Expectations: Time is ticking so make sure you have a good understanding of what you can and cannot do on your turn. When you die, make room for the next person. If I get to rip up your character sheet, please be happy for me as it’s hard for me to do it. If you don’t know what to do on your turn, that’s fine – ask for help from me or from the other players. In that same vein I will not brook unsolicited offers or suggestions. Feel free to talk as much as you want about your available choices, but recognize that the clock is ticking for everyone. To that end, please do not rush your friends at the table.
I will not spend time looking in the rule books for minutiae on the game. We’re all here to have fun and I’m going to try to honour that. If I make a calling on a rule and it’s not correct as written in the book, let’s not call me on it. I’m doing my best, and I will trust that you will do your best and we will try to tell a good story in the best way we can.
We are recording this. That means downstairs should be a quiet area if you’re not at the table, unless you laughing and enjoying the antics of the table. Proper microphone etiquette needs to be observed and let’s not crosstalk during a player’s turn.
Here are the signals of import during recording: Both hands up Closer to microphone.
ORDER and PROCESS
First thing first – who goes first.
Time: The game will go from a set time to a set time, at which point the world has either been saved or has ended. Feel free to establish whatever timeframe you’d like, but the game is structured for 8-10 hours of play. The players and characters will always know how much time they have remaining and this should provoke a sense of urgency in the game.
Short Rests: Any time the group takes a short rest that will provoke a 15 minute break in the game. For each chapter there will also be a fifteen minute break.
As a dues fully paid, card carrying member of the Explorer’s Exploration League you enjoy certain perks in this world, first and foremost access to the world’s finest lounges, establishments and member’s only clubs. The gruelling tasks are behind you. The required exploration and pillaging, of the works of ancient civilizations, that were required of you to get to the nomination process and beyond now sit on display in those very posh member’s only clubs. Many members retire then and there to a life of luxury, velvet jackets and cigar smoke. But not you, and not the League’s most famous member, anthropologist and trilby wearing Illinois Smith.
You are all summoned to the Explorer Exploration League’s headquarters in Waterdeep. Those who are in Waterdeep are the first to arrive to find the President of the League hand wringing and despondent. Maximilion Fillibuster the third is an elderly, but spry, gnome and has been unanimously elected seven times in a row now to lead the League. He is capable, efficient, well-loved and an impressive storyteller.
When sufficient members have arrived President Max calls the attending assemblage to attention.
“It is indeed a sad day for our organization. I regret to inform you all that our legendary member, the exemplary explorer and amazing adventurer Illinois Smith has died. Destroyed utterly, there is no way to bring Illinois back, though we have tried. And while member Smith’s loss is no doubt keenly felt by all our membership, and, likely, the world over, it is not the reason I have called you and summoned you here today.
Illinois Smith went too far. In the wastes of the High Desert in west Zakhara, Illinois’ recent excursion into the step-pyramid of the ancient pharaoh Djozer uncovered the Djozer Diamond in the deepest recesses of the pyramid itself. Illinois, ever the member in Superb Standing brought the Diamond here where she was able to recount the barest of details of her adventure before being destroyed utterly by the curse placed upon the diamond. You may have noticed some of the effects of the curse already taking ahold of the land. Our scholars of note have researched the effects of Illinois’ blunder and we have called you here today to right Smith’s wrong. The diamond must be returned. If it is returned within a week of its theft the curse, we hope, can be abated. If not, the entire world will be destroyed utterly. Why such a curse would be placed, and how, is immaterial. What matters is that it took Smith five days to bring the diamond back here and our damn slow scholars a day and a half to figure out what was going to happen. Add on the time it took for you members to slowly heed our call and we have barely eight hours to rectify the situation. I encourage you all to express your shock at this point.
Quiet down, quiet down.
All is not lost, Explorers. We have set up a base camp at the foot of the Step-Pyramid and have arranged for teleportation thereto. The line for the teleportation portal is just outside this room and along the way you’ll meet with Melody who will speak with you regarding options for resurrection that we offer all platinum members for free. Thank you. Thank you for your efforts and choosing to answer the call of the Explorer’s Exploration League in our most dire hour of need.”
You line up between two red satin ropes hung between brass poles and Melody asks after your Platinum Pass. Melody looks like her father, Maximilion. If you don’t have a platinum pass it is 2,000 gold to acquire one whereupon the tip of your pinky finger is removed, sealed in a jar and you’re healed of the damage. The line then proceeds directly to the teleportation circle which is encircled by the red satin ropes and brass poles. Crowding into the circle there is a blinding flash and the entire group is teleported to the base camp.
