Previous Condensation in Action posts can be found here:
Rise of the Runelords
Curse of the Crimson Throne
Council of Thieves
Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms
Skull and Shackles
Backstory is a Necessary Evil: Thousands of years ago, Fantasy Egypt was ruled by an evil pharaoh called Hakotep. Hakotep had heard of a magical flying city far to the south, and he both feared and coveted the power of its creators. He worked thousands of his people to death constructing great geomatic earthworks that, if activated, would be capable of pulling the flying city to the ground: then, confident that he was safe from retaliation, he sent his agents to abduct some sky wizards from the flying city and put them to work building him a giant flying pyramid.
Hakotep died just after the pyramid was finished, and as soon as he was safely dead his people - who by this point were pretty sick of being worked to death building insane magical vanity projects - rose up in revolt against his dynasty. His mummified body was desecrated by rebel priests, who trapped his ib (higher soul) and ka (vital spark) within his preserved heart and his funerary mask, respectively, in order to bar him from the afterlife. But the rest of his preserved corpse - which still contained his ba, or personality - was stolen by loyalists and carried back inside his pyramid, which they then launched skyward. The Flying Pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh has been hovering in geosynchronous orbit over Fantasy Egypt ever since.
Feeling rather embarrassed by the whole affair, his successors ordered his name to be struck from the records, and today almost no-one knows that Hakotep even existed. Unfortunately for everyone, however, a band of scholar-conspirators recently worked out from discrepancies in the old king-lists and chronologies that the legendary 'Sky Pharaoh' must have been real after all, and decided to try to claim the power of his Flying Pyramid for themselves. Their leader eventually located the preserved heart of Hakotep beneath the ruined tower of an ancient wizard... and was promptly possessed by his ib, which ate her mind, stole her identity, and took over her organisation. Now calling themselves the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, they seek to reunite Hakotep's body, heart, and mask, allowing the Sky Pharaoh to be resurrected and reign over the land once more from his flying pyramid of death...
Wati: This ancient city is where the adventure begins. Centuries ago, it was abandoned after being ravaged by a magical plague of such virulence that, when settlers eventually returned to the region, they built a wall around the ruins of the old city in order to avoid disturbing whatever ancient contagions might lie within. Today, modern Wati is a bustling city, three times the size of its ancient counterpart: but the walls still stand, surrounding the crumbling ruins of the Old City. The locals regard the place as taboo, but adventurers hoping to unearth valuable relics within the ruins can purchase exploration licenses from the local authorities, which permit passage through the gates to the Old City. However, would-be treasure-seekers must beware the ancient undead who lurk there, still furious at being left to rot without their proper funerary rites all those centuries ago.
Nebta-Khufre: This ambitious young necromancer was raised by his grandmother, Neferekhu, a seeress plagued by prophetic dreams. In her last years she was haunted by visions of a terrible sky-king and a golden mask, and the specific details in her visions convinced Nebta-Khufre that an object of great power was hidden within the Old City of Wati. When she died before he found it, he reanimated her head and took to carrying it around with him in a golden bird-cage, so that she could continue prophesying to him. Eventually, guided by the visions described by his grandmother's animated skull, he located the mask of Hakotep, with which he hopes to transform himself into the all-conquering sky-king whom she foretold. The adventure begins when he finally works out how to activate it.
The Hook: The PCs are in Wati when Nebta-Khufre activates the Mask of Hakotep, triggering a zombie outbreak which devastates the city. After they hopefully survive (and perhaps help to contain) the resulting chaos, the ravaged city authorities beg them to investigate who or what is responsible for all this horror, promising lavish cash rewards and lifetime looting rights in the Old City if the threat can be identified and destroyed.
Night of the Living Dead: On the night when Nebta-Khufre activates the mask, a pulse of energy ripples across Wati, animating the ka or vital spark within every human corpse in the city. The consequences of this will include the following:
- Zombie mobs clawing their way out of their graves and roaming the city streets, mindlessly devouring the living.
- In the city market, the severed and preserved hands of thieves are hung up from a central pillar as a warning to criminals. When the mask is activated, these hands will tear themselves free. The freshest ones, which still retain some instinctual memory of life, will set off across the city to find the people who bore witness against them and strangle them to death, while the older hands simply roam the market in a scuttling swarm, leaping up to throttle anyone who approaches.
- A local antiques dealer recently acquired a real prize: the intact sarcophagus of an ancient noblewoman, complete with her mummified corpse. Naturally, he's halfway through selling the mummy and sarcophagus as a job lot at auction when the mask is activated, causing her to lurch out of her casket and start clobbering people to death.
- Magistrate Sotenre, a long-dead judge infamous for passing out sentences of blinding upon the criminals tried in his court, arises from the dead and stumbles to his old courthouse. Still driven by his passion for eneucleation even after death, he establishes instinctive psychic control over a gang of skeleton 'bailiffs' and sends them out to start dragging random people into his court, where Sotenre presides over bizarre trials before inevitably sentencing them to be blinded - a sentence that often proves fatal, due to the clumsiness of his minions. The streets outside his courthouse soon fill with eyeless corpses and wailing, blinded victims. Sotenre is quite mad, but it's very important to him to maintain at least a semblance of legal procedure, so PCs entering his courtroom should be able to stall him for quite a long time by quoting random precedents and shouting 'objection!' a lot.
