Traveling through a remote and deeply forested area, barely explored and lightly populated, the heroes encounter many small woodland villages where the leather-skirted people give harsh glances and few words of welcome.
In one tiny ring of hovels along the road, they are informed by a helpful native that the villages in this area are unfriendly because they live in fear and that the Great King’s soldiers police this area rarely and poorly, if at all.
This same native takes the heroes aside and informs them that the villages in this area have been repeatedly ravaged by Smukan raiders from the northeast, slavers, and (this in a whisper) the soldiers of the God From The Stars.
When pressed to speak of this mysterious god, the villager offers this:
'To the east, where the forest meets the mountains, there is an ancient temple. It was here before the Great King came to rule us, it was here before my people came here. It was here before we drove the Nish clans from this forest. It was there indeed before men walked these forests- I suspect that it was built when only dark things dwelt here.'
He looks around, as if suspicious that spies might be overhearing, and continues. 'In this temple dwell many who have fallen under the sway of the evil cult that reigns in this forest. They worship a great deity which is loathsome to look upon, but which makes them roll and twist with pleasure with its presence. This god is called R’gu, the God From The Stars. Our warriors captured a few of their fighters once, and we learned from them that this creature, R’gu, comes to the temple to be fed by the priests every fortnight. The fighters claimed,' once again, a surreptitious glance over each shoulder, 'that their God is mightier than all other gods and fills the body with pleasure. They claim that someday, R’gu will take them away to the Stars to live in his Resplendent House. And they say that housed within the temple to the East is a sign of R’gu’s power, a great, flawless ruby, the size of a fist, called the Ruby of the Winged Master.
The heroes’ interests are piqued. After all, there is great fortune to be had in this! Not only the price that Imperial garrisons will pay for the heads of dangerous cultists (a 'peacemaking purse', as the proverb goes), but imagine the peerless price of a flawless ruby the size of a fist! Surely, the trouble cannot be that great to brave a few raving cultists with blades in a crumbling ruin.
They embark into the forest, following old, disused trails and hacking their way through dense thickets. They are trapped on high ridges by sudden rainstorms that send muddy floods bursting through the knife-edged ravines, and haul their armor and weapons up steep, brush choked slopes.
Before long, with the sun setting orange and bright behind the snow-glinting peaks above, the heroes sight the grey roofs of a structure standing above the treetops. It is of strange make, unlike any architecture the heroes have ever seen, covered in bizarre and loathsome carvings which seem unpleasant and even repulsive for reasons that they cannot explain.
As they watch, they realize that out of the forest small groups of people, dressed in robes and leather skirts like the villagers, surreptitiously approach and enter the gates of the walled temple, quietly and cautiously greeting each other.
Night falls. The sound of thin high flutes and drums is heard. A ceremony is begun, and so must the storming of the Altar of R’gu.
Room One: Entrance And Guardian
The heroes have breached the outer wall of the temple complex and snuck past (or dealt with) the temple guards. Stealing silently through the quiet, empty structures of the Star-God’s temple, they arrive before the inner wall of the shrine. A set of great steps, lined with bizarre carvings of alien beings, ascends through the wall to the inner temple on the other side.
Standing on either side of the stairway are guardians perhaps less easily dealt with than the cultist warriors who the heroes have previously encountered.
These hulking creatures, vaguely manlike in shape, have thick, grey-purple skin ridged in parallel rows (resembling that of a bizarre alien cactus) culminating in a thick, low knot between the creatures shoulders rather than a head. Their bodies are studded with numerous tiny, jewel-like eyes that shine wetly in the flickering light from inside the inner wall, and are scaled in sections with swarms of tiny scars that resemble worms crawling up their corduroy hides. Both creatures are armed with great curved swords. Squatting loathsomely by the stairway, their posture and body motions seem blasphemously reminiscent of a very young child’s. These beings are heedra, vat-born creatures of the magic of the Elder Days.
The heroes have options; they could theoretically sneak around the sight of the guardians and climb the inner wall at some other point, risking discovery by other guards and being spotted by the priests on the inner wall. But if they decide to fight these inhuman guardians, they will find that they are immensely strong (despite their clumsy swordwork- they swing their huge blades like clubs or logs) and tough; in addition, minor wounds are ineffective- the vat warriors’ purple-blue ichor bubbles and fizzes in the air and scars over these wounds. Only catastrophic damage (such as intense butchery of the central head cluster or disembowelment) will kill the sorcerous abominations.
Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
They now stand atop the inner wall, looking down into the great Plaza Of Ecstasies, where a great mass of cultic worshipers, streaked with sweat, dirt, and holy red dust dispensed in earlier rituals (this dust is a potent hallucinatory drug activated by the sweat of the celebrants’ bodies), are carrying out the sacred orgy. Across the courtyard from the heroes, at the top of the cyclopean steps of the temple, two shaven-headed priests, naked save for the black spirals painted on their bodies, wail out prayers to R’gu in high, reedy voices, accompanied by the thin, dissonant wailing of pipes and the hypnotic beat of a great drum. The whole scene is illuminated by the flickering light of the roaring bonfires on either side of the temple’s great brass doors, worked with intricately-interlocking spirals and tendrils. Strange and unwholesome glyphs are carved into the lintel of the great doors.
'Let it be known!,' screech the priests (slightly out of synch with each other in an eerie echoic fashion), 'The Great One rises tonight! The Lord Of Ages even now awakes from the Well Of The Stars, to shed ecstasy from his wings! Let the Celebrants revel in the sacrament of worldly pleasure!'
One priest steps forward, gesturing at the crowd with strange scepter. 'I invoke the Powers of the Yellow Daughterstar of the East! Arise, oh Great One!'
The second opens his hands wide. 'I invoke the Powers of the Blue Daughterstar of the South! Arise, oh Great One!'
The heroes need to cross the courtyard and get to the temple on the other side. The sweaty mass of naked celebrants below them are in a deep, drug-induced sexual/religious ecstasy and would be oblivious to the heroes’ presence. The problem, obviously, are the priests standing atop the steps. How to solve this problem? Simply strolling around the inner wall to the temple, they will be spotted by the priests and captured by the temple guards. As before, there are options- they could theoretically sneak up to the bonfires that light the courtyard and douse them, throwing the ceremony into darkness and chaos; they could strip down and pretend to be celebrants themselves (this would, however, deprive them of their equipment). Or perhaps (hopefully) they will devise their own, unique solution to the problem.
Room Three: Trick Or Setback
The heroes pass through the great, glyphed bronze doors and into the temple. The darkness and silence are oppressive, and an indescribable stench, accompanied by a wave of sick, damp heat, assault the heroes. There is a low, irregular buzzing, like flies swarming on a corpse.
Suddenly, the heroes’ limbs feel heavy. Their every step seems weighed down with lead. Their bodies are dull with exhaustion, and they feel thick and drowsy. Their vision blurs. Finally, no longer able to press on, they collapse to the cold stone floor.
A harsh, reverberant voice, with a hint of noisesome clicking and buzzing, echoes out of the darkness above them. 'Mortals trespass in the tabernacle of the God From The Stars. Did you not know that this place was forbidden?'
The heroes are lifted to their feet by cold hard hands. Their limbs and ankles are bound. Their drowsy eyes make out only blurry figures who clutch them. They are too weak to resist.
The voice continues: 'No matter. The ceremony is disrupted, but the God still answers our cry. You are fortunate, mortals. You shall witness the arrival of the Ecstasy From Beyond. The God shall be hungry from its journey- you shall make an excellent supplement to its ordained feast.'
They are pulled through the thick, smoky darkness and up a short set of steps. They are thrown to the chilly pavement, and footsteps move about them as some sort of ritual is performed in total darkness and a strange language is invoked. The strange, insectile voices that speak the words surround them, and press down on the heroes’ ears like a buzzing, hissing wall of pain.
Suddenly, the darkness is swept away as another set of doors are opened. The baleful orange light of the bloated full moon slashes through the thick darkness like a blade and illuminates the incense-hazed interior of the temple.
The heroes lie on a high dais below this door. At the opposite end of the temple, the great bronze doors swing open and the celebrants (assuming that the heroes did not kill or scatter them) begin to swarm into the chamber. The heroes realize that scattered across the stone floor of the temple are rotting corpses, sometimes in piles of up to four. Strange insects like dragonflies with nine wings, and swarms of flies, coat the corpses, which the celebrants pick up and dance with or copulate with the sorry cadavers in religious ecstasy.
