Those who attended Free RPG Day a few weeks back might have picked up Domain of Dread: Histhaven, the supplement that tied into Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond. In the back of Histhaven, you might have noticed the following ad (go ahead and click on it for a better view).
The Lost Crown of Neverwinter season for D&D Encounters starts up on Wednesday, August 10th. If you run one session during the month of August as a Dungeon Master, you might get your hands on the special bonus adventure: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, updated for 4th Edition. (The special bonus adventure will arrive 6-8 weeks later, and because we have limited supplies, this offer is only while supplies last.) Did you miss playing the original? Or did you play it and now dare venture back through this famed tournament module? In either case, read on! We're here to guide you through the famed pyramid as best we can without giving away too much.
Background for the Hidden Shrine
Much like The Ghost Tower of Inverness (played at the 1979 Detroit Wintercon), The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was a tournament module for Origins '79. Harold Johnson, according to the conversion's afterword, would finish the final master copy for the convention in an epic 48-hour typing session (with one typo that forever changed Tomoanchan to Tamoachan). Hidden Shrine would then later be published as the first in the C-series of adventure modules, with "C" denoting "Competition."
Aside from its existence as an early tournament module, Hidden Shrine stands out because it provided a setting that deviated from the traditional medieval fantasy of most other adventure modules at the time. As written in the background: "The design of the temple draws heavily on Mayan and Aztec/Toftec mythology and society. Certain historic examples were used as models in designing this module. DMs wishing to expand the ruins of Tamoachan will find it very helpful to use their local library to find out more about these fascinating cultures." How's that for educational?
Further instilling this cultural influence, the module showed a penchant for intricate Mayan/Aztec sounding names, complete with (necessary) pronunciation guides; Tamoachan (TA-mo-a-chan) was Olman for "the home sought after," and its shrine dedicated to Zotzilaha (Zotz-el-a'-a), vampire god of the underworld.
Who Were the Olman?
Originally written by Harold Johnson and Jeff R. Leason, Hidden Shrine was staged as part of an ancient ruined city, and it was "…once the northeastern capitol of the Olman empire, which covered much of the southern continent centuries before current history began." The World of Greyhawk boxed set would place these distant ruins at the very edge of its map, somewhere within the "savage lands south of the Olman Islands and southeast of the Holds of the Sea Princes."
Stephen Radney-MacFarland designed the conversion, taking care to preserve the original module's sensibilities and challenges (you can read more of this topic in his upcoming Design & Development column). Still a ruined temple of the Olman people, their background has been slightly reworked so that now this "…human culture worshiped not only powers from the Astral Sea, but also a collection of primal spirits, fey creatures, vampires, and even monstrosities of the Far Realm. They built city-states that banded together as empires and waged mighty wars against enemies both internal and external. These people were the Olman.
"All that is currently left of the Olman civilization," the new background continues, "are the scattered tribes of their degenerate descendants, now prone to Demogorgon worship and savagery." The Hidden Shrine remains one of their derelict structures that still holds "…great treasures and the legendary magic of the Olman. All feature deadly traps and creatures still bound to the dead empire. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is one such temple. Dedicated to Zotzilaha, vampire god of the underworld, and built to imprison a powerful Far Realm entity, it is filled with lost secrets and merciless traps."
Secrets and Traps
Speaking of lost secrets and waiting traps (and without giving too much away, for those planning to play through the updated version), Hidden Shrine's design intent was to test the skill and common sense of players. It also remained true to the cultural aesthetics of the fictional Olman.
As far as testing skill, this adventure introduced us to the gibbering mouther and nereid as new monsters, plus it set a plague of traps along the way. Those playing through or running the updated version can see that the update retains a sense of deadliness (just ask the Nahual, Xilonen, or the steam-spitting dragon). Those who remember the original should also expect renewed threats from the priest-king Tlacaelel (who has reworked origins and is now said to be the true reason for most of the deadly traps and precautions within the shrine), as well as Nanahuatcin ("the pimply one").
When it comes to the Olman culture, several of their trapped ancestral spirits can be encountered throughout the version, including Kalka-Kylla (expanded by SRM as a primal spirit vanquished by Zotzilaha and who is forced to swear service to the vampire and his spawn), Tloques-Popollocas (promoted from "master of the others" to "master of tombs and the night"), and Tecuziztecatl (the "lord of snails"). Other details, such as the statue of the werejaguar, the massive calendar stone, and the pelota court (still marked with the warning: dare not open this pit, lest you meet the challenge of the game) have all returned. What secrets do these details hold when it comes to safely navigating the shrine? We'll leave them for you to discover.
Tecuziztecatl, Lord of Snails
Tecuziztecatl is highly intelligent and a boaster, andit is also itching for a fight after so many years being cooped up in this room. During combat, it says that it is a son of the moon, and announces each attack it is using and how the attack is part of its plan to defeat the characters. If reduced to 55 hit points or fewer, Tecuziztecatl changes its tone...
Tecuziztecatl, Lord of Snails
Level 8 Elite Brute
Large natural magical beast (aquatic)
HP 222; Bloodied 111 Initiative +5
AC 20, Fortitude 22, Reflex 20, Will 19 Perception +11
Speed 5, swim 3 Darkvision
Resist 5 all; Vulnerable 10 fire
Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1
Tecuziztecatl can see invisible creatures and objects.
Attack: Melee 3 (one creature); +13 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 6 damage.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +13 vs. AC
Hit: 3d10 + 4 damage.
Effect: Tecuziztecatl makes two melee basic attacks.
Requirement: Tecuziztecatl must be bloodied.
Attack: Close blast 5 (creatures in the blast); +11 vs. Reflex
Hit: 2d6 + 5 damage, and the target is dazed and slowed until the end of Tecuziztecatl’s next turn.
Effect: Tecuziztecatl moves its speed, and can enter other creature’s spaces. A creature whose space it enters with this movement takes 10 damage. If any creature is in Tecuziztecatl’s space when it ends the move, it slides that creature to the nearest square outside its space.
Skills Bluff +8, Diplomacy +8, Insight +11
Accessing the Temple
Unlike the Tomb of Horrors, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, or similar adventures -- where you sought the heart of the dungeon to face its ultimate foe and hopefully collect your deserved reward -- The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan started with the tournament characters lost in the jungle and accidentally falling into the dungeon. Your quest was to find your way out, not go farther in.
In the original, the tournament backstory had the adventurers jumping ship to escape the clutches of bounty hunters, effectively being swallowed by the jungle, and falling into the Hidden Shrine during a sudden cave-in. The new version keeps the same swift opening scene, where it assumes a bunch of backstory elements so that it can have the adventurers stumble through the jungle. It does so "…like an adventure serial, introducing the story with the action already in progress."
Granted, DMs were always free to improvise as needed. The original included an alternative route into the shrine, requiring adventurers to dig their way inside. But the proposed sudden, breakneck style of play -- plunging the party straight into the shrine -- works to encourage the primary goal: that of escaping the dungeon, rather than exploring it (much like A4: In the Dungeon of the Slave Lords, the open tournament module for Gen Con XIII, 1980).
When inside, adventurers had to be cautious of the shrine's unstable condition, with such mainstay spells as fireball and lightning bolt causing potentially disastrous collapses (with the updated version still threatening a similar danger). Even worse, the lower levels of the shrine were filled with a poison gas, encouraging adventurers to move along at all costs -- to be cautious, but not dawdle -- with characters taking 1d6 damage for every turn spent in the gas.
Not to be outdone, the updated version describes "…a slow-acting but deadly poisonous gas, the effects of which the characters will immediately realize." A short rest or 5 minutes in the gas requires a saving throw; failure costs a healing surge. A long rest in the gas? Death.
A Final Secret
In the original Hidden Shrine, Zotzilaha's name is barely mentioned in passing. The temple ruin, which offers final escape from the shrine itself, is decorated with an image of a giant bat, which might well have represented Zotzilaha in his bat form. Otherwise, nothing of this vampire god is ever really known. Not so in the updated version. As hinted in the conclusion, a seed for DMs allows them to continue the adventure and bring back more of the Olman and their culture: "Even though Zotzilaha has long been absent from this place, the vampire still exists." Additionally, he still cares about the treasures within his Hidden Shrine!
Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale
As a special addendum, let's look at a list we pulled together of our top five monsters that are returning to the game in Monster Vault: Threats to the Nentir Vale.
5. Mooncalf: Set between the moonbeast (a ferocious, tenacious, and thoroughly horrifying adversary; seeing one can send strong adventurers fleeing for their lives) and the moonrats (lunar light has an insidious effect on these creatures, making them smarter, stronger, and more ferocious than any rat ought to be), the mooncalf appeared in the 3rd Edition Monster Manual II. Lovecraftian in appearance, mooncalves were otherworldly monstrosities that, according to rumor, flew down to earth from the dark side of the moon. In the Monster Vault, their natures are equally strange; they now travel from the Far Realm to terrorize the Nentir Vale every eight years during the period of a single lunar cycle.
4. Boggle: Steve Townshend waxed eloquently on the boggle's origins. In doing so, he covered not only the 1st Edition Monster Manual 2 version, but also tackled the older traditions of fantasy and folklore. Precursors to the ethereal filchers (even more frustrating), boggles have ranked high among the game's hated pickpockets, reaching through dimension doors to steal characters' hard-won loot. Not even the viscous, nonflammable oil they secreted from their pores could save them after a wronged adventurer finally tracked them down.
3. Penanggalan: You might notice a 1st Edition Fiend Folio feel to this creature. Strange and wholly disturbing, a penanggalan was originally "…a female vampire-type undead of fearsome power and nauseating appearance." Disguised as a helpful stranger by day, the penanggalan's head and guts detached from her body to fly about in search of a victim to charm and upon which to feed at night. (Where did the designers come up with such a foul concept? From mythology.) The Monster Vault version expands on the penanggalan's backstory and also provides a state for the bodiless head if it's encountered on its own!
2. Hound of Ill Omen: Another 1st Edition Fiend Folio beast, the hound of ill omen appeared mainly to foretell the doom of characters who seriously offended their deity ("…for example by a flagrant act out of alignment…"). In other words, they were in-game warning signs displayed by the DM. They also might have incorporated parts of the Hound of the Baskervilles, inevitables, and Steve Townshend's reimagining of the catoblepas. The updated version brings back the hounds' ominous appearance as harbingers of death, but also allows characters to better interact with them.
1. Peryton: The peryton comes from the 1st Edition Monster Manual, where we once wondered at these odd hybrids: "They are omnivorous creatures of the weirdest appearance, likely the result of the same type of experimentation as brought about the owlbear." Although the owlbear's true origins might have come from a dime store toy purchased in Lake Geneva, the peryton has its first mention in Jorge Luis Borge's Book of Imaginary Beings (complete with man-shaped shadow). We're thrilled to see its return to the game, and with our latest Creature Competition focused on hybrids, we're also pleased to call the peryton its honorary host!
Honorable Mentions: Cadaver collector, wandering tower, and Mages of Saruun (from the Thunderspire Labyrinth).
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.