The Sanctuary of Sumuho
The powerful wizard Sumuho styled himself as a god and was worshipped far and wide. After his fall, his vast temple sank into the desert long ago. What secrets lie in the Sanctuary of Sumuho?
Millennia ago, a powerful nomadic sorcerer of the Inhap Desert called Sumuho arose to become a figure of international renown. Founding an academy of magic, he drew away students of other famous schools. After a hundred years, the wizard made a pronouncement: he had discovered the secret of immortality, and was effectively a god. The school in the desert became a cathedral and worshippers flocked from around the world to see this new god.
This drew the ire of the Cult of Khunam, a fiercely monotheistic faith that worshipped the sun disc and the largest religious sect of the land. Offended by Sumuho's audacity and sacrilege, they summoned the Oth-Maares, warrior monks avowed to protect the faith until death - and beyond. After ceremoniously breaking contact forever from the high priests to free them from any sins the Oth-Maares might commit, they disappeared into the Inhap. Within a month, Sumuho too disappeared. His own priests either vanished or turned up dead, and his temple was abandoned and forgotten. After a few centuries, it disappeared under the sands of the Inhap. All but a few worshippers vanished, the remaining faithful waiting patiently for Divine Sumuho's return...
While visiting a city or large town, the party is approached by a trio who claim to be archaeologists. Their apparent spokesman, a young man of around 25, explains that they believe they know the location of the ancient Sanctuary of Sumuho. An excavation is in order, but they would like some physical protection as well as assistance in opening the temple. The temple itself may have a few ancient traps here and there, but the fame alone would make the party rich, not to mention their share of the treasures within. If the party accepts, the trio will lead them out into the desert.
Room 1: Entrance & Guardian
After two days of steady traveling, the archaeologists cheerfully announce that the Sanctuary is but a few miles away. As they top the next dune, however, there is a distressing sight: an encampment of nomadic lizardmen. Notorious bandits native to the Inhap, the lizardmen are no pushover, especially given their ability to dive into and 'swim' through the sand, making them difficult to track. As one of the archaeologists - a slender woman with a heavy accent - unhelpfully points out, the encampment is directly over the site of the temple. Unless one of the party is lucky enough to speak Inhapi, the lizardmen will have to be removed by force. Expect strong resistance from the dozen of the tribe, led by a scarred lizard warboss with a disfigured and mutated (yet oddly functional) third arm sticking from her side. Their armament is varied, mostly with simple bronze-headed spears, but a few with steel cutlasses and flails purloined from trader caravans. After the lizardmen are dispersed, a search of their camp finds little of value: a few small gems, a decorative garland of gnome skulls, and a chest filled with desert garments such as turbans.
Following the extinguishing of the lizardmen, another of the archaeologists - an aged but spry man - begins pulling equipment from their packs while the other two explain that, according to their research, the Oth-Maares did not simply abandon the Sanctuary of Sumuho, but hid it. Using Khunamite magics, they caused the temple to sink into the golden sands and vanish. Their research also led them to Oth-Maares texts from which they learned the spells and techniques needed to undo the spell. As they finish explaining, the elder archaeologist dons a white vestment with orange and red embroidery. In his hands is a very tall staff with a tiny relic encased in an orb at one end. The three nod to each other and the old archaeologist begins to chant in a strange tongue. For several minutes, nothing seems to happen. Then, suddenly, the archaeologist slams the base of the staff into the ground. A circular tunnel appears under the staff, spewing out a load of sand in a ripple on the dunes. The tunnel appears to lead down to some sort of structure fifty or so feet beneath the sand.
Room 2: Puzzle or Challenge
Down through the odd sand tunnel, the party comes across what appears to be a solid sandstone door leading into the underground structure. The door is completely smooth and jointless, about twelve feet tall and peaking into an angled arch at the top. The archaeologists seem a bit perplexed by the door and are open to suggestions on how they might enter. As the crew discusses possibilities and theories, at the mention of the word 'Sumuho', narrow square slits crack open in the strange door. Pupil-like bits of stone bulge outwards, staring at the crew. Then below the eye-like structures breaks open a wide rectangle. Moving like a mouth, a creaking yet thunderous voice utters a phrase in an unknown language. If any of the party respond to it, the door will answer in the language it hears from the party (e.g., if an elf PC speaks High Elvish to the door, the door will reply in High Elvish). In its odd voice, the door asks: 'Who are you that have come to seek enlightenment from Divine Sumuho?'
