Friday, January 6, 2017

Conrunning the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was one of the few AD&D modules I remember having as a kid. For years I've wanted to run it again, and did so at EttinCon in the Blue Mountains beyond Sydney last weekend. Two 3 hour sessions, 6 players first and 7 players second, using 5th Edition rules. Spoilers ahead.

HSoT was originally written in 1979 for Origins, and published in 1980, then republished in 1981 with a full colour cover and more pages (I had this version). You can get the PDF of it here. Turns out it'll be coming out in 5e rules as part of the collected adventures in Tales from the Yawning Portal. Cool.

1981 version Cover Illustration by Erol Otus 

Information design and presentation has come a looooong way in the 35 years since, and while yakking with Erik Jensen about Tamoachan he mentioned there was an updated version for 4th Edition in Dungeon Magazine #209 (which you can grab here).

The presentation was much improved (boxed text alert) and I ended up using this version when I ran it. Mike Schley did the cartography for the 4th Ed version which was printed and given out as a Game Day reward in 2011:

The hi res map isn't publicly available for download, but I contacted Mike Schley and he not only gave me the digital version of the map above, he then went and found the unmarked player map. Awesome.

I really wanted to have the map printed out as a battle map on the table for the players (I find it helps them focus on the game and cuts out the air time spent on giving dimensions to each room, especially important when you're up against the clock at a Con), but scaled up to 1" = 5' that map would have been over 13 feet long and 7 feet wide. I ended up breaking the map up into five sections: 3 for the first Tier, 1 for the second and third Tier, and 1 for the top of the Temple. Even then I had to do a fair bit of photoshop work to compress the map so the bottom Tier would fit on three A0 posters, and I could only get the scale to 3/4" = 5' but that was ok. Come gametime I had the five maps laid one on top of each other, working our way down trough the pile. As you'll see in the set up, the players begin with a map of the temple which explains why they can see it in-game.

In terms of adventure design it starts with a single "only way out is through" entry point A (the partially caved in room bottom right), with a possible-but-highly-unlikely-they'll-find-it exit that allows you to explore from the top of the temple downwards B, several branches that lead to a single choke point C, several different paths to the next choke point D, several branches and paths to choke point E, and then a fairly straight run to the top of the temple at F with a couple of optional branches on the way.

There was one secret door in the original adventure at G, and I added another a H cause I didn't want the players to see the clear exit off from these two maps so they'd explore the dungeon.

The game would have played quite differently if the maps weren't there on the table, a lot more exploration, but even so both groups were really pushed for time to finish it at all, and with the second group that played I even cut whole levels of maps out in the end. But I was fine with that, cause there was a lot of getting into their characters and I didn't want to punish that investment.


The 1st Ed version has: "In general, party size should be from 5 to 7 characters of 3rd to 7th levels. The average level of the party should be 5th. If fewer than 5 players are involved, the average level should be 6th."

The 4th Ed version only has "for 7th level characters".

I wasn't sure what levels to go with for 5th edition characters, but ended up making eight 7th-level characters for the 6-7 players to choose from each session.

What a fucking nightmare that was. 

Even with the help of Jack Shear and Reece Carter (many many thanks!) it took fucking forever to a) create the characters and b) condense all the character info into one digestible page, with an extra page for spells. As each character piled on ability after ability it really did bring home some of the flaws with the hidden complexity of 5E. I could have created the equivalent in one evening using some over systems I'm familiar with. It took hours and hours and hours...

Anyway, it's done, and it's available here so you don't have to go through my pain:

Top Row: Shank the Half-elven Assassin, Xyla the Human Wizard,
Pinchgut the Dwarven Rogue, 
Jinx the Halfling Bard
Bottom Row: Horhog the Human Barbarian, Ulsha the Elven Cleric, Dendrek the Human Fighter,
Riff Raff the Human Ranger (cursed to look like a Ratling).

I based the characters off these awesome illustrations by Eric Belisle, who's done a lot of great work for Pathfinder and some illos for D&D. I really wanted a set of united character pics all by the same artist, and with that hint of jungle in the designs and these were perfect. On top of that, there's a wide range of color and body type and gender representation so I reckon its a rocking bunch of adventurers.

So was 7th level the right level? Yeah, if you wanted to play on easy mode. There were two character deaths in each game, but that came from a Save or Die situation I'll talk about in a sec. One character got dropped to 4HP at one stage, but with the cleric packing the heals and the Wizard being an Abjurer at no point were the characters perilously close to death. I reckon you could easily go for 6th level and still be ok, 5th level for a challenging but possible game.


I printed out the 8 characters on A5 sized card stands and lined them up infront of the players and let them choose which ones they wanted to be. In both games there were 6 players, leaving 2 characters left. I made sure they both turned up later on.


