|Pedro Coelho Mendes Bueno Barbosa RPG Superstar 2013 Top 4, Marathon Voter aka Pedro Coelho|
Through the Dream Sands
When yet another shipment of sun orchid elixir disappears on its way to Pashow, the desperate Emir Guldis secretly seeks help to locate the missing convoy. Pashow cannot endure much longer without the elixir’s gold, under risk of insurrection and conflict with Aspenthar. To avoid famine and war, the PCs must follow the missing caravan’s trail through the deserts of Thuvia. Their quest leads to a city erased from history, and into the millennial dream of its slumbering ruler.
Through the Dream Sands is an adventure designed for 5th-level characters. By the end of the module, characters should be 6th-level.
Pashow rejoices as it prepares to host the sun orchid elixir auction. Streets are filled with acts and performers from Lamasara, and merchants from all over Thuvia conduct their business in bustling open markets. The Emir has gone out of his way to ensure the event’s profitability, inviting the most prestigious and wealthy people of Garund and Avistan to place their bids for the miraculous solution. Banquets, balls and other delights await the Emir’s guests in the week preceding the auction, a kindness designed to put the bidders in generous mood. All would be well, except for one critical complication: the elixir never made it to Pashow, and is presumed stolen.
After losing other shipments to teleporting mishaps in previous years, Emir Guldis opted for a more conservative approach this time. Three heavily defended caravans were sent to the Citadel of the Alchemist to fetch the elixir, and each took a different route back to Pashow. The two decoys arrived a couple of days ago, but the one carrying the real vials did not.
Yet, contrary to Emir Guldis’ fears, the elixir was not taken. Attacked by the Amushar tribe, most of the Emir’s men escaped through a mountain pass, heading into a valley dreaded by their pursuers. The fleeing caravan pushed through an electrical sandstorm, reaching an unnaturally peaceful area amidst the violent winds. There they found a city lost to memory and history, and sought shelter. However, mysterious powers within the city have trapped the unwary refugees in the shared dream of its inhabitants. Unable to wake up, these Thuvians – and their precious cargo – now wait for deliverance.
Meanwhile, desperation has set in at the Emir’s palace. Only Emir Guldis and a few trustworthy advisors are aware of the current situation. If word of the missing caravan gets out, the implications are dire: the auction will be ruined, costing hundreds of thousands of gold pieces, and civil unrest is sure to take over the streets, as the already troubled city sinks further into debt and poverty. Agitators shall embrace the chance to depose Guldis and hand the throne to princess Ziralia of Aspenthar.
The Emir demanded his counselors find someone to solve the problem. Fearful of the insurgents hidden among the locals, the counselors have turned their eyes to foreign adventurers. The chosen heroes must bring the sun orchid elixir to Pashow by the end of the week.
• The cultural and economical boom draws the PCs to Pashow, where they can find exotic items or enjoy the artistic venues;
• The Emir’s guests travel with large retinues and heavy purses. One of the guests has hired the PCs to escort him;
• The PCs are placing a bid in the name of a friend or employer who could not attend personally;
• Spellcasters may be interested in visiting Pashow for its reputation as a center of arcane excellence;
• Expecting a large influx of gold into his business, a friend invites the PCs to Pashow to share his good fortune and enjoy the occasion.
Part One – Running Sands
Emir Guldis has prepared a grandiose reception for his guests. A celebration takes place in the main square, with music and reenactments of famous comedies. While the common folk occupy the ground, the Emir and his guests sit in the tribune overlooking the crowd.
Distant shouting disrupts the festivity. Three men arrive wounded and dehydrated, babbling disturbing news regarding the elixir shipment. The Emir immediately recognizes the survivors of his lost caravan. The men are taken away, but the crowd’s disposition shifts drastically as rumors of another lost shipment spread. A riot begins. The crowd hurls objects and insults at the tribune, and fights break out.
PCs may attempt to calm the people, saving dozens of innocents. While doing so, they spot a man aiming a crossbow at the tribunes. If the PCs stop the agitator, they take credit for saving the Emir’s life; otherwise, the fired bolt hits Emir Guldis in the shoulder. An old wizard steps into the tribune and holds up an iron case; raising the lid, he reveals the six vials of sun orchid elixir, reassuring the crowd. PCs can make Will saves to see past the wizard’s illusion and notice that the box is empty. The deception is enough to end the riot, but festivities are over for the day.
The old wizard invites the PCs to meet at the palace. During a sumptuous dinner, the old man explains the situation and pleads them to help the city. The Emir offers a reward should the group complete their mission in seven days: they must rescue the elixir by oathday, when the bids are opened. The wizard supplies the PCs with provisions, mounts and maps indicating the caravan’s route. According to the three survivors, the caravan was attacked by the Amushar tribe, two days away from Pashow.
The Amushar are scorpion-riding sulis that live in a tightly-knit matriarchal community. Famous for high-profile heists and kidnappings, they hold rare stolen goods and often keep prisoners for ransom. Despite their brutality in battle, these tribesmen are surprisingly civilized when negotiating their merchandise.