A conversation with the door reveals that this is indeed the lost Sanctuary of Sumuho. The door seems oblivious to the passage of time, unaware that the Sanctuary has been unopened for thousands of years. However, it is terribly stubborn and refuses to open the door. The crew must convince the door guardian that they are indeed worshippers of Sumuho and come to seek his wisdom. At the GM's discretion, the door may require some proof that they really know who Sumuho is; if only the arhcaeologists answer, the door guardian will refuse entrance of the 'barbaric and heathen' PCs, so some knowledge of Sumuho's history would be valuable. Once the guardian is convinced. The eyes and mouth will recede and the door will crack from its hinges. The solid-looking sandstone will break into blocks, revealing a jointed and fully-articulated stone-jack. The golem will step aside to allow the party to enter the gate. Once all are inside, the -jack will reassume its form as a door. Attempts to speak to or activate it thereafter will be in vain.
Room 3: Setback
Inside the Sanctuary, the party will find themselves in a cavernous room lavishly decorated. The sandstone walls look as though they were painted hours earlier, with bright frescoes depicting Sumuho's rise to power and his ascent into the realm of the gods. Holding the ceiling above them are dozens of massive marble pillars, each one covered from base to capital in hieroglyphs like a stele monument. The floors are sandstone inlaid with glass, with the center of the room a mosaic of Sumuho subduing an army of demons. Statues litter the edges of the room, mostly of Sumuho in various heroic, majestic, or divine poses. To the west lay two hallways, one ascending and one descending, and to the east is another wider passageway. Despite being underground and without windows, the room seems brightly lit by an unknown light source. The whole effect is a bit breathtaking. Incredible as it appears, however, the sanctuary does show some signs of decay, with piles of sand having leaked in through cracks in the walls, and some of the marble columns looking cracked and frail.
The archaeologists themselves are awestruck, but quickly go to task examining a corner of the room with a large statue of Sumuho holding a golden scepter. The woman speaks in a foreign language to the eldest, who nods approvingly. He smiles broadly, explaining that they were seeking proof of Sumuho's links to an obscure Inhap culture and this statue may prove their findings. Carefully climbing the statue, the female archaeologist reaches for the scepter. As she pulls it from the statue's hand, she loses her balance and falls. Clinging to the scepter, her weight breaks the arm of the statue off. With a slow and ominous creak, the five meter tall statue tilts, then falls. It shatters against a nearby column, which itself cracks in half. The ceiling emits a rumble, and soon, other pillars begin to break and smash into each other. Within seconds, chunks of the vaulted ceiling begin to crack and fall, shattering against the floor and letting down a flood of sand.
Archaeologists in tow, the party must rush into one of the adjoining corridors for safety: the ascending hallway or descending hallway to the west, or the wider passageway to the east. As they dive into the passageways, the once-beautiful temple atrium is filled by the sands of the Inhap. Now they must navigate through whichever passageway they stumbled upon.
This dark hallway starts as a moderately sloping ramp, but after fifty feet or so it turns a corner and becomes a steep spiral staircase. It is quite a hike up the 200 stone stairs, which end in a narrow and low-ceilinged crawlspace. One of the archaeologists comments that this was probably a aqueduct or secret passageway when the temple was above ground. After a hundred feet of crawlspace, the bottom drops out of the floor in a square meter hole. If something is dropped into the hole, a splash can be heard after a long pause. The only way out seems to be through this hole. One can either drop down into the hole or lower a rope to climb. At the bottom of the hole is a seemingly bottomless pool, with steps leading into it. Climbing the steps leads into the hallway to the tabernacle room.
The descending pathway snakes in a sloped spiral down several stories. The path is dark, but torchlight reveals a few glyphs on the walls every few meters. The path suddenly end into a thick, undecorated steel door. On close examination, although the door seems to be in perfect condition, its hinges seem to be corroded. Breaking the hinges will allow the door to fall forward, leading into a large chamber. In the center of the room is a large skeleton, a chain draped around what was once a massive neck. Even the archaeologists are unsure what this huge beast may have been. Beyond the skeleton of the creature is a door leading to the tabernacle hallway.