The mechanics of the introduction are such that Max will politely answer any questions, and secondary and tertiary teleportation circles will be employed should more players arrive. You can give extra players Handout A if they arrive after this big speech from Max. Max won’t bother giving the speech a second time. Anything not covered in the handout can be broadcast by a PC who is also waiting to descend.
Max is a level 18 Sorcerer, retired, and has lost much of his charismatic power as a result of age. He is a great politician, leader and orator and does his best to muster courage in the face of disaster. He also rigs the election every time it comes up in order to keep his cushy presidential benefits.
The air is suddenly extremely dry and extremely hot. The desert sun beats down upon you mercilessly. A few tents and lean-tos have been erected and as your pupils contract in the bright light a massive man in an overlarge red fez calls out to you.
“Quickly, quickly now, to the shade. Get out of this damnable heat and I’ll let you know where you need to go next. Thank you. Thank you. There you are now. My name is Hallas and I am the quartermaster for the Explorer’s Exploration League. Thank you for answering the call. There is little time. There is only room for five. Who will be the first to descend? And more importantly… who will carry the diamond?
If you take a moment to look around now that you’ve acclimated to the heat and brightness you can see that first and foremost it seems like a film has been placed over your eyes. Everything is pale, ashen and greyed. The tents and lean-tos are falling apart and Hallas himself appears sickly and unwell, despite his best efforts to appear chipper, businesslike and informative.
Less than a hundred yards from you rises the step pyramid of Djozer, the ancient Pharaoh of Zakhara. It is a five step pyramid, crumbled and soft looking after thousands of years in the wind and sand.
Hallas says, “I know not what awaits you within the pyramid. Those who have entered and left speak of a vast underground level with a single, blocked, way to descend further. Those who have entered died within an hour of leaving. I do not know if there are any still living within. Now that you are here and you have the diamond, let me explain the necklaces.” He gestures to five golden necklaces that are attached to shimmering golden leashes. The necklaces are solid, weighty, with a thick golden clasp and tiny etched Zakharan style hieroglyphs upon them. When hung just so they resemble an ankh. The leash, though, detaches and you can almost see an invisible thread that passes from the leash to the necklace. Hallas continues; “Each of these five necklaces, the Leashes of Anubis, are powerful artifacts. If the one wearing the necklace dies then the one holding the leash takes their place. In this way you will be able to progress through the pyramid and return the diamond to its rightful resting place, the nest of Nimaat-hap in the final step beneath the pyramid. Please take the necklaces, and you, the leashes. Those with the leashes – there is food and drink in the shade under the cabanas and in the tents. Try to relax as best you can. Know that your time will be soon.”
Hallas will answer any questions honestly, but he knows little beyond what he’s already answered. After three questions he will say “Time is.. of very little supply.”
“Perhaps you should instead take this moment and introduce yourselves and how you intend to deal with the threat of annihilation as you make your way to the top of the pyramid.”
MECHANICS – NECKLACE OF ANUBIS
If the necklace of Anubis is removed for whatever reason and the PC dies when not wearing it, then the magic fails to work and cannot work again. The leashes and tents and leantos are comfortable, but the PCs may likely be too tense to truly relax.
A behemoth of a man, perhaps he has some giant blood in him? He has a close cropped black beard and wears a white suit in the heat. His voice is deep and guttural with a sophisticated and educated accent. He speaks of Illinois fondly. Any antagonism from PCs he chalks up to strain on their behalf and takes it on the chin without conflict.
THE STEP PYRAMID
Led by a small boy in an open white shirt with a baseball cap on who does not speak, you five are led to the top of the pyramid where the cap stone has been removed to reveal a 10×10 foot shaft leading straight down, deep below the surface. The wind kicks up sand, playing with your clothing and blowing hot grit in your faces. The boy gestures. There are six ropes attached to the step pyramid. He looks at you expectantly.
The climb up is simple enough that it requires no check, but there are only six ropes for the long descent down. If anyone has a climbing pack or other equipment for such a descent they then have advantage on the check to descend. The difficulty to descend is only 10, but they need to roll 3 times. Get the players to describe their character’s descent.
The boy doesn’t speak but he wears a baseball hat and an open white shirt over bronze skin.
It is immediately cooler in the shaft down, the wind blowing up from below has a hint of humidity and … cucumber? The ropes descend for 200 feet, knotted several times over as you descend. The wind picks up as you go and the humidity increases. There are hieroglyphs carved into the shaft for its entirety, but still it is nothing but shaft. You reach the bottom of the shaft, it is just a sandy circle 10 feet by 10 feet.
