Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Silver Pyramid: a 4th edition adventure for 6th level characters

To help celebrate the holiday I thought I would share the closest thing to a horror adventure that I have written for D&D. I've found that atmospheric horror is a tricky thing compared to the simple joys of "a blue dragon?! But we're only 4th level!" so I don't do much of this kind of thing but on the chance that someone else can use it, here it is.

Technical details - this was set up to take my pc's from 6th to 7th level and there is enough XP here to do just that for a 5-man party. You could also use it with a 7th level party going from 7th to 8th (the encounters should be enough of a challenge) but you may need to add a 1000 XP bonus for figuring out what's going on and a 1000 XP bonus for ending the threat. Also, it's pretty linear, largely due to the way the interior is laid out. Hopefully this won't be too much of a problem for another group - my guys had a pretty good time and never complained about this aspect of it. Ideally the exploratory nature of the adventure, and the unusual scenery, will keep everyone interested. Plus there was some thought given to having the weirdness build to a crescendo of sorts, and the linear approach helps with that.

Map Notes - these are my original hand-drawn maps and are effectively notes - they tend to get embellished some when drawn on the battlemet, particularly the big outdoor maps. At the very least it's easier to tell where the water is. Keep this in mind and if someone is going to try and run this with my maps, drop me a line and I'll put up some bigger copies if you need them and try to make them a little more user friendly to others.

Setup - the hook here is that some nasty substance is polluting the river near a city in your campaign, killing fish and giving it an unpleasant taste. Your party is sent to investigate, forewarned with the knowledge that there is  a legendary silver pyramid rumored to be a home to mighty magics located somewhere upriver.

DM Notes - this little trek is intended to be deliberately weird. I see the pyramid as an interdimenstional incursion that does not follow the rules of linear time or space. Legends speak of the pyramid from a century ago yet your party will come across signs that unpleasant things have happened in just the last few minutes. In my campaign vision, sometimes the pyramid is not even there, and other times it's not this pyramid but a completely different pyramid, with a completely different interior. It's meant to be a wild card, a little piece of the countryside that is different every time someone decides to go look at it.

You can see how my group handled it beginning here. There is some additional descriptive and background material in those posts that might help explain what's going on too. At the very least it might be interesting to look at the DM notes here and compare to the session notes as to how it played out.

Final note: The room names are there for the DM only, to help with visualization and description - don't say them out loud! Let the players figure out what's going on.

The Silver Pyramid

The pyramid is located roughly 30 miles up river, about a day’s travel time for most parties. The party will most likely follow the river. Most of this travel will pass uneventfully but about halfway there  the group is attacked by big bugs:

Ankhegs! Level 5 Encounter (1050) - DC15 Nature Check to avoid surprise for the party
  • 3 Ankhegs (900) MM2 111
  • 6 Broodlings (150) MM2 111
Use any convenient outdoor map for this encounter. Remember that these beasties burrow and so may not even be seen until they emerge from a charge and attack. I'd tell everyone that the ground is vibrating and then give the PCs a perception check to figure out where they are coming up. Tunnels in the area lead to a nest where bones and a split bag of 200gp can be found (Parcel #10 for Level 6)

The river gets progressively nastier as the party proceeds north. It is especially noticeable at this point (no skill check) and looks like a black slick in the center of the river.

Finally they see the sun glinting off of something in the distance.

Approaching, the party sees a shining silver pyramid with a flickering purple crystal forming the peak. The pyramid sits in a lake and is surrounded by water on all sides. A viscous purple-black substance contaminates the lake. Everyone is going to want to make checks for this so let them:
  • DC 15 Perception: The pyramid seems to be slightly tilted to the east side
  • DC 15 Perception: the pyramid is smooth and seamless above the water
  • DC20 Perception: There is occasional movement in the water and it is not the wind
  • DC15 Nature: The substance is not natural
  • DC 20 History: The pyramid has been here since before the spellplague and there was talk about it being a source of pollution once before
The water is calm but it’s a DC15 Swim check because of the substance to swim the 100’ or so out to the pyramid, DC12 if attempted from the west side as it’s less nasty over there.

Commotion on the shore or in the water attracts 3 Chuuls:

Pond Beasties! Level 7 Encounter (1500)
  • 3 Chuuls (1500) MM1 43 (note these guys can swim just fine, though they are melee combatants and so may emerge from the water to fight.)

  • The shoreline (the edge directly above this text) is normal ground
  • The first two squares are Challenging (knee to waist deep) and require a DC15 Atheletics check to move normally, otherwise it’s 2 per square
  • The next two squares are Difficult
  • Beyond that it’s an Atheltics check and a swim. Underwater everything is heavily obscured due to the foulness in the lake. The scribbles on the one side of the pyramid represent the oozing side.

A few minutes after the Chuuls are defeated (enough time for a short rest) the inhabitants get the teleporter working and a Beholder Gauth Solo appears at the apex of the pyramid , looks around for a few seconds, then attacks.

Eye Fight! Level 5 Encounter (1000)
  • 1 Beholder Gauth Solo (note he doesn't have to make this easy - he can stay over the deeper water and fight at range) - original beholder gauth is MM2 p24

After defeating the beholder the party can determine that there is an opening in the side of the pyramid underwater. 

Hangar Bay! Level 7 Encounter (1400)
  • 2 Black Puddings (1400) MM2 172 or MV 223

The lined out areas are the slippery (DC 15 Athletics check if running) water and ooze-covered areas, the two lines pointing out to the right represent the open bay doors by which the party would enter. I made them challenging terrain but feel free to throw in other environmental effects.I made the shuttle roughly 10' (2 squares) high to let the acrobatic types get some height if they wanted to do so. I described it as a wagon-sized metal box that had clearly been damaged, twisted, and cracked. None of them went inside it, so I leave that description up to you. Remember that the puddings spawn off smaller puddings when hit by any weapon (triggered action, no action!), so this fight could actually get nastier in the first few rounds, not easier.

