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Journey to the Rock and Labyrinth of Madnessby Ripvanwormer
I was looking through the Mystaran modules placement article and I became curious about B8, Journey to the Rock. I really like this map, which is probably the closest thing to the canonical placements for the various modules, and looks good, and is very convenient to have, but there are some problems with it. Notably, why is there a desert in the north of forested Karameikos (even, or perhaps especially, if it's only 8 miles wide)? And why haven't we hard of the lost city of Tuma in any other source? This article tries to tie Tuma's history into that of the Known World, but it's sketchy in places, overly "busy" for my tastes, and not tied to the Karameikan site of the map and the In Search of Adventure compilation.
I happened to be browsing the late 2nd edition adventure Labyrinth of Madness (by Monte Cook) the same day, and it suddenly occurred to me that the two fit together really well. They both have a similar story line - a terrible curse caused by the forces of malign Chaos. Labyrinth of Madness keeps things conveniently localized, and it even provides a ready explanation for a small, anomalous desert. In Labyrinth of Madness, the inhabitants of the Labyrinth manipulate magma tunnels, creating what in the module is a "tropical glen" in the northern mountains. This is suitably distinctive and surreal, but I think magma tunnels brought close to the surface could just as easily be responsible for a tiny desert in a region of temperate, forested hills. I had some problems with the plot of Labyrinth of Madness as well - why does the forces of Chaos, which ought to be unpredictable, transform everything into the same serpentine forms? And why use yuan-ti, which the PCs will recognize as a monster from the surface with an entirely different origin? Placing the adventure on Mystara, which doesn't have yuan-ti of its own (at least, not officially), and connecting them to the imprisoned Carnifex solves these problems. My last problem was the titan, who plays a huge role in Labyrinth of Madness but seems to come out of nowhere. I integrated him much more thoroughly into the story's background.
So here are some notes on combining the two. Hopefully some of it will be useful even if you don't own one or both adventures, or if you've placed Tuma someplace else.
The twelve titans
Long before the rise of humanity, at the dawn of the Age of Giants, the Immortals Ouranos and Terra created twelve titans, perfect, ageless beings of great power (but not truly Immortal), to shepherd the mortal races and to teach them. Yet as the centuries passed, the titans grew prideful, thinking of themselves as god-kings and not servants. The other Spheres of Power protested, and to protect the peace, Ouranos and Terra recalled the titans back to the Outer Planes to make way for (from the perspective of the mortal races) a new generation of gods to replace the old. Some rebelled against their creators in protest, claiming their fall from grace was unjust and left the mortals they had once protected in terrible danger. Ouranos and Terra sorrowfully locked these away in an Outer Plane designed to be their prison. Others remained loyal, while still others pretended to remain loyal but plotted in secret to continue to aid the mortal races in whatever way they could, defying the new Immortal laws against direct intervention.
Of the last group, the titan Aerthun (a major character in Labyrinth of Madness) has interfered repeatedly in mortal history, remaining in his own mind devoted to his mother Terra but plotting to advance the cause of Law without her knowledge. Though confined to his home plane, he used contacts throughout the planes to guide mortals to his domain, where he granted them magical secrets that might aid them in the unending struggle against Chaos and Entropy.
As the ages passed, the twelve titans were forgotten by the mortal races, ancient Ouranos has vanished, and even ancient Terra withdrew to some degree from mortal affairs. Throughout this time, though, Aerthun continued to intervene working through his mortal pawns to tip the balance between Law and Chaos. The results of most of these experiments, in lands long lost when the Great Rain of Fire desolated the world, do not concern us here. To tell the tale of fallen Tuma, we must begin with the story of Alcidaxes, Tuma's first king.
Approximately 700 years before the crowning of the first emperor of Thyatis, Alcidaxes was an accomplished warrior-adventurer whose travels (he quested after Immortality on the path of the Polymath, though he did not ultimately succeed) brought him to many lands and planes. Taking as his sponsor the Immortal Terra (whom he knew as Geb), Alcidaxes' devotion to Law and his opposition to the increasingly decadent Empire of Nithia (he was born in a Nithian colony-state, and hated his oppressors) earned him the enmity of the Sphere of Entropy and the alliance of Matter. In his first quest, as a mighty axe-wielding warrior, he banished the (non-Immortal) demon queen Ghul, the consort of Ranivorus, who had possessed the Nithian queen Peshaset, and wrested the Shard of Sakkrad from her clutches. In his second quest, as a thief beginning his career on the streets of Tel Akbar, he eventually traveled to the legendary capital of the efreet on the Elemental Plane of Fire, stealing the Shard of Sakkrad once again from an efreeti vizier and using it to prevent Thanatos from bringing the entire efreeti nation under his influence. His third quest, as a magic-user, took him even further, to the Outer Planes themselves. Though he managed to thwart the schemes of Thanatos once again (whose unspeakable plan would have transformed all the inhabitants of Nithia and its colonies into undead), he was only able to do so by sacrificing his opportunity to acquire the Shard of Sakkrad a third time, and thus he failed his attempt at Immortality.
