The Inverted Pyramid of Hankjawin
Lvl 2 – 7
And so it came to pass that from all the disparate corners of the OSR, champions came forth one champion, to match their ways against the ways of the others, and determine once and for all, who would be the leader in the war against Artpunk. And so came the 17th from the mystic lands of the Unbalanced Dice Games, if that is what one could call them, to match his queer and awesome arsenal against the discipline, lore and ingenuity of the others.
Discovering something like this, an adventure that is all but uncontaminated by any convention, procedure or precedent, just pure invention, is an exercise both frustrating and wonderful. On the one hand it comes with the thrill of discovery, as though one had stumbled upon some tribe of savages in the depths of the Amazonian rainforest, on the other hand the frustration comes with knowing that the effort of turning it into something that could be run is nothing short of herculean. It outlines more than anything, the difference between the ideas, which are spectacular in a primal pre-tolkinian way, and the application, which is obtuse to the point of being very hard to run.
For all the harping we do during this contest, seeing something like this, wild, boundless imagination, rules only an afterthought, brings a kind of joy, for it is ultimately the rules that are there to service the idea, not vice versa, and let us not forget that.
Pyramid of Hankjawin, a monster 31 page entry, maps, hand-drawn illustrations and verbose paragraphs of description. I have it on decent authority that English was not Mr. Imotheps first language, but we must give him credit, for though the module omits for the most part any gold values, is in organization most obtuse, one cannot fail to be inspired by the power on display.
Opening crawl half a page, centred font. Note odd nomenclature (Hankjawin, Tywin, Tewderic etc.) and move on.
”Thousand years ago, in the land of sands, pharaoh Hankjawin lost his kingdom by usurpation to dread warlock Tikyn. As was common then, the ruling regent was not seen as mere mortal, but as an aspect of god by his subjects. Because Tikyn fashioned himself a god, and also didn’t want to offend his new colleagues in divine realm, he decided to bury the usurped pharaoh with as much respect as he could muster. However, as he had plans to take Hankjawins pyramid for his own grave, Tikyn had to come up with a new kind of burial scheme.”
Thus the inverted pyramid of Hankjawin, where he and all his relatives now lie imprisoned. Unfortunately for Tikyn his talents as a warlock were a poor predictor for his administrative faculties and he mismanaged the empire into non-existence in a mere two years. Cue 1001 years later and now the wards around the damn thing are finally wearing off and thus it may be plundered.
Hooks are done surprisingly well. The language is a little flowery and sloppy but the ideas can still be conveyed. Motivations range from simple greed to heeding the words of a ‘small, silly looking man’ about the tomb being the grave of an evil tyrant, who later turns out to be none other then THE EVIL SPIRIT OF THE WARLOCK TIKYN HIMSELF!
After an uneventful overland journey across the desert, we arrive at the quarry that holds the dreaded Inverted Pyramid, made of enchanted Wood (?!?YES!) and placed in a pyramid shaped hollow in the earth, held there by myriad wooden suspension beams. Also this minor environmental detail: If one were to climb the highest mountain next to the base, one would find out that the entire mountaintop is carved with hieroglyphs, which are barely legible due to erosion of 1000 years. The text is deal with sultan of the efreet which establishes diplomatic relations between Tikyns new realm and brass city. The document is over 4000 hieroglyphs long, and will take about a week to decipher, even if one is adept at translating ancient hieroglyphs.
Yes you read that correctly. There’s a sort of rhythm to Inverted Pyramid where it gets the atmosphere and the elements of an Egyptological delve right, but can be stingy on the neccessary details. The treacherous Wizard Tewderic (what level is he?) has his camp outside of the pyramid, most of his servants already inside the 1st level. His motivation is ambiguous, friendly if you are, hostile if you are. Notice hand-drawn art of him and his one-eyed retainer.
The pyramid proper is a beast, keys before the map of each level for maximum confusion, with breakable walls (even the outer walls!), an outside (you can climb around and jump from beam to beam and theoretically reach a lower level and blast your way back in, or maybe break enough beams and get crushed by the pyramid), a secret inner treasure tomb, and 6 floors, some of which are one huge room. It’s fucking crazy.
Compounding the madness, there is an incredibly intricate system regarding the hieroglyphics on the walls or each room and their spell-like effects on the reader, which is meant to ENABLE tomb-thieves to penetrate the deeper levels AND ACTUALLY SET FREE the court of angry Revenants writhing eternally down there so they can break open the fake, nigh unbreakable tomb of Tikyn, which is filled to the brim with radioactive material that causes Mummy Rot to all around one but leaves patient zero untouched, to such a degree that DEFACING hieroglyphics means they will turn into a gateway that will spawn a Drelb every half hour until it is magically closed. If you deface the hieroglyphics while a person is under their (permanent?) enchantment, that person EXPLODES. You might shake your head and say, sure, sure they do that, but then you get to the LE Formorian level which has all of its murals defaced, but also has a specially bred Gate-closing Myrmidon responsible for keeping the gates closed.
