Tomb of Abysthor Special - The Black Pyramid

My players have barely scratched the surface of the Tomb of Abysthor. To be fair, they aren't tough or well-equipped enough to last long and I'm glad they have played it safe. Instead, they have found the locations of two outlying sites that cultists of Orcus have taken an interest in. In my remix, these will take the place of the ruined shrines of Thyr and Muir.

In the wild & frightening lands beyond the barrier, even the gods of Law are bizarre & strange. So instead of Muir, I'll use MORDIGGIAN, the charnel god, eater of the dead! I've been waiting to do a dungeon like this ever since I discovered Clark Ashton Smith all those years ago.

Got the 3rd edition version in print!

When I ran this for my players I didn't include any surviving cultists wandering about. There were plenty of corpses to communicate the gravity of the situation, but it made for a slow-paced exploration with only one mobile foe and no incentive to move quickly once the death worm was defeated. If I could do it again, I would add random encounters with cultists as well. Perhaps also I'd bring out the death worm sooner, roll or no roll, and have it chase them around the dungeon. A God That Crawls-type thing.

I ran this for three 3rd-level Pathfinder characters and their 1st-level barbarian henchman (holy shit was HE useful). So it's more or less a low-level dungeon, although the death worm can definitely kill those unprepared for it. I use the silver standard in my own game. For pure xp-for-treasure systems instead of my bastardised conglomeration of xp rewards, I would perhaps double all treasure values.

This dungeon is intended as a small to middling hexcrawl location. More than an odd curiosity or simple monster lair, but not large enough to be a full-fledged dungeon crawl. It was good for one long session of play, although it could easily have been 2 had my players returned to explore fully. They killed the death worm, although it brought their henchman Bolgrim to -5 hp and almost killed Vuk Thuul. The party left with two magic items and a bit of loot, but missed the big payoff at the bottom. Since then the cultists have returned and cleaned the dungeon out! Now they have the bone key, allowing further progress into the Tomb of Abysthor.


*****

Mordiggian was a giant carnivorous worm, big enough to swallow men whole. In ancient days before Land's End was covered in sweltering jungles, it slithered up from caves deep in the earth. The humans who lived nearby could only placate its hunger by casting their dead to it. A severe religion formed around it, overseen by enigmatic & shrouded priests. These worshippers built a great pyramid of black stone above its cave, adding to it over the centuries, refining their practises, preparing and seasoning the dead to best please and satiate their hungry god.

The great worm died of old age long ago. It wasn't really a god, only a beast. The priests fed the dead to its offspring, and theirs, and so on down the years, but none ever grew as large as the original. Over the centuries, the danger of the hungry worm lessened and the priesthood declined, until none remained. One of Mordiggian's great-great-grandchildren still slithers the halls of the temple looking for food, but usually just eats wandering jungle animals. The cult of Orcus tried to plunder the temples' treasures and got chewed to pieces instead!


Dungeon Conditions

- The jungle outside is rainy and damp. There are puddles and trails of wet stone where the cultists have walked, but the air becomes dry as you descend further.

- The walls are black quarried stone, set expertly without mortar. They are solid and functional, not ornamented.

-Doors are swollen with years of moisture: STR check DC 14 to open. On a modified result of 21 or more, the door breaks or crumbles during opening and can't be reclosed.

-No undead can survive inside the pyramid. Mindless ones like skeletons and zombies start to break down at the entrance and fall apart completely by room 2. Free-willed undead can feel this effect and may make a save every round, giving them time to escape.


Wandering Monsters

Once every 30 mins of exploration, check an encounter with the hungry death worm. The chance is 1/20 in rooms 1 to 3B; 1/12 from 3B to 13; 1/6 from the glyph outside 13 until room 19; a 50% chance of appearing in 20; and a 100% chance of waiting in 21 if not already encountered.

Death Worm stats from the Tome of Horrors. I removed the lightning breath and advanced it to 10 HD. If I did it again, I might go up to 12.

If the death worm doesn't appear, there is a 1/8 chance of encountering 1d6 initiates of Orcus led by a 1st-level cleric. The Orcus cult corrupted the wild men of the Ape tribe to their service, and any initiates or low-level clerics in the jungles are drawn from their ranks. In Pathfinder I use orc stats, but in Labyrinth Lord or similar systems I would use neanderthal stats since that's what they are.

