The Dungeon of Seven Parts
I imagine a dungeon with only seven rooms might sound like a gimmick.
I set about making this low-level adventure for my own campaign and considered dumping it on the internet in first-draft-form as a freebie. Because I was happy with the way it turned out, I decided to add polish and explanatory notes so other DMs could make better sense of it. As I continued to edit, I decided it needed illustrations and asked Russ Nicholson if he was available. To my surprise, he and I now have an arrangement for a few black and whites to grace this slender module.
I'm going to keep it black and white. It'll be 30 pages tops. For the cost of a sit-down burger you can use it to prove that even 2nd and 3rd level characters can have crazy planar adventures. My hope is that the price point covers what I'm paying Russ.
Russ Nicholson. [I literally shake my head as I type this] So cool!
Obviously the adventure must stand up to this artist. Here's the Introduction.
This object, this place...this thing at the edge of the Outer Planes, hidden by contagious amnesia brewed in the witch-pits of Shodredh Dhachod—this is no trifling errand.
Sages assume Shodredh Dhachod, the Gringling Lich who conceived and constructed Zjelwyin Fall, must rest inside, dreaming his sidereal dream. But Dhachod's wards are such that knowledge of the Fall's location and trajectory are forgotten before they can be put to paper; so it hurtles unwatched, a spindle of otherworldly gemstone, a ruby comet streaking the limits of the Astral plane.
You have come to the Sleeping Room and been paid a sizable advance. Yet your heart trembles for this is no troupe of bandits along the north road, no vile infestation of rat-things in the castle sewers.
You are leaving this world.
As you recline on the stone bed in this strange cellar, mindful of its carved pillow, you tighten the phylactery against your forehead. Inside the leather box whirl crushed remains of crimson and periwinkle gems—"Fragments of the Fall," they tell you. These colorful grains burn and spin, beaming through tooled apertures, turning the phylactery into a tiny lantern.
"This fragile light will lead you to Zjelwyin Fall, winging you to it like a bat in the dark. No one can say how long the journey might take, so be quick in gaining entry." The hypnotist's voice is soothing. You try to relax as she lights the candles on the border of your pitiless stone bed. You understand that while you are sleeping, your body will stay here, thirsting and hungering after only a few hours.
She says you will not feel these pangs. There is no hunger or thirst on the Astral. No fatigue. Time does not heal. Indeed, Time barely works.
Therefore you cannot rest, you cannot pause to recoup or mend. And you cannot bring anything with you unless it is enchanted. "If you drink a potion on the Astral plane," your hypnotist says, "it will last forever...meaning until you wake up."
The candles are lit. You wear an enchanted chasuble, a sleeveless garment meant to prevent you going naked on the Astral Plane. The hypnotist is intoning just behind the flames, her voice melting away, her crystal flashing as it swings, more and more blurry, more and more surreal.
You are afraid and consider backing out, but you are so tired. Nearly paralyzed. Lids heavy. The money they gave you was heavy too—and reassuring. More than other jobs. It wouldn't be odd for a mercenary like you to not live long enough to spend the coin. What would be odd is going out like this—dying in your sleep.
"Zjelwyin Fall" is an extra-planar adventure for characters of 2nd and 3rd level and is written expressly for OSRIC or as we know it best: AD&D. Rangers and Monks of 2nd level and regular classes of 3rd are permitted (see below). Five characters at a minimum should be enlisted as the adventure is not gentle.
Think of it as a low-level dungeon wrapped around a high-level core. As long as the party doesn't ignore obvious warnings, they will not rouse the dreaming lich king and thereby precipitate their immediate demise.
Regarding setup and hooks: Shodredh Dachod, a vile Gringling Lich King, master of both Time and Space, long ago established a cunning redoubt at the edge of the Outer Planes, a jewel-like sanctuary, that tumbles at light-speed through the fringes of the Astral realm.
Shodredh devised a method of warding whereby only the meek, humble, untested, innocent, etc. could access his lair. That is to say that any being except himself (whose HD exceed 3) cannot gain entrance to (nor be conjured within) his plummeting sanctum. The lich is unreachable by those with the power to cause him harm. Only his lesser servants, custodians and guardians can inhabit Zjelwyin Fall.
Thus treasures that lofty lords and mages yearn to behold are accessible only to the likes of the humble party gathered at the DM's table...
Perhaps mighty heroes will hire the group to tread where they cannot and return with information, a map, or specific item from Zjelwyin Fall.
Or maybe similar powers have enlisted the party to smuggle a device meant to slay the lich, deposit it at the villain's undying throne and then flee, snatching valuables along the way.
What if powerful do-gooders have gathered to slay Shodredh but require humble help in flushing the dead sovereign out? What if those same do-gooders are, in fact, the players' high-level characters whose success now rests in the group's ability to navigate this module's hazards with lesser stock?
A battle with a lich is not the finale of this adventure unless characters of appropriate strength are on hand. Rather, it is meant to be a known peril for the novices daring to tread here and the DM will do well to build drama and tension around this point while implying that few indeed might escape to tell the tale.
While play testing has yet to prove it out, I suspect the module (which includes the Astral journey to Zjelwyin Fall and the seven vitreous chambers within) will require two separate 4-hour sessions for most parties to complete.
If some of the rooms look prosaic, keep in mind you are seeing player versions without DM keys and notes. Each represents a unique challenge and plenty of combat (or combat avoidance in some cases).
Inspirations for the dungeon are grounded in territory such as Ken Rolston's C3: The Lost Island of Castanamir, but I've taken a decidedly darker turn here. The module is slim, but packed. Though the page count is low, considerable work and development was done on making sense of conflicting tidbits snatched from Manual of the Planes.
I have collated, revised and in some cases cut new material for Astral mechanics. You will be able to run Astral adventures on your own using the mechanics in this book and, if you own MoP, you'll be able to do even more.
Sales of my other supplements took an unexpected upturn in November...to whoever wrote a review or got the word out: "Thank you!"
If Zjelwyin Fall pays for itself, I'll likely do some additional planar adventures since my campaign is headed to the Outer Planes.
I'm hoping to start receiving Russ' illustrations beginning of next year and Zjelwyin Fall should be available shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, peace and happy gaming.