Monday, December 30, 2013

Rory's Story Cubes and the Lost City of Akkarod

I got a fun present over the holidays, a set of Rory's Story Cubes ("Voyages" edition).

These are a set of nine regular (six-sided) dice each with a unique and evocative image on it. They are designed to be used as a storytelling game, with several variants.  I am mostly interested in using these as a game aid.  Pretty much every image would work great as D&D adventure fodder.  To give you an example, the die shown above with an octopus (Cthulhu!?!) face up has five other sides as follows:  a city with tall towers capped by minarets; a large jewel on a necklace; a crab; what looks to be a giant talking to a normal person, or perhaps a normal person talking to a miniature person; and a shield.  Another die, shown with a treasure map face up, also has a crown, a raygun, a whip, a snake, and what looks to be an explosion.

Just for fun I thought I would roll the dice and come up with a quick adventure from the results to post here - here are the results I got:

Looking at my results, I arranged them as shown above and decided the telescope was a magical item that revealed the location of the city.  Animated T-Rex skeletons guard the approach to the city.  The strange sun looking symbol I decided was the badge of office worn by the Sun Lich, the leader of the city.  He used magical potions to transform the inhabitants of the city to cannibal apes.  The sun lich is seeking a great treasure hidden below the city, an alien space ship and its high tech treasures.  Fleshing out those thoughts a bit further, we get...

The Lost City of Akkarod (story cube adventure) 

(this adventure assumes that a desert exists in the campaign world - it does not have to be close to the PCs present location)

The Telescope of Nichbod the Moon Lich:

The adventure starts with the PCs coming into possession of a collapsing brass telescope, exceedingly well made, covered with runes, with crystal lenses that glow softly at night with a green light. The telescope radiates strong magic.  If looked through during the day the telescope is completely black and reveals nothing, but at night the telescope will always allow the viewer to see a fabulous city of slender towers and golden minarets, which seems to be bathed in moonlight.  Only the city will be visible, and looking in any other direction will again result in blackness.  The city will be visible through mountain ranges or other physical obstacles, and will be visible at any distance.  The ornate runes are hard to identify but a knowledgeable sage could at least note that they appear to be a very early form of one of the desert languages.  If read through magical means, the runes identify the telescope as the creation of Nichbod the Moon Lich, the city as "Lost Akkarod" and the rest of the runes appear to be invocations of protection against Soleus the Sun Lich.  If identified, the telescope has several properties - first it will always reveal the direction to the lost city of Akkarod, second it prevents any form of magical scrying from being used against the telescope's wielder while the telescope is being looked through, and third it grants +1 to saves vs. Magic to anyone carrying it.

Desert Rumors (about the city of Akkarod or the liches Nichbod and Soleus):

Akkarod Rumors (d10, add +1 to +4 to the result if the source is knowledgeable on the subject of ancient cities)

1-2: Akkarod once was the richest city of the desert before being swallowed by the sands, and untold wealth was buried with it. (TRUE)
3-4: Akkarod is a fairy tale city supposedly inhabited by cannibal apes, used to scare children from wandering out into the desert  (TRUE)
5-6: Akkarod sank beneath the earth in a great earthquake and vanished without a trace as a punishment for the greed of its inhabitants.  (FALSE)
7-8: Akkarod is the mythical home of the fountain of youth and the Garden of Paradise - it is not of this world.  (FALSE)
9: Akkarod was consumed by a pillar of fire as punishment for withholding sacrifices to the old gods (FALSE)
10: Akkarod moves around the desert, tempting onlookers with its golden minarets, but it is a magical illusion that only lures people deeper into the desert (FALSE)
11: Akkarod was a walled city built around a famous oasis, the largest permanent water source in the deep desert. Many believe it to be a myth but it is mentioned in the old clay tablets that recorded the tributes of the first kings - it was located in the middle of a vast region of the desert with no other water sources.  Most knowledgeable sages agree that the  likely cause of the city's "disappearance" was simply that the oasis dried up.  (TRUE about the city, but FALSE about the cause of disappearance)
12:  The gardens of Akkarod are mentioned in some old ballads and epic poems, supposedly many unique magical plants grew there including the famed Moon Orchid that only bloomed under a full moon and whose fragrance was a powerful aphrodisiac.  The waters of the Akkarod Oasis cause even normal plants to take on magical properties, and the alchemists of Akkarod were known far and wide for the many potions they created with the magical water and plants.  (TRUE)
13: Akkarod was ruled by a council of liches who attained great power over the centuries, but eventually infighting amongst the liches doomed the city.  (TRUE)
14: Akkarod was ruled by a council of liches who attained great power over the centuries by controlling trade across the desert.  They demanded a fee from all caravans, and it was widely believed that they used their magical powers to bring doom upon those who attempted the dangerous desert crossing without stopping at the oasis of Akkarod.  A little known account of the great trader and explorer Sambalor details his last expedition to Akkarod - he reported that the famous gardens had been destroyed and all the workers of the city were engaged in digging a huge pit in the center of the city.  He was supposed to meet with the lich council as normal in the morning to pay his tariff before taking his wares to the market, but instead left the city hurriedly when a number of his caravan disappeared during the night, strange tracks revealing that they had been drug down into the pit by something monstrously huge.  (TRUE)