Initiates of Orcus wear leering devil-face masks made of lead, iron, bone, bronze, etc worth 100 sp. Clerics wear similar masks of copper, ivory, silver or gold worth 100 sp per cleric level. Special NPCs in the cult may wear masks worth far more made of rare metals, exotic materials or studded with gems.

Click to enlarge



Room Key

0 - Outside -  40' black stone pyramid covered in vines & creepers, camouflaged against the jungle until very close.

Open doorway flanked by worm statues with gaping, five-lobed mouths. Each is unique, with different twists & turns. All statues marked on the map are similar.

Three corpses - cultists of Orcus in shreds of black robes, stripped of valuables. Worn down by the rain and chewed by animals.

1 - Reception - Bare stone walls, empty blackened torch sconces. Stone chair and 'reception desk' built into the floor at the back of the room.

Four corpses in black robes. Stone & bone clubs, light fiber armour (+1 AC). Bite marks and acid burns.
A trail of blood on the floor leads downstairs.

2 - Waiting Room - Low stone benches line the walls. Six stone slabs spaced evenly throughout, slightly concave surfaces sized for bodies.

A 6' diameter pile of dust, bones and rags fills the centre of the room.
Hole in NE corner leads down 45' to room 17. Smells of minerals & rot. Handholds carved into the stone.

3 - Hallway - This corridor gradually slopes down throughout the whole dungeon. Watch for the depth notations at the bottom of the map.

3A - Secret Door - Can't be opened from the hallway side, DC 22 to even notice it. If opened from 9 it remains open for d4+1 rounds, then closes automatically.

3B - Law Glyphs - When a Chaotic being approaches within 20', bright blue runes glow from the floor, walls and ceiling. If translated from Old High Imperial, they read "All bound together by the Law, under the celestial sky."

Chaotic beings touching/crossing the runes make a DC 17 Will save or suffer agony each round. Choose 1d8 electrical damage, or collapse in pain unable to act. This choice can be made again each round. Roll a new save every 2nd round to end the effect.
[This red symbol on the map denotes the same glyph]

Corpse of a cultist lies here in the stiffness of death, a rictus of agony on his face. Wears a black robe and an iron mask carved into a leering devil face (100 sp).

4 - Confessional - A stone chair built into the floor against the east wall.

Tiny holes drilled high up on the wall at 1' intervals between 4A and 4B allow sound to pass through. Except the holes at each end, which have buttons inside - pushing on both simultaneously until a click is heard will rotate the entire wall on its horizontal axis.

4B - Piles of debris, rotted furniture, rusting weapons (daggers, sickles) and three dry-rotted and partially mummified corpses, wrapped in rags. The bodies lean up against a well-preserved cupboard containing two jars of red honey.

5 - Vestry - Rags, piles of rotted mummy-wraps, scraps of leather.

A cultist's corpse leans against the door. Severe acid burns on his hands and chest. Wears a mask of bone (250 sp).

6 - Repose Room - Flaking frescoes of mummy-wrapped priests slicing corpses and removing organs, waving tools around, sliding bodies along on tables like an assembly line.

The stone tables here have body-shaped concave depressions, stained with ancient blood.

7 - Grand Doors - Blood pools into the hallway from under the doors. They are held shut by something, require combined STR of 40+ to push inwards from this side.

(The rubble around the corner might lead to a whole other section of the pyramid, should the DM desire.)

8 - Grand Hall - Pillars reach up to the 30' arched ceiling. Echoing and dark.

Three cultists' corpses piled against the door, as if they died holding it closed. Each has acid burns and melted useless weapons, their robes fused to their skin. They wear masks of lead (100 sp), copper (300 sp) and steel (disfigured by the acid, 150 sp).

Frescoes decorate the walls:
West - Mummy-wrapped priests and armoured knights battle armies of skeletons, bone & barbed devils, fat goat-demons and other horrors. A colossal mountain looms in the background.
East - A great horned & winged demon battles a huge black lamprey, while tiny humanoids struggle in the foreground. As the fresco progresses north, the lamprey chews the demon up, breaking its teeth in the process. Then vomits up a river of demon-gore that flows in great waves towards the North wall.
North - The priests & knights take up the lamprey's broken teeth, wielding them in battle against the hordes of demons & undead.

The third statue from the left on the back wall is distinctive - it faces its head downwards and has its mouth closed, while the others face upwards, open-mouthed. A combined STR of 50 will slide it aside, opening a narrow pit with carved handholds 35' down to 18.

9 - Back Passage - Debris and junk piled everywhere. A trail of dried blood leads up the stairs.

