Friday, 20 April 2018

Adventure site: 1000 Ghost Falls

This is an adventure site I had hoped to lure my characters into for a couple of sessions. Random acts of teleporting sky fortress mean they are now somewhere else entirely, and I have two or three posts worth of material clogging up my mind space. I hereby inflict them on you.

Part two: Ghosts
Part three: landmarks and treasures

"Gems the size of snake eggs, yes - the better for the Ghosts to see you with" - Phurin of the Tide

I don't care if there are piles of gems the size of your head on the floor. When the falls head for the building you're in - drop everything and run" - Korrigan

You work too slow. Forget sifting the sand, taking careful rubbings, dusting off artifacts. But think hard before you tear through a wall. At 1000 Ghost Falls on the jungle river Hydra, thundering water is uncovering and destroying an ancient city a building a day. Don't pause to think about the weird architecture. Rush in, grab any relic you can find, and get out before the water brings the whole building down on you - or wakes up a sleek-black Ghost from its cocoon.


Travel to the ruined continent and head far up the river Hydra. You will find 1000 Ghost Falls in the lands of the Stinger Lightning Drow. Once, the falls were the Drow's sacred test for joining the tribe. If you could not cross the treacherous kilometer wide rim with its sudden floods and breaking rocks, you deserved to join the unworthy dead half a hundred meters blow. Then the rushing water uncovered the first buildings from the soft rock below. A century after the find, 1000 Ghost Falls are crowded with strangers. Groups from across the continent and beyond are trying to loot a city older than even the ancient Giants, before the water sweeps it all away.

No-one has named the city - it's "the dig", or "the falls" or "ghost nest" when someone bothers to call it anything. There are far more interesting things to talk about: who raised the Green Obelisks and dug the network of pools? What are the hungry Ghosts and how are they still alive after a hundred thousand years of sleep? And why does history not mention a forerunner race of the Giants trading with people from the stars?

And so it happened that the Old Ones came from the stars
yadda-yadda many gifts they bestowed blah-blah

Where this is from

The visual of a huge city coming out from under a receding megafall comes straight out of Matter, a Culture novel [WARNUNG: 1) TV Tropes 2) Awesome] by Iain M. Banks.

Exploring ancient horror cities goes right back to one of my favorite stories by H.P. Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness. That story also inspired the awesome Black City project.

To spice things up, mud slides, collapsing buildings and titanic masses of falling water are not the only thing to worry about. Horrific monsters pop out of shiny black cocoons and eat your soul when you break through the wrong wall. (MiƩville's Perdido Street Station / The Scar).

Using this

The city's backstory is left vague, although I've sprinkled hints of an Aboleth visitation/first contact/uplift the locals ploy, and of a Bronze Age uprising. Practically speaking, the destructive waterfall ensures that no building survives for long - 1000 Ghost Falls is a crawl through an ever-changing dungeon. As a DM you can get away with just plonking down random maps of mini-dungeons for the building that the PCs are currenty exploring. Go wild and pick a random map of Dyson's, and use the tables in a follow-up post for random room contents and monster encounters to take care of overall consistency.

(I would love to link you to a post at an unremembered blog from somewhere in 2017, with another ingredient for this area. That post was about making environments more dynamic and cinematic, like setting fights on watermills, swinging on ropes on sailing boats - anything with moving parts and big mechanical forces waiting to be unleashed. Any help in finding that post very welcome!)

A quick tour

The Hydra falls off its plateau into a 100 meter drop. At the bottom, the thundering water is uncovering a city of domes, obelisks, piazza's and bath houses. The further downstream, the less dangerous - but the more chance buildings have collapsed entirely. A large camp sits a kilometer North-East of the falls across treacherous bog country. The river continues for 5 kilometers to the old camp a lost House Tharashk party founded a century ago. In the deep woods to the west is the hidden village of the Stinger Lightning. Visit with an invitation or become a camp story to scare newcomers with. Up the plateau live the Jibaar, a tribe of Hill Giants who worship the river as their god. They raid when night whispers tell them the interlopers are stealing the river's treasure.


