“I and several other people joined a group of three adventurers who had been into the great dungeon before, several months previously. It was led by Lord Pirulen of Avenir and the sorceress Candara. There was a sneak-thief in the group – I really can’t call him anything else – and he opened the entry door with a key. I don’t know where he stole the key or what he did with it after, but it wasn’t on him when we checked over his dead body a few days later.
“We fought a lot of wights, and there were some wraiths, but that was later on in a hall full of pillars,” Fenice’s soft voice continues. “For a couple days we wandered through a huge maze, and I swear the walls moved when we weren’t looking. I think it was more luck than anything else that we managed to get out of that one. We encountered some goblins there, little realizing what was to come. Lord Pirulen, Candara, and their sneaky pal Cerigo had explored the area some before and been stymied at a spot that required traveling underwater. This time they had come prepared, and our whole group was supplied with items or spells necessary to breath and travel underwater. It turns out there are huge areas of that labyrinth that can be accessed only by some of those water-filled passageways.
“One thing we had not expected was to come out of the water only to encounter a fire-breathing three-headed dog. In the heat of the battle I lost my favorite sword to it – and my hand. Lord Pirulen even laid his hands on my arm and healed the wound in the middle of the fight, but that didn’t replace my hand. We finally managed to trick it and block it behind a magic wall for a few seconds, and then run for our lives.”
Igor suddenly jumps to his feet, making the rest of you jump also, so intent were you on that soft voice and its narration. “This is too scary! I don’t want to listen to this anymore. I’m going out to talk to the horses.” He hurries out into the sunlight, and you hear him call to the horses.
Vort shrugs and looks at Fenice. “You know he doesn’t mean to be rude. I don’t think he’d heard you talk about that part before.”
“I know,” Fenice replies in her whispery voice. “Believe me, it was certainly scary at the time! We ran, with Brother Arno just happening to end up in front. He yanked open the first door we came to in that broad hallway and we piled through. Lord Pirulen and I were last, and we watched each comrade simply blink out of sight as he or she ran through the door, moving too fast to stop. We looked at each other and then the paladin just shrugged. He took my arm with his left hand and we stepped through together. Happily, it was just a teleporter and everyone had arrived in the same place – that time – so we were able to carry on. Any chance of knowing where we were had been lost, of course!
“Eventually we found another waterway, and passed through it to a cavern full of long, pointed rock formations on both floor and ceiling. Some of them must have been enchanted guardians, because they came to life and attacked us with long tentacles. It was not much later that Gamira Darkwood, an elven ranger with us, located a secret door that led to a
Rappan Athuk Player’s guide
gate which none of us could find a way to open.” Fenice’s voice, though still very soft, becomes more intense with excitement. “Candara used her magic to get us to the other side, and we found ourselves on the doorstep of a goblin kingdom!
“There is an entire goblin kingdom hidden in the depths under that dungeon, and of course we managed to stumble on it.” The whisper falls back into its previous cadence, and you lean closer again, so as not to miss anything. “We saw only a small part of their main city, but that was more than enough for me! At first things went fairly well. We let Candara do the talking, and she convinced the goblins we met that we had come from the Underdark and were looking to replenish our supplies.
“I think our time there would have gone better had we not had a paladin with us. The rest of us – even Brother Arno – could have turned a blind eye to the slavery; it was only some kobolds, and who cares if one type of menace decides to enslave another? But Lord Pirulen was already upset by it when he discovered that there were other humans in the city: prisoners who were to be used as sacrifices. That was beyond what he could stand, and he insisted that we immediately attack to free them.” Fenice’s whisper becomes intense again, and she leans forward on her stool, gesturing for emphasis. “We were more than ready to leave by that time, but didn’t all share his passion for this crusade. When some of us were insufficiently zealous, he removed the decision by freeing three prisoners and then joining the group with the news that two patrols of goblins were behind him and we needed to hurry!” Now she stands, and begins to pace back and forth as her whispered story continues.
“We had already decided to go back the way we came and were able make it back to where Candara had used her magic on the wall. The goblins stopped their pursuit as we got toward the end of the corridor, which we didn’t understand at all. They definitely seemed afraid of something having to do with the great gate. We found we could open the gate from the goblin side, though it took several of us to do it, and then of course we could not secure it from the other side. Candara put some type of magic on it, but she was exhausted by that time and had few spells left.
“It was definitely time to rest, so we picked the best place we could and set out guards. I’m afraid we were overconfident, though, and we definitely underestimated the goblins. Somehow a small group managed to surprise our guards on the city side, and get to where most of us were sleeping without raising an alarm. In that city they have a saying, ‘A running goblin can slit a thousand throats in a single night.’ Happily for me that running goblin was in too much of a hurry and didn’t stop to check his work.” Fenice loosens the slide holding her neckscarf and folds it away, revealing an ugly red scar across the front of her neck. “Candara and I survived, though just barely. Gamira was on watch with Turbayne (one of the former prisoners) in the direction of the dungeon rather than the city, and when she finally heard something they came in the nick of time.”
Sliding the fastener back up, Fenice settles the scarf around her neck again and her voice becomes grave. “We lost both Brother Arno of Larchmont and Lord Pirulen to those little scum, as well as two of the prisoners we had rescued, and Rosson Gildersleeve, a gnome who had valiantly acted as our scout through some tight spots. Gamira used up the last of our healing potions on Candara. She tried reading a spell from a scroll to heal me, but botched it somehow and it didn’t help. I wasn’t actually dying by that time – Gamira was surprisingly useful with linen bandages and unguents – but I would really have preferred not to be reminded of that episode for the rest of my life.
“With only three of us left of the eight who started out together, even with the addition of Turbayne all we could do was move ahead with great caution and hope blindly that we could find a way out of the dungeon before we were all killed. We made it back to the area with the randomly teleporting rooms and stumbled across something that saved us all – a place that teleported us right out of the dungeon.”
Finally Fenice pauses in her agitated pacing. “Come on!” she says in a harsh whisper. “I need to get outside into the sun, too. Let’s see how Igor’s doing with those horses.”
Outside, Igor seems to be enjoying himself with the animals. He speaks quietly to a tall gray horse while he brushes its coat, and a glossy brown seems to have already gotten the same treatment. The remaining horse, a smaller one with a white star on its black face, stays somewhat aloof from the other group. Fenice gives a sprightly whistle – the loudest sound you have heard her make – and the black horse trots over to the fence. The slender woman absently pets it while she continues her quiet speech.
“The most important thing when going into Rappan Athuk is for each member of the group to have as many magic items as possible. There are so many different areas down there, so many different side branches, that you never know what you’re going to come up against next. It’s impossible to plan. The best idea is just to have magic items that will cover as many contingencies as possible, and then you’ll always have something you can use.
“Of course there’s your basic armor and weapons; considering how dangerous the inhabitants are, and how difficult many of them are to defeat, there should not even be a question about needing those. It’s the specialized items, though, that can really make or break a group. For instance, you should have items that provide light – not just enough light for humans to see, but ones that use light as a weapon. Those are the most effective against many different types of undead creatures, which is mostly what is in that evil place. It‘s also good to have something that produces fire; the more ‘normal’ creatures down there are used to dark damp places and are frightened of fire. A nice fireball, or wall of fire, or even spurting fire from your fingertips left and right, will earn their respect and convince them to leave you alone.”
Rappan Athuk Player’s guide
You notice that Fenice has started to rub the stump of her right arm, and you suspect she is unaware of her action. “Fire resistance is also critical. This is the lair of demons, and they have more than one location that opens into the depths of Hell itself. Of course, standard fire resistance barely helps against hellfire; you need something a bit stronger and you need it to be ongoing, not something that’s going to wear off every few minutes. Another thing that’s very useful is an item that allows you to fly. There are some deep cracks that are difficult to cross, high places to climb, and so on. We also made good use of water-breathing magic, but that was because of the specific places Candara, Cerigo, and Lord Pirulen wanted to explore.”
The black horse butts Fenice’s shoulder, and she reaches up to smooth its nose as she continues. “Something else you might not expect is that you need to be able to crawl. Not every denizen of the great dungeon is as tall as you or I; though some are considerably larger, there are also smaller ones. It can be a great advantage to be able to move through the tunnels you find; it can lead to some goodly treasure, and it is also an outstanding way to get away from some of those larger creatures. Magical bags and backpacks gave us places to stow away armor or other bulky things when we needed to crawl, or swim; I can’t imagine going some of the places we went with our fighters having to drag their armor along behind them.” She looks away from you to the stablehand. “Vort, could you get my saddle and bags, please?”
“The last thing you need to remember, of course, is that no matter how prepared you are, you are still not prepared enough.” Fenice climbs the rail of the fence and jumps down next to the horse. Vort appears with her gear, which she takes with a nod and then saddles her mount. You notice that even without a hand, she is able to use her right arm to hold or brace things, while her left hand of course does the finer tasks. Finally Vort passes Fenice a set of filled saddlebags. She looks directly at you, her face serious and her whispery voice harsh. “Whatever you think you will be able to do in Rappan Athuk, something is going to be there to deny you complete success. You’ll end up with amazing stories to tell, but only at the expense of friends left behind in the making of those tales. Maybe before you go, you should ask yourself if a venture into that dungeon of graves is worth the rest of your life.”
She puts her left foot into the stirrup, braces herself with her right elbow, and smoothly swings her leg over while Vort opens the gate of the paddock for her. She gives another whistle and Igor looks up. “Good-bye, Fenice!” he calls, waving to her vigorously. Her left hand busy with the reins, Fenice lifts her right arm in acknowledgement and then turns her horse away, through the gate of the settlement and out. Vort drops his own hand and closes the gate, then gives you a brief nod and walks back into the stable.