Moon Lich Nichbod rumors - only a wizard or sage specializing in arcane magic would know any of these (d4):
  1. Nichbod was one of the lich kings of Akkarod, specializing in the gentle magics of love and nature. He bore the title of Moon Lich, meaning he was the second ranking member of the lich council that ruled Akkarod. Nothing has been heard of Nichbod for centuries (TRUE)
  2. Nichbod  was a master of the undead and some believe that the rumors of huge skeletal monsters in the desert are proof that Nichbod still exists (FALSE)
  3. Nichbod was an illusionist who enjoyed luring people to their doom with illusions of great splendor (FALSE)
  4. Nichbod perished centuries ago at the hands of a rival (TRUE)
Sun Lich Soleus rumors -only a wizard or sage specializing in arcane magic would know any of these (d4):

  1. Soleus was one of the lich kings of Akkarod, specializing in necromancy and illusions (TRUE)
  2. Soleus is an aspect of the sun god (FALSE)
  3. Soleus bore the title of Sun Lich, meaning he was the leader of the council of liches.  He was the Sun Lich when the city Akkarod disappeared (TRUE)
  4. Soleus perished centuries ago at the hands of a rival (FALSE)

Approaching the City

If the telescope is used to locate the city, it indeed lies deep in an area of the desert with no water sources, sheltered within a ring of mountains. Any expedition must be properly outfitted with enough food and water to last the journey.  Desert encounters could include scorpions, giant sand spiders, caravan raiders, were-hyenas in human form pretending to be weary travelers, territorial lizard men, a brass dragon, chimera guarding a tomb, or more as needed.   A circular ring of mountains surrounds the low-lying basin where the city sits.  The mountains are not high but they are extremely steep on the descent down into the basin, and unless a roundabout route is carefully planned, several vertical cliff faces will have to be navigated.  The cliffs are riddled with caves, many of them connected into several large cave networks.  There are several passages that lead all the way to the caves under the city of Akkarod  (see The Great Pit below).  Once in the basin normal encounters become rarer and the most common encounters are either a group of cannibal apes (stats as a gorilla, a hunting party going to or coming from the mountains to bring back meat for the other apes in the city,  some of the apes wear clothing and armor and wield huge longbows that do 1d12 damage and two-handed swords that do 3d6+4, while most appear much more animalistic and attack with claw and fang) or an animated T-Rex skeleton (statted as the dinosaur, -2 HD and with the usual undead resistances and vulnerabilities - there are other kinds of animated dinosaurs as well but the T-Rex are the most commonly encountered in the basin). If tracked, both the apes and the skeletal dinosaurs appear to come from the city.

The Lost City of Akkarod

A massive ring of rubble surrounds the city, up to a hundred feet wide and nearly fifty feet tall in places.  The walled city itself is covered with a great and nearly impenetrable illusion that makes it appear as a rocky outcropping.  The illusion is so powerful that saves to disbelieve it are made at -4.  In addition, another enchantment makes it very difficult to approach the city during the day - within one mile of the city, a save vs. Magic at -4 is required every turn spent moving closer to the city, and failure results in disorientation and traveling the wrong way. Using the telescope at night to find the main gates is the easiest way to gain entrance, although there is a lot of cannibal ape activity around the rubble ring at night (see the Great Pit below).  The main gates into the city appear as shadowy caves in the rocky outcropping.