I really wanted to have an in game explanation as to why the players could see the layout of the shrine and their location within it, and I also wanted to give them a reason to explore the shrine instead of taking the shortest possible path out of there. So I came up with this terrible poem:

Enshrined within the shrine lies the mask of pain divine
An end to all world’s ills when worn the mask reveals
The boon or bane of man in lost Tamoachan

and the following introduction:

You and your friends have shared in many adventures, and now search for the Mask of Tamoachan, a legendary artefact said to grant wishes to the one that wears it. Each of you wants for different reasons, but have all agreed to find it together.

Two weeks ago you broke into the fortress of one of the Sea Princes and stole a magical map. On one side it revealed the location of the lost city of Tamoachan in the Amedio Jungle; the other showed what appeared to be a section of the layout of the Shrine of Tamoachan.

The Sea Princes don't take kindly to thieves and sent bounty hunters after you. In a stolen ship you sailed across the narrow waters to the shores of the Amedio, and struck deep into the shadows beneath the rainforest.

But the hunters dogged you every step of the way, and had coerced native trackers to help bring you down. 

Finally you drew near to the location marked on the stolen map, spotting a junglecrusted temple ruin rising out of the trees ahead — and that's when they attack. 

Poisoned arrows and crossbow bolts whistle around you as you dash through the jungle, smashing through branches, stumbling over fallen trunks, torn by thorns and vines. In the chaos you lose sight of some of your crew, but the plan is simple: get to the temple, regroup and take a stand.

And then with a great roar the ground beneath you splits apart, and you are all thrown down a mighty crevice and into darkness.

From there the adventure begins, with the players starting in Room 1. Away you go.


I placed the mask in the trapped Chest 2 of Room 33: Ancient Tamoachan, where the miniature version of the city is found. An Intelligence (Religion) check DC 12 is require to identify which of the buildings is the Shrine of Tamoachan. "Enshrined within a shrine".

The mask looks like a green death's head, furnished out of jade stone and shells, bound together in bloodsoaked leather straps and highlighted with various stone of blue and red. Leather ties from the back of the mask are used to secure it to the wearer. Soft bloodstained leather lines the inside of the mask, and is slightly damp to the touch. Examining the mask for several rounds will show that there is something strange with the jade stone: it seems that the natural white speckling and flaws move. Further examination reveals that these shapes coalesce into vaguely human forms, and that rough faces seem to be screaming.

The mask must be firmly tied on for its power to function. Once worn, the wearer can commune with the mask, and know that it will grant the wearer its greatest desire. The wearer must make a Wisdom Save. If successful, the mask fulfils the wearer's desire functioning much the same as a wish spell. If unsuccessful, the wearer is instantly killed, their body and soul sucked into the mask. The wearer may use the mask's power once per week.

Destroying the Mask:
Brute force is all that is required. The Mask is AC: 20, has a hardiness of 14, and 20 hit points. If it has any hit points at the start of the round it immediately regenerates d6 hit points.

Why the Characters want it:
I also added a bunch of individual goals for the pregens and why they seek the mask; it made for some great roleplaying when they finally get their hands on it.

Shank the Assassin has a deathwish, and wants the mask either to kill him or take away his pain.
Xyla the Wizard has promised the souls trapped within the Mask to a Demon Lord that has ensnared her master.
Pinchgut the Rogue wants to sell the mask for gold and joools.
Jinx wants the mask to resurrect her lost love.
Horhog the Barbarian needs the mask to cure him of his deadly disease.
Ulsha the Cleric wants to destroy the mask and return the trapped souls to the great spiritual journey.
Dendrek the Fighter wants the mask to heal his missing eye.
Riff Raff the Rogue wants the mask to return him to his human form.


They turn up twice in the adventure.

In Room 33: Ancient Tamoachan — yep, the same room as where the Mask of Tamoachan is found — there is lying in a coffin the shapeshifting Tlacaelel, which assumes the visage of "someone you thought you might never see again" — which is where the unchosen character comes in (or one of the characters if there's more than one). They take the extra character's form, and use the cover story that the natives caught them, bound them and placed them in the coffin as part of some native ritual.

They also turn up at the final battle atop of the Shrine of Tamoachan, in Room 54: The Temple Ruin. The extra character(s) have gone full Belloch: they've sold out the rest of the group, and when they "disappeared" at the start of the adventure during the attack, they were simply rejoining the other hunters, and are waiting for the player characters to do their dirty work before joining in on the attack along side the Olman natives and Witchdoctor. If you want you can also add a few hunters (use Thugs and Veterans from p.350. of the Monster Manual) if the players have survived without much injury.

Thanks to all my players in both groups. Hope you had as much fun as I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment