You’ve found your way past the trials at the entrance of the Shrine of Zemail and you’ve solved the puzzle trap door and seen the stairway descend into the darkness below. With an Arcane Knowledge check (bonuses for familiarity with Zemail ACSD) of 80 or higher, a character descending the stairs remembers a saying that “The heart of the mighty oak is in its taproot.” If the Arcane Knowledge check is 100 or higher, the character also remembers that the taproot is the root that goes deepest, toward the water table. If someone recites the saying, all party members obtain a second Arcane Knowledge check to know what a taproot is (bonuses for familiarity with botany ACSD) and if 90 or higher, they remember that the taproot is the root that goes deepest. They step out of the stairs into the Middle Tunnels:
Nine, winding, root-like tunnels are immediately apparent to party members with ultraviolet or infrared vision, or to all if they have a decent light source. Gnomes and goblins could detect them if they put their echo-location to use. Three of the tunnels curve up into tunnels above, six wind downward. If they are lucky, they might glimpse the tail of a giant snake disappearing down a tunnel, moving into a position more favorable for taking the prey from behind.
This is a three encounter dungeon, meaning that the dungeon has enough enemies for 3 solid encounters. The first two encounters are made up of giant snakes, left by the defiling priests of Wesarin. The snakes will be a mix of constrictors and venomous snakes and ideally ambush the party in two level appropriate encounters. We formulate these encounters for the minimum level party. A 4 person party approaching this dungeon should be at least level 6 when it enters.
That would mean 4 giant snakes in each encounter. The Master Weaver should make an effort to have the party at a point where it levels up before reaching the final chamber of the dungeon (perhaps with fights with lizardfolk outside the shrine). If this happens between the two snake encounters, an extra snake can make the next an even fight again.
The defiled sanctum and altar of Zemail is in the lower tunnels, guarded by a single drude (appropriate for 4 level 7 characters). Stairs occupy the majority of the sanctum, meaning uneven footing for fighters that do not vie for the area around the altar. Uneven footing can lead to tripping, especially for people trying to dodge. With the drude tongue capable of hitting all over the sanctum from just about anywhere, there will be plenty of dodging going on. The drude may use its jumping ability to cross the room in a single bound, but the room is small enough most fighters could move back into melee range and attack without missing a turn. A more effective tactic for the drude may be to possess enemy fighters, making the fight complicated.
With the drude defeated, the party would have free access to the alter. Since the drude was a foe of both Zemail and Wesarin, this serves either the goal of cleansing the shrine or defiling it again in Wesarin’s name.
It of course also allows access to whatever valuable items are laying around the inner sanctum. There will be silver coins and other silver trinkets left as offerings to Wesarin while the Empire of Wesarin controlled the shrine. The transition of control from the priests of Wesarin to the drude happened suddenly when a loose drude possessed a priest in the chaos and assassinated the lizardfolk in the area. Among the lizardfolk remains in the sanctum the players will find divine Wesarin artifacts. These could include Bite Plates, Miasmic Knives, or even The Serpent Rod. Less likely to be found are divine Zemail artifacts. The followers of Wesarin probably cleaned it pretty thoroughly while they controlled it. Still, there may still be some of her Vinecorns and Thorncorns hidden in the cracks and corners.
Given the great importance of the shrine to controlling the Cloying Forest, if the shrine is claimed for either Zemail or Wesarin, that deity will not only have improved favor with the cleansers, but will also appear and grant a token.
If the party is higher level than 6 upon entering, a snake or two can be added to each encounter to make up the difference. With snakes on his side, the drude may use snake form to misdirect and confuse.
Did the Shrine of Zemail offer a satisfactory adventure? Were you satisfied with the ending? How would you run it as a Master Weaver? Let us know below.