- A gang of Silver Chain grave robbers (see below) are transporting a cartload of corpses through the city, concealed under a fake cargo of cloth, on their way to a laboratory where the corpses will be wrapped and embalmed prior to their sale as 'genuine ancient mummies'. As the mask is activated the corpses start thrashing around inside the cart, ultimately breaking out of their boxes and attacking anyone nearby while the driver flees in panic.
- The ancient dead of the Old City arise en masse and besiege the gates to the New City, trying to smash their way through. Many of the gate guards desert their posts: the ones that remain are rallied together under the leadership of a young priestess, Bal Themm, who pleads with anyone who approaches to fight their way through the streets to her temple and return with all the holy symbols and holy water they can carry.
- A sorceress named Sehhosep Naahn is mournfully preparing the corpse of her husband for burial when the mask activates and he 'returns to life'. Convinced that her prayers have been answered, she ties a rope around him and starts dragging his zombified corpse through the streets towards her workshop, where she hopes to use her magic to restore his mind, too. She makes very slow progress, forcing her to blast the zombies that attack her along the way. Barricaded within their houses, the locals swiftly conclude that this obviously-magical woman dragging a zombie on a rope is to blame for the whole situation, and start forming hurried plans for how best to ambush and lynch her.
|Magistrate Sotenre. Tough on eyes, tough on the causes of eyes.|
Dawn of the Dead: The night of the initial outbreak is likely to be one of total chaos, with the PCs stumbling around the city being attacked by zombies, chased by severed hands, pursued by the mummy, 'arrested' by skeleton bailiffs, etc. By dawn some level of order will have been restored: the zombies aren't very bright, so once the people of Wati work out what is going on they will mostly be able to protect themselves by simply barricading themselves inside their houses and dropping heavy things on the undead outside. The gates of the Old City remain under siege, however, and Sotenre's bailiffs represent a much more organised and intelligent threat. Isolated bands of zombies will continue to thump around in basements, back alleys, and abandoned buildings for days to come.
By mid-morning the city authorities will issue a desperate plea for help, and if the PCs have in any way distinguished themselves - by killing the mummy, for example, or dealing with Sotenre, or defusing the situation with Sehhosep, or bringing help to Bal Themm - then they will be particularly keen to obtain their assistance. Their first priority will be to secure the gates of the Old City, and their second will be to find out what has caused the dead to rise. Many will suspect (incorrectly) that the answer has something to do with the scattered reports they have received for years about a 'voice in the darkness' sometimes heard in the city streets by night, trying to lure people into the Old City, and will suggest that the PCs begin their search there. Others suggest that they investigate sporadic reports of people transforming into ghouls in the slums of the city - investigations which will ultimately lead them to the Silver Chain.
The Silver Chain: This criminal gang are based in an old brickworks in Wati, which they use as a base for smuggling, grave robbing, and trading in fake and/or stolen antiquities. They maintain a network of secret tunnels that extend under the walls of the Old City, allowing them to creep in and out unnoticed by either the city authorities or the undead currently besieging the gates. They also distribute the addictive drugs created by Bheg (see below) in the Ghoul Market of the Old City, which are brought to them through the tunnels by his ghoul minions. Repeat customers who start turning into ghouls are bundled off through the tunnels in the opposite direction.
Not long ago, the Silver Chain were taken over by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, who set them to work searching the Old City for Hakotep's mask (although Nebta-Khufre got there first). Their new leader, Meret-Hetef, is swift to realise that the zombie outbreak means that someone has beaten them to finding the mask, and as soon as the initial danger has subsided she will send her men out to try to find who is responsible. As a result, PCs investigating the same thing are soon likely to cross paths with the Silver Chain. They may also learn of them by investigating the ghoul transformations, or by asking around about alternative ways into the Old City, or by trying to find out who was transporting a secret cartload of preserved corpses through Wati by night, or just by investigating why a supposedly semi-derelict brickworks by the Old City walls was defended so furiously during the outbreak.
The gang's senior leadership are all cultists, now, but most of the rank-and-file aren't keen on their change of direction, and are kept in line only by their fear of the cult's magic. PCs who bribe, threaten, or capture the gang's members will soon learn about the cult's take-over, and its quest for the Mask of Hakotep. Meret-Hetef will happily assist the PCs in finding and fighting Nebta-Khufre as long as they promise to hand over the mask afterwards: alternatively, the PCs may help the gang's street toughs launch a coup against the cultists and restore the power of the old guard. If befriended, the gang can guide them through the tunnels to the Old City, and put them in touch with Bheg in the Ghoul Market.
All members of the gang know that the cult is based somewhere in the desert, but they're not sure exactly where. If the PCs manage to capture or interrogate one of the cultists then they can learn that rest of the cult is currently exploring an ancient monument called The Faceless Sphinx (see below) deep in the remotest part of the desert. The cultists will talk a good game about how the Sky Pharaoh will be coming any day now to rule the world from his flying death pyramid, but they're pretty new to all this - the whole cult is only a few months old, after all - and will crack quickly once any real pressure is applied.
