In this short adventure, the adventurers visit the desert of Ma’az. After traveling through the dangerous sands for days, they reach the city of Leira, which was built around a magical oasis. The heroes learn about the many explorers that look for wonders and secrets in the vast desert. Manny, a local Leirian, tells the heroes about The Cursed Pyramid, a dangerous forgotten place that holds riches and treasures. The encounters and treasure below are balanced for a party of 4-6 level 5 characters.
The vast desert of Ma’az is a dangerous place. Its hot temperatures and inclement dryness make it a hazardous place to travel in. However, all kinds of civilizations have adapted to the most difficult weathers, and the desert of Ma’az is not the exception. In its center, there is a magical oasis. Legends say that the gods blessed this place with eternal pure water. Since the first settlers found it, its water has never run out.
Nowadays, a whole city surrounds the oasis. The infinite source of water has allowed the population of Leira to prosper through the decades. The presence of such a large city in the center of the desert has also permitted explorers and archeologists to prepare week-long journeys in the depths of Ma’az. In the last ten years, more and more gold and fame-seekers have come to Leira. The sands hide many wonders from forgotten civilizations.
The Dusty Boot is a well-reputed local tavern. Manny goes often; he is friends with everybody there. Manny is a historian and cartographer, so he is always curious about where the explorers might go. One day, he met Edward Ply, a half-elf explorer. The merry traveler bought a round for everyone at the bar and pre-celebrated his apparently imminent success. He claimed he had the key to enter The Cursed Pyramid. He swore he would not come back empty-handed, and that he would buy another round for all customers. Manny remembers the resolve of this man, and he genuinely thought Edward Ply would succeed.
Manny never heard of Edward Ply again. It has been three months since he left Leira. Manny thought he was wrong all along. Perhaps the explorer was all talk and he was just bluffing. Or perhaps the desert was too dangerous for him. The Cursed Pyramid is said to be dangerous and a horrible maze, though these are just legends since no one has ever come out alive. Either way, it is not the first, nor shall it be the last life that the desert of Ma’az claims.
To the day, the cartographers in Leira, including Manny, know pretty much the whole extension of the Ma’az desert. However, The Cursed Pyramid remains a mystery to all. No one knows who built it, or what was its purpose. It is about two days away from Leira, but those who explored it have never come back. Some started saying the pyramid is a maze and an evil minotaur guards its center. Others say ancient mummies and the spirits of restless war leaders have cursed the place and created an unhallowed ground. However, most explorers infer the security measures of the pyramid are a sign of great treasures and wealth within. Hence, their persistence to risk their lives.
Manny likes to promote The Cursed Pyramid’s reputation. He believes the more adventurers and explorers know about it, the sooner Leira shall learn about the real history behind it. He sometimes wonders that perhaps the answer to the oasis’s magic lies hidden in the pyramid. Or that its water is not infinite in truth, one day it might run out, and the pyramid holds the only way to restore the water flow. So, he tries to convince groups of adventurers to travel to the pyramid and solve its mysteries.
The real purpose of the pyramid was to protect an important treasure hidden behind door X (see map). However, some earthquakes in the land in the past few centuries, plus the presence of critters and underground monsters caused the flooring in that room to crack and sink in the sand. Most of the treasure was buried under hundreds of feet of sand. All that remains is the lair of a deadly dweller of the desert. Fortunately for those who dare enter, The Cursed Pyramid still holds enough treasures and riches that make a visit worth it. Plus, the fact of stepping in an out of it is a feat that deserves praise in itself.
Manny Sarr, historian and cartographer
Neutral human (age 41)
Manny is a tall man. He is 6’2” but he is not corpulent. His arms look like spaghetti and his long legs make him look even taller than he is. He trims his beard but he fails to do it properly and there are blank spots in his face. He is always chewing dried and curated meat, he loves it. He has a small dagger scabbard but when he pulls it out it is a dagger’s hilt with several quills attached to it. Manny enjoys drawing and writing books.
Personality Trait. “History is our past, and we cannot ever escape it.”