Some of the heroes witness what beings they are who have captured them and are intoning this ritual. Resembling at first greyish, bent human beings, these beings, clad in silvery robes marked with black spirals, are reciting magical formulae over a strange object, not an altar, but rather shaped like an enormous needle, made out of an iridescent blue-chrome metal, set into the ground in a great array of strange ridged cylinders and boxes strung up with cables and tubes. All parts of the apparatus are coated in strange small extrusions, ridges, whorls, and odd shapes, marked with sharp, webbed glyphs in small cramped blocks of writing. The priests anoint the thing with oil and also with thick congealing blood which they smear on its parts, dimming its jewel-like cleanliness. It is an item of ancient magic, for purposes unknown, it’s needle tip pointed out the doors and into the night sky.
It is then that the heroes realize that the priests are not human at all, but some kind of tall, bipedal insect, their man-like bodies clad in shimmering grey-black carapace, with their four-fingered hands (black and cold like skeletal claws) gesturing strange and alien symbols in the air in the process of the ritual.
After the exhibition of various sacred objects of a bizarre and profane nature, the ritual reaches its climax. A young woman, her naked form daubed with shimmering paint in blue-black spirals, is dragged twitching and moaning from the crowd of petitioners. She is anointed with clotted blood and dragged beyond the device out onto the portico of the temple. Without much further ado, one of the insects produces an exceedingly ancient stone knife from its robe and unceremoniously slices the woman (still moaning and caressing herself) open from throat to navel, thin red blood pouring forth to pool around her twitching, sluggishly kicking corpse on the cold stone of the altar.
The insect-priests, their deep cowls hiding their forms from the drug-stupored celebrants, raise their voices in a buzzsaw cacophony of prayer towards the ceiling of the temple chamber. A group of nude human priests, their bodies marked with spirals, emerge from the alcoves of the temple and join them. The crazed dramatics of the ceremony suddenly cease as the entire temple shakes from its foundations to its top. The celebrants and human priests fall to the floor, pressing their faces to the stone in obeisance. The loathsome insects drop jerkily to their knees and point their arms towards the silvery device, rythmically buzzing and clicking (presumably praying in their own language). The machine begins to vibrate, and strange flashes and glimmers of light race along its surface. A thin high whining sound, which seems to scrape the inside of the heroes’ skulls as if it were within their brains, rises throughout the chamber, combining with the buzzing and clicking of the insects and the chanting of the priests. Then, abruptly, a breathless silence bursts upon the temple as the device releases a burst of blinding light which shoots off into the night sky like a blazing meteor. Sound slowly returns as the heroes here a keening noise, pulsing out into the air beyond the temple and towards the stars. Some of them realize that thin trickles of blood are running from their noses or mouths.
The chanting has ceased, and now the only sound to be heard is the gentle keening which soars away into the night air. The bound heroes see a strange shadow which seems to emerge from the distant skies.
Room Four: Climax Or Big Battle
Then they see it. Drifting, almost tranquilly, through the dark skies, visible only as a blot of darkness, it soars towards the temple’s portico.
Like a surreal nightmare, the God reveals itself. The dark shape grows to enormous sizes nearing the temple. The worshipers and priests further abase themselves as it descends eerily silent to wrap itself around the great stone platform of the temple and stretches its great, twitching, fan-like wings to their greatest extent, blotting out the stars, each panel of bizarre skin shuddering. The towering amoebic shape, composed entirely of infinite curtains of tentacles seeming to have the their nexus in a central point on the creature’s 'top' (essentially giving it an appearance not unlike a tentacular comet with wings), is crowned with circle of six small (relatively; they are roughly the size of human legs) many jointed horn-antennae, the surrounding ribboned flesh studded with thousands of tiny, blood-red jewel-like eyes. Sections of its leprous green integument are coated with hideous shining black barnacle-like scales and sections of horns and hooks. Rubbery branching limbs that resemble horned coral (or failed tentacles) hang limply from parts of its body. The whole creature gives off a stench of sick, wet decay and at the same time, of sweet-blooming flowers.
The whole thing never ceases to move- dreamlike and seemingly without gravity its tentacles drift, shift and curl around each other; its wings flex and stretch; its antennae flex outward and inward as if through respiration. The creature is ominously without sound.
