Rivals of the Sun God, continued
Child of the Hooded Serpent
In the dawn of the Nithian empire, the ancient pharaohs worshiped desert gods - golden, hooded dragons. The dragons taught the men of Nithia ancient lore and arcane magic, and made the Nithian pharaoh strong and powerful. The pharaoh's sphere of influence expanded and their empire grew, spreading first over continents, and then throughout the planes.
Men however, have very short memories. As the Nithian empire grew, their memories of the desert gods decreased. The dragons were still revered in the core of the empire, but the core grew ever and ever smaller. In the colony worlds the dragons were remembered as myths, if they were remembered at all.
Then the pharaohs grew sick. They walked only in dark places, plotting to kill one another and gain more power for themselves. The Nithian pharaohs commanded their armies to march and lay siege to their enemies, their brothers. Crazed wizards roamed the countryside, emboldened by the chaos, and tried to carve out empires of their own. Many of the colony worlds rebelled, and the empire weakened.
The ancient gods, gods of the desert, saw all of this and were determined to stop it. They found new followers in the swamps, more loyal and worthy followers than the humans had been. The desert gods molded them into the perfect society. Scaly and cunning, the new children of the desert gods fought many battles with the crazed Nithians, but in the end the humans overwhelmed them.
Seeing that the Nithians were too powerful to defeat, the desert gods gathered up their worthy followers and brought them to the land of the forever sun, a land where no Nithians had ever walked before. There they built the splendid city of Pahat-Surah, and flourished there.
(As the Immortals know things...)
After the fall of Blackmoor, several gold dragons fled their cataclysmic world and burrowed into the earth. Deep in their caves they slumbered for centuries. During their slumber, the dragons underwent drastic changes, both mentally and physically. All of the dragons had become smaller, their scales more fine and supple. Large flaps of skin had grown on the sides of their necks forming hoods like cobras.
When the dragons awoke they found themselves in a fertile river valley populated by a hardy, if somewhat backwards, human race. The dragons made their homes in the fertile valley. From their fortresses they dominated and subjugated the human tribes of the valley. So that their empire would expand, and perhaps rival that of lost Blackmoor, the dragons taught some of their most loyal subjects the ancient arts of magecraft. The Nithian empire was born, and it grew in size and power.
The dragons had been changed during the Great Rain of Fire, and now they turned their attention inward, to learn the depths of those changes. They sought out knowledge, and finally performed the Ceremony of Sublimation.
However, the dragon gods did not recognize them anymore. They were branded renegades, and their gods would not lend them power to complete their Ceremonies of Sublimation. The hooded serpents would not be dissuaded. They altered the Ceremonies to absorb the life force from surrounding lands. As the hooded serpents and their offspring grew in power, the land about them became a vast desert.
As the empire grew the dragons had an ever increasing difficulty in maintaining their order. They began to fight among themselves for the choicest land and subjects. Outer colonies became more independent, their pharaohs turning toward Immortal powers to replace the vacuum left by their dragon patrons. Clerics of the Immortals walked the land spreading their faith, and the dragons lost even more of their followers. By the time the dragons realized what was happening it was too late. They banded together in a last ditch effort to reclaim what they had had once before, but the Nithians, with their new found clerical powers were too much for the dragon's armies. The once great wyrms were pushed back to their fortresses in the desert. The Nithians began to rule themselves, and grew prosperous.
The hooded dragons roamed the land in search for new followers, ones who would not betray them as the humans had. They found tribes of lizard men living in the swamps, hardy and aggressive. They were the perfect tool for the dragons to use to reclaim their empire. The dragons brought them to the desert and modified them. The desert gods created a new species more like themselves.
They taught them just as they had the humans. Then they waited for a chance to strike. Prosperity was not to last for the Nithians however. Their immortal patrons disagreed on how to guide their people. Soon they began to fight among themselves, just as the dragons had. That was the moment that the wyrms had been waiting for. The desert gods brought forth their host to do battle with the Nithians.
Despite their differences, the Immortal patrons were quick to react to this new threat. They set aside their disagreements with one another to combat the dragons, and the desert armies were quickly vanquished. The dragons fled back into the desert, but this time they were pursued. The Nithians would not let this transgression pass, and followed their old gods, intent upon destroying them.
Rather than meet their doom at the hands of the Nithians and their Immortal patrons, the dragons fled their desert home and headed toward the southern pole with a few of their lizardmen followers. Years before, during their search for new subjects, one of the dragons had come upon the entrance to the Hollow World. That was their new destination. They settled near a small fertile valley much like their home on the outer world.
As the dragon's new empire grew, deep within the Hollow World, the land around them was slowly transformed into what is now the Scale Desert. Their tentative alliance did not hold long and the dragons soon began to fight among themselves again. Over the centuries their empire dwindled until only one great city remained, the city of Pahat-Surah.
