Inside the mouth giant stone head, the players are whisked away, high into the sky. Behind them lies the strange village of deformed people and the mysterious disappearance of the Aeon Priest Eben, who seemed to have gone native during his time studying the people and their god.
Now with Aka, the players explore the head and hope that they haven’t met an end to their fate.
Getting the Players Involved
This adventure relies in part on the actions of the previous one. However, the players may stumble upon the floating stone heads by themselves and seek to investigate, especially if they are flying or airborne in some way and see the heads floating in the distance.
Flux / Mental Maelstrom
The darkness of the mouth turns to light as the players progress inside and opens out into a large room with vaulted arches rendered in metal and synth. They look ancient and vines grow along their surfaces, up all the way to the ceiling, sprouting bright red and yellow flowers that glow with a faint bio-luminescence.
The room has a series of steps that lead up to a mezzanine floor that circles the room about halfway up to the ceiling.
In the centre of the room there is a large spring from which seems to bubble up water continuously, spilling over the edges into grooves that are cut into the metal floor. The grooves are about half a foot deep and lead down the throat back out of the mouth, but currently there are a number of holes opened up in them and the water drains into those instead of flowing down the trench to the mouth.
An inverted pyramid of crystal and crackling energy appears and descends down the stairs (by floating down smoothly).
Oh goody! Time for more contestants. Master will be pleased. You’ll like this game, it’s fun!
The creature is a Valma (Ninth World Bestiary, pg. 130) and delights in word games, story telling and secrets. It is eager to please the players, but a lot of its answers end up with it telling the players that the master will tell them in time. It doesn’t like to be ignored however, and will shock characters it deems rude or offensive at very little provocation before eagerly awaiting more interaction now it has regained their attention.
Oh! The master has a riddle for you! You’ll love it, it’s very fun and easy! You can do it! I know you can, you are the best contestants yet, I can tell!
The cities that I built
The forests that I grew
Got stained by your filth
And now they smell like you!
I think that is right. Maybe it doesn’t translate well. Oh well, you’re the best most brightest, awesomest contestants ever and I know you can do it. Just tell me the answer. No hurry. I can wait.
The Valma doesn’t even realise that what it said might be offensive and as soon as the players start discussing anything or doing anything else, the Valma immediately gets impatient.
Hurry up! You’re the bestest, fastest contestants ever. I want to know the answer! Stop teasing! Tell me! Tell me!
The Valma in the stone head is an annoying, easily offended and jealous cheerleader, working for a master it reveals very little about, even when asked directly. It knows a great many things, can identify cyphers and artifacts (usually it is correct, but if the players asking it roll a d6 and get a one, if gives them wildly inaccurate information that is clearly not correct and gets extremely offended if the players ignore its identification or point out it is wrong).
The Valma can reveal that the master is forever and knows everything. Eben is alive and with the master. The master hates people but that is why he has the Valma and the Valma is super-helpful and loves the master and the master loves the Valma too. The Valma gets really excited and loves long, run-on sentences.
In general, the Valma can answer all manner of questions, but the more pertinent they are to the situation, the less helpful it is, getting vaguer and vaguer until it finally says that they have to ask the master. It never admits it doesn’t know anything and will quite happily lie or otherwise manufacture information to provide answers and keep the conversation going.
After a few moments, the Valma lets the players know they have failed.
Oh no! Time is up! I bet you knew the answer but you didn’t want the game to be over so easily, right? You wanted a challenge because you are all amazing and super brave! I know your game, I have your back, players. Can’t fool the old Valma, you cheeky scamps.
The master will see you now. But first it’s time for a wash! You stink!
The Valma float back up the stairs, beckoning the players follow. Around the mezzanine floor are two sets of doors, one half way across the room, the other near the stairs at the end of the mezzanine (close enough players could jump over the railings and get to it without having to walk all the way around). The Valma leads them to the middle door, which slides open with a hiss.
Inside the room are several strange pipes and protrusions that lightly emit steam. The floor is grilled through which a bright light shines upwards and near the door are some large stone baskets.
Put your clothes and items in the baskets. It’s time for cleaning! I promise I wont look, see, my eyes are closed.
The players can choose to take off their clothes or not, but the doors remain closed, the Valma floating in front of them. The pipes and protrusions emit a hot steam which while unpleasant isn’t harmful and the whole room fills with light as it shines brighter and brighter from the grill below. Those who choose not to take off their clothes are soaked wet and very uncomfortable and for the next hour all movement and social tasks are one step more difficult. Those who put their clothes and items into the baskets can retrieve them without incident and also feel cleaner than they ever have before. Clothes and items removed from the baskets are cleaned and folded, despite their condition when they went in.
The Valma remarks on how silly the people were who kept their clothes on and ushers them out of the room towards the last door. The door opens to reveal a simple, plain stone room with a large wooden desk at the end. Sat at the desk in a strange harness is an Odlark (Ninth World Bestiary, pg. 95). The Odlark, its face serene and friendly, gestures to the Valma which floats over, still talking and recounting anecdotes, to a plinth in which there is a special hollow designed for it to slot into perfectly. When it slides in, its light goes out and it is silent.
Stars above, that insufferable device never shuts up. Greetings players, I am the master, but you may call me Flux. You have been selected to play a game. How long and how far are you willing to go?
Flux apologises for the disorientation and reassures the players that the confusion is perfectly normal. It can’t explain much, doing so would violate the terms of the game, but if the players ask about what happened to the previous ‘players’, the Odlark answers.
Oh they are perfectly fine. Decanted into one of several designated losers areas. All quite safe I assure you. Now, I must ask, how familiar are you with the Mental Maelstrom?
Aka has no idea, and the players have never heard of it.
