The snake cult has deep roots in the origins of D&D. From Howard’s Serpent Men of Velusia; to the Greek Lamia and the Indian Naga; to the Yuan-Ti of the Forbidden City, it’s just not sword & sorcery unless there’s some scaly monster and crazed cultists to confront. The climax of more than one adventure has been the party confronting and thwarting the nefarious plans of these individuals.
“Two or three years ago it was just another snake cult” – Black Lotus Street Peddler, Conan the Barbarian (1982)
When I started playing around with this section of Stonehell, it coincided with my re-reading “The Curse of Yig” by H.P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, so snake men were very much on the forefront of my mind. I thought that they’d make nice trappings for the dungeon, but I wanted to do something a little different with them. After a bit of thought, I decided that rather than having a snake cult as the antagonists for this portion of the dungeon, I’d merely use them as former occupants of this quadrant. At some point in the not-so-distant past, they’d been challenged and defeated by some nameless band of adventurers and all that remains now, like the shed skin of some titanic serpent, are the decorations and hints of their former presence here.
Since my mind was already on things scaly and upright, it wasn’t much of a stretch to decide to use Lizard Men (that’s Lizard Men, not Lizardfolk – curse you 3.0 political correctness!!!) as the main antagonists here. They’re a comfortably 2 HD monster and, outside of a run-through of U2 – Danger at Dunwater, I don’t get a chance to use them much. They also have the advantage of being Neutral creatures, so an encounter with them could easily go either way depending on how the party decides to react to them. This works well with my belief that a classic dungeon shouldn’t always be about killing everything one comes across.
Using Lizard Men as the main attraction also allowed me to work in something that I had so far neglected to include in Stonehell – another way in to the place. With Gloomrisk, I had set up several methods by which a party might gain access to the dungeon other than just the front door. In keeping with the tradition established by Castle Greyhawk, these entrances don’t always lead to the first level, allowing more experienced parties to by-pass the yard trash and head straight for levels more equal to their skill. I had forgotten to include such alternate means of entrance and exit for Stonehell, so it was time to correct that.
Speaking of forgotten dungeon features, I also made sure that I included two other old standbys in this section of the dungeon. The first was the elevator room. As I indicated above, sometimes you need a way for the party to skip a few less challenging levels to get straight to the fighting & looting portion of the dungeon itinerary. The elevator room also has the advantage of serving as a trap for lower level adventurers, dropping them right in over their heads before they know what’s happening. The second classic dungeon feature was the rubble-choked passageway that leads to an undetermined location that could be used by the referee to expand the dungeon if necessary. I figured that might come in handy sometime, rather than have to get a price quote from the Greyhawk Construction Company.