Old Wati: Once PCs have travelled over (or under) its walls, the Old City is actually less dangerous than one might expect, as the vast majority of its undead are currently besieging the gates of Wati. There are four significant locations here: the temple, the lair of Imanish, the Ghoul Market, and the observatory.
The temple: This was the hiding place of the funerary mask of Hakotep, until it was stolen by Nebta-Khufre (see above). The temple is currently swarming with mindless undead left behind by Nebta-Khufre to cover his tracks, but the very concentration of these creatures at this site should signal to alert PCs that there is something unusual about this particular building. PCs who explore the temple will find ample evidence that it has been recently explored and looted, including a broken-open secret chamber which clearly once held something very valuable and very secret. The walls of this now-empty secret chamber are covered in hieroglyphics warning intruders to leave its contents intact, lest 'the Forgotten Pharaoh' devour their souls.
The lair: Imanish is a wicked spirit who takes the form of a flying head, with six ram's horns framing a bestial face. He is the 'voice in the dark' that concerns the city's rulers: for many years he has been in the habit of flying over the walls of the Old City by night, concealed by illusions, and whispering plausible lies to anyone he finds walking the city's streets after dark, using offers of gold, sex, or secrets to tempt them back to his lair in the ruins. He has nothing to do with the zombie outbreak, although he does find it pretty funny. PCs can find his lair by talking to people who were tempted by his whispers but turned back at the last minute, or just by wandering around the ruins of Old Wati, which aren't really all that big.
Imanish holds court in a ruined house, built around a central dining room. On the ancient table sit polished human skulls on tarnished silver plates, taken from its previous victims: whenever anyone enters the room, these skulls fly up and attack intruders in a clacking, biting swarm under Imanish's command. Imanish creates these skulls by means of a cursed headband, which he will try to trick or force his victims to wear before killing them. If someone is wearing the headband when they die, then at the moment of their death their head will tear free from their body and float off to the table to join the others under Imanish's command.
Most of Bheg's ghouls are feral and ravenous, but Bheg himself is pretty reasonable, and is not keen on seeing his primary drug market reduced to a depopulated graveyard. He can tell PCs that he and his ghouls have spotted a number of strange men in golden masks roaming the ruins in the days leading up to the outbreak. Most of these are sightings of Forgotten Pharaoh cultists from the Silver Chain, combing the ruins looking for the mask while wearing their ritual regalia, but if his sightings are cross-referenced with the movements of the Silver Chain - either revealed willingly by allies within the gang, or extracted from them via interrogation - then one sighting, of a man entering a ruined observatory, remains unaccounted for. This was Nebta-Khufre, wearing the Mask of Hakotep, on his way to activate it.
The observatory: PCs can find this building by following Bheg's tip, or by noticing the amount of unusual zombie activity within. This is Nebta-Khufre's hideout, where he is using his necromantic powers to turn the mindless undead raised by the mask into his personal army, one zombie at a time. He'll have about a dozen zombies under his command for each day that has passed since the outbreak, plus the undead head of his seeress grandmother, Neferekhu, which he keeps in a golden birdcage guarded by skeleton warriors. Neferekhu deeply resents being kept in this horrible half-life, and will turn against him in an instant, revealing his plans, routines, and the passwords of his magical defences, if the PCs promise to let her truly die rather than keeping her around as portable prophecy generator.
The Mask of Hakotep: This enchanted mask grants the wearer limited power to raise and control undead. The 'ka pulse' effect used by Nebta-Khufre exhausted its power reserves, but a patient PC willing to spend several years waiting for it to recharge could use it to stage a local zombie apocalypse of their own. The Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh will do anything to obtain it.
|The Mask of Hakotep.|
The Great Library of Tephu: The town of Tephu is a short way downriver from Wati, and is famous for its ancient library. PCs who want to learn more about Hakotep will be advised to check there first.
Any individual of good social standing can gain access to the main library for the payment of a suitable fee, but research there turns up nothing about Hakotep. In fact, it turns up suspiciously little, to the point where scholarly PCs are likely to suspect that all relevant documents have been deliberately suppressed. There is an Inner Library, which can be accessed only by breaking in, by lavishly bribing the librarians, or by obtaining a letter of recommendation from the governor of Tephu, Muminofrah, a lascivious woman whose head is easily turned by a pretty face and a muscular back. Even in the inner library, however, information about Hakotep is conspicuous by its absence.
In fact, the library does house some relevant information, but in a third collection: the secret 'Dark Depository', hidden at the bottom of a deep shaft and guarded by a bone golem with a crocodile skull for a head. This is where the librarians hide all the materials they wish to suppress, but cannot bear to destroy. Its walls are lined with sarcophagi containing the remains of scholars who trespassed upon its secrets, and were punished by being embalmed alive. Rumours about the place abound among the library staff, but getting in will require the PCs to either persuade the head librarian of the necessity of their work, or getting Muminofrah very sweet on them. Either way, they will probably have to fight the bone golem, which continues to murderously enforce all kinds of obscure regulations laid down by some long-dead archivist or other.
Diligent research in the Dark Depository will reveal the following:
- Hakotep the Sky Pharaoh was a real historical figure, and not just a folktale as generally supposed, and he really did build a flying pyramid. Information on him is scarce because his name was stricken from the histories and king-lists after his death.
