Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saren's Shared Pain

Since I was just thinking about their unique attributes, I remembered something for Saren that I asked on OYT a long time ago.

I wanted a spell that caused the victim to take half the damage dealt to the caster. I did not want it to be a willing target. What Saren does is force her victims to take half her damage, then she tortures herself. This is sadomasochism at its purest.

The effect is Share Pain, Forced psionic power from the SRD. She would have it as a divine spell and would have crafted it into a torture implement such as shackles that either link her and her victim together (one wrist from each) or paired shackles that they each wear.

Garrick's Swords

I thought about Garrett as I went to dinner tonight. I wanted him to have something of a hook beyond just "swordsman" and it goes perhaps a fraction of an inch beyond that designation.

Garrett collects magical swords.

See, that wasn't so far.

Garrett's swords, however, should be unique and interesting. A +5 flaming burst giant-bane mighty cleaving bastard sword is beneath his notice, despite its market worth.

Garrett always has access to at least two of his swords. We all know he uses the little girl as a scabbard (well, I know and you would too if I ever told you) but the sword she carries is not one of them.

The sword Garrett usually carries at his hip is a completely invisible and silent blade (no clanking or bumping into things to give it away). I have not yet decided if it is ever visible (such as becoming visible when drawn). The inspiration is a magic sword called the Sword of Lyons from an old adventure module. When the blade was sheathed, both it and the bearer were invisible. When drawn, both it and the bearer became visible. Good sword for bodyguards. Perhaps Garrett's is the opposite. While sheathed, the sword is invisible but when drawn the bearer is invisible while the sword is visible (creates the appearance of a dancing weapon effect). But I do like the idea of Garrett wielding an invisible blade.

Another sword usually sequestered upon Garrett is his chain sword. He typically keeps it miniaturized in a glove of storing. With a snap, the long rapier appears in his hand. By pressing a concealed button on the hilt, the blade comes apart into dozens of razors held through the middle by a metal cord (the cord is usually wound tight within the crossguard thus holding the various razors together in a single sword blade). While thus extended, the sword acts as a bladed whip studded with razors along its length. A second press of the button rewinds the cord taut, but the razors do not fit perfectly back together. Instead, each is arrayed in its own rotation, turning the original twin-edged blade into a sort of stick with edges on all sides. In this configuration, the sword acts as a shredder that Garrett draws across his opponent. It is all but useless for hard strikes and thrusts with the point (the wire is taut but lacks the strength to present an actual cutting edge and the many orientations of the razors means the sword bends or creases at a thrust) but the wounds caused by dragging the blade across flesh are deep and wide and bleed profusely. A third press of the button tightens ancillary wires that run alongside the main cord and realign the razors into a single blade once more.

The final sword that Garrett always has access to is a knock-off version of the Pureblade. I see it as a black blade with fiendish connotations. It has the ability to travel through dimensions and across planar boundaries. As Eldric can summon the Pureblade to his hand from anywhere in existence, so can Garrett reach into a tear in space and time to emerge with the black blade in hand. This is his ultimate weapon; the blade's dimensional properties do not end with being always at hand. Just like Linedwell's Shakhal, the black blade can strike through folds and tears in space so that Garrett, thrusting at you from the front, will strike you in the back, or the side, or from above, or below, etc. It is all but impossible to defend against the black blade because it is constantly moving in and out of folds in space, i.e. it is not displaced X feet and moves accordingly like a displacer beast; rather, it blinks around like a blink dog, ceasing to be here and suddenly being there without traversing the intervening distance. Needless to say, it can impart such mobility unto its wielder as well (blink effects, dimension door, and cross-planar travel).

Those are the hidden blades of final resort that Garrett possesses (with the chain whip sword being the most likely to find use and the black blade being the true weapon of last resort). He of course has dozens of other magical blades with which to challenge the party.

- A sandstone blade that absorbs water and dessicates flesh.
- Himura's Justice
- A sword that, upon killing someone, causes a huge eruption of blood from the wound that envelops the victim in a blood golem
- A sword that causes wounds to teem with vermin
- A sword that can shape the earth with a swing (creating an earth wall or a rock spike)
- A coral sword that allows you to breathe underwater

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Underdark Locations

As is my method, stolen wholesale from an OYT poster (phindar):

I've always liked Underdark adventures. It's a high threat, alien environment, but it's not just a dungeon crawl. It has an ecology, even if it is a mix of the natural and the fantastic. I just wrapped up a Pirates of the Sunless Sea game, and my rule of thumb on underdark ecology was to make the plants into fungi and the animals into vermin. People drank mushroom tea and herded giant beetles.

