Call to Adventure: “Pursuit of Knowledge”

An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet

Type: Dungeon, Puzzles, Riddles

System: D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder

Ideal Party Size: 4-6

Recommended Levels: 3-5

Introduction

There comes a time in every adventurer’s career when they simply do not possess the required facts in order to complete a quest. Perhaps a key factoid is considered strictly forbidden or the last person who would’ve known died centuries ago? Thankfully, sphinxes are known to acquire vast knowledge throughout their long and storied existences, and can even be persuaded to share that information with others. Unfortunately, these magical immortal beasts can also be fickle and ferocious. In this adventure, a party of experienced travelers gambles their lives in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge. To succeed, they must pass a series of devious riddles.

Setup

This mission is centered around a gynosphinx, which is the female variant of the mythical species. Physically, they are composed of a human woman’s head atop the body of a lion with falcon wings. For the D&D 5th Edition statistics, refer to page 282 of the Monster Manual or this link. For the Pathfinder version, consult page 257 of Bestiary #1 or this link.

The purpose of the adventure is to wrangle some plot-relevant information from their target, not slay it. (Although the PCs can certainly try and suffer the likely lethal consequences.) The specifics of the sphinx’s personality are subject to change at DM’s discretion, but at the very least they must be willing to parlay with the party after succeeding the cloister of trials.

Development

The sphinx’s lair is a four-level descending dungeon in which the party must overcome and solve a variety of challenges. Allow the PCs to try out solutions before feeding them clues. The goal is to help them solve the puzzles themselves, not give them the answer once they roll high enough. The following encounters can be easily modified or changed entirely in order to fit your campaign setting and game mastering style.

Level B1: Gate Guardian

In order to enter the sphinx’ lair, they must first request access, and then contend with the guardian. Within a sand-filled room there is single hole on the ceiling from which descends a pillar of light upon the carved marble statue of a gynosphinx. The eyes are missing; in their place there are a pair of circular indents. There are also words chiseled into the figure’s base which read:

“Knowledge is a double-edged sword. Do you seek it nonetheless?”

The players simply have to answer, “Yes” to begin the first challenge. The light will cease, shrouding the environment to complete darkness. Some hidden rooms will open, dumping additional sand into the room. And one of these spaces houses a creature composed of animated sand. This creature is based upon the amphisbaena, and is a snake with a head on each end. Here are the stats for the Pathfinder and homebrew D&D 5e versions.

The sand snake contains a red jewel within each of its two heads. Once defeated in combat, the slithering construct dissipates, leaving behind the two gems with which they can unlock the entrance. Place the gems into the sphinx statue’s eyeholes to continue.

Level B2: Welcoming Party

The path downward takes them to a hallway filled with undead. These can be simple skeletons (D&D/Pathfinder) and zombies (D&D/Pathfinder). Another statuesque sentinel stands before the PCs, but this time its base is inscribed with the words:

“Those with blood of red shall join the dead. Those of a different shade will not be delayed.”

The undead spring into action and begin swarming the party. The PCs can either defeat the large swarm through attrition or solve the riddle to avoid risking injury. The “different shade” is a metaphor for “blue blood,” indicating nobility. Sphinxes are proud creatures after all, and will not grant an audience to anyone they deem of a lesser make. To successfully pass unhindered, those with blood ties to someone in authority (village chief, feudal lord, guard captain, etc.) must declare their heritage openly. If none of them have noble lineage, they can attempt a Bluff or Deception (Charisma) DC 20.

Level B3: Sinking Feeling

Beyond the hall of undeath stands a perfectly flat and pristine pit of sand. The top layer is perfectly smooth; not a single grain appears to have been disturbed. The same sphinx figure emerges from the center of the area as if magically sculpted from the surrounding material. This one reads:

“The fear that gives you wings shall also send you to the depths.

Whenever the players walk upon the sand, it will feel as if unseen hands are grasping them and pulling downwards, increasing in force with each progressive tug. The PCs subsequent efforts to remain afloat and the enchanted sand’s attempts to pull them through will result in a hapless character eventually getting stuck until they inevitably suffocate to death. To cross over to the other side, one must stand on the sand and relax; let go of the fear that makes you want to move up. The invisible force will gently pull them through the secret passage and into the final chamber within 30 seconds.

Level B4: Numbers Game

In the final room, the party finally comes face-to-face with the gynosphinx. She will beckon to them with one last challenge. If they can prove themselves worthy of her time, she will give them the information they seek. The win conditions are either to reduce her to half hit points, or solve the following riddle during combat.

“I shall divide you and conquer. When I was in my prime, I was untouchable.”

The room is a 50 ft. by 50 ft. chamber with balconies jutting out at all four corners at 20 ft. elevations. The sphinx can easily fly between the platforms to harass the players from afar. If provoked, it will land on the ground level to engage in melee. The floor is segmented like titles, and a closer inspection of the surrounding walls indicates that the rows and columns are labeled with numbers.

To be untouchable and thus unbeatable, stand upon the tiles in which a prime number would be inscribed. The prime numbers between 1-100 are 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59,61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97. These numbers are tinted red on the sample map below.

The darkened borders on the 5 and 6 squares indicate the entrance points to the final room. The optionally greyed out regions indicate areas in which the ground has caved in from impact or the passage of time, forming lethal drops into a black void. Once all players are standing on the correct positions on a 10 x 10 grid, the test is passed.

Conclusion

Upon completing the final task, the gynosphinx agrees to converse with the party and divulges whatever information they were seeking. If the ensuing conversation goes favorable, consider gifting them with magical loot taken from the previous visitors, who expired in the final test and thus have no further use for their gear.

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