Escape from the Flesh Catacombs Playtest


Cast
  • Anteros (male human blacksmith)
  • Giznola (female dwarf merchant)
  • Neoma (human female soldier)
  • Stavros (male human farmer)

Playtest Report
Anteros and Stavros woke in a small, dark room. Feeling about, they discovered that the floor and most of the walls were stone, but one wall was warm and soft. Grasping a sharp stone, Anteros stabbed it: blood spurted on him, and he thought he felt the "wall" tremble in silent agony.

Frightened and confused, he continued to stab it: more blood and entrails, and then eventually a flicker of light. The hall just outside was dimly illuminated by a few guttering flames in the walls. They could just barely see a semi-humanoid figure, burdened by what looked like a sarcophagus lid crawled about on the floor.

Anteros and Stavros tore their way through the fleshy wall, coated in blood and caked with viscera. The creature started dragging itself towards them. It didn't speak or moan: the only noise was the sound of the stone lid scraping across the floor.

The brothers waited for it to approach before they began stomping on the lid, quickly and brutally crushing the wretched creature underneath.

When it was done they both tore the creature's battered remains free of the lid, and then slammed it on the ground until it snapped in two. Another, almost identical creature crawled around the corner. They again waited for it to approach and, each wielding an uneven half of blood-caked stone lid, dispatched it in a similarly gruesome fashion.

With no more readily apparent threats they scanned the hall. Behind them, adjacent to their now butchered prison door, was another section of flesh-wall. Several faces were stretched across it, and the eyes stared at them in disdain. Figuring more people might be inside they bashed it in. A pair of women were inside, one human, the other a dwarf. None of them knew how they'd arrived here, and they certainly didn't know where here was.

The brothers gave the women smaller stones before they pressed on. The dimly-lit hall took them past a few open and thankfully empty sarcophagi, and a pile of rubble that looked and smelled like bloody meat. They soon found another flesh-wall. There wasn't any obvious way of opening it, so they carved an opening to see what lay beyond.

A massive hand, covered in a lattice of seams and tears, and so large that it could barely fit in the hall. It was in the process of using its index finger to crush one of the crawlers, after which a face set in the finger tip began noisily eating it.

They waited for it to finish and scuttle away before emerging from the flesh-wall. They could see a few more flesh-walls, as well as a pair of darkened passages. Hoping to catch the hand by surprised, they hurled a stone against a far wall to draw its attention. When it moved to investigate the sound they attacked. There wasn't much room in the hall, so the brothers bashed it with lid fragments, while the women threw stones from a distance.

They killed it, but not before it impaled Anteros with its index finger, flinging his corpse down one of the side passages with a casual flick. Due to the lack of light, they had to return to the first passage where there were still a few fires burning. They used a length of bone and cloth to make a makeshift torch: this is when they noticed that the meager flames were set in gaping, blackened mouths.

Torch in hand, they decided to explore the side passages first: hopefully they'd find a way out without having to tear through any more flesh-walls (or run into any more nightmarish creatures). Unfortunately both passages connected some ways in, and only contained rubble, rotted corpses, and assorted trinkets of little value and less use.

Choosing a flesh-wall at random, it opened into what looked like a gallery: twisted, decaying sculptures were displayed on sealed sarcophagi, and in the middle of the hall a huge, misshapen orb of pale flesh covered in eyes slowly rolled about. It soon spotted them, smashing into the remains of the flesh-wall in an almost desperate attempt to crush them; its size and the surrounding stone prevented it from getting through, but its continued attempts were causing them to give.

The group retreated down the passages, where they hid in the rubble and remains. As they feared the orb eventually arrived, but didn't seem to notice them as it slowly rolled past. They waited until they heard it batter its way into the hall where they first woke, then quickly carved their way through the other flesh-wall.

Beyond were a number of branching halls, each with a morbid motif. One featured numerous arms dangling from the walls and ceiling. As they twitched and reached and groped, the group caught glimpses in the torchlight of more or less fingers than expected, mouths, eyes, and even stranger deviations. The walls and floor of another passages were lined with faces with similar macabre alterations.

They perhaps mercifully didn't get to explore the entirely of this wing, as they stumbled across yet another bizarre creature. In flickering torchlight they saw that its body looked like the upper half of a human's, topped with five or so heads attached to long, spindly necks. Each of the heads hissed at their presence, revealing mouths filled with needle-like teeth; not wanting to risk anyone else's life, they fled.

Fortunately it was slow moving; they were able to retreat and enter the room where they initially saw the eye-covered orb without anyone getting caught. Unsure if or when the orb would return, they quickly examined the walls for another flesh-wall and smashed through without hesitation.

