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Filkur, lvl 3 Gnome Druid of the Land
Scarlet O’Fair, lvl 3 Human Paladin of Devotion
Falafel, lvl 3 Half-Elf Bard of Lore
It had been two years since our last one-shot Halloween special. Secrets of the Blind Palace starred those same level 3 B-team PCs, albeit with a reduced party, as we explored a cursed and not-so-abandoned pleasure palace to discover the truth behind a previous adventuring expedition.
The adventure began with our swampy gnome druid, swarthy half-elf bard, and gregarious paladin meeting with a noble family outside Luskan. Their son, Wilhelm, had recently gone missing and they wanted him back. The stickler was they knew he was dead, along with most of his adventuring party. The Von Crofts had captured the sole-survivor, a human bard named Katherine.
The result of whatever happened to them also left Katherine completely mute, leaving Minor Illusion as her only way to communicate (and I guess writing things down but where’s the magic in that?). The Von Crofts gave the PCs a scroll of Raise Dead specially coded for their son.
The mission was simple: infiltrate their last known location, an old abandoned high-class resort known as the Blind Palace, find their son, and resurrect him. They had 24 hours.
They opted to take Katherine with them and freed her from her manacles. She appeared distraught and traumatized, but the party was surprisingly kind and trusting – a major shift from our typical anti-hero antics in our main campaign!
The foursome arrived at the boarded-up mansion once known as Brightblossom. The courtyard held a carriage house, a well, and an old campfire. Katherine confirmed that the campfire was her party’s, as was the work of the already opened doors to the dark interior of the mansion.
Filkur checked out the carriage house, noting the decaying leaves, animal bones, and rustling, and smartly turned around and shut the doors.
The interior of the mansion held a grand hall with two small adjoining side rooms at the foyer entrance, five rooms off the main hall, and a collapsed staircase leading further into the ballroom.
The party entered the right-most side room to find a small guard room with a bunch of skeletons on the floor and a bag of coins on the table. Trying to swipe the bags resulted in the skeletons animating and attacking, though the PCs were able to make short work of them.
The main hall’s dark chandelier held four objects, one of which was dripping with blood. The party would come to realize that each object was tailored to each of Katherine’s adventuring party, including a torn-off tiefling ear, a signet ring, and a scroll of music sheets. Scarlet witnessed a ghostly woman dressed in a full ball gown moving into the closed room to the northwest, beckoning them inside.
I made a bit of a mistake as a DM here as I forgot to identify the rooms. They’re supposed be clearly labled, though it technically doesn’t matter until the party finds the keys.
The door was locked, though Scarlet tried to bash it down with her sword – a running gag throughout the rest of the adventure. Scarlet is a hilariously enjoyable character, fearless and friendly, as when she strode into the mansion and called out that they were looking for a young man.
The only door that wasn’t locked was a dressing room to the north. Filkur found an old party invitation for when the pleasure palace was still operating, and a door leading to the baths. Exploring the baths revealed some water-soaked zombies that rose out of the murky water. With their undead fortitude the trio of zombies proved a bit trickier and more painful than the skeletons, and I even reduced their numbers.
Around one of the zombies was a necklace with a key, but humorously the key didn’t work in any of the three locked doors in the main hall, which were labeled Music Room, Library, and Aviary.
Two more rooms remained. The fifth room adjoining the Main Hall held the observatory, but had been completely demolished. There’s a fight with a Darkmantle in here that I skipped in the interest of time (same for the carriage house, though I was more upfront about it). Filkur found a pristine book on the floor that would come into play a bit later.
That last room, the other side room, happened to be the most important. Inside is an undead chief of staff that made for some fun role-playing moments, particularity as the PCs had already found the invitation, negating the need for any Persuasion rolls or combat.
Falafel made a Persuasion check and some Minor Illusion trickery to produce a coat check card to gain the nice cloak on the wall – a Cloak of Protection! And the PCs were able to easily ask for the three keys hanging on the wall, as well as noting that the fourth key, labeled Ballroom, was missing (the one they retrieved from the baths).
With all the keys in tow the party could explore those other rooms, though they ended up skipping one entirely. I had Katherine show them her party’s path through the dungeon – the library, then the aviary, then the music room, with one less person making it out of the aviary.
The party opted for the library first. I reduced this minor exploration section to just the ghost librarian encounter and gave them the side quest of collecting three books scattered around the dungeon, one of which was the book Filkur found in the observatory ruins. But since they ended up skipping the aviary entirely, they wouldn’t complete it (the reward included a couple spell scrolls).
The music room held a fun little challenge. A pair of ghosts were dancing, along with a tiefling corpse – Katherine’s party’s sorcerer who had helped dispel the sigils on the entrance door. With both a paladin and a bard this party was quite adept at dealing with CHA checks, however (though one of them did use inspiration), and were able to succeed in the unique Performance-based challenge. Failure would have resulted in stacks of Exhaustion!
Beyond the music room was the dining room, another little role-playing sequence with a bunch of inanimate skeletons and ghost voices in front of rotting food. Even when the voices addressed Katherine directly, the party stood by her side and and offered words of encouragement.