How exciting this dig will be

The waterfall and resulting mud streams are wildly unpredictable, sometimes falling away and recovering to full strength in the space of hours. Start the conditions at one of these categories, then roll every hour to see how what the water is behaving.
  1. under a main branch of the waterfall. Thundering wall of water coming down, cutting loose tons of mud. Exposed buildings are blasted clean of any delicate external structures - balconies, friezes, fragile roofs, carvings and the like. Impossible to breathe, stand or move without extreme equipment - a wearable golem the size of a giant for instance. Collapse chance +4. Water conditions (d6): 1-4 no change; 5 side branch; 6 strong flows.
  2. under a side branch of the waterfall. Torrent of water hammering down and blasting mud everywhere. Exposed buildings blasted clean of mud, balconies or fragile roofs and carvings are destroyed. Superhuman 20+ Strength required to move around very carefully. Collapse chance +2. Water conditions (d6): 1 main branch; 2-4 no change; 5 strong flows; 6 gentle flow.
  3. hit by strong flows of water and mud. low-lying structures eroded away, Strength check -4 to move about on this level. Collapse chance +0. Water conditions (d6): 1 main branch; 2-3 no change; 4 side branch; 5-6 gentle flow.
  4. washed by gentle flow of water, covered in hard to spot, deep mud pools. Strength check to move about, Wis check -2 to avoid mud pools (Strength -2 or sink in 2 rounds time and start drowning). Collapse chance +0. Water conditions (d6): 1 side branch; 2-3 no change; 4 strong flow; 5-6 calmed down.
  5. calmed down. Mud pools Wisdom +2 to spot, Strength to escape or be caught (Strength -2 to escape). Collapse chance -1 (treat result of 0 as 1). Water conditions (d6): 1-2 no change and stop rolling; 3-4 no change; 5 gentle flow; 6 strong flow.
Dettifoss in Iceland, Europe's most powerful waterfall.
Drops 45 meters and standing there is terrifying.

Collapse chance (d4 + bonus)

Every hour, roll the collapse chance for an entire building. Find the bonus to the check on the How exciting this dig will be table. High rolls include all the worst results of lower rolls, so a result of an unstable room (3) includes a chance of collapse as well as mud streams from (2).

Room collapse: sudden cave-in of one room. All inside take 10d6 damage and are buried under mud and rubble (Strength -4 to break free). Roll a Dexterity check (with a penalty equal to the collapse chance) to avoid half this damage and only be reduced to half movement speed.
Partial collapse: sudden cave-in of all the rooms in an entire section of the building - divide the structure into 4 or more sections and roll randomly.
Complete collapse: hits the entire structure.

  1. stable - floors, walls and ceilings have settled; no mud streams.
  2. stable, but streams of water and mud force Dex checks or lose balance when moving faster than 5 ft/round
  3. unstable walls, floors and ceilings. Hammering or explosions in a room give a 1 in 6 chance of room collapse every round of activity.
  4. unstable structure, occupied rooms have a 1 in 20 chance to collapse every turn even when not stressed.
  5. partial collapse - 1 in 6 chance every turn that a random section collapses, mud stream sweeps through for 2d4 rounds, Strength -4 every round to escape or suffer 2d6 bashing damage.
  6. partial collapse - 1 in 6 chance every turn that a random section collapses and is swept away by the water. Rooms in adjacent sections check for a 1 in 20 collapse chance - if they don't collapse, they experience a mud slide as under 4.
  7. structure-wide collapse - every section has a 1 in 6 chance of collapsing every turn. Debris then hits a random adjacent building and forces structural integrity check.
  8. whole structure collapse - 1 in 6 chance every turn of the entire building collapsing. All adjacent buildings will be hit by debris for a structural integrity check +1.


Stinger Lightning Tribe
The local Drow tribe and nominal owners of the Nameless City. Less interested in treasure than in lore, powerful relics and trade for better gear and drugs. Tribal leader Thiristi is a traditionalist Giant-hater, as is the warrior Uvoor. Blood mage Jerrak is very interested in finding and trading relic lore, which Scorpion Singer Ryaan is strongly opposed to.

Guards and tribe members have a 1 in 6 chance of having traded favors or finds for Dream Smoke from the Riedrans. All Stinger Lightning members know their way around the camp and environment and can track (or guide) a party undetected.