- Hakotep's pyramid was said to contain a king's ransom in gold and jewels. It was last seen flying skyward, and apparently never came down again.
- He was responsible for building the infamous Bone Trenches, a mysterious network of haunted earthworks whose origins have long puzzled scholars. Apparently they were meant to serve as some kind of magical weapon.
- His spirit was divided between his body (lost inside his flying pyramid), his mask (hidden in Wati), and his heart (hidden beneath an ancient spire - once the home of a powerful wizard, but now nothing more than a pile of tumbled stones).
- Both his pyramid and the Bone Trenches were designed by an architect named Chisisek, who was buried deep in the desert, beneath a great stone sphinx without a face that Hakotep also commissioned for some reason. Chisisek was said to have taken all kinds of secrets with him to his grave, and his tomb has never been discovered since.
The Faceless Sphinx: This long-forgotten monument lies deep in the desert, in a region known as the Parched Dunes. Hakotep ordered it to be built for his wife, Neferuset, in honour of the monstrous gods she revered. Beneath it extend a vast network of crumbling tunnels, which presumably served some kind of useful purpose several thousand years ago. For most of the last century it has served as the home of a band of maftets, desert-dwelling hybrid creatures with the bodies of men, the legs of lions, and the wings of hawks, who turned the sphinx into a shrine to their ancient monster-goddess. More recently, it was found by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, who hope to claim it as their base of operations and to plunder it for information relating to the life and works of Hakotep. The cultists and the maftets have been fighting for control of the tunnels beneath the sphinx ever since.
The Parched Dunes: The deserts around the sphinx are plagued by sand krakens and gnoll slavers, and consequently avoided by just about everyone. They contain four significant locations, as follows:
- A 15' tall automaton built out of corroded bronze, coeval with the sphinx itself, protruding halfway from a sand dune. Close examination will reveal a hatch on its back, which leads to a cockpit full of pedals and levers - but none of them do anything, because its engine is missing. (It's in the lair of the efreet - see below.) If its engine was reinstalled, it would rise once more into life, crackling with magical electricity and ready to be piloted. It's too big to fit into the tunnels within the Sphinx, but would be a major asset to any fight outside it.
- A wide expanse of deserts full of carefully-arranged piles of rocks. This is a zen garden maintained by an obsessive-compulsive blue dragon, who roams the area looking for stones of just the right size and shape to be balanced on top of other stones. Anyone intruding within the 'garden' will incur his wrath, but he will try very very hard to kill them without disturbing or damaging the stones in any way. His lair (and his hoard) are hidden in a sand-choked cave nearby.
- A fortified encampment of maftets displaced from the Sphinx, which has been their ancestral home for generations. They will tell anyone willing to listen how they were cruelly driven into the desert by ruthless humans wearing golden masks, and will beg the PCs for assistance. (They'll keep very quiet about being monster-goddess-cultists themselves.) They know of secret entrances into the tunnels beneath the sphinx, which they use to launch guerrilla raids against the cult, but are increasingly coming to despair of defeating them as long as they command the loyalty of their scorpion-man mercenaries. (See below.)
- A ruined temple, now the lair of a fearsome efreet. Amidst the various rusted treasures heaped up in the efreet's treasury is the magical engine of the bronze automaton, which the efreet has just been using as a source of electricity.
Beneath the Sphinx: The tunnels within and beneath the Faceless Sphinx are now the stronghold of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, although the hard work of driving out the maftets has mostly been done by a company of scorpion-man mercenaries hired by the cult before they moved in. Now the cultists painstakingly comb through the ruins, looking for the ancient secrets of Hakotep, while the scorpion-men keep an eye out for maftet raiders. The tunnels are vast and half-collapsed, and the cult is not even close to mapping them all, let alone searching and excavating them.
The scorpion-men are professionals, and believe in honouring their contracts: after all, their reputation is at stake. Ultimately, however, they're here for the money, not because they actually care about resurrecting Hakotep. They are willing to fight for the cultists, but have no intention of dying for them, and will abandon the cult if someone makes them a better offer.
The cultists themselves were mostly scholars and treasure-hunters until a few months ago. Their only real fighter, a man named Rathos, got hit by some awful curses while looting one of the shrines beneath the Sphinx: he's now a warped monster with stone arms and the head of a crocodile, who flings himself into battle in the hope of ending his horrible, agonised existence. The mind of their leader, a sorceress named Serethet, has been overwhelmed by the ib of Hakotep: she now wears a golden mask engraved with Hakotep's bearded face, and insists on being referred to as The Forgotten Pharaoh. Hakotep's preserved heart has imbued Serethet with a lot of magical energy, and it's really only her power that holds the cult together. Any PC who takes the heart will find the deathless will of Hakotep rapidly overwhelming their own, and even the most strong-willed of PCs is unlikely to be able to carry it for more than a few days before becoming its slave rather than its master.
Many parts of the complex were turned into shrines by the maftets during their time here, and the cultists avoid these when possible. One such shrine is guarded by the animated corpse of a giant mummified crocodile. Another contains ancient undead horrors slumbering within sarcophagi, who burst out and attack anyone who gets too close: the cultists figured this out after the first one, and will try their best not to awaken any more, but anyone who wants to create a lot of indiscriminate chaos within the complex would just have to run past each sarcophagus and then out again. These undead are, in turn, powered by the unholy life-force of an even more ancient zombie queen bricked up in the walls. If all of them are destroyed then all her energy will return to her, and she'll kick down the wall and start murdering everything in sight.
