Gamebook store

Friday, 16 March 2018

So you want to write a gamebook

Back in the 1990s, Mark Smith and I co-created the Virtual Reality gamebook series. There were six books, four of which (the ones I wrote) are back in print as Critical IF.

Actually, that’s not quite the full story. There was a seventh, The Mask of Death, written by Mark, that remains unpublished to this day. I’d stepped away from the series by that point, and it wasn’t worth us following up because the gamebook craze was all but spent, but in the first flush of signing the series we still thought we could spearhead a revival. To that end, I sketched out guidelines for other authors to write for the series, in the same way as the Fighting Fantasy editors had done a few years earlier.

We thought the big innovation of VR, of not needing dice, would make the books more user-friendly. You could play them anywhere; that had been our pitch to the publishers. Also the US market at that time hadn’t embraced the kind of dice-n-stats gamebook beloved of British kids. Choose Your Own Adventure was still the defining series in America. We thought VR, with its more sophisticated storylines, could challenge CYOA, but we failed to net a US publisher.

Still, that was then. Today, thanks to print on demand, the Critical IF titles are available worldwide. I recommend starting with Heart of Ice – but then, I would. These writer guidelines were written long before that book, hence the emphasis on fantasy rather than science fiction or other settings. (Incidentally, if you really do want to write a gamebook and you're looking for some top tips, let me just point you to Stuart Lloyd's excellent blog.)

Guidelines for authors (from 1993)

Each book is 430 to 500 sections long (a total of about 65,000 words). Most of you reading this document have written gamebooks before, so I merely present the fol1owing as points for consideration.

By way of preamble, I think a good gamebook should be playable straight through if the reader thinks about what they’re doing. Don’t make the adventure so tough that the reader keeps having to go back to the start. In short, don’t become so obsessed with making the game a challenge that you lose sight of the fact that the story must be fun.

What I need from you are the following: an outline explaining the book (around 500 to 800 words), the prologue section of the book (at least 1000 words), and the first fifty sections. You don’t need to do fully written-up versions of those fifty sections (in fact a decently handwritten flowchart would do) as the purpose is to see how well you are utilizing the Virtual Reality system and the different possibilities of your plot.

1. Top notch storylines
Above all, the books must be a cut above other gamebook series. Think of the storyline. Would it make a good novel? Is it the kind of story you’d be interested in reading yourself? Aim to write something you’re personally invested in, not a piece of hack work.

VR books generally aim for a more intelligent level of fantasy than other gamebooks. For example, in Necklace of Skulls there is a sequence where the protagonist meets a stranger in the afterworld who presents him with a riddle. In many gamebooks, the purpose would simply be to solve the riddle and receive an arbitrary bonus. In this book, the whole point was to avoid answering at all, since the protagonist had to remember he was under a geis not to speak. The stories should thus have sensible internal logic, not simply be a series of arbitrary puzzles.

2. Interactive fiction
The central idea of the series is to create something that truly reads like a piece of interactive fiction. That means a continuous, well-written, exciting narrative over which the reader has true control. This is the reason why rules have been kept to a minimum. Your book should read like a good fantasy novel – or rather, like several parallel intertwining fantasy novels.

Try to avoid “save-the-world” plots. Stories driven by personal goals can be much more effective in any case, and saving the world in every book just gets tiresome. The prologue section can help explain the protagonist’s involvement, but try to avoid forcing the reader into a specific role. (“You are a noble hero who will die to save the world if you must” is not much good if the reader wants to play as a Han Solo type who only reluctantly ends up a hero.)

3. Getting through to the end
Most VR books allow the reader to design his/her character by taking four skills from a list of twelve, The standard twelve skills are listed at the back of this document, but some leeway is possible. For instance, Down Among the Dead Men substituted MARKSMANSHIP for ARCHERY.

Remember that it must be possible to complete the book using any combination of four skills. This means that if certain items are vital to success, there must be ways to obtain them using nine of the twelve skills, assuming that they can only be got by using skills. Note that options are rarely listed for more than three or four different skills in any situation, so you would not want to make your whole adventure hinge on a single item (the Ring of Winning the Adventure, let’s call it) and then just list nine ways of getting it. You could have alternative items that must be obtained with alternative skills, or allow different ways of winning.

4. Use of the skills
There are two basic ways that skills options are presented. The first is where the reader is given a list of possible skills that can be helpful in a situation, and chooses from any of those skills that he/she has. For example:
“The guards are coming this way. Do you want to use SWORDPLAY (221), UNARMED COMBAT (125), ROGUERY (78), CUNNING (377), or none of those (300?)”
The alternative is to give the actual range of activities the protagonist might attempt, and allow the reader to choose the one that corresponds best to his/her skills. For example:
“The guards are coming this way. Will you show yourself and fight them (33), hide in the shadows (71), or raise a hue and cry to distract attention (296)?”
5. Replayability
The reader should be able to start the book again with a different character and not simply encounter the same situations every time. As a rule of thumb, try to have at least three independent (but possibly interlinked) strands for the first hundred entries of the adventure, gradually bringing these together as you approach the climax.

The skills system lends itself readily to diverse story strands. For instance, to reach a distant objective the protagonist might travel by sea, by open country, or by roads which take him/her through various cities. Straightaway you can see how SEAFARING, WILDERNESS LORE and STREETWISE can be useful – perhaps in expected ways; WILDERNESS LORE might help you at sea, for example, or knowing a bit of nautical lore might make you a friend on the road.

6. Balance
This ought to be obvious. Try to make the skills of roughly equal value, and utilize them equally throughout the book, Don’t bother listing a skill which can only be used once or twice in the whole book.

One big potential pitfall is the SPELLS skill. It’s very versatile in any case, so avoid the obvious trap of making it overwhelmingly powerful as well. Magic may well vary according to the setting you have chosen for your book, but a good rule is not to allow magic to be cast in a hurry. If it takes time to work magic, characters with SPELLS will not automatically be better than those with other skills. Also avoid use of SPELLS which makes other skills redundant – eg, invisibility, which logically would work better than ROGUERY if the character is trying to hide. You can permit invisibility of course, just don’t let it be as effective as ROGUERY. Maybe there are pots and pans strewn about, so that invisibility alone isn’t enough to escape detection. That way, discovering the limitations of magic might turn out to be part of the reader’s fun.

Also remember that because you control the narrative in a way that no referee can ever control a roleplaying game, the way you present magic can be much more interesting than the usual RPG list of spells. Magic can do anything – some of the time...

7. Objective(s)
It used to be one of the Puffin Fighting Fantasy guidelines that every book should have a clearly defined objective which is explained to the reader at the start. This isn’t necessarily the case. In Paul Mason’s Black Vein Prophecy, for instance, the protagonist starts with no memory of the past and no clear idea of what to do at first. But, of course, there is an objective there – only it’s an implicit, not explicit, one.

You should have one or more objectives in mind, even if you don’t tell the reader what those are. The better gamebooks are often those where the reader starts with one objective, only to have it altered or superseded in the course of the adventure.

The fighting skills are ARCHERY, SWORDPLAY and UNARMED COMBAT. Two of these are skills that require an item (a bow for ARCHERY, a sword for SWORDPLAY) and so they ought to be a little better than most skills. I make SWORDPLAY about 50% better in a fight than UNARMED COMBAT (so if you lost 4 Life Points using UNARMED COMBAT you’d lose only 3 Life Points using SWORDPLAY). There should be at least one situation in any book where UNARMED COMBAT comes into its own – eg, you’ve been disarmed, or weapons are prohibited – so that it doesn’t just become the poor man’s SWORDPLAY.