Ideal. “Knowing all the secrets I can is my goal in life.”
Bond. “The desert of Ma’az and its secrets, I must know them all.”
Flaw. “I think too much about the past and forget about the future.”
The following descriptions of areas 1 through 5 correspond to the pyramid map.
Terrain. The stone tiles inside The Cursed Pyramid are hundreds of years old. They show considerable marks of wear and erosion. A layer of sand covers the majority of the place.
Magical Doors. The doors in The Cursed Pyramid are magical. They have withstood the passage of time and they look neat and bright. They are made of a hard mix of ivory and pearl. They can be moved 10 feet aside (see The Puzzle).
Light. There are five magical sconces in The Cursed Pyramid. They are infused with a permanent continual flame spell. If the sconces are removed the flames go out in 1 minute. There are areas in the pyramid with no source of light, these corridors are sunk in darkness.
Smells and Sounds. The areas in the pyramid where there are undead stink of death and rot. The rest has a heavy smell of sand and dirt.
The Cursed Pyramid’s magical doors are the puzzle. The adventurers can figure out how to solve the puzzle when they find Edward Ply’s corpse in area 1 (see map). Only bones and pieces of torn clothes remain of the former explorer. A successful DC 12 Wisdom (Medicine) check allows a character to determine that Edward was beaten to death. The leather backpack of the half-elf contains a map of The Cursed Pyramid drawn on a piece of an ancient scroll. The origins of this document are impossible to determine. The scroll also has some instructions written in elvish.
The instructions as per Edward state the following:
- There are 9 magical doors in The Cursed Pyramid. They answer and move aside after a magical command is spoken.
- The magical word is “Ril’thumip”.
- The Cursed Pyramid is cursed. The doors summon evil spirits if they are opened without the right command or by force.
- There is an ancient bronze talisman inside one of the pyramid’s small chambers. This is the source of the pyramid’s evil. Thus, destroying the talisman breaks the curse.
- The talisman feels the presence of life when someone enters and activates the defense mechanism. The doors shall move if the right word is uttered, but only four of them.
- Once 4 doors are moved, the magical word stops working. Though any of the doors can still be moved by force, they all summon evil spirits. The Cursed Pyramid claims another life.
How Edward Ply obtained this information and the map is an adventure for another time. A successful DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals the word Ril’thumip belongs to an arcane tongue that has been dead for centuries. No spells or magic function with these ancient symbols anymore. The heroes must decide if they trust Edward’s instructions or not, and delve further into the pyramid. If they decide to go with the deceased explorer’s intel, they must figure out which is the best way to reach the talisman.
All the doors in the pyramid look the same. The occupy an entire wall section. Each door can be moved in one direction only with a successful DC 14 Strength (Athletics) check. Moving the doors again returns them to their original position. The doors open or close different sections and corridors in the pyramid. In other words, opening one way might close another.
If the adventurers attempt to move any of the doors by force or by any other means besides the right command, one wraith and two specter are summoned. The undead attack any living creature nearby. Once the enemies are dealt with, the door can be moved aside. Each door returns to its original position in 1 hour. Interacting with the doors again summons the evil spirits.
If the adventurers use the word Ril’thumip to move the doors, no spirits are summoned. However, as per Edward’s notes, only four doors can be opened this way.
1. Edward’s Cul-de-Sac
At the end of this 20-feet-long corridor, the remains of a corpse lie on the dusty floor. Poor Edward Ply didn’t even make it far in his quest. He thought that having the map and his notes was enough to bypass the pyramid’s dangers. He wasn’t ready to face and fight the forces of the dark.
If any of the sarcophagi is interacted with, their lid opens. A mummy comes out and attacks any living creature that dared disturb its eternal sleep. Both sarcophagi are inlaid with decorative precious stones. And the mummies carry gold and silver jewelry.
Treasure. Each mummy has a couple of golden bracelets (75 gp), an onyx necklace (30 gp), and a few silver rings (20 gp). A successful DC 15 Dexterity check allows a character to remove the stones (150 gp) from the sarcophagi carefully. An individual check must be made for each of the sarcophagi. Failing the check destroys the stones.
3. Illusion Fountains
These three small clay pots are part of the wall. They cannot be removed. Clean water runs and fills the pots to the brim. The water looks clear and refreshing. However, it is all an illusion, and the water is cursed. The water is black and muddy. Bubbles pop on its surface and release a putrefying odor. Whoever makes it this far inside the pyramid is now faced with incredible danger. The fountains look appealing and their magic attempts to brainwash nearby creatures.
Any creature near the fountain must make a successful DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or become charmed by them. Charmed creatures feel a great urge to drink from the fountains. Any creature that drinks from the fountains must make a successful DC 14 Constitution saving throw or become 20% older. The aging is not an illusion and the character’s main scores might be modified if this new age is considered elderly for their race. The effect of the water fountain can be removed with a remove curse spell if applied within a week. Additionally, destroying the evil talisman in area 4 breaks the curse as well.
A large, circular, bronze talisman lies on the floor in this small cubicle. The talisman features a strange symbol in its center. A successful DC 15 Intelligence (Arcana) check reveals the symbol belongs to an arcane tongue that has been dead for centuries. No spells or magic function with these ancient symbols anymore. Breaking the talisman doesn’t require special tools. The talisman has 10 Hit Points and 10 AC.
However, any creature that attempts to attack the talisman wakes its guardians. Three ghosts come out of it and laugh maniacally before using their Horrifying Visage ability. After that, they attempt to use their Possession ability to make the adventurers fight each other. Additionally, the ghosts take advantage of their Incorporeal Movement and pass through the pyramid’s walls with ease.
This is the last security measure. Once the ghosts and the talisman are destroyed, the magical doors stop summoning evil spirits, the illusion fountains (area 3) look as they do in reality, with black filthy bubbling water. And the mummies in the sarcophagi become immobile corpses. However, nothing happens in the monster’s lair (area 5) since its presence is a rather recent addition to the pyramid’s ecosystem.
5. Monster’s Lair
A family of desert dwellers has created a net of underground tunnels in the desert of Ma’az. One of the many ramifications of their home leads to The Cursed Pyramid. The earthquakes from the past few decades, plus the constant burrowing of these sand monsters made the whole floor of this chamber to collapse, along with everything within it.
The desert monsters become aware if door X (see map) is moved, regardless of the talisman’s state. They come out of their den to see what caused such noise. Two desert chuuls attack any living creature near their cave. If any of the desert crustaceans is reduced to half its Hit Points, they both flee through their cave. The whole family of chuuls comprehends about ten individuals. How complex and long is the chuuls’ network of tunnels is left to the DM’s discretion.
Desert Chuuls. These monsters are distant cousins of the aquatic chuuls. They have the same stats as their aquatic counterparts but make the following modifications to their stats:
- Swap their swim speed 30 ft. for burrow speed 30 ft.
- Remove their amphibious racial feature.
Treasure. There are treasures and hidden trinkets under the sand in this room. A successful DC 16 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to find several gold and silver pieces. Fancy cups, silverware, rings, anklets, earrings, and many other bourgeois accessories. It all has a total worth of 334 gold pieces.
The real treasure and protected belongings from The Cursed Pyramid are buried in the sand, past the entire crustacean family of desert chuuls. This is not shown in the present module and it is left to the DM’s discretion. This treasure may well be lost forever.
If the adventurers make it back to Leira, Manny takes a while to believe they entered the pyramid and came back alive. If the heroes show Edward’s map to Manny, he opens his eyes wide and tells them he is very happy for them but happier for Leira. He explains that The Cursed Pyramid was one of the few spots in the desert of Ma’az that they had never been able to explore. Now Leira’s history books can be complemented with this information. Plus, a search party might be able to go to the pyramid now that the dangers and curses are gone.
Manny asks the adventurers if he can keep the pyramid’s map. He figures they shall not need it anymore. In case the adventurers aren’t willing to give it away, he offers 100 gold pieces for it.