Well, the maelstrom requires solving to remain stable, and each way has to be unique. It’s why I can’t divulge any information I’m afraid. Now, let me see…
The Odlark waves one of its stubby forearms and the desk recedes into the floor, to be replaced with some kind of sand pit.
We are shut out from the world here, and as you can see, by your faces in the sand, you are currently here.
Flux indicates a formation in the sand which shapes itself into an image of the players and Aka.
Now I want you to be here,
Waving its arm, it points at another area in the sand as the sandbox shapes and structures itself, displaying a sort of 3D map.
And finally, you have to descend… here
The Odlark gestures and a long tunnel forms itself in the sand, going down and down until it reaches an empty sphere.
And that is the perpetual end, so to speak. Now as much as I would love to converse with you on a number of topics, after all, the game does create a certain existential crisis that is a joy to explore, I am afraid time is of the essence. Have you everything you need? Do you need to explore the grounds any further before you begin?
What is the Maelstrom?
The maelstrom is a complex engine that powers the stone heads. It requires quantum uncertainty to remain stable, and so it is structured like a complex set of puzzles with multiple possible solutions. The heads run people through it in order to keep it working, their freewill and choices both before entering and during, keep the machine from overloading. If it overloads, the results could be catastrophic. The players confusion and disorientation makes their decisions even more random, which makes the process all the more effective.
The maelstrom itself is psycho-reactive and adapts itself to the ‘contestants’ - the idea of it being a competition is deliberately planted in the players minds to facilitate the maelstroms puzzle-room form and process, without being so structured that it will limit the randomness of the interactions. Due to its psycho-reactive nature, it will only accept willing participants - another reason for the competition ruse.
The true operators of the stone heads remain a mystery, but the ‘master’ Flux is no master at all, but just another pawn of the entities behind the heads. The entities are ultraterrestial in nature and their motivations are unfathomable beyond their desire to influence the maelstrom. Whether the maelstrom is something of their own creation, or something else they maintain is unknown.
When the players agree to continue, the Flux presses a button on his desk and the players are teleported away to the first room of the maelstrom.
What If the Players Don't Want to Play?
It is quite possible that the players simply don’t want to play this ‘game’ and will fight tooth and nail to escape the stone heads, regardless of what Aka thinks. If they attack the Valma, it reacts to defend itself as per the description in the bestiary. If they attempt to attack the Odlark, they find that the half of the room including the desk is separated from their half by a near invisible barrier that can be seen when looked at very closely, but otherwise is perfectly clear to normal eyes. The material is level 10 and unbreakable by normal means.
If they attack, the odlark is still fearful, though it maintains its serene expression. It begs the players to just go along with the game and swears it can’t tell them any more or ‘they’ will punish it. If pushed on how ‘they’ are, it will only say that they are the ones that require the maelstrom is solved and they are the ones that trapped it here to serve them. There is no escape, the only way out is through the maelstrom. If the players attempt to leave by cutting or excavating their way through the walls, they find that metal is extremely hard, again a level 10 material. However, if they examine the pool, they can find a weak point and damage the bottom. If they deal in excess of 10 damage to the level 5 material, the pool caves in and the machinery within is broken. Any players falling into the machinery below are subject to 10 points of might damage as they are electrocuted and unless they then beat a might roll versus a difficulty of 5 must roll on the harmful mutations table. With the machine destroyed, the mouth of the stone head opens and the head becomes unstable, dropping from the sky only to stop before impact, jerking and swaying about drunkenly, crashing into the sides of rocky outcroppings and zooming into open spaces high above the rocks. Beating a difficult level 6 speed task can allow the players to jump safely from the head, but those failing take up to 10 points of might damage from falling.
Into the Maelstrom
In the room that the players appear in are 10 objects. The objects are all cyphers, though they are curious in their pristine and well made appearance, rather than the usual cobbled together, ramshackle appearance they often have. The 10 cyphers are each placed individually on a plinth of white synth. The walls of the room are equally coated in white synth, with a large black line in the top corner of one wall. There seems to be no exit and the room is uniformly illuminated such that no shadows are cast.
The cyphers are:
- Heat Sheath (aerosol) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 61)
- Sparkle (handheld device) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 88)
- Psychic Focus (pill) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 81)
- Doomsday Device (injection) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 48)
- Harassing Companion (Metal cube) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 60)
- Biological Transpiercer (see in the dark, organic needle) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 35)
- Portable Biolab (glass orb filled with blue-green moss) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 79)
- Cable Projector (wrist-mounted projector) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 38)
- Fact Finder (glove with a device in the palm) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 52)
- Portable Steed (complex device) - (Technology Compendium, pg. 80)
Once all the cyphers are removed from their plinths, a panel in one of the walls lines open revealing another room beyond. When the last of the group has stepped through, the panel seals shut behind them, regardless of whether or not they replaced any items or left anything behind.
The First Room
The room behind the panel is as white and plain as one they left behind. However, gravity in this room is twice as strong as normal, making all physical tasks 2 steps more difficult. The angle of gravity is slightly tilted and any round or smooth objects placed on the floor immediately roll to the far corner of the room, upon which two black lines are marked.
Inside the room is a rapidly warping polyhedron made of liquid chrome metal, changing shape rapidly into various sharp and pointy configurations. It moves towards the players as if attracted to them like a magnet. If the object makes contact with the players, it doesn’t immediately harm them, but its constant shifting shape can cause a jagged vertex to stab a player, dealing 4 points of might damage if they fail a level 2 speed defence roll.
By attacking the shape with intellect damage or attempting to telepathically communicate with it, the shape can be coerced into specific configurations for 1 minute before it begins its random transