Priest: “Precisely. When was the last time you saw a Cleric of Pelor that was actually in a church and not out gallivanting with some adventuring party? Most our churches are seen to by cloistered brothers such as myself. We’re as devout as any cleric, I assure you, but we lack the divine favor our more active brethren are blessed with. I can oversee morning and evening prayers and I’m more than capable of relighting the candles, but blessing anything is a bit beyond me, I’m afraid.”

Armando: “Great. Well do you have anything we could use?”

Priest: “We have a small supply of water on hand for minor blessings and the like that I suppose we could spare, given the current circumstances of your request.”

Strauss: “We’ll take it.”

The Priest disappears into a back room for a few moments and re-emerges with a small vial of water. He gingerly hands it to the players and wishes them luck before ushering them back outside and sealing their small fortress behind them.

Armando: “F***ing Pelorites.”

Returning to the Blessed Hotel, they consult with Doran about what their next move should be. All he knows for sure is that the undead seem to flock down from the mountain during the night. Hollow Mountain was, in years past, a rich mining hub, with precious metals and stones being withdrawn from its depths by the cartload. Over time though, the riches were extracted and the mining interests suddenly shut down, moving on to newer opportunities. The mountain is still riddled with mineshafts, however, and the dead could be emerging from any one of them, or at least that seems the most likely scenario.

Agreeing with Doran’s suspicions, the party decides to ascend to the summit lodge and search from the top down. If they don’t find anything, they can always come back down before sunset and hole up in the Blessed Hotel again until daylight allows for safer search conditions the next day. Not wanting to rely on the point-to-point nature of the gondola for their only means of transport, they decide to take the gondola only so far as the first waystation, which serves as a maintenance and layover point for lift and also houses a small number of snowcat tracked vehicles which they can use for transportation. Doran tells them that the waystation normally houses a small support staff, but he hasn’t heard from them since the disaster started and he has no way of knowing if they’re alive or not. With their plan in place, the party sets off.

The initial gondola ride takes them approximately halfway up the mountain, running at a slight angle to the horizontal, allowing the gondola to switchback up the mountain at a less severe angle. Smaller ski lifts crisscross the runs below them, and a number of zombie stragglers from last night’s horde wade their way through the un-groomed slopes on their way back to God knows where. The fact that they were supposed to be traversing this mountain with skis, not assault rifles, is not lost on the party.

As the gondola approaches the waystation, it suddenly lurches to a halt, stopping short of the mouth of the maintenance bay by about 30 feet. As the car sways back and forth gently as it fights its former inertia, a voice calls out from the shadows within the waystation.

Voice: “Who’s there?”

Strauss: “We’re friends of Doran’s, we’re here to help solve your zombie problem.”

Voice: “Doran?”

Strauss: “Yeah, Doran, your mayor? Remember him?”

Voice: “Doran is dead. Everyone in the town is dead.”

Armando: “Noooo, we’re pretty sure they’re alive. We just talked to them not 20 minutes ago.”

Voice: “No. Impossible. There were too many. Too many dead. How can the living stand against it?”

Norm: “Same way you did?”

Voice: “No, the hordes passed us by. They don’t know we’re here, but we saw them. Saw all the dead, and saw our friends and loved ones come back amongst them, more and more each day. No one can be left.”

Armando: “Listen, we’re telling you, people are still alive down there. They’re holding out, but they won’t have to for much longer if we can put a stop to this. So how about you just let us inside and we’ll see what we can do to fix things. Maybe we can work together?”

Voice: “No! No one in the town lives! You can’t be with them, so you must be with the others!”

The strains of madness are now apparent in the voice; apparently some people are a little less well-adjusted to mass uprisings of the undead than Doran and the others in the village. Armando, noting the futility in conversing with the insane, decides to roll a spot check to see if he can locate the source of the voice. It’s fortunate that he does so, as the first thing he sees upon looking more deeply into the shadows is a man emerge from behind a wall. Holding a large tube on his shoulder. Which is pointed at the gondola the party is currently sitting in.

Armando: “Everybody out, now!”

Without another word, Armando flings himself out one of the open windows of the gondola, much preferring to take his chances with a 15-foot fall into unpacked snow as opposed to a rocket-propelled grenade. The other players thankfully take notice of the danger immediately after Armando does and waste no time in following him outside the gondola. As they launch themselves into space and begin the plummet to the ground, the tube belches fire and the 93mm shaped charge flies toward the now-empty gondola, detonating against its exterior surface and engulfing the car in flame. The cable snaps in the explosion, sending the burning car (and all the rest) falling into the snow, leaving a trail of wreckage snaking all the way back to the town’s gondola station.

As the players fall to the ground amidst a cacophony of burning, squealing metal and muffled grunts of impact, several more figures flood out of the waystation to survey the damage, and once they realize that their intended targets have escaped more or less unharmed, the battle is joined.

The four crazies take up positions on two maintenance catwalks that run parallel to the gondola cables (or where they used to be, anyway), giving them a superior firing angle on the party members that are now attempting to climb up a steep hill in deep snow, surrounded by the burning wreckage of their gondola car. It is, in a very literal sense, an uphill battle. Armando takes a hard hit right off the bat and limps his way around the side of the waystation into cover. Gorak, hampered by the double impediment of deep snow and short legs, struggles his way painstakingly up the hill, firing his shotgun here and there at anyone he can draw line of sight to. Norm dedicates his entire turn to movement as he charges toward his enemies, katanas whirling in front of him like a makeshift snowplow. Strauss and the man that the party conversed with busy themselves exchanging sniper fire, Strauss taking rough cover behind a burning section of the gondola. Most of the party spends the first few rounds of combat highly exposed and take a number of hits. About the only thing that could be said to be advantageous to the players is that the man with the RPG appears to have only had one rocket available and has discarded the weapon in favor of a submachine gun.

As Norm and Gorak finally close the distance, they are able to more effectively engage their enemies with sword and shotgun. Norm engages in a haphazard duel with a man using his rifle to defend, and Gorak sends another retreating to the cover of the waystation as buckshot tears into his side. Around the side of the building, however, Armando is waiting for him. Using the door as cover, he opens it, fires a round at the wounded man, then ducks back behind the door and closes it behind him. He repeats this process several times until the man drops dead, managing to keep himself in hard cover the whole time.

Strauss however has somewhat less effective cover and has taken a few rounds from a sniper who’s apparently about as quick on the trigger as he is. The two aren’t so much exchanging fire as they are playing hot potato with it. Every time one sticks their head even slightly into view, at least one round will ping off their light cover or thud into flesh. It isn’t until Gorak charges into the man from behind, sending him jumping for cover off the edge of the catwalk that Strauss is finally able to wrest the upper hand. Rising from cover and approaching the man at a steady walk, Strauss squeezes off round after round at him until the sheer relentlessness of the onslaught overpowers him and he falls back into a snowdrift accumulated at the base of the catwalk, effectively burying himself through the process of his own death.

Back up on the second catwalk, Norm has gotten up to his old tricks again. Those tricks being the uncanny ability to get reduced to one hitpoint with exceptional speed. Indignant of his wound, he knocks the gun of his opponent aside with the hilt of one sword and brings the other down in a vicious arc. The gunman tries once again to raise his weapon to deflect the blow, but the katana has decided that it is somewhat sharper all of a sudden and cleaves directly through the weapon’s receiver, the chambered round, and the torso of the man holding the whole thing. Dusted with a small cloud of gunpowder from the eviscerated bullet, the man staggers backwards and collapses to the ground, only barely managing to stay in one piece. The last man continues fighting, but combined fire from Strauss, Gorak, and Armando take him down at the expense of a few more hitpoints worth of damage to the players.

GM Note: I’ve been told by the players themselves that this was actually the hardest fight in the entire campaign (excluding the robot factory battle in Do Androids Dream of Electric Dire Sheepin which almost everyone got knocked out, but they were a man down there so the results are somewhat skewed). I tend not to reconstruct fights in round-by-round detail so the depiction presented here fails to encapsulate just how long this fight went on for. I actually had to cut some of my previous plans for the adventure and fold them into other events just so the game wouldn’t last until 7 AM. And this was really just some throwaway encounter with some no-name NPCs that I included solely to incorporate another trope of zombie media (insane survivors). If you’ve ever played D&D for any period of time this is a common scenario: the average mooks that put up an unexpected epic fight to the chagrin of the players. This is almost invariably followed by the completely underwhelming end boss who gets one-hit-killed to the chagrin of the GM. No promises about whether or not that will be the case here.

With the crazies dispatched, the players quaff several of the healing potions they had left over from previous adventures and search the area for anything useful. Strauss, after having been tormented by the thing for more than a few rounds of combat, examines the rifle used by the gang’s leader. Sure enough, it’s a beauty: a Knight’s Armament Company SR-25 SD, magically enchanted to be more effective for fighting incorporeal creatures. Strauss eagerly snatches up the new rifle, but wonders where a maintenance worker on a gondola lift would have gotten such a weapon. Further examination of the waystation reveals the answer to that, as well as where one of the other workers managed to procure an RPG-7.

Tucked into a back room is a fairly substantial amount of weaponry, along with more mundane objects like bootleg DVDs and knockoff watches. Apparently the workers were running some kind of smuggling operation through this waystation by way of the mountains. Much to the players’ displeasure the supply of rocket ammunition has been expended on their former mode of transport, and the rest of the assorted weaponry isn’t any better than what they already have, so they decide to leave it behind and continue with their objective.

Going through a door to an adjoining section of the waystation they find a large garage housing two snowcats, just as Doran said. As Norm enters the driver’s seat, Gorak hits the button to open the garage’s doors and the rest of the players pile in to continue their trek up the mountain. The drive up is uneventful, save for navigating around a few more zombie stragglers. As they approach the summit lodge, Armando rolls another spot check, which with his current skill ranks and various item bonuses and situational modifiers approaches something in the mid-30s. On a halfway decent roll. At level six. Rest assured, were there anything of import to be seen, he would have seen it.

As it stands, however, there isn’t any zombie attack force shuffling out to meet them, any pit into the depths of hell from which the dead are crawling forth, and no giant glowing neon sign pointing to an evil-looking necromancer saying “He did it!”. Instead, all that greets their approach is a collection of half-eaten bodies, too far devoured to rise as part of the horde. They are splayed out nearly everywhere between the gondola station and the lodge’s entrance, and the bodies appear to occupy most of the interior as well. While they could search the lodge itself, they know from what Doran told them that the kid that went missing was off exploring the mountain, so it’s unlikely that whatever he found originated in the most heavily-traveled area on the peak. Instead, they decide to split into two groups and head around the sides of the mountain to see what they can find. Armando and Norm head around to the right, while Strauss and Gorak circle to the left.

It’s not long before Armando and Norm come to an area beneath a slight overhang in the rock. The ground here seems more level than in other places and digging through the snow a bit reveals that it sits on poured concrete, not natural rock. They explore the area for a time and soon they find a concealed doorway, built almost seamlessly into the rock face. Norm puts his shoulder into the door and with some effort manages to force it open, its hinges grinding in protest. Behind the door is a small maintenance and storage area. A few snowblowers and snow machines are piled in the corners of the room, but the focal point of interest is the crumbling hole in the far wall.

Calling Strauss and Gorak back to their location, the party decides that this is more than likely where they need to go, and so with Gorak in the lead, they clamber through the opening into the darkness beyond. What houses that darkness turns out to be, unsurprisingly, an old mining shaft. Ancient wooden beams, somehow having avoided rotting into oblivion (most of them anyway) arch over head, bent beneath the effort of supporting the weight of the mountain. Old oil lamps, long since extinguished, hang from the beams and the ground hosts the remnants of a minecart track, once used to haul ore and precious stones back to the surface. For a mountain that remains covered in snow for most of the year, the tunnel is remarkably dry.