Secret door is quite visible from this side, and can be opened with the nearby lever. It remains open 1d4+1 rounds, then closes automatically.

10 - Storage - Rotted, dusty wooden shelves. Rusty flensing knives, embalming tools, meathooks & blades, old clay jars with sticky red residue.

Behind the back shelves, covered by wood, plaster and a layer of dust, a 3' high hole leads to 10B. If the shelves are moved it is easy to see where it was concealed.

10B - Secret Storage - Dry, dusty and empty. A few notable objects rest on chunks of broken stone:

The Bloodbow
2 jars of red honey
A sack of 650 silver coins, depicting a cloud-wrapped mountain on one side and the Unsleeping Knight's helmed head on the other.

11 - Angled Hall - Debris, rotted wood, crumbling benches & cots.

A dead cultist lies outside the door to 12. His worthless iron mask melted to his face with acid, whole body burnt. Crude hide armour and a heavy stone mace. On his chest, a deep black brand of Orcus' sigil can be seen - a skeletal goat's face.

12 - Survivor - Storage room of rotted wood, broken stone benches, the remains of metal vats and wheeled stretchers, all useless now.

Cultist Zulgha is nearly dead (1 hp, CON 5). Face is a skinless rictus beneath a half-melted iron mask (worthless). Left arm bubbled and ran like wax, robes scorched with acid. Stone mace, bone dagger. Will make any possible bargain to survive, then betray PCs and return to the cult with details about them, hoping for a reduced punishment for his failure. Torture might induce him to talk. Due to a gift of Orcus, he is harmed by cure and healed by inflict spells.

Knows About:
Tomb of Abysthor: Entrance, Levels 1 and 4. Knows how to pass Osneth Bucroth the crypt thing, operate the statue & secret door on the entrance level.
The Glyphs at 3B: How they're triggered, what they do.
Who recruited him: Tavik, one of the charau-ka (ape-men) from the south in Orcus' service.
The death worm: It is an incarnation of Orcus' ancient foe & must be slain or controlled.

13 - Pit Room - Featureless black stone, empty.

The smooth round hole in the floor descends 35' to 19B. No handholds. Hard to see except in bright light. The floor below is shrouded in knee-deep mist and piled with broken stone.

14 - The Bone Key - Door from main hallway has a leering skull carved into it.  Crumbling letters in Old High Imperial: "For The Honoured Ones."

Small holes spaced evenly all over the ceiling of the room. Faint spicy smell. Trail of blood leads toward 15, where a faint splash & gurgle is heard.

The bone key is suspended in the corner of the room, 8' off the ground by thin steel wires tied around it, leading into holes in the ceiling & floor. Six thin threads (like fishing line) stabilise the key, anchored to eyelets bolted into the floor & ceiling 15' away. The steel wires are under tension. Any force on either one (pulling the bottom wire upwards or the top one downwards) triggers poison gas jets from the ceiling. Fort DC 16, 1/round for 6 rounds, 1d3 CON, cured with 2 saves. If standing outside the room proper (hallway to 15, or passage back towards the main hallway) save DC is reduced to 14.

The thin threads are there to stabilize the key, but striking or yanking them will load the metal wires enough to trigger the trap also. Every time it is triggered after the first, it runs out of gas on 2/6. (If you're not playing in PF, just use save-or-die.)

15 - Pool Room - A raised basin of brackish water cycled up from the swamp river nearby. 2/6 of a giant leech or giant frog lurking in the pool.

Corpse of a cultist covered in great bite-marks, headfirst in the basin. Skin & robes shredded. Ivory mask (500 sp), jungle bear-hide armour, heavy mace adorned with a bluish swamp pearl in the pommel (double normal value). A map of the area showing the relative locations of Mordiggian's Pyramid, the Tomb of Abysthor, the Puzzle Cube and the Island of the Dead Legion.

16 - Anteroom - Carvings of mummies cutting corpses' organs out, dressing them in shrouds. Anointing bodies with liquids and leading them in a procession under a great black pyramid.

17 - Anointing Room - Smell of minerals, pitch, decay. Metal-lined stone vats with black tarry residues.

Door to 17B visible, but no handle or means of opening is obvious.
Frescoes circle the room in clockwise order:
West - Mummy-wrapped priests battle red horned demons & undead
North - Priests meet and parlay with knights in exotic spiked plate armour
East - The priests pour liquids from boiling vats onto laid-out corpses. The frescoes are chipped off around the door
South - Priests push carts of bodies down a slope towards a deep black pit. The paint is like vantablack here, absorbing the light and showing no contour. In the darkest corner of the wall there is a recess that can only be felt, not seen. Inside is a button which opens 17B.