In the extreme depths of the tunnels lies the tomb of Chisisek. The maftets know perfectly well where his tomb is, and would be willing to reveal it to the PCs in exchange for their aid against the cultists. The Cult currently don't know where it is, but if they remain in possession of the Sphinx then they'll find it eventually, and Serethet will start interrogating his ghost. His grave contains a wealth of ancient papyri describing the construction of the Bone Trenches, including instructions on how to activate its mechanism, and plans for the Sky Pyramid, including enough information on its original position to allow PCs to 'aim' the power of the Bone Trenches at it once they have gained control of the mechanism.
The Bone Trenches: An immense network of ancient trenches dug into the earth, arranged so as to spell out enormous hieroglyphs when seen from above. They're in the desert, but not nearly as deep as the Faceless Sphinx, so their rough location is pretty well known. However, they're also well-known to be protected by horrible monsters, so most people leave them well alone. There's been some scholarly speculation about who could have built them, and why, but most people who go in for a closer look end up getting eaten by Dusk-Taker (see below).
When the trenches were built, dozens of air elementals were bound into obelisks within them. When activated, the collective power of these elementals would have been sufficient to drag down to earth whatever the great mechanism at the heart of the trenches was pointed at, up to and including a flying city. Today, many of the obelisks lie in rubble, and the system is operating at far below full power - but if the mechanism was turned on and pointed in the right direction, it still has enough energy to drag Hakotep's Sky Pyramid down to earth. The Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh are counting on this as their means of recovering Hakotep's body, although they don't currently know how to activate the mechanism. (This is why they're searching for Chisisek's tomb beneath the Faceless Sphinx - see above.)
Hakotep had these trenches built in a hurry, driven by terror of the wizards of the flying city. Thousands of slave labourers were worked to death during their construction, and were buried wherever they fell: today their ancient bones litter the trenches, protruding from their shallow graves. The combination of thousands of angry ghosts haunting the trenches with dozens of half-bound elementals radiating magic into the air and soil has given rise to weird composite monsters that the cult call 'ossumentals': raging animated bone-storms that crash, howling, along the trenches, driven by a mixture of elemental energy and ancient grief. The continuous motion of these ossumentals endlessly sweeps the trenches, thus preventing them from being covered by the desert sands that would otherwise have choked them thousands of years ago.
As if the ossumentals weren't enough, the trenches are also protected by Hakotep's unaging pet roc, Dusk-Taker, which still waits patiently for its master to return. As its name implies, the bird prefers to attack at dusk, swooping out of the sky to seize and devour anyone who comes too close to the trenches. However, if anyone approaches bearing Hakotep's heart (and thus possessed by his ib), or wearing his mask (and thus radiating his ka), it will leave them alone, confused by the appearance of someone who apparently both is and is not its long-absent master.
The Mechanism: Buried beneath the heart of the trenches is the command centre, which houses the ancient mechanisms used to aim and 'fire' their collective power. The building has been sealed since the death of Hakotep, and is still guarded by animated statues, though anyone possessed by Hakotep's ib will know the command words to make these stand down. Without the notes from Chisisek's tomb, it would take months of patient study by a team of experts to work out how to activate this mechanism.
Besides killer statues and rusting machines, the command centre also contains a vault packed with small sealed jars that, if opened, each contain an odd-looking preserved insect floating in fluid. These 'insects' are, in fact, magically preserved thoughts pulled from the minds of Hakotep's subjects, which he stored here in case he needed them later: some contain moments of insight or understanding, while other house experiences of fear and trauma. Eating a bunch of the former will grant great wisdom and understanding, possibly allowing the working of the mechanism to be intuited in minutes rather than months. Eating lots of the latter will send you mad with horror. Whatever cataloging system once organised them was lost millennia ago.
There is also an animated mummified spinosaurus down here. Because fuck you, that's why.
The Sky Pyramid: Hakotep's pyramid has been floating in orbit for thousands of years: a vast mass of weathered stone bristling with black iron rods that arc and crackle with electricity. It's very high up, making it effectively unreachable by any but the strongest flyers, but the Bone Trenches will be able to pull it down if aimed in the right direction. When it lands, its sheer weight is so great that it sinks several feet into the earth.
Unlike most pyramids, which were built as tombs, Hakotep always intended his pyramid to be more of a flying death fortress. The loyalists who launched it into orbit mostly died of intense cold shortly afterwards, but enough of Hakotep's minions have survived intact to make the pyramid intensely dangerous to intruders. These include the following:
- Bound lightning elementals. These mostly exist to power the lightning rods outside the pyramid, but in some places they have come somewhat loose from their magical moorings and now roam the halls.
- Keshenepek, a horrible fish demon whom Hakotep summoned to act as his royal admiral. He's been stuck inside a frozen pool of water for thousands of years and is extremely eager to take out his accumulated frustrations on anyone who comes within range of his harpoon.
- An arena containing dormant brass golems and bone golems, which will creak to life to attack anyone who sets foot within.
- The tormented ghost of Princess Nailah, who was executed for attempting to depose Hakotep in a coup, and her six drowned handmaidens. She will attack anyone entering her chamber, but if the PCs manage to communicate with her then she will do everything she can to help them in destroying Hakotep and his legacy. She cannot leave her burial chamber, but the dripping, waterlogged corpses of her murdered handmaidens can.
- The spirit of General Tarawet, the Hakotep loyalist who dragged her master's desecrated corpse into his throne room and activated the pyramid before freezing to death. Her ghost still roams the halls in her phantom chariot pulled by spectral steeds, attacking all who defy her beloved pharaoh.
- The undead body of Hakotep's wife, Queen Neferuset. In life she was a cultist of dark gods, and in death she has become something hideous and strange, crawling along the ceilings as she creeps from room to room. She has all sorts of horrible magic, and if killed she simply dissolves into a miasmic mist and starts reforming inside her canoptic jars. Only if the jars are destroyed can she be truly defeated.
- The awful sorceress Kentekra, whose body is composed of thousands of skittering scarabs.
- Rank upon rank of skeletons, mummies, and animated statues, still waiting for deployment orders that never came. They'll defend themselves if attacked directly, but will not otherwise act unless ordered to do so by the risen Hakotep.
Hakotep's Throne Room: The hallway leading to this room is decorated with images of people abasing themselves before Hakotep, or offering him great treasures. It is enchanted with spells that strike down all who approach with unbearable agony, unless they are holding out an item of great value as though in tribute, or crawling forwards on their hands and knees. The room itself is defended by a fearsome mummified sphinx. If General Tarawet has not been defeated already, then this is where she will make her last stand.
Hakotep's mummified corpse is still slumped on his golden throne, with an obvious hole where his heart should be. If his heart is returned, then his personality is reunited with his will and he essentially becomes an awesomely powerful ghost tethered to a vulnerable and inanimate body. If his mask is returned, then his personality is reunited with his vital spark and he becomes a raging undead powerhouse, crashing around the pyramid beating people to death with his ceremonial flail. If his heart and his mask are returned then he is restored to full unlife, sends out his minions to smash the mechanism keeping his pyramid earthbound, and flies off to start retaking his kingdom.
Behind Hakotep's throne room lies his treasury, which contains enough gold, jewels, and ancient artifacts to make all the PCs very, very rich.
If the PCs do nothing:
- Five days after the ka pulse: The Silver Chain find Nebta-Khufre, assassinate him with the aid of Bheg, and take the Mask of Hakotep. The next day, Meret-Hetef will leave Wati with the mask, heading for the Faceless Sphinx.
- Two weeks after the ka pulse: Meret-Hetef hands the mask over to Serethet, boosting her power and allowing her to finally drive the maftets from the tunnels beneath the Sphinx.
- Five weeks after the ka pulse: Serethet finally finds the tomb of Chisisek.
- Nine weeks after the ka pulse: Serethet leads the Cult into the Bone Trenches. Most of them die horribly, but she manages to activate the mechanism and call down the sky pyramid. Horribly wounded, she crawls inside, only to die a short way beyond the main entrance.
- Ten weeks after the ka pulse: Queen Neferuset finds Serethet's body, and carries the heart and mask back to her husband's corpse. Hakotep rises from the dead. The Reign of the Sky Pharaoh begins again.
This condensed AP would make for a good way to lead a campaign to Spelljammer, with the Sky Pyramid being a pyramid ship and the Bone Trenches mechanism negating its helm.ReplyDelete
I only acquired the first couple installments of Mummy's Mask, since the second adventure turned me off (though I don't recall why), and I didn't bother to purchase any more.
You didn't miss much. Mostly just hundreds of pages of ultra-repetitive dungeon crawls. It's all just whacking skeletons in dusty tombs, except the skeletons have more and more hit dice in each installment.Delete
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Fantastic write up. Maybe the monotony could be broken up by replacing the undead with elementals, and aberrations (to hint at the queen's dark powers).Delete
Also making some of the combat encounters non-combat encounters by default.
Thanks for doing it. Your condensations make me want to run these adventure paths. :)ReplyDelete
Thanks - glad to hear it!Delete
These are great! Would love a few lines on what type of stuff you cut (I guess I could just get the originals)ReplyDelete
Part 1: Filler. I cut everything except Imanish.Delete
Part 2: Cut the psychopomp subplot, the kidnapped priest subplot, and most of the Old City monsters.
Part 3: Heavily condensed the Great Library material and cut the cult attack subplot. Cut almost all the desert material.
Part 4: Mostly kept but heavily condensed.
Part 5: Mostly kept but heavily condensed.
Pat 6: Cut the four elemental-themed dungeons from Hakotep's pyramid, and heavily condensed the rest.
I also modified the plot throughout to make it less nonsensical. In the original, killing Serethet sends Hakotep's ib flying back to his body and brings him back to life, which means that defeating her at the end of part 4 actually represents a major failure for the PCs, and raises the question of why Hakotep's spirit didn't just have her commit suicide as soon as it took over her mind...Delete
This is amazing. I'd totally play this sand (heh) box.ReplyDelete
At this point I'm wondering if you're gonna "translate" into old-school an adventure from some less obvious system than D&D and its derivatives. I mean, it's not like you're ever gonna run out of them, but I'm still kinda curious how would you old-school-ify a scenario from, like, Vampire.ReplyDelete
Also, I have an unrelated question, but people seem to not mind using the comments to ask them, so I'm going to do that. Been thinking, how about making frog-men a playable race? I mean, the peat-bog-men also have a problem with drying out, and I'm pretty sure one can come up with enough reasons with frogs to leave the marshes, and I for one would consider playing the frog if I had the option.
