Monday, September 21, 2015

Mystara Monday: Module B4 - The Lost City

This week we'll be taking a look at Dungeons & Dragons adventure module B4: The Lost City. Written by Tom Moldvay (also responsible for first revision of the D&D Basic rules) and published in 1982, B4 is a bit more ambitious than the previous B modules. The pyramid is a multi-level dungeon much like those previously seen but this adventure also presents a fairly detailed backstory for the pyramid and the underground city below it, NPC factions for players to ally with (or come into conflict with), ideas for further adventures using the setting, and an evil false god to serve as a challenging final fight.

The adventure takes place inside an ancient step pyramid found when the player characters become lost in a forbidding desert. The module doesn't concern itself much with how the characters come to the desert, simply stating in the background that they had joined a desert caravan that became lost in a sandstorm. Lost and desperate, the characters enter the pyramid in the hope of finding a means of survival.

The pyramid is all that remains intact of the city of Cynidicea, once the capital of a desert kingdom. While building the pyramid, workers uncovered the lair of a hideous monster, Zargon. Unable to kill the monster, the rulers of the city began sending criminals into the pyramid to appease it. Over time a cult arose around the monster, supplanting worship of the city's three traditional gods. The civilization decayed and eventually, when barbarians overran the city, fled underground below the pyramid. There the descendants of those Cynidiceans still live, now adapted to underground life and spending most of their days in a hallucinatory state.

It's possible for an adventurer to be transformed into a three foot tall
mini-Zargon. Yay cursed magic items.

Possible antics of the Cynidiceans the adventurers encounter can include trying to warn the adventurers of the invisible snakes on the floor and showing them where to walk to avoid them, 'recognizing' an adventurer as the lost ruler of Cynidicea and smothering him or her with attention, or following the adventurers around carrying boards until something is killed and then building a coffin for it and demanding payment for the service.

Some relatively normal Cynidiceans make up three factions each dedicated to one of the old gods of the city. Each faction is devoted to trying to restore the worship of their patron god and to save their society from its decay. None of the three trusts the others however, so they fight much more than they cooperate, even in the face of Zargon's evil. The adventurers can ally with these factions and try to assist them in their goals.

The adventure as written is a 10 tier dungeon, though only the first 5 tiers are fully detailed. Quite a lot of the encounters in this part of the pyramid are with undead or vermin as you might expect. From tier 6 on the rooms are less detailed and the encounters are more difficult, honestly rising above what's reasonable for even a level 3 party. It's clearly intended that the party have reached the Expert levels (4 and up) and by the last few levels they're encountering creatures such as vampires, a chimera, and a 9 hit die blue dragon. These levels also seem less planned with monsters seemingly chosen at random to populate the various rooms, each with their own individual treasure hoard.

This dwarf is way too excited about being
stuck in an ancient pyramid.
The Lost City continues the shift we saw begin in Palace of the Silver Princess towards adventures that are more than just a dungeon full of monsters and treasure for the adventurers to kill and loot respectively. Where the story was mostly just on the surface in Silver Princess, here it's worked more directly into the adventure, with ways for the players to learn more about the past of Cynidicea and become involved in long term efforts to halt its decline and even attempt to restore it. Adventure ideas are even provided for after the pyramid is fully explored and Zargon is defeated dealing with such matters as cure the Cynidiceans permanent hallucinatory state, wiping out Zargon's cult followers and ensuring he doesn't rise again, and attempting to restore the royal line. This one module could easily be made the basis for an entire campaign set in and below the pyramid.

Next week we'll keep on going with a look at adventure module B5: Horror on the Hill. Find out just what's so horrific, and why bargaining with kindly old grandmothers can be perilous indeed.


  1. Masked weirdo Cyndiceans. Did you run this module ever?

    Wikstrom had a good meditation on this in the Appendix N podcast and its similarities with Xuthal of the Dusk, a pretty core Howard Conan short piece.

    1. I ran the version from the B1-9 anthology that doesn't include any of the extended stuff with Zargon and the underground city. It's presented more as a typical dungeon there, and this was very early in my D&D career, so I didn't really take advantage of the possibilities surrounding the Cynidiceans and their factions.