Looking Over Dungeon Delve: Tomb of the Tiefling Empress
A necromancer is plundering an ancient tomb for a ring needed to perform a ritual.
Assuming the players have a way to find out about the necromancer in time to intervene, this is a strong hook (casts a wide net for which types of PCs would be interested and adds time pressure on top).
The ideas to expand the adventure by having the necromancer escape with the ring or to have the ring tempt the PCs into releasing some evil beings are great, as long as they come about without railroading.
The flavor details of naming the Empress and her empire can serve as springboards for tying the tomb in with greater context.
A swarm of skeleton minions serving a necromancer is pretty much a textbook case for what the 4E minion rules are good for modeling.
While they are a little funhouse, the brazier traps don’t feel too out-of-place if the other magical traps are changed to be defenses against graverobbers.
I’m not a fan of fantasy safari worldbuilding, but interpreting “tiefling empire” as meaning that Empress Nemeia was thought to be devil-touched or some such rather than being an empire of tieflings can work for me. Added appeal for fitting seamlessly with the provided lore for her ring.
The design for the boneshard skeletons rubs me the wrong way. Considering the boneshard attack needs to deal its ongoing damage twice (20.25% chance at default odds) to exceed the expected damage of a single scimitar hit, it seems rather pointless. Additionally, the boneshard burst is a resource-free “reaction” on an infrequent trigger that has very little counterplay due to its area of effect compared to the room’s size; that’s quite the confluence of questionable-to-bad design decisions. I’d get rid of the boneshard attack and change the burst to either a small but persistent aura, a melee retaliation that requires a reaction, or a smaller but more damaging explosion on death (the first and third options can also act as foreshadowing for the creatures in area 2).
The magical gas trap is mostly fine (and sets the stage for more magical defenses against graverobbers, which makes more sense than it being something the necromancer bothered to set up instead of using that time to search for the ring), but there’s no duration for how long the gas cloud lingers before dispersing enough to lose its effectiveness.
I’d get rid of the ice trap in area 2 because it feels like it’s just busywork.
As with the gas trap in area 1, I’d change the symbol trap in area 2 to something intended to ward off graverobbers by empowering anyone defending the tomb.
Instead of just having a big zombie for the encounter in area 3, I’d reskin it as a horrid cobbling of the flesh from which the skeleton minions were torn. Add some bloody streaks going from them to its starting location for a hint of foreshadowing.
The tactics section says the necromancer uses raise skeleton only to replace skeletons that are killed, but I’d let it create new skeleton minions (perhaps with worse stats if it isn’t too much bookkeeping and perhaps reducing the damage/healing of necrotic burst to balance out having more access to it).
The locked doors in area 3 should be replaced with solid walls if they aren’t going to have more content behind them.
Needing to search to discover the ring’s secret hiding place would be more interesting than just finding it on the necromancer’s body.
The advice to expand the adventure by adding rooms and puzzles leading to the Empress’s final resting place is fine, but the lack of a reason why that would matter and the randomness of infesting it with malevolent giant spiders leave it feeling quite hollow.
The first boxed text for area 2 describes details of a region that it says “is dark”, which seems like it should make it impossible to judge the details of that region. Then again, that boxed text ignores the flaming skeletons completely, so maybe Slavicsek just did a poor job with it all around.
The tactics for area 2 mentions the creatures try to avoid subjecting each other to their damage auras, but (a) I question if they have the mental capacity to justify that and (b) the space is too restricted to be able to do that effectively.
I question if the undead in area 3 have the mental capacity to justify their tactics, too.
While there are some funhouse touches in this adventure that I dislike (mostly the fire/ice-infused undead and ice trap in area 2), I like it overall. It needs some polish (reworking the boneshard skeletons, tying the history provided with greater context, coming up with actual special properties for the Empress’s ring), but it has a mostly-solid foundation to build on.
I also wouldn’t mind doing something more with the necromancer (the hexer from The Broken Tower remains the most interesting controller of any adventure yet by far), but I think just letting raise skeleton work without limit would go a long way towards helping with that.
All in all, this is a solid adventure. Coming right after (and using the same tile graphics as) The Raiders’ Hideout makes it look worse by comparison, but the two are different enough that this one is worth keeping in mind, even if it will take more effort to reach the same level of quality.