My party was halfway to Level 3 when they fell down the mine shaft…
Location: An abandoned platinum mine and an ancient, buried temple.
Mission: Find a way back to the surface (by helping Sir Roland defeat Mother Aradia).
Background: 300 years ago a gigantic meteor shower hit the continent. Known as the Firestorm, it destroyed cities, rerouted rivers, leveled some mountains while raising others, caused earthquakes and floods, and generally rearranged the geography of the land. Tens, even hundreds of thousands were killed. War and famine followed this “gods’ wrath” and new countries were founded. Eventually things settled down and the Firestorm and its consequences retreated to the memories of the sages and the land became what it is today.
While the Firestorm was happening, however, an order of knights sought to save as many people as they could. The Order of the Golden Gryphon, led by Sir Roland Leeds, ushered over 100 villagers and minor nobles into the Temple of Mundi Dei (an ancient name for Thealldea, the 8-Faced Goddess from which Clerics derive their 8 domains) to pray for salvation. The temple’s high priestess, Mother Aradia, led the prayers, but to no avail.
The earth opened up and swallowed the temple whole, burying it for centuries. But the knights, the villagers, and the clergy survived their burial, at least for a time.
However, arguments ensued and a schism formed. Some of the villagers followed Roland’s lead and continued to pray for salvation from death, even as they starved. The other half followed Mother Aradia into madness and began worshipping the phantasms of their broken minds. On one side: Mother Aradia, Lieutenant Merculo of the Gryphons, and about 60 villagers. On the other side, Sir Roland, Private Shiani Elan of the Gryphons, and about 45 villagers.
Doroth answered all of their prayers as they died. (Doroth is a negative aspect of the Life Domain; overpopulation, undeath, disease, and starvation are his demesnes.) Mother Aradia rose from death as a Wraith, Lieutenant Merculo became a Wight, Sir Roland a Revenant, Private Shiani a Ghost. On Aradia’s side, the villagers became zombies under Merculo’s and Aradia’s control. On Roland’s side, the villagers ate their dead fellows rather than starve, and thus became skeletons under Roland’s and Shiani’s control.
At first, the factions fought bitterly. But the divine necrotic energy that permeated the temple sustained the undead. Even after falling in battle, the skeletons reformed and the zombies rose again. Since becoming undead, Roland’s magic items would no longer respond to him and Aradia’s clerical spells had left her, so neither one could really harm the other. They were left at a stalemate for over 200 years.
Fast forward to 80 years ago. Miners outside of Greenhaven inadvertently tunneled into the basement storage room of the sunken temple. It happened to be on Aradia’s side of the temple, so zombies attacked. Many miners died and rose again under Merculo’s control. The miners fled, destroying the wooden stairs that descended into the main shaft so the undead could not follow. The mine was abandoned, the entrance boarded up, and the whole area shunned.
And so the party find themselves at the bottom of said mine shaft and the adventure begins.
The Adventure Begins. I used the Droskar’s Crucible and Kobold Warrens maps from the Crown of the Kobold King module for Pathfinder, slightly modified, but any tunnel map and dungeon/temple map will do. Instead of starting in ruins above and going down into tunnels, the party starts in tunnels below and goes up into the ruins.
Sir Roland is a Revenant who cannot rest until Mother Aradia and her followers are destroyed. Private Shiani Elan is a Ghost whose unfinished business is her dedication to Sir Roland.
In the tunnels scatter about a dozen Zombie miners throughout, throw in variety with a trio of Darkmantles in one area and an Ochre Jelly in a barrel in another (tough encounter), some Crawling Claws (some of the zombies are missing hands), and a walled-up (or chained) Ghoul. Give the party a hint of things to come and a chance to survive with a room of small, flat, silvery fungus, identified as “Angel Buttons” which will remove necrotic damage (1d8 per button).
As they get closer to the place where the miners tunneled into the temple, throw in a couple civilian Zombies in ancient, tattered clothing. One of the party sees a flash of wispy white out of the corner of her eye. Private Shiani, a Ghost, is scouting in enemy territory.
Any given encounter is a chance to give your party treasure and items that may come in handy for the big battle to come. Like a Necklace of Fireballs. A Wight and a Wraith are big competition for a 3rd level party, even without the zombie army. Give them something they can use to their advantage.
When the party reaches the temple’s basement storage, have Shiani (a half-elf in my world) standing/floating on the stairs leading up. She warns the party to go back; only death waits above. If they speak calmly with her, she remarks about their zombie-killing prowess and says “perhaps you are whom we have all been waiting for. You should meet Sir Roland.”