The shaft seems to go on forever, angled slightly downward as it goes, leading the players deeper into Hollow Mountain. At first the lack of enemies seems to imply that they’ve taken a false lead, but then they find the bodies. Scattered about the shaft and half-buried in dust and rock are corpses of the mountain’s former dwarven mine workers. Though at this point, “corpses” might be too generous a term; skeletal remains would be a bit more accurate. Skulls still crowned by safety helmets grin morbidly back at them and skeletal arms reaching towards the exit, these dwarves appear to have died long ago, and rather suddenly based on the number of them. No cave-in had trapped them, and their bodies don’t show any immediately obvious signs of trauma, save for the wear of the cave’s limited elements over the years. Further, the reaching, desperate poses of the bodies suggests that they did not just lay down and die. Something killed them, the question is what?

Looking to find out, the party continues on for a bit longer and finally comes to another doorway. The surrounding rock has been chipped away, creating a ragged outline in the rock around the threshold, but the doorway itself appears to be made of precisely chiseled stone that is not of the same composition as that of the rest of the mountain. The sides of the doorway are smooth to the touch and show more organized tool marks. Either the miners took the time to carve out a well-crafted doorway from the rest of their ordinary mining tunnel, or it was here before them and they simply discovered it.

Stepping through the doorway, they find themselves in a room roughly ten feet square with passages leading off to the left and right. The entire room is hewn from what appears to be one solid block of stone, save for the surprisingly ornately tiled floors. Though there is no immediately obvious source of light, the area is nonetheless significantly brighter than the adjoining mine shaft and low light vision is not necessary to navigate by. The passages appear to curve slightly inward, obstructing the players’ view into whatever adjoining rooms might be at the end.

Picking the right-hand passageway at a whim, the party advances through the narrow hallway and emerges into a larger 20×20 room with yet another passageway to the left. The walls of this room are lined with statues of warriors, clad in armor and wielding long polearms while standing at attention. The figures are not carved stone like everything else, but resemble the Terracotta Army from the Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang in China. Prodding the statues lightly, the players determine that there are indeed statues, and not cleverly disguised figures about to attack them. With nothing loot-worthy in the room, they turn towards the passage on the left.

Before they can pass through it, however, a low rumbling emanates from the complex and the entire area begins to shake. Slowly, and accompanied by the grinding protestations of the walls, the rooms begin to shift. With a slight rotational and lateral movement, the conjoined doorways of the left hand passage pass each other by and when the movement stops, the doorway opens into a new passage, the room beyond apparently a different one that that which was there before.

GM Note: I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been waiting to use this dungeon for nearly three years. Created (as far as I can tell) by an artist by the name of Djekspek, the puzzle dungeon of “Rotating Madness” had been sitting in the campaign ideas folder on my hard drive for quite some time, but I don’t tend to run games very often (and even then not usually in a fantasy setting) so I never got a chance to play around with it. Here, I finally had the opportunity and so I jumped at it. This is one of those things that I would love to take credit for coming up with, but I love the idea far too much to steal the attention for it, so I’m giving credit where it’s due here and applauding Djekspek for creating a truly enjoyable dungeon puzzle.

Rotating_Madness_by_Djekspek

The players consider advancing anyway, but want to evaluate exactly how expansive this dungeon shift was, and so decide to backtrack to the entryway and explore the other passage. They emerge in another 10×10 room with more statues, these, however, being unarmed and appearing to look more like servants than warriors. Again, apart from the statues the room is empty. Passages lead off to the right and straight ahead. Taking the passage to the right, the players slip inside just as the rooms begin to rotate again, narrowly avoiding being cut off from each other.

