Sunday, June 10, 2018

Rocking Thule #2: In Search of the Golden Disc; the Tower of Golden Scales

Whew! Honestly, I tought I'll be able to publish content more often. Even though most of the stuff is ready, translating, editing, occasionally expanding it, drawing, mapping, in addition to a satisfying but very challenging professional life, not to mention private life, well... the mix of these proved to be a more time and energy-consuming process than I've anticipated.

Nonetheless, here we are! I'll start off with some musings about my Thule campaign, then a short scenario describing the dangers of the Tower of Golden Scales (download link to the PDF version is right below, if you are interested in just that). The next one or two posts will probably also feature small locations and sidetreks that could be inserted into any party's journeys, then we'll hit on some medium-sized dungeons. 

The party returned from the Cavern of Golden Tears, just to get betrayed by their employer, Dredan Taroth, instead of being paid. (I know, fckin’ genuine, isn’t it? ;)) Since they already had quite a lot of enemies in Quodeth, they decided to get some allies for a change - and their attention turned towards the temple of Ishtar. How convenient that the archpriestess of the goddess of war, passion and love just needed able warriors for a holy quest! The party took it up on them to prove their worth for the priestesses.

The quest was simple enough. They had to find a Golden Disc - some kind of a vessel the gods use to send messages or predictions for their followers, by casting it down from the skies as a meteorite. I came up with this as an adventure hook for Night of the Yellow Moon. The players needed to escort Danakhia, Blind Oracle of Ishtar to the barbarian village of Morlun, to the ammur barbarians who found the golden disc, so she could make sure it was authentic. How a blind person would do this, you ask? Well, my players didn’t, but they’ve found the answer later anyways.

Danakhia was not blind at all. Ishtar gifted her with constant holy truesight. In exchange, Ishtar herself was gazing out of her eyes. No mortal men nor women could withstand that gaze for long without being overwhelmed by madness in a form of uncontrollable, passionate feelings of love and rage. (Mechanically: Charisma save against DC 15 each turn when there is eye contact. One may use his/her reaction to avert his/her eyes. But most people wouldn’t think of this, as Danakhia doesn’t look like a basilisk or a medusa.) Danakhia didn’t like it when people around her suddenly wanted to rape everything they could get their hands on, so she wore a blindfold instead. A fact that the party found out when Margian Crimson Slavers boarded their ship, and in the thick of the melée, Danakhia was forced to use her gaze to confuse their enemies. (Luckily, everyone got away without being raped, and the horny pirates have been defeated.)

Now, see, there are leagues inbetween Morlun and Quodeth, with a lot of sites on the map not explained by the campaign book. Even though the book suggests adventures of an episodic nature, I didn’t like the idea to just start it at the gates of Morlun. Therefore I had to fill in the gaps in case the players decided to explore some of these places. I did not want to make whole adventures out of these locations, just some encounters to show the players that Thule’s wilderness is full of unknown, yet dangerous places, and one can never be sure what he’ll stumble upon...

Here is a map of the region (sorry Sasquatches, I hope you don’t mind me sharing it):

I thought they will most probably choose one of three possible routes from Quodeth to Morlun:
  • Through the Kurmanur Wilds, possibly entering Agarithan’s Tomb and the Earthreach Caverns
  • The path through Banutre, Pyriador, avoiding all adventuring possibilities (naah, they are not like that)
  • Taking a ship to Garadu, then travelling either on the path or through the jungle, passing through Lemetaru and the Tower of Golden Scales

For Garadu and Pyriador, I decided it’s not going to be an adventurous location, just a place where the party could rest safely and stock rations. I imagined Garadu as a busy little harbor town with mediterranian features (limestone, pelargonium, sunshine, seafood and jolly taverns everywhere). For Pyriador, I’ve decided it was a little hamlet founded by deserters of an Atlantean legion long ago, most of its Kalay inhabitants still showing some Atlantean features like emerald eyes and tall, muscular builds.

I’ve described the Majestic Keep as a palisade built upon the ruined basalt stones of an ancient elven fortress, now occupied by a handful of ammur barbarians (20 tribal warriors and 5 berserkers) led by the vile Ludd Blood-eagle (a berserker with max HP). In the center of the fort, there is an old vent, its bottom filled with rainwater, which the barbarians consider holy. A hydra lives in it. The hydra cannot actually leave the vent, cause it’s too deep, but the barbarians feed it with human sacrifice on moonless nights.

Should the party stumble upon the Crypt of Agarithan, they’d find an old little ziggurat (I like ziggurats for some reason, so quite a lot of them popped up in this campaign), overrun with vines and moss. Behind its stone doors (Strength DC 20 to open), an undead naga (bone naga) waits for trespassers. It had its mind lost long ago, and only speaks the following sentences in endless repetition: 

“This is the crypt of Cursed Agarithan and his treacherous woman, Kylith, those abandoned by the gods. Their souls are dreamless, restless and damned for eternity. Let all of them share their fate who turn against the will of gods and looses them upon the world, under the blue skies of Thule.”

The naga may be fearsome but it isn’t hostile (unless attacked). It is just a messenger.

In the inner chamber of the crypt two Spawns of Kyuss are waiting for looters. They are mad and quite lively, ruthlessly attacking anyone to let their centuries-old fury out on them, then try to escape into the world. In their crypts the party should find some level appropriate treasure from the DMG. (Random treasure is a fun thing.)

City of the Risen Apes would be a primitive settlement protected by a huge (50’ high) palisade, lacking any visible gates. The huts behind it are made of mud and branches, most of them located high in the canopies of the forest. The inhabitants tend to use lianas and suspension bridges to move between the buildings and the ground, as - surprise! - they are more or less intelligent apes (armed with stone clubs and primitive shortbows).

There are a few hundred of them altogether. Maybe fifty warriors are at home at a time, alongside a hundred young, old or otherwise noncombatant specimen. Their chieftain is called K’zar the Munificent (a particularly intelligent, narcissistic, yet violent and brutal creature). Also, they have a dozen of girallons as allies. They kidnap people, mostly women from barbarian tribes and kalay villages to help them cook food and take care of their young. The slaves - around thirty of them - are confined on the ground, prisoners of the gateless palisade.

Lemetaru is a somewhat friendly tribal village on the fringes of the jungle. Ammur barbarians meddle with Kalay minority as inhabitants. Its chief, Ghalur of Great Appetite, is a sanguinic man with dozens of wives and multiple dozens of daughters and sons. In exchange for gifts, they may give shelter and tell the party that a stranger passed through their village recently with a comely warrioress, and hired some of the hunters of Lemetaru as pathfinders and bodyguards. They went into the Jungle of Bura into the west, looking for a strange tower...

...The Tower of Golden Scales!

Adventure summary: the party stumbles upon the ruined tower of a long dead sorcerer. An agent of a cabal of evil wizards have his sight on the place, but he is unable to enter because monsters nest in it. The party might make a deal with the agent, or brave the tower’s dangers for their own gain. The tower has a fair share of riches, magic and mysteries, but looting it might have dire consequences...

The Tower of Golden Scales is a long-abandoned tower, shaped like a rearing cobra. It was built by serpentmen of ancient Nessk. Once smaller buildings surrounded it, their scarce remains are now indistinguishable from natural rock formations between the trees. They were long gone by the time the dreaded serpentomancer, Tamalcan the Merciless claimed the tower for himself. 

Tamalcan extorted tithes from surrounding settlements, defeated rebellious armies, and earned the rightful spite of every living soul in a thousand miles. Then he fell in a sick kind of love with a highborn princess called Shabira, who were also an anointed priestess of Set. The priestess didn’t return his feelings for she already had a man she loved, the warrior-general Pentathur. The cruel Tamalcan abducted both of them. 

Shabira’s angry father, a king whose name has been forgotten, searched far and wide to find a sorceror who could defeat Tamalcan, and succeeded. Monel Suk, renegade mage of the Black Circle, master of homonculi, took the job. He acquired a small hair of Tamalcan, then using sympathetic magic and horrendous necromancy, he sipped the life force out of Tamalcan from the safe distance of his dark chambers. 

