Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Lich's Last Stand


It's still just cover art

Premise

The magics trapping an ancient lich inside its own phylactery are fading, so the party is enlisted to enter the phylactery and destroy the lich before it can escape.


Good

The premise is wonderful, and the ideas to expand the adventure by using it as a follow-up to a separate adventure in which the party faces off against the lich themselves are also fantastic.


The mirror cells in area 2 are a much better implementation of what the mirrors of trapped souls in Emerald Dawn wished they were.


The mirror wall in area 2 being a trap after the one in area 1 was used to proceed is a cute twist, though the three-encounter adventure format is too short to make much more of it.


The flame wall in area 2 provides the option of pressing through to area 3 without killing everything if the characters are willing to take some minor fire damage (technically, they could even move through it without taking any damage as-written if they don’t start a turn adjacent to it, but that’s silly).


Salvageable

There needs to be a reason why the party enters the phylactery instead of just destroying it to kill the lich. The adventure as-written has the phylactery suck in anyone who gets with 25’ of it, but that just changes the question rather than answering it. The first idea that comes to my mind is that the phylactery is some relic they need to cleanse for another adventure, but there are countless other ways to justify entering it; the specific reason doesn’t matter so much as actually having one.


The warmaster’s, swarms’, vestiges’, and lich’s auras should all have flavorful descriptions when they have detectable effects.


The warmaster’s stat block has enough going on that its single out ability feels excessive. I’d get rid of that, on top of my general dislike for dragonborn fury.


If the vestige by the work table could use the magic item on it, the vestige should use that item.


It’s been a while since we’ve had a combat couldn’t be won by the players without completing a puzzle, and I have the same comment for that here as I did in The Catacombs of Koptila: there need to be clues to give the players a reasonable chance of figuring out what to do.


Risking a magic item on altering a brazier should be enough of a cost; needing to also succeed on a skill check is unnecessary. In fairness, the skill check is more reasonably if risking only currency or ritual components.


Bad

The write-up for area 1 provides no description for the second half of the room.


Why would killing everything in area 2 turn off the flame wall impeding access to area 3?


Despite what the area 3 boxed text says, there is no way a character looking into area 3 from area 2 should be able to see the braziers.


The party recovering anything consumed by the braziers when they exit the phylactery undermines all the drama of making such a sacrifice in the first place.


Overall

Given that the adventure takes place inside of an item, this is about as self-contained as it’s possible to be, which gives it incredible flexibility in terms of where the adventure can be located; revealing that a “sentient” item that the PCs retrieved relatively early in their careers and took advice from on occasion is actually the phylactery can be an incredible reveal that makes the GM look like a genius (so long as the matter of why the party can’t just destroy the phylactery is addressed). And even if such an ambitious set-up is too much, the greater context is very much blank slate that can be filled in as desired. The aftermath as-written is that the phylactery “collapses in upon itself” and “is nowhere to be seen” once the party leaves its pocket dimension, but that’s the most boring option available unless its disappearance can feed into further adventures, and the reason why the phylactery can’t just be destroyed will likely provide more drama if it doesn’t disappear.


The creatures within it are very easily reskinned and/or replaced, though frankly, none of the encounters are particularly exciting as-written from any perspective other than simple mathematical challenge. For the secret sanctum of a powerful old wizard that ought to be a stronghold within which the lich can recover to rise again, it’s disappointing that the mirror cells and the brazier puzzle are the only notable features (there’s an argument to be made in favor of the dragonclaw fonts as well, but they don’t impress me enough to make the cut).


All in all, the adventure has a very cool concept, a few neat ideas, and a potentially-interesting puzzle to spice up the climactic encounter, but it’s woefully lacking in flavor and underwhelming in general execution. Doing more with areas 1 and 3 to bring them closer to the effort put into area 2 would be a good start, but I think redesigning them entirely might be easier. This adventure is better than pure filler, but not by much.

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