Among the “thief” skills, ABILITY is the sort of climbing, balancing, leaping, acrobatic stuff for which Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks were famous. ROGUERY is the ability to pick pockets and creep around without being spotted in the style of any famous thief. CUNNING is the preferred problem-solving method of all tricksters: Loki, Odysseus, Cugel, Coyote, and the like.

WILDERNESS LORE, SEAFARING and STREETWISE are all travel/survival skills and are fairly self-explanatory. This is the area in which you are most likely to have to customize the system to fit your own book. You won’t bother to have SEAFARING if you set your adventure entirely in a forest, for instance. Necklace of Skulls replaced STREETWISE with ETIQUETTE.

Of the magical skills, CHARMS and SPELLS both require items and therefore can be a fraction better than other skills. This seems to be so inevitable in the case of SPELLS that I’ve devoted a whole section to it in the snagging list. What is the difference between SPELLS and CHARMS? In essence SPELLS brings about changes, while CHARMS protects from changes. SPELLS usually take a while to cast, CHARMS are quick and easy but less potent. SPELLS have many extraordinary and specific applications; CHARMS work as a more general level of good luck. You actively decide to use SPELLS, whereas frequently CHARMS provide passive defence. Some of the books so far have established CHARMS as giving a degree of danger sense.

The third magical skill, FOLKLORE, should not be overlooked. In a world where magic is real, knowledge of its limitations is power. FOLKLORE can give the character forewarning of perils that he or she can otherwise only learn about by befriending the right person, consulting the right book, etc, meaning that a character with FOLKLORE is more certain to know what they’re walking into. Also, FOLKLORE allows you to reveal some of the less well-known elements of your world background, so that a reader taking the skill gets insights into the setting that they otherwise wouldn’t know.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Love and a sense of wonder

Unless you achieved full consciousness prior to 1977, it's hard to explain what science fiction was like back then. For one thing it was called SF not "sci-fi". And there was none of the Errol Flynn stuff we see today. Well, that's not quite true. There were throwbacks like E.C. Tubbs' Cap Kennedy series. Don Wollheim sent me a stack of those books back in the mid-70s when I'd made a slighting remark about space opera. Little did either of us know that the whole bloody field was about to be set back forty years by George Lucas.

SF was proper, you see. Interesting. Literate. Diverse. Unsettling. Brimming with wonder. I liked it because it stretched me more than the adventure stories I read as a kid. At its best it could boggle the mind and the imagination. The nearest we've got to that these days, outside of books, is Black Mirror.

That's why I like this Kickstarter, In Other Waters, a game by Gareth Martin in which a stranded xenobiologist explores an alien world. That sounds exactly like the kind of perfect science fictional setup that exists on the cusp between the awesome and terrifying infinitude of the cosmos and the all-conquering power of science and reason. Bleak and hopeful, if that makes sense.

The game is relationship-driven, which immediately ticks another box for me, and as well as the game itself backers can get a book detailing the strange lifeforms of this alien world.
I'm slightly wary of recommending In Other Waters because the Kickstarter campaigns I like tend to plummet like Icarus. But Cultist Simulator did okay, so maybe the jinx is broken. This one has a week to run, so if you grok grown-up SF you know where to find it.

And while we're talking crowdfunding, another project you might want to take a look at is Chernobyl, Mon Amour, "a roleplaying game of love and radioactivity set in the Zone of Alienation". I couldn't resist that and plonked my money down right away, so hopefully the Morris Effect won't scupper it. This one is by Finnish designer Juhana Pettersson, who was inspired by a Ukrainian urban myth about a criminal who fled into the Zone and became so radioactive that the authorities had to leave him there.
"You know that there is no return from the Zone. Your crimes are such that society will no longer accept you, and the only thing you have left is the possibility of a new life in the radioactive forest. As you settle into the Zone and meet its inhabitants, you start to yearn for something more. You want love."
Chernobyl, Mon Amour is on Indiegogo, but only for a couple more weeks.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Are you trying to run a country?

People keep asking when Jamie and I are going to write another gamebook, and after twenty-two years we finally have. It’s called Can You Brexit (Without Breaking Britain)? and the story begins on the day in 2017 that the UK gave notice of its intention to quit the European Union.

You play the Prime Minister and you have two years (played out over four six-monthly “game turns”) to negotiate Britain’s future relationship with the union of which it has been a member since 1973. Imagine a divorce settlement after forty-five years of marriage, multiply by a half a billion people, add a poisonous cauldron of political ideology, raise to boiling point with a baying partisan press that's way off to the right of Attila the Hun, and you’ll have some idea of how smoothly those talks are going to go.

In Can You Brexit? there are ten main issues to be negotiated (residency rights for EU citizens living in Britain, security & defence arrangements post-Brexit, the National Health Service, etc) and you only have time to oversee a few of those issues in person; the rest are delegated to your ministers. So you have to manage your time while trying to prevent the four metrics (Authority, Economy, Popularity and Goodwill) from going into a tailspin.

Describing it like that makes it sound dry. It’s not. Think Veep or The Thick of It (or, for older readers, Yes Minister) rather than House of Cards or The West Wing. (Not that those last two are dry either, but you know what I mean.) At the same time, we aimed to make the game part of it informative and factually accurate. Perhaps the best comparison is Private Eye, with its blend of blistering satire, nose-tweaking mischief, and hard-nosed determination to speak truth to power. Jamie did win the 2012 Roald Dahl Funny Prize, after all, so trust me, you'll be entertained as well as informed.

Only hours after our agent sent the manuscript out to publishers he was getting replies that described it as brilliant. One editor phoned up the next day to say she’d read it and thought it was a work of genius. There’s a but. None of London’s top publishers took it – and to explain why an editor’s wild enthusiasm for a book could be shot down so easily by the acquisitions committees that make these decisions I’d have to give you a crash course in how modern publishing works. But here's a typical response that we got a month on:
I loved the idea and I promptly sent it round to all my colleagues. I was particularly taken by the level of effort Dave and Jamie have put into it. Added to which, they write really well (the Yes Minister comparison was a good one). I’m afraid where it foundered for us was the horrible greyness of Brexit itself. The book is very funny but the thought of imagining yourself into running the debacle is enough to make anyone want to hide in a cupboard – so I’m not convinced that the coverage I could definitely see this book getting would lead to proper sales… and I’m afraid they all agreed. So I’m afraid in the end we are going to pass, even though there is something essentially very brilliant about the book. It is a great project that definitely deserves success.
That's publishers these days. Always willing to back something they truly believe in, just so long as there's absolutely no risk attached. Pass me the spittoon. Luckily Jamie and I have our own small publishing imprint, so the fruit of a year’s labour doesn’t have to be cast into a desk drawer. I realize it’s not shotgunning zombies or looting dragon hoards, but if you want to see what a gamebook for grown-ups looks like, this one's for you.

And as an antidote to all those naysayers in publishing, who really just want a TV celeb to offer them a book about cats and Brexit, we got this cheering endorsement from my good friend Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and presenter of BBC Radio's More or Less.
“A wholly original approach to the big question of our times, this book educates, entertains, and also achieves the seemingly impossible feat of making you empathise with Theresa May. It reminded me of Yes Minister: it made me laugh, but then it made me think.”

Also available in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Australia. Find more about it on Gamebook News.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The book with Sig's blessing

Eagle-eyed Fabled Lands aficionado John Jones has spotted an error in the regular-format edition of The Serpent King's Domain. Luckily it's not a catastrophic crash-type bug -- you can still play the book -- but irritating nonetheless. I can only apologize to those who snapped up copies as soon as they went on sale.

The mistake is in section 929 where the negative modifiers for the CHARISMA roll have been missed out. That table of modifiers should look like this:

That only applies to the regular (5" x 8") paperback, not to the large-format (8" x 10") edition with the colour map on the back. And of course, all copies of both editions sold from now on have the modifiers included.

If you already bought the book and were stymied by that section -- well, why don't we say you got to make the roll with no negative modifier? So there's an upside for you rogues and low-rankers. And if you ever encounter me or Jamie and present us with one of the uncorrected copies, we'll sign and certify it as a special "Sig's blessing edition". Deal?

Friday, 23 February 2018

Roleplaying write-ups

I sometimes wonder whether game write-ups wouldn’t be a perfectly good way of communicating the essential ideas in a scenario. Published scenarios, after all, are a format that was really created just to sell books. They’re about as useful for running a game as reading the itinerary of somebody’s trip to Provence would be for having a similar vacation.

And in any case, just as in war few plans survive contact with the enemy, and in software development the design is bound to evolve once coding starts, no pre-written scenario can (or should) be run without adapting to what the players do. If they break it, then great – they’re the heroes; that’s what they’re there for.

With a write-up, you’re getting to see how one group of players tackled a situation. If it inspires the referee to come up with something for his or her group, that’s much better than a list of programmed encounters, because every scenario needs to be customized to fit what’s gone before in the campaign. You couldn’t just take a script written for Hill Street Blues, change the names, and insert it into NYPD Blue. In the same way, published scenarios are selling the promise of something that cannot work.

Here are a couple of write-ups of mine. One is in the form of a comics page for a Tekumel campaign I ran back in 1980. The characters had voyaged to the far side of the continent and found themselves in a deserted palace. They relaxed into unexpected luxury but had a rude awakening when a mechanical sentinel turned up at dawn. (That’s why one of the characters was still in just a tunic.) The “Eye” that explodes is an ancient technological device, probably the Eye of Frigid Breath or the Terrible Eye of Raging Power, given the way that Kinamru tries to use it.

The other write-up (below) is the finale of “The Night of the Jackals”, a published scenario for Cthulhu by Gaslight, though much altered to fit our party by referee Tim Savin. I’ve previously recounted the rest of the scenario. At the end we all got killed and came back to life as regenerating semi-immortals. That was pretty much it for my character, who’d been conceived as a Victorian aesthete, not a steampunk superhero, but this was how I processed that finale. A different player would have had a different experience and come up with a different account of it – but that’s the whole point.

The End of the Affair

‘What chance of a getting a drink now, do you suppose?’
‘Even the orchestra has packed up, but I did find this bottle of whisky rolling around. It’s blended, I’m afraid.’
‘Any port in a storm. By the way, aren’t you Dr Dakkar Singh?’
‘Quite enough of that for one night. Thanks. Well, bottoms up.’
Jaikara. And yes, I am Dakkar Singh.’
‘If we wedge these armchairs here, they won’t slide about too much. I say, I wouldn’t normally, you know, but under the circumstances… I have to ask. Weren’t you mixed up in that business in Hampstead back in the nineties? The soldiers being murdered?’
‘I’m quite sure the papers invented most of it. I do wonder if Stoker got hold of the story for his book. Not the vampire one; the Seven Stars I mean.’
‘A curse, wasn’t it? Mummies and a dreadful blood vengeance business? Look, I can see you’re reluctant, but in an hour it’ll be between you, me and Davy Jones.’
‘I suppose no harm can come of speaking about it now. I was looking into that business, the murders, for the uncle of a friend of mine. We were really just children then. Hardly the foggiest notion of how to conduct an investigation. Though, in our defence, I will say that we weren’t quite as unfailingly clueless as the police.’
‘The fellow in Hampstead who had the mummy – Hollingsworth? The papers said that he’d murdered his own former comrades in order to keep the thing for himself.’
‘Hollingsworth was a victim in the matter, for all that he brought it on himself. I don’t think we can blame him. A lot of otherwise sane men were driven close to something like madness. The real tragedy is that the fire claimed the life of his young son. He just didn’t care what they said about him after that, you see.’
‘How did the fire start?’
‘I wasn’t there for that part. What happened, the previous night the true murderer had called on Hollingsworth while I and my friends were with him. We knew him to have got away with dreadful crimes. He flaunted it in our faces. There was tension. Some of us entertained the possibility of physical violence…’
‘But nothing came of it. Hollingsworth spoke to the man and was persuaded to part with the mummy.’
‘Must have been a forceful sort of person, eh? Some people can do that. Don’t need threats or strength of arms. Their personality alone is enough to dominate others.’
‘That may be true. This man I speak of was a dirty dog without a scrap of principle. He had indeed resorted to violence and intimidation to achieve his ends. And his persuasive powers, far from being the honest result of strong character, were mesmeric and underhand. After he left, we determined to follow him.’
‘You and your friends, you mean?’
‘Benjamin Herzog was a good cross-country runner, a crack shot, and had picked up some sharp tracking skills from an uncle in the Pinkertons. He set off after the villain’s carriage on foot while I and my servant Edwards saddled a couple of horses and followed on a few minutes later.’
‘And your quarry didn’t notice you all filing along behind him?’
‘It was ten o’clock at night, with a thick fog, and they were electrifying the street lights that autumn so most of the old gas-lamps were out. Just as well, as Benjy had possibly had a couple of brandies earlier. He wasn’t on best form that night, put it that way. He told me that a couple of times he nearly ran into the carriage when it halted in the fog. I’d seen Benjy on longer runs than that without getting winded too.’
‘Out of breath, was he? Perhaps that wasn’t the brandy.’
‘Perhaps it wasn’t; we were all very jumpy that night. Anyway, we followed the carriage down to Camden Town where it turned off towards Islington. The roads became narrower and in poor repair. On a shabby terraced street near the Caledonian Road, the carriage dropped off two men and Benjy heard the words, “in the morning”.
‘The carriage went on. We assumed it was still carrying our man, and after a short time its progress in the direction of central London seemed to confirm that, so we returned to the terraced house. You see, we had long ago identified our suspect as having one very tall henchman, whom we called Mr Choker – he did the actual killing – and two other accomplices who he’d told the police were his cousins. The cousins were supposedly touring the country, and thus unavailable for interview by the police, but now we’d tracked them down. Or so we thought.’
‘You alerted the police as to their whereabouts?’
‘That was Edwards’ suggestion. I pooh-poohed it. On reflection it would have just got a lot of bobbies killed. Not that I knew that then, of course. I simply wanted – ’
‘Evidence. Plain facts. But there were no plain facts – not of a kind we could ever present in a court of law.  I had no inkling of that as I picked the lock. I suppose I should describe the house, shouldn’t I? Picture a seedy street north of King’s Cross. Steps lead up to darkened porches. These are dingy terraced houses with peeling paintwork, each occupied by several families or groups of day labourers, two or more people to a single uncarpeted room. The lock on my school tuck shop was far more robust.
‘Once inside, we heard voices from the lower ground floor. Benjy and I crept down the stairs – Edwards was outside watching the horses. I think now that I was as silent as a cat, but Benjy trod on a loose board. Maybe it was the other way round; this was nearly a quarter of a century ago. Luckily Benjy was always a quick thinker. He immediately coughed and began mumbling drunkenly as he launched himself loudly up the other flight to the first floor. I waited, then slipped down the rest of the way to the basement door. From inside came two voices speaking in a language I didn’t know. I try to remember it today, applying my knowledge now. Could it have been Arabic? Quite possibly it was a far older tongue. But time and the mind play tricks, as you know. Nothing I am telling you now is certifiably as it happened.’
‘I understand. But you don’t have to build a case, do you? I mean, this isn’t for a court of law. It’s just between the two of us.’
‘So it is. Certainly I wouldn’t trouble with niceties like evidence now. Back then – I really don’t know. Perhaps we hoped for documents that would prove a link between our suspect and these men. Not a confession, though. We already knew them to be fanatics who would stop at nothing. In spite of that I hadn’t brought a gun. In those days I still believed that to take up the sword meant to die by the sword. That and justice.’
‘Justice, eh? “Ruat caelum” and all that.’
‘I did say that we were tender in years and had not yet put away such childish things. I beckoned Edwards over and found that he had brought along a shotgun. He was Scandinavian, you know. Or possibly Austrian. A big man, though not as big as Choker. We waited till the pubs turned out, and when there were a few people roaming loudly in the street we descended to the lower ground floor room. There was silence inside. No light under the door. I picked the lock.
‘I don’t know if I made too much noise, or whether it was Benjy again, but both men inside were instantly awake. We had surprised them in their beds – well, their mats on the floor. Where you or I might keep a glass of water or a book to read, they had loaded revolvers. Pointed at us.
‘Edwards flung aside his shotgun and ran in. Benjy’s pistol appeared as though by a conjurer’s sleight-of-hand. I, noticing that the second man had fumbled his gun, ran over and aimed a wild punch. It was pretty dark, and I got a solid hit on empty air.
‘Edwards grappled his man, who fired several shots into the wall. Benjy couldn’t get a clear shot. Then the man I was standing over began to change. A veritable metamorphosis, I mean. His bald head separated into hard sliding plates. Spines like those of a stag beetle sprouted on his arms. His body reconfigured as he grew in stature, developing armoured growths like pauldrons. His face – well, I was glad of the poor light.
‘I think now it was a kind of accelerated pupation. Cell division can occur very rapidly if the energy is available. It took the passage of some years to be able to reflect on the experience with such calm detachment. At the time we simply lost our heads. Fright made us like puppets steered by an outside force. Benjy fled, yet I would have staked my life on him having the courage of Horatio. If I’d had my swordstick, perhaps I’d have skewered the creature as it lay there howling and changing. Or perhaps even then I didn’t think myself a killer. Edwards struggled with his man, but a bullet in the arm made him think better of staying. As he and I ran after Benjy, I snatched up the shotgun. At the top of the stairs, Benjy was in such a state that he no longer knew how to open the door. I turned, felt Edwards go by rather than saw him, then discharged both barrels into the stairwell. It did nothing to the creature. I’m not sure if I hit, but in any case its coleopteran armour looked impervious to firearms.
‘We got into the street – I think Edwards simply took the door clean off its hinges. But panic made us run the wrong way, away from the horses. The creature could see in the fog, and it was faster. Best if I draw a veil – ’
‘But what happened? How did you escape unscathed?’
‘Unscathed? I wouldn’t say that. Not unscathed at all. You know The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin – ’
‘No, of course you wouldn’t. Well, that’s the whisky. Now the black waters rise to embrace us. Drowning, they say, is like going to sleep. See the lifeboats there? Little sparks in the darkness. It could be a painting of human hope, eh?’
‘I might have got aboard one of those lifeboats, you know.’
‘Uh-huh. Me too.’
‘Only I was delayed on other business.’
‘As was I. We both had our appointment in Samarra, eh?’
‘Let’s talk of that in a moment. You were going to tell me about the fire.’
‘I wasn’t there for the fire. It was set, I understand, by Ailean Gris. Ironically he was the most perspicacious about our suspect. He unfairly got locked in jail over a weekend for taking direct action against the villain. His only mistake was that the action in question was not nearly bold enough.’
‘Why did he start a fire, though?’
‘Some vague sense. You could call it intuition. He and Tennyson Thurgood had been waiting all night for news from us. When no telegram arrived by breakfast they became agitated. Ailean presumably tried to destroy the mummy, unaware that no weapon in that house could so much as put a scratch on the adamantine crystal of its coffin.’
‘What I don’t understand, the one thing I could never account for… How are you here? Alive. When – ’
‘When you had Choker kill us?’
‘Ah. Well then, plain speaking now. In your final minutes.’
‘Perhaps I died that night, and all the years since then are a long moment’s dreaming. An Owl Creek Bridge experience. But you won’t be familiar with Ambrose Bierce either, Dr Ghul.’
‘Very fanciful. You are still a dreamer, Dr Dakkar Singh.’
‘Oh no, Ghul. That you did kill. My ideals now are as concrete as a million-ton iceberg. You’re welcome, incidentally. All it took was a little misinformation to a radio operator, and the captain fails to make a small course correction that would have carried us a hundred miles south of here.’
‘You didn’t – You wouldn’t doom a thousand innocents just to get me.’
‘The boy I was then would not have done. That’s what you killed. Decency flowers in the hearts of the young, but the old and rich and greedy snuff it out because they cannot bear to think that dreams are better than the meagre ration of reality they allow themselves. The future must not be shaped by those who remember a long past, but by those for whom the world is eternally remade fresh and clean in a new dawn. But I digress – an old weakness of mine. You want to know about that night.
‘As we ran from that house, with the Choker creature on our heels, in all that blind red panic one thing I do remember clearly. Benjy was just ahead of me and I wanted to call out to him and say: Benjy, you were right. For he had thought of killing you, Ghul, right there in Hollingsworth’s study. I saw it in his eyes. You saw it too. But I laid my hand on his shoulder and the moment was gone.’
‘You saved your friend from becoming like me, then. A murderer, as you would say.’
‘Murder? Hardly. He would merely have been putting you down like the vermin you are. He had realized something that I knew too, briefly, when I waited on that rooftop with my rifle for Choker. But I had forgotten it, and Benjy had not.’
‘And that was?’
‘That it was total war. I still imagined the world to be orderly and fair, protected by laws. I had a code that would not let me stoop to your level. And so we entered that basement room with lockpicks rather than a shotgun blast. It’s a mistake I have never made since that night. Now I never give the guilty a chance to surrender. Nor even the innocent, sometimes, as you can see by those lifeboats.’
‘A pretty tale. But you understand nothing after all if you think this ploy is even a minor inconvenience. See this body. It was already old and weak when I took it, and I tire of the pretence of being an Englishman. I look out there and I see a thousand mortal hosts waiting for me to take my pick. You may go down into the dark, but I will not.’
‘That was why you wanted the mummy, wasn’t it? For a long time I couldn’t figure that out. I had simply assumed you belonged to some ridiculous magical cult, but then my own researches uncovered certain facts about the epiphysis cerebri. The pineal gland. That was it, wasn’t it? You told us some fable about the mummy. In life I think he possessed an ability I would now term psionic – the ability to impress his thought patterns upon another’s brain, erasing their identity and imposing his own. And I think it was that gland you sought. By transplanting it into your own cranium, you acquired the power. A kind of immortality, I suppose, if you care only for the mind and not for the self inherent in the body.’
‘Mere transplantation! Can you really have supposed anything so crude as that? I thought you were an eminent biologist, Doctor. Rather I extracted certain proteins from the mummy’s pineal gland which, injected into my brain, promoted the development of those capabilities.’
‘Thank you, Doctor. I merely wanted confirmation that it was indeed a function of the brain. The blended whisky – I would have preferred an Islay – that was so the harsh taste would disguise the neuroinhibitory agent you’ve imbibed.’
‘You’re bluffing.’
‘Reach out. See if you can touch any of those minds you thought were yours for the taking. You can’t. You are locked in that body, Ghul, and that body is for the sea bed. That’s two thousand fathoms – as secure a prison as any crystalline sarcophagus.’
‘You’ll die too.’
‘I would happily do so, if necessary, in order to rid the world of you.’
‘Bah, Singh, you are still an idealist.’
‘I intend to leave the world better than I found it. I suppose that might count as idealism. And leave it I will, when the time comes, not prolong my life indefinitely as you would. It’s time to restore the world as it should be, not this travesty forced upon it by immortal golems who think they remember once being men.’
‘But we could both live. Forever. What if you could have a hundred lifetimes? What could you not achieve? Any one of those huddled masses in the lifeboats. Anybody at all. Think of it – whenever you feel the beat of death’s wing, you could reach out, find a new vessel, drop into the space they fill in the world.’
‘Here is my view of immortality: volvox must die as Leeuwenhoek saw it die because it had children and is no longer needed.’
‘What? I don’t understand. You’re mad.’
‘You called me an idealist. Perhaps you forgot, in the lazy luxury of thinking yourself immortal, that there is no more ruthless adversary than an idealist with only one life to lose. But in fact I have not chosen to waste my death entrapping you. As this ship carries you down into oblivion, I will already be on my way from here. There are others like you that I have to deal with, you see. That’s the road you set me on all those years ago, Ghul. Think of me as the scion of your depravity, a Cronus come to do the inevitable deed.’
‘How? How can you hope to escape? Already the water is lapping over the deck!’
‘I dabbled at poetry, in the days before you destroyed my innocence. And as a poet I had a soubriquet, which I have kept though now it serves me as nom de guerre. You know me as Dakkar Singh, but these days I go more usually by that other name. Nemo.’