The hated serpentomancer was dead, but the king’s men never found a trace of Shabira nor Pentathur in the tower, and dared not to ransack the place, as Tamalcan’s beasts were still around… and some of them still are, to this day.

Characters familiar with ancient history might know portions of this story (History DC 20) or all of it. (History DC 25).

(Sidenote: the backstory was totally inspired by Clark Ashton Smith.)

The camp. not far from the tower, hidden behind thick foliage, camps Sang Var, agent of the Black Circle with his six Kalay pathfinders (tribal warriors) and Kegarazhi, the Dhari warrioress (actually an archer). Sang Var is on the lookout for magical secrets and heard of this tower of the ancient serpentomancer. (He knows that the sorceror was named Tamalcan and that an archmage of the Black Circle finished him, but no more.) When he tried to enter the ruins, he realized that two savage winged apes moved into it. The beasts torn apart multiple of his men, so he decided to retreat and hide. 

The beasts did not pursue him, so Sang Var now plays the waiting game. He is observing the behavior of the monsters and looks for a safe opportunity to breach the tower. Sang Var may be amoral, but he is sensible. If the party finds him - and there is a good chance of it if they are approaching from the nearby village, plus Kegarazhi posted lookouts around the camp at each direction - he would try to work out a deal with them. He wants the winged apes removed - whether the party lures them away or kill them doesn’t concern him. For payment, he offers 10 Double Peacocks for each survivor, but would easily pay 25. (Double Peacock is Quodeth’s currency, one of it worths 5 gp inside the city’s walls.) He has one condition though: whatever is in the tower is his. (This may be nothing, so it’s a gamble for him.)

Like I said, he’s amoral. Should the party be weakened visibly, he would turn on them. 

This could play out a lot of different ways from here. The party may sway the loyalty of the tribesmen and Kegarazhi (they are simple barbaric people who value strength over sorcery), outsmart Sang Var, take everything from the tower for themselves, or force the agent to hold up to his word. Sang Var is smart; he won’t take desperate chances, and would follow the party to steal the treasures from them at the right moment instead of fighting a battle he couldn’t easily win.

NPCs: 6 tribal warriors (challenge ⅛ each), 1 archer (challenge 3), 1 agent of the Black Circle (challenge 8)

The tower: it is quite in a bad shape, but still seems to be massive enough. It’s tall (about 120 feet to its top) and gloomy, with an eerie silence surrounding it. The tower’s windows are more like arrow slits, but it has multiple visible entrances. The obvious one is a gate with doors rotten away long ago; a short stairway leads up to it. At the top of the tower, the “mouth” of the cobra head-shaped roof is open, forming a terrace-like structure. The winged apes came out of it, according to Sang Var’s men.

If the party takes a walk around the tower, they may see an opening at middle-height; something tore open the wall. This side is not visible from the “mouth” of the tower, so winged apes won’t be able to notice climbers (by sight, that is).

Attempting to enter through the front door or climbing up to the mouth without taking precautions is almost sure to alert the winged apes. If the party approaches cautiously, Stealth check vs. the apes’ passive perception score is adequate, since they are well fed and dozy.

Should the apes notice characters entering through the gates, they will become suspicious (surprising them will be impossible without magic, like invisibility). If they notice characters climbing on the wall, the apes will wait patiently, and attack them once most climbers are up at least 50 feet high.

1. Entrance chamber: the second floor of the tower collapsed, alongside with most of the walls of the ground level. Big piles of debris are all that remains of them. Across the room, a strange kind of vine seems to be growing from the mortar between the rocks that make up the wall. The vine has a yellowish hue, and has eerie, translucent flowers.

Near the entrance, two carved statues, resembling low-built humanoids, stand guard at each side of the gate. There is a big stone chest next to each statue.

A crumbling stairway spirals up to the third floor.

The statues: as soon as somebody enters the room from the outside, the statues animate, step in front of the characters (blocking the way), bow, then hold their hands towards them in a manner like they were asking for something. 

They actually want to take all the weapons, staves, cloaks and helmets of the characters. They can’t speak and do not understand languages. If the party offers anything else, they won’t react. They will not back up until any of these items are still visibly worn or held by characters standing at the entrance. 