It is one of the great ironies of history that Alcidaxes, who had sought to bring about Nithia's fall, delayed the destruction of the empire by centuries. By preventing the Immortals of Entropy from corrupting the empire, it remained a viable tyranny for almost 200 years, unpleasant to Alcidaxes and his people but not so abhorrent to the Immortals of the other Spheres that it merited the utter destruction it would ultimately receive.
Throughout all of this, the titan Aerthun acted as a shadowy secondary patron for Alcidaxes, granting him aid at various times in his quests but committing one unforgivable betrayal: he secretly (through an intermediary) absconded with the Shard of Sakkrad, which was in the possession of the Cynidicean wizard Dyris, who sought to use it as the capstone (pyramidion) of the great Black Pyramid that would be the focus of the Entropic energies that Thanatos sought to unleash. It was Terra's intention that Alcidaxes should defeat Dyris prior to confronting Thanatos, using the Shard of Sakkrad thus won to bring about the evil Immortal's banishment (which would satisfy the conditions of his Trial). Instead, Aerthun gave the Shard to Thanatos himself, and thus Alcidaxes ignored Dyris, seeing him as an expendable lackey, and (at the secret urging of Aerthun) confronted Thanatos on his home plane directly. Thanatos mocked Alcidaxes, telling him he had hidden the Shard of Sakkrad away so that neither he nor his patron could ever find it, but that if Alcidaxes would agree to switch to the side of Entropy, Thanatos would give him the Shard and allow him to complete the path of the Polymath with Thanatos himself as patron. For his Testimony, Thanatos promised, he would give Alcidaxes the task of finishing the great Black Pyramid that Dyris had begun, and with the terrible curse completed, Immortality would finally be in Alcidaxes' grasp, albeit in a very different Sphere. Alcidaxes resisted the temptation and managed to destroy the pyramid in Thanatos's realm, twin to Dyris's uncompleted one in Nithia, which would focus the Entropic energies toward the Prime Plane. Thanatos's scheme thus thwarted for the moment, Alcidaxes fled to Terra's home plane to beg for another quest to replace the one he failed. Aerthun intercepted him and told him that his new task would be to build a great city, with ancient magic of the Sphere of Matter that Aerthun would provide, which would oppose the Empire of Nithia and provide shelter for his people. Alcidaxes readily agreed, and so he returned to Mystara to found the city of Tuma, meant to be both his final Quest and Testimony, but in fact, without Terra's approval, serving as neither. Aerthun thought Alcidaxes would be more valuable to the cause of Law as a mortal hero, building a substantial bastion of Law on the Prime, then as another distant Immortal of the kind who had long ago conspired to prevent his siblings and himself from doing real good on the mortal plane, and thus had secretly sabotaged Alcidaxes' quest while grooming him to be the kind of champion that he would need to further his ends. With his quest seemingly abandoned, Terra granted Alcidaxes back his memories of his former lives, and Alcidaxes returned to Mystara as a hero skilled in swordplay, stealth, and magic, leading his people to a vale in the northern Traldar lands, where Aerthun had assured him there was a ready supply of mineral wealth that would give him raw materials to build his city and make it prosper.
With hidden secrets of the Sphere of Matter allowing Alcidaxes, with the aid of other trusted magicians to whom he passed on the secrets, to build a fantastic city with black, indestructible towers hundreds of feet tall, which no minions of Chaos and Entropy could defeat. Alcidaxes and his mages created living statues, winged constructs, and bound elementals to defend his city, and from this unassailable stronghold he sent regular assaults across the mountains into Nithia, to ensure that the black pyramid could never be rebuilt and to weaken the popular support for the regime there. Alcidaxes lived another 80 years before he was finally succumbed to old age, having never acheived the Immortality he sought. In 620 BC, the dying Alcidaxes passed his crown to his youngest (and only surviving) son, Belkazar, who continued his father's work. By the time of Belkazar much of the royal authority passed on to the council of mages who kept the secrets by which the city was created and maintained, but Belkazar's reign, lasting until 582 BC, was a period of prosperity and learning, though they held themselves aloof from the neighboring Traldar and the peoples across the mountains to the north. In that time they continued to be a thorn in Nithia's side, at once irritated by the Tumans' raids and covetous of their mineral wealth, but no invasion was able to penetrate Tuma's defenses.
