Continuing with my series of posts analyzing and boxing out some recent D&D encounters I ran, I give you encounter 5: The Church.
Encounter 5 – The Church
Encounter 5 – The Church
After defeating the ghostly knight in the stables I inform the players that night is about to fall. Knowing from rumors that most of the attacks from undead have been at night, the adventurers begin to search for a suitable place to bunker down for the night. The party ventures out to the courtyard. As they mull about trying to decide where to go I have the large undead umber hulk emerge out of the ground which I mentioned back in Encounter 3.
The party already weary from the ambush on the bridge, battling the knight, and seeing the size of the umber hulk, decide to run and hide in the church. As soon as the players enter the church they “feel” safer. The umber hulk surprisingly does not try to break through the door, and instead wanders off again. The curse seems to be held at bay once inside this church, as if something is protecting this holy ground.
Designer Note: The church is initially meant to be a safe haven for the players. Later in the campaign a significant event will occur within the church (to be covered in a later entry), but for now it serves as a “home base”. If the party lacks a holy/cleric/religious type of character, the entire campaign will prove to be much more difficult. To compensate for this, the DM can populate the church with plenty of consumables to help combat various undead: potions, scrolls, holy water, etc. I try to constantly remind players to make use of consumables, rather than horde/forget them as players sometimes tend to do. The encounters are designed with consumables in mind. Using them will make things go much more smoothly, while opting to horde them might be what causes a defeat.
Upon entering the church, the players see the same hooded ghostly figure toward the front pews of the church. The figure floats over to the pedestal and central dias. It appears to briefly write something on a book atop the pedestal, then floats away and vanishes.
Investigating the book will reveal a riddle/clue.
Justice of the Lord
Instrument of the Smith
Needle of the Knight
Rain of the Archer
Exploring further around the church will reveal an altar in the apse with religious runes that read “Lay down your arms and pay respect to those that have laid down their lives.” Nothing happens when the players put their weapons on the altar. However placing the spear looted from the ghostly knight causes it to glow briefly.
Investigating the Abbots former study in the back right of the church nets the players some back-story and history to the castle’s former occupants. The players discover that the abbot ran the church and was increasingly at odds with the lord who resided in the keep. The lord often displayed an evil streak in his nature. The abbot’s journal speaks of how the lord and castle were cursed by a powerful witch, whom the lord had sentenced to hang unjustly. There are also notes in the last pages of the abbot’s journal that talk about his correspondence with the castle’s smith and magician about how to trap the cursed lord within his keep. A rune stone is mentioned, a key of sorts, to be kept by one of the “watchers” while another “watcher” holds a map to the keyhole.
Investigating the bell tower, the party will find a friendly yet very grumpy and forgetful gargoyle (gargoyle essentially has amnesia to some degree). The gargoyle complains about how boring his life is sitting up on the bell tower watching nothing happen. He thinks he was told to give something to someone, but he can’t remember what or who. He complains about his master who always told him what to do. He also complains about pigeons, and his 3 older brothers that always pick on him. The gargoyle always remains very cryptic and even evasive at times, sometimes only answering questions once they’ve been asked multiple times. If the players correctly guess that this gargoyle is one of the “watchers”, the gargoyle eventually grants them the rune stone mentioned above.
What follows is the full flavor text description of the church that was read to the players upon entering the church.
Three large arched wooden doors grant entrance to this decaying Gothic church. Above them, still intact, sits a dimmed stained glass window of a holy knight. To the left and right of the center door sit two small fountains of water. Religion Check (15) - Upon further inspection you are quite confident this water still possesses holy properties. The doors open with a groan of years of neglect and abandonment.
Inside you look up to the vaulted ceiling to discover that large portions of the roof have collapsed into the main chamber, allowing glimpses of the cursed sky outside. Yet somehow you feel safe. The curse hanging over the rest of the castle does not seem to hold as much sway here, as if something is barely holding it back. Access to the bell tower lies immediately to the left of the entrance.
The church is laid out in the shape of a cross. The three doors correspond to three aisles with two rows of pews in between them. More stained glass windows line the walls each depicting a different knight or paladin. Their unblinking eyes stare down at you as your feet crunch on leaves and debris disturbing the silence. The pews are in disarray, broken, and weathered where they’ve been exposed to the elements via the open ceiling.
A raised dais at the center crossing of the church has a stone lectern at the center. Atop it sits an aged book with the holy symbol of the church emblazoned on its cover. To the left and right of the dais are the large transept alcoves. Large windows at the end of both, shine light down onto the central dais. The right alcove contains a small office of the former abbot, while the left contains a small private chapel.
Behind the dais is the altar and apse of the church. A half dome grandly frames the altar with holy artistry painted on the dome’s underside, though the paintings are often chipped or peeling, making the full image difficult to make out. More windows ring the apse, allowing hazy light to fall upon a large stone altar.