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Forgotten Places of Davania: The Pillars of Yath-Khe

by Geoff Gander

"And so it was, that the fallen host of Garidis came at last unto a verdant oasis, where they partook of its many pleasures. There they rested, and the many sorrows of those dark times were cleansed from them, until one day, spake Garidis unto his followers, 'Come, ye men of Lhomarr, and take up thy swords! Now is the time that we few ride forth once more, and avenge our fallen houses upon the Unclean Ones!'

"And so with a great cry did Garidis and his host take their leave of the oasis, and ride south amidst the broken lands that lay north of the Inner Sea. Through the ruins of Ilarnn and Suur did they ride, and the men of Lhomarr fell into despair, for where they sought life and hope, there was naught but death.

"Darker became the days, until at last they came upon the burning ruin of a great city of the Unclean Ones. With a great rage, they passed through its shattered walls, and saw that another host had taken its due from the creatures therein, but Garidis would not rest, and with great fury he put to the sword all he could find, even unto the slaves who yet lived - so hateful, and vengeful, had he become.

"Then there came to Garidis' eyes a strange light, and he bid unto his men, 'Brothers in arms! Small vengeance have we yet had, but yonder lies the grand temple of this foul city, whose doors lie still untouched. Let us go now, and take our fill of riches ere we depart. Such will be ample payment for our sorrows!'

"Thereafter did Garidis lead his men to the temple, which lay in the shadow of its many great pillars, and upon the stairs did the men of Lhomarr see great, unguarded treasures within. With a great cry of joy, they ran within, and came upon the darkest shadows, and darker things within, which the sane world knows not, nor should.

"So it was said, in the black days that followed, when the light of Lhomarr shone no more, and her children were long lost or scattered, that in those lands there could be heard a faint cry, carried upon the winds. Those who heard it were sickened with remorse, and those few who yet persevered, and came upon lone pillars amid the shifting sands, fell into darkness, and were lost forever."

-fragment of a post-cataclysmic Lhomarrian tale, c. BC 6800


Yath-Khe (the name means "large pillar" in the Carnifex tongue) was the easternmost of the cities established by the Y'hog Carnifex in their drive to establish a lasting empire in Davania. It was founded circa BC 7026, in what is now the southern Aryptian Desert, near the Vulture Peninsula. At that time, those lands consisted primarily of fertile plains and forests, in close proximity to what was known as the Inner Sea, which has long since dried up. Desirable lands, to be certain, and also strategic, for they controlled access to what is now known as the Vulture Peninsula, which was then the Lhomarrian colony of Prys. The shorelines on either side of the peninsula were frequently beset with violent storms and other inclement weather, thus making an invasion by sea in those areas a potentially costly proposition. Thus, a moderately sized force could keep any enemies based in Prys bottled up in the peninsula, allowing any remaining soldiers to roam as they would.

So it was that in BC 7026, the Y'hog Carnifex, and their legions of troglodyte slave-warriors, thundered southwards in their bid to dominate the entire continent of Davania. This was the third, and final, invasion mounted by the Carnifex. The chief enemies of the Carnifex, the Lhomarrians, had been beaten back to their coastal possessions in Xerothnyi and Prys; while the Suurians, whose lands encircled the Inner Sea, had been shattered by the invasion itself. Thus, thinking that their newly-acquired lands would not be lost, the Y'hog Carnifex set themselves to the task of building a city, both to strengthen their hold on the surrounding lands, and to ease the administrative burden of governing such a large empire.

Employing more than 40,000 troglodyte and human slaves, the Carnifex raised the mighty walls of Yath-Khe, laid out wide avenues, and erected an imposing temple to the Outer Beings, the blasphemous, otherworldly deities of that dark folk. When the city was finally built, two years later, the Carnifex ordered a mass sacrifice of the human slaves, as a gesture of thanks to their masters. Unfortunately for the denizens of Yath-Khe, their period of security and prosperity would prove to be all too brief.

Following the sinking of Lhomarr in BC 7022, and the destruction of the foul city of Y'hog by the Immortals shortly thereafter, the Carnifex empire withered away quickly. Barbarian tribes along the fringes, long held down by the power of their reptilian foes, rose up at last, and sacked many cities in northwestern Davania, sparing no one. Before long, only a handful of Carnifex cities remained, and, without the power of Y'hog to support them, they became isolated, and vulnerable. Yath-Khe met its fate circa BC 6900, when armies from the remaining Lhomarrian colonies laid siege to it, and ultimately destroyed it. Although successful, the siege drained much of the Lhomarrian civilisation's few remaining resources, and in fact hastened that culture's final decline on the surface world of Mystara.

So great was the wrath of the Outer Beings over the loss of their remaining concentration of worshippers, that they cursed the ground upon which Yath-Khe had been built. Forevermore, the ruins of that city would beckon to all passers-by, filling their minds, and dreams, with that which they sought the most. Those who fell to the dead city's lure would be drawn to the ruins of its great temple, and would see their deepest desires seemingly given form. Within the temple itself were the spirits of the Outer Beings' high priests, bound forever to that site, who would attack anyone entering it. Those slain by the spirits would be condemned to wander the ruins of Yath-Khe forever.

Yath-Khe Today:

Since the dying days of Lhomarr, the world has changed greatly. Countless migrations and wars have taken place in Davania, destroying much that remained of the Lhomarrian Empire and its lore. The havoc wreaked by the Great Rain of Fire also caused its share of destruction, and now, roughly 7,000 years after the destruction of Lhomarr and the Carnifex of Y'hog, there are few on Mystara who have any knowledge of those ancient times, much less the city of Yath-Khe.

The lands surrounding the ruins of Yath-Khe have long since become a desert, and now shifting sands cover almost everything except the city's once-famous temple pillars, for which it was named. During the height of the city's prominence, the pillars, and the temple roof that they supported, were so tall, and so massive, that could be seen almost a mile away. Today, although the temple's roof has long since collapsed, enough of the weathered pillars remain that they jut out of the surrounding sand dunes, like a half-buried, broken ribcage. Everything else, aside from the odd piece of basalt, has been buried by sand.

Even the most casual of observations, however, will not fail to note that this site once was the location of a great city of some sort. The basalt projections, though weathered by passing millennia, still clearly show that they once formed mortared walls and various monuments, and should a person dig around the pillars themselves, they will uncover the original floor of the temple beneath six feet of sand, as well as a great trapdoor leading into a series of great vaults below. Digging elsewhere will uncover the original streets of Yath-Khe, as well as the occasional stone grating leading into sand-clogged tunnels underground. It is this lower level, formerly the sewers of Yath-Khe, that has survived the passing ages relatively unscathed, and where explorers will find many items of interest.

Yath-Khe's sewers stretch for many miles underground, and are laid out in a tangled web pattern, extending as far as the foundations of what were once the city walls. Where the sewer tunnels pass under a grating, sand has poured in over the years, completely blocking many sections. Over the centuries, underground streams have worked their way into the complex as well, flooding some of the lower sections, and providing fertile ground for the growth of fungus and moss - some of it faintly phosphorescent. Those portions of the sewers that remain unblocked contain all manner of debris - some of which dates from the time of Yath-Khe's glory. Were a visitor to sift their way through the extensive piles of disintegrating rubble and refuse, they would find bone fragments, pottery shards, coins, the occasional gem, and other items once owned by the city's inhabitants. Only the most proficient tracker would be able to determine that, contrary to all expectations, the sewers are anything but abandoned.

Towards the centre of the sewer complex, beneath the temple ruins, are a series of high-ceilinged vaults, in which many of the most secret rites were practiced. The walls are covered with strange writing, accompanied by large graven images of creatures far too hideous to imagine by a sane mind. These are, in fact, written in the ancient Carnifex tongue, and praise the most powerful Outer Beings, whose forms are represented by the carvings, as well as recount the great events of Yath-Khe's history. Perhaps the most horrific element of all is that, although many of the vaults show obvious signs of falling into further decay, the images of the Outer Beings, and the verses devoted to them, look as though they had been carved recently. It is here, amidst crumbling statues and pillars and these obscene bas-reliefs, that a huge pile of mouldering bones - the remains of those who were sacrificed to the Outer Beings - sits forlorn. It is also in these chambers, amidst the bones themselves, that the only living inhabitants of Yath-Khe make their homes - a tribe of degenerate troglodytes, the descendants of the once-mighty warriors of this city (see the DM Notes at the end of this document).

Adventure Hooks and Staging:

Despite the lack of information about the ruins of Yath-Khe, it is still possible to find them. The peoples of the region - namely, the southern Meghaddara clans and the Divergans - know the region surrounding the ruins as being a haunted land, where the unwary are stolen away from the lands of the living by screaming, lost spirits. Nevertheless, it is said, great treasures lie in the midst of that accursed land, waiting for those of stout enough heart to claim them. Should a stranger win the trust of either the Meghaddara or the Divergans, they will tell them where the Land of the Wailing Dead may be found, but under no circumstances will any of the natives enter it. Even if a party of adventurers did not encounter any of the local inhabitants, they would know that something noteworthy lay nearby, for at night the lost souls of Yath-Khe may venture beyond the ruins, and their sorrowful cries may be heard for many miles.

In either case, should the PCs decide to investigate, they will find themselves in a strangely chilly region of the desert - even when the sun is at its zenith. So pervasive is this chill that fire - whether normal or magical in nature - cannot banish it entirely. This sensation grows stronger as one draws nearer to the pillars, but at no time is it debilitating or damaging; it is simply disconcerting. As they draw nearer to the ruins themselves, and stand in the shadows of the pillars, visitors will begin to hear faint whispering in the air, in languages very likely to be unfamiliar to them. Those with knowledge of the lost languages of Davania (this is certainly possible if one or more of the PCs has visited Selhomarr in the Hollow World), or access to magical aid, might understand what is being said; the voices belong to the spirits those whom the ruined temple and its guardians have slain. They tell tales of woe, and implore the visitors to free them. Those PCs who have magical talent, or who are otherwise sensitive to the supernatural, will discern spectral entities flitting about in their peripheral vision, but these spirits will vanish if looked at directly. Although little more than a glimpse is likely to be obtained, the spirits will appear to be roughly human in appearance; but their faces are contorted in anguish, and many of them wear what appears to be corroded armour of ancient design. These spirits are the trapped souls of those who fell to the curse of the temple over the past 7,000 years.

At the same time, however, the PCs will be confronted with their greatest desires. Here, the DM should ensure that he or she has paid close attention to the PCs over previous adventures, in order to determine what it is they truly want out of life. At first, the PCs would only experience a slight craving for whatever it is they wish for the most, and, should they make a successful saving throw vs. Spells at a -2 penalty every day, that is all that will face them. Every time they fail their saving throws, however, their cravings grow stronger (in game terms, the penalty increases by -1 every time a save is failed), and they will begin to feel a strong urge to go towards the ruins. As their compulsions grow stronger, the PCs will begin to dream about their secret desires, and they could begin to hallucinate. Eventually, one or more PCs may very well be consumed by their desires, perhaps even seeing it in the ruins, and rush headlong to the fallen temple. Adventurers who enter the temple will be attacked by the spirits of Yath-Khe's long-dead priests. DMs should treat these creatures as ghosts for combat purposes; they are free to decide how many of these spirits may be encountered. If the spirits are defeated, the PCs will be able to search the temple thoroughly, and might find the lost treasures of Yath-Khe (see the DM Notes).