If anyone tries to get behind them without handing over their stuff, the statues’ll beat the shit out of the impolite robbers trying to enter their master’s domain. If they get all the items they see, they will put them in their chests, then use stone shape to sink the containers into the ground. Should the party attempt to leave, the statues give all their stuff back, nod, and return to their posts.

The statues do not care if armed people are approaching from the inside of the tower, but they will not let anything to be taken outside that was owned by their master. (If they see the stuff, that is.) This includes Ylak, tha familiar (see location 5).

The vine: it’s harmless (Nature DC 15 to know, see below), but marks a secret door. It is actually growing from behind the wall. The mechanism that operated the door is gone, but it may be forced open (Strength DC 15). It leads to the secret laboratory of Tamalcan.

Enemies: 2 Stone dwarves (challenge 2 each)

Stone dwarf
Medium construct, unaligned
Armor Class: 18 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 85 (10d8+40)
Speed: 30 ft.
Abilities: STR: 16 (+3), DEX: 10 (+0), CON: 18 (+4), INT: 2 (-4), WIS: 12 (+1), CHA: 1 (-5)
Skills: Perception +3
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic
Damage Resistances: piercing and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Condition Immunities: poisoned
Senses: blindsight 60 ft. (blind behind this radius)
Passive Perception: 13
Languages: -
Challenge: 2 (450 XP)

Transmutation Susceptibility. The stone dwarf makes saving throws against spells from the school of transmutation with disadvantage.
Stone shape. The stone dwarf can use the stone shape spell at will, without requiring any material components.

Multiattack. The stone dwarf makes 2 slam attacks.
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (2d6+3) bludgeoning damage.
Knockdown. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., Hit: 10 (2d6+3) bludgeoning damage and the target must make a DC 13 Strength saving throw or fall prone.

2. Laboratory: decaying shelves line the walls of this medium sized chamber, and lush vines grow all over it, sprouting from jars splintered long ago. There are at least five kinds of them, their flowers look eerie and alien, their mingled scent is intense yet pleasant. At the center of the room there is an altar-like table. A strange skeleton lies on it - looks like that of a great snake with arms and a human-like skull.

The vines: they create a difficult terrain that spans across the whole room. Though these are rare plants, and some of them are not of this world, they can be identified:
  • Nature DC 15: the vine with the  translucent flower is harmless. Its leaves, however, can be used as spice. There are twenty pounds of them, each pound sells for 10 gold pieces.
  • Nature DC 15: the one that has meaty, bloated, pinkish petals attract swarms of bees and wasps (and their giant cousins) from a great distance, but otherwise, it is also harmless. There are 17 of these flowers altogether.
  • Nature DC 20: the sap of the one with the purple flowers is sweet and very nourishing (one tenth of a gallon provides enough energy for a whole day), but causes dizziness (Poisoned condition, Con save DC 12 negates; lasts ‘till the end of next rest). 11 doses can be harvested.
  • Arcana DC 20: the curved, yellow flowers of the vine with the purplish stalks may be burnt or powdered to make an inhaled poison. Either way, it causes a rush of extasy and a random short-term madness from DMG that lasts for 2d4 hours (no save). Each hour the character must make a Con save DC 15 or lose one level of exhaustion. It should be funny if characters were to somehow burn the whole bunch of vines in the room. Allow them a Con save against DC 15 to avoid contracting the poison if you feel soft. 7 flowers are ripe enough for harvesting.
  • Arcana DC 25: the deep green vine with hook-like thorns is a parasite from another world. It sucks the blood out of creatures, and when the victims’ flesh is decayed thoroughly, it settles on their bones, replacing their muscles. Then it goes hunting. There are four of these vine-zombies, laying still until potential victims come close enough, then they attack. Perception DC 20 is needed to avoid getting surprised.

The skeleton: it is of an unholy creature made by serpentman sorcerers of old. In ages that followed, serpentomancers and priests of Set held these abominations in high regard, for their blood contained the secret of foul and forbidden magic.

This specimen was a female. Medicine DC 15 reveals that it was dissected in a professional manner. Its skull has an  hole as big as a fingernail in its forehead.