The walls of this wide passageway are made of pure white marble, covered in runes and glyphs. The passageway continues for a hundred meters or so before ending in a series of three doors. Two of the doors are filled with collapsed debris and sand, leaving only the door on the left available to travel through. A short hallway leads into what appears to be a sacristy, filled with ancient vestments and liturgical items used to worship Sumuho in his heyday. The colors of the garments are still bright, but the material is weak and mostly threadbare. Most of the other liturgical items, however - braziers, censers, scepters, food dishes, et cetera - are in good shape. All are made from precious metals, and many are gemmed and otherwise decorated. The walls are plainly decorated with a broad purple band stretching across the room. An examination of the bar reveals a loose brick; removing it will reveal the bricks under it are unmortared as well. Behind them is a small crawlspace, wide enough for one person, leading into the hallway of the tabernacle room.
Room 4: Climax
Finally the party makes it into the tabernacle room. The hallway leads into a very tall chamber. The far wall consists almost entirely of a huge door made of electrum. Intricately detailed, Sumuho's name is inscribed in several languages. The portal is dotted with gemstones, and in the center of the double doors is an embossment of (presumably) Sumuho's bearded foreign face. A large brasier sits on either side of the room, burning some unknown fuel and casting an eerie glow on the tabernacle. The archaeologists can hardly contain their excitement. 'Finally, after all these years!' the eldest exclaims, 'we have found the Tabernacle of Sumuho, which contains the Sacrament!' The archaeologists revel and chatter among themselves until one of the party interrupts them. The archaeologists then get very dark looks on their faces. 'The Sacrament is all that is left of Sumuho's glory,' the young man says.
'And,' adds the woman, 'it is the one thing we must destroy.'
Briefly, the archaeologists explain that they are Oth-Maares of the most ancient order. Apparently the destruction of Sumuho was not complete and he has been sensed carving out chaos from his ancient temple. They have been sent to finish the job their ancestors started. Unfortunately, as they are sworn to complete secrecy, the PCs cannot leave the sanctuary. Ever. The golden scepter taken from the statue begins to glow in the archaeologists' hands and, as though out of nowhere, they produce weapons and advance on the party. The golden scepter - apparently a relic of the old Oth-Maares left to guard the tomb - seems to have transformed the eccentric historians into paladins and clerics of Khunam. They use advanced levels of magic, both offensive and defensive. Breaking the scepter will greatly weaken their power, but it is enchanted and very durable. After the harrowing battle, the party is left with three dead Oth-Maares and the huge tabernacle.
Room 5: Reward/Revelation/Twist
The only place left to go now is the tabernacle. The large electrum doors open easily without so much as a creak from the ancient metal. Peering in the darkness behind them, the PCs can see that this is no ordinary tabernacle. The doors lead into a long, narrow, high-ceilinged room completely gilded in electrum. Embossed and engraved on the walls are row after row of hieroglyphs. The electrum surface reflects the party's lanterns down the hallway, creating an almost mystical glow. Thirty or so yards down the room ends into a large altar upon which sits another, smaller tabernacle. Opening this tabernacle will reveal a sort of marble thick frame, encased in platinum and marked with runes. From each corner of the square frame is a braided cable of silver; suspended from these cables is a mummified human head. As the PCs peer into the tabernacle, the eyes of the head flash open and the jaw creaks. The gray and shriveled orbs rotate about as the yellowed teeth grind against one another. Finally the head utters something: 'So, you have come to hail I, Divine Sumuho!'
Apparently, the legendary wizard really was immortal. Sumuho prattles on, apparently seeing the PCs as worshippers who have come to remove him from this desert grave. The jealous Khunamites, he explains, attempted to murder him and placed his head in this magical case to prevent him from using his supernatural powers. They failed, clearly, as these 'loyal clerics' have come to free him from the tomb. So long as Sumuho believes the PCs are his faithful, the wizard-god is happy. He may even reveal hidden rooms with extra treasure. If carried, he will peel away the tabernacle walls with his power and lead them back out into the desert, where he orders them to built a new church, summon the faithful, find a new body for him, and begin anew.