Leader: First of the Stinger Thriristi, Drow ranger 9
Notables: Jerrak, Drow sorceror 6; Uvoor, Drow barbarian 4, Ryaan, Drow druid 5
Guards: 15x Drow ranger 3, 3-bladed boomerangs and long blades; 5x rogue 3, same
Tribe: 30x Drow ranger 1, 2x Drow sorceror 1, 5x Drow barbarian 1

House Tharashk enclave
The House of Finding was just passing by - like so many times when they catch a fugitive or spot a buried dragonshard - when the first buildings of the dig came to light a hundred years ago. Working with the Lightning Stinger they set up a first excavation. Work leader Rizhaak is the great grandson of the shard inspector who lead that first excavation. He wants to make big on his family's long list of promises to the House now that the centre of the ancient settlement is being uncovered. House Tharashk has put a lot of money in this project over the course of the century and doubts anything big will come of it. Rizhaak is pushing for more and more dangerous digs but his workers are grumbling at the risk.

Leader: Rizhaak the Nose, half-orc ranger level 4, minor dragonmark of finding
Guards: 1 Orc fighter level 2, hook blades and chain shirts (Rhizaak's aunt Makraal)
        1 Gnoll barbarian level 2, throwing axes and harpoon
Workers: 5 Orcs and 3 Half-Orcs from the Shadow Marshes, 5 Drow ranger 1 (youths from the Lightning Stinger tribe), 1 Dwarf rogue level 3, (Liesl) House Kundarak-licensed security expert

Fortunate Peony Blossom
A Riedran contingent that are very interested in others keep their own reasons for exploring the Falls to themselves. Workers and warriors speak only few words of Common, but Laneth Azul and her soulknive guards will go out of their way to learn about visitors. The Blossom are looking for the source of a psionic beacon that started its siren when the Green Obelisk was uncovered. Laneth Azul will charm powerful but weak-willed visitors and pump them for information or insurance, but is very careful not to expose her network of plants in the other companies. She will offer translation services for any visitors who do not speak Drow.

The three Thri-Kreen scouts are highly sensitive to the city's siren call and are used to find promising locations to dig. Laneth Azul has shut down some of their higher reasoning to make the trio more sensitive, but this makes it harder to control their instinctive rage against Ghosts. The group inspects any Obelisk that comes to light and can get clues from it that others may miss.

Fortunate Peony Blossom carefully inspect mostly-stable buildings away from the waterfalls, but sometimes rush into frantic digs just outside the main waterfall when their Thri-Kreen or network of charmed plants serve up a lead. Heavy reliance on psionics to find, excavate and escape. Looking for historical relics, special gems, wall carvings and frescoes. Weird trades where they give away high value for very specific finds others would find mostly worthless.

Leader: Laneth Azul, Inspired Lady of the Seventh Morning, Psion (telepath) 11
Guards: 5 human warriors level 3, crystal-studded armors, shields and short spears
3 Empty Vessel* soulknives level 4, exquisite armors and clothes
Workers: 10 humans; 3 Thri-Kreen psi-scouts (Tik, T'a, Y't)
* Human/Elf/unnameable hybrids capable of hosting Quori spirits ( = becoming Inspired)

The Tide

A party of slaves and overseers from Druxis of the Serpents, looking for exciting and exotic valuables to please their decadent masters. Vathissa handles diplomatic exchanges, and rests in its tent enjoying its dwindling drug stash. It is unclear whether the serpent is male or female, only that it grumbles a lot about the horrific conditions among the savage mammals. Vathissa's retriever specialists appraise goods and conduct trades. The guards are there to protect the expert slaves, not to prevent them from fleeing. Who would want to leave safe and prosperous Druxis to live in the jungle, after all?

The Tide trade for favors freely in steel and other tools, and have a solid trade in Dream Smoke on the side. A pair of mated ogres (one guard, one shield carrier) and one of the Drow guards have been charmed by Laneth Azul to give her leads and trade valuables.

The Tide explore right up to the main branch of the waterfall but only dig deep when they strike lucky early on. They look mainly for exotic jewelry, knick-knacks and well-preserved specimens, but will bag other items for trade if they come across them. The lizardfolk druids help stabilize mud and water, ogre shield carriers form improvised shelters and girallon diggers clear an area for the drow workers.

