A mortal’s darkest wish always betrays their despicable nature. It speaks their demise.
Haruv-Den, the Great Sphinx
Greed and ambition are the greatest defects of mortal beings. Indulged responsibly, they become the strength and motivation with which an individual can change their station and that of their offspring. Mortals always aspire for more and exercise their power to get it. However, indulging in these two descriptors without understanding their consequences leads to evil behavior.
An overly greedy or ambitious person may step over others’ aspirations and destroy their lives. They care not for others and take what they want whenever they want it. When offered a quick path to richness and success, they often step through without thinking of the cost.
The Cost of Power
It is commonplace fantasy that some fantastic creatures such as genies, fey, or even dragons wield the power to grant wishes to those who earn them. Some bestow these gifts in good faith, others twist the supplicant’s wording to create a despicable imitation of what they really wanted. Some take the wording to the letter and interpret it in the most direct way possible, discarding any context outside of the words, such as sphinxes.
Sphinxes are mythological creatures prone to pose word riddles and create strange rhymes with their speech. In the Material Plane, three immortal winged lions inhabit the Hall of Sphinxes. They must do so for at least a few more thousand years; such is their duty. For millennia, they have granted countless wishes to hapless individuals. They have caused havoc and despair to those unfortunate enough to not think about their phrasing carefully before begging Haruv-Den, the Great Sphinx, to grant their wish. The sphinxes take no pride or joy twisting wishes out of their intended meaning, though.
Haruv-Den’s Ancient Hall
The decrepit compound where the three sphinxes await was created by an otherworldly fey entity to bring success and advancement to mortal beings. A covenant of loyal sphinxes pledged to bring his vision to reality. That is how Haruv-Den and his two companions, Darggen and Firifay came to be in the Material Plane. The altruistic fey entity was slain by his enemies hundreds of years later but the sphinxes, loyal as they are, were committed to completing their quest. Since then, they set trials and grant wishes to those who earn them. Alas, they take the wording to the letter despite the strange consequences this might cause in the world, as instructed.
A group of prospectors found the Hall of Sphinxes near a large forest two centuries after its last discovery. The poor miners were killed by the undead guardians. Local authorities offer a reward of 2,500 gp and a nobility title to whoever investigates the scene and clears the area from whatever killed the poor prospectors.
Features of the Hidden Hall
The following features correspond to the Hall of Sphinxes underground compound; areas 1 through 11.
Light. The dungeon features sconces with continual flame spells on them. If removed, the magic fades.
Magical Aura. A detect magic spell can perceive the sphinxes’ presence in area 9 from up to 100 feet.
Passageways. An observant character finds secret doors and hidden passages in the dungeon (DC 16 Investigation). They open by pushing brick buttons.
1. Entrance Hall
The entrance hall was sacked. It is now empty. There are signs of erosion on the sculpted wall that still feature imagery of flying sphinxes and riddles that make no sense. In the bas-reliefs, a sphinx grants wishes to those strong enough to fight the hall’s humanoid guardians.
2. Door of the Sphinx
The room’s steel door features silver inlays and a sculpted sphinx effigy. When a creature enters the room, the sphinx says with a mocking voice: “I wiggle my tail and I have a head, but I lack a body. A snake I am not. What am I?”. If a character speaks the answer (a coin), the door opens. Otherwise, the sphinx breaths fire and deals 6d6 fire damage to all creatures within 15 feet (DC 17 Dexterity / half). The fire reveals strange cracks on the south wall and the presence of the secret passage.
3. The Undead Supplicants
Those killed by poorly-worded wishes remain in Haruv-Den’s hall as undead guardians. Five ghasts, two zombies, and six shadows emerge from the enclosures in the room to attack the characters. Defeating all undead opens the door to area 9. They reform at dawn.
4. Destroyed Library
Cave-ins destroyed this repository of knowledge. The few documents that remain here are damp and unreadable. A strange vapor comes from the northern caves.
