Perched upon a tall, sheer-sided hill overlooking the valley is the ruin of the abbey. None now living can recall the time when it was more than a tumbled down pile of stones, but all of those dwelling in the vale have heard the tales. It was the custom of the black-cowled priests that dwelt upon the hill to take the sick and dying from the nearby villages. Theses folk were given over wordlessly to the monks for while none now can remember why, there was believed to be an understanding between the people of the vale and the strange holy men upon the hill. Most of those taken never returned. Those that did were said to act in a strange and unwholesome manner for evermore.
It is known now amongst the villagers that the abbey was built for the safe-keeping of a crimson-colored gemstone whose possessor could wield power over life and death. It is said that in the year of the abbey's ruin an ambitious lord of the east who sought to posses the gem sacked the abbey. His soldiers and henchmen toppled the stone walls and slew all those living within, but this lord's prize was never recovered. Indeed, with his last breath the dying abbot set a curse upon the usurpers, damning their wretched souls to the immortality their lord sought. In undeath these men now dwell within the abbey ruins, guarding the sacred stone from any who would seek its powers.
Upon hearing tales of the ruin, most shudder and pull their loved ones closer or make a sign of warding to banish their dark thoughts. A rare few set out to learn of the matter for themselves, and perhaps put their hands on the magical gemstone...
The sound of dripping echos up the long stairway that you have descended. The air is cool and dense and tastes faintly of metal. An arched chamber opens up before you and from its high, domed ceiling a red liquid rhythmically plops into the room's center, where a slippery, shiny red cone seems to emerge from the flagstones of the floor. Above each doorway of this chamber is an arched alcove filled with skulls and bones.
The cone is merely the beginnings of a stalagmite, and those entering the room can see the accompanying stalactite forming in the ceiling above once beyond the doorway. The water is red-tinged due to iron content.
The ceiling is 20' high, domed and supported with arches. The bone-filled alcoves are in truth worked stone and not actual humanoid remains.
The door is made to open into the chamber beyond, but is stuck in some manner.
A listener at the door will hear the sounds of moaning on the other side. Opening the door requires a check, for the difference in air pressure and the warping of the wood hold the door fast.
The door is forced open and a gust of air extinguishes your light and nearly pushes you from the chamber. You hear a forlorn moaning and the trickling of water from the blackened room beyond.
The moaning is the sound of wind escaping the cave, which was once natural but expanded by the abbey. The party will be unable to light a torch or lantern here. If they have other means of illumination or seeing (e.g. a light spell or infra-vision) then they find a rough-hewn chamber with a fissure near the ceiling of the southwest wall. Water pours forth from here, spurts down the wall and collects in a deep pool of cold, clear water before exiting from a similar hole in the northwest floor. Six old buckets, warped and moldy, lie about the floor.
The pool is 7' deep at its middle and the floor uneven with odd mineral formations. Amongst these odd formations are the remains of the abbot. The minerals can be chipped away and the abbot's remains recovered. He still wears about his neck a key that appears to be a holy symbol. Any careful examination will reveal its actual purpose. This key opens the secret door in area 28.
The worked stone of this room has been stuccoed over up to about 9' in height, and faint etchings similar to the one shown above fill the four walls from the floor to the bottom of the arched, dome ceiling. The room is silent, almost eerily so, and otherwise empty.
The center of the dome is 25' high. A careful examination of the room will reveal 7 small protruding knobs of stone about 9 1/2' above the floor, but only if the searching player specifies a close examination of the wall's surface above eye level, as they are quite difficult to spot. Pushing in the 7th knob from the left activates a secret door 8 1/2' wide, 10' high, and 10' above the floor of the chamber that was previously accessed via a wooden platform, now long gone. This door may be found through normal means if the players search high enough.
Other clues related to the platform include several socket holes (2 each at the 20' and 2 at the 30' line one at about 4' height, 1 at about 8'). Each of the four sockets is 1/2' x 1/2' square and a little deeper. The first socket hole examined by the party will have several splinters of wood (from the platform, of course).
If the secret door is accessed there is an immediate 2 in 6 chance that 1d4 of the ghouls occupying areas 24 through 27 are present and alerted of the party's presence.
First, the exposition at the beginning. When designing a dungeon or other adventuring locale I like to write a few lines, perhaps as much as a paragraph, that sum up the environment for me. I probably labored over the above passage a bit more than normal since it was meant for the blog, but the purpose remains the same. I use the paragraph to both evoke for me the overall feeling I'm looking to achieve with the location as well as provide a context to help direct my design efforts. In the end, some or part of it finds its way into the players' hands.
As for the locale itself and the first three rooms, I have cleaved rather closely to the original purpose and room descriptions provided in the DMG. For one thing, they're so strongly associated to the map for me that I'd be resisting a lot of strong urges to the contrary if I wrote something completely different. For another, part of what compelled me to do this in the first place was the desire to finish my version of the adventure begun there. I'm hoping that for the sake of variety others who may take up the challenge are less inclined to follow through with what was originally presented. It appears that so far at least one of you has.
I replaced the spider encounter presented in room 1 of the DMG, though, with the stalagmite as a means of not dismissing tension too early. The first three rooms are devoid of any direct danger to the party, but each serve to either establish the mood (creepiness) or indirectly present some of the history of the place to the players. The stalagmite that looks like a bloody pile upon first sight, the moaning in the pitch black room of area 2 and the creepy skeleton etchings in area 3 are all meant to evoke a sense of uneasiness and impending nastiness upon the party. I want them to be a little freaked out if I can manage it, before anything actually leaps out at them.
When providing room descriptions to my players I strive to involve more than one sense each time, if I can. I consider how damp or close is the air? Can anything be heard or smelled? What about felt? I don't always write them out like above, often they're just scribbled notes on a paper or written onto the map itself. The idea is never to read aloud more than a few lines at a time and to try to put them into the environment so described by relating to them all possible, immediate perceptions of the environment. I've chosen the above written format, somewhat at odds with the current trend in the OSR of minimalist room descriptions, to give the reader a sense of how I would deliver the information at the table.