Their minds can scarcely encompass the extraterrestrial madness of this mooncalf abomination. What sorcery produced this insane sky-creature? What nightmare pit spat forth this sick horror? The sight of the abyssal deity tempts some to madness.
This blasphemous abomination is The Ecstasy From Beyond, The Star-God itself, R’gu. Behind them, they hear hundreds of worshipers scream out in unbelievable pleasure (some screams last on and on and become unbearable until they choke away, these petitioners having died in ecstasy); they see the insect creatures begin to convulse, twitch, and drool hideously from their alien mouthparts.
The insects rise to their feet, bowing in the presence of the extraterrestrial deity, and begin to haul the heroes toward the being. As they leave the roof of the temple and enter the chill of the night air, the heroes begin to feel a strange mental pulse, and their bodies begin to experience a sensation of utter pleasure. Some with weak minds may succumb to a state of ecstatic bliss, unable to resist the power of the Star-God. Others harden themselves against it, resisting its otherworldly call.
The insect priests cut the heroes’ bonds with knives and scuttle back from the stone porch. Serenely, the Star-God lowers its central head, a thousand tiny gem-like eyes shining liquidly.
As if they are in a dream, the heroes (their bodies filled with twitching jolts of pleasure) watch as the creature’s enormous tentacles snake into the temple around them. They watch as the twitching insect priests fall to the floor and are snatched up and dragged towards the creature’s head, which opens up into a vast maw in the semblance of a great flower of hideous small feelers and tiny segmented arms and claws, dragged buzzing and hissing into the alien darkess of their god’s body. Then the tentacles begin to select petitioners from among the crowd and drags them (catatonic or wildly screaming) likewise to be torn into bloody shreds in its chasmic mouth.
If the heroes have the willpower and the speed, they can shake off the creature’s ghastly shocks of ecstasy and dash away from the thing to where the priests have dumped their gear in an alcove at the foot of the stairs.
Of course, the heroes have no chance to slay the Star-God, and only the slightest of chances of even wounding it notably. But they can, indeed, drive the creature away by severing and dismembering the forests of its writhing limbs. It is a titanic fight, and the creature supplements the attacks of its tentacles with bursts of immobilizing pleasure and beams of mind-shredding sound so concentrated that they can be seen as a faint glowing ray in the air (should one of the heroes be struck by these screaming rays in the head, consider them dead, their brain punctured and their mind destroyed; some of the heroes’ minds may also be broken by the waves of ecstasy sent off by the creature).
If the heroes should survive with minds and body intact through the onslaught of slithering limbs and mental assaults, they find themselves standing panting upon a befouled platform, surrounded by tubular chunks of tentacles and pools of thick black fluid that reeks of mold and attar; even as they watch, this alien ichor begins to congeal and strange frilled fungus springs up from it.
With the same eerie and otherworldly grace with which it descended, R’gu disentangles from the temple, with an air almost of sadness. Its wings spread to sky-darkening fullness and it releases an atonal dragon scream that squeals away into the air in a thousand ear-bleeding tones. It’s vast maw opens and encased in a steaming clot of hair and rotting flesh it pukes forth a great shining stone- the Ruby of the Winged Master!
Then, with a mighty beat of those wings, it soars away into the night, the severed stumps of tentacles boiling forth new arms even as the heroes watch it disappear into the empty starlight.
Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Or Plot Twist
The heroes turn to face the temple, soaked in blood and sick ichor (which they must scrape off their armor and weapons), holding the gigantic crimson stone puked forth by the God, and are astonished to find that some of the worshipers who had orgied did not flee when the battle began.
One by one, each naked, drug-crazed cultist marches up the stairs and touches the heroes, feeling their clothing and armor and touching the ichor and blood on their skin.
The first of them falls to his knees, and with shaking hands cries out to the others:
'The prophecy is fulfilled! The Sacred Ones Clad In The Blood Of The Star-God! The Bearers Of The Ruby Of The Winged Master! They shall lead us to The Resplendent Abode Of The Ecstasy From The Stars!'
The cultists fall to their knees before the flabbergasted heroes, and begin to chant:
'We worship you, great ones… We worship you, great ones…'
Do you want Strolenati super powers? Registering. That's how you get super powers! These are just a couple powers you receive with more to come as you participate.