Retracing the caravan’s steps, the PCs are attacked by an Amushar band mounted in giant scorpions. The Amushar riders attempt to capture the PCs alive. If defeated, the tribesmen surrender and propose to exchange their lives for the Thuvian prisoners. They lead the PCs to their camp, but know nothing about the sun orchid elixir.
The camp consists of exuberant tents raised in a circle, and a few cage wagons in which the tribe keeps prisoners, treasures and unusual pets. The PCs meet Amata, a tenacious middle-aged woman who holds complete authority over the tribe. Amata does not possess the elixir, but has valuable information to trade. If the PCs cannot meet her price, she offers a gamble: they will fight her pet criosphinx in a combat to death. If they win, she hands them the captive Thuvians and helpful information, and the PCs may keep their Amushar prisoners if they so desire. Otherwise, Amata keeps the PCs’ loot.
According to Amata, the caravan fled past a mountain pass called the Stray Archway into an inhospitable valley, a region immersed in a furious electrical sandstorm for as long as the Amushar remember. The Amushar captured or killed only part of the caravan before giving up pursuit. The rest of the convoy rode into the storm carrying the elixir, and is probably still roaming inside it.
The PCs cross the Stray Archway and reach the sandstorm a few miles into the arid valley. They must make checks to avoid getting lost in the storm. From time to time, the PCs come across fallen travelers and their dead mounts, half-buried in the sands. Bound aghashes empower the sandstorm, while lightning elementals generate the electrical charges. Following the caravan’s trail, the PCs soon reach a peaceful bubble amidst the raging sands. There rests Xardas.
Part Two – Land of the Dreaming
The sandstorm clouds the sky and completely surrounds Xardas. Streets show no signs of recent activity; still, the city does not look abandoned at all – on the contrary, it is in pristine condition. Buildings are clean and clear of sand, and exquisite gardens of clay sculptures inlaid with gemstones replace what used to be lively flower beds. A quick exploration reveals that everyone in the city seems asleep, but feverish moans denote haunted dreams. The PCs notice a faint lullaby that pervades the whole town. Soon after entering Xardas, they are attacked by dreamlings.
The whole human population is under a sleeping curse, but other creatures inhabit the city. The PCs should explore the area using a sandbox approach to locate the caravan and the elixir.
A. Mystic Monolith
Wizards of ancient Xardas used this plain rectangular tower as headquarters. Protected by magical traps, it now houses haunts and poltergeists. Clay tablets stored inside deal extensively with divination and conjuration through dreams, and contain a ritual that will help the PCs reach another plane later on. Other tablets tell the city’s tale.
In 830 AR, Xardas was a powerful city-state ruled by the sorcerer-king Beldusar. The king’s expansionism, combined with unparalleled greed and cruelty, made Xardas a hated enemy across the lands. To put and end to Beldusar’s reign of terror, spellcasters from dominated regions combined their forces to lay a supernatural siege to Xardas, creating an impassable magical sandstorm that also blocked teleportation. The Xardanian wizards created a protective bubble around the city, but could not dispel the storm. Cut apart from trade routes, Xardas quickly succumbed to hunger and thirst. Divinations indicated that the magic behind the storm would fade over time. To save the city, the local wizards invoked a sleeping curse that would preserve the citizens until Xardas could rise again. The ritual was centered on King Beldusar: when the time came, he would wake and lead his people back to glory. The wizards summoned a guardian to look after the king and his subjects, for the curse could be lifted by the king’s premature death.
The wizards perished performing the weeks-long ritual, incapable of including themselves in the effect. Their demise spawned poltergeists and a haunt that continuously chants a somber, drowsy lullaby.
B. Royal Palace
Terra-cotta soldiers protect the royal palace’s entrances. King Beldusar lies in his bedchamber, dreaming of wealth and power. He is a crossblooded sorcerer with the dreamspun and protean bloodlines, and the interaction of his arcane inheritance with the sleeping curse has created a small sentient demiplane shaped by his mind. The palace is also home to dreamlings and an animate dream (young simple template). A fractured piece of Beldusar’s mind, the animate dream is responsible for dragging the Xardanians’ consciousnesses into the king’s demiplane, and his mere presence makes sleeping a dangerous undertaking. Dreamlings spun from Beldusar’s demiplane serve his hoarding compulsion, shifting between planes to fetch him treasure. They have taken the sun orchid elixir to the dream realm.
C. Keeper’s Sanctum
The ancient wizards summoned a shaitan genie and magically bound him to look after the city. For the past millennia, the creature known as the Keeper has spent every day of his existence preserving Xardas and ensuring the safety of its inhabitants. Over the years, the lonely genie replaced the city’s dead flowers with clay and gemstone sculptures, using jewels from the royal treasure. He resides in one of these precious artificial gardens, and constantly fights dreamlings that try to steal the gems. The Keeper is indifferent to the PCs as long as they do not harm the city or its population, but the PCs can improve his attitude by indulging his yearning for company and games of chance. Gaining the genie’s friendship is helpful down the road. Thanks to a magic cloak given to him by the wizards, the Keeper knows that the Xardanians are suffering trapped in Beldusar’s dream.