Leader: Vathissa, serpent folk wizard 5
Guards: slaves: 2 ogre barbarians level 2, 3 drow rogues level 3
Workers: 3 lizardfolk druids level 3, slaves: 3 ogre shield carriers, 2 girallon diggers, 7 drow retrievers

Mud Salvage
Penal legion from the Lhazaar Principalities. Sent to find wealth in Xen'drik and pay off their crimes. Korrigan and her guards are a disgraced minor captain and her home guard, who were caught keeping their Lord's share of their plunder. They have a chance to win back some status if they ply their master with enough treasure. The common workers are digging to avoid the death penalty for murder, tomb raiding and witchcraft. Mud Salvage workers steal and smuggle small valuables, trying to get enough wealth to their name to get the Tharashk to smuggle them to safety or at least buy their freedom and passage to Stormreach. Many hopeful ploys and escape attempts.

Mud Salvage, or the Mudders as the diggers have started calling themselves, look for classic portable loot: gold, gems, art. Korrigan has done enough 'aggresive trading on the high seas' to spot the really valuable goods. On the side, the Gnome sorceror Flavia (an exile from Zhilargo) is smuggling out any arcane finds and small samples of drugs from the Tide to get reinstated in the Trust.

Mudders explore buildings just out of or under side branches of the waterfall but flee when the main falls come closer. Scouts keep watch and sound the alarm so the teams can clear sites before they become too dangerous. Half the workers are Dream Smoke addicts. Two of the warforged, one shifter and 2 human guards have been psionically charmed by Laneth Azul.

Leader: Korrigan, Half-Elf rogue 5
Guards: 4 humans, 1 half-elf, 2 elf, level 2 fighters, twin cutlasses, studded leather
3 Warforged level 2 fighters, axes, shields and crossbows
Workers: 11 humans, 3 shifters, 2 half-elves, 3 dwarves - rogue/fighter 1
        1 gnome sorceror 3


  1. issued with sincerely worded prayer for party's souls in waterproof, reusable case.
  2. provided with one (1) hand shovel and liable for wear and tear.
  3. chains and ropes carrying air hoses.
  4. quick-build gallery with struts to avoid cave-ins.
  5. druids with mud-hardening magic
  6. delicate crystal statue to local air goddess keeps any and all earth/mud 5ft away from it as long as wafted with pricy perfume or incense. 
  7. ogre with huge tower shield works as mobile strut. Slow thinker. Claustrophobic. 
  8. given huge back shields to form a dome and bang against to attract rescue
  9. air bladders and reinforced armor. 
  10. telekinetic shielding, psionic locator and hibernation crystal. 
  11. giant star faced mole will find victims. Relaxed attitude to such concepts as urgency, focusing on the job, digging in a straight line, avoiding extra cave-ins. 
  12. semi-tamed umber hulk will tear into mudslide, 20% chance of getting the munchies.
  13. carry hyper nervous weasel as early warning system for tremors. 
  14. pet giant tortoise will dig itself and you out. s-l-o-w-l-y.
  15. Kranzuul, psionic idiot savant. After a cave-in, will attempt Herculean feat of mental might, then pass out for 1d3 hours - d4: 1 disintegrate a tunnel clear to the surface; 2 telekinetically lift sizeable part of terrain; 3 dimensional gate straight into camp; 4 locally reverse time to just before mudslide and cry warning before collapsing. Excitable.
  16. clay statuette will take you into the spirit world for 1d10 minutes when broken. Pray you can shake off the city's psionic siren song and make it to safety. 
  17. heavily boosted seeds will explode into temporary scaffolding. Plants then start to look for nutrients. 
  18. vial of syrupy yellow elixir will boost your strength to superhuman levels for 1d6 rounds. Hard Wisdom check to retain control or black out while your dig yourself out from under tons of mud. Con check every round of action or take 1d3 dmg/level from tearing muscles. 
  19. shaman Shen's enchanted coprolites. Take a bite to summon a friendly mud elemental and swoosh you out into the open. 
  20. dried beetles inscribed with polymorph glyphs. Chow down to turn into a beetle and scurry out of your cave-in. Con check to turn back, -1 penalty for every round as a bug. If you fail, Wisdom check or lose your mind.

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