  The city is laid out in concentric circles, with the outermost and largest circle being the apartment style housing of the lower class laborers and servants, the next circle being the individual houses of artisans and skilled laborers, the next circle being the large villas of the merchants, and the innermost and smallest circle being the high towers of the nobility .  The houses and apartments of the first two circles are built wall to wall with no gaps, only pierced by the four main roads that radiate out from the center of the city to each of the cardinal directions.  Portcullis gates manned by cannibal apes block these roads at the first and second circles.   In the very center of the city (which used to be lush gardens and the famous oasis) lies a gaping and very deep pit.  The towers of the nobility are all sealed and contain many undead and rich treasures (slave quarters on the first levels of the tower, reception halls and dining halls next, then the personal apartments of the nobility above).  The rest of the houses are occupied by cannibal apes (really the polymorphed former inhabitants of the city, enslaved by Soleus, some of whom still cling to a vestige of their former humanity which most of their comrades have lost over the centuries).  The houses of the merchants contain much wealth, but the rest of the dwellings do not.

 The apes mostly sleep during the day, although there will still be some guards in the city and patrols going out into the desert.  Any prolonged combat will quickly draw the attention of more apes, and possibly other , more nefarious agents of Soleus (see the Great Pit below).  At night, the bulk of the apes descend into the pit to continue the excavations.  The apes that have lost their humanity are filled with anger at their servitude to Soleus, but they are completely incapable of resisting his commands.  The apes that still cling to humanity are capable of disobeying the spirit if not the letter of Soleus' commands; they seek the overthrow of Soleus and a return to human form, and could be allies if convinced that the party shares these aims.

The Great Pit

The upper levels of the pit have been lined with stone to prevent it from caving in, and two stone stairs spiral down the outside of the pit from the north and the south.  It is over 2000' feet deep and growing deeper - An intricate system of pulleys and buckets, powered by apes walking around a gear, hauls rubble up from the excavations.  Apes haul sledges to the ring of rubble around the city at night.  200' down, the pit is deeper than the surrounding sands and retaining walls are no longer needed to keep it from caving in.   Many tunnels extend out from the pit at different levels below this point, some leading to Soleus' lair (a series of immense caverns hewn out of the rock containing a metal clockwork construction built atop huge gears, with the rooms slowly and constantly shifting in relative position to each other as the gears rotate), some to the tombs of his undead followers (wraiths and vampires along with their ghoulish minions) and still others are natural caverns  in an area of ancient limestone that contain many dinosaur fossils (the source of the skeletons that Soleus animates as laborers and guard beasts).  Some of these caves are linked to cavern systems in the mountains but the way is long and twisting with many forks.  Trogledytes and stranger dwellers of the darkness live in the far flung cave networks.   The lowest third of the pit is chipped out of a dark blue, glassy obsidean-like rock with no passageways leading out.  The bottom of the pit is flooded with 50' of water, in which giant Anklyosaurus and Triceratops skeletons work to smash more of the glassy blue rock and extend the pit even farther down.  Drinking the water requires a save vs. Magic to avoid polymorphing permanently into a cannibal ape (Soleus corrupted and twisted the natural magic in the source of the old oasis, which is actually in the layer of limestone caverns above but trickles down to fill the bottom of the pit).  Greater ghouls armed with flamewhips oversee the apes as they haul rubble out, and one or more of the vampire lieutenants direct the skeletal dinosaurs.  The dinosaurs labor day and night but the apes only haul out the rubble at night.

The Glassy Core

Long ago... (pick one in keeping with the tone of your campaign - for me it would be A or B)...    
A:  Soleus discovered evidence of a large meteorite impact that formed the ring of mountains and the basin in which Akkarod sits.  He seeks to dig down through the fused rock covering the meteorite itself and uncover an intact alien spacecraft.  Soleus discovered some high tech artifacts that were scattered during the wreck, including a small escape pod and a trove of laser blasters that he outfits his lieutenants with.

B: Soleus discovered evidence of a large meteorite impact that formed the ring of mountains and the basin in which Akkarod sits.  He seeks to dig down through the fused rock covering the meteorite itself and uncover a demon of unthinkable power that is imprisoned in the meteorite.  The demon made mental contact with Soleus ages ago and made a bargain to grant Soleus dominion over the entire world in return for freedom. 

C:  Soleus found two artifacts from the fabled city of Karod, which was buried in a lava flow from the ring of volcanic mountains.  The artifacts are a staff and a robe of great power which elevated Soleus above the other liches, but they are linked to a crown which is still buried below and which has possessed Soleus with a maniacal drive to uncover it.
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