They used the ballroom key to unlock the next door. The ballroom featured a large foreboding pit that plunged into darkness. Here they bore witness to a vision of past events – Wilhelm Von Croft was wanting to go down there, despite having lost their previous two companions (one of whom died in the aviary, though the party wouldn’t learn how or why since they skipped it).
Katherine was having none of it, casting Dissonant Whispers to send him away. But he fell backwards into the pit. He survived, but not for long, as his anguish was cut short by a blood-curdling (and blood-spewing) scream. Then darkness reached out to grab Katherine and the vision faded.
It looked bad for Katherine but again the party stood by her, blaming her woes for the evil of this place rather than anything she did. They descended into the pit, and into the basement of the palace, a place warped by evil and filled with human bones.
A door lead to a hallway with stone faces carved in the likeness of two of Katherine’s companions. The halfling face wanted to see what he died for, but the party had no idea (did I mention they skipped the aviary?) so it lashed out with necrotic energy. The tiefling face merely recited a creepy poem, but before the final door a statue bore the likeness of the young man they were searching for. He animated and attacked!
The statblock of the statue varies depending on how strong the party is: a Helmed Horror, a Gargoyle, or Animated Armor. I ended up combining the last two, using the Gargoyle statblock but reducing its HP to that of an AA (going from 50 to 30 HP) and dropping the damage resistance. Not so much for balance but for the sake of time. Time is always a tricky prospect for a one-shot, even when we “allow” ourselves an extra hour of playtime. For those who have read through the published adventure, I also skipped the hidden wine cellar completely.
The animated statue crumbled. At this point our party was suitably injured and drained, and impressively hadn’t even taken a short rest thanks mostly to the druid and bard’s ability to heal with Cure Wounds. Filkur and Falafel had similar spell loadouts, resulting in Falafel humorously trying to to one-up Filkur with spells like Faerie Fire and Cure Wounds.
The door led to the final room, a small chapel with the body of Wilhelm resting on a stone slab. The party deliberated and confronted Katherine directly, and she revealed that a hag (which had been teased with the ghostly voices in the dining room and a page from the library) had stolen her voice after Wilhelm’s death, and prompted her to lure more adventurers to get it back.
The module has a number of different outcomes depending on the PC’s choices as well as how they’ve treated Katherine over the course of the dungeon crawl. Scarlet had a final rousing speech about forgiveness and redemption, winning Katherine over to their side completely. She foregoed setting off the alarm that would trigger the hag, but worried about raising Wilhelm as he would see her dead.
The party decided to move Wilhelm’s body so they could raise him elsewhere and let Katherine escape his persecution. Unfortunately the Night Hag, who is watching all of this unfold, doesn’t take kindly to the body being moved. I had mentioned that the hands and head had stitches, and when they moved the body, those pieces suddenly ripped off and animated, resulting in a Flameskull (minus rejuvenation) and two Crawling Claws (with slightly beefier HP)!
Here’s where things get a bit crazy, as on the Flameskull’s first turn it cast Fireball. Fireball is an infamously over-powered spell for 3rd level, dealing 8d6 fire damage and catching many lower level parties completely off guard (see our first dealings with one in our Lost Mine of Phandelver showdown). I targeted everyone and rolled 28 damage, completely average.
Unfortunately all three PCs failed their DEX saves, meaning all three of them went down. Oops!
I was staring down the barrel of a TPK. For hot a second I considered rolling with it – it’s a Halloween one-shot after all. But it also felt a bit cheap. The party made all the right choices and were gearing up for a satisfying ending to the story. So I allowed their good playing to be rewarded in the form of Katherine surviving the blast enough to crawl to Falafel, grab one of his healing potions, and pour it down his throat.
From there Falafel was able to use his last healing potion on Filkur and cast Healing Word on Scarlet, and suddenly the whole party was back in action! It may feel a bit cheap, and I technically didn’t roll a save at all for Katherine (I actually forgot to add her sheet into Roll20, but she was a non-combatant this whole time anyway. Even if she failed the save, she would have survived).
The skull’s fire rays can still do scary damage but I missed with both attacks, and the party was able to quickly clean up on the glass cannon floating monstrosity. If there’s any creature my players fear, it’s flameskulls!
With the animated head destroyed the claws followed suit. They could hear the disembodied hag sigh and mention something about Chult before disappearing. I never did mention if this story took place at the same time as our ToA campaign!
Every adventure needs a decent loot haul at the end, especially as it doesn’t get much more harrowing than a near-TPK. I opened the hidden kitchen room where the hag lair’d and gave them some potions and magic items, including Katherine’s voice! They stuffed what was left of Wilhelm’s body in a bag and left the mansion.
Exiting the dungeon they were met with the Von Crofts and their guards. The nobles were distraught that their son had not been raised, and tried to pay the PCs a reduced reward. But the party wasn’t having it and put up some convincing arguments. The family begrudgingly gave out the full 200gp payment so they could bury their son and forget this whole mess.
This was easily my favorite one-shot episode we’ve ever run. All three players were at the top of their game between all the funny role-playing bits, the story with Katherine and the hag was a neat reveal, and the dungeon provided an excellent balance of Combat, Exploration, and Role-Playing. I highly recommend Secrets of the Blind Palace for any spooky dungeon crawls.
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