Saturday Seed ~ 42 (HEX)

This week’s seed is for Hollow Earth Expedition, and is not entirely new; the core idea has been up on the Exile Game Studios forum for about a month, but I have  fiddled with it a very little bit, and stripped it of some of the specifics for which it was written to answer, so that I could share it here.

The Seed:  Tomb with a View

It would be terrible to run a game set in the Orient without travelling into the more thinly settled areas of China in search of some ancient artifact, or long-rumored access point to the wonders of the Hollow Earth. No such journey could possibly be complete without encountering and exploring a mysterious temple in the mountains, which serves as the home of an equally mysterious group of warrior monks, trained in the physical and mystical arts. This seed is essentially a way to work in a tension-enhancing pause in the action which is seemingly a lull, but is actually a deadly serious and quite dangerous aspect of an exploration. Essentially, it is a complicated trap in a mountain monastery or temple in Asia . Between chases, escapes, and mind-boggling martial arts action, you could use this to take a moment to shift the focus to your characters’ mental abilities in escaping peril, as you pit them against the temple itself.

Planting the seed:

I will leave the whys and wherefores of the temple to you and the progression of your campaign. At some point, however, it will be necessary to shift the focus to the characters who do not excel in handling violence, and give them their moment to save or lose the day. This seed would take place near an outer wall of the temple, and could be inserted into the flow of events during any escape scene, but ideally from one in which the characters were trapped between two sets of pursuers inside the temple. Alternately, it could easily be reworked as part of an attempt to sneak into the temple.

Details:

In many parts of Asia, the dead are interred under a small mound of earth, the location of which is far more important than the size or type of adornment. Placement is made according to standard geomantic principles, but essentially amounts to shielding from the North winds, water or a steep drop to the South, and rising terrain to the East and West: a sheltered pocket in the mountains, as it were.

As the group moves through the temple, you could have them enter a narrow hallway close to the outer wall of the temple. As they move down the hall, a short encounter with temple guards bottling them into the corridor, from which flight might be a better option can raise the tension. As in a certain famous trash compactor scene, you could offer them a way out of the hall via a recessed door which once they’ve passed through, will ostensibly get their enemies all in one place behind them, rather than before and behind them.

On the other side of the door is an exterior courtyard, cold and windswept, facing South and with a jaw-dropping view of the mountains falling sharply into a crevasse before them. Arrayed in a rough line down the courtyard, are waist-high, dome-shaped mounds covered in grass (or snow), with a long, curved ridge of earth (again covered in a seasonally appropriate grass or snow) topped by a low, curved stone wall. The wall is carved with images from the lives of different monks; presumably those buried here.

Each mound has a small, knee-high stone marker before it, rectangular in shape and standing on end, marked with characters denoting the name of the person interred, with a small ledge around the base for gifts and other items to be left. The walkways and the mounds are carefully tended and maintained. No debris, or neglect is evident.

Just in front of each mound is a very small rectangular stone, laying on its side, slightly raised above the others of the courtyard. It is just wide enough to allow a person’s two palms to fit on its surface, side by side.

The rear wall of the courtyard is behind the curved, wall-topped ridge, and is a sheer expanse of the temple wall, worn smooth by the centuries and devoid of decoration, window, or other artifice for a considerable height.

In the background, a soft, meditative wind chime oddly plays out a series of tinny notes – not randomly, but always in sequence. With each gust of wind, the chimes sound out the same short tune.

The guards from the hallway do not follow, but rather close and seal the door behind the characters. At the other end of the courtyard there is a similar door. On either side of the door are stone statues of monks bearing heavy ‘moon-swords’ (short pole arm consisting of a staff, with a crescent shape blade placed perpendicular to the shaft) raised and crossed over the doorway.

The Trap:

The ways out are to suddenly develop unassisted human flight, scale the sheer stone of the rear wall, or go through the other door. Any of these options should generate excitement, but if they go toward the door they must pass over an arrangement of carved stones which are raised slightly higher than the normal stones of the courtyard.

The raised stones are easily avoided, but not depressing them – in the right order – means the trap activated by opening the first door to enter this area, will remain active. The stones are topped by an image which represents a specific trait. With a bit of study, they might be seen to correspond to the images behind the tombs, and to relate to a version of the Confucian ideals (perhaps something like: filial piety, a sense of responsibility, a desire to increase knowledge, courtesy to one’s peers, and loyalty).

Depressing a stone is part of the deactivation mechanism, but not the whole process. If the group tries to depress a stone, they will detect movement, but it will be obvious that there is something preventing the stones from clicking into place… such as an additional trigger mechanism. That mechanism can be found in front of the tombs. The small raised stones, if a person kneels there and does a full bow, pressing their head into the backs of their hands and their hands into the stone, may depress it, releasing the lock on the trap release mechanism. Images of this sort of bowing might be evident in many places in the tomb, in normal day-to-day life in China, and on the rear stone wall itself.

To increase tension and as a means to keep things moving at a healthy pace while they explore the area, describe the onset of a storm with shrieking winds, lightning-like static discharges, and dropping temperatures.  The notes from the chime become wilder and wilder, until finally they are lost in the frenetic clacking of the chime against the walls of the courtyard.

Once the five stones have been depressed, the characters are free to try to depress the door stones in the right order. Just touching or physically examining the stones will reveal that they make musical notes when pressed. Knowledge of music or math will make it easier to determine which stones will generate which notes.

This will give the group two methods to assess how to sequence the stones… either by figuring out the meaning of the motifs, or by determining the scale of the notes. Success deactivates the trap and they can reenter the temple, in a hallway devoid of guards… for now.

What is going on:

The trap on the door can be as devious as you want, but I might lean toward a false sense of security: have ignoring the deactivation process, or failure to do it properly, result in the dropping of the statues’ moon-swords across the door. The characters can still get out, but one of them will have to avoid being badly mauled. They will likely relax at this point and count themselves lucky, but the real trap will be on the other side of the door.

Once in the new hallway, the real trap will be sprung: an iron cage can drop into place, guards can be seen approaching from a distance at both ends of the hall, and darts with a sleeping agent can be fired into the cage from recessed launchers in the wall.

This trap could be used to capture the group, drag them before the villains, and possibly set them up for a subsequent death trap aimed at a different set of skills… and for a shameless monologue by the lead villain.

Alternately, a character might notice that the floor has a pit beneath it, and activate the release themselves (perhaps just be cutting it with a knife, or shooting it) and thereby control their exit from the hallway, to come out of the tunnel in the villain’s chamber with guns blazing: Turnabout is always fair play~

Success in deactivating the trap will put them close to their goal in the temple, and with stealth and cleverness, enable them to reach it in a far less physically demanding way…. Of course – they will still need to get out again.

Speak your piece~

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