Many moons ago we discovered the Ziggurat of Rhissel the Morning Lord. Finally we have arranged the backing needed to explore said structure, lost until recently in the Valley of the Red Apes.
This classic-feeling Dungeons & Dragons adventure is not for the faint of heart nor those new to exploring the lands of the Fallen Empire. I would not allow any below level 5 to join my expedition. But there are many who seek out the treasure of the Morning Lord, and I would be a fool to not bring along those who could aid in this endeavor. This journey, however, is truly best suited for those between levels 6 and 8.
The stories of Rhissel, the Morning Lord, are known across the lands, although sometimes his name changes. It is said that he fought with great mind magics against invaders from another realm, harnessing even the sun itself to strike down his enemies, and sometimes his friends. His great might was indiscriminate, and his armies were rarely safe from the devastation his magics brought to the battlefields.
In time, like most who stood against the other realms, Rhissel was slain and his body and supposedly some of his great magics were entombed in his ziggurat. But in this day and age, few know of it’s location, and fewer still are willing to mount the months-long expedition to find it.
The Valley of the Red Apes
Beyond the long trip and uncertainty of actually finding the ziggurat at the end of said, the valley itself is the biggest deterrent to exploring the Ziggurat. Known as the Valley of the Red Apes, the forest valley is infested with these massive carnivorous beasts ( AC:6, HD:5, Mv:120 (40), Att:3, Dmg:1d4/1d4/1d8, Sv:F5, M:10 – special: if both 1d4 damage claw attacks strike in the same round, the victim suffers an additional 1d8 damage; surprised 1 in 6 ). Fully a dozen of the beasts live near the Ziggurat, and others are prone to enter the valley in the constant warfare between the various ape tribes in the region. Every hour spent in the valley has a 1 in 6 chance to encounter an additional 2d4 Red Apes.
The main home of the Red Apes in the valley usually has half the tribe present (1d4+3) while the others are either out raiding, searching and hunting for food, or otherwise scouring the valley for anything interesting. In the centre of their communal nesting area are the remaining scraps of a poor elf who found his way to the valley seeking treasure. All that remains of interest is a belt pouch containing 50 pp, and a fine silver scroll tube (500 gp value) containing a treasure map. The treasure map leads out of this valley and into the next, where a pair of massive standing stones indicate the location of the buried treasure. A few feet under the heavy earth is a locked steel coffer with a magical trap that explodes as a 6d6 damage fireball if it is opened without using both the proper key and also giving the command word in the process. Within the coffer are a pair of gauntlets of ogre power.
Fortunately, the Red Apes have a superstitious fear of the Ziggurat itself, and none will enter it, nor even set foot upon the lowest stone of the structure.
Perhaps after we explore the Ziggurat proper, we will have the time and material to properly explore and document the Valley of the Red Apes – hopefully in a week’s time or so.
The ziggurat proper is an old and abused 4-step stone pyramid showing the marks of the ages squatting in the centre of the valley. There is a single entrance facing to the east seemingly cut into the top tier of the pyramid, like a single eye socket in a dead god’s skull. Each step of the Ziggurat is just over 12 feet tall, and no stairway has been added to access the opening at the top.
In addition to the visible entrance at the top of the Ziggurat, there is a secret door almost exactly in line with it on the ground level. This secret door is very difficult to find as it is not only concealed very cleverly into the stonework, but it is also completely concealed behind vines and bushes. Only once the vines are at least partially removed will it be possible to find the door. Opening the door requires pushing on both the lower left and upper right corners of the door at the same time (requiring two people), at which point the door slides backwards into the face of the pyramid, opening into Section C, area 7.
Ziggurat Interior – Section A
The entrance to the ziggurat shows the signs of the ages and of lack of care. Debris blown in during storms litters the floor. Stone stairs lead down into the pyramid proper, overlooked by a dark alcove.
The stair lead down to Section B and are as debris-strewn as the open-air chamber above.
The alcove is home to the skeleton of an unlucky elven adventurer chased into the ziggurat by the Red Apes below. He triggered a deadly spear trap that impaled him to the wall – a warning to those who would follow in his tracks. His chainmail is shredded by the iron spears, but his belt is intact along with his sword and pouch. The sword (named Eternal Hunter in elven script along the blade) is a magic long sword that provides no bonus to hit or damage, but that heals the bearer of 1d4 damage whenever it is used to slay a sentient foe. Within the pouch are 100 pp covered in in a slow-acting contact poison (save vs poison or suffer 1d6 damage every turn for 1d6+6 turns).
If the sword or coins are taken from the skeletal corpse, it will animate as a skeletal hunter ( AC:4, HD:8, hp:49, Mv:90 (30), Att:1, Dmg:1d10+2, Sv:Elf8, M:12 – special: +2 to hit and damage due to great strength; can cast Bestow Curse once per day) to pursue those who have stolen from it. This animation takes place several turns after the remains have been disturbed, and the skeletal hunter will follow the party into the Ziggurat and beyond to reclaim it’s treasures. It’s best to have it turn up just as the party is finishing another fight, or is otherwise not expecting the dead elf to turn up.
Ziggurat Interior – Section B
The stairs from above turn to the right and then to the right again after another dozen steps. At each landing there is a single stone door recessed into the heavy stone block walls. The doors open outwards onto the landings, The litter on the floor is significantly reduced compared to upstairs. The stairs continue down into Section C.
Area 1 – The Stone Angels – Along the walls of this room are sculptures representing Rhissel the Morning Lord throughout the eight ages of his life – from a cherubic child to an ancient warrior priest – with some artistic license (the wings for instance). Anyone entering the room without first singing the praise of the Morning Lord or the rising sun will release these stone figures from their bondage and they will leap out to destroy the intruders ( AC:5, HD:4*, hp:17, 19, 22, 16, 27, 19, 20, 23, Mv:90 (30), Fly:150 (50), Att:3, Dmg:1d4/1d4/1d6, Sv:F4, M:11, Special: Silver & Magic weapons to hit; immune to sleep and charm ), only to be returned to their bondage when they are done picking through the bodies of their foes.
In the alcove in the north end of the room is a secret compartment in the floor. The compartment is trapped with a sleeping gas that fills the entire room (save versus poison or be rendered unconscious for 1d4 turns). This is the perfect time for the skeletal hunter to show up. Within the secret compartment are three brass coffers, each locked with an ornate lock that required a key in the shape of the holy symbol of the Morning Lord to open. The first coffer contains 2,000cp and 2,000ep. The second coffer contains 4 500 gp gems that carry a curse – anyone with one of these gems on their person suffers a -2 penalty on attack rolls and saving throws. The third coffer contains 10 +1 crossbow bolts (seemingly made of gold, and decorated like beams of sunlight) and a potion of clairaudience.
Area 2 – Preparation Chamber – This chamber contains a single large (3 foot across) brass basin on a two-foot stone plinth, with stone benches built into both the east and west walls. Within the basin is a bright water, glowing with the light of the sun (basically a continual light spell on the water). The water ceases to glow if taken beyond the preparation chamber. Anyone anointing themselves with the liquid sunlight is healed of 1d8+5 damage and will emit a faint glow with intensity roughly equal to that of a candle for 1d4+1 days. Any water elemental summoned in this room has 7 hit points per hit die and deals double damage to summoned and extra-planar creatures.
Area 3 – Alcove of the Grand Priest – The master of the ziggurat lived within this small chamber to welcome and prepare those who sought the tomb of the Morning Lord. The priest is long dead, and the furnishings of his small alcove have decayed over the ages. Within his bookshelves are a pair of scrolls of interest – one is a treasure map, the other a clerical scroll of continual light, bless, remove curse and snake charm.
Ziggurat Interior – Section C
There are two accesses into the depths of the ziggurat – the stairs down from the surface leading through A and B (and leading into area 4) and the secret door from the ground level of the ziggurat leading into area 7.
Area 4 – Trapped Landing – The landing at the bottom of the stairs is a mosaic of bright coloured stones that looks like a winged human in the middle of the sun blasting fire down upon dark and tentacular beasts. The mosaic is partially covered with leaves and debris blown in down the stairs from above. At the back of the alcove at the base of the stairs is another mosaic of the sun this time with four small niches set in it – two of the niches contain 1,000 gp diamonds, and two are burned and scorched.
Anyone stepping onto the landing at the base of the stairs (or who tries to skip the landing by jumping from the stairs through the archway into area 5) who has not been anointed with the liquid sunlight in area 2 has a 4 in 6 chance of triggering the magical trap. The trap triggers both a wall of fire (as the spell) across the entrance archway to area 5, and a blast of light that makes all within the alcove and stairway on this level make a save vs petrification or be blinded for 1d6 rounds. Finally, it summons an invisible stalker ( AC:3, HD:8*, hp:38, Mv:120 (40), Att:1, Dmg:2d6+2, Sv:F8, M:12 ) to slay the interlopers. It will start with those that do not glow from the liquid sunlight, but will then hunt and slay any companions it saw with them when the trap was triggered.
Triggering the trap consumes one of the diamonds from the wall mosaic.
Area 5 – False Tomb – Beyond the trapped archway is a large chamber decorated with four massive 9 foot tall statues of soldiers of the Morning Lord. One of the statues seems to guard an extension of the room beyond which is a massive sarcophagus.
The walls of the entire area are set with small (4″ x 4″ x 4″) alcoves at a height of five feet, each set two feet apart. Each little alcove contains the stub of several candles that once lit this room.
The ornate black stone sarcophagus shows signs of having been attacked with some sort of tool to open it in the past, but the massive lid is firmly in place. Removing the lid requires a successful open doors check at a -2 penalty (-4 if no appropriate tools can be found and brought to bear).
Within the sarcophagus is a simple wooden coffin within which, in turn, is the skeletal remains of a man in ornamental golden plate mail wearing a massive golden medallion studded with rubies (1,700 gp value). (This is not actually the body of Rhissel, but of one of his priests, slain in battle near the time of the Morning Lord’s destruction.)
The secret door to area 6 is triggered by reaching into the small alcoves cut into the wall on each side of the door and pushing upwards. The secret door then slowly slides into the floor.
Area 6 – Secret Tomb – Beyond the secret doors lies the ever-undisturbed memorial to Rhissel the Morning Lord. As with most who battled the otherworldly foes, he was not just slain, but fully consumed and destroyed by the forces of chaos, and then remade in their image. However, this tomb was built to commemorate his life and death, not the twisted remnants that perhaps stalk between the world boundaries.
The secret door to area 5 is easily seen and opened from this side.
As soon as the tomb is entered through any of the three archways, the two crystal pillars light up with unearthly intensity (dealing 1d6 damage per round to any undead in the chamber) and a ghostly yet brilliant apparition of Rhissel the Morning Lord will appear between them. If approached with anything but immediate attack, roll a reaction check for the party (applying the leader or speaker’s Charisma modifier to the check). He then disappears, only reappearing if a new party arrives with no one from a previous party, and only then if he still has not given up his amulet.
- 2 or less: Rhissel curses the party, giving them a -2 penalty on all saving throws until the curse is removed. At his feet a chest appears containing 5,000cp.
- 3-5: Rhissel tells the party that he would like to help them, but his powers are long dispersed from this plane of existance. The best he can offer is a chest that appears at his feet containing 5,000gp.
- 6-8: Rhissel blesses the party, granting them +1 on all saving throws for one month, as well as bringing forth the chest with 5,000gp.
- 9-11: Rhissel offers the Amulet Of Morning to those seeking his aid. This golden amulet allows the wearer to cast continual light 3/day, striking 2/day and wall of fire 1/day. It appears atop the chest containing 5,000gp.
- 12 or more: In addition to offering his amulet and chest of gold, Rhissel blesses the party, granting them +1 on all saving throws for one month.
Area 7 – Secret Entrance – This secret entrance is easily seen and opened from the inside. However, like the front entrance to the tomb, it is trapped both physically and magically. Each person stepping on the floor on the inside of the secret doorway has a 3 in 6 chance (1 in 6 for halflings and similarly slight folk) of triggering a heavy spear trap that deals 4d6 damage as four iron spears on a metal rack are slammed into the victim. Stepping past this trap (or jumping over the detected pressure plate) activates the second trap that creates a burst of magical fear. Anyone within 30 feet of the triggered trap must make a saving throw against spells or run in fear from the Ziggurat for 1d4 turns. Further, said persons cannot re-enter the ziggurat through this entrance without succeeding at another save vs spells.
Like this map and adventure? Check out Dyson’s Delves, a collection of my maps and award-winning adventures in a similar vein!