RPG Adventure: The Way of the Silent
In their haste, the workers trapped all manner of insects and other vermin within the tomb. The walls of the dungeon are coated in dust and cobwebs. Portions of the floor are littered with small bones. From the look of the ceiling one would guess this was a naturally occurring cave instead of a man-made earthwork. Now and then, a section of wall will exhale dust and sand – an effect of weathering and settling. Pieces even crumble from above as the party pushes on, idly threatening to collapse at the merest footstep. Every noise and breath echoes to and fro. Musty odors and century-old decay linger in every space. Despite all of this there is a certain inviting quality, as though the adventurers have been expected for a long time.
Walls are made from sandstone and doors are made from harder sedimentary stone. An unlit torch occupies each wall-sconce in the rooms. Small creatures like spiders, scarabs and scorpions flee and cower in cracks and crevices. Each of the doors slide noisily sideways along their frames, sliding mostly into a portion of the wall beside them and accompanied by a crunching sound. If any given door is reopened, flattened carcasses of various denizens spill out as well. All attempts to sleep or otherwise rest in this dungeon are interrupted by disembodied laughter and cajoling to continue forward.
Pictures on the walls show an unfinished story of a kingdom being overthrown. The frames begin with war. An important looking person is seen sitting at a banquet. There is a toast, drink, and then the figure falls. Torches and arrows fly at a robed character with a jester cap, then that person is beheaded. Upon every mural, the head of the latter person is crudely done. Beneath each such depiction are the tools of the artist, petrified beyond usefulness and scattered across the floor.
A wide hallway opens up to seven rooms. Six doors flank the hall symmetrically and a final door occupies the end of the hall. Doors on the side have plain faces but the far door has the appearance of a court jester's head. No matter where the characters stand, the relief always appears to be watching and following them (this is an illusion). Other than the last, each door has a spot for torches to rest. Until each of the six rooms is lit, the seventh door does not budge.
The two rooms nearest the door have doors which are easy to open. Inside, small gaps of daylight pierce the ceiling and walls. Amid the low levels of light, players can see lizards crawling all around, preying on scorpions. There's a grand torch at the end of these rooms, barely visible in the cast light. When the players light the torch, a number of lizards appear to grow and then attack the characters within the room. This is also an illusion, but the GM is encouraged to play it up for as long as the players are willing to believe it. Only when the players leave do the illusory lizards shrink and go back to their hunting, before disappearing amongst the real lizards a few moments later. Astute or paranoid characters might notice the number of lizards in the room changes, with enough careful study.
Further down the hall are two doors which require a strong character to move due to resistance along the door frames. Inspection shows that these weren't completely finished before they were enclosed in the doorway, as though a supervising foreman wasn't doing their job. Spending some time to dust away the rubble makes these doors as easy to move as the first two. Inside, each room looks half like a cave, with one of them having much more sloppy corners. As soon as the door opens, a great and bearded lizard charges the doorway from the far side. This is also an illusion, but it's a cover for a trap – characters who walk into the room too brazenly fall into a formed pit of quicksand. Without help and/or swimming ability, that spells the end of their dungeoneering.
These two rooms nearest the far door differ from one another. Following suit from the previous doors, however, the doors entering these rooms are so sloppily formed that they've caved in partially. Only a character with magic to bypass stone, a particularly strong character with a battering ram, or a patient group of characters with tunneling equipment can get past either door (fifty man or woman hours with tools). In the one with rougher edges, there is nothing. Not even a torch; adventurers must place a light source of their own in the proper place. Across the hallway is a burial chamber with no obvious occupants. Entering this area chills characters to their bones with fear, sending weak-willed characters into terrified flight. Should any player brave the room far enough to get to the torch, large scarab beetles (about the size of a small dog) descend from cracks in the ceiling. These outnumber the player characters 2:1 and only flee when they are damaged over half of their total health.
Once the sixth light is in place, a curious singing and laughing echoes through the corridors. This is obviously an illusion and stems from the locked door down the hall from the entrance. When the players next enter the hallway, they are addressed by the face on the door. No matter what their question or comment, the spirit and magics of Orius do not reply to the characters yet.
“Do come in, my dears! I always love a little company, especially those who can shed some light on my situation!”
This is said with almost too much glee, and the last part barely gets out due to the door's high laughter at it's own joke. Characters who approach the door notice that it is translucent at this point. If any character comes to fifteen feet away, the door suddenly opens it's mouth, as if it's going to attack. Should the character recoil, this is met by that same tinny laughter (the door is modeled after Orius, after all). Further approaches are met in kind. As people come closer, the mouth opens wider until it's ready to engulf them as they pass through. In fact, after the players walk through it, a comment about “the last one giving indigestion” is made and followed by the same arrogant laughter.