Friday, 16 February 2018

"The Temple of the Doomed Prince" (scenario)

I vividly remember the evening I ran this scenario. It was in 1982 or ’83. Mike Polling and Mark Smith had been in my Tekumel campaign at Oxford, and on moving to London I started a new game that included their school friend Jamie Thomson as well as Oliver Johnson, who also role-played with me and Mike at college but only in my Medra campaign.

I can even tell you where we played. It was Yve Newnham’s flat in Edgeley Road, Clapham, and I can remember how Mark read out the entries from the temporal codex and then concluded grimly, “A brave man…”

Nomikaru, who appeared in the published scenario as an NPC, was Jamie’s character before he began playing the much more esteemed and exalted Baron Jadhak hiVriddi. I don’t recall what system we used. This was years before Tirikelu with its tactical choices of full- and half-attacks. I think we must have used was a modified form of Mortal Combat that I’d adapted based on what Prof Barker revealed in correspondence about the (then) forthcoming Swords and Glory rules. We used to use hit location back then, which made the conversion to RuneQuest less arduous than it might have been.

The RQ and AD&D stats included in the White Dwarf version of the scenario were a sop to ensure I could get away with including Empire of the Petal Throne stats too – even though Games Workshop had no interest in EPT, and neither did TSR by then. Because I had the Rune Rites column and an instalment of Castle of Lost Souls running in that issue of White Dwarf (#54, June 1984), this scenario went out under the byline “Phil Holmes”.

The Jalush was inspired by Steve Ditko, by the way, as so many of my ideas have been. On Dr Strange’s first foray into the world of Nightmare he was threatened by the spinybeast, and obviously that left a powerful impression on my young mind because fifteen years later this thing leapt out of the unconscious. It gave the players quite a scare, if for no other reason than that a monster you couldn’t find in the rulebook might be capable of anything.

by Phil Holmes

An adventure for five to eight Dungeons and Dragons or EPT characters of 4th-6th level or RuneQuest characters of 45%-65% weapon skills. Tirikelu characters should have main skills around 8-10th level.

Referee’s introduction
This adventure is based on Professor M A R Barker’s fantasy world of Tekumel described in Empire of the Petal Throne. For AD&D or RuneQuest just assume that the adventure is located in some distant part of your campaign world. Where EPT monsters are used I have reinterpreted these for AD&D and RQ use. I apologize in advance for having to reduce the complexity of Tsolyani religion and moral philosophy to D&D’s simplistic alignment system.

The worship of Lord Ksarul
Ksarul, Ancient Lord of Secrets, Doomed Prince of the Blue Room, Master of Magic and Grammarie, is the god of those who seek knowledge for the sake of power. Long ago, when gods still walked among men, Lord Ksarul gathered his forces and brought these against the other gods in a war for supremacy of the Universe. He was aided by his monstrous servant, the minor deity Gruganu, the Black Sword of Doom. Together these two came close to attaining the ultimate victory they sought, but at last the other gods joined together and defeated Lord Ksarul at the fabled Battle of Dormoron Plain. They stripped him of much of his power and then imprisoned him in a place between the planes of existence – a chamber of flickering azure light where Ksarul is sunk in deep stasis-sleep. Even the dreaming mind of Ksarul is still powerful, however, and thus he guides the loyal Gruganu (who escaped his master’s fate) in an effort to find the Ten Keys of the Blue Room which will free him to wreak vengeance on all the gods.

The priesthood of Lord Ksarul (who wear smiling masks of silver, black velvet robes and a mortarboard-shaped head-dress) is very highly organized and secretive. But despite their theoretically ‘evil’ aims, many of the priests are simply dedicated men of learning, respected scholars and physicians. In D&D terms most of the Doomed Prince’s followers are thus Lawful Neutral in alignment - although there is a small inner clique of zealots, the Ndalu Society, who devote their lives to the search for the Ten Keys and whose methods and alignment are definitely Evil. [Ugh – how it pains me even after all these years to have to leave those lines in! – DM]

The Goddess of the Pale Bone
This should be revealed at the appropriate time only to clerics, Lhankor Mhy Initiates or EPT characters with the scholar skill. The Goddess of the Pale Bone is one of the Pariah Gods, an utterly inimical and Chaotic deity whose worship is almost universally proscribed. Her few followers are the sort of psychotic outcasts who give Chaotic Evil a bad name; human sacrifice is the least appalling of their activities.

By chance one of you discovered some information concerning a temple to Ksarul located in the Do Chaka Protectorate, a region far to the west. The records you have looked at show that the temple was founded in the year 2157. (The year is now 2361). Another brief reference, dated 2270, states that the temple was abandoned during the reign of the Emperor Heshtuatl (sometime between 2168 and 2234) and that the priests’ exodus was apparently so hurried that most of the temple relics and treasures had to be left behind. You set out at once.

Your journey west has brought you over a thousand miles – much of this along the Sakbé roads, huge raised causeways twenty feet or more in height and up to fifty feet across. You left the Sakbé road three or four days ago and travelled north along the River of Red Agates towards the mountain range known as the Atkolel Heights. Through a pass you have come to the village of Mandir, nestled at the foot of impressive cliffs. Somewhere beyond – only a few miles away now – lies your goal


The Village of Mandir
The sun is low over the western hills as the party approach Mandir. In the north, storm clouds gather. The village consists of about thirty houses - low wooden buildings with many-sided totemic pillars at each corner supporting roofs of black tile.

The party are greeted formally by Tulkesh hi-Nraga (surnames carry the ‘hi-’ prefix.) Tulkesh, a slightly-built man about forty years old, is village headman and senior member of the Clan of the Advancing Shadow, a foresters clan which traditionally reveres Lord Ksarul, to which more than three-quarters of the villagers belong. He is quite affable towards strangers – particularly if the party includes Ksarul worshippers – and will invite them to dine with him and stay for a few days. No payment is expected unless the party presume too much on the villagers’ hospitality.