If the PCs dig amongst any of the ruins, there is a good chance that they will uncover one or more of the many entrances to the sewers of Yath-Khe. Entering them should be easy; it is finding one's way in the labyrinth below that should be confusing. Passages are generally 12 feet in height, eight feet in width, and are laid out in a rough match of the original street plan of the dead city (that is, a web pattern with numerous side streets). Additional tunnels have been dug over the millennia by the degenerate troglodytes who inhabit this warren - explorers could easily become lost as a result. Although it is highly unlikely that they will encounter any living creature in the tunnels, observant PCs, or those with skill in tracking, may detect tracks left by the troglodytes in their wanderings.

Should the PCs locate the vaults in the centre of the sewers, and analyse the writings and images found therein with magic, they will learn immediately that the images and verses are protected by powerful spells, of a level of power far greater than anything attainable by mortals. Should they manage to translate the writings, they will learn a good deal about the Outer Beings, and of the history of Yath-Khe (the DM may wish to give the PCs the Outer Being Lore skill as a result, or increase it if they already have it). More than likely, however, their attention will be drawn to the massive pile of bones that dominates the chamber, as well as its occupants. The troglodytes, having never seen other creatures, will at first be curious, but their hunger will soon take over, and before long some of them will try to make a meal of the PCs. Unless the PCs manage to annihilate all of the troglodytes (unlikely, without destroying the chamber, and themselves as well), they will most likely have to run, and be pursued all the way by their starving "hosts".

DM Notes:

What follows are two sections of interest to the DM - combat statistics for the degenerate troglodytes, and a brief description of the treasures of Yath-Khe.

New Monster - Troglodyte, degenerate

Armour Class: 4 Hit Dice: 1+1* (M) Move: 120' (40') Attacks: 2 claws/1 bite or 1 weapon Damage: 1d4-1/1d4-1/1d4 or by weapon No. Appearing: 1d12 (8d10) Save As: F1 Morale: 7 Treasure Type: P (B) Intelligence: 6 Alignment: Neutral XP Value: 19

These creatures, while clearly related to troglodytes, are clearly (even to the untrained eye) a debased version of their better-known cousins. They stand between four and five feet in height, and have scrawny builds. Their skins are dull grey in colour, and in many places are disfigured by boils and loose scales. Other characteristics that distinguish them from common troglodytes are their sharper teeth, larger eyes (their infravision allows them to see objects up to 90' away), and their inability to produce nauseating scents. Owing to the fact that they are heavily inbred, many degenerate troglodytes closely resemble each other.

These degenerates originated in the sewers beneath the ruined city of Yath-Khe, having adapted to their harsh environment. As the city was falling to the Lhomarrians, Yath-Khe's troglodyte armies, goaded by their Carnifex overlords, mounted a spirited, and ultimately suicidal, defence. Some troglodytes, not wishing to die needlessly, escaped to the city's sewers in the hopes of waiting out the battle. Once it had ended, some of them returned to the surface, only to find a ruined city, still full of Lhomarrian looters. The troglodytes decided to remain hidden, where they could at least scavenge food and remain safe. As time passed, the troglodytes gradually became more fearful of the outside, for those who ventured to the surface never returned (they were attacked by the spirits haunting the temple above). Centuries passed, and they gradually forgot their history in their urge to survive. Now, they are little more than animals, with no knowledge of the ruins that lie above them, and ignorant of the true nature of the grotesque statues that surround them.

The daily existence of these troglodytes is a constant battle against starvation. They have learned to subsist on the varieties of fungus that grow near stagnant pools, as well as the occasional worm. The mainstay of the degenerate troglodyte's diet is, however, other troglodytes. Those born with horrible defects - and there are many so afflicted - are consumed shortly after hatching, and those too weak to fend for themselves are eaten, as well. During the frequent fighting over food, fallen combatants also end up as someone's meal. When they are not foraging, degenerate troglodytes spend much of their time resting in their lairs - crude caves excavated from the enormous piles of bones in the great vaults beneath Yath-Khe's ruined temple. There are well over a hundred lairs in the pile, each of which is home to an extended family. It is here that these creatures hoard whatever strikes their fancy - often garbage that catches their eye while searching for food, but occasionally the odd coin or other minor treasure might be present. These "treasures" often have symbolic value to their owners only; degenerate troglodytes have no economic system per se, and the only thing of real value in their harsh world is food.