In 582 BC, the crown passed to Belkazar's older (by a few minutes) son Calobanes, a hedonistic young prince who took his duties far less seriously than Belkazar had. Despite his brother Delophenes' urgent pleas to the contrary, Calobanes called an end to Tuma's raids against Nithia, which he viewed as futile, and with it he ended the vigilance and regular intelligence the raiders had earned. Thus it was during Calobanes' reign that Nithia began its slide toward destruction, and the people of Tuma, secure in their fortress, never noticed.
It was the descendants of Dyris, whom Alcidaxes had never bothered to slay, who preserved the seed of evil that might have otherwise been extinguished. Surviving as viziers, seneschals, and advisors to a succession of pharoahs and high priests, the House of Dyris slowly won over enough influential individuals that by 560 BC, the royal house of Nithia was once again completely under the sway of the Immortals of Entropy, worshiping Thanatos, Ranivorus, and Set. Yet the House of Dyris went far beyond their previous schemes, delving into secrets considered forbidden even by the debased standards of the Sphere of Entropy. Casting their divinations across the dimensions, they managed to contact the ancient, reptilian minds of the Carnifex where they coiled, maddened by their aeons-long isolation, endlessly plotting their revenge against the Immortals and the world. Able to contact the Carnifex but not free them, the Carnifex nonetheless were able to grant the Dyris warlocks powers otherwise unknown to any mortal people, lost secrets involving the Outer Darkness and forces beyond the known planes. Construction began anew on the Black Pyramid abandoned in the time of Alcidaxes, but this time with a secondary purpose; the Dyris-descended warlocks would use it to channel power enough to open the prison of the Carnifex, perhaps completing Thanatos's undead curse and freeing the Carnifex simultaneously. As they experimented, the very geography of Nithia seemed to shift, the climate already changed by the Nithians' long bias toward the Elemental Plane of Fire, but the northern Alasiyan plateau rising and the central desert sinking as if the dimensional forces the House of Dyris was unleashing were distorting the Prime Plane. Perhaps it was the work of the Celestial Planisphere they had created to study the planes and weaken planar barriers, or perhaps Immortals such as Terra and Protius were already working to bring about Nithia's doom before the schemes of House Dyris could be realized. Perhaps both were true.
King Calobanes would die in 550 BC, the victim of a Nithian assassin's poisoned arrow while he was out hunting alone in the forest of Sylvanhome. His brother Delophenes ordered the assaults against the Nithians resume, seeking vengeance for his brothers' death, but at that point the cultists of Entropy were too entrenched for the raids to affect their popularity or unseat them. The last of the Nithian pharoahs, determined to end the nuisance of the Tumans once and for all, calling the greatest clerics, mages, and warlocks of the House of Dyris to lead an army to Tuma, using their newly acquired planar magics, learned from congress with the Carnifex, to destroy the city of Tuma in a way that would circumvent the mysterious invulnerability of its towers. The plan was hatched in 501 BC, on the eve of Nithia's destruction.
The Dyris warlocks, led by the most powerful member of their house, a powerful cleric of Set called Im-Ravin, decided to use the tunnels deep underground, some of them newly exposed by the buckling landscape near their ancestral city of Cynidicea, to flank the city of Tuma, exiting from the Tumans' own mines and taking them by surprise. King Delophenes, focused obsessively on Nithia itself, did not think to post guards near the mines (or to explore how deeply they really went). With much of the Tuman forces in Nithia, the invaders were able to penetrate more deeply than ever before, destroying many of the protective constructs and elementals with fell magics. The Tumans still put up a valiant defense, and the Nithian army was decimated before the Dyris warlocks managed to complete their ritual. Eldritch words tore open the very fabric of existence, and the entire population of Tuma vanished into some other plane. Only two of the city's defenders escaped: Lirdrium Arkayz, who had been part of the ruling council of wizards, and one other, whose identiy he was not permitted to know. They were given two halves of an amulet crafted with magic from the Outer Plane of Brynn that prevented the two from aging, but the enemies of Tuma cast a spell that prevented anyone from Tuma from recovering it from its hiding place. So the two went underground, to reemerge in later centuries.