Enemies: 4 Vine-Zombies (challenge 2 each)

Medium plant, neutral evil
Armor Class: 13 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 52 (8d8+16)
Speed: 30 ft.
Abilities: STR: 16 (+3), DEX: 7 (-2), CON: 14 (+2), INT: 3 (-4), WIS: 10 (+0), CHA: 3 (-4)
Damage Immunities: poison, psychic
Damage Resistances: piercing from nonmagical weapons
Condition Immunities: poisoned
Senses: blindsight 120 ft. (blind behind this radius)
Passive Perception:10
Languages: -
Challenge: 2 (450 XP)

Multiattack. The vine-zombie makes 2 slam attacks.
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (2d4+3) bludgeoning damage.
Poison Breath (recharge 5-6). Each creature in a 15 ft. square must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw or suffer 3d6 poison damage. Successful save halves the damage.
Grappling Vines. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 8 (2d4+3) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 13).

Spore Explosion. When the vine-zombie falls to 0 hit points and its "poison breath" ability is charged, every creature within 5 ft. of the vine-zombie must make a DC 12 Constitution save or suffer 3d6 poison damage (successful save halves the damage).

3. Gallery of Lost Souls: this floor of the tower contains dozens of grotesque statues and paintings of people in twisted poses, obviously in a state of torment. A crevice to the north is leading outside at about 50ft height. There are three big skulls mounted as trophies on the wall: one of a giant ape, a giant goat and of a drake. All the trophies and art objects are coated with dust and dirt, but otherwise, they are intact. 

They radiate a faint aura of abjuration magic and necromancy. Strong conjuration can be detected from the skull of the giant ape. (This is where Ylak, the familiar of the late Tamalcan hides in the guise of a small serpent.) Strong conjuration and transformation magic seeps out of a portion of the western wall.

Statues and paintings: the statues and paintings are depicting defeated enemies of Tamalcan. They also hold their souls trapped. There are no nameplates on these objects, and the identity of these persons are not relevant. If the statues and paintings are destroyed, the souls get freed and move on to the afterlife. That, however, requires magic or magic weapons, and probably cannot be done without alerting the apes on the top floor.

The familiar: Tamalcan’s familiar is a fiend called Ylak. It wears the form of a small serpent. If somebody tries to search the skull of the giant ape or the party lingers around for a few minutes, Ylak slithers forward and greets them. He is bound to the tower and cannot leave it on his own. Although he acts patient, he hungers freedom, so he wants the party to release him. He may be banished (with the spell). Also, if simply carried by someone out of the tower, he could plane shift home. If the party accepts this task, Ylak would answer them three questions. 

He knows a lot - the history of Tamalcan, the location of Shabira and Pentathur, secret doors and how to open them, the curse of his master, the nature of the statues and paintings, and all the dangers in the tower -, but won’t freely give away any additional information, just directly answer the party’s questions.

If the party does not agree to his terms, trick him or act hostile, Ylak takes on the form of a giant viper and attacks - death on this plane also means freedom for him, but anyone it kills before dying will be his servant in the hells!

Secret door: there is a secret door on the western wall. It may be found with a DC 10 Investigation check. It is made of a different kind of stone than the rest of the building, and it seems to be somewhat thinner. It cannot be opened the traditional way though. It is an Earth Elemental that only responds to certain keywords that can be used to open or close the “door” (him) or dismiss the elemental to his native plane (Ylak knows of these words). If the party tries to break through the wall, the elemental steps forth in anger and attacks.

Enemies: earth elemental (challenge 5)

NPC: Ylak (challenge 6)

Ylak, Serpent Fiend
Large fiend (devil), lawful evil
Armor Class: 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 152 (16d10+64)
Speed: 40 ft., swim 40 ft.
Abilities: STR: 20 (+5), DEX: 12 (+1), CON: 18 (+4), INT: 14 (+2), WIS: 10 (+0), CHA: 9 (-1)
Skills: Arcana +5, Athletics +8, Deception +2, Stealth +4
Damage Immunities: fire, poison
Damage Resistances: cold, bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons from nonmagical weapons that aren't silvered
Condition Immunities: poisoned
Senses: blindsight 120 ft. (blind behind this radius)
Passive Perception:10
Languages: Infernal, telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge: 6 (2300 XP)

Devil's Sight. Magical darkness doesn't impede Ylak's darkvision.
Magic Resistance. Ylak has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Multiattack. Ylak makes a bite and a constrict attack.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 10 (2d4+5) piercing damage plus 2d6 poison damage, and the target must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned. While poisoned this way, the creature takes 2d6 poison damage at the start of each of its turns. The creature may repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns.
Constrict. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., Hit: 14 (2d8+5) bludgeoning damage and the target is grappled (escape DC 16). Until this grapple ends, the creature is restrained, and Ylak can't constrict another target.

4. The Chamber of Lust and Revenge: there is a small table and a comfortable chair in this room. The air is still and cold. Two great candelebras with half burnt, pitch black candles are standing on the table alongside an ornate magnifying glass (worth 1000 gp) and two crystal bottles. Something swirls in the bottles - in the left it is dark green, in the right it is glowing like flames. Both bottles radiate conjuration and necromancy, while the magnifying glass has the aura of faint divination magic.

The bottles contain the souls of the lovers Shabira and Pentathur, guarded by powerful demons. If somebody breaks a bottle, the soul is freed and move on to the afterlife, but the demon from the inside of it manifests and attacks the party, bounded to do so by Tamalcan’s will.

Using the magnifying glass on the bottles shows a beautiful, haughty woman in a luxurious environment, enjoying the high life (left bottle), and a naked man nailed to a dead tree under the desert sun (right bottle).

The bottles are sealed with wax. If somebody pulls the wax from the bottle, a strange mist comes out of it, and instantly teleports everyone from the chamber into a pocket dimension. The bottle seals itself again.

Right bottle dimension: the pocket dimension is a desert with no end. It’s hot and dry during the day and cold as a glacier during the night. The man nailed to the tree can barely talk. Vultures are circling above him, and more than one bite mark proves that they already had a taste of him. He claims to be Pentathur, warrior-general of Bura, and begs for water. He can tell the background story of the adventure. Should anyone try to ease his pain or thirst, a sudden energy bolt strikes down from the sky and causes 3d8 lightning damage (Dexterity save DC 11 halves). If the party releases Pentathur from the tree, or attack the vultures, one of the scavengers transform into a furious Vrock, and attacks mercilessly. Defeating the demon breaks the bottle, releases the party back into the room and Pentathur into the afterlife. Next time the party is in dire straits (the DM decides it’s necessary), a Spirit Guardians spell will pop on one of the characters out of nowhere and help them against their enemies. (It is a one-time boon!)

Left bottle dimension: this dimension is always changing according to the mood of its prisoner, Shabira, priestess of Set and princess of the city-state of Bura. Once it is a calm oases, next time it is a luxurious palace or the hanging gardens of a great temple. After the party enters the dimension, it subtly starts to adapt to their expectations as well. (They suggest there must be a tavern somewhere? They find it.) However, there are no other people in it than Shabira, who seems to be amnesiac, but overly happy, living a hedonistic life. She thinks that other people - e. g. her father, her love, her servants, other priests of set - still exist, she met them recently, she even made love to her dear Tamalcan (!), they are just not around at the moment. The party should try to make her realise that something is wrong, her reality is a lie, and make her remember. (A Persuasion check against DC 20 would be appropriate.)

The first time they do it, she becomes angry, teleports away, and the scenery changes to another comfortable environment. Shabira forgets everything again, but gets even angrier when the party reminds her of the falsehoods of her world. (Persuasion check should be lower, like DC 16 this time.) The scenery changes again.

The third time the DC is even lower (say, 12). When Shabira breaks, she gets hysterical. Her lover, Tamalcan appears out of nowhere to console her and to confront her tormentors. Actually, his aim is to confuse the characters. Then he turns into a Chasme demon and attacks.

Defeating the demon breaks the bottle, releases the party back into the room and Shabira into the afterlife. Next time the party is in dire straits (the DM decides it’s necessary), a Beacon of Hope spell will suddenly appear on them. (It is a one-time boon!)

Enemies: 1 Vrock (challenge 6), 1 Chasme (challenge 6)

5. Destroyed library: pigeonholes dot the walls and shelves of the room, and a grand reading table sits at the center of it. A carving of a great snake biting its own tail circles around the desk. Unfortunately, all the scrolls and tablets have been destroyed or looted. Pieces of tablets are still lying around in great number. With a 2d4 hours of work, a spellcaster may salvage the ‘stone shape’ spell by putting together the pieces and succeeding on a DC 17 Arcana check.

6. Balcony and throne: bones and offal litter the floor, alongside the mutilated bodies of Sang Var’s lost men. There is a great nest made of branches between the fangs of the mouth-like structure of the balcony. A stone throne faces the open air, looking just out of the mouth. A mummy sits on it; there is a big diamond-like gem in his forehead, and holds a staff, that forms a rearing cobra, much like the tower itself. It seems nobody dared touch the body of the dead sorcerer!

This is where the winged apes rest; if they are alert, they lie in wait, one of them observing the vicinity of the tower, while the other guards the stairs. They attack any trespassers as soon as they notice them.

The mummy: Tamalcan’s parched head, even more so in his death, has subtle reptiloid features. 

The diamond in his forehead is quite big, though uncut; it easily worths 1000 gp. One may try to put it in his own forehead. It is a painful process, and it feels as if the diamond grew roots into the brain of its new host (2d8 piercing plus 3d8 psychic damage). A Wisdom save against a permanent madness is needed (DC 15; see DMG for random madness table) as suddenly strange memories rush the character’s mind about a beautiful woman, a small chamber with two crystal bottles, and a dark, damp place where snake-like being slither in the dark. Whether the save is successful or not, the memories pass, and the host gains access to the magic of the gem:
  • If the host closes his own eyes, the gem grants him darkvision up to 60’
  • The host can cast the message cantrip at will
  • The host can cast color spray and see invisibility once per long rest

Once attached, the diamond can never be removed without killing its host.

The serpent head on Tamalcan’s staff has small emeralds for eyes. It is a Staff of Charming, with a finite number of charges (1d10+15). When used, its eyes gleam with green light.

Touching the mummy invokes Tamalcan’s curse upon defilers and trespassers (see below).

Enemies: 2 winged apes (PTCS version; Challenge 5 each)

The curse: though the mummy is not an undead creature, Tamalcan’s enemies were wise not to disturb the body. If anybody touches it or its staff, the mummy crumbles to pieces, and every trespasser in the tower has to make a Wisdom saving throw against DC 15. Those who fail feel the fingertips of doom touching them. Some kind of uneasiness starts growing inside their stomachs, and they had a never-ceasing feeling that something is watching them. Detect magic shows that they are radiating divination magic, while more powerful magics reveal that they are cursed and somebody - or something - is scrying on them. As time passes, scavangers like vultures and hyenas start following them from a safe distance, in an ever growing number - the curse calls to them.

Characters cursed this way must make a Charisma saving throw vs. DC 12 before each long rest, otherwise they’ll have nightmares and are unable to regenerate at all (negating all positive effects of a long rest). There is also a cumulative 20% chance each day that at the darkest hour of the night, their Doom finally befalls on the party. Cursed characters must make another save (Wisdom DC 12). If failed, they fall asleep (like affected by a Sleep spell; it needs an action to wake them).

At first, 3 shadow mastiffs attack the party (using their shadow blend trait, so they probably gain surprise). Then, about half an hour past the first attack, appears a Blue Slaad, its skin looking like the reflection of the starlit sky, its eye sockets hollow with blackness. A DC 12 Wisdom save versus short-term madness (as in DMG) may be adequate at this time to maximize the fun… I mean, the mood.

Development: let’s not forget about Sang Var! The treacherous sorcerer wants to take everything the party has found in the tower. If he thinks the party is weakened enough, he might order his barbaric mercenaries to surround the tower and wait for the characters to come out, but he won’t let the PCs rest and heal up. He might command his men to enter the tower, and may even enter the tower himself, casting invisibility on himself. If the party did not beat up the statues at the entrance, this might cause quite a surprise for him and his barbarians.

Then again, if Sang Var thinks his chances are better that way, he might decide to hold up to his word - for now -, then to follow the party’s tracks and attack them at a better time.