17B - Storage Room - Clean and dust-free. Moldering chunks of disintegrated leather & cloth. White stone blocks display strange items:

The Sword of Eyes
Three clay urns filled with dirt. One has 100 gold coins buried at the bottom, adorned with the Unsleeping Knight's helm on one side & a seven-pointed star on the reverse. The two other jars have foul slime fermenting beneath the dirt: if touched, Fortitude save DC 14 or contract filth fever.
Two Ivory Tablets

18 - Darkening Hallway - A thin black mist pools along the ground, licking at your feet. It pools thicker and deeper as you descend.

Hole in the ceiling (10' above the floor) leads up to 8, handholds carved into the stone. If the statue above hasn't been moved, it cannot be pushed up from below.

19 - Dissection Theatre & Storage - The mist is knee-deep. Sarcophagi stand up throughout the room facing all directions All empty and stained black inside. Lines of archaic names cover every wall in varying styles & texts, floor to ceiling - a list of those fed to the charnel god.

On the main table:
Ritual tools & flensing instruments on top, rusty but nice (200 sp for set of six)
Carvings on the sides depict the processing of the dead:
-North - wrapping a body, interring in a standing sarcophagus
-East - Body's organs are cut out - heart, lungs, vitals
-South - Bodies thrown towards a deep black pit
-West - Worm climbs out of the pit, feasts on corpses
The heart on the east face and the worm's mouth on the west face are buttons. If both are pressed simultaneously, a small hidden panel opens on each face containing a heart charm. If only one button is pressed, a rusty needle jabs the finger, risk of tetanus - Fort DC 13, 1/day, 1d6 DEX, cure 2 consecutive saves.

The secret door in the back of the room is just a small crawl-way covered by a sarcophagus. Observation will reveal a draft creating ripples in the mists here.

Moving a sarcophagi requires a STR or DEX check DC 17 with one character, -2 difficulty for each person helping. Failure means it is knocked over, smashing with an ungodly noise that echoes throughout the pyramid. Make a random encounter check, then another 10 minutes later.

19B - Heaps - Jumbled piles of half-broken sarcophagi and black mist. Under two broken sarcophagi in the NE corner is a single intact one. Inside is the Rotting Horn resting on a bed of fine, glittering white dust.

20 - Feeding Room - Smooth black stone. The mist is almost waist-high, billowing out of the central pit. Shallow body-sized 'feeding pits' carved into the floor.

A giant worm statue, mouth agape towards the door. Carvings cover it in archaic languages. In Old High Imperial, one says "HAIL MORDIGGIAN, devourer of death, all-consuming one, the charnel god, to whose gullet we are all fated."

50% of the death worm emerging from the pit if not encountered yet.

21 - Mordiggian's Lair - Uncut rock, worn smooth by centuries of worm-crawling. 15' drop can be climbed down easily, will be difficult to ascend without gear. Black mist is thick and fills the cavern. Visibility is 20' with a torch or 30' with a light spell.

100% chance of the death worm being here if not encountered yet.

The cave is littered with treasure:
5000 copper guineas of the Old Empire, scattered across the cave from one end to the other.

Death worm egg - black, slightly sticky, 30 lbs. Worth 2000 sp to the right buyer. The death worm will defend this to the death, targeting anyone who touches it.

The skeleton of an Undigested Saint of Mordiggian (4600 sp). Pure white incorruptible bones inlaid with mother-of-pearl and rose quartz, carved & silver-chased in geometric patterns. Posed sitting in prayer with its back against the eastern wall.
It wears an ancient breastplate of yellowed steel, mildly corroded but serviceable, built with sculpted muscles in the Old Empire style. AC penalty of -1 until repaired and made to fit its new owner (whatever repair costs are in your system, plus 1d100+100 sp). Or can be sold as a collector's item for 1000 sp.
On its head is the Cannibal Crown.


MAGIC ITEMS

Well, you caught me on a good day! In Land's End the characters have almost no decent weapons. They made do with stone, bone & shoddy peasant equipment until they had enough money to buy some decent gear (everything costs about 10x book value). The best armour anyone has as of this writing (3rd level) is a single chain shirt, and it cost a LOT of money. They don't have a single healing potion yet! So I don't mind giving a few cool pieces of magic gear, especially when they have weird drawbacks.