Also at dinner is a strange young man called Nomikaru hi-Teteli, the local priest of Lord Ksarul. As soon as the meal has begun he starts to chew hnequ weed (a narcotic) and becomes by turns either vague or abstractly argumentative. He is in fact a disgraced member of the Ndalu Society, who chafes at his demotion to lowly village priest.

Tulkesh will freely answer any questions. Mandir was settled by pioneers from the east two hundred years ago. The temple that the players are interested in was founded at about the same time, but it appears to have become deserted only a half-century later. Tulkesh is not sure of the details – just that the priests abandoned the place after a number of unexplained events. One story he has heard is that the priests were later attacked and killed by outlaws as they made their way back to the Sakbé road, so a full report was never made. From time to time since then there have been mysterious disappearances, and nowadays people try to give the temple a wide berth.

Nomikaru adds that there are probably Hra and Vorodla (see below) guarding the temple compound, and will relish describing these creatures to the ignorant. The party may choose to look around the village before heading for the temple. If so, they will certainly encounter Major Chengath hi-Lantau, a retired army officer who carves and lacquers decorative wooden screens. He will carve a screen to order for 200 kaitars / 100gps / 200 lunars.

Getting There
The trail from Mandir into the hills is steep and overgrown, and now quite arduous after a recent storm. There is a steady, grey drizzle and the skies threaten further storms, for this is Shapru, the month of rains.

The whole trek takes about seven hours for a moderately-burdened party. This assumes ten minutes’ rest each hour. The last part of the journey involves trudging up a particularly steep and muddy path, and characters who don’t take a ten minute break at the top will fight at -1 for the next hour owing to fatigue.

Temple background (for the referee only)
Although founded ostensibly as a centre of worship for the people of Mandir, its major value to the priesthood of Lord Ksarul must have been as a spiritual retreat; an isolated monastery where priests could conduct their studies and research without disturbance from the factional disputes common within city temples. A number of Hra and Vorodla were provided by the funders of the temple, the Society of Blue Light, a faction devoted to pure scholasticism and opposed to the Ndalu Society.

Unbeknownst to the temple founders, the caverns below the shrine were used millennia ago by devotees of the Goddess of the Pale Bone. In fact this was the root cause of the troubles at the temple, as will become clear.

The abandoned temple
As the party approach, the temple’s ruined state becomes clear. Some time in the past the gatehouse was shattered by lightning, charred, and then rotted by the elements. The stone wall around the temple compound has collapsed at several points. The paving stones within are cracked and subsided, the buildings are tangled with vines and in disrepair.

Dominating the temple is the twenty-foot pyramid on which stands the shrine dedicated to Lord Ksarul. Just as the party pass through the ruined gate, dark, winged shapes rise up from here and the colonnade below, soaring aloft and then swooping down to attack.

These are Vorodla, guardians of the temple. There are seven of them:

RQ: 5-point armour; HP10, 11, 12, 13, 13, 14, 15; Move: 6/12; POW: 13; Sword (1d8+1+1d4 and exposure to Soul Waste), SR7, 45%.
AD&D: AC5; HD4; HP12, 18, 21, 10, 15, 22, 23; Move: 6”/24”; 1 attack for 1-8 +20% chance of energy drain.
EPT: AC5; HD4; HP1O, 14, 16, 9, 12, 18, 19; 20% chance of level drain.
Tirikelu: Melee 19, 1D10+3, hit points 11 [-/-/-], armour 3/2, Evade 8, Mag Res 13.

Notes: Vorodla are winged undead; dead warriors restructured and reanimated by the arcane sorcery of the priests of Lord Ksarul. They fight fanatically until cut apart, and must then be burnt or they will regenerate and rise up within two turns. By night, or in pitch darkness, Vorodla fight at +2 (RQ: +10%). There is a 20% chance that a hit by one of these creatures will lower the victim by one experience level (RQ: exposure to Soul Waste. Tirikelu: a wounded character makes a Psychic Ability check at +4; failed roll costs 1 from Psychic Reservoir and requires another check (this time at +2) after one hour; each failure reduces Psychic Reservoir by 1 and necessitates another hourly check, with the modifier diminishing by 2 each time; stops when the character either succeeds in one of the checks or has had Psychic Reservoir reduced to 0). AD&D: Vorodla are turned as wights by priests of Ksarul and as ghasts by other clerics. (On a ‘D’ result, a priest of Ksarul has a 35% chance of bringing the creature into permanent, if grudging, service.) They are Neutral (evil).

Because it is heavily overcast they attack at + 1 (RQ: +5%) even during the day, unless one of the characters uses weather control or the like to dispel the clouds.

The Library
The roof has fallen in at the western end - many of the books are rotten and worm-eaten, but three sealed Chlen-hide (bronze) chests have preserved the most important books in excellent condi–tion. There is also a scroll of necromancy and the grey hand (AD&D: hold monster and disintegrate; RQ: scroll giving 10% increase in Knowledge skills; Tirikelu: Command Undead and Speak With The Dead spells inscribed by a scholar with +8 in the Necromagy phylum) written in the Tongue of the Priests of Ksarul. The real find, though, is the temporal codex of the temple - the daily record of events. The entries of interest deal with the months Hasanpor and Shapru of the year 2215:

13th HASANPOR, 2215
In the midst of preparations for the coming ceremony, two priests who had climbed down to the forest to collect sauqun flowers for the festivities went missing. One crawled back into the temple compound in the early hours of this morning, bloodied and tattered. His tongue had been ripped from his head. Ministrations proved ineffective and he died without providing an account of what had befallen.

15th HASANPOR, 2215
The Eventuation of Holy Pavar was commemorated. The celebration was more muted than in previous years owing to the absence of four of the six slaves prepared for streblosis. These four must have escaped just a few hours before dawn, but their means of egress from the temple precincts is by no means apparent. None of the other slaves seems to have witnessed the escape - a story which they maintain even under diligent torture. It remains a mystery.

27th HASANPOR, 2215
Archdeacon Ishankoi hi-Reshlan has disappeared – spirited away, so to speak, in the middle of the night. Magical means have been employed in an effort to contact him, to no avail. His Holiness the Archimandrite has sent word via Mandir to the Palace of the Realm in Khirgar. Ishankoi has always seemed a stable fellow, and it is difficult to believe him capable of such dereliction of duty as to go missing only hours before the Returning of the Mantle of Blue.

29th HASANPOR, 2215
Those of us who thought ill of Ishankoi have had cause to revise our judgement since his mutilated form was found in the Lower Shrine shortly after lunch. Who can have performed this horrible deed? Recalling the fate of Shrakan and Elvaru earlier this month, one is forced to the conclusion that some monstrous being has come up from the forests. In spite of the heavy rainfall, Yugao hi-Ludum insisted on taking another message to the runner in Mandir.

3rd SHAPRU, 2215
The heavy storms of the last few days continue unabated. Tekketal hi–Kuroda has gone missing. One can only hope he has not suffered the fate of Ishankoi. Yugao hi-Ludum suggested at dinner that these strange events result from an incursion of Shunned Ones from the forest, and is himself preparing a note to this effect to send to the Omnipotent Azure Legion in Khirgar – though some of us believe it would be more seemly to first inform the Temple at Mrelu.

6th SHAPRU, 2215
Tekketal’s corpse has been located in the Hra pit, mutilated if anything even more gruesomely than Ishankoi. To some extent this was due to several of the Hra having mistaken his body for an exotic item of their diet. Further, two acolytes have gone missing.