After having discovered that the hated Nithians have once again encroached upon their territory, the citizens of Pahat-Surah keep hidden in their secret city and await the day they can claim vengeance upon their enemies.
The city of Pahat-Surah (which means "Throne of God") was erected deep in the Serpent Desert by the Children of the Hooded Serpent. Pahat-Surah is a divided city, with the majority of it residing underground in vast chambers hollowed out by ancient subterranean rivers. The upper city consists of the pharaoh’s palace and two surrounding gardens, military structures, a marketplace, commoner dwellings, and several large glass coverings fitted over openings to the caverns below. The lower city contains the pharaoh’s, and other nobles', dwellings, temples and shrines to the Hooded Serpent, underground gardens and fields, as well as the sacred breeding pools.
The upper city is dominated by the pharaoh’s palace, a grand limestone structure filled with monumental serpentine statues and columns. The front of the palace faces the main gardens, while the southern wing faces the pharaoh's slightly smaller private gardens. The palace is a single story building except in the very center, where a second story rises above the first. In the center of the palace, underneath the extended roof which forms the second story, is the pharaoh’s main audience chamber and throne room. The northern wing houses various functionaries and city administrators, while the southern wing is populated predominantly by the priesthood.
Beneath the ground the palace extends into the caverns below, to become the pharaoh’s personal dwelling.
South of the palace lies the pharaoh’s private gardens. Like the slightly larger main garden, the private gardens rely upon water pumped up from the caverns below to feed the lush green plants here. Only the Pharaoh, his immediate family, and high ranking priests are allowed here. The private garden is surrounded by a ten foot limestone wall set with numerous magical traps and wards to prevent unwanted visitors. Each plant in the garden is unique (with there being only one or two of a kind, a male and female plant if there are two), and several of them have potent chemical or magical properties. The main gardens lie just east of the palace and form a tropical corridor from there to the marketplace. The northern and southern ends of the gardens are lined with tall, glyph covered statues and monoliths. The plant life here is less exotic than that in the private gardens, but it is more lush. A vast network of pumps and pipes draw water from the rivers and lakes below to feed the plants above. At certain times of the cycle water springs forth and trickles throughout the vegetation as slaves below man the pumps. In the center of the garden is a large multi-tiered fountain depicting the Hooded Serpent. The fountain flows continuously throughout the cycle. It receives its steady stream of by means of a spell which draws the liquid up from the underground lake.
Off of the north wing of the palace is the headquarters for the military. Warriors are trained here in hand to hand combat, as well as in the use of war chariots. Only the elite warriors are allowed to do combat on the field of battle. Any troops encountered here will be capable warriors, armed to the teeth with minor magical items (mostly weapons) made by the wizards and priests below.
Opposite the palace, on the other side of the main garden, lies the marketplace. A flat, circular area, the marketplace is filled with shops and booths of all kinds, some permanent structures, many makeshift shacks. By law, all business is conducted in the upper city, so farmers must transport their goods to the surface before selling them. In the northern end of the circle is a stone structure which leads to the city below. Only commoners and merchants use this entrance, while the nobility travels between the upper and lower cities through the palace.
Living quarters for the commoners of Pahat-Surah span from the military structure, across the eastern edge of the marketplace, and down south throughout the glass coverings that scatter the southern regions of the city. Every cycle half of the citizens of Pahat-Surah make their way through the marketplace and down below to the fields beneath the city. The other half must brave the heat of the red sun and trudge about the southern parts of the city, cleaning sand and dust off of the glass plates that cover the caverns below. The city below is composed of several large, interlinking caverns. The multi-tiered chamber just underneath the city above, houses the pharaoh’s personal abode, as well as the dwellings of several noble families. At the bottom of the chamber is a shallow lake fed by several underground rivers. It is from this lake that slaves pump water to the surface gardens above.
Several of the surrounding caverns house the sacred breeding grounds. These caverns are warm and humid, and receive light from above through some of the glass plates. A few of the citizens of Pahat-Surah dwell in these places, most of them being priests or wizards.
Those chambers furthest away are the farming chambers. These caverns are lit from above by great fused chunks of glass covering the ceilings. Without these glass coverings, not enough sunlight would enter the caverns to permit the crops to grow.
Further in the depths are several forgotten chambers. Large caverns, once used for agriculture and breeding chambers were long ago abandoned when the Children of the Hooded Serpent learnt that Nithians once again walked over their lands. In an effort to maintain their secrecy, the pharaoh reduced colonization efforts. As a result several of these chambers have gone wild, filled with dense vegetable and fungal growths and populated by less civilized denizens of the deep. Other chambers have died, becoming pale shadows of their former glory.
The pharaoh has two closely guarded magical secrets. The first is a feat of magical engineering which neatly sidesteps the Spell of Preservation’s powers of gate negation. On the surface world the Nithians were masters of gateways and planar traveling. In the Hollow World such arts do not function, unless you know how to make shortcuts through the Spell of Preservation.