I'm a big fan of the old 1e Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the lands of Deepearth. That's a sourcebook I've kept handy for three and a half editions and counting. In the Forgotten Realms, the only known link (I believe) between the Sunless Sea and the surface is the town of Skullport, under Waterdeep. I kept this detail for my game, and Skullport became the major importer of surface goods to the underdark; ships, slaves and wood were all brought through there by the yuan-ti merchants.

Some sites from my Sunless Sea included:

Boomtown: A fortress carved into a stalagmite island, this town got it's name from the fire giants that sold their blackpowder cannons to any who could meet their price. The refuse-filled caves under their foundry were inhabited by a clan of devious goblins (the Boomtown Rats) who stole blackpowder and used it in gourd-bombs. Boomtown also had a large (for the underdark) shantytown on the opposite side from the fire giant docks, which was a wretched hive of scum and villainy (tm).

Octopon: The mind flayer city; a sculpted island of unspeakable horrors and good bargains. Suffice to say some characters loved this place, and some never left their cabin. Octopon's "streets" are a series of canals that cut through the city. Travel is easily arranged through a great number of water taxis, although small private craft are also permitted. Octopon is pretty quiet for a city of it's size, but there are a few restaurants and alehouses that cater to visitors. (And some that cater visitors themselves.)

Nothing in Octopon is built along a straight line or a right angle. It is said that the design of Octopon is supposed to refer to a giant octopus, although if that's true it must be something that speaks to the illithid sensibilities. For everyone else, there is something disorientating about the city; visitors find it easy to get lost even on streets and alleyways they have been down several times. Sometimes when walking through the city you get the feeling being on a sharp incline or decline, even though the ground is flat. There are a few subtly curving avenues that allow you to see great stretches of the city at once, but the way the buildings seem to lean and bow in on themselves is displeasing to the visitor's eye. The city is lit by a series of braziers and street lamps that give off an uneven, greenish-blue glow. The stone of the city is carved with countless deformed and squid-like figures, as well as larger reliefs that depict odd and unsettling scenes. These carvings are everywhere, the one thing you almost never see in Octopon is blank stone.

Honzoun: The rakshasa city carved into a large, hanging stalatite; ships would dock under it and then cargo would be unloaded via levitate spells. My pc's never went here, which I thought was a shame.

Corvalag: The Duergar city of Steel and Stone. The pc's never went here either, but the ironclads and stone barges that launched from here and traveled to the duergar's mines around the Sunless Sea were frequent sights.

Sitha Igothul's Pleasure Palace: This wasn't a location as much as a large, organic structure that submerged and resurfaced at various points on the Sunless Sea. It was controlled by the underdark/undersea crime lord Igothul, a giant psionic catfish (or in D&D terms, an aboleth) and his skum assistants. Igothul kept a banquet table in his meeting room and a powerful suggestion was in effect that made anyone who entered ravenously hungry, which always freaked my players out. There was nothing wrong with the food though, Igothul just liked watching people eat. He (or really, "It") kept a number of translucent-skinned slaves around, and delighted in consuming the memories of those who had suffered greatly in unusual ways; he always payed top coin for slaves like that. Igothul was my game's Jabba the Hutt, in other words.

Stonemarsh: This was a tiny village of weird derro who kept and milked catoblepases (catoblepi?) to make into Death Cheese, which wasn't fatal but otherwise popular in the underdark. This village was eventually slaughtered by a particularly savage tribe of grimlocks (think Reavers from Serenity) who kept a derro adept who went crazy and began thinking he was a grimlock too. The party ended up here having to fight the crazed grimlocks while the derro adept kept throwing down fog clouds and silent images that not only were the grimlocks not affected by, they weren't even aware of them.