This passageway takes a sharp turn and winds its way into a small storage room. Stacked on shelves lining the walls are piles of gold, chests, rolls of rich fabrics, and dusty tomes, doubtless containing some form of lost knowledge or another. A wizard would find enough in this one small room to keep him giddy with excited study for years. Our players however, toss aside the books and silks and look for weapons, of which there are none to be found. The room appears to contain nothing more than mundane treasures, and not much of utility that would help them in their current endeavor. Leaving the room behind (though making note of it on their own constantly-evolving map as a possible looting opportunity) they advance through the passage opposite their point of entry.

As they approach the next adjoining doorway, Armando feels a twinge of gut instinct and halts the party momentarily while he surveys the route in front of them. Sure enough, the keen eye can see that one of the floor tiles is raised ever so slightly above the others. Using the butt of his rifle, Armando applies force to the tile from a distance, and a number of darts fly from concealed openings in the wall, flying perpendicular to the doorway. Their would-be victims well out of range, however, the darts deflect off the opposite wall and clatter harmlessly to the ground. With one of Norm’s many available blades and a bit of persistent prying, Armando manages to disarm the pressure plate and render the trap inert.

Now, for most adventuring parties this would be enough: they’ve circumvented the trap and all’s well. But not for the Gillespie and Haggard team, oh no: they want to know just what could have harmed them if they didn’t notice said trap.

Norm: “So, those are probably poisoned, right?”

Armando: “I know I wouldn’t set up a dart trap without poisoning the darts first.”

Strauss: “It stands to reason.”

Gorak: “Any way to be sure?”

Everyone stares pointedly at Gorak.

Armando: “You’re resistant to poison right?”

Gorak: “I’m a dwarf.”

Armando: “Exactly.”

Gorak: “So what are you saying?”

Strauss: “Lick it.”

Gorak: “… Okay.”

Gorak bends down and picks up one of the darts. Giving it a cursory sniff, he then gingerly places the tip in his mouth and attempts to use his taste buds to ascertain whether or not the dart is laced in some kind of terrible, deadly poison.

As it turns out, it is.

Luckily for Gorak, his fortitude save is already off the charts and his natural dwarven resistance only supplements that so he manages to shake it off the same way the rest of us would a particularly bad cup of coffee. With their suspicions confirmed, the party moves on. Several more turns down various passageways and rotating levels takes them through various other storage areas, past several more traps, and at one point even back to the room they started in. Re-evaluating their map and rolling several knowledge checks, they eventually do manage to determine that the dungeon is indeed circular, not a series of rotating square rooms as they had previously thought. This helps them establish a more accurate map, and with only a few wrong turns here and there, they finally manage to make it to the center of the dungeon.

GM Note: While I do really love this dungeon, it is very difficult to keep track of where the players are supposed to be. There was at least one occasion where I gave them an incorrect description of a room or closed a passage off entirely because I forgot to rotate one of the rings, or rotated it to the wrong point or something like that. Timing is also difficult to pull off as game time is hard to judge outside of combat and real time doesn’t always translate very well to the game itself. When the players finally made their way through the maze I was actually rather surprised as I didn’t expect them to do it so quickly. Through a combination of blind luck and a few of my own blunders, they actually managed to stumble across their end goal in about half the time I anticipated. Labyrinthine complexes are great in literature, but in a game system where there needs to eventually be an end point, it’s all too possible that the players will simply get where they need to be by accident eventually.

The final passageway opens into a medium-sized circular room. Ornate murals decorate the walls, and various treasures are piled on the floor. The center of the room houses a massive iron pillar, which Gorak notes would interfere with the magnetic properties of any traditional compass, making it always point towards the center of the dungeon. In an alcove to the right of the door is a large stone coffin, an unknown script that bears a resemblance to Earth’s Chinese characters inscribed upon it. And in front of the coffin kneels a young boy.

Strauss: “Hello?”

The boy rises from his position in front of the coffin and turns to face the party. His eyes glow with an unnatural green light.

Boy: “Welcome. I am impressed you’ve made it this far.”

Strauss: “Who are you? What are you doing with the kid?”