The Hollow World’s sun is itself a pinpoint gate to a plane of fire. Upon arriving in the Hollow World, the Hooded Serpents learned of how to exploit this minor inconsistency in immortal magic. Hidden in one of the sun caverns of Pahat-Surah is the Sun’s Archway, an intricate stone monument carved into the very cavern itself. The Sun’s Archway is a towering stone arch covered in runes and glyphs. These are detailed recordings of the movement of the floating continents. The stones which compose the archway are a dull red, and scorched and cracked with flames. When the positions of the floating continents are in proper alignment, the wizards can open a gateway to another location in the Hollow World by going through its sun. The location of the other end of the gate is determined by the position of the floating continents. Any portal opened in this way will not last longer than a few minutes. Those passing through the gateway have the added burden of being assaulted by scorching hot flames (a part of the red sun itself) and must protect themselves by arcane means or be burned to a cinder.
Several times a year the Sun’s Archway is used by the pharaoh to conduct raids on his enemies (the nearby Nithians, and the far off Taymorans) without fear that they will discover his city. These raids are often suicidal missions, as the brave souls have no way to return home unless another gateway can be opened at a nearby location.
The second secret is kept by the pharaoh alone. It was handed down to him by the Hooded Serpents personally, and is the source of his eternal youth. (See Sublime Ceremonies below.)
Meeting the Pharaoh
Let the PCs explore the city for a while. The reptillian inhabitants that they encounter will mostly be no better off than serfs, and will pay them little heed. The humans that they meet will all either be slaves, or children of slaves, and may either react as their reptillian counterparts, or by pleading with the PCs to free them from this land. Eventually the party will stumble upon a guard patrol. The patrol will appear threatening, but will resort to violence only if forced to. Myrrith's presence, if she chooses to reveal her true features, will confuse the patrol, and the entire party will be brought before the pharaoh immediatly.
The pharaoh will not be impressed with any humans in the party, no matter how many grandiose titles they have. As long as they are silent the pharaoh will act as if he does not even see them. Once they speak however, he will become vexed. As far as the pharaoh is concerned, humans are slaves, and should behave as such. He will be intrigued by any PCs with reptillian blood, and will try to engage them in polite conversation. Any party members that actually have draconic blood flowing through their veins, no matter how dilute, will become the center of the pharaoh's attention. Most likely, this will not be the case, and the pharaoh will focus his attention on Myrrith. If however, one of the PCs is draconic, substitute that individual for Myrrith with concern to the pharaoh's mechanations.
Assuming that the PCs are Myrrith's slaves or henchmen, the pharaoh will pay them no heed unless they draw attention to themselves. He is genuinly enamored with Myrrith, and will spend hours speaking with her about what it "is" to be the child of a dragon. He hasn't spoken to another of his kind in almost a millenium (See the NPC section for details on the pharaoh and his history).
Depending upon how well the encounter goes, the pharaoh will have one of two goals. If Myrrith reacts favorably, the pharaoh will entice her to be his wife. When he performs the Ceremony of Sublimation he will direct a portion of its energies toward sustaining her. The pharaoh reasons that with Myrrith as his wife, he could sire some very powerful offspring...the better for him to consume during subsequent Ceremonies.
If Myrrith is unreceptive towards the pharaoh's advances, he decides to consume her during this Ceremony of Sublimation. He will remain charming and will not reveal his displeasure until the Ceremony has begun.
Unless their meeting is a disaster, the pharaoh will allow Myrrith and her retinue to have free reign of the city, both above and below. The party has three days with which to wander around, see the sights, and gather information, before the pharaoh's procession leaves for the Sublimation Complex. The DM should feel free to devise all manner of adventures for this time period. During their stay in the city, they will be followed at all times. If they try to leave the city, several elite gurads and assassins will block their way.
The reptilian creatures are armed with scimitars and daggers. They will try to take the characters alive, using the daggers, however if the party puts up too much resistance, they will draw their scimitars. Each sis'thik carries 1d8 gold pieces, and minor pieces of jewelry worth up to 25gp a piece.
The guards carry spears, and wear Nithian-style breast plates. Each of the lizardman guards carry 1d4 silver pieces.
The pharaoh has been preparing for the Ceremony for the past several years, and the timing is right for it now. A large procession composed of slaves bearing treasures, servants to attend the pharaoh, and soldiers to form a vanguard, leaves the city on its long trek across the desert to the Sacred Complex where the Ceremony will take place. At the head of the procession are a number of litters containing the pharaoh, Myrrith, several of his offspring, and perhaps the PCs. Priests and wizards dance about the litters performing arcane rituals. The procession is constantly on the move until they reach their destination, which will take just over one and a half sleeps.
The following events will occure, in the order given, once the procession reaches its destination:Map of the Pyramid Complex
Copyright © 2000, John Calvin, based on material copyright TSR/WotC, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.