If there is any suggestion that the PCs are not, in fact, Sumuho worshippers, he will grow furious and launch an attack from his weird frame. Sumuho fights with high level magic spells, able to cast multiple spells at once if need be. If in the sanctuary still, Sumuho may attempt to destroy it and bring the Inhap down on their heads. Attacks on the head seem fruitless, with the dried torn flesh and broken skull reassembling itself after every blow. Shattering the marble box encasing Sumuho's head, however, will kill him. Oddly, killing Sumuho causes all the treasures of the sanctuary - the Oth-Maares scepter, the sacristy loot, the electrum walls of the tabernacle - to turn to sand. If the PCs are truly witty, they might be able to trick Sumuho and stash him somewhere while they loot the tomb, leaving the wizard-god alive and content while they make off with the goods.
In association with Johnn Four, and all the fine folks subscribed to his Roleplaying Tips Weekly mailing list at, we bring you our first collaborative Quest.
Room One: Entrance and Guardian - There needs to be a reason why your dungeon hasn’t been plundered or why your adventurers are the ones for the job.
Room Two: Puzzle or Roleplaying Challenge - A trial that cannot be solved by steel alone.
Room Three: Trick or Setback - Build tension through tricks and setbacks and give them a double-dose of gameplay such as more combat or another roleplaying challenge.
Room Four: Climax, Big Battle or Conflict - The final combat or conflict of the dungeon.
Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist - The dungeon is complete but what is it about this dungeon that made it different or memorable. What kind of mystery have they discovered, what kind of reward have they won, and what kind of information have they recovered?
Submissions to the quest will each earn an extra 15XP can be inputted on the site as normal or can be emailed to Johnn at roleplayingtips.com.
Prizes for this quest include a D&D Icons Gargantuan Black dragon from Legend Games, MyInfo Personal Reference Software licenses from Milenix Software, DCC #46 Book of Treasure Maps – DCC #$7 Tears of the Genie - #50 Vault of the Iron Overlord from Goodman Games, and 1 on 1 Adventures #5 Vale of the Sepulcher - #6 Shroud of Olindor - #7 Eyes of the Dragon - #8 Blood Brothers - Advanced Adventures #3 Curse of the Witch Head from Expeditious Retreat Press. Winners for these prizes will be chose randomly so every submission has an equal chance of winning. Also, all the quest submissions will be combined and edited with what the folks at Roleplaying Tips come up with and they all will be offered back to the community.
------------ Strolen's Citadel Quest, Five Room Dungeon was an awesome collaborative success. The total amount of quest submissions between Johnn's Roleplaying Tips and the Citadel was a whopping 87 Five Room Dungeons! The winners of this set were chosen randomly so congratulations to all. But here are those that won a gift from the sponsors: Gillian Wiseman Tyler Turner Nik Palmer Daniel Burrage Uri Lifshitz Clayton Blanchard Jean-Christophe Pelletier Jason Kemp Pirate Queen Wulfhere Valadaar Thewizard63. Congratulations to Everybody!!!
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? Responses (19)
Wow. That is so cool. Great twists and very creative and well-described.
It's a pity that this was too late to be a Quest submission. 5/5
Who knows, they may make an exception.
Very good and detailed!
So, you have come to hail I
hehehe, Sumuho sounds like a few strolenites I know :)
Old-fashioned, yet twisty. Comes together nicely. The backstory is good, and the tabernacle is a great visual! Good work, Dozus!
It's not the easiest to just throw in a campaign. My other comments have already been said.
Really nice. 4/5, the details bump it to 4.5/5
Very cool visuals. The format suits the backstory and it all comes together nicely.
I've been wanting to run a desert adventure recently, this just might be it. Great work, Dozus.
Rather ashamed I missed this the first time around. Great work Dozus, i love the immortal sorcerer god and will have to use him somehow.
Echo says: Echo likes.
I stole this idea in 08' btw, and my PCs hated that door (hated in a good way). They also failed at 'tricking' Sumuho. But fun times were had. Fun times.
This beaut could really use a once-over for line breaks to make it easier to read.
This is well formatted and clearly written. I admire that a great deal. I also don't think there is anything wrong with the use of GM voice. But I get the impression that you are more of a writer than a GM.
