Saturday Seed ~ 80 (HEX)

This week’s seed is for Hollow Earth Expedition, and pits the characters against a series of cruel traps before finally subjecting them to the greatest challenge of all. The original version of this seed first saw life in my 1st Edition AD&D days a century ago. Another version, with almost nothing in common but the very core of the idea later appeared in a short-lived experiment with Pendragon. This version presents the basic idea for you to flesh out for your heroes and is presented now to serve as a form of link between last month’s RPG Blog carnival on Tricks and Traps, and this month’s theme of Heroes.

The Seed

Searching for a lost member of the expedition, the heroes meet a tribe of jungle-dwellers who demand a test of their mettle before allowing them to barter for the life of their lost companion

The Details

The tribe lives off the land in the vicinity of a huge, squat, and ugly stone temple, crudely shaped to resemble a head half-submerged in the earth as though drowning. There are many entrances (at least 1 per character) into the temple, each one leading through a series of progressively harder and more dangerous traps.

The traps should be designed in advance to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the characters in the group. As the characters pass through each stage, they will be required to step further and further out of their areas of expertise. Each entrance into the temple will represent a different layout of challenges, and the leader of the tribe, after staring at each character’s head intently – almost hungrily – will send them to the appropriate one for them. This can be as mystical or as mundane as you like. A lot can be learned from a person’s head, just by looking at it, but it doesn’t hurt if the characters (and players) think the leader is psychic.

Each entrance leads to twisting and trapped corridors that slowly make their way inward to the heart of the temple. Due to a feature of the design, the characters can hear each other speaking when they are engaged in defeating a trap, but during their journeys between traps, cannot. In this way, characters can help each other (per Ubiquity rules) overcome the challenges if  – IF – they can coordinate and match their paces through the temple.

Each trap will test one of three things: the body, the intellect, or the will. When appropriate, a variety of skills could also be tested such as athletics, linguistics, crafting, and so on. Examples of physical challenges include things such as climbing ropes which begin burning at the bottom goading the climber to greater speeds, then needing to figure out a way to use those same ropes to cross a chasm before they burn completely. This challenge primarily tests the strength and athletics of the character, but also provides them with a small skill or intellect challenge as well – as a hint of what is to come.

A sequence of traps for a Physical Character might be the rope challenge described above, followed by challenges which become progressively more intellectual. The process would be the opposite for an Academic Character:

  • a test of balance sending them to cross over a terrible crack in the earth by navigating across a narrow, greased pole.
  • tearing down a tower of stacked ice blocks (like Jenga) without breaking any, and before they melt too much, then using them to build a pyramid large enough to escape to the next challenge through a hole in the ceiling
  • following a series of hieroglyphics to navigate a maze quickly, the slower the pace, the more often little traps will be triggered to harry the character

The traps themselves should not be so dangerous as to fell any character in one go, but the gradual creep of injury and fatigue will be a very real threat. The faster, and more capably the characters can negotiate the challenges, the better off that they will be.

The final challenge will bring all the (surviving) characters back together where they will find themselves in an underground room with one more than the number of entrances needed for the characters to enter.

Once together, the group will be informed by symbols and images carved into the walls that to proceed, one of them must defeat the others. They can hear the cries of their lost companion from somewhere in one of the tunnels, and it sounds like he will perish at any moment. Only the best of them will be allowed to seek him out to save him.

What will they do, and how will they do it?

Give them enough time to believe that they must decide who among them is the better man, and duke it out among themselves to earn the privilege to rescue their lost comrade. With luck, someone will realize that the economics of killing a bunch of your buddies to save 1 makes no sense, but you never know~

Before too much blood gets shed in this altruistic pursuit, present the real challenge: the hole in the wall.

The hole in the wall is at a suitable height, size, and shape to admit a human head. The iconography around the hole is such that it makes it clear that only one head among those inserted will still be attached when the neck is withdrawn. It also makes it clear that there will be no release from the temple should they refuse to place their heads in the hole. A bevy of skeletal remains attests to this fact as well.

What’s going on

The expedition has been observed for some time, and it was decided to test them for cultural reasons. The missing member of the expedition was captured and put in a horrifying death trap. He is actually in no danger unless the characters refuse to participate, or if they seek to use force on the tribe. If the characters accept the challenge, the kidnap victim will be allowed to leave… likely to perish alone in the jungle.

Success to the final stage will give the characters the choice of self-sacrifice for their comrade, and the horror of watching their friends risk death one after the other. 

In truth, the hole in the wall will not remove anyone’s head, but it will assess fear. Play up the scene, and suggest the lip of the hole is drawing tighter, suggest the movement of a blade within, and above all do whatever you can to inspire the players (not just the first) to try to yank their head out of the hole. Any who cannot control themselves and place their head in carefully and remove it in the same collected way will be knocked unconscious, possibly reduced to near-death or even death if they are wounded enough. Failure, will entail trying a dramatic rescue attempt, and escape from the temple~

Completing the challenge successfully will cause the comrade to be released and reveal the way out. Exiting the temple, the characters will find no trace of the tribe, or any sign that they were ever here at all.


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