Before you read a word of this scenario, written by Oliver Johnson and originally published in White Dwarf 58, for goodness’ sake read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth. If you’ve already read it, read it again. Imprint it on your mind, because this is the literary equivalent of taking a sledgehammer to a Fabergé egg collection. I don’t know what Oliver was thinking (he admires Vance as much as I do) but we were young and we had to pay the rent.
To minimize the vandalism and to preserve the mystery and wonder of the original stories, I’ve changed the names. Chun the Unavoidable (never described in the story, and therefore all the scarier) becomes Papu the Ineluctable here, and so on. I’ve left archveults and IOUN stones because D&D already laid its sticky fingerprints all over those. Why am I even publishing it, then, you ask? Because Games Workshop didn’t buy the copyright, it’s Oliver’s scenario, and completists may want to see it. But those are excuses, of course, not explanations.
All right, don't say you haven't been warned…
a Dying Earth scenario by Oliver Johnson
The following short adventure is based on “Liane the Wayfarer”, one of Jack Vance's excellent fantasy stories from the first Dying Earth collection. It provides a basis for introducing some of Vance's creatures to the campaign – particularly appropriate because Vance was one of Gary Gygax's prime sources of inspiration.
Lith the Weaver has entered into an infernal agreement with Papu the Ineluctable, a supernatural being who is custodian of the Tapestry of Ariventa in the Palace of Whispers. In exchange for the human eyeballs with which his cloak is embroidered, Papu gives Lith a thread or two of the tapestry. Lith is gradually reweaving the tapestry in her cottage. When it is complete, the tapestry forms a gateway to the magical world of Ariventa, where the process of ageing is arrested and all the fields and orchards are perpetually golden with harvest. The tapestry is now, after many years' work and grisly payment on Lith's part, almost half restored.
As the characters are travelling across moorland close to the Forest of Illimitable Green, which is on their left, strange blue scaled and crested humanoids burst from the bushes — an ambush!
No Appearing: 1-20
Armour Class: As worn, usually 5
Hit Dice: 1+1
Treasure: Individuals N, S,T
Attack: By weapon type or galvanic impulse
Alignment: Any Intelligence: Average and up
Archveults are an intelligent species from another world. They have shimmering blue scales, a large black crest over the domed skull, and a hooked beak/snout, but otherwise essentially humanoid in form. Archveults can reach 12th level as fighters and 9th level as assassins or thieves, but are not restricted at all as to level of magic-use. There are no archveult clerics.
All archveults have the special ability to generate an electrical discharge through their bodies which will cause a character touched to pass out for 2-12 rounds if a saving throw vs paralysis is not made. Whether or not the save is successful, the character will take 1-4 points of damage. Once the galvanic impulse has been used, an archveult will take 10-60 minutes to build up the electrical charge for a second such attack.
Archveults mine IOUN stones (see Dungeon Master’s Guide), and any archveult magic-user of 4th level or higher has a 10% chance of having 1-10 Stones.
Archveults are only encountered on this world in small adventuring groups of 1-20 individuals. This particular group of bandit archveults consists of:
- Xexamedes: 5th level archveult magic-user; AC9; HP15; Move: 12"; Spells: friends, jump, magic missile, shield, strength, web, lightning bolt; six IOUN stones (types 2, 4, 6, 6, 7, 14); 6 platinum pieces.
- Xexamedes' bodyguard — Three 2nd level archveult fighters; AC4; HP11, 9, 10; one attack at 1-8 (longsword); each has 1 platinum piece, one has a Potion of Healing.
As the characters are passing through the forest they eventually come across a cottage in a picturesque clearing. All is not well, however, for a muffled sobbing can be heard within. On closer investigation they find a beautiful woman lying on the floor before a tapestry stretched on a frame. It appears to have been torn in half, the remaining. section showing a pleasing panorama of golden fields and meadows where happy folk cavort and play.
Looking up, the woman blurts out, 'I am Lith. The tapestry you see before you is the last artistic representation of the paradise of Ariventa. It has been rent by the monster Papu the Ineluctable, who but half an hour ago burst in and ravished me before tearing my cherished tapestry in a spirit of gleeful malice. Track him down to his haunt and bring back the half of the tapestry he has taken — he cannot be far hence — and my gratitude will be forever yours.'
