Dungeon of the Mad Mage and the "Withered Heart (spoilers)

lluewhyn

Explorer
I'm not quite understanding the purpose of this item in the dungeon. Is it just an elaborate, poorly developed attempt to pull a "Gotcha!" on the PCs by killing someone who does a silly thing? Do many PCs normally attempt to attune to unidentified random body parts?

Based on the fact that there's a second encounter which references the heart and points the PCs back there, it feels like there was supposed to be something more to this whole plotline. Am I missing something?
 
I think you are being a bit optimistic about a 'plotline'. The first level of the dungeon is full of that kind of nonsense. There are a couple of good ideas there, but this is just a gotcha for PCs that are not thinking this through.
 
To me it's just a instakill trap. I kinda hate this kind of stuff... I plan to use the empty room next to it to give them some kind of warning, one of the Mad Mage's regional effects making an illusion of the tiefling dying or something like that.
 

ccs

40th lv DM
Sounds like it's a play on the Hand/Eye of Vecna. Maybe the Head of Vecna joke as well.
 
In my game, I am using the "withered heart" as a plot device, not a magic item. I am treating it like a reliquary where the necromancer's spirit resides after his body was destroyed; it is pure spirit now and cannot reconstruct a body like a lich. I removed the side effect of instant death and, by attuning to it, you can telepathy communicate with the spirit trapped within; no need for "Speak with Dead."

The Arcane Brotherhood desperately wants to recover the withered heart so they can receive a de-briefing from the spirit of their agent that successfully infiltrated Dweomercore before he was killed by Halaster; though they do not know yet how he died. One of the PCs wants to join the Arcane Brotherhood so, to earn their favor and willingness to accept him as a recruit, is attempting to recover the heart.

The Lords' Alliance has learned of this and recruited its own agent, a different PC, to recover the heart. They have received (and divined) ominous warnings of a mysterious arcane project being developed within Dweomercore that somehow involves the long-dead mad mage and believe that it is a credible and significant to the City of Waterdeep.

Note that only one PC, if any, will be able to complete their mission.

I feel that there are lots of little details within the adventure that can be expanded upon by a creative DM to become more meaningful but, as-written, are just "fluff." Seems like an opportunity for someone to create material for the DMsGuild . . .
 
IMO, it has a very important purpose showcasing how Undermountain cannot be beat simply by smashing the PCs against conveniently scaled challenge ratings. Puts the players in a careful exploration mindset.

It also sets up Halaster as a mad mage who likes to play devious tricks, assuming the party figures out what is going on. And I think it is incredibly flavorful.

That it is on the 1st level and would be encountered early in the campaign helps to set the expectations. It is my favorite part of level 1.
 

lluewhyn

Explorer
In my game, I am using the "withered heart" as a plot device, not a magic item. I am treating it like a reliquary where the necromancer's spirit resides after his body was destroyed; it is pure spirit now and cannot reconstruct a body like a lich. I removed the side effect of instant death and, by attuning to it, you can telepathy communicate with the spirit trapped within; no need for "Speak with Dead."
Sounds like a good idea. That actually gives some greater purpose to the item and ensures that it might come off as having a point to the PCs (if they pay attention to it, if not, that's up to them).
 

lluewhyn

Explorer
Sounds like it's a play on the Hand/Eye of Vecna. Maybe the Head of Vecna joke as well.
That thought occurred to me as well, especially the "Head of Vecna" gag, along with it being a very weak idea for a joke. That requires a specific level of knowledge/Ignorance on the PCs' parts, i.e. A. Somehow doing something with a dead person's body part to swap out with your own could give you great power, in this case attuning with it, B. Being ignorant of how risky this is to do with random body parts found in dungeon, especially when you don't use divination magic first (at least Identify) to see if it's a bad idea.

It's a bit like having a joke where the PCs find a gazebo in a dungeon and if one of them shoots an arrow at it, it automatically kills and eats them, otherwise it has no effect on the adventure.
 
A. "Heart in a box" made me think of Pirates of the Caribbean wherein the heart was a valuable thing everyone wanted to control. I can see a player having their PC fiddle with it during a short rest the same as they may fiddle with any magic item discovered.

B. Messing with random body parts without divination magic is only a bad idea if bad things happen when one does so. If bad things do not happen, then it would not be a bad idea.
 

lluewhyn

Explorer
In my game, I am using the "withered heart" as a plot device, not a magic item. I am treating it like a reliquary where the necromancer's spirit resides after his body was destroyed; it is pure spirit now and cannot reconstruct a body like a lich. I removed the side effect of instant death and, by attuning to it, you can telepathy communicate with the spirit trapped within; no need for "Speak with Dead."
If you don't mind, I'm going to use a variant on this idea, minus some of the Faction stuff (mostly because I didn't set them up ahead of time). My PCs found the Box last night as the last encounter of the evening, and are intrigued by what's in the box, along with the requisite Se7en quotes. Much more interesting than the pointless death trap written in the module.
 

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