The remnants of the Nithian army rested as the Dyris warlocks worked to send the physical buildings of Tuma into the plane of imprisonment as well, in the hope that Tuma and the potent spells of the Sphere of Matter and Law that empowered it might be utterly forgotten. Taking their time to be meticulous this time, they completed the second ritual some months later, the army in the meantime raiding Traldar villages to support itself.
The nature of the plane to which Tuma had been banished is unknown. Perhaps it was an artificial pocket dimension created by the Dyris, a loop of space and time slightly out of phase from the Prime that spawned it but still intimately connected. It's possible the city and its inhabitants were banished to Limbo, that plane of the recently dead some know as the Shadowfell, which clings closely to every part of the mortal plane, wherever there are people who die. It's also possible that Tuma was banished to one of the Seven Realms that separate the Prime Plane from the Pits of Banishment where the Carnifex are imprisoned, though they could not have reached the Pits of Banishment itself, for over the centuries Tuma would occasionally return, the plane it was banished to coming into periodic conjunction with the Prime, though without its inhabitants. Only the ghosts of Tuma's fallen defenders would return with the empty buildings, with the living defenders who had been long ago banished nowhere to be found, and certainly no Carnifex who would have inevitably hitched a ride if Tuma had been in their realm.
Their task complete, the warlocks ordered the troops to begin the journey back home. It was then that they were caught entirely off guard by the Spell of Oblivion and the end of the Nithian Empire.
While the Spell of Oblivion did not, in general, affect the memories of the living but only the transmission of knowledge of Nithia across generations, the Immortals were particularly concerned about the power of the House of Dyris, and all memories of their homeland were thus stricken instantly from the minds of the Dyris and their troops. Confused, their army still decimated from the recent battle, and with the hostile Traldar now striking against them in retribution for their raids (not to mention concerned about the sudden disappearance of the city of Tuma), the Dyris led their followers back underground to recover their bearings. Unsure how to get home or where their home had been, apart from the caverns from which they had emerged, they were to remain there for some time.
Now our story depends almost entirely on Labyrinth of Madness, which tells of a human race known as the dyris, driven underground into the darkness because of their evil religion, who consorted with fiends and practiced an evil religion based on the adoration of Chaos. The dyris (we'll lose the capital letter; not remembering the name "Nithian," they took the name of the founder of the house as the name of their new refugee people) continued to open planar gates, still seeking to free their elusive patrons, the Carnifex, and continuing to worship Set and other Entropic Immortals. For many years, the horrific energies of the planes they delved into with their magic interacted and combined, becoming a force known as the lifebane, a semi-sentient force, born of Entropy, fostered by the madness of the imprisoned Carnifex and the dyris magi, began to subtly twist, reshape, and disrupt everything around it, starting with the dyris themselves.
Feeding on fungi and keeping their distance from the shadow elves, araneas, baldandars, deep glaurants, hivebroods, albino Hutaakans, and other subterranean races (whose power and numbers they rightfully feared), the dyris, though they did not thrive, managed to continue to exist in the darkness and chill of the realms below. Over time, the lifebane warped the dyris into serpent-like humanoids, their flesh growing as scaly as that of the Carnifex, or as their god Set. They began to resemble what in another world would have been recognized as yuan-ti abominations, though the people of Mystara had no word for huge serpents with human-like arms and torsos, creatures of fiendish intelligence who retained all the arcane and clerical powers they had had in human shape.
More sensitive to cold than they had been as humans, the dyris used their spells and magic items to draw forth the fiery magma from the world's mantle and bring it very near the surface, making their caves more comfortable for their new snake-like forms. The magma also heated the surface world (as portals to the Elemental Plane of Fire had caused deserts to spread across the former land of Nithia), creating a region in the hills above where no vegetation grew; this small wasteland became known to the local Traladarans as the Barrens. Those who ventured into the Barrens for too long would begin to experience some of the effects of the lifebane themselves, seeing maddening visions before their eyes, hallucinations warning them of Outer Beings and a vast, reptilian threat often interpreted as a sea creature that crawls on land, obliterating the boundaries of earth, air, fire, and water. Some have described a serpent with many heads, a symbolic representation of the Carnifex reaching from their prison dimension beyond the world. Rahg El-Mahr, the "Enlightened One" encountered in Journey to the Rock, is one of these hapless victims, though he is likely dismissed by those who meet him as a simple madman and not a bearer of secret truths.