This series was born specifically out of my frustration with the way that Pathfinder APs kept burying good, inventive adventure premises under landslides of pointless filler, so they'll probably always be the main focus. I could branch out, but I'm not as familiar with adventure modules from other games, and the impression I get of many of them is that once you strip out the railroading there wouldn't be a whole lot left.Delete
We actually had some mutant toadman PCs in my recently-concluded Team Tsathogga campaign. Advantages: can see in the dark, can hold breath for hours underwater, great swimmer. Disadvantages: must make Wisdom check to keep cool in highly emotional situations, look super-weird and probably need to cover up in human settlements, automatically fail saves against airbourne and contact poisons due to permeable skin. (The emotion thing was due to their mutant nature, and would't have applied to normal toadmen.) We figured that the advantages and disadvantages more or less balanced out, and treated them in all other ways as normal members of their class. I'll have to think about what a full race-as-class toadman would look like, though.
Good jumpers too, and one-in-third chance of having a knack for mathematics!Delete
Brilliant - "filler dungeons, blatant railroading, incoherent plotting, and pointless bloat" are what always put me off about Pathfinder paths. I could literally write my own campaign in the time it would take to read, digest, and make notes on the stuff in the book.ReplyDelete
Well, that's why I write these posts. As I tell my students, 'I read these books so that you don't have to!'Delete
As always, this is amazing work. This truly is one of the best, and definitely my favourite, roleplaying blogs.ReplyDelete
Thanks! I hope to do some more Condensations in the near-ish future. Carrion Crown, maybe. It was a horrible adventure path, but it might make for a pretty good horror-themed sandbox...Delete
I've been following the blog ever since the Kingmaker conversion, and ym hopes were since then way up high for a Carrion Crown conversion, so I'll be keeping a very close eye on this daily now. Happy Holidays!Delete
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Huh. I've had love magic spam, wealth magic spam, 'become a vampire' spam, and 'join the illuminati' spam, but death spells are a new one for me.Delete
Don't hire people over the internet to kill your romantic rivals with black magic, kids. It never works out well in the end.
Fake egyptian and flying pyramid, really Pathfinder ?ReplyDelete
Love your work on these, and also everything you've said on romantic fantasy and gaming.
Is there any chance we will see more of your original work ? I had a great impression of The Rosefinch Khatun, and would certainly like to see more of your own sandbox.
Be grateful I only included one. In the original version, Hakotep has *sixteen* flying pyramids.Delete
I'd like to do more original adventure writing, but it takes more mental energy than just hacking the bloat out of other people's stuff, and between work and childcare I don't have much of that to spare these days. Maybe next summer...
Wait, sixteen?? Did you fight through sixteen of them????Delete
Only two in the main plot: the PCs have to fight through one of the little ones as a kind of warm-up dungeon for the big one. Then all the others are meant to crash after Hakotep dies, but the book suggests that if you want to continue the campaign past level 17, you can make your PCs fight through the rest of them, too.Delete
But yeah. Apparently Hakotep built sixteen flying pyramids, all packed with high-level undead and demons, all of whom have just sitting in the sky for six thousand years, waiting patiently for their boss to stop being dead. It's a good thing for Golarion that his lieutenants apparently have no independent initiative whatsoever...
Really enjoyed reading it and it held my attention all the way through! Keep it up.
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One thing I never understood is why, when any random corpse can become a zombie the first moment a necromancer wanders into town, do people still keep just burying the dead. In our own past people had like a bazillion various methods to prevent the dead from rising (from relatively mundane, like face-down burial, cutting tendons, or dismemberment, to purely magical practices), and that was in a non-magical setting. One would imagine somebody would wise up and do something of that sort if zombies were commonplace. And it's not like an overbearing religious authority mandating burial practices is common in fantasy worlds.ReplyDelete
I'd love to see your take on Hell's Rebels. Thoroughly enjoyed it as a player, despite it having a lot of the same issues as Pathfinder's other APs. I've been meaning to convert it over to Shadow of the Demon Lord to run for another group, and it would be interesting to see what you choose to keep/cut/change.ReplyDelete
I already know some things I would cut (Shensen in her entirety, for one), but to be frank, you seem to be a lot better at sussing out the core experience from Pathfinder APs.
I'm a player in this AP currently (I skipped the spoilers), your analysis fit my take on it: waaaaaaaay too much in here, it could have been chopped a lot. I've lost a lot of interest in it, especially as it's become a railroad.ReplyDelete
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Long-time lurker, first-time poster.
Just dropping a line to say a huge thank you for your blog over the years, not only has it been brilliantly written & often laugh-out-loud funny it's has been instrumental in firing up my enthusiasm for RPGs after the longest time when I couldn't see the point. It's introduced me to a whole host of wonderful stuff & your Wicked City setting has been something I've gagging to unleash on some players. I hope to get a group together soon to travel to it (or at least, a bowdlerised facsimile of same!). I've loved the delves into literature too!