Boy: “My name is Luân Phiên. There was a time when I ruled this mountain and all you see from its peak. I intend to take it back. For the moment, this boy serves as my vessel. I admit, he is not the most inspiring avatar, but I had few options at the time. Perhaps one of you will serve better. We’ll get to that in a moment, though I expect.”

Armando: “Did you ever consider, I don’t know, talking to the people in the town? Seeing if they’d be open to new leadership?”

Luân Phiên: “I do not negotiate for power. I seize that which is mine.”

Armando: “I’m assuming that’s you in the coffin back there?”

Luân Phiên: “In a sense.”

Armando: “Then I hate to break it to you buddy, but you’re dead. Nothing around here’s been yours for quite a while.”

Luân Phiên: “But it will be again. I nearly escaped from this place decades ago, but my resurgence was cut short. Now I face no such obstacles.”

Strauss: “Except for us.”

Luân Phiên: “As you say.”

The boy suddenly lurches into the air, levitating nearly two feet off the ground. The lid to  Luân Phiên’s coffin bursts open and his skeletal remains fly out as though caught in a cyclone. The bones arrange themselves around the body, encasing him in the former tyrant’s skeleton: ribs wrapped around him in a protective cage, arms extending out beyond the boy’s own, and above it all the skull, eyes alight with a green flame. One skeletal hand extends palm upwards toward the ceiling and a ghostly apparition of a soldier wielding a pike rises from the ground behind the players.

Sidestepping the ghosts initial thrust, Strauss fires on it with his new rifle which just so happens to be specifically tailored for fighting ghosts. Funny how that works out. His first round impacts the ghost’s left arm and splinters, fading away into its incorporeal mass. The ghost staggers and looks up at Strauss with an expression of surprise. Strauss simply grins and squeezes the trigger again. The other members of the party concentrate their fire on  Luân Phiên. Attempting to fight a creature that isn’t much more than a few bones wrapped around an otherwise innocent child is no easy feat, and the players need to fight against all their moral principles and concentrate all their energies on not injuring the poor, helpless- nah, I’m just kidding they whale on the kid and his necromantic host without much thought.

The strength of their onslaught is so intense that it actually immediately puts  Luân Phiên on the defensive. He steps back and swings at Gorak, the bony fist crackling with unholy energy. He connects, but Norm is there to circle around and attack from the opposite side wielding his high frequency sword in one hand and his crowbar in the other for a dual-wielded magic weapon combination. Armando takes cover behind the pillar and begins throwing the party’s supply of holy water at the creature. In order to more effectively weaponize the water, the players took the time before climbing the mountain to craft several small water balloons, made out of… well, the only kind of inflatable item you’d expect to find in a brothel.

Strauss meanwhile kills the spectral soldier with another ghost touch round, just in time for  Luân Phiên to summon another. The summoning costs him, though, as it burns his attack action for the round, leaving the other three players free to attack him. Strauss shoots down the second ghost in short order, and turns to add his own fire to the attack on  Luân Phiên. Visible cracks are beginning to show in the skeleton surrounding the boy, the individual bones held together only by the forgotten magic wielded by the undead necromancer. As he directs another punch at Gorak, Norm decides that he’s had enough of this fight and goes straight for the kill, child or no. Darting in between the creature’s blows, he swings his crowbar in an upward forehand strike, shattering the lower three ribs on the right side. With a clear opening, he immediately follows up with a brutal thrust from his high frequency sword, plunging the humming blade into the boy’s heart.

For a moment everything stops and everyone in the room goes as still as figures in a painting. Then Norm withdraws the blade and the skeleton begins to tremble, more and more cracks running along the length of its individual bones. The skull unhinges its jaw and lets out a piercing scream as the flames in the eyes steadily grow brighter and brighter. After several seconds, the scream comes to an abrupt stop and the skeleton violently explodes outwards, peppering the walls with bone fragments, which fall to the ground and slowly disintegrate in green fire, destroying the last earthly remains of the necromancer.

With that out of the way, there is still one thing left: a young boy with a stab wound through his ticker. The party just kind of stares awkwardly at the boy for a moment, knowing that it had to be done but no matter how you look at it there’s still that unshakeable stigma of “we just killed a kid” to contend with. The silence is finally broken by Gorak.

Gorak: “Don’t we still have a spare healing potion?”

There is a sudden frantic rush as everyone begins tearing through their packs (notes at the table) to determine who has the last remaining potion. Norm finally finds it amidst his sword collection (for someone with so few hitpoints, Norm tends not to heal very much) and walking over to the boy, pours the contents of the bottle down his throat. For a moment, nothing happens, but then the boy erupts in a coughing fit and opens his eyes.

Any potential celebration (see: sighs of relief stemming from the knowledge that they won’t get in trouble for this) is cut short by a dull rumbling from all around them. Apparently  Luân Phiên’s destruction had a few side effects attached to it. Moving quickly, Norm scoops up the kid and Armando dashes out of the room back into the network of still-rotating passageways outside. Luckily, their map is a bit more complete at this stage and they manage to work their way back to the entrance with only a few delays when a rotating ring forces them to re-route. Upon arriving in the entryway though, it becomes clear that they forgot one thing: while the rings of the crypt might rotate, the mountain does not. They’re in the right place, at least so far as it pertains to the crypt, but that place isn’t lined up with the exit into the mine shaft, and won’t be until the rings rotate back into the correct position.

With the mountain shaking ever more violently around them, Armando sits down against a wall and lights a cigarette.

Armando: “Well guys, it’s been real. But it looks like this is it.”

Perhaps sensing the irony of the situation, the rings rotate once again and the exit to the mine shaft comes into view.

Armando: “Nevermind, time to leave!”

Tossing his cigarette on the ground, Armando jumps to his feet and dashes out into the mine shaft, followed closely by the rest of the party. Bursting out of the tunnel and back onto the surface, they sprint through the snow back towards the snowcat, the mountain still shaking beneath their feet like some gargantuan beast about to sneeze. Piling into the snowcat, Norm guns the engine and whips the vehicle around, accelerating down the hill about as fast as a tracked vehicle is capable of doing. Behind them, the underground crypt caves in upon itself, the escaping air blowing snow banks into the sky like a frozen volcano. As the snow rains down around them and small avalanches break out in their wake, the party flies down the mountain just ahead of the pursuing tide of frozen debris. As they approach the base of the mountain, the snow gradually loses momentum and gives up its chase, allowing its potential victims to go free.

Skidding into the town square, the party is greeted by Doran and the girls from the Blessed Hotel, who couldn’t help but take notice of the small topography-changing event that just took place up on the mountain. As the crowd floods into the square, the players exit the snowcat, striking a myriad of dramatic poses. They are somewhat upstaged by the cries of one of the townspeople, a woman who runs forward and embraces the young boy.

Woman: “Oh, Aaron, are you alright? You aren’t hurt are you?”

Gorak: “Well, he did have a sword through his chest a few minutes ago…”

Woman: “WHAT?!”

Armando: “He means he’s fine.”

The rest of the townspeople come forward and once assured that the undead threat has been dealt with (albeit at the cost of the resort’s summit lodge and most of the upper runs), there is a genuine cheer from everyone in the square. Doran claps the players on the back and the priest shakes their hands in gratitude (though requests that they return any leftover holy water they might have. No? Hmm, very well then.) Even Rebecca gives the group a nod of approval.

The next few days are more in line with what the group expected when they began their vacation; a banquet is declared in their honor, and the remaining townspeople flock to the town square with music and dancing in an all-out celebration festival. While the ski runs are out of the question given the extensive snow damage and the near-total destruction of the gondola network, the rest of the resort’s amenities are opened to the players, and their remaining time there is spent in the lap of luxury. While the town might not be putting up statues of them like they did for Gorag the Blessed, the players nonetheless leave  Skógar with the gratitude of its people, and begin the journey back to Sigil, where more work undoubtedly awaits them.

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