With their new bodies and powers, the dyris waged minor wars and campaigns against the other subterranean races they had feared so long. In their lifebane-induced madness, they sought control over the subterranean world. Their battles with the shadow elves and other races were costly to the dyris, however, who were still small in numbers relative to their enemies. At its height, the empire of the dyris reached as far north as the Desert of Lost Souls, but not for long; the shadow elves slaughtered the colony they had built there, scattering their bones in the sands and leaving the Crown of Corruption the dyris general had worn buried in the ruins.
The corruption of the dyris form ultimately made it difficult for them to bear offspring to replace those fallen in battle, and the dyris suffered loss after loss, eventually being driven back to the caverns beneath the Barrens. Fortunately for the dyris, their foes sensed the power and corruption of the lifebane and never attacked them in their home.
Finally, Im-Ravin, who was still alive in his strangely changed form, succumbed completely to madness and performed the rituals of lichdom. He likewise transformed the remaining dyris into undead creatures, entombing himself and his people in the temple. To guard their tomb from their enemies and from treasure-seeking plunderers, they placed deadly traps throughout it. This temple, this tomb, became known as the Labyrinth of Madness, and from this stronghold, Im-Ravin and his undead tried once again to assert their power over the world below. Though minor victories were won, even a lich's power fades in time, and Im-Ravin finally felt the call of eternal slumber. To insure that his rest would go undisturbed, he sealed the labyrinth with impasssable magical wards, making the place virtually impregnable.
Over the long years of its existence, the lifebane had grown slightly self-aware, though its spark of sentience was twisted and corrupt. It had no intention of being entombed forever with the sleeping dyris, with nothing else to toy with or reshape. The lifebane used its power to alter the wards that Im-Ravin had left, making it possible to breach the defenses if certain sigils, sacred to the dyris, were found and used. By the time it had accomplished these alterations, some explorers from the world above had discovered the labyrinth beyond the abandoned Tuman mines. Upon entering, however, they quickly found themselves imprisoned by one of the place's many traps. The lifebane, having grown more powerful over time, was able to change and corrupt these adventurers much more quickly than it had changed the dyris. They became essentially the same as what the inhabitants of other worlds would recognize as yuan-ti half-breeds in only a short time.
These particular adventurers had a secret patron, the titan Aerthun, who had long regretted the destruction of Tuma and sought to discover what would happened to those responsible, to see if the curse could be reversed or, at least, the villains responsible wiped from the mortal world. Once the adventurers were firmly in the grip of madness from the lifebane's corruption, however, they used an artifact in their possession to summon Aerthun to the Prime. Aerthun had been keeping this device in reserve, as he had no desire for Terra or the other Immortals to find he had disobeyed their long-held interdiction against him interfering with the Prime. The adventurers were told to use it only if those responsible for destroying Tuma were discovered, but more than they could handle themselves. Perhaps this met the conditions, or perhaps the planar magic of the dyris aided them in tearing Aerthun unwilling across dimensions. Once in the labyrinth, Aerthun was soon snared by the lifebane's power and insanity and in a short time found himself transformed into the new lord of the labyrinth, a serpentine being of corrupt power.
Now thoroughly in the clutches of insanity, Aerthun seeks to draw beings of evil power to his side, re-establishing the time-lost reputation of the labyrinth as a power in the shadowy lands beneath the surface. The last thing he desired was the meddling of surface-worlders, but this is what he got.
Jenlar Temlin was well-known as a brave, honorable, and trustworthy fighter who eventually followed the path of the paladin. Under the employ of Lirdrium Arkayz, the refugee from long-lost Tuma, Jenlar was instumental in recovering the medallion that had been secreted away centuries ago.
Bolstered by the power of the recovered amulet, Lirdrium Arkayz used a powerful spell to identify the labyrinth as the home of his ancient foes. Jenlar Temlin, with a group of companions, descended into the caves below to investigate. All fell prey to the horrific magic and dangerous traps of the labyrinth, and Aerthun sealed Jenlar Temlin inside a crystal sphere set into a magical scepter created by Im-Ravin. He then dispatched a small imp to carry the scepter back to Arkayz with a message:
"If you continue to probe the unknown, you'll only discover new and faster means of inevitable destruction. You are not even the masters of your surface world - do not presume to meddle in affairs far beyond you. Disturb not the Labyrinth of Madness again, and live a while longer."
This, of course, provides the hook for the PCs, who worked for Temlin and Arkayz during the events of Journey to the Rock, to descend into the labyrinth themselves. If they did not play B8, there are many other reasons they could be aware of Jenlar Temlin or the subterranean threat. A party of shadow elves, disturbed by rumors of raids from ancient enemies to the south of their domains, might also be a fine choice.