8th SHAPRU, 2215
Goduku hi-Raitlan has now vanished, along with his personal servant. On the orders of His Holiness, Yugao hi-Ludum used mediumship to communicate our troubles to the Temple at Mrelu. We are assured that investigators have been despatched.

9th SHAPRU, 2215
Like one who is infected with the eggs of the nkek-worm, we have suffered from a traitor within! Yugao hi–Ludum has been uncovered as the source of our woe! Along with two young acolytes he has been worshipping at an ancient shrine to the terrible Goddess of the Pale Bone in the caverns below our temple. After a few minutes of careful questioning he lapsed into a ghastly calm which he retained even when flayed alive. After this his heart was cut out and the corpse flung into the catacombs where he had his shrine. The acolytes were similarly treated, but spoke freely of a baleful influence which called them to the caverns. They died more insane than a Hli’ir. Our troubles are at least now at an end.

10th SHAPRU, 2215
After the Visitation of the Dormant Lord, His Holiness the Archimandrite was found to be missing. A thorough search of the catacombs uncovered his butchered form, treated not unlike that of Yugao. No magic could resurrect him. Moreover, there was no sign of the carrion deposited in the catacombs only yesterday.

11th SHAPRU, 2215
Two more were found dead, and those who remained have been forced to evacuate the temple. Apart from a few slaves only! remain, for l am too infirm to travel far. land the slaves keep to the library now. I have released the Hra and even the Vorodla in the temple precincts, with instructions to attack even those robed as priests of our Supreme Lord. The Vorodla accommodate themselves to such orders with relish, of course, but the Hra seemed dully reluctant. It is tempting to think of this as a sort of loyalty, but I know that the spark of true reason has jaded from their dead minds and it is only the illusion of thought that I perceive in them. The rain is a heavy curtain in the courtyard. Once or twice I thought I glimpsed a figure out there.

12th SHAPRU, 2215
There is food for only two more days, but I do not think it will come to that. I have had an idea for a treatise on the ethology of the Hra. A pity I will never get the chance to write it.

There are no further entries.

The Shrine
The roof of the shrine is of a sturdy, black-lacquered wood which has suffered little from time and the elements. There are steps up the south side of the pyramid. The doors are locked.

1. The Outer Shrine. There is an altar stone of blue marble against the north wall, under a silver crescent moon and azure beetle - one of the insignia of Lord Ksarul.

2. Side-chapel. Behind a locked bronze grille is a small shrine to Ey’un, Knower of Skills, the aspect of Lord Ksarul to whom this temple was particularly dedicated. There is a small steel (AD&D: platinum; RQ: iron) statue of the skeletal Ey’un. This is worth up to 150,000 kaitars / 75,000gps / 150,000 lunars, although it would be considered an act of terrible sacrilege if anyone less than a Cardinal of the priesthood of Lord Ksarul were to remove it from the shrine. AD&D players should not be given its full XP value, if it is taken. (It should be worth about 3,000XP).

3. Steps lead down within the pyramid.

4. A landing. The steps continue down and there is an archway to the east, from the chamber beyond which issue forth four Hra:

RQ: 6-point armour; HP20, 21, 22, 23; Move: 8; POW: 14; Sword (1d10+1+2d6), SR7, 75%; will regenerate unless slain by magic; can detect life at no POW cost.
AD&D: AC4; HD7; HP31,28,28,24; Move: 12”; 1 Attack for 4-11.
EPT:    AC4; HD7; HP24, 22, 22, 20.
Tirikelu:  Melee 22, 1D10+4, hit points 30 [-/-/-], armour 6/2, Evade 5, Mag Res 18.

Notes: These huge (7-foot) undead warriors are sometimes used by the priests of Ksarul as temple guards – but only in the lower catacombs, as they cannot stand the light of day. They are turned as spectres except by priests of Ksarul, who turn them as wights and gain permanent control of the Hra on a ‘D’ result. (Tirikelu: a priest of Ksarul can stop a Hra from attacking by making a -5 Theologian check) Even if completely hacked apart in melee, a Hra will reanimate after two turns (Tirikelu: one hour) and pursue its opponents; it has the tracking abilities of a ranger (RQ: detect life; Tirikelu: 15th level Hunter). In appearance Hra are gaunt and grey, seeming much like a wight. After killing their foes they drain them of all blood and bodily fluids, leaving only a shrivelled husk. If dispelled by a cleric or slain by a paladin with a Holy Sword, the Hra is completely and permanently destroyed.

5. The Lower Shrine. A chamber of black stone, intended for the more sacred and secret rituals. There is a crescent moon symbol inlaid in polished quartz shards into the floor.

6. The stairs end. A locked bronze grille bars the way.

7. Antechamber to the Inner Shrine. Each of the double doors to the east bears the Bound Claw emblem on panels of beaten silver.

8. The Inner Shrine. An effigy of Lord Ksarul, carved of black wood and masked with silver, lies on a couch studded with blue mosaic. He holds a silver staff topped with a large sapphire cut to resemble a beetle. The whole room is faced with blue marble.

The mask is worth about 200 kaitars / 100gps / 200 lunars; the staff, 150,000 kaitars / 75,000gps / 150,000 lunars. The same applies as with the statuette of Ey’un in the side-chapel above.

A search of this room will reveal lines of faint scratches on the floor running between the couch and the east wall. If the couch is lifted up slightly it can be slid aside to reveal a pit. This requires a combined strength of 150 (AD&D/RQ: 28).

The Caverns below the Pyramid

These caverns were a centre of worship for the sect of the Goddess of the Pale Bone centuries before the eastern pioneers colonized the area and built their temple to Lord Ksarul. The only worshipper here now is Yugao hi-Ludum, the treacherous priest of Ksarul mentioned in the extracts from the temporal codex.

9th level cleric; Str: 16; Int: 11; Wis: 10; Con: 15; Dex: 11; Cha: 13; AC6; HP50.
Equipment: Shield +3*, Lucern hammer +1*, Wand of Fear (2ch)
Spells: 1st - Curse, command, cause light wounds, sanctuary.
2nd - Hold person, know alignment, spiritual hammer (x2).
3rd - Cause blindness, cause disease, dispel magic.
4th - Cause serious wounds, poison.
5th - Commune.

9th level priest; Str: 89; Int: 55; Con: 81; Pow: 60; Dex: 52; Com: 1; AC5; HP38; (+2 hit, +2 damage).
Equipment: Shield +3*, Warhammer +1*, Excellent Ruby Eye (6ch), Eye of Allseeing Wonder (31ch).
Spells: Basic MU skills to Nature Control.
I - Fear, plague, shadows.
II - Cold, creatures, the hands of Kra the mighty.
Ill - Doomkill, the silver halo of soul stealing.
(*These items are only magical when used by Yugao.)

STR: 16; CON: 15; SIZ: 11; INT: 11; POW: 18; DEX: 11; CHA: 13; HP16; Defence:5%.
Equipment: Medium shield, warhammer (iron); special powered crystal which gives protection 3 at all times.
Spells: Befuddle, demoralize, disruption, bludgeon 3, darkwall, invisibility, (repair, detect life, silence, extinguish, mindspeech 3, dispel magic 2).
Rune Magic: Shattering, blinding, shield 3, summon small shade.
Skills: Combat skills 55%; stealth 55%; perception 80%.
Allied Spirit in bone talisman: INT: 11; POW 15.

Melee 16, 1d10+1        HP: 14 [3/5/8]         Mag Res +27
19th level Ritual Sorcerer                        Spellpoints: 300
Ceraunics +7
Guarding +6
Malediction +9
Necromagy +7
Psychethesis +3
Vallation +6

Yugao’s life-force has been sustained all these years by the power of the Goddess. He presents a grisly spectacle, still in the state that his erstwhile comrades left him – flayed to the waist, his skin hangs like a kilt leaving an upper torso of raw flesh and sinew, a skull-like mask of a face with lidless, staring eyes. There is a gaping hole where the priests tore his heart out. Most of his abilities now derive from his deity and so he should be treated as a priest (AD&D: cleric) as indicated above. Outside the caverns Yugao’s life would ebb away at the rate of one hit point a turn.

Besides Yugao the caverns hold another danger – the Jalush, a creature which has guarded the Goddess’ fane for hundreds of years. The Jalush may be a unique, demonic creature or it may be the last survivor of an extinct species. It has six limbs, walking on the back four and using the forelimbs for grasping and striking. It has an outer integument, smooth and ivory-pale, with sharp clusters of spines at its joints. It stalks with the slow, precise movements of a praying mantis and strikes with a scorpion’s vicious speed; any NPC of 4th level (RQ: lay member) or less has a 15% chance of fleeing in terror if suddenly confronted by it.

HP28; Move 8; POW 20; Talons (1d8+3d6), SR4, 95%
Right hindleg (01)                 10/9
Right foreleg   (02-04)           10/9
Left hind leg   (05)                 10/9
Left foreleg     (06-08)           10/9
Abdomen        (09-10)           10/10
Chest               (11-12)                        10/10
Right arm       (13-15)                        10/9
Left arm          (16-18)                        10/9
Head               (19-20)            10/10

AC0; HP54 (from 11 dice); Move: 12”; 1 attack for 4-24; Neutral Evil.

AC1; HP44 (from 11 dice); Move: 12”; Other notes: see below.

Melee 30, 1D10+6, hit points 44 [9/16/23], armour 6/3, Evade 9, Mag Res 24.

Any character hitting the Jalush has a chance of being scratched by its poisonous spines: 15% if the character is AC5 or less, increasing by 1% per AC point above 5. If the character fails his saving throw he loses 5 EPT points of constitution (AD&D: 1 point) at once and a further 5 EPT points (AD&D: 1 point) every two minutes. This continues until the character is dead or the poison neutralized. This can only be accomplished with the Ineluctable Eye of Healing (AD&D: Keoghtom’s Ointment or full wish), and even this will not reverse the damage! The poison also causes 1-3 hit points permanent damage whether or not the character makes his saving throw! Nothing short of Divine Intervention will heal its effects. 

RQ: the character must make his luck roll to avoid the spines. The poison is potency 15, and if it overcomes the character’s CON, he should be considered to have contracted the terminal form of Creeping Chill disease. If the poison does not overcome the character’s CON, he merely loses 1 point permanently in the scratched location. 

Tirikelu: Anyone striking the Jalush must roll their armour value or less on D6 to avoid being scratched by the spines. If scratched the character loses 1 point of Stamina every two minutes until they die or the poison is neutralised with Detoxify, Invigoration, or an Eye of Healing. Lost Stamina is not regained without a Restoration spell or a charge of the Eye of Regeneration.

The Jalush has a saving throw of 6 against all spells, technological devices, etc. It has keen senses and moves almost silently despite its size: it surprises the party on a roll of 1-4 on d6 and is itself surprised only on a roll of 1 on d10.

For any encounter in the caverns, roll d6:
1-3       the Jalush
4-5      Yugao
6          Yugao and the Jalush

Of course, Yugao is always somewhere in the caverns. Have the party encounter him in the Goddess’ fane if they haven’t run into him before then.

9. Low chamber. There is a drop of about twenty feet from the floor of the Inner Shrine down a narrow shaft which opens into the roof of this cave. The climb down is not difficult. A tunnel slopes gently downwards from the south-west part of the chamber. The sound of running water can be heard.

10. Underground stream. This dries up in summer, but at the moment is in full flood. The stream is 4 feet at its deepest point.

11. Secret ‘door’. A boulder conceals the narrow passage. It takes a combined strength of 85 (AD&D/RQ: 16) to roll it back.

12. The Goddess’ Fane. This cave is taller than most of those here and seems to have been enlarged by excavation at some time in the past. The walls have been stained white and covered with squarish crimson designs. There is a rough altar, a natural table of rock, to the south-east. On this is a rough, pitted idol of light grey stone, depicting a globular being with six thick, curving legs and the face of a thin-lipped woman.

Anyone touching the idol will receive a fleeting but horrible vision: a tall, unsmiling woman dissolves into the repulsive apparition of a torn, rotting monstrosity – the woman’s head, shoulder and right arm – flying through illimitable darkness towards the viewer. She wields a great warhammer and seems to be shrieking in rage with her hair streaming as if in a wind. However, there is no sound.

After a moment this vision fades; the idol will not affect a character more than once. Removed from the fane, it loses this power.

13. Skulls and broken bones, the Jalush’s victims over the years. There is a 4’ wide shaft in the floor of this chamber, set with many razor-sharp chips.

If a character manages to get down the shaft he or she will feel a sense of tremendous premonition, as though on the verge of a great discovery. Rather than merely telling the player this, the referee should try to create a mood, to heighten the sense of significance. Describe the dank air at the bottom of the pit, the rasping of the character’s own breath in the stillness, the rough wood of the torch in his hands, its heat on his face... There at the bottom of the shaft lies a 6” sphere with a stylized eye-symbol inscribed into it, seeming to watch the character. When the character picks it up it feels almost icy cold, and remains so even if heated. Though it seems to be made of grey marble, it cannot be cracked or damaged in any way.

This is one of the Ten Keys required to free Lord Ksarul, presumably concealed here by one of the followers of the Goddess of the Pale Bone. It cannot be detected as such by magical means, and only a great scholar could identify it for certain. Nonetheless, anyone who sees it will have some kind of ‘sixth sense’ as to its importance.

14. Cave entrance and waterfall. The stream emerges from the cliff face. The forest is a hundred feet below. From here characters can see Lake Ngusinaa stretching to the west and, mistily through the continuing drizzle, the great mountain peaks in the north. There are a number of ledges and handholds which make the cliff an easy climb.

After the adventure
For those who like to loot, there’s about 900 kaitars/450gps/900 lunars in cash distributed around the temple – mostly in the bursary strongbox in the administration building, but some also in the private quarters.

If the players take the temple relics (the statuette of Ey’un, etc) then they had better be careful about where they sell them if they don’t want the priests of Ksarul as enemies. Even if they return the relics to the priests, the latter may still view the removal of these items from the temple as questionable or even sacrilegious. The optimum course would be to leave the relics in place and bring back a Cardinal from the priesthood to recover them. The priests of Ksarul will give about 25% of the relics’ value as a reward to their discoverer.

If the party show the Key to Nomikaru hi-Teteli, back in Mandir, he may try to get it from them so that he can take it himself to the priesthood. This is not to say that Nomikaru will recognize it as being one of the Ten Keys, merely that it is an interesting artefact which could help him to ingratiate himself with his superiors.
Trivia: This scenario was slated to appear in a different version in Questworld, the supplement that Oliver Johnson and I worked on for Games Workshop. I drew the monastery and a cutaway of the shrine in 3D view, and sketched out some of the book spreads like the one below. The accompanying notes to the artist read:

"The main spread [for this scenario] shows the protagonists' first view of the monastery after climbing up the mountain path. It is heavily overcast and there is a curtain of fine drizzle. Hovering in the sky over the ruined monastery are seven winged creatures ('corposants')." 

So that's what would have been instead of Dragon Warriors, if things had turned out differently.