I’ve been working on a “dungeon” for the Pagan Lands this morning. It’s odd how the creative urge can seize a person. This all evolved from a typo I made yesterday. I don’t even remember what I was typing, but the result was the sinister-looking “ghuim clal” — which ultimately inspired this material. I tried to keep it as weird as the circumstances that spawned it. I worked in all the nifty things that make me loving gaming, such as references to real-world mythology, allusions to the weird literature I love, and acknowledgments of the close quarters kept by fantasy and sci-fi before the former meant “trilogy with maps” and the latter came to be characterized by bug-hunts in space. Lots of Vance in here.
In going back over this, it’s not wedded to Swords & Wizardry or any specific retroclone or fantasy game, at least conceptually. Hell, this would make a fine Mage session, a weird psychosis episode of Vampire, some Kult freakshow, or whatever. Just tweak some of the details and presentation and you’re good to go.
There are some references here to other, as yet unpublished Pagan Lands material. It shouldn’t be any big deal to substitute it for something relevant to your own campaign or chronicle, should you choose to use it.
Inside a cavern lost deep within the Faraway Hills yawns a boundless void, in the vastness of which float seven motes of earth, each of which is the site of a strange individual or encounter. These islands floating in the void are visible — though sometimes barely — from the landing immediately inside the cavern. In the ancient tongue of Khem, this is Ghuim Clal, the Prismatic Tomb.
The cavern landing is also home to a bizarre machine. It is a mechanical array of lenses set into a tall brass column, with a control panel that displays a row of buttons corresponding to the elemental colors of the rainbow. A single beam of light travels into the cavern from the outside, collected by a clear lens at the top of the brass column. If a PC presses one of the colored buttons, an armature moves a lens of that color into the path of the light, refracting only that color, which it then directs to the floating mote associated with that color. The color-path then becomes semi-solid, and characters may walk along it to the mote to which it connects.
Once the last PC steps off the path, the refracted light dissipates, and the characters must remain on the floating island until they have resolved its encounter. To this end, each of the islands has a sculpted arch somewhere on its surface, with adornments suggesting those of the brass column. Only when the encounter is resolved suitably does that arch activate, containing a color-field of the same color as that which led to the floating island to begin with. Walking into the arch’s color field teleports the character back to the cavern landing with the brass rainbow device.
Time does not pass for those who occupy the cavern of Ghuim Clal; its occupants grow no older while they occupy the Prismatic Tomb.
Characters who overcome all of the trials of Ghuim Clal receive a very literally interpreted wish, which they must speak to the prismatic machine at the cavern landing. Only the first time the character completes the gauntlet does she receive this wish. Subsequent attempts to garner additional wishes instead result in the character being permanently, irreversibly stricken of one sense, which the GM decides or may determine randomly. (Note that it’s not actually possible to complete the gauntlet multiple times, as killing some of the creatures present in the encounter are necessary. Once the character tries to fulfill one of these labors again after receiving the wish, he is stricken of the sense.) Note that at no point are either the award of the wish or the punishment of the sensory deprivation communicated to the character at Ghuim Clal itself. Perhaps they may hear of such things through research, lore, or the wisdom of a great sage.
Red Island: The Ghost of the Argosy
As you approach the shipwreck, it punches you.
Untold years ago, the Argosy made an ill-fated voyage into the bleak space in which the islands now float. Now the ruin of that ship, animated by the terrified emotional resonances of its drowned crew, viciously guards the floating island. It is massive, taking up half of the island’s mass, though it cannot move itself other than to attack. (Use the stats for a wood golem.) In the corpse-hold of the ruined Argosy lies a treasure of 20,000 gp and 30 amphorae of potent wine worth 1,000 per amphora.
Defeating the shipwreck automaton activates the teleportation arch.
Orange Island: The Drunkard and the Cursed Coin
On this tiny mote, a man ravaged by time and alcohol sits at a small table, opposite which sits a single stool. On the table is a jug and a pair of clay cups.
The man proposes a drinking contest, with the stakes being a single coin. He produces his own strange coin, unlike any other the PCs have ever seen, and waits for one of their number to match the wager. If one accepts, he pours two cups and the contest begins.
The old drunkard drinks only a single cup, then waits for the PC to finish his. He then refuses to partake of any more. With a contented look on his face, he crosses his hands over his protuberant belly, and dies.
The coin is cursed, and whomever won it is affected by its curse, whether or not he physically takes the coin. While under the coin’s curse, all of the character’s saving throws fail. The PC may not simply part with the coin. He must convince someone else to take it, whether by clever means or clear. (If the character doesn’t take the coin or somehow loses it, it will mysteriously find its way among his belongings until he passes on the curse.)
Winning the cursed coin activates the teleportation arch.
Yellow Island: The Mausoleum at Castle Bardo
The only structure on this island is a tall granite cenotaph. An ashlar granite staircase descends into the ground in front of the cenotaph, which ends in the teleportation arch for this island (which always glows yellow; no special solution to any encounter is necessary). Upon the arch is chiseled the phrase:
Although we may not master this world, we may bend it to our will by honing our art.
