An Adventure Hook Written By: Dice Prophet
Type: Dungeon Crawl
System: Pathfinder or D&D 5th Edition
Ideal Party Size: 4-5
Recommended Levels: 1-2
This is a simple yet fairly difficult dungeon crawl for fledgling adventurers. It is meant to plant the seed for an epic treasure hunt, as well as provide the players with magical loot and treasure! This scenario takes place in a desert setting, and involves the party traveling underground to explore a mysterious sinkhole that turns out to be an hourglass-shaped dungeon guarded by the undead!
The dungeon is designed to teach the players the basic mechanics of play such as overland travel, resource management, exploration, solving puzzles, and combat!
Read the following flavor text to the PCs at the beginning of the quest:
“Life in the desert has always been a struggle. Whether it’s the constant heat of a scorching sun or the intermittent threat of attack from hostile bandits, settlers of the sands are as tough as they come. You are no different, and seek to carve out your fortune and fame amidst the endless salt of the wasteland. One day, an opportunity to test your mettle presents itself.
Sinkholes have been spontaneously appearing along the desert trade routes and swallowing up large portions of caravans. Dozens have been injured or killed and countless goods have been lost under the sands of the desert. Several days would pass before these sinkholes mysteriously disappeared, only to reappear again in another catastrophic event.
The merchant group known as the Gilded Sparrow has put out a sizable reward for whomever is brave enough to investigate this destructive phenomenon and prevent it from recurring. The most recent incident took place the day prior, and is located approximately twenty miles away.”
Getting There [OPTIONAL]
The PC’s journey to reach the dungeon can be an opportunity to teach them the basics of overland travel as well as resource management and environmental hazards. This is a good time to introduce them the tiers of travel speeds as well as testing them with appropriate Survival (Wisdom), Perception (Wisdom), and Knowledge (Intelligence) checks. Since they are in the desert, the party may encounter obstacles such as intense heat and quicksand. Try not to do anything too serious, and deplete resources such as food and water if they fail. If damage is inevitable, err on the side of caution and deal nonlethal damage (if applicable) instead.
Alternatively, the PCs can simply arrive at the entrance of the dungeon.
After following the primary trade road, the PCs will discover the sinkhole. This area is situated between two large cliffs and is strewn with debris from the incident. All loot has already been picked clean by scavengers.
The entrance is circular and roughly 20 feet across, and hole drops down 50 feet into a diamond-shaped 40 feet by 40 feet chamber [B1 MAP, Area 3].
If the players succeed a Perception (Wisdom) vs. Stealth, they can notice that there is something moving along the sand at the bottom. At this distance they are unable to ascertain the exact nature of the beast. The creature is actually a small earth elemental (Pathfinder Bestiary pg. 122) with a body composed entirely of finely ground sand instead of dirt.
If the PCs possess enough rope, they can safely descent to Area 3 with a successful Climb/Athletics (Strength) DC 15, but the sand elemental will not wait for them to safely land before it starts attacking them.
Area 1: Alternative Entrance
If the PCs search for an hour, they can find an alternative entrance to the dungeon [B1 MAP, Area 1]. This path takes them downward at a more gradual decline, so they don’t need to risk taking falling damage. The area is low-light at the cavern entrance and becomes total darkness at the far end. There is a flowing pool of safe-to-drink freshwater 30 feet deep that flanks the sides of a natural bridge. A darkmantle (Pathfinder Bestiary pg. 55 or D&D MM pg. 46) awaits on the ceiling disguised as a stalactite and will drop down upon the first person that crosses the bridge.
If the PCs are brave enough to swim underneath, they can find a secret passageway that leads straight to the final chamber [B2 MAP, Area 4] with a successful Perception (Wisdom) DC 25. To traverse the hidden path, a PC must perform a tight squeeze with an Acrobatics (Dexterity) DC 15. Failure will result in getting stuck and potentially drowning.
There are two paths to take from the alternative entrance. Going north takes the PCs to the sand pit with the sand elemental [B1 MAP, Area 3], and the east path takes the PCs through a puzzle [B1 MAP, Area 2].
Area 2: Hall of Mirrors
This path presents a simple puzzle for the PCs to fix that involves bouncing around a beam of light. Below is the diagram of the map in its starting configuration. There is a scarab-shaped jewel embedded into the post of the entrance and it generates the light beam. On the floor there is a riddle: “Walk the path of light and thou shall never fear death.” Because of the beam, treat this area as if it was well-lit.
This area is trapped; if a living creature strays out of the light beam, the five skeletons (Pathfinder Bestiary pg. 250 or D&D MM pg. 272) in the following room will become active, and slay anything they find. Otherwise, the skeletons remain inert, unless physically provoked. The skeletons are wearing golden scarab pendants, signifying their connection to the puzzle. Stealing this artifact requires a Sleight of Hand (Dexterity) DC 15 without awakening all the skeletal guardians.
The obvious solution is to walk within the path of the light beam, but the third mirror from the origin is broken! An unknown scuffle had taken place and knocked the mirror out of alignment, terminating the light prematurely. It will require a Strength DC 15 to successfully move the heavy object. After the first failure, a follow-up Dexterity DC 12 is required to handle the antique mirror with finesse. Failure to do so will cause it to break altogether.
If the PCs possess any mirror-like objects, they can craft a makeshift reflector with successful crafting checks at the DM’s discretion.
Below shows the main solution to this rudimentary puzzle. But if the players think outside the box and come up with inventive alternative solutions (generate their own light with spells, remove the scarab jewel and carry it, etc.), they should be considered and decided upon at DM’s discretion.
Area 3: The Sand Pit
This area is mostly low-light except for the pillar of light produced by the hole in the ceiling. It is also ferociously guarded by a sand elemental that will attack any creatures at enter. It uses the sand on the ground to hide itself as it uses hit-and-run tactics.
At the center of the pit, there is another hole 10 feet across that drops 30 feet into the final chamber [B2 MAP, Area 4]. The hole is partially obscured by sand build-up.
Area 4: The Throne Room
The final chamber is guarded by a skeletal champion (Pathfinder Bestiary pg. 252) sitting atop its throne. It will immediately engage with intruders and try to kill them.
Since this area is the lowest part of the hourglass structure, it is entirely dark. There is also a large pile of finely-ground sand 20 feet across and 10 feet at its deepest. The sand pile is treated as difficult terrain. At the south side of the final chamber there is a pool of water that connects to the entrance.
If the players survive the difficult encounter with the skeletal champion, they acquire an ornate (cursed) crown, a masterwork longsword, a full set of ancient metal armor, and several miscellaneous jewels. The highly-decorated nature of the final boss implies a royal lineage of some sort.
Inspecting the throne will reveal that the structure belongs to “King Valcyan.” A successfully History (Intelligence) DC 20 reveals that King Valcyan once reigned over the vast kingdom of Ako-Jorak thousands of years ago. However, the kingdom had so greatly offended the gods that it was swallowed up by the sands. This teleporting hourglass structure has some function in raising the lost civilization. The details are sparse, but the method is apparent; the hourglass appears and swallows up material, and whatever gets trapped within is destroyed into a fine powder that collects in the final area.
But before the PCs can ponder any further, the structure begins to crumble, as the magic has been interrupted by the slaying of the King. The PCs must escape before the collapsing dungeon traps them underground forever. After the dust settles, there is no trace of the underground structure, the sinkhole, or the side entrance; it was like as if they were never there.
If the PCs wish to uncover the secrets of the ancient kingdom, they must seek out the hourglass once more.