In combat, degenerate troglodytes rely on their claws and teeth, but if they happen to come across a hand-held weapon, such as a knife or club, they will use it. Their millennia of surviving in harsh conditions have also taught these troglodytes to rely on stealth, whenever possible, to overcome their enemies; as such, they are capable of moving silently as per a 5th level thief (skill of 40%), and they have a +2 bonus to surprise their opponents. Due to their many years of living in darkness, degenerate troglodytes find any light brighter than a dim glow to be uncomfortable; consequently, even the glow of a lantern will penalise their attacks by -1, and sunlight incurs a -4 penalty.

The Lost Treasures of Yath-Khe:

The ruins of Yath-Khe still contain treasures waiting to be discovered. Some of them lie in the great bone pile under the temple, while others are scattered about in the sewers, or buried in the ruins aboveground. The following table presents items that intrepid PCs might uncover over the course of their explorations (provided their search rolls are successful). If they are digging inside the temple ruins, DMs should add 6 to the roll. A description of each item follows the table.

D12 Roll Item Found 1-2 Coins 3-4 Weapon 5-6 Armour 7 Weapon forged from marh vhol 8 The Helm of Mardan 9 Gem(s) 10 Random Treasure

Item Descriptions:

Coins: The PCs have discovered a small cache of ancient coins. Treat the cache as Treasure Type A, but with the amounts as single coins (and not thousands). The DM may determine where the coins originated, but they are most likely of Lhomarrian or Carnifex make. The coins would be very valuable to collectors, sages, and the like.

Weapon: The PCs have discovered a potentially useable weapon. It is up to the DM to determine what type of weapon has been found, or they can use the tables in the Rules Cyclopaedia. At the DM's discretion, there is a 40% chance that the weapon in question can be wielded; otherwise, it will break when used in combat for the first time. The DM may also decide whether or not the weapon is magical. In any case, the weapon could be quite valuable.

Armour: As for weapons, the PCs have discovered armour that might be useable. DMs should determine what type of armour has been found, or they can refer to the Rules Cyclopaedia. PCs will not be able to wear armour designed for troglodytes or the Carnifex. Even if the armour in question is not salvageable, it could still be valuable.

Weapon, marh vhol: The PCs have found a weapon forged from marh vhol, a metal originating from the prison dimensions of the Outer Beings. Owing to the nature of the metal, the weapon will be useable, and it will possess properties that may be useful to PCs; although there are risks involved. DMs should consult the author's article on marh vhol (available on the Vaults of Pandius) for more information and game mechanics.

The Helm of Maradan: The PCs have discovered a lost relic of Lhomarr - the Helm of Maradan. Maradan of Erkalion was a general in the Lhomarrian legions, tasked with leading the remnant of his fallen nation's might against the sole remaining Carnifex stronghold in eastern Davania - Yath-Khe. Although his armies were victorious, he and many of his companions died in the assault, and his helm (a family heirloom) was lost. His descendants sought it for many years afterwards, without success.

The helm in all respects appears to be a normal bronze helmet, in the Lhomarrian style. When worn, it increases the morale of all NPC retainers within 20 feet by +3, and, four times per day, it can cast cure serious wounds on the wearer. The latter function is activated when the wearer wills it. Ignore this result if it is rolled again.

Gem(s): The PCs have discovered one or more gems. The DM may decide what gems are present, or roll on the Gem Table in the Rules Cyclopaedia.

Random Treasure: The PCs have found a treasure, or a piece of one that could be very valuable in and of itself. The DM may choose what sort of treasure it might be, or he or she can roll on the jewellery or special treasures tables in the Rules Cyclopaedia (keeping in mind what sorts of treasures are likely to survive for almost 8,000 years).