As a story/ piece of writing:
Someday a literary scholar will undertake a study of roleplaying writing (if they haven't already), and in that contrived and irrelevant thesis the scholar will be forced to recognize the existence of a novel and modern literary voice or perspective: the GM VOICE
In the GM's voice the speaker or narrator is addressing simultaneously the player and the character. If this voice occurs as it does here, in a GM supplement, the voice is both addressing a traditional audience which is following the story in a linear fashion, it all addressing the GM who plays the role of a writer or co-author and in this case it also addresses the 'in game' or in story world as it if were real and independent. Let us consider the description of the first encounter.
Dozus starts with a limited third person present tense perspective
'After two days of steady traveling, the archaeologists cheerfully announce that the Sanctuary is but a few miles away. As they top the next dune, however, there is a distressing sight: an encampment of nomadic lizardmen. Notorious bandits native to the Inhap, the lizardmen are no pushover, especially given their ability to dive into and 'swim' through the sand, making them difficult to track. As one of the archaeologists - a slender woman with a heavy accent - unhelpfully points out, the encampment is directly over the site of the temple.'
In these line we are told of events that happen to the characters from thei character's perspective: The lizard men are notorious from the character's perspective, their presence is distressing from the character's perspective, the archaelogists comment is unhelpful from the character's perspective
This tells us what is happening almost as if it is story, but then we switch to a future tense: 'Unless one of the party is lucky enough to speak Inhapi, the lizardmen will have to be removed by force. Expect strong resistance from the dozen of the tribe...'
Next we return to a more traditional narrative: 'The three nod to each other and the old archaeologist begins to chant in a strange tongue. For several minutes, nothing seems to happen. Then, suddenly, the archaeologist slams the base of the staff into the ground.'
Later on Dozus will start to address the story tellers themselves: 'so some knowledge of Sumuho's history would be valuable'
You, the readers and member of the Citadel prefer this type of writing. Why?
Why didn't Dozus just write this up as story? What do we gain from this write up that we would not gain from a direct story? This already a very linear narrative, there are few asides or maybes. If this had just been written up as a story would the Citadel be more or less inclined to give it as much love? Writing this as a linear traditional story would not make it any less useful as a roleplaying adventure template, in part because except in the climax section were are not forced to deal with any encounters that could have truly different outcomes.
As roleplaying encounter:
1) The lizard men: It is stated that the perhaps talking to the lizard could be a solution, but we know nothing about their style of communication. We can assume that they are violent gnome slaughtering bandits, so their motivation seems clear, but what if you are characters are not inclined to go slaughter a group of intelligent beings that have done nothing wrong to them. A simple solution would be have encounters with the lizard men that would generate specific animosity between the players and the lizardmen. Otherwise perhaps the lizard men could be developed a bit to make them more than just 'monsters'. What if the players fail or reach a stalemate with the lizardmen? Why wasn't that considered implicitly by the author?
2) The puzzle: Here the players just need to repeat what the NPCs tell them is important. This is interesting in that makes sure your players understand where they are going, like a backstory pop quiz, but it doesn't dig into the players either. The most efficient method for solving this puzzle is to make the character puppets for the NPCs. Not fun. Could the players talk the door into opening by teaching it phenomenology?
3) Setback: It is saving throw and set piece. Again the players are not strongly involved.
4) Climax: Did the archeologist really need the PCs? To make this more powerful their should have been some event that forced the PCs to bond with archeologist prior to this. A GM could insert one, but it should have been in the write up. Did the archeologist give off clues that they intended to betray the PCs? The PCs are no more than passengers in this plot.
5) Twist: I like the picture of the talking head. At least this has some open ended stuff going for it.
Thanks for the analysis, axlerowes. Your deduction is correct: I'm first a writer, then a player, and last a GM - if at all.
So why write in this way? Several reasons. For one, note the headline in the browser: 'Strolen's Citadel: A Role Playing Community.' Most of the subs here are meant for game usage. There's a scant two pages in the 'Articles - Fiction' section, and some of those aren't even prose. I try to write for the intended audience to some degree.
Another reason is, I consider gaming and game settings my favored medium. An analysis of my hard drive fill find many character sheets and setting ideas, and mere handful of attempted prose fiction. The Citadellian submission format is something I'm generally better at.