This arch does not teleport those who pass through it back to the landing of the cavern. Instead, the arch teleports those who pass through it into the mausoleum at Castle Bardo (cf.).
Green Island: The Witch
Visitors to this largest of the floating islands will witness a great swath of verdure that seams to roll like a wave over the surface of the mote, only to wither and die in the span of moments. The vegetation quickly climbs the various ruins and geographical features of the island, even tumbling over the side in the path of the river that flows from a humble crevice in the the surface of the island and spills into the greater void. Even the arch is occasionally overcome by the tangled vines
The source of this vegetation is a great witch with skin like birch bark and the stature of a giant. Plant life erupts around her as she wanders the surface of the mote, madly and without rest. In her wake, however, the turbulent plants wither and die as she metaphorically and literally turns her back on the life she spawns.
The witch is not aggressive, and is indeed so deranged that she probably doesn’t even notice the PCs. If she is attacked, however, she will certainly defend herself and attempt to slay any who have done her harm. Use the stats for a treant to reflect the witch, and describe the lush flora that overwhelms the characters as they fight her. (Each round of combat, a character has a 1 in 6 chance of being immobilized by vines and roots as the vegetation swarms him. He may spend his action breaking free without difficulty, but if he doesn’t, he’s still trapped the next turn.)
Defeating the witch activates the teleportation arch.
Blue Island: One Obol’s Fare
This pocked and pitted island is the refuge of a lesser psychopomp with a fluttering, tattered shroud for a body and the sony skull of an ox for a head, in the pits of whose eyes glimmer two tiny, sickly green fires.
Only two interactions are possible with the psychopomp. For the price of one obol (one gold piece, though it must take the form of a coin and the value must be exact — the warders of the dead do not make change), the spirit will activate the arch for one character’s passage back to the cavern landing. (He will do this as many times as he is paid his price, by whomever wishes it.) Alternatively, the psychopomp will slay without possibility of resurrection those who cannot or will not pay his price. The psychopomp is in no hurry; a character may tarry there on the island as long as he wishes. And of course, since time does not pass inside Ghuim Clal, this might well be eternity.
Paying the obol activates the teleportation arch for one character (who need not be the character who paid the price…).
Indigo Island: The Iron Tower
A massive iron tower is the sole distinguishing feature of this floating mote. Entry into the tower is possible only through a breach in its exterior where it meets the surface of the island. Inside the tower are three bizarre “levels,” each of which is characterized by blocky furniture, doorways, and stairways that depend from the ceiling rather than the expected floor of the tower. In particular, the upside-down stairways are difficult to climb.
Scattered throughout the tower (on the floor, instead of the ceiling, strangely) are 3,294 gp worth of the odd ceramic “guilder” coins (cf.) occasionally encountered elsewhere in the Pagan Lands. As well, an odd “crossbow” without a crossbar that fires without any bolts being placed in the absent prod is inside a metal chest bolted to the wall near the ceiling on the second level of the tower.
On the third level of the tower, a glassy surface displays the face of a demon trapped within it, who makes a number of demands of characters who engage it in conversation.
The demon’s demands are:
- Throw a switch labeled in indecipherable runes on the first floor of the tower.
- Remove the remains of the two warlocks who had bound the demon in service from wherever they are inside the tower. (The GM should decide where these remains are as well as their appearance and condition.)
- Close all of the doors and press a sigil at the top of the stairs on the second level.
- Fill an upside-down cauldron on the ceiling of the third floor with a combustible substance. (Any flammable substance will do.)
- Speak an empyrean word of binding after each of the previous steps is complete, to free the demon from its prison.
If the characters perform all of these demands, a gout of divinely hot flame will briefly burst from the top of the tower. Thereafter both the flame and the demon’s face on the prism surface will be extinguished. This will activate the arch.
Violet Island: Graves of the Titan Slaves
He resents your intrusion.
This last island in the color spectrum is shaped like a giant humanoid curled inward upon itself in a horrible fetal position. A podium that stands on this island contains an aged book with a written account of the “last days of the titan slaves.” When a character reads the book, it imparts the following information.
The minions of the vanished “lords” were creatures so infused with the magical energies wielded by their masters that their bodies refuse to decay. The “islands” floating in Ghuim Clal, this entropic void of the underworld, are the corpses of those titan slaves. The pages of the book crumble to dust and hang in the still air as the character reads them.
Once the fate of the titan slaves has been revealed, the floating island-corpse shudders into hellish motion. It will attempt to crush or cast away any PCs who learn of the Prismatic Tomb’s secrets. The island-corpse attacks as an 8 HD creature, inflicting 4d8 damage on a successful attack. The DM may use whatever ruling he chooses to determine how characters might be hurled physically from the surface of the dead titan slave. The thing itself has no hit points, as it is already dead, and must be overcome by a noncombative resolution. Beneath the podium, a large violet gemstone lies encrusted in the surface of the island, dimly lit from within by a flickering light. Only by shattering this gemstone can the characters “kill” the corpse of the titan slave and activate the teleportation arch.