It's a 5-room dungeon. Very convenient module for working out an adventure, actually.
Nice Lovecraftian flavour there, Cap´n. Me´sa likes it...
5/5 I wonder if the fungus itself is dangerous? That creature reaches 10/10 on the ewwwwwwwww scale.
Well that's up to you. If you like, part of the rewards of the quest could be the hideous poison derived from the fungus, or perhaps it is useful in alchemical brews, or perhaps it grants intense healing powers (akin to R'gu's regeneration of its tentacles)... But who knows?
So rich, so brutal, so melodramatic. Well done indeed.
I was in ecstasy reading it. Freakin' awesome.
It's certainly a good 'un. The monster's stellar (booooo!), and the plot twist was a good one too.
A bit disturbing - it might need a bit of an advisory at the start for puritanical North America, but apart from that minor quibble, a stellar post!
A good sub, I heartily agree with Cheka Man on this one.
Wow, that just kicked ass.
BUMP. This is a great one! Kudos, Cap. HoH
Well, this dungeon rocks. A lot. Its got that great mix of travel (hinted at in the begining), problem solving, and really fun combat that marks an excellent night of rping. The plot twist at the end also provides a ton of potential grist for more adventures. After all, what group of players can't find some use for a temple-full of pyschoticly devoted pleasure cultists?
-.5 for not citing the heedra as being from Hayao Miyazaki's 'Nausicaa'.
A Google search for Heedra reveals a few things:
'Heedra was an Imperial Moff who governed Baxel Sector, which was located in the Outer Rim Territories, during the height of the Galactic Civil War.' - From Wookieepedia, a Star Wars Wiki.
Heedra = Hindi for 'neither male nor female'
And... There are 1 people with the name Heedra Perezchica in Texas.
Oh yeah, let's not forget Captain Penguins obvious inspiration -
Powerful, biologically-engineered warriors (possibly with mechanical additions) from before the Seven Days of Fire. While not capable of destruction on as vast a scale as the God Warriors, they are far more numerous and easier to maintain. Heedra are extremely strong and difficult to kill; they can only be killed by destroying their 'core', apparently located in the head just behind the uppermost of their three eyes, or blasting a Heedra into pieces. The cloned bodies of the Dorok Holy Emperor and the Master of the Garden are also referred to as Heedra, suggesting the name may in fact be a catch-all term for genetically engineered humanoids.
Have you seen Nausicaa Pieh? :)
Yes, I have. Well... the opening credits. Something about skateboards and Mayan temples. I know they featured a clip from it in the Malcolm in the Middle opening credits.
I could be mistaken. I am pulling this knowledge from an ancient part of my memory that involves a VHS tape stolen from the Mystery Train. Skateboard and Mayan temples, that's all I need to know.
Whoooo-Boy! That was incredible. I only had one gripe, and that was the seeming ease of which the players were described to be captured. It honestly felt like a little bit of a railroad, but I'm sure none of my players would mind given the amazing story this tells. I fear to run it, not for my soul or sanity, bit I do not think I possess the skills to execute it properly and do it justice.
Oooouh! Is this todays highlight? Might as well be, I have yet to comment on this. I have read it maybe seven times and I have it in my favorite list. Its just about time that I comment as well.
This is very CP, the story, the names, the combat, the whole thing. It rings of the great three, LSH. I also enjoyed the twist in the ending very much and the 5 room format works very well for the story. This is for me; "one of those that stand out", just like "The House of the Yellow Priest", or the wilderness dungeon.
::Stamp of awesome::
Most excellent. And very Lovecraftian, as has been said already.
Personally, Cap's the guy that made me wanna join in the first place. #HeroWorship
*Brain matter now decorates the ceiling*
Beautiful, lovecraftian, and mysterious. the only thing I didn't like was how the PCs were automatically captured. So, I'd give it a -0.5 for that.
5.5 - 0.5 = 5.0 because Cthulhu ftaghn.
Cap'n o' the Penguins! Come back, back I say!
Always enjoy reading your stuff.
A classic CP.
Large in scope, lovecraftian flair of beauty and what a great ending. I can see the heroes inwardly swearing...now what!?
I thought the capture was a but abrupt too. But easy enough to make subtle, with so much going on, somebody would yell out that there are intruders and then they can be zapped, easy fix.