Any ranger, and any thief or assassin above 3rd level, will spot the inhuman tracks leading from Lith's cottage. (A ranger of greater than 3rd level will also notice that the tracks have been made on more than one occasion in the last week or so.) Lith will not accompany the party. If anyone attempts to coerce her, she will call on the magical defence which protects her within her cottage: daggers which materialize out of the air. She can call on up to twenty daggers. Each strikes as a 6th level fighter. After striking once, a dagger will disappear forever, so Lith will be sparing in their use.
Lith: 3rd level MU; AC10; HP6; Chaotic Neutral. Spells — friends, dancing lights, pyrotechnics.
The tracks lead out of the woods onto a barren moor. An ancient city must once have stood here; as far as the eye can see are ruined plazas, shattered columns and low, crumbling walls. High above in the sky, the characters notice what at first seem to be half a dozen hawks or large bats. They swoop down from an immense height, nearly blacking out the sun with their enormous wings. More closely, the characters can see the possibility of many antecedents combined in a single nightmarish hybrid—each has a globular belly covered with silvery fur, claw-like hands on dingy leather wings, a horny snout like that of a stag beetle, an array of white fangs like knife blades... They emit almost human cries of pleasure as they swoop to attack.
No Appearing: 1-12
Armour Class: 6
Hit Dice: 2d8+ 1
Attack: 1 bite/claw for 1-8
They are about five feet long and have a fifteen foot wingspan. Vicious predators, they will attack anything that appears vaguely edible. They are not stupid, however, and will break off any combat if necessary.
Passing further into the ruins, the characters discover a partially ruined grotto. Standing in a recess is a beautiful black statue of a strange being. It is draped with creepers and blotched with patches of moss.
This is not a statue but a creature called a teostalt. It will wait until the characters pass before leaping to attack them from the rear. If they do pass, characters should be automatically surprised.
No Appearing: 1
Armour Class: 3
Hit Dice: 6d8+ 1
Treasure: 30% chance of 1-3 pieces of jewellery
Attack: Two claws for 2-9 each
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Intelligence: Average to high
Notes: Surprises a party on 1-5; is never itself surprised
Perhaps created by some ancient magician, teostalts have the form of a handsomely muscled man with dull sable skin, and slit golden eyes like a cat's. Teostalts are able to remain motionless for many hours at a time in order to catch their victims unawares. Their only food is human flesh, which they desire with a constant and terrible craving. They will often taunt people they are pursuing, or implore them to surrender in tones mockingly plaintive. Teostalts are about human sized on average.
They approach the temple and enter its pillared hall. On the far wall, above an altar carved to represent thousands of tormented faces, they see the golden radiance of the other half of the tapestry. No sound can be heard now. The susurration they noticed outside has gone. They cannot see any other entrances to the building apart from the one they entered by, but the dust on the floor here has not been disturbed for some time.
By standing on the altar stone, characters can easily reach the tapestry. As they take it down, they uncover a dark recess in the wall behind it. From this leaps Papu the Ineluctable.
Papu the Ineluctable
No Appearing: 1
Armour Class: 1
Hit Points 36 (from 8 dice)
Treasure: G, H
Attack: Two claws for 2-16 each, surprises on a 1-6
Special Attacks: Surprised characters must save vs fear (at +1) or stand defenceless for 1-3 rounds.
Special Defences: Cannot be surprised.
Papu's face resembles that of a large baboon, the white face patch composed of bare bone, with empty sockets where the nose and eyes should be. The rest of his enormous body is covered with black, glistening fur and there is about him a noxious animal reek. He wears a cloak of human eyeballs laced on silk threads. Papu runs with ferocious speed on all fours after anyone who attempts to escape him. He tears the eyes from his victims and laces these onto his cloak. After slaying any group of adventurers whom Lith dupes into going after him, he detaches some threads from the tapestry and takes them to her cottage as repayment.
Papu is very large — he would stand some eighteen feet tall if upright. He takes his soubriquet from a special magic power. Once on a victim's trail, he can follow unerringly until the victim is caught. Even travelling to another dimensional plane will not shake off Papu's pursuit.
It may seem that Lith cannot lose out in this scenario — if the players defeat Papu, how will they ever know they've been suckered? In order to give them a chance to lay the blame where it belongs and exact revenge on Lith, have Papu speak to himself while he is fighting. 'Ah, Lith, you have sent fine sets of eyes for me this time!' That should give them enough of a clue. The players may take the tapestry back to Lith, and she will indeed be grateful (after her initial shock of seeing the players alive). Unfortunately, she doesn't actually have anything of value to give them as reward. The players may themselves engineer the situation so that they can use the tapestry. In this case, the referee will have to work out the results — perhaps a campaign set in the world of Ariventa?