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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Paladin in Hell

Come on people, be pulled into my diabolical rigidity
The heroes in my D&D Next campaign are heavily involved in the Blood War - the eternal battle between demons and devils. I've been doing research on D&D Hell. The other day we looked at Ed Greenwood's great "Nine Hells" article. Today, I'd like to look at Monte Cook's AD&D second edition adventure, "A Paladin in Hell". This is an adventure inspired by a couple of old AD&D illustrations.

This adventure doesn't seem to get talked about much, and I don't know why. It might be because it is so high level that few people ever got to use it. Or maybe it's because it was released during the "dark age" of 2e - the black border "skills & powers" era. At the time of this adventure's release, Magic the Gathering had all but annihilated my D&D group. The only thing they cared about was black lotuses and mox pearls.
Catalina Wine Mixer
Well, enough is enough. This adventure is awesome. I am going to go through the Hell section and single out all of my favorite details. We are not even going to get into the first half of this module, which involves Emirikol the Chaotic and his glass tower surrounded by a storm of metal shards. And we will barely touch on Demonwing - the evil boat that contains a demonic layer of the Abyss inside of it. That's right: Our heroes sail the river styx on DEMONWING. This adventure is awesome.

Monte confirms this in the intro to the adventure. His summary of this adventure: "The player characters must travel to Hell aboard a demon ship to rescue the wrongfully condemned soul of a paladin and restore a trapped temple and its' innocent inhabitants to the Prime Material Plane."

Things we learn during our heroes' journey through Hell:

5. Stygia

I can't imagine how long this took to draw
- Plunging into the waters here means you make a saving throw or lose all your memories (even if you make this save, you lose all memories and knowledge gained in the last year of your life!). If you fail the first roll, make another save. Fail it: Lose basic motor skills and speech!

- To travel underwater, the heroes can use one of Demonwing's diving spheres, or a cube of force, or an apparatus of kwalish, etc. There's massive giant sharks down there.

- Citadel Coldsteel: A fortress built inside an iceberg. We have to go through it to get to our imperiled temple!

- Apocalypse Clocks: Inside the citadel, there's clocks counting down (30 turns.. that's 300 minutes aka 5 hours). Once it counts all the way down, it opens a portal that hundreds of lemures (low level devils) pour through and over-run the whole citadel.

- Gurdansk: A devil whose flesh is encased in green armor that absorbs magic missiles and blocks lightning.

- Some devils have coldstaves, which do a bit of cold damage. They also are coated in dormant brown molds! They can slop the mold onto your PC, who will have all the heat drained from his body. Good gawd.

- Amon, a former Duke of Hell is here! He is nine feet tall and he has the head of a white wolf. He has a winter wolf named Soulfang that breathes ice blasts, and Amon can cast limited wish in times of peril.

- Tapped in a glass cube is... Cozbi! Remember her from yesterday? With the frazzle and the snazzle? Monte thankfully declares that her full name is Cozbinaer, helping to rescue her from joke-name-never-to-be-taken-seriously-NPC status.

"Her nine foot tall, white-skinned body is now covered in scars, stitched-on skin grafts, and withered flesh. Once beautiful, she is now hideous and terrifying."

She can leave her prison for short periods of time in this sort of magic power armor filled with yellow gas that poisons people except for her. What an awesome encounter. There's so many ways your heroes can go with this!

- There's a hollowed-out bullette that is now a lever-operated digging machine/tank.
The tongue.. what a way to go...
- Geryon the Arch Devil (!): He's got a snake lower half. He wields Sever (an evil, intelligent battle axe that cuts off limbs) and Tonguelash (a shield with a blazing red tongue which attacks as a whip that paralyzes). He's got other cool gimmicks in the room, like pit fiend statues that hold magic mirrors and weird black curtains that transfixes mortals that stare at them (" pulled into the rigidity of its' diabolical order").

- Tlaac-mol, a devil who guards a prison, has one withered arm and one arm with the strength of a cloud giant that is made of steel.

- Let me tell you about Hell-Tugging. A trapped floor emanates this tug. "It does not attract metal, but pure thoughts." Those of good alignment are pulled to the floor. then the ceiling becomes magnetic and pulls all metal from your body. That sounds ridiculously painful!

Then we get to the temple, which is in a "nether-realm" between the fifth and sixth layers of Hell.

- There's a chart that shows tasks the PCs need to do to free the temple from hell. Some of the good NPC temple-dwellers have died and become undead - if the PCs kill them, the NPC souls are damned! The PCs must bless and resurrect these undead. Cool...

- Wandering Monsters include: "The wafting stench of brimstone" and "Foul whisperings of misdeeds". I would get quite a kick out of whispering misdeeds to a slightly uncomfortable player at the table. Actually you might spice up your significant others' day by uttering some foul whisperings, eh there, chum?

- There's these four black obelisks. If you touch one, chains shoot out and constrict you against the obelisk. The only way to escape is for the obelisk to be destroyed!

- Wiinsor the Blue Dragon: He's a new follower of Geryon. He spends his time chatting up an erinyes named Minga.

- A golem made of HUNDREDS OF UNHOLY SYMBOLS. Make two saves.. fail both and you die from fright.

- This is like that crappy second level of Castle Greyhawk but not: "...a semi-intelligent retch plant drops its' globe-like fruit down on them (one per PC) forcing them to spend the next three rounds doing nothing but vomiting and retching, no saving throw..."

- Yeah, I ran the second level of Castle Greyhawk last Sunday. It was horrible. Animated, dancing, cooked seagulls dancing at a party for Asmodeus, Overlord of Hell... ugghhh. Our heroes had to fill everyone's glasses of water.

- OK get a load of this. A pit fiend who has merged with the interior of a cubic gate. It can suck a PC inside the cube, where the PC looks at the pit fiend's face which bears a scarab of insanity. The gate closes in 5 rounds. The interior of the cube is made up of the pit fiend's bones. Ice runs through its' veins. What an insanely awesome encounter.

- There's pit fiend treasure stored in an air bubble surrounded by hardened hot stone. I think it hovers above a lava pool. There's a trapped set of stairs that leads to it. The treasure inside includes two sprigs of desert's night, a magical bloom that can cure memory loss from the river styx. Also, a staff of power, etc.

At last we get to...

6. Malbolge

- Here is where the paladin is indeed in hell fighting devils. "Against the inexorable odds, Klysandral hews down with Quest, his holy long sword, and the grim knowledge that if he falls innocents will die."

Klysandral the (spirit) paladin is holding off the devils until the PCs can get enough "restoration points" to return the temple to the prime material. He will not leave this area until then. 

There is no way on the planet earth that you can't find something from this to use in an upcoming game.

I ran portions of this way back when as a solo adventure for a character who was overloaded with powerful magic items (he almost single-handedly looted this Ravenloft adventure, to the point he somehow ended up with a -11 AC - which is very good, in AD&D terms). I mostly ran the Demonwing section for him. He loved it. It was awesome.

Because I've never run this entire thing, I didn't include it in my list of The Best Adventures of All Time. If I did, I probably would. This adventure is what D&D is all about.


ShyberKryst said...

I just stumbled onto this review of Paladin in Hell. One of my favorite modules of all time.
I loved reading through this but never got to play/DM it...yet....
Can't believe nobody commented on this!

ShyberKryst said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Billy Kelch said...

My paladin moved the clock forwards, that was fun and he and the few survivors submerged the Demonwing in (I forget the name) one of the holy planes endless ocean of holy water. Thus creating what we called the Angelwing.

Daniel Vance said...

I love this module and the illustration it is based on. Great post btw!

Sean said...

ShyberKryst: This was one of my really old posts when I got like 8 views a day. I love this adventure!

Billy Kelch: That is really awesome. I love that idea - an ocean of holy water.

Daniel Vance: Thanks! This adventure is criminally under-rated IMO.

Steven MacLauchlan said...

Thank you for this! I am planning to run this for my group.

In your estimation, about how long does this module take to run? I know estimates are difficult sometimes in D&D, but a breadbox size would be helpful :)

My real question is, can I squeeze this into 2 10 hour sessions?

Matt said...

@Steven MacLauchlan

No. This is a LONG campaign. I'm running it as a conversion in 5e, and the first section (getting off of the Demonwing) took about 30 hours. Total minimum to run as written if your group was very focused would be 80 hours. You'd have to HEAVILY condense it, losing all of the nuance.

Karma Choying said...

I am about to run this for my 5e group and am looking for any 5e conversions out there.....

Matt said...

I don't think there is one. So much depends on the power level of your group. Mine started at level 17 with a ton of magical items, and if I had to do it over again, I would have them start in the low teen levels (13-15 or so) and work their way through it. Many of the demons in the first half of the adventure can be taken straight out of the 5e books, which has stats for almost every demon you'll need. Adjust their stats as necessary for your group, as always.
For me, the traps were more difficult to convert, but I encourage you not to worry about the numbers too much - just try to duplicate the effects and choose a relevant save and DC.

Certain monsters I had to homebrew, as well as certain spell effects. I had a blast making the dread linnorm incredibly difficult, but of course my players decided parley with it.

We decided as a group to condense drastically, and so skipped most of Citadel Coldsteel and some of the tertiary challenges in the temple itself. Along the way the PCs wiped Gurdansk's memory and are trying to turn him towards the good.

Certain aspects of the adventure are not explained in further detail, most notably to me the Vallis Crystal, and why Asmodeus doesn't just come take it himself if it's that important to him. To explain this, I adapted the Unified Hell Theory

Asmodeus and Jazirian being aspects of Neheod, which split after being expelled from Vallis. Asmodeus wants the crystal to claim its abundant souls, and Jazirian is trying to prevent this. The PCs will have to unify opposite forces, reincarnating Neheod in order to stop Asmodeus' plan. This will mean a great deal of self-sacrifice.

Anyway, if you want some help or pointers to some resources, I'd be glad to share what I've come up with.