B4 The Lost City was my favorite classic TSR Dungeons & Dragons adventure module and another one (much like B3 Palace of the Silver Princess) which vexed me to no end. See, the problem was for this eleven year old was the upper tiers didn't make any sense. How the different factions lived in an uneasy alliance within its halls, and how the traps all remained unsprung, and what the hell are a bunch of Sprites doing hanging out in the fireworks closet?
But the whole package of buried pyramid and underground “lost” city and its mysterious inhabitants was just magnificent. I thought if I can figure out how to run this adventure I would be a true Dungeon Master!
This week I sat down with my PDF copy of the module and decided to solve the problems I had with the upper tiers once and for all. And it didn't take much.
First off, the whole upper tiers as the Old God factions personal club house just had to be chucked. If there were going to be cultists on the upper levels they were going to be groping around blindly just like the PC's, almost. Here is the set up I used to justify the various cult member's activities in the upper tiers; a search for a McGuffin. In this case the McGuffin is an artifact, a magical weapon which can slay Zargon. Say a “Flame Sword” capable of sheering off the monsters horn and destroying its regenerative properties. It will naturally be buried somewhere in the upper tiers. I'll make the Magi of Usimagaras and the Brotherhood of Gorm collaborating on the search. The Priests of Zargon suspect its existence but have never found a way into the upper tiers. They anxiously search the city for evidence of the Old God factions and its members.
For example; in the module the PC's find entrance into the pyramid because a Hobgoblin was shot down opening a trapped secret door. This has no rhyme nor reason. But replace this corpse with that of a Cyndecian and put the bolt in the victim's back. Struck down just when uncovering a great secret, of a portal to the outside world! Perhaps he still draws breath and carries a piece of parchment with ordered pairs of symbols? The fact that the unfortunate cultist triggered the door trap it is no small leap to decide now all the traps are now armed in this room. That the cultist was unaware of the proper sequence needed to perform with the doors to pass through safely. With just this simple musing the rest of the upper tier now starts to snap into shape. The Old God cultists are attempting to deceive the Priests of Zargon. While one band leads the Priest's loyal acolytes on a merry chase through the upper tiers another group penetrates the tombs of Alexander and Zenobia to secure the legendary sword. So I replace any of the other dead bodies found on these levels with Gorm, Usimagaras and Zargon cultists. The bees are not guarding any treasure on the second tier, no they are a clever trap uncovered by the collaborators and used against the acolytes. Perhaps these cultists fight a desperate battle on the second tier against the acolytes while their companions are dying beneath the traps found in the hidden tombs? Ancient plans exploding into action and the PC's stumbling into it all.
I've changed the Wandering Monster Tables to reflect my preferred assortment of crypt vermin and the cat and mouse game being played out by the warring Cyndecians. The temple on the fifth tier needs to opened up as well. While the statues of the Old Gods have been pulled down and many of the corridors are still neglected, the Priests still bring sacrifice to Zargon and hold worship in the horrid lower tiers. This is also how the Old God cultists penetrate the upper tiers. They know of secret doors which lead to the upper levels. They have secreted their agents among the acolytes and travel to these entrances under darkness and stealth.
So I included only two of the Old God cults as being involved in the search. The Warrior Maids, while the strive against the power of Zargon, are not in others confidence. This can help illuminate the mistrust and infighting among all the factions. This will require the emptying of the Warrior Maid's club house and restocking but much of the other rooms on this tier, tier 3, can be left as is. Oh, and those lycanthropes running around secretly living in the upper tiers. They got to go. Another nonsensical addition to the antics of the dungeon.
For me this set up creates a world pregnant with possibilities. At the end of the day the PC's need to secure enough supplies to escape the danger of the desert or secure long term lodging in the city below. How they can leverage the goings on in the upper tiers to achieve survival and eventual securing of loot in which to enrich themselves now has a handle. A DM's deft handling of the cults, each with a clear mission being attempted at the outset of the adventure, will create a much more dynamic dungeon environment. This approach also helps me envision the lower tiers which the priests of Zargon continue to use. Not only are these crude lower chambers the source of the Priest's power but of their greatest fear. They sit on a literal powder keg of evil. They attempt to keep the terrible creatures inhabiting these lower levels in check with sacrifice and magic. In this role the Priests of Zargon are not insane bloody zealots, but wise stewards protecting a deranged populace. Ah yes, the rabbit hole goes deep on this one.