Thanks for playtesters:
  • Tusi (Corvin the Librarian, Atlantean scholar and wizard)
  • Atti (Thadd the Barbarian, time-lost adventurer)
  • Joci (Madras Elohir, Atlantean priest of Set)
  • Maci (Marvath Zhugar, performance artist and thief)
  • Tamás (Darrak, nimothan sorcerer of reptiloid origin)

They made a deal with Sang Var that they actually honored... after a few rounds of verbal conflict and a few shots of warning spells from each side.


  1. I have either forgotten 80% of all this, or we have actually never found/seen 80% of this :) I've got a hunch if we go back we would probably not find the place as it is described above...

    1. Well, 80% might be an exaggeration. Some adjustments and a bit of an expansion has been made since you've played it, just to make the middle section of the tower a bit more interesting. :)

  2. this is great - fits in with my current game well
    look fwd to finding more of your treasure

    1. I'm glad you like it & hope you'll have fun with it! :)

  3. Wonderful write-up, thank you for putting in all this work and posting it!

    1. Thanks! Will try to keep up & post some more.

  4. Well, it's as linear as a tower can be, but I love the background, all the stuff players can interact with, and the choice of monsters. Please remind me next time I complain about running out of ideas that I should use more people nailed to something with vultures circling above them. Such a cheap, but effective and evergreen image.

    1. Well, as much as I dislike linear (and symmetrical or otherwise too predictable) adventure structures and locations, when I create small scenarios and the like, I tend to do it. Of course it could be avoided, at least to a degree. But you can't really do too much variety for 5-room dungeons and their ilk, so I usually do not bother too much. Anything with a more complicated structure would grow bigger, bordering on being an adventure on their own. So I try to make these locations open-ended and interesting in other ways.

      That said, thank you very much for the compliments! :)

      Regarding the dude on the Tree of Woe: I admit I've stolen it intentionally and shamelessly. A behavior I've repeated multiple times during this campaign. ;)

  5. About to run this cool adventure - edited background a bit to integrate better with Thule timeline - was slightly tricky since the Black Circle came to prominence quite recently, with the fall of Kal Keor.

    "The Tower of Golden Scales is an ancient and long-abandoned tower, shaped like a rearing cobra. It was built by the serpentmen of ancient Nessk. Once smaller buildings surrounded it, their scarce remains now indistinguishable from natural rock formations between the trees. They were already long gone by the time the dreaded serpentomancer, Tamalcan the Merciless, claimed the tower for himself around 2050 AR, 144 years after the Sinking of Atlantis.

    "Tamalcan extorted tithes from surrounding settlements, defeated rebellious armies, and earned the rightful spite of every living soul in a thousand miles. Among the greatest treasures he acquired was the greatest blue diamond, that some call the Eye of Azura. But then in 2076 AR - 138 years ago - he fell in a sick kind of love with a highborn Princess of Quodeth called Shabira Marsesk, who was also an anointed priestess of Set. The Priestess didn’t return his feelings, for she already had a man she loved, the young warrior-general Pentathur. The cruel Tamalcan abducted both of them.

    Shabira’s angry father, King Yero III - the last monarch of House Marsesk - searched far and wide to find a sorceror who could defeat Tamalcan, and at last succeeded. The great sorcerer Monel Suk, Renegade Wizard of the Black Circle and Master of Homunculi, took the job. He acquired a small hair of Tamalcan, then using sympathetic magic and horrendous necromancy, he sipped the life force out of Tamalcan from the safe distance of his dark chambers.

    The hated Serpentmancer was dead, but the King’s men never found a trace of Shabira nor Pentathur in the tower, and dared not to ransack the place, as Tamalcan’s beasts were still around… and some of them still are, to this day."

  6. I'm adapting it for a group of ca level 11-13 PCs, which was easily done by typically doubling either the number of monsters, or their hit points. >:) I made the rival party a Black Circle Wizard & 3 agents, with a bunch of Kalay guards based off the MM Scout.

    1. That's great, Simon! I'm happy you've found some use for this little adventure. Also, your edits to the background are quite thorough. I hope you'll be having fun!