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Ra-Hotep the Accursedby Demos Sachlas from Threshold Magazine issue 26
The second Gazetteer supplement GAZ2: “The Emirates of Ylaruam” introduced the ancient Nithians, a forgotten civilization in the Alasiyan basin on the continent of Brun, existing 2500-1500 years before the present day. The Nithian Empire was erased from history by decree of the Immortals for the crimes of its rulers and their Immortal patron, Thanatos, who aspired to forge an Empire of Undeath.
Although the primary inspiration for Nithia is Ancient Egypt, the official religion of the Nithian Empire in Gazetteer 2 The Emirates of Ylaruam was based on the Magian Fire Worshippers of ancient Persia. The Magians of Nithia on Mystara worshiped powerful beings from the Elemental Plane of Fire, in constant opposition to beings from the Elemental Plane of Water1.
The Magian Fire Worshippers in the Emirates of Ylaruam in the Gazetteer era are a secret cult whose members are descended from the ancient Nithians. They are described as evil magic-users and clerics, masters of elemental magic and necromancy. Their ultimate goal is to re-establish the Nithian Empire and the reign of the ancient line of Nithian kings.
For those wishing to further develop the Magian Fire Worshippers, their leader could be Ra-Hotep the Accursed, an ancient Nithian priest-king who became a lich and thereby escaped the obliteration of the Nithian Empire, as he was already buried in his tomb. Although memory of his past life is forgotten, he has once again begun to stir and is preparing to return.
Staging the Rise of Ra-Hotep
Scattered remnants of the Nithian race inhabit the northern highland wastes in the Emirate of Nithia, under the influence of Ra-Hotep. At the beginning of the campaign, characters may have a few encounters with these elusive primitive tribes, mostly in the form of nocturnal ambushes.
Later on, the party may encounter evil shamans in thrall to Ra-Hotep, able to summon undead spirits. The lich’s most powerful servants are sorcerers who can command undead, and also summon beings from the Elemental Plane of Fire.
Yasir al-Achmed of the Northern Highlands (a 24th level fighter) is a brigand chief, described in “The Village of Kirkuk” (GAZ2, pg 48) and is supported by a Magian fire-priest (a 9th level magic-user) and his acolytes (also magic-users). Yasir is unaware of the existence of Ra-Hotep.
The Magian Fire Worshippers have established a secret network throughout the Emirates of Ylaruam. Their foul rituals are forbidden, punishable by death. They are protected and supported by servants and allies from the Elemental Plane of Fire.
The Tomb of Ra-Hotep
Alan Lucien's short, handwritten adventure “Tomb of Ra-Hotep” was the inspiration for Gary Gygax's “The Tomb of Horrors” although most of us only got a chance to see it after it was included in the special edition of “Art and Arcana” (2018).
Lucien’s map and handwritten notes detail a trap-filled burial tomb, the lair of “the Lich of Ra-Hotep” who wields magic items in addition to a jackal stick, which controls a sphere of annihilation (a blackball, in BECMI terms).
Ra-Hotep is described as a Priest-Wizard (17th level cleric/16th level magic-user) who defied time and death. Liches in BECMI are either clerics or magic-users, so I have adapted Ra-Hotep to having been a Priest-King in ancient Nithia, able to cast spells as a 33rd level cleric.
Here are the spells I would suggest:
1st level – cause fear x3, darkness x2, detect good x2, detect magic x2
2nd level – blight x3, confuse alignment, hold person x2, resist fire, silence, 15' radius x2
3rd level – cause disease x2, continual darkness x3, locate object, speak with dead, striking
4th level – cause serious wounds x3, create poison x3, dispel magic x2
5th level – cause critical wounds x2, commune, finger of death x3, insect plague, truesight
6th level – aerial servant, animate objects x2, barrier x2, create normal animals x2, word of recall
7th level – earthquake, holy word x2, life drain, obliterate x2, travel
Rahotep portrait by Jeffrey Kosh (https://jeffreykosh.wixsite.com/jeffreykoshgraphics/home)
The Tomb of Ra-Hotep can be used as a climactic set-piece in a campaign where the player characters have discovered the ultimate objective of the Magian Fire Worshippers of re-establishing the Nithian Empire with Ra-Hotep as its undead pharaoh.
The activities of the Magians will not escape the notice of Barimoor, a 36th level Alphatian magic-user who dwells in a massive underground network of caves, bent on his own quest of Immortality. The threat posed by Ra-Hotep could therefore make for some strange allies.
Finally, the hand of Thanatos will eventually be perceived by other Immortals, who could also become involved in high-level adventures. More information on the Immortals involved in Ancient Nithia is available in HWR2: “Kingdom of Nithia”.
There was an actual Egyptian pharaoh, the first king of the 17th dynasty, named Rahotep.
T. Foster posted in 2018 about similarities between Alan Lucien's "Tomb of Ra-Hotep" and Gary Gygax's much later "Necropolis" (1992) for the Dangerous Journeys RPG.
For more on the real Magians of ancient Persia, see: https://www.livius.org/articles/concept/magians/
More information on the Magian Fire Worshippers rom the Vaults of Pandius: http://www.pandius.com/MD02_The_Magian_Fire_Worshippers_Files.pdf
1HWR2 Empire of Nithia presents instead a polytheistic religion for the Nithians in the Hollow World.