by Joe G. Kushner
Rappan Athuk 3: The Dungeon of Graves - The Lower Levels
Written by Bill Webb, W.D.B. Kenower, and Clark Peterson
Published by Necromancer Games
112 b&w pages
There are a couple of ways you can come into something like Rappan Thuk
3. Either you've finally beaten Rappan Athuk 1 & 2 and are hungry for
more, or your GM is anxious either to kill you or push you to Epic Levels.
This adventure was designed for parties 12th level and higher, and when it
states higher, there are some encounters that'll challenge 20th level
characters. The bad news? Well, there's not really any introduction or
method to get to the dungeon. There is a free Wilderness encounter from the Necromancer Games
website, which interested parties should check out. But it's pretty much assumed that you're
going to use the previous two modules first and continue moving through this
death trap. Is all that effort worth it?
Delving Deeper (Spoilers Ahead)
The name of the game here isn't so much traps, illusions, challenges or
brute force, but dangerous NPCs with lots of tactical advice and ideas
on how to run them. This module deals with levels 9, 9B, 9C, 10, 10A,
11, 11A, 12, 12A, 13, 13A, 14 and 15 of the Rappan Athuk dungeon. That's a lot of levels with a lot
of maps to go with 'em. This is one case where perhaps a little bit
more homage to 1st edition feel in a separate book that collected the
maps would've worked out great.
So what can we expect to find in the lower levels? How about a Temple
to Orcus in Level 9? Players get to challenge gorgons, glabrezu, and
priests of orcus. How about two sections (Level 9B and 9C), dealing
with Agamemnon, a powerful vampire wizard? How about beholders, liches,
demons, and a special appearance by the big guy himself?
One of the things I moaned about when I saw it
in the Agamemnon section was an encounter with "helpless women." After
seeing this done in two books in the Maze series, I was wondering when
Necromancer Games was going to let this horse die, but to my surprise,
there is a way to avoid battling the "helpless" females. Remember how I
said this adventure's about tactics? Well, Agememmon is the first
example of such an encounter. Not only is he a high level wizard with a
minor artifact sword, but he's a vampire and has access to spells from
Relics & Rituals.
Of course, the adventure's not just about fighting NPCs. Level 10 includes The Lava
Pit, which makes the party struggle against a potentially lethal environment. This section has
the potential to slow up any group. Not only do the characters have to cope with the vast
amount of heat, they'll also
battle Salamanders, noble Thoqqua, Efreeti, and the lord
of the Salamanders (Irtuk, a high level Sorcerer). Hmmm... I guess you can't get
away from that whole NPC enemy bit.
Some sections, like 10A, the Great Cavern, allow the GM to simply throw
things at the party since the group is described as being in the "open"
where they'll attract a lot of attention. Normally this wouldn't be
such a bad deal, but here the wandering encounters include things like
Umber Hulks, Gargoyles, Ghouls and Xorn. Those looking for a little
role playing in their dungeon crawls may be able to engage that desire
with Villix, a beholder who seeks the death of another beholder in the
maze and is willing to pay well to have it done. There are
other creatures that must be negotiated with as well, like Slavish, a
lich whose power level surpasses Agamemnon's. Fortunately, it actually
benefits the party greatly to parley with the lich as he has a sword
that can come in handy. What do you suppose a sword called Demonbane
does? If you said help kill demons, you were right.
Level 11, The Waterfall and Akbeth's Grave, involves more environmental
challenges and a chance for the party to finish off Zaggothma, the beholder
that Villix wants dead. Akbeth was the love of Agamemnon's life and
was punished by her goddess by being turned into living metal. Little
details like this help make the maze more than just a giant deathtrap.
It's a deathtrap with an interesting backstory.
Level 11A, The Gates of the Goblin City and the Vampire Lair, present
the party with the opportunity to clash with 40 wraiths and a 14th level
fighter vampire. That's right, 40 wraiths. While a 12th level party will find this encounter
challenging, this vampire is nothing compared to Slavish and Agamemnon.