As soon as a player character moves away from the shaft or reaches out to the wall it fades away for them and they see where they are.
The sky above is almost real. The clouds in the sky seem to scud across the horizon which stretches off in the distance. Is it a mosaic or is it real? Even if it is not it looks real enough. The breeze across your skin, playing with your clothes is real enough and seems to match the floating clouds above. Apart from the sandy ten by ten bit of stone with ropes laying curled upon it you are standing in the middle of a jungle plain dotted here and there by standing crystals and the occasional tree. The plain is perhaps a bit more than 1000 feet by 1000 feet.
Off to one side stands a giant sphinx. It is awake. It does not look impassive. It looks cruel, angry, violent and vengeful. It stands directly over a round covering not unlike the capstone of the step pyramid above. You can hear the sounds of movement to each of the four cardinal directions. The Sphinx is to the south. The sounds to the east and west are a distance away. To the north you see a figure sitting on the ground. It is Henrietta Smith, Illinois’ mother and famous member of the Explorer’s Exploration League. She does not look well. Her face is ashen, eyes sunken and there is a horrible sweet smell of rot coming from her.
“My hour is almost up. You will die down here. Now that you have passed through Maat by way of the shaft the Duat will kill you. Maat has been broken and Duat will spill into the world destroying all life. A horde of crocodiles and vultures have been let loose in here by someone, likely my daughter, to annoy the Sphinx and slip into the further chambers below. The Sphinx is not interested in riddles and he will attack you on sight if provoked. If we could somehow stop these vultures and crocodiles it might set this area to rights? I wasn’t able to do so in my hour. But I have managed to find my way to Duat on my own. Hopefully, despite my death I will be able to impart some of my knowledge of Zakharan culture. ”
Henrietta will die shortly but there is opportunity for the group to ask questions. Once Henrietta dies a prismatic spirit bird will rise from her form.
The Henrietta Bird can act as a communicative guide if your players are running into structural difficulties throughout the rest of the adventure.
THE TRAP – STANDING CRYSTALS
You espy standing crystals that are perhaps 7 feet tall all throughout the area. They are arranged in an almost haphazard fashion. As you near one an eerie hum vibrates from the crystal towards you. This is the trap of this level. You must sing the note emanating from the crystal. The DM will give you a note to sing (I use panotuner, the free tuning app). Every player will have to pass these traps three times as they move east or west to face the crocodiles or the vultures. Everyone gets one chance to match the note. If the PC has performance, or proficiency with a musical instrument or some other explainable talent they get two tries to sing the right note, but do not give them any help between the first and second try. Octaves don’t matter. If the PC is less than half a tone off then that’s “good enough” to take no damage. If they are more than half a note off then they take 15 damage. If they are more than an entire note off then they take 30 damage. If they are more than 3 notes off then they take 50 damage. There is time in between the crystals to heal. PCs that can fly can entirely avoid 2 of the 3 crystals.
The entire area is contained and part of the pyramid. It reflects how the pyramid was thousands of years ago with magical reflective tiles in the roof. The entire area is 1080 by 1080 feet. It is 60 feet high. Those with survival or jungle related skills have advantage in tracking down the animals, if they choose to find them. The vultures are to the west, the crocodiles to the east. Set against the wall are two statues, one of Sobek – the crocodile headed god, and one of Nekhbet – the vulture headed goddess. Each of the statues have been set upon a lapis, stolen from the capstone. The influence of these two gods upon the capstone is causing the Sphinx to be both evil and chaotic. Returning the two lapis to the Sphinx will return it to rights and it will grant immediate access to the level below.
They can just attack the Sphinx and ignore the two extraneous forces.
THE SPHINX – Page 280
The Sphinx is enraged and has been manipulated by the addition of the vultures and the crocodiles by Illinois Smith. It now guards the capstone. Enemies that attack it from afar are drawn towards it at a rate of 60 feet a round.
CROCODILE GOD – SOBEK (RE-skin Hezrou – page 60)
At just over 3 feet tall, it is a perfect representation of the crocodile God, Sobek. (When it is approached, or if the crocodiles are all killed) It grows and swells into the massive avatar of Sobek. A wash of brackish nile flood waters pours out from beneath him as his great bulk ripples and he stands there. Terrain is now considered difficult for purposes of movement.