Reason the third: I wrote this for the 'Five Room Dungeon' quest. This follows a fairly specific and linear format - I think you'll find most subs in that quest and with that freetext follow a similar outline. While aware that the GM must be prepared for many contingencies, I wrote this to fit the format while allowing some player selection.
In regards to the 'GM VOICE,' as you address it: You're right, this isn't exactly formatted to be dropped into a WotC book or anything. My syntax and tense are inconsistent in that way. I do try to write for multiple audiences, be they GM or player or just reader. I try not to pigeonhole the reader into thinking in a specific context, though it's geared broadly toward gaming.
On a tangential note, I know of two specific cases where this sub was used by GMs. One was Muro, as mentioned in his comment. The other was a fellow by the name of Ray who saw it in on Roleplaying Tips Weekly. He did as I anticipate Strolenites to do: adapt the dungeon to his own system and setting, adding and trimming where needed. Ray sent me the sheets he used, modified and including a few possible contingencies, maps, etc.; sadly I've lost the ZIP file in the years since, but he did keep the players more or less on the track I outlined above.
I do appreciate the viewpoints, axle. The devil always needs his advocate, and it does make one think.
Strolen's Citadel: A Role Playing Community
What separates role-playing fiction from standard fiction in your view.
Interactivity. If I wanted to write 'standard fiction,' it would be straight prose. Role-playing fiction is meant for a player/GM to use in their games. While one could certainly take standard fiction characters and drop them into a game, I'm interested in making settings that one would want to *play* in, not just *read* about.
'Interactivity. If I wanted to write 'standard fiction,' it would be straight prose. '
Most modern fans of speculative approach the medium as spring board for their own ideas not as place to genuinely pursue or absorb the art. They are less concerned with the actually material than they are with the personal fantasies and possibilities that the story offers. Thus sci-fi and fantasy fans don't are willing to except bad writing or poor acting if there is an interesting idea behind the story. That has always been true, but I think that has shifted away from philosophical or political dialogs and focused on personal escapism. So called golden age Sci-fi/fantasy such as 'We', 'Anthem' and the Lord of the Rings were allegorical for political or social issues. Post Star Wars speculative fiction deals more providing a context that would appeal to the readers own fantasies. 'Ender's Game' is the dream of every weak scared awkward kid. So I see modern fantasy and sci-fi writing as something written for the audience to play in.
Are you making the argument that story telling is less engaging than the story suggesting of RPG writing because in story telling the audience is just receiving and in story suggesting they are participating?
You'll find no argument with me. I simply find my prose is inadequate to convey most of what I want to say.
I agree with you on more than you think. Certainly the best of fiction can completely engross a reader more than a mediocre RPG. And, at least from where I stand, the standard for what makes 'decent' sci-fi/fantasy is lower than 'decent' mainstream fiction (mainstream for lack of a better word) if the sci-fi/fantasy gives a fresh take on something.
And here you will find me lacking as a writer. I've neither great prose nor stunning ideas. If anything, my general modos operandi is to take things I've seen in history and translate them into a fantasy setting. Yes, that's what Tolkein did, God bless 'im, but I'm no Tolkein. And as a reader, I find myself preferring sci-fi/fiction that's well-written over that which explores unique ideas.
Exempli gratia: My favorite fantasy novel of all time is 'The Name of the Wind' by Patrick Rothfuss. What I love about it, is that it excellently written. Does it have some unique ideas? Sure. There's naming magic (not brand new, but I like the take), there's a culture whose first language is signed (pretty cool, though actually not seen until the sequel), etc. But my favorite parts are the human ones, the ones that are just written spectacularly well.
I contrast 'The Name of the Wind' with the Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. It is full of rather unique ideas, a cosmology of demons, a unique rune-based magic system the likes of which I've not seen elsewhere, etc. etc. I read the first book, and I the ideas were enough to make me pick up the second. He's written two more I've not touched. Why? I find the writing to be mediocre at best. It's dull, it's repetitive, it's over dramatic. It's not interesting.
If I had my way, I would write like Rothfuss. But my skill is closer to a Brett. In short, when I say 'I'm interested in making settings that one would want to *play* in, not just *read* about,' I mean that I personally lack the skill to put my ideas into novel or story form. I write game things because I can do it well enough, and I do not write prose fiction because I cannot do it well.
I imagine the door conversation going something like this