D. Temple of Nethys
A gang of sandmen hides in the temple of Nethys. They were originally summoned to help the Keeper, but somehow escaped the shaitan’s control and started a killing spree. To protect the Xardanians, the Keeper sealed them inside the temple ages ago; however, the Thuvian refugees broke into the building seeking help from their god, thus releasing the creatures. Wary of attacking the Xardanians again, the sandmen instead take their time with the caravan members, slowly savoring each kill. The sandmen’s sleep aura keeps their victims unconscious, and the animate dream has managed to drag the Thuvians’ minds into Beldusar’s dream.
After gathering all information, the PCs learn that the elixir is in Beldusar’s demiplane. Killing the king right away would forever lock the elixir and the Xardanians’ in an unaccessible demiplane. They must instead physically enter Beldusar’s dream to retrieve the item and wake him up from within. Guided by the Mystic Monolith tablets and with the Keeper’s aid, the PCs can peek into Beldusar’s dream and verbally project those images in a lump of clay, that is then dissolved in water. The puddle of clay turns into a portal to the other plane.
Part Three – Into the Dreamscape
Going through the portal, PCs land in small isles of sharp obsidian shards afloat in a sea of quicksilver. Colors, sounds and smells amalgamate in a synesthetic chaos. The metallic ocean spreads for as far as the eye can see, mirroring the shifting sky, while an imposing ziggurat stands atop a hovering pyroclastic cloud. Rivers of lava cascade from the cloud into the sea, creating rolling mists of poisonous gas. Dreamlings are virtually everywhere, but ignore the PCs and are harmless inside this demiplane; however, Beldusar can use them as raw material to create other creatures of his imagination. The king detects the intruders and rises from the mercury in liquid metal form; he threatens the PCs and melts away summoning chromed tentacles that attack the invaders.
Beldusar dwells in his treasure chamber deep inside the ziggurat. To reach the building, the PCs use a flight of floating steps spiraling up towards the volcanic cloud. Climbing the stairs proves tricky: the steps move constantly, and geysers of boiling quicksilver and poisonous steam shoot from below. Flying characters are also affected by the geysers.
The PCs can walk above the pyroclastic smoke. Beldusar’s image reappears, this time made of ashes and amber. He demands submission, and starts pulling monstrous heads from the cloud, creating a pyrohydra. After defeating the hydra, the PCs reach the ziggurat, but cannot locate any entrances. They must solve a puzzle to find their way in, where a labyrinth of mirrors awaits them. Beldusars materializes behind the mirrors and shows the PCs their worst nightmares, while the PCs’ distorted reflections portray them as persons they dread becoming. They must conquer their fears to get out of the maze.
At the ziggurat’s main chamber, corridors filled with cellblocks irradiate from the circular room, and a central spiral staircase ends in the ceiling. The cells are overcrowded with the consciousnesses of the Xardanians. The chamber’s floor starts crumbling, revealing a giant mouth below. Within its maws, multiple rows of sharp teeth encircle a pool of lava; it speaks with Beldusar’s voice and spits a flame drake against the PCs. Through a secret door at the top of the stairway, they can reach the treasure chamber.
Beldusar sits in a throne at the center of the room, surrounded by chained slaves and huge heaps of gold. Most of the hoard comes from his imagination, but some was brought by dreamlings from the material plane. If the PCs try to reason with Beldusar, he refuses to wake up; he sees himself an immortal god inside his realm, and is unwilling to trade this existence for a lesser one in the material plane. With a gesture, Beldusar unshackles the slaves and transforms them in reflections of himself. Piles of treasure tumble down to bury the PCs. The heroes must pick the true Beldusar from the crowd and destroy his dream persona in a final showdown.
With Beldusar defeated, the demiplane collapses, spilling the sun orchid elixir case and all other physical contents in the material plane. PCs return to the royal bedchamber, where the Keeper stands peacefully by Beldusar’s comatose body. The Xardanians remain asleep, and PCs must slay the king to finally lift the curse. Compelled by by the ancient wizards’ magic, the Keeper unwillingly fights the PCs to protect the king. As the genie dies, he thanks the PCs for delivering him from his millennial burden.
Beldusar’s death releases a powerful wave of arcane magic that wakes the whole city.
The PCs can help the Xardanians cross the sandstorm and build new lives, away from Xardas. With the sun orchid elixir in hands, they return to Pashow and receive the Emir’s reward and gratitude. The auction is successful and the people of Pashow commemorate the prospect of better days. Xardanians spread the tale of the PC’s deeds throughout the country; in time, their names reach the five cities of Thuvia, hurrayed in taverns and celebrated in poems and songs.