5. Haruv-Den’s Archive
Most documents and information from area 4 were moved to this archive to preserve them. A magical aura keeps scrolls and tomes in a good state. The archive contains an accurate account of past visitors to the hall, their actions, and what happened to them after. Reading the documents for 30 minutes reveals the location of the three sphinxes, their ability to grant wishes, and that more than 350 wishes have been granted as far back as 15,000 years ago. A quick-witted person sees that some wishes ended up in terrible mishaps because the wording was taken too literally (DC 17 Intelligence).
6. Hunting Grounds
A pack of ravenous chuuls inhabits the meandering network of natural caves. Three chuuls emerge from the darkness and attack trespassers with their pincers.
Vapor. A noxious, light gas causes humanoids to become poisoned for 1 hour (DC 16 Constitution).
7. Secret Passage
This large secret hallway connects areas 2, 5, and 10 and serves as a way to bypass the trap in area 2 and the undead in area 3. The chest close to the secret passage to area 5 features a sphinx-shaped lock. It speaks a riddle: “What rooms can’t you enter?” If a character speaks the answer (mushrooms), the chest opens. Otherwise, the sphinx-lock explodes and deals 4d6 thunder damage to all creatures within 15 feet (DC 17 Dexterity / half).
Treasure. The chest contains 2,600 gp, 17,500 sp, two potions of superior healing, and a +1 shield.
8. Secret Vault
The ancient vault contains two stone coffers. They are engraved with runes and imagery of sphinxes.
Treasure. The chests contain 10,000 gp, 4,500 sp, a diamond-engraved belt (980 gp), a figurine of power (random ) three potions of superior healing, and a +2 dagger.
9. The Three Sphinxes
The three sphinxes, Haruv-Den (androsphinx), Darggen and Firifay (gynosphinxes), and an elf await in this chamber. They welcome the characters to the hall. If the characters approach from area 10, before defeating the undead in area 3, Haruv-Den announces that they are not worthy of being granted a wish. They must return and defeat the undead. Otherwise, they can play the riddle game. If they guess all three, defeating the undead guardians is not necessary to be granted a wish.
The sphinxes relish the opportunity to use their riddles with visitors. Each sphinx poses a riddle while Agadamon, the elf clerk, keeps a record of the characters’ right and wrong answers.
Haruv-Den. What pine has the longest and sharpest needles? (The porcupine)
Darggen. What turns everything around but does not ever move? (A mirror)
Firifay. A long snake with a stinging bite, I stay coiled up unless I must fight. (A whip).
10. The Clerk’s Quarters
Agadamon’s quarters have nothing of value. He helps the sphinxes keep the archives up to date in exchange for knowledge. He teleports in once a month.
11. Noxious Caverns
The uncharted cavern network is the home of chuuls, troglodytes, and other underground denizens. The caverns slant downward into the veins of the earth.
The characters reach the end of this adventure and face the consequences of their deeds.
Confronting the Sphinxes
Should the characters antagonize the mellow sphinxes, Haruv-Den warns them once that their presence here conforms to an ancient commitment to help the mortals. However, he shall not suffer fools. If the characters insist, the three sphinxes fight mercilessly.
Worthy of Power
The characters defeat the undead guardians in area 3 or partake in the sphinxes’ riddle game (guessing right bypasses the undead encounter). Haruv-Den announces that according to an eons-long contract the characters are now worthy of a magical wish. Haruv-Den announces that they can ask for anything they want but they shall have a single chance to state what it is.
Haruv-Den can cast a wish spell once per year. He considers the characters as a single entity. The sphinx refuses to elaborate on any limits or rules for this offering. Each character has a single chance to announce their wish. Haruv-Den is not evil and does not purposely twist the meaning of a wish to cause unintended results. His work is to interpret the wish exactly as it has been asked. Often, greed and ambition cause a person to be precipitous and make a mistake. It is the sphinx’s responsibility to bring palpable consequences for such mistakes. The GM is the sole judge of the results of the characters’ ill-prepared, badly-worded wishes.