I realise with the radio silence I might be howling into a void here but if you *have* packed it in, all the best to you & yours & thank you once again for the words, mate.
Thanks for the kind words - I'm always glad to hear that people have found the blog useful. I'm currently running my own players through something of a bowdlerised facsimile of the Wicked City myself (because I didn't want them to be able to learn all about the setting just by reading the blog), so I wish you all success in doing the same!Delete
I am still around, but back in September I took on some new responsibilities at work and then I looked up and it was three months later. The blog hasn't been abandoned. But it might be updated very infrequently for a while.
Good luck with the game!
Awesome to hear you're gaming!ReplyDelete
Best of luck, mate.
This is an incredible write up and arguably more useful to me as a GM than the book. I read this back when you posted it and have been looking for it ever since. I finally cobbled together the right combination of search terms to find it again.ReplyDelete
I like your condensation.
However, there are some points that I don't understand.
In the original version, when the characters kill Setheret they have to take the Hakotep's Sky Pyramid to the ground because the pharaoh has awakened and they have to stop it (I know it's senseless, I agree with you but ... it works).
Here? In your versioen once Setheret is killed why should the characters pull that pyramid down? As long as the pharaoh is not awakened, the pyramid is harmless and unreachable. Why should the party not hide the mask and the heart by binding them to a stone and throwing them in the quicksand?
Then even if they go to the pharaoh's throne room, what do they do? Ok, they get tremendously rich with his treasure but do they leave him there? Did they bring the mask and heart home as souvenirs?
There is neither a final boss nor a clear ending in the story.
No, you're quite right: if the PCs are able to stop Serethet before she brings the pyramid down, then they don't have to fight Hakotep. This is intentional. It's really important to me that adventures run as worlds, with clear chains of cause and effect, rather than as pre-scripted 'plot arcs' that force the PCs towards a predetermined conclusion. If Hakotep comes back to life *even if the cult is thwarted*, then what was the point?Delete
They beat Serethet before she reaches the Bone Trenches? Great. The immediate threat is defused. Maybe they just lock the mask and the heart in a box and go home - they have every right to do so. But how many PCs are really just going to ignore the chance to explore the Bone Trenches, or to solve the mystery of the Sky Pyramid, or to seize the treasures of Hakotep (including that *sweet* flying pyramid) for themselves? And then, if/when they do, it will be because *they* chose to, rather than because the script said they had to.
If you wanted a more traditional structure, though, I'd suggest adding one tweak: the ka pulse awakens Hakotep, and from that point on his eventual return is an inevitability. Stopping Setheret just ensures he won't be at full power when they finally take him on!
Buy fast cleaner speed booster - Speed Booster CPU Cooler Junk Clean: Read Apps & Games Reviews - Amazon.com.ReplyDelete
I don't know where should I ask, so I'm asking here. How do you imagine playing ATWC? Like, should I prepare a biiig map of the entire Fantasy Central Asia before I start, so that I might know where to find the burial mounds or the frog people or the Noonday Dark raiders? Or do I introduce additional ideas whenever the players express a desire to go beyond the current whereabouts?ReplyDelete
It depends on your playstyle, but I'd have thought probably not on the big map. Detailed maps are for settings where it's important to know that site A is twenty-five miles north-east of site B, but part of the point of this one is its geographical enormity. There are tens of thousands of square miles of boglands in the taiga, and the chances of just stumbling across the Bronze Gods of the Frog Men are going to be crazily low. The honest answer to the question 'we ride east across the steppes for another day, what do we find?' is always going to be 'more bloody steppe.'Delete
So I'd start with the Wicked City itself, and maybe write up or randomly generate the handful of oasis kingdoms closest to it, just so that you have an answer to the question 'where do we get to if we ride east / west along the Great Road?' Then let the rest be guided by the interests of the players. Gradually fill out the city and the world beyond it with points of interest. Generate the rest as you go along...
Glad to see you're still around. This is by far my favorite gaming blog; I'd hate to see it abandoned. Do you plan on writing anything in the near future? I'd love to see more on your Central Asian setting, especially more adventures.Delete
Um. I never planned to abandon the blog: I still have a bunch of half-written posts that I was working on last year. But last September I took on some new responsibilities at work and my free time got absolutely hammered, and then just when I was getting on top of things the covid-19 outbreak hit and everything fell apart again. I'm still gaming, though, and I do hope to be able to resume blogging if/when things ease up, whenever that turns out to be...Delete
I wonder if the Great Road could be written up not as a hexcrawl or pointcrawl but something similar to the Gardens of Ynn or Stygian Library - a D20 table of locations, encounters, etc that you add your "depth" in the setting to so that things get weirder the further in you go. Instead of the depth of a pocket dimension you'd add or subtract your latitude compared to the Wicked City, so travelling north would see taigas while travelling south would see deserts.Delete
Thanks for the effort and great job! I'm definitely going to run this for my posseReplyDelete
Happy birthday to this post ! Hopefully more in the future :)ReplyDelete
I hope so too. It's been a hell of a year. Hopefully the next one will be a bit more friendly to blogging...Delete
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