This is only one batshit insane mechanism of the tomb. The other involves the new monster, the Hierogyphic, which is more of collection of monsters, are animated hieroglyphs that can attack like their real world equivalents (there is an incredibly strong one of a monstrous charicature of the Pharaoh of Hankjawin that attacks like a 11 HD creature for example). The way I read this, as soon as you start tomb robbing you essentially piss off all the hieroglyphics in the tomb, which means that you are pretty much dead. Bonus points for noting that people can disable them by painting them over. As a tip to making the whole more readable, I would have noted the effect of each hieroglyph under the room where it was located, rather then all of them together in an appendix.
Treasure can be abundant, but is often not given a gp value or described in vague terms, which is probably the biggest letdown. The monsters are all from MM2 and Fiend Folio (well done actually), so as is you could probably run most of this thing after thoroughly absorbing its contents, but no gp requires painstakingly going through each entry, then adding the values more or less based on what is deemed appropriate and what you estimate the level to be. Maybe too much explanation at times? Sometimes it is acceptable to allow the GM to infer certain relationships for himself unless it is absolutely critical. Example:
Two sealed rooms, containing 1 mural each, and a small altar which house “tributes” from north (room 5) and south (room 6). Both are ornate golden boxes, which house within them a collection of rings which were used by Hankjewins officials in his age. The rings have enchantment which prevents its wearer from saying anything they personally know to be lie. The rings were stolen and subsequently replaced with mundane fakes by Tikyn to buy loyalty from corrupt officials who wanted to lie but still have the prestige of a truthsayer. Tikyn decided to hide most of these rings within the pyramid as a service to those officials. In addition, numerous silver necklaces taken from Hankjewins loyal officials are also strung on mural-less walls
Or Perhaps this one is much more coherent and illustrates that its vague but its good shit.
-Almost a ton of gold as small bits of jewelry and small baubles such. They are thrown all over the room, and cover the floor with almost entirety.
– Papyrus scrolls, containing a scroll of protection from possession, Protection from undeath and scroll of insect plague hidden in a stack of over 100 other scrolls, each written in hieroglyphic script. These hieroglyphs may also awake as hieroglyphicals and fight as very small humans armed with toothpicks.
– A ring of human influence hidden in a stack of 112 other rings.
– Several wide-brimmed hats made of solid gold. Do not function as helmets, and are quite uncomfortable to wear.
– The crown of lower kingdom; A Hedjet crown which kills its wearer by lowering his body temperature to negative degrees over a day unless he is a rightful king of the land. Rests on an ivory statue of Hankjewins father
No wandering monsters, but probably you don’t need them? It begins with Tewderics pupils and a captive doppleganger, then proceeds into a lower level (where a story is being told that is mostly a lie, the murals exalt Tykin and villainize the noble Hankjawin) and you get a pair of statues (one a living man the other a well-built skeleton?) attending a cup that brings first healing but later flesh melting death?!? Then come the Formorians and their ant-farm. Also monsters that people barely touch. Sandmen, Vortex, Cifal, Firebats, a bound Efreet in an entire room that looks like a sea of molten glass, bound to simulate the illusion of the plane of fire to keep the entire Revenant Court of Hankjawin from escaping the tomb in furious anger and likely setting off the radioactive mummy rot smoke in Tykins fake tomb. So a ‘DFD’ situation.
The entire revenant court is lovingly kitted out with unique abilities, the first sailor with an iron chain, the pharaohs wife with a compelling gaze, a barbarian warlord who later joined Hankjawin against Tykin, and many royal guards, a guard commander, scribes and so on. Upon death they fuse with the other Revenants, adding their skills to his own, in a process that could have used some elaboration! It’s not just the broad strokes, it’s the touches too, how the Court will first demand you hand over your plundered goods in a 1000 year old dead language before proceeding to murder you. Or how you can convince the Efreet to quit if you show him the bargain with his people is null and void, mostly on a technicality.
Take note of something like The Lower Tomb which is ‘so inscribed with curses’ that anything but PURE UNADULTERATED REVERENCE FOR THE DEAD MONARCH will see one smitten with a random spell from whatever spell list one is using. Treasure heedlessly violates my poor and suffering magic item prohibition and all of the items are interesting and good. Who the fuck comes up with armor made of amber with a bug trapped inside it? What about a set of hieroglyphical tools that create an image of those they draw blood from on the wall beside them, and all damage taken by the image is transferred to the injured party.
But all of this crazy potential is buried behind some pretty major hickups in the utility. I think if the treasure was properly keyed and the monster stats (single line format i.e. Exploding Basketball 2 HD (hp 4) AC 4 MV 120 At#1 D 2d6 Special Explodes XP 44 or something) were just printed under each room and the treasure cleaned up that would make a huge difference. The Hieroglyphics would probably also need some elaboration though I think I understand? I’m impressed you can also shut them down completely by desecrating the corpse of the artist that spent his life animating them, though this incurs the wrath of Toth!!!
This one is nuts. Good crazy energy. King energy. But its ideas require compression, it needs to be adjusted to the ordeal of running it. Level Map first, double spaced colums with encounters on it after, repeat for great justice. The level range of 2-7 or something should be put to the test. Maybe an order of battle for the Revenants? Inimitable bizarro style of writing. Don’t read anything else. Keep it like this. Also some violations of the contest stipulations but we can talk about that later:P This is a monster waiting to be let out. But can any law of man contain such raw, untamed power?