This room was smaller. There were more sarcophagi, and while they didn't feature any "art", there was another creature waiting for them. It looked vaguely like a tree, with arms instead of branches. The trunk was split vertically down the center: it was lined with teeth, and a nude woman was protruding from it. Behind her they could see a stone door: assuming it was the exit, Stavros charged toward the creature and tried crushing the woman with his lid fragment.

The arm-branches grasped him, allowing the woman to pull him halfway into the trunk. Giznola tried pulling Stavros free while Neoma picked up the lid fragment in an attempt to crush the creature, but the opening snapped shut on Stavros, splitting him in half. Neoma tried the stone door, but it was locked. Giznola noticed another flesh-wall, and they frantically tore their way through as the creature ever so slowly advanced.

Just barely forcing their way through the opening, they were relived that it was too narrow for the tree-woman-thing: arms reached through, and after a few moments of vainly grasped about they withdrew. Their relief was short-lived, as a zombie-like woman impaled with several wine bottles shambled towards them: Neoma wielded the lid fragment, while Giznola yanked out one of the wine bottles, and together they pulverized it.

Beyond this the rooms were accessible without any tearing or bashing, either due to flesh-walls or strange monsters.

One was a kind of workshop. Burial alcoves contained chisels, hammers, glue, flasks labeled "softener", stacks of arms, legs, heads, and books and scrolls on artistic techniques and the anatomy of humans and various animals. The next room looked to be a combination of a study and pantry, with the burial alcoves crammed with more books, lamps, and food. One corner had a table packed with alchemical tools; the nearby alcoves contained mysterious substances and formula that the women did not understand.

It was here that they found the corpse of a gorgon, head severed and fortunately facing away from them. Standing over it was the shattered statue of a man wielding a sword and carrying a highly-polished shield. While Neoma pried the sword and shield free, Giznola wrapped up the gorgon's head in canvas taken from the art studio, careful to avoid meeting its gaze.

There was one more room. It was dark and they could hear hooves clopping about. Sword and shield at the ready, Neoma peered in the room and was relived to see, instead of some horrific amalgamation of human and horse, a horse with merely wings. It seemed to be frightened, but with soothing words and apples taken from the pantry they were able to calm it. Searching the room they found a set of bone and metal keys.

With nowhere else to go, the women armed themselves as best they could and returned to the room with the tree-woman-thing. The winged horse not only followed them, but to their surprise and delight during the fight charged the monstrosity and pummeled it with its hooves, while Neoma hacked away and Giznola hurled wine bottles. Once the creature was sufficiently butchered and battered, they approached the stone door and began trying out various keys.

One of them fit. Neoma and Giznola gasped with relief when they heard the lock click. Working together, they hauled the door open.

Design & Development
This adventure was based on an idea I had as a kind of twist on an idea I had for another adventure I'm writing (called Gorgon Gallery): basically, what might happen if the group had been captured by a gorgon, but before she could do anything someone else showed up and killed her, causing everything she ever petrified to revert to flesh (even if it was not longer capable of still being alive at that point).

Also what if she made a bunch of fucked up sculptures, and had even replaced parts of her dungeon (in this case an ancient catacomb no longer in use) with bricks, blocks, and other parts made from petrified people?

I had Melissa roll of four completely random 0-level characters: we did 3d6 in order, random race, and random occupation. Occupations granted either a small bonus to doing certain things, or allowed them to do things automatically, such as creating makeshift weapons (we just added the fifth issue of Appendix D, which includes rules for 0-level character and random backgrounds).

One thing I left out of the play report--because I forgot when she tried, what she tried to make, and she almost always failed the skill checks--was when Melissa would tear things apart to try and make more weapons: this was something I wanted players to do in this adventure, but figured I'd have to explicitly tell them, "By the way, try to make makeshift weapons out of monster parts".

I forgot to say this and she did it anyway, which is great.

There were more creatures, but I randomly rolled which ones Melissa encountered (for the most part, some things were set). I think the overall difficulty is fine. After all, Melissa made it out with two out of four 0-level characters. This playtest did however reveal some things I need to add, change, and remove.

Announcements
You can now get a physical copy of Dungeons & Delvers: Black Book in whatever format you want!

It look a lot longer than expected, but we finally released The Jinni. As with our other monstrous classes, this one is more faithful to the mythology (so don't go in expecting elemental-themed jinn).

After putting it to a vote, the next couple of classes on the docket are the warden (think 4E D&D warden) and apothecary (gotta go see what they're all about).

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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