Our latest dispatch concludes the Xen'drik Blackwind expedition, in which our hastily assembled mercenary team attempts to outrace the Riedrans of Sarlona to secure an artifact of unknowable power. In the previous dispatch, the Blackwind team managed to elude death squads from the Riedran outpost of Dar Qat and prepared to breach an ancient fire giant vault deep in the jungles of Xen'drik.
From: Iokaste, Xen'drik Blackwind Envoy
To: Kalistos, Xen'drik Blackwind Principle
archival reference code 5598-D: delivered ink-on-vellum, magically sealed and encoded; secured and delivered by representatives of House Kundarak
I am pleased, and not a little relieved, to report the successful conclusion of the Blackwind expedition. Pleased with the success. Relieved with the conclusion.
Recovery of the item has come at a steep price. Of the original Blackwind team, only myself and Ashford remain. To our number we add the druid Cairn, our Xen'drik guide, who joined us after the massacre outside Dar Qat. Indeed, without Cairn's assistance, we should never have recovered the item. Nor would we two have survived. Cairn is a singular ally, and I urge you compensate him as a full member of the expedition.
It was Cairn who finally located an entrance to the Battalion vault after our initial scouting of the fire giants' abandoned base camp. By communing directly with the nature spirits of the primeval forest, he was able to ascertain a secret entrance toward the rear of the cyclopean edifice. Evidently, this entrance was once used by the elf-slaves of Xen'drik in the age when the giants subjugated these natives.
Assuming the area to be still under the eye of the Dar Qat Riedrans, Professor Palinostrum and I employed the dust you provided to approach the entrance with stealth. Cairn, shifting to the form of a giant jungle bat, scouted above. To our surprise, we found our roguish companion Ashford, missing since the Dar Qat battle, standing guard over the entrance -- and three dead Riedran scouts. "The Sarlonans discovered the entrance," he quipped. "I discovered them."
Ashford was able to determine the nature of the locked portal after squeezing through an impossibly narrow series of burrow tunnels. A massive stone slid inward, grinding on ancient bearings, but finally permitting entrance. A spiraling corridor screwed itself down into the darkness.
I have included separately several documents that describe in detail all that we discovered within the ancient giant vault, as well as some mundane artifacts of likely interest to scholars. I am no historian but suspect this ruin to be among the most ancient in all of Xen'drik. I have seen nothing that compares. The vast halls impressed themselves upon me as wholly alien and infused with a pervasive sense of dread.
Immediately evident was the titanic scale of the interior features. Ceilings rose 30 feet in height at a minimum. Hinged doors, even when unlocked and unstuck, proved difficult to move simply because of their tremendous weight. More often that not, we could not even reach the door handles and were forced to employ ropes and hooks to pull inward-opening portals. The scale suggested inhabitants larger than any giant I have encountered.
More disturbing were the odd geometries of the vault. Angles and surfaces seemed somehow wrong -- unnerving beyond simple description. The stone walls bore a translucent tackiness to them, and when regarded for more than a moment, seemed to swim with motion.
During several hours of exploration and cataloguing, we encountered nary a living creature. The vault was apparently devoid of life, even of insects or vermin. Following Professor Palinostrum's lead, we came at last to the central chamber of the vault. Before us stood a massive archway of violet crystal perhaps 50 feet tall and half that in width. The plane of the arch acted as a mirror so that we beheld nothing beyond it but a darkened reflection of ourselves.
Here the perceptual effects were profound. A fluidity of reality pervaded all -- there were new colors here and new kinds of light. Sounds, even speech, rendered oddly -- often backward. A tactile sense of being underwater and, at the same time, falling, or flying. It pulled at our very sanity. Directly before the archway, perhaps 20 feet from the plane of the portal and some 30 feet in the air, hung suspended an iridescent dragonshard of a variety I have not previously beheld.
At this point the Professor and Cairn consulted for a moment, then Palinostrum turned to Ashford and I. "Here ends our quest," he said. "It is a dreamwar gate, a relic from the age when passage was still possible between Eberron and Dal Quor, the plane of dreams. The shard above us," he gestured, "is the item we seek. We must recover both halves of this crystal -- the one above us and the one in the dream reflection."
At this point, Palinostrum did a most unexpected thing. Incanting, he rose up in levitation and entered through the plane of the dreamwar gate. Upon passage to the other side, the Professor transformed into a kind of mirror self -- a visage at once familiar and utterly strange. Grasping the reflected dragonshard, he lowered himself to the ground, still on the other side of the mirror arch. As he descended with the mirror shard, so did the shard above us slowly drift downward. The dream image of Palinostrum then strode forward to the gate, the shard on our side eerily mirroring his motion. As the two shards touched at the plane of the gate, they locked together into a single, larger crystal which fell inert to the stone floor. The Professor, however, remained on the other side, gazing out at us with sadness.
All about us, a terrible trembling commenced as stones shook loose from the massive, vaulted ceiling and fell to the floor. Cairn urged retreat -- "The professor cannot return, he has crossed over to the place between places. This was his choice, his intent. We must flee! The shard is what the Riedrans seek, and we must see it safely away!" My last memory is of the professor's weird mirror self, his hand raised solemnly in farewell …
We three -- Cairn, Ashford, and myself -- are assembled here at the Stormreach drop-off location you requested. In the intervening days, we have eluded the Riedrans narrowly on three separate occasions and have rendezvoused with the House Kundarak representatives as per instructions. Their retinue is impressive -- 'twas a pretty coin indeed you must have paid for this manner of safekeeping. I leave the shard in their hands now, Kalistos, and finally, in yours.
I am convinced, of course, that your suspicions are accurate -- the Riedrans are in league with the devils of Dal Quor. I wish you luck -- it is my intention to vanish, best I can, for the next few moons. Please effect final transactions through the usual channels in Sharn. Gods' luck and farewell, Kalistos. I remain, your friend.
Location: Giant Ruins
(from Secrets of Xen'drik, page 121)
Exploring giant ruins is not nearly as simple as exploring ruins built for smaller creatures. When running an adventure that deals with such titanic buildings and dungeons, keep the following points in mind.
Doors Are Heavy: The DC to break down a giant door is increased by 2, but at the DM's option, giant doors might require a DC 10 Strength check merely to open. In the case of doors built for Huge creatures, the handle (if present) might be too high for Medium creatures to reach (just as Small creatures would have trouble reaching the handles on doors built for Large creatures).
Stairs Are Tall: Treat Large and Huge stairs as steep stairs (DMG 63). Stairs built for even larger creatures are effectively a series of short walls that must be scaled (Climb DC 10).
Walls Are Thick: Structures built for giants are taller and sturdier than normal buildings need to be. Double the thickness and hit points of walls to approximate this, and increase the DC for any such wall by 2 per added inch of thickness. Walls around giant compounds were often up to 40 feet tall to protect against other giants and large predators. Stronghold Builder's Guidebook has a more thorough treatment of varying wall sizes.
Locks Are Big: While locks built for Large and larger creatures are just as complex as smaller locks, their components are larger. Those attempting to open such locks take a –2 penalty on the check because of inappropriately sized tools. Shops in Stormreach sell thieves' tools made to work in giant locks but at three times the cost of normal tools.
Remember the Elves: Many giant compounds contained quarters for their smaller slaves. Some might have entire wings of rooms, corridors, and doors sized for Medium creatures. These smaller passages connect discretely to many of the important rooms in a building to allow the elves to serve their masters without being seen. In some cases, larger doors might have smaller doors set into them to allow the elves ease of access, and normal staircases might run alongside giant-sized steps.
Everything Is Bigger: Even simple things such as plates and serving knives are larger than most characters are accustomed to. As a general rule, Large items weigh eight times as much as identical items sized for Medium characters. Ceilings in a giant structure must be taller, typically 20 feet at a minimum. Traps such as pits and falling blocks are bigger (at least 10 feet by 10 feet in area), as are open structures such as windows and moats.
Magical Location: Dreamwar Gate
(from Secrets of Xen'drik, page 142)
The war between the giants and the quori occurred at a time when Dal Quor, the Region of Dreams, was coterminous to Xen'drik. Now Dal Quor is always remote, but shattered gates still exist where mortals could once enter the plane of dreams.
Creatures approaching a shattered dreamwar gate become aware of a twist in reality. Colors seem unnaturally bright or juxtaposed next to areas of black and white. Trees seem bent and warped as if reflected in rippled water. Bird calls sound out backward, and the sun appears to move in the wrong direction.
Characters can gain the following pieces of information about a shattered dreamwar gate by making successful Knowledge (the planes) or bardic knowledge checks at the appropriate DCs, as given below.
DC 10: The giants fought a great war with the quori thousands of years ago, resulting in cataclysmic destruction.
DC 15: During the quori war, Dal Quor was coterminous to Eberron. Now the two planes are forever remote.
DC 25: Gates that once connected Dal Quor and Eberron still remain, but their links are severed. Those who enter a shattered dreamwar gate take damage but often manifest strange powers afterward.
Description: A shattered dreamwar gate appears as a massive archway of violet crystal. Green mold grows in its many pits and cracks. The area for 300 feet around a shattered dreamwar gate carries a feeling of altered reality. The landscape appears dreamlike from its long association with the Region of Dreams (though the area undergoes no physical change).
Creatures that do not dream (such as elves, kalashtar, and warforged) and creatures immune to mind-affecting spells and abilities see nothing unusual.
Prerequisite: Only a creature with a Wisdom score of 8 or higher can activate a shattered dreamwar gate. Creatures that do not dream and creatures immune to mind-affecting spells and abilities cannot activate a shattered dreamwar gate, but they take no damage from it, either.
Location Activation: To access the power of a shattered dreamwar gate, a character must move through the arch. A character doing so takes 1d6 points of Wisdom damage and disappears for three rounds, during which time he appears to those on the outside as a ghostly image that has been plunged into a terrifying nightmare.
Recharge: Once a shattered dreamwar gate has conferred a bonus to a character, it cannot affect another creature for one year.
Special Ability (Ps): A character who passes through a shattered dreamwar gate can thereafter blur the line between dreams and reality. Once per day, he can manifest false sensory input (EPH 106) as a psi-like ability with a manifester level equal to his character level. A creature that does not dream cannot be targeted with this power.
Duration: The conferred ability lasts for one year.
Aura: Moderate telepathy.
About the Author
Glenn McDonald is a freelance writer and game designer in lovely Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He writes about games, film, technology, pop culture, shady characters, conflicted heroes, strange and terrible magic, and shadowy fantasy noir intrigue. Not all at the same time.