Portage: This was a locathah city on the far western edge of the Sunless Sea. The sea continued but the cave did not, and the locathah would transport ships to a sea on the other side for a price. The method was the ship was unloaded and it's crew took the cargo through caves to the other sea while the locathah scuttled the ship and swam it through the completely submerged caves. (Sailors capable of water breathing could accompany the ship, but the trip took a couple of days.) On the far side the ship was repaired the water pumped out, and could then be reloaded with its cargo.

Pellucidar: My nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs (if outright stealing can be called a "nod"), Pellucidar was a large series of caverns with a magical false sun, surface-like jungles, super-intelligent apes and dinosaur-riding Amazons. The campaign never made it that far and the world is poorer for it, but there you go.

Hellspike Prison:In my game, the Oubliette was called Hellspike Prison, a name a took from a WotC product but otherwise know nothing about. (I think it was a D&D minis terrain pack, but I'm really not sure.) In my game the Lawful Evil's had come together as the Black Sun Trading Company, and Hellspike Prison was a place they put people too dangerous to be set free but too valuable to simply kill. It was run by beholders and staffed by devils, but was otherwise the prison from the beginning of Dead Man's Chest.

Some pirate crews I used, or statted up and never used: renegade drow warlocks on the backs of huge water spiders, a longship crewed by skeletons and captained by a necromancer who specialized in cold spells, duergar ironclads, troglodyte savages in war canoes, yuan-ti on a slaver ship infested with snakes, a yuan-ti ship builti n sections that propelled itself by swimming like a snake, a host of converted Spelljammer ships (illithid nautiloids and the like), a myconid floating fortress that was itself a giant fungus, the Goblin Armada (three small rowboats), a sahaguin strike force inside of a giant zombie shark, kuo-toa who worshipped a colossal albino kraken they called Dagon, a group of ogre magi ninjas called The Oni Brotherhood, and if I dug through my notes maybe one or two more.

The subplots and deep background of my game had to do with a lost svirfneblin empire (said to be lost when the caverns flooded and created the Sunless Sea), and an ancient society of surface peoples that had fled underground and slowly been corrupted. So in addition to the usual stuff of pirates and piracy, there were also a lot of ancient temples to forgotten gods and hidden troves of the svirfs.

Hope you can find some useful stuff in all this.

As far as side routes go, if the PC's have some idea where the big bads are headed, they might be lured into taking the shorter, more dangerous route. I'm thinking something like The Descent, where the caves are narrow and constricting. Escape Artist checks (because who takes that skill?), short passages that are submerged, basically a claustrophobic nightmare. That's the underdark adventure I've always wanted to run.
And from theBlackJaw:

Cthon's advice is dead on: Treat it as wilderness instead of a dungeon. Most of it will be travel, making camp, and interesting encounters along the way... except in this case the way is a series of interconnected tunnels. You can still describe landscape, wandering monsters, trouble on the roads, etc... just describe them different.

Here is what I would do: Ask yourself who built the primairy tunnel network your players will be in. Sure large chunks might be natural cavern system, but when it comes to miles of interconnected underground roads, which most large scale D&D underdarks are, you have to imagine that one of the many inteligent underground civilizations built them at some point. Who built this one and why?
Now ask yourself who uses it now... With those to basic ideas, you can easily create a selection of interesting possible encounter locations, and descriptions of the general "wilderness terrain."
Example: In my game the underground area was built by the dwarves. It use to be Darven kingdeom, and they had miles of interconnected tunnels linking their variouis mining camps, smelting locations, temples, villages, tombs, bridges over underground rivers, and gate/guard house tunnels. Of course the dwarven civilization had been wiped out long ago, so those places were mostly ruins now inhabited by selection of underdark ecology, goblins, undead dwarves, trolls, etc.

Come up with a series of simple locations & encounters for this portion of the game that fit the theme and plot. Place the encounters on a map as if they were cities & locations on a regional map. Now draw simple lines to represent the tunnels that connect them together. The end result should look like mental map of the possible encounters locations... because it is. Now go ahead and add a note on travel time (a value in hours) to each line.
Example: In my game I placed a "bridge troll" encounter at an ancient dwarven bridge over an underground river. The dwarves had built a Tomb & shrine complex on boths sides of the bridge, overlooking the underground river space, and the resulting encounter had trolls tossing spears across the river, among other things. This site was along the path between a dwarven mining camp (goblins) and a dwarven gate house (undead). From the gate house were 3 lines (tunnels), one leading to a dead end at a strange dream temple, one leading through a puzzle encounter dealing with a damaged section or the tunnel, and another to Player's intended destination: a magic seal used to hold back an ancient evil. This was only a section of the network of tunnels by the way.

You should also come up with a few "random" or planned encounters to set in generic tunnel areas. Use this to showcase who lives down in the depths.
For example: in my game I designed some modified vermin, swarms, plants, and animals to represent the underdark ecology. In some places I had them as part of a set encounter location (and underground spring the players had to cross) and in other spots I used them as a random monster. I did save one encounter for while they made camp in the tunnels. A stamped of 6 legged wall climbing creatures... dwarven cattle equivalents gone feral rush through their campsite climbing on the floor, walls, and ceiling. As they went by a large predatory mole creature burst out of the ground... ate an under cattle creature, and then attack the party. It was an interesting encounter.

In play all you have to do describe what it's like to be traveling through the tunnel systems. How does it look, sound, and smell? Then describe every crossroads and let them pick a direction. Each path they travel is travel time. As they pass through a location, stage that encounter. Eventually they will get tired and setup camp. Treat that like they had setup camp on the side of a road on the surface.

In case your wondering, here are some more details:
Under Dark Ecology was kind of fun to design. Mostly I took existing normal monsters from the MM and added or changed them. Nothing I did changed their type from animal or vermin, and I only gave them Extrodinary abilities even if those abilities were based on spells. Had my players wanted to polymorph into a giant wasp that explodes on death in a ball of bio-luminescence, I would have allowed it.
* The dwarven 6 legged cattle were simply Bison with a crawl speed and a big racial bonus to jump. They crawled, leaped, or stampeeded along walls. They had blind sense to a short range.
* The Massive predatory moles were Dire Sharks with burrow instead of swim, and Tremor sense instead of scent. Swallow whole on a burrowing creature is interesting. I had one burst out a wall and the other burst out of the ground. The cleric used a
* I had puffball fungus growths that glowed. They were more like traps then monsters. If they took any damage (like being walked on or hit by a fireball) they exploded in a 10' burst doing acid damage. The damage wasn't much, but it did also leave biolumincent slime behind that was more or less like being hit by a Gliterdust spell (no blindness, but it makes invisible visible.) Statistically they were Small versions of a Shrieker fungus with only 1 hit point.
* I had colonies of underground flying bugs the size of dogs. I used giant wasp stats, but made them glow like fire flies (they eat the puffballs). When killed, they explode in a bright blinding flash of light (Glitterdust with blindness). Like bees attracted to an already stung aggressor, they would go into rage when they smelled one of their exploded kin... gaining a +2 bonus to attack, damage, and poison DCs against targets covered in the glowing slime of their dead kin.
* I had "Light eater beetle swarms" These were flying black insect swarms attracted to light sources. They would attack characters with light sources (torches, lanterns, glowing weapons, etc) or ignore people otherwise. The provided concealment like a fog spell in the spaces they occupied. I would add these swarms to otherwise normal encounters. Players with glowing swords had trouble, and a Goblin cleric even used a light spell to attract the swarm to the party during one fight.

Advice on underground locals: Who ever built the roads would have left signs (in their native language) carved into them... which makes crossroads easier to understand. Who ever uses the roads and locations these days would leave graffiti scrawled all over these crossroads, this can be used to hint at which way the PCs should or should not go... such as were some big nasty kyber monster lives.

A Model Ship, A Treasure Map

The clues to the use of the model ship as a treasure map lie within the main sail. There are three methods that could be used:

1- There is a code or pattern plainly visible on the sail which needs to be deciphered.
2- There is a code of pattern hidden on the sail, such as with temperature dependent ink (hold near a candle flame to view) or invisible ink that can be seen through a special glass or crystal.
3- There is a hidden message contained within the sail, a slip of paper or linen woven or concealed between two larger pieces that together constitute the sail.

I have tentatively gone with the temperature-dependent ink revealed by the heat of a candle's flame. The hidden message is something along the lines (no attempt at refinement or rhyme having been made):

"A true captain of the sea does not rely on a map in hiding his treasure.
He needs only the hull of his ship and his sails to lead the way."

The hull of the ship is made from knotted wood. Around the hole for the anchor chain is an eight-pointed star corresponding to a compass. When the ship is turned such that the SW arrow points north, the knots in the wood correspond to the islands visible during the monsoon floods. Between the knots is an almost imperceptible indentation in the shape of an X. This is the location of the sunken ship.

Unfortunately for those who seek the treasure, the knots do not correspond to permanent islands but, rather, mountains. So as they pore through nautical maps to find a match, they will be sorely tested.

Edit: I am adding my additional thoughts to this thread post publishing because I want to keep them all in the same place.

Problems I encountered while thinking of this:

1- How do the players know where to look? The ship sank ages ago in a desert covered by water. Their only map details a landscape entirely unfamiliar to them or anyone else because the valley has not been flooded more than a couple times since (and likely not even that).

Obviously even the survivor who made the model ship needed a prominent landmark on a continent-wide scale to find his way back to the ship lost in the ocean. Since his ship wrecked and he had to drift back to land, the map would allow him to find the place he came ashore and then lead to the treasure from there.

2- How to indicate such a landmark on the ship? A huge knot in the wood could indicate a nearby town or island or even continental coastline. But there needs to be a clue for the player's to discover its identity. It may be that the shipmaker did not intend for the model to lead himself back to the ship but, rather, for an acquaintance or descendant to find it.

The ship's name could correspond to the landmark via code or local nickname. Or the riddle on the sail could include the starting location and its indication on the hull. I had an idea a while back that the sail would have a spot in the cloth or a hole or the rigging would have a stray knot or two such that when laid over the hull it would indicate a particular knot or mark in the wood. This spot would be the location of the sunken ship. It could also be the starting location or a clue to it.

Another idea I had, in conjunction with the ship's name or sail containing the starting location (which would match up to the source material, since they were given the latitude and longitude of a town from which to begin their search), I thought of using the diary of the survivor. It, or fragments of it, would be hidden away in the town inside a chest or secret compartment. Inside the ship, either glued inside the hull or concealed within the mast (or consisting of the mast itself, after pulling it from the model), would be a key that opens the lock. The diary could then provide further details to find the ship.

But to stay with the point of the adventure, the real treasure of the sunken ship is not the meager gold it carries from its first foray but the half of the treasure map still stowed with its cargo. One wonders why the survivor did not put that map in his diary, be it in fact or by reproduction, so I want to steer away from the diary.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bubble Dragon

Also from Gummi Bears:

A dragon that breathes out large bubbles filled with fire. When these bubbles pop, they explode with enough force to crumble the side of a rock cliff.

Other elements and effects are easily imagined. Sound bubbles with undulating sides, frosted ice bubbles, flashing lightning-filled bubbles, etc.

A Lost Island

From the Gummi Bears:

An island that is impossible to reach or leave by ship because it is entirely surrounded by a waterfall. By which I mean, an island in the middle of a vast sinkhole in the ocean. A literal gulf several hundred yards wide into which the waters of the ocean unceasingly pour to an unknown and unseen depth. To peer into the void is to see an impossibly deep trench which ends only in blackness. The roar of the water rushing over the edge of the world drowns out any sound it might make hitting bottom. The island is not even with the ocean's level but sits somewhat within the sinkhole so that the view from land is at least halfway dominated by the site of the rushing wall of water.

This island could easily lie at the center of disk world (or anywhere, really; it just happens to sit within a hole in the disk).

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Duke Ickthorn

Yes, I am still working on the Temple. You know I work on things in bursts.

So I was watching Gummi Bears and I thought Duke Ickthorn was an interesting concept. He would be a brilliant siege engineer who levees his armies from amongst his human subjects as well as mercenary forces among the ogre tribes.

An Oath

I received this in an email that our CEO sends out every week. This was the issue for New Years:

New Year's Resolutions

To your enemy, forgiveness
To an opponent, tolerance
To a friend, your heart
To a customer, service
To all, charity
To every child, a good example
To yourself, respect.

I would change that into an oath:

To my enemies, forgiveness
To my opponents, tolerance
To my friends, my heart
To my countrymen, my service
To all, charity
To every child, an example
To myself, respect.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rath Quote

I was going through the Rakdos cards from Ravnica to find something inspiring for Radok the goblin's write-up when I came across this:

"Rage, my servants. Our ancient power is renewed in blood." —Rakdos

Sounds like something Rath could read from the Book of Rage.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Temple of Venkatesh 8

Just some notes to myself this time:

1- Make sure to use the halfblood archer from the Slayer's Guide as an encounter since you have a decent picture.

2- You can use the maps from the Fortress of the Yuan-Ti whole cloth or as guides for the large temple.

3- Klang from TaleSpin (For Whom the Bell Klangs) could be a human-headed abomination in charge of a group of purebloods who are seeking the Valley of the Sun (if you want to go with the option that the yuan-ti are looking for it as an offering to their god). As per the episode, he disguises his snake-body with robes and a cloak, allowing only his face and hands to show. However, his arms are fake; they are either grafts from another creature (demonic grafts from the Fiendish Codex sound good) or chaositech (if you want to bring a little Ptolus into the game). His movements are not natural for a walking creature so some hints may be dropped about his heritage that way (although with demon grafts the players might think something along those lines, which is good).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Temple of Venkatesh 7

More pictures!

I wanted to get across what I visualized with Venkatesh's headdress so I decided to Google image search some pictures of "aztec priest".

This was one of the first images and it is pretty much exactly what I was looking for:

Each of those feathers would be replaced by a spine. Whether the skulls would be on the outside of the headdress or make up the head part of it is up for grabs. It would look suitably morbid either way.

Here is some jewelry and tattoos from Apocalypto, a movie I knew would have some inspirational material:

Again with a large headdress, although not as peacock as the first one. I figure Venkatesh would have some of that jewelry hanging from his neck and armbands and tattoos or multicolored scale patterns on his body.

Here is another big headdress:

Without even trying, I duplicated his skin coloration by choosing coral snakes as the temple servants.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Temple of Venkatesh 6

Abominations serve within the temple itself as the priests. Venkatesh is, of course, the high priest.

The surrounding community is populated by halfbloods and a few purebloods not on a mission in foreign lands.

Slaves of all races are found within and around the temple. They perform menial labor and often serve as food.

The inner areas of the temple can only be safely accessed by abominations and snake-tailed halfbloods (though the halfbloods are not actually permitted there).

Most of the traps in the temple are poisoned so the yuan-ti can detect them with their detect poison psionic ability. Some traps, particularly those further in the temple, are not specifically to foil any yuan-ti who would overstep their bounds. The abomination priests know where these traps are and they are mostly the kind that trigger via stepping (rendering the snake-tailed yuan-ti immune).

The abomination temple acolytes are red, yellow, and black banded snakes like coral snakes. They always have black heads.

The abomination priests are all black-scaled cobras with gold-lined hoods (the inside of their hoods, near the face, have golden scales). They also possess the indian cobra's curled design on their backs, again of gold scales.

I have not decided if Venkatesh has a hood. He is definitely black-scaled and he has the diamondback pattern down his back.

I feel a hood would get in the way of, and detract from, the skull and spine headdress he wears. It is possible, however, for him to have a hood but keep it "tucked in" against his head and neck while wearing the headdress. Whether he has the hood or not, he definitely does not display it while wearing the headdress.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Book of Experimental Might II

This just came out tonight and I am giving it the once over.

Two new feats intrigue me right from the start.

Accept Attack - you allow an enemy to hit you (automatic hit, no attack roll) and in exchange you hit him automatically for max damage

Berserk Attack - you can subtract an amount from your armor class (up to your BAB or your total AC, whichever is less) and add it to your damage rolls

Since you are going to be hit automatically with Accept Attack, your AC does not matter for Berserk Attack. Plus, you get to attack people multiple times for automatic maximum damage for the low low price of some hit points (which you have more of thanks to BoXM health and grace rules). Combine this with the Stalwart Defense domain's basic power (extra hp equal to hit die + con mod) and you get one bad mofo.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Little Wooden Boat

So we had a brainstorming session in the OYT community chat and I think I finally came up with something. And, of course, it is obvious.

Contraserrene once again is brilliant and creative at the drop of a hat, although this time it was not his idea I stole.

The main sail of the model ship will contain hidden markings that serve as the key to the map. The map consists of the knotholes and other wood patterns on the hull of the ship. Some fine filigree along the ship's railing serves as a coordinate system that is detailed on the sail. So, you decipher the sail, discover the markings on the boat, and match them up to find the sunken ship.

Of course, it is not so easy. Because the valley is no longer flooded, you have to look up to find the islands and landmarks that were visible from the sailing ship.

The actual construction of the cipher will come later.

Perhaps the mast, maidenhead, or the pole that juts out from the hull above the maidenhead is detachable and bears a key on the hidden side. This key opens the chests in the sunken ship and disables the traps on them.

Names I stole from Disney Cartoons

1. Officer Parolski
2. Fritter A. Way Lending Services
3. Captain Juan Tumeni

The early episodes of DuckTales are a good source for punny names.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Temple of Venkatesh 5

So, if I want to combine the yuan-ti temple idea with some of the DuckTales ideas, I need to brainstorm a bit.

The point of the sunken ship in DuckTales was to get the party interested in finding the further riches of the Valley of the Golden Sun. But the yuan-ti temple is not a golden paradise waiting to be found. It is an active temple inhabited by a cult of yuan-ti and fueled with human sacrifice.

Did some of the yuan-ti pureblood agents plant the sunken ship solely as a ruse to lure adventurers to the temple? If so, the yuan-ti would be prepared for their arrival. The party would likely be captured and have to escape. That is all well and good, but I imagined an ignorant population of yuan-ti being infiltrated by the investigating PCs, not the other way around.

If the sunken ship was not planted, how does it lead the PCs to the temple? It could be that while searching for the two halves of the map, the bearer of the second half (not the high priest of the coin) was abducted by the yuan-ti. But this implies that the ship was only recently sunk if the PCs' investigation of him lead to the temple.

Perhaps the map-bearer was headed on another adventure that passed by the area of the temple. He was trying to finance an expedition back to the Valley (or just heading to his homeland to put one together) and befell an accident. The PCs then stumble across the machinations of the yuan-ti. But this seems rather haphazard. Even if the map was subsequently found by an adventurer who was then abducted by the yuan-ti, although that is the best choice so far as it directly ties into the yuan-ti "problem" of raiding the countryside for human sacrifices.

I doubt that the yuan-ti happened to build their temple next to the Valley of the Golden Sun but it does now make some sense that they would seek out such a rich and majestic temple as one made from solid gold to welcome their god into this world.

My initial plan was to have the sunken ship contain half the map and cut out the coin priest. However, what if the coin priest was replaced by the yuan-ti. Venkatesh possesses some item or knowledge that is necessary to find the Valley of the Golden Sun. He is either using it for an alternate purpose that fits with his plans (the key to the Valley is also the key to the dimensional gate that will allow his god to enter our world) or he is planning to find and loot the Valley himself (he wants to offer up an incredible tribute to his god when he arrives and the gold of the valley is fitting).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Temple of Venkatesh 4

When I decided to work on the temple, I thought I would do some research. I found a book on Aztec sacrifices at Wowio. It is only 10 pages long (an excerpt or short essay from a larger work) but it gave me a few concrete ideas.

Aztec temples are shaped like stepped pyramids (rather than the smooth pyramid we are familiar with in Egypt). I knew they had stairs on the exterior but I found out that while some temples had one set of stairs up the entire length of the western side (the kind I was picturing in my mind, minus the western detail), most temples alternated their staircases at each level. So the stairs on the ground level went up the western side and then you would have to walk around the edge of the pyramid to the eastern side for the next set of stairs and so on. This allowed for a much longer procession than the single set of stairs and was especially grand when the processors went up two-by-two and split to walk around each side of the temple to the next set of stairs.

Adopting this layout of alternating staircases pushes the PCs through each level of the temple (no climbing straight to the top). And, because it is a yuan-ti temple, the stairs will be moulded ramps. I want the temple to be 5 levels tall at least and the edges of the two lowest levels will be wide enough for full-scale combat.

The top of Aztec temples contained two towers up to 50 feet tall that housed, at their peaks, idols of the god or gods to whom the temple was dedicated. Before these two towers was the large stone altar upon which the sacrifices were made. And flanking the sacrificial stone were braziers that were never allowed to die out. Because the Aztecs had so many temples (most not nearly as grand as the one I am making), their cities glowed at night from the many exposed fires at the tops of the temples.