Sobek can, on his turn use a bonus action to cause the water to surge again causing all of the players standing in water to need to make a strength saving through or be knocked prone DC 14. Once Sobek is reduced to zero hitpoints he returns to being just a simple statue.
5 GIANT CROCODILES – Page 324
The crocodiles have grown fat and their skin is flaky and stretched. They snap their giant jaws and gouge the muck with their claws and regard you with dead, cold black eyes.
5 VULTURES – (Fluffed up Giant Eagle) – Page 324
White Scavenger Vultures. The plumage is white, with black flight feathers in the wings. The vultures guard the statue and have poison damage from their beaks and claws, requiring a constitution save at a difficulty of 18. 6d6 poison damage, further a second constitution saving throw against disease is required against a DC of 14.
VULTURE GODDESS – NEKHBET (Re-Skin Nalfeshnee, page 62)
The statue will spawn new vultures regularly. At just over 3 feet tall, it is a perfect representation of the vulture goddess, Nekhbet. (When it is approached, or if the vultures are all killed) It pops and from within emerges Nekhbet large and wings unfurling. As the wings unfurl the wind picks up and movement is difficult as the wind grows in force to push and throw away anything not tied down. Once Nekhbet is reduced to zero hitpoints she is returned to just being a simple statue.
The staircase spirals down, hieroglyphs etched in the walls and upon the hand rail. It is base sandstone as everything else has been in this sub, pyramid.
The door set at the bottom of the steps seems damp but appears to open with only a pull towards you. There is no window set in the door.
Players could figure out that they are reaching an elemental maze and that it is in honor of the primordial Ogdoad of Zakhara – Nu, Hehu, Kekui and Qerh. They will need to collect the keys from each of the four elements and place them in the corresponding alcove when they reach the other side of the stairs.
WATER – NU
The door opens and salt water pours in flooding the staircase and pushing the characters up the stairs in a violent torrent. The entire 60 foot by 60 foot chamber is filled with water. There is a slow revolving current rotating around a point. There is debris herein that is immediately evident as important as it spins around you. The light in this room is strange and causes a peculiar shifting of colours. You can see the door in the west, in as much as there are cardinal directions or up and down. There is no air in this room. For those that have no ability to breathe underwater, and require air. You are drowning. The door in the west is closed. In the middle of all of the spinning hangs the symbol needed. There are twelve pieces missing.
Characters are drowning. They can hold their breath for 10 rounds plus an additional 10 rounds per modifier in constitution. They must find amongst the debris the tiles that have been ripped out of the gateway in the “floor” amongst all of the other tiles. In order to find the right tile they have to name five colours correctly from the pile of words in three seconds or less. The pile of words has the written word of a colour that is coloured in a different colour. They must name the colour instead of the word.
If they name the colours correctly then they have found the right piece and can take it to the entry and place it in the door.
FIRE – HEHU
This room is simple. In the middle of the room a phoenix nests. An adult phoenix. The room is as well, sixty by sixty by sixty. Under the phoenix is both key and door.
AIR – KEKUI
The wind blows even more fiercely than it did from Nekhbet’s wing blasts. The characters tumble from the previous quadrant to end up tumbling end over end. Flight spells are not available as it is gravity itself that warps and spins from one facet of the room to another. They are trapped inside a 60 foot by 60 foot dodecahedron. There are ropes “descending” from all of the faces. Each of the ropes is 33 feet long and needs to be tied to its counter part. When all 20 ropes are tied together the “floor” at that point will open and in the middle of the space, where all of the ropes are knotted up, will appear Kekui’s symbol the sky hieroglyph above the staff.
Players have to take 5 d6s between each player and hold them horizontally up off the table with only one finger pushing against them around the entire table. If they have applicable skills and abilities they can convince the DM to lower the number down to 3. If they drop the dice it will equate to the harpies attacking and they’ll take damage, both players, from the harpies. Every round the room will rotate randomly (roll a d20) and gravity will apply to that face. Characters will tumble and fall, but they don’t fall any more than the radius of the dodecahedron (30 feet) in a round so if they strike the face the DM can rule they don’t take any more than 1d6 or 2d6 damage.
HARPIES OF KEK
There are also 10 harpies in this room, their speed is halved as they are also battered about. They harpies are largely there as a nuisance. If players wish to engage with the harpies that will just eat into their time.
EARTH – QERH
The room is sixty by sixty but only thirty feet high. You land heavily and begin to sink into the sandy floor. The floor initially feels like sandstone and when you move it firms up around you, the opposite of quicksand. In the four corners are stone statues and in the middle is a pedestal with the symbol of Qerh upon it.