A lot of the black goo appears to be leaking from one of the shuttle engine pods, but that's mainly because one of the puddings is living in the damaged pod. Despite appearances, this is not the true source of the contamination - but it sure looks like it!

Turboshaft up! - Rope use is a good idea here for the less athletically-inclined party members as though there are rungs the climb is at a steep angle and the air is bad. I called it a DC 15 for rungs-only (that's a lvl 6 moderate for those of you tracking such things) and a DC 11 (lvl 6 easy) with a rope. Those two squares at the top of the map are the turboshafts - think elevator shaft and you're close enough for this one.

Quarters are full of beds & vanity/desk/console items

Sounds in the main corridor will draw the attention of the “crew”

What’s Left of the Crew Level 7 Encounter (1750)
  • 2 Foulspawn Mockeries (500) MM3 89
  • 10 Foulspawn Wretches (750) MM3 88

M = Mockery, W = Wretch
That area to the left is the sick bay, and the oblong shapes are meant to be the hospital beds. Feel free to add gruesome details - think zombie movie, alien/aliens, etc. Refer to the monster entries for descriptions of these nasty things and play up the twisted awful wrongness of them. A massed rush in a confined space can be somewhat scary for the players, at least.

Turboshaft up!

Transporters - The room is dusty with no marks on the floor and appears to be disused, other than the crystals being placed on the pad by three floating brain-creatures. Each of the 6 pads has a 1’ dimly glowing purple crystal on it in a silver stand or socket of some kind. Fine silver wires run from each of these crystals back and forth across the pad area. Several of them run up the wall to another silver socket that is empty. If the control crystal is recovered from the ready room and placed in the socket, all of the crystals will glow much brighter and a hum will be heard in the room. After 1 round anyone still in the room will be teleported to the Pool area.

Transporter Crew Level 7 Encounter (1800)
  • 3 Grells (1800) MM 144

Just look at a picture of a Star Trek transporter room and you have this one down. It's the top right room.

Ready Room (this one is the top left room on the map above):

The door is closed and locked and shows signs of claw marks and bloody smears on the outside. Behind the desk is a headless body slumped back in a chair. On the desk before him is a glowing purple crystal similar to the ones outside. A small boxlike object lays on the floor near the chair, If molested, the black box will show 1 red light and make a chirping sound. 

The Bridge (bottom half of the map above)

There are 5 chairs around the room placed in front of tables. Sitting in those chairs are what look to be uniformed humans. The top of their heads is open (their heads appear to have exploded), blood streams down their bodies and is splattered over nearby consoles and floor, and what appears to be their brains are crawling away from their bodies. Think "star  trek bridge" - upper deck, railing, lower deck, chairs, dashboards - and you have the picture.

Level 7 Encounter
  • 5 Ustiligators (1500) MM3 118
(These things have a leap attack that is a lot of fun - nothing like having animate brains leaping onto you from across the room. Make it fun!)

The Pool of Twilight

Note: the only defined way of getting here is via the transporter room, but it does not have to be the only way. Most parties will work this out. If yours do not then try to give them another option to help them get to this encounter if you like it, or just leave it alone and let them walk away without ever getting here, but until they close this portal, the black goo will continue to pollute the river.

I just dropped the party in at the upper right corner and had the Mind Flayer and the Mouther start in the lower section near the control panel. 

Four large purple crystals are set up here surrounding an inky black pool. Nearby stand a mind flayer and a mass of flesh that appears to have many faces on and within its flowing substance. Arms and legs emerge at times as do brightly colored bits of cloth. This is what remains of the crew that was not warped individually – some of them were pulled together into a single entity that babbles maddeningly and constantly. Over the pool is a smoky black mass that drives an observer to the edge of madness. Vaporous forms swarm from the pool to this cloud. When the party acts it begins to move.

Level 10 Encounter
  • Mind Flayer Leader (1000) Level 10 Elite Lurker (custom)
  • Gibbering Mouther (1000) Level 10 Controller (MM 126)
  • The Thing from Beyond (1000) Level 10 Brute (custom)

I believe I modified someone else's creation for this one but I can't find the reference - if this looks familiar point me to the originator and I will give credit 
  • Anyone entering the pool finds it is physically about knee deep. The pool is a link to the Far Realm and will cling to the legs of anyone entering, making a +10 attack vs Will and inflicting ongoing 10 Psychic damage
  • The energy barriers linking the crystals make a nearly subsonic throbbing vibration and anyone touching the barrier takes 4d6+5 lightning damage (lv 10 limited medium). The crystals can be attacked – Defense = 24, HP = 100. If a crystal is destroyed then the barrier drops – all of it
  • The various consoles are about 5’ high

The pool can be closed after at least one crystal is destroyed by doing 100 points of radiant damage or by touching it with the Black Spear of Thar*, which was forged specifically to do this. If the spear is used then the silver runes winding up and down the shaft will disappear in a blast of silvery light as the pool screams and the psychic winds of limbo roar around the party. After a massive explosion the party will awaken on the shore of the lake where they can see that the pyramid is gone and the waters now glow purple. There is no other sign or feeling of magic.

*this was a special magic item in our campaign and yours is unlikely to have the same item, but feel free to link it to something unusual in your game.

Anyway that's the end of the adventure. If enough people are interested maybe I'll go through and revise my notes into something more presentable (see above for their current state) and put the whole campaign online for use. If not they can keep on living in my folder until the next time I decide to visit Phlan.

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