Saturday, March 31, 2012

Random Encounter 3: The Secret of Kopao Cave

This is a location based encounter. It is inspired by the article "Last of the Cave People" by Mark Jenkins in the February 2012 issue of National Geographic. In the article, Jenkins and photographer Amy Toensing follow the Meakambut , the last of the nomadic cave dwellers still residing in Papua New Guinea. It is an interesting article and I encourage you to seek it out; however, as a disclaimer in this encounter I portray the nomadic cave dwellers as antagonists. This is fantasy and in no way am I proposing that the Meakambut are a savage people. In the article, Jenkins does make mention that the Meakambut do believe, and are terrified of, sorcery. At one point, he fears for his safety as a member of the Meakambut led him to a cave sacred to them called Kopao and told him the secret of the cave. That night John, the member of the Meakambut tribe that led Jenkins to Kopao and told him the secret of the cave, had terrible dreams. In his dreams, his ancestors were angry at him for telling the Meakambut's secrets to a white man. That morning, a member of the tribe fell terribly ill with pneumonia. Jenkins feared that if the ill member were to die, he would be blamed. That story is the kernel for this random encounter.

This encounter takes place in a jungle environment. It can be run as an outdoor adventure, perhaps a hex or two, or several must be explored as the exact location of Kopao Cave is not known. Random encounters with jungle beasts are possible. I myself am always fond of Robert E. Howard inspired giant snakes, not to mention savage apes. Of course the less mundane critters from your favorite monster manual could always be added. The tribes that live in the area do not welcome outsiders. The subsist from hunting and gathering. The intrusion of outsiders can disrupt their hunting and gathering by either killing game or scaring it away. In either case, they are very protective and will deal with all outsiders. They prefer not to attack openly; instead, they will rely upon their superior knowledge of the area and set traps for the party, or attempt to lead them into dangerous areas. If they must attack, they prefer to do so from high up in the jungle foliage. They are experts at camouflage, and their weapons of choice are poisoned tipped javelins and darts. If forced into a face to face melee, they wear little armor, but do make use of small wooden shields and long curved knives of bone (which also may be poisoned).

The characters have heard stories whispered that amongst the nomadic jungle tribes, there is a sacred cave with a secret. If time and resources are spent discovering what this secret is, they will find vague creation myths. Basically, the tribes of the area believe that they were "birthed" from Kopao cave and that it is a conduit which leads directly to their gods. They do not frequently visit the cave, but do take the skulls of honored members of their tribes there to be put to rest. This is an honor. Rumor is, that these honored members (chiefs and great warriors and hunters) are put to rest with valuable treasures. What these treasures might be is up to the DM, but rumors of gold and relics should be discovered to entice the players to find Kopao cave.

Kopao cave should not be easy to find. Much exploring must be done. Even when the location is discovered, the party must make a dangerous climb up a vertical face that even thieves will have a hard time with without the proper equipment. Of course the tribes of the area set traps for the unwary as safe guards.

Entering Kopao cave, the players hunch under a low overhang that only halflings will not find uncomfortable to enter. Within, they are greeted by a gantlet of skulls, most of which are green with age, but others appear more recent. Past the skulls are numerous hand prints stenciled in blood. The hand prints are the first indication of the true secret of Kopao cave. Once a year, the tribes select one of their best hunters as a sacrifice. He is brought to the cave. As an honor, he is cut, then dipping his hand into a saucer of his own blood, he makes his mark amongst those of the past sacrifices. This honor completed, the ritual begins and he is sacrificed to appease the dwellers of the cave. There are indeed treasures left beyond the hand prints, these too are left to appease the dweller of the cave. Here the players will find large feathers, the hollow avian bones of which are full of fine gold dust and capped with a gum made from the sap of trees. There are also garments spun from fine fabrics and favored weapons, some of which are magical. These are there for the taking, if the players can deal with the dweller first.

What is the dweller? Think Lovecraftian. Kopao cave is portal that leads to another dimension. Luckily, it is weak and the dweller can only enter from its dimension no farther then the cave. There is a large crack in the ceiling. It is about twenty feet long, and three hand spans wide. From this crack, an odor is noted. An odor reminiscent of rotten fish, but not overpowering. It is as if dead fish were stuffed into the crack, left for a few weeks, then removed a week ago. Magic-users and elves get an uneasy feeling in close proximity to the crack. Their stomachs feel queasy and they find the hairs on the nape of their necks stand up, they may also get goose bumps. The closer one gets to the crack, the cooler the air temperature becomes. Standing right beneath it, the air is so cool, one shivers. A darkness in noticed within the crack. Torches and lanterns will not illuminate it, a light spell does not even penetrate it. Voices are heard from the within the crack. Whispers in a language that none can fathom. The hushed whisper increases into a present drone. Finally, a tentacle slithers from the crack, followed by another. That is when the darkness radiates from the crack acting as a Darkness spell.

Now is when the characters, if they are smart, run. I use insanity rules in my games, and would require sanity checks. If they stick around to fight it out, they most likely will perish. They should be able to grab some treasure and run before all hell breaks loose.

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