If they attack her impulsively, Shiani defends herself and tries to flee and report back to Sir Roland (all bets are off, your party are assholes and they deserve to be ripped apart by the undead in the temple above). If the party is amiable and agrees to meet Sir Roland, Shiani leads them up the stairs and takes the shortest, safest route through Mother Aradia’s territory to Roland’s area. The rest of the adventure description assumes that your party is not comprised of assholes.
As Shiani leads, the party faces a few more zombies and a long hallway with an unaffiliated poltergeist (“Run! Don’t stop!”) who likes to lift party members up and slam them into the ceiling or throw them down the hall. Shiani can see the poltergeist (an invisible spectre) but cannot affect it. She can focus on one party member and tell them approximately where it is (“two o’clock,” “eight o’clock,” “on your six!”) which will give that person a +3 to their disadvantage to-hit die.
Shiani knows every twist and turn and secret door in the entire temple. She’s had 300 years to scout and memorize it. Without her, the party must suss things out for themselves.
Once safely in Roland’s territory, skeletons barricade and guard the doors. Shiani tells the party to rest. She’ll return in 10 hours to take them to Roland. At this point the party should be starting 3rd level.
While waiting for Roland in another room, the party can find a few pages of his journal. It reads:
I, Sir Roland Leeds, have doomed these good folk to die. I led them, one and all, to the temple of Mundi Dei to pray to the All Mother alongside me for our salvation from the Firestorm. On the sixth day of our vigil the earth shook and rocked and the temple seemed to plummet. Our windows are choked with rock and dirt. Our doors will not open. And our food is running out. What have I done?
Mother Aradia and her acolytes were gracious at first, but a poison has seeped into their souls. They have caused a rift in the good folk of Northurst and taken fully half of the weak and starving to the rear of the temple. To pray anew, they say. I have my doubts, but they will not let me pass. It has been 15 days. So hungry.
My beloved Raya is dead. I killed her to feed the children. The most magnificent steed I have ever known and they stripped her to the bone. I am cursed. I know that now.
Mother Aradia’s people have been digging at a wall in a back room, I saw when I went to offer them some of Raya’s meat. Their eyes! Madness has taken them all. And something more. Something sinister. Something unholy. If we ever get out…if they ever get out, I fear for the safety of anyone still alive up there. I cannot let that happen. I have doomed all of these people here, but I will not doom the world. I will remain vigilant, me and my few loyal scouts, for as long as it takes. Mother Aradia will never escape. I will not rest until they are all destroyed.
The clopping of hooves on the temple floor precedes Sir Roland. Into the room strides a big man with a desiccated, gray face and glowing orange eyes, bedecked in ancient, rusting plate mail, followed by a skeletal war horse in full barding. Shiani is with him, floating alongside. His voice sounds like it comes from the bottom of a deep well when he greets them.
Sir Roland lays out the plan for the party. Being living beings, they alone have the ability to help defeat Mother Aradia and Lieutenant Merculo and his zombie army. Roland will give the party his Scimitar of Speed and Driftglobe, which no longer work for him, and will lead his skeletons to attack on the party’s side. Shiani will scout ahead and report the enemy’s location and number. When the enemy is defeated, Roland will show them the way out (they’ve had 300 years to dig their way to the surface). They march on the morrow.
The rest of the adventure follows that plan. The zombies are stationed around Mother Aradia’s territory in groups of 5 and 10 and can be picked off as they’re encountered so long as Merculo or Aradia doesn’t realize that they’re under attack. If either one becomes aware of the incursion, 40/60 zombies are called to Merculo’s side to battle. The other 20 zombies always protect Mother Aradia, who is a room where her corporeal body lays in state upon an altar.
With Mother Aradia, Merculo, and the zombies dead, Sir Roland can rest — as long as every undead creature in the temple and tunnels has been dealt with. That includes the pesky poltergeist if it’s still there. If there are zombies, claws, or the ghoul left alive downstairs, Sir Roland entreats the party to finish them off so there’s no chance that they’ll escape to hassle the surface.
Once all of the hostile undead are destroyed, Sir Roland releases his will from any remaining skeletons and they fall into broken piles of bones. He shows the party the way out, thanks them, and lies down and closes his eyes. An expression of serenity and peace replaces his stern features as his spirit departs his corpse. With Roland at rest, Shiani’s unfinished business is complete. She smiles at the party as she fades away. “Cielador. Tell my father I love him…” Her voice becomes nothing more than a whisper on the fresh breeze blowing down from above.