If characters are moving they can’t sink. Characters need to sink in order to reach the bottom where they are just summarily dropped out into a small room ten by ten that has the door to the stairwell in it. The statues come to life as Stone Myrmidons and strive to keep the characters from the pedestal. The pedestal moves three times a round away from characters and has two reactions to avoid the characters. Myrmidons will grapple the characters
STATUES OF THE PHARAOH (STONE MYRMIDONS – mtof – 202)
These stone myrmidons do not have mauls but instead longer arms that give them advantage on grapple checks. They move to stop the characters from reaching the pedestal. Thunderous strike is re-worded as a stunning attack.
THE LOCKED DOOR
The door is locked but there are four alcoves shaped similarly to the four elemental rooms you’ve just passed through and collected the items therein.
If the characters place the items in the alcoves the door unlocks and opens upon the same stairwell they just passed from. They can even see the closed door wet from the water chamber. The items once placed in the alcoves fade from view.
Once again the stairwell is carved in Zakharan hieroglyphs. The stairwell opens up to an open room. It is 60 feet by 60 feet with an arched ceiling that is also, 60 feet up. In the middle of the far wall is the entryway to a small 15 x15 attached room with the tomb of Djoser. It is shaped like a step pyramid itself. There are torches in sconces upon the walls, each of which is already alight when you step foot into the room. Beyond the tomb itself you can see the nest of Hetephernebti, where the diamond of Djoser was once ensconced. Awake and arrayed against you, between the nest and you is a line of the Pharaoh’s royal guards. They are spectral, undead warriors. 6 of them in total summoned from their own standing sarcophagi spaced throughout the room.
The nest has 6 “leaves” and all of the leaves are raised up. You can tell that there is no way to place the egg upon this golden nest with the leaves up.
The undead warriors can call upon their undead men in their need. Further, the diamond must be returned in darkness. Each of the six torches must be dowsed before the nest will open to receive the egg. At the start of every round a torch will re-alight, but only one.
Each torch bears six rings with a multitude of colours in each ring. The six rings can be turned. Each of the rings has six colours. The torches are spaced equally throughout the chamber, one on either side of the stairwell, two matching next to Djoser’s tomb and one on each other wall in the direct middle of the wall. The torches are placed 7 feet above the sandstone floor.
In order to dowse a torch you must use your action on your turn to manipulate the shaft of the torch and line up the rings to the proper colour. In order to represent the degree of difficulty in this task you must line up 3 of the faces on this 2x2x2 rubix cube. If your character has abilities or skills that you think relevant you can reduce this to 2 faces.
THE ROYAL GUARDS – (Stone Wraith Commanders – MTOF – pg 241)
Each of the guards carries two khopesh and a bow. They have bows drawn upon the characters when they enter the room. There is no room for negotiation. They do not speak. They are beholden to Djozer who has decided he does not want the diamond returned and his rest restored. They wear the garb of the royal military of the Pharaoh and their eyes burn with the orange flame of the torches.
DJOSER (Death Knight – Page 47)
He is very tall. Standing over seven feet the headdress of the pharaoh grants him almost an additional eighteen inches. He carries a great khopesh that has upon the pommel stone an eerie reddish burning gem.
The game ends when the time runs out or if the diamond has been returned or all of the available player characters have been killed. There may be other options for the game to end that this writer has overlooked, but feel free to write your own ending as you see fit.
WINNING CONDITION: Return the Diamond in time
The diamond is placed upon the nest. The leaves of the nest close about it. There is the loud ring of khopesh steel hitting the sandstone floor and a wash of dust as those animated by the curse are returned to the spirit realm. The torches flare on and where the stairwell once was you see the shaft of light falling upon those six ropes in the ten by ten foot space. If only Illinois had lived.
LOSING CONDITION: All of the characters are dead
Time ticks by. Hallas holds the small boy close. The small boy has his baseball hat clutched in his hands. Max pats his daughter Melody sympathetically upon her shoulder and quietly says “We did all we could. We did our very best. Spared no expense.” The scene shifts back to Hallas, a tear in his eye. “Damn that Illinois Smith…” Read Time Runs Out.
LOSING CONDITION: Time Runs Out All living things collapse in disease, rot and then dust. And from those places where life once touched it too begins to crumple and turn to dust. As dust begets dust all of the material world is washed away as the Duat unfolds and maat, the curtain, is destroyed. Picture a curtain falling upon a theatrical set. The set it destroyed as the curtain falls until all that remains �be2��