Sand is strewn in two trails across the room beyond the face. Each travels away from the two doors on opposite sides of the room, and dilutes as they go. When the characters enter, a slight breeze disperses them. This is not an illusion: the face-door hasn't been opened since it was put in place after the workers fled. Exploring those two hallways yields nothing but sand, collapsed tunnels and ancient digging utensils. Within the main room, a fifteen-by-five foot sarcophagus is adorned in preserved serpent scales and feathers that disintegrate at the lightest touch or direct breath. Opening this container requires a couple of crowbars and strong characters, some characters with a mind for breaking difficult things, or else some decent telekinetic magic. Inside, characters will find a semi-hoard of gems (mostly diamonds) and coins (worth a few months worth of wages, to the right collector). Perusing the chest is met by the jester-face reforming on this side of the door, which mocks the characters about “plundering in the wrong purse.” No laughter accompanies this interaction. Clearing out the chest, or a good search while it's full, reveals a small switch which opens the wall adjacent to the sarcophagus.
Passing across the threshold is met with jeers, taunts and threats from the door. Persistent characters who question the door are warned that “treasure isn't always what it seems,” before unending maniacal laughter ensues (this is the first and only interaction where the door responds to them directly). Within the spiral staircase, some sort of strange scraping noise is audible from both above and below, where the center space seems to go on and on into nothing.
As soon as the first character gets to the bottom stair, the source of the scraping becomes immediately apparent. Two incredibly long nagas (or snakes with illusions to look like nagas, if your party is lower level) emerge from the center of the stairwell, both from above and below. They attack the party from both sides relentlessly. Since this is the first line of defense for Orius' tomb and should be fairly difficult for your characters, as the reptiles have home terrain and probably surprise advantages. Vanquishing the nagas (or snakes) causes them both to fall into the pit inside the center of the stairwell.
The next room is very plainly unfinished. No pictures at all adorn the walls on this level, save for one. There's a very poorly scrawled image of a jester-capped human on a pedestal, surrounded by a number of humanoid figures. Below that picture is a petrified hand and forearm, still clutching it's ancient painting tool. All of these disintegrate at the lightest touch. Aside from that, all that seems to occupy this room is a small scepter at the farthest end. Stepping more than fifteen feet into this room causes the scepter to rise of it's own accord, prepared to defend the tomb.
Orius' Projector Staff, as it's called, attacks by taking a turn to capture a memory of a character. In the following turn, it duplicates an image of that character and directs it to attack. That image has all the same stats of the original but only normal versions of it's equipment. It remains for four to nine rounds (1d6+3) as if summoned. Any class abilities, such as spellcasting and weapon prowess, are only duplicated up to half of the original memories level, rounded down. Also, everything the image does is silent. After creating and directing such an image (same turn), the scepter is free to take another memory in the following turn. Up to three such creatures may exist at any one time, and only the most recent memory is summoned when used.
Overcoming the scepter requires dispelling it as a magic effect (caster level on par with your character's power), “disarming” the force wielding the staff and retaining control (resisting being disarmed by it's minions) for five turns, or overcoming nine copies of the characters. When the characters overcome the scepter, a brief and translucent image of Orius appears and curses them for stealing her treasure, forbidding them to come any further “because their equipment is too ugly to be immortalized.” Without waiting for a reply, she disappears.
Continuing into the corridor snuffs out the character's light sources, if nonmagical. For as long as they are in the adjoining hallway, or trying to cross it with a light source, a swift wind attempts to quench all torches, candles or otherwise. Magical light sources instead find themselves magically darkened so they cast shadow instead of light. Once the characters enter the next room, the altar in the middle lights up like a Christmas tree.
This room is half-finished. Only the passage the characters just entered in is visible, the other appears to be wall (this is not an illusion). Two walls on both the left and right sides of the room are smoothly polished marble, as is the floor. Other portions of the room are grainy and cracked marble without an even surface on them. From the altar itself, pictures of great and mighty warriors line the walls. Each of these images are illusory ancient gladiators, from the same time frame as Orius' life. Spaced across the walls at even intervals, seven such figures display a glory and ferocity that's been long forgotten. Four more images litter the unpolished walls and look rather silly due to their distortion, which betrays the shrine as the source to astute players.
Any character who comes into contact with the shrine finds their own image added next in line, complete with their equipment and probable curious look. Repeated touches by the same person do not affect the wall of memories anymore. After one figure has been added, a much more solidified illusion of Orius appears, blocking the character's escape (or seeming to). She now addresses the characters, and responds to them in kind.
“It's unfortunate that now you're added to my collection. Your armaments are outlandish! The Pharoah of these days must have gone soft on the smiths.”
Through various role-playing, the players can learn more about Orius from her own mouth (almost all of which is deceit). She was wrongfully tried for poisoning her Pharoah, and was beheaded as a result. Her sarcophagus, according to her, is the shrine near which they now stand. The shrine itself is nothing more than a way to pass the time and keep herself company. Workers of the time didn't finish her tomb because they believed the projected images were ghosts. No harm comes to those whose image is taken, she just only has enough room for so many images.
Should the players take a liking to Orius and pity her plight, she strikes on the idea that they each preserve themselves in immortality (here she giggles innocently). But only with their mightiest weaponry and with their mightiest looks (here she teases whoever got their image taken unsuspectingly – also innocently). If this brings her to eighteen images then skip ahead to the aftermath. In the event that it doesn't, she asks the party to bring her more strong company to converse with (and friendly, is added as an afterthought). With this approach, Orius is seeking to manipulate the players with the most sweetness she can muster.
Inevitably, your party might wise up to Orius' demeanor. When or if that occurs, she feigns shock and hurt before fading into nothingness. She'd rather bide her time and wait for her shrine to activate (see aftermath). Any further threats, insults or accusations are met only with pathetic-sounding sobbing, seeming to emanate from the altar itself. All attacks on the altar while Orius continues to exist are ineffective (artifact).
Your party might decide to keep sniffing around the altar room. It would be very difficult to do, but they can find her real tomb beyond the false wall. Two switches flank the altar, one on each portion of the polished wall. The characters have to reach through the illusory gladiators to find them. When both of these are pressed at the same time, the door to Orius' true tomb opens.
A veritable complex, Orius' true tomb is a shifting maze. Thirty-five feet deep and fifty-five feet wide, every time the characters make progress Orius switches the maze around. From the parties perspective this results in numerous dead-ends and an inability to retrace their own paths. Only characters with an ability to dispel illusions have hope at navigating her maze. Alternatively, inventive players might generate illusions of themselves on their own, perhaps through the scepter they found. In all her vanity, Orius isn't particularly sharp at detecting her own craft. Players who strike upon this strategy see the maze reform and can take advantage of that to creep closer and closer toward their destination, once they find it. Any character standing within four squares of the bottom-right corner while the maze shifts detects an ornate coffin.
Breaking open the coffin changes the game entirely. The entire maze disappears and instead an enraged ghostly Orius appears, bent on overwhelming the character nearest to her coffin. Since her traps and tricks have been crafty thus far, Orius should be a decent challenge for a well-rested party. Her tactics favor illusion spells, darkness and fire. If the party is unable to target incorporeal foes then destroying her mummified corpse does the trick. Inside her coffin the adventurers find a pouch of dust which creates static illusions (turning a door into a wall, for instance) which persist for days. They also find several years worth of ancient coins (to the right collector) and dozens of diamond-gemmed rings and other jewelry. There is also a pair of hematite rings on both of her ring fingers, which would fetch a pretty penny from any local museum as historical treasures.
If Orius' shrine is activated, then the power brings all eighteen images (including the adventurers, if applicable) into being. Like her scepter, they only possess half the strength of the originals (consider the gladiators to be warriors on par with the party). However, they remain indefinitely until destroyed. Also, their equipment is as powerful as the original, as long as it remains within possession of the illusion. Aside from spells or projectiles being fired, all material leaving the duplicate fades into nothing before reappearing on the illusion. Orius planned on using this device to get her revenge on the ancient kingdom by taking it over from beyond the grave. Even though that era is no more, she can still wreak havoc on local townships with her illusions; especially since the device is reusable and she can replace fallen warriors.
Orius' destruction causes the bottom level of the tomb to begin collapsing in on itself (this is an illusion). She vows revenge on the characters and promises them they'll never get out of here alive. Her spirit threatens and curses in it's last efforts only long enough for the players to realize that the complex isn't really closing in around them, at which point she begins laughing wickedly. At the height of her laugh, though, she ceases to exist.
Editor's Picks Articles
Top Ten Articles
Content copyright © 2023 by Leif Sutter. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Leif Sutter. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Leif Sutter for details.