Following the sacrifice, the body was relinquished to a special warrior who would prepare the meat for a meal to be held within and around the temple. There is no problem with yuan-ti eating the human bodies after sacrifice, so a gruesome kitchen is in order. The bones, particularly the skulls, were then kept in special buildings (more below).

Finally, the scale at which the Aztecs performed their sacrifices was enormous. It was rumored that 70,000 people were sacrificed at the opening dedication of a temple in 1492 in a ceremony that lasted for days. While this number may be exaggerated, a Spanish priest who came to the new world counted 139,000 skulls in one of those special buildings near a large Aztec temple. No one can say how long it took to accumulate them, but the general rule is 1 skull per person.

Here I draw from the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic. In the early 16th century, a monk gathered up the bones of plague victims and those who died in the Hussite war and brought them together in the Sedlec Ossuary. Some time later, an artist was commissioned to use the bones to decorate the ossuary and to fashion them into pieces of art. The masterpiece was a chandelier containing every bone of the human body. There is also the Skull Chapel in Poland (Kudowa-Zdroj, Kaplica Czaszek), where the entire room is covered in skulls and bones with an altar (this time a Catholic altar) at the far end (thankfully the altar and crucifix are standard, rather than bones).

The yuan-ti have an ancillary building specifically for holding the skulls (and maybe other bones) of their sacrifices. I am not yet sure whether the entire building is constructed from the bones of their victims or if it is simply covered with them (and then whether inside or both inside and outside). There would no doubt be a nefarious altar inside as well as the standard evil necromancer yuan-ti and guardians who animate from the very bone-covered walls and ceiling to attack. I do not think I would go so far as to have the entire building animate as one giant skeletal abomination unless I made the entire building out of bone (with no actual wood, stone, or other walls and ceiling underneath).

Temple of Venkatesh 3

I am watching Duck Tales on YouTube these days. I think the opening episodes of the series would make for an interesting series of adventures.

A mysterious old man breaks the Beagle Boys out of jail. In return, he wants them to break into Scrooge's money bin and steal a model ship.

The model ship is actually an ingenious map leading to a sunken ship filled with gold from the Valley of the Golden Sun. The twist is that the ship sank miles inland after sailing over flooded plains during a horrific monsoon season. Following the map proves difficult because it was made using the flooded landscape instead of the dry, desert landscape that normally exists.

The design of the coins in the treasure is familiar only to a few sages who study ancient history. They know the design is from the Valley of the Golden Sun and that the last known appearance of such coins was in a remote mountain village. Traveling to the village reveals that the descendant of one of crewman on the sunken ship lords over the locals thanks to his possession of the Golden Sun coins (revered as religious artifacts by the people there).

This "high priest of the golden sun" possesses his ancestor's half of the map leading to the Valley of the Golden Sun. In the show, he commands the people because he possesses the sole Golden Sun coin until Scrooge shows up with a single coin from the sunken ship. Since two "high priests" are now present, the people follow either one's commands. The high priest demands Scrooge's coin in return for his ancestor's half of the map.

The other half of the map was taken by another of the crewmen from the sunken ship. He decided to leave the remote mountain village and set sail on the open ocean. The currents lead him far south to a frozen tundra. There, he met an ice people who horde all the colored objects they find. His map was confiscated to be put on display in their museum and he was thrown into a prison cell and left to die. Scrooge and company showed up and managed to abscond with the second half of the map.

The map showed the location of the Valley of the Golden Sun. They arrived on a wide caldera ringed with humongous golden disks hanging on the inner lip. Far down below, an ancient, vine covered temple made of solid gold still stood undisturbed. Making their way inside, they were faced with three doors. Behind the first was an endless expanse of golden coins. Behind the second was a similarly endless expanse of gold dust. And behind the third was a solid wall of gold bricks. Opening all three doors, however, trigged a trap that would ultimately destroy the temple.

The volcano below the temple was filled not with magma but with liquid, molten gold. Upon triggering the trap, the golden disks lining the caldera's lip hinged out and reflected the sunlight into the temple and down into the molten gold. The magnified energy of the sunlight caused the liquid gold to boil over as the temple began to crumble. Finally, the caldera fell in on itself, burying the temple and everything else beneath hundreds of feet of rock and earth.

Working from that general outline could be a way to engage players in the Temple of Venkatesh.