Big ups to Eric Diaz for 100 Magic Weapons, wherein I found two of these weapons. Check it out!

Red Honey: Honey made by bees that harvest corpses. Heals 3d4 hp or cures poison if the whole jar is eaten.

Bloodbow: A recurved short bow of dark reddish-purple wood, sticky to the touch. It has no slot for a string, and will not function with a normal one.
When the wielder has suffered 1d8 (reroll every day) points of slashing/piercing damage, the bow bends on its own and a string of dull red appears. It functions as a +1 bow until the wielder's cuts are healed.

Bone Key: An ornate, oversized key carved from bone. It is the mirror-twin of the iron key, found in the Puzzle Cube (I'll get to it, I promise). Unlocks some of the crypts and secrets of the Tomb of Abysthor. It powerfully radiates law: the bearer's alignment counts as lawful for the purpose of know alignment, detect law/chaos, the glyphs at 3B & similar traps, using magic items, etc.

Sword of Eyes: The sword has three alien eyes with eight-ball pupils set along the fuller. If they perceive danger they'll animate & look around, warning the user with a tingling sensation when they see a threat he cannot (in the dark, when the enemy is invisible or hidden behind an illusion, etc). Only works when unsheathed & wielded freely. When meeting new people in this circumstance, the DM rolls 1d6+6. The sword will induce feelings of dread & paranoia if an NPC reaction roll is exactly that number.

Ivory Tablets
: One of the many long term sub-sub-subplots of the campaign. My attempt to fix the stupid Deck of Many Things into a powerful divination tool & force to rewrite one's destiny. Created by the high elves 5000 years ago. The individual "cards" must be assembled and brought to the shrine of Divine Providence deep beneath the Lost City where the Chthonic Elves dwell. I haven't decided what each card does yet, but I really dug myself in deep with this one. All the major arcana and 4 cards from each suit, for a total of 38!

Rotting Horn: INT 13, EGO 11, Demonic Spear +2. An ebony haft tipped with a curlicue of bone, like a narwhal or unicorn's horn. Sheds luminous mother-of-pearl fragments, which slowly crumble to a sparkling grit.
Its goal is to destroy Law & it communicates with its wielder via empathy.
+1d6 damage against living foes, necrotizing them from within.
Double damage against Lawful outsiders
Those slain by the Rotting Horn will rise in 1d6 days as zombies, possessed by minor demons called up to serve the Horn. Glad to be free on the material plane, they will attempt to cause as much havoc and fun as possible. Simple but cunning alone, dangerous if banded together. Cannot be turned or commanded as normal undead, but their bodies can be damaged or destroyed with positive energy as normal (holy water, "D" results on a turning table, etc). If they see the Horn they will attempt to seize it and bring as many of their friends into the world as possible.

[I'm still working on those demonic weapon rules, so this is fairly basic right now. Thanks to the Metamorphica Revised though!]

Heart Charm: Looks like a glistening droplet of blood, small enough to rest on your fingertip. Slightly tacky and squishy, like a blob of half-dried paint. Eat it to heal 2d6 hp.

Cannibal Crown: Hideous circlet made of bone, gristle & troll's fangs, ancient & yellowed.
+2 to AC if worn without a helmet
+4 to save vs. ingested poisons, +2 vs. other poisons & disease
Wearer may eat ANY animal meat, no matter its origin or how spoiled, but requires 3x normal food per day to survive (eating poisonous things has normal effects, save with the bonus above)
Every week the wearer eats something he wouldn't normally (carrion, human flesh, etc) make a Will save DC 18 or else acquire an intense craving for that forbidden meat.
+1 to reaction rolls with ghouls, ghasts, cannibals, trolls, Chthonic Elves, etc if the wearer has eaten something unpleasant, rotted or part of a humanoid in the last 2 days.


*****

Phew! The first full dungeon I've posted up on the blog. I hope everyone gets a kick out of this one. I had fun running it and I think my players did too.

Play this next song whilst the players tensely creep about under the pyramid, looking at the frescoes, looting corpses and avoiding the traps. I'm so glad for youtube sometimes - I made an extended cut of this track myself for a gaming mix maybe ten years ago. I had to splice the thing together 15 times in Audacity!




Then, play this when the Death Worm appears to devour your players. You knew it would happen eventually:


Source: terriblesorcery

Tomb of Abysthor Special - The Black Pyramid