Level 12: The Slave Pits, provides opportunities to free other
adventurers from various torture devices, as well as battle against a
number of goblin NPCs. The nice thing about freeing the low level
adventurers here is the GM can weave those little deeds into other
adventures, having the players revisit the dungeon through different
The goblin city proper doesn't come alive until Level
12A, Grezneck, where smart players won't
have to spend all of their time fighting. This is another excellent
opportunity for players hungry to role-play, as the party must maintain a
relatively low level of aggression and hide any of the races that the
goblins hate (you know, minor races like elves, half-elves, gnomes and
dwarves). There are several minor quests that the party can undertake
here ranging from assassinating specific goblins for magic items, to
joining one of the Fight Circles, which is similar to gladiatorial combat.
Level 13: The Portal of Darkness provides the palyers the means to fight
Orcus. The group must overcome a ghost paladin who guards the gate.
The terrible irony here is that this paladin was once a lot like the
party, intent on battling Orcus. Of course he lost and now serves the
demon prince of the undead as his guardian. This encounter can
reinforce how terrible an encounter with Orcus can be and what the
consequences of losing really are.
Level 13A describes the Goblin Barracks where the party can become
embroiled in goblin politics, or simply wipe them out. Following that is
Level 14: The Chapel of Orcus, which holds another one of the Shrines of Power
that wise party members will destroy. Of course Maphistal, a unique
greater demon, the wraiths, shadows, clerics and mariliths may have
something to say about that.
Level 15: The Den of the Master, is the last battle with said "Master." This is
a battle royale on an epic scale, as the party gets to take on Orcus himself. This is where you'll find
one of the cool things Necromancer did: they provided four
different sets of stats for the big boy depending on the actions of the
party. If the party was wise and managed to destroy those pesky shrines
to Orcus throughout the dungeon, Orcus is greatly weakened. If
they haven't, and they're not Epic level, they're probably dead.
After the adventure, there's a Monster Appendix. This includes Banshees, Fungus Men, Gas
Spores, and Maphistal (a greater demon that serves Orcus).
I enjoyed seeing the Gas Spores again as I have fond memories of these
Beholder-looking sacks of disease from my junior years (Well, looking
back, I guess those memories are only fond when I GMed). Most importantly though, and lets not kid ourselves here, this
section contains stats for Orcus and his wand.
The writing itself is a little rough in places, and at times made me
feel like the module is meant for a newcomer. "He fights until slain to
protect his immortality." Okay, am I the only one who finds that
statement a little like Jumbo Shrimp or Army Intelligence? In other
places, the mechanics could be a little clearer: "Anyone unfortunate
enough to fall through this section of the bridge drops 200 feet to the
river below, suffering 20d6 points of falling damage unless a successful
Reflex save (DC 18) is made." Now is the save for the falling damage,
or is it to avoid falling? I'm pretty sure it's to avoid falling in the
first place, but the text could be more carefully worded.
The book is presented in two standard columns of text broken up by
illustrations. Most of these are charcoal like drawings with lots of
variations of black and gray giving definition to the pictures, each
usually a third of the page. A few illustrations are pen and ink style.
The text density is satisfying for the most part, but at the end of some
sections, there's an unusual amount of white space (page 14, two thirds
of the page; 19, half the page; 24, about half a page; a few
others). Playing around with the picture placement or font size
might've been able to change this, but having everything broken up into
its own sections is good enough for most, especially given the size of
Maps are placed squarely in the middle of the module, all 14 pages of
'em. There are some smaller maps that are collected here and used again
in the module for ease of reference sake. The maps are simple and fairly
easy to use but some of the smaller ones aren't quite as friendly and
I'm glad that these smaller encounter maps are reprinted with the text
when the GM is using that section.
Despite some misgivings I have about the style of the writing and the
viability of any party to thrive in this environment (hey, it's a
dungeon, they should know better ahead of time!), I find this a great
addition to my library. First off, it uses some material from the
Scarred Lands from Relics & Rituals and Creature Collection. I'm all
for brand new monsters, spells and magic items, but it's nice to have an
internal consistency to the world too and when publishers start using
other OGC material, especially that published under the same umbrella,
it makes the GMs job easier.
Rappan Athuk 3 is an excellent example of how to use
devastating tactics against the players. Players who
survive will know quite a bit more about fighting wisely than they did
before. This is a fitting end to a difficult dungeon and shows that even
high-level characters should fear the dark. Those looking to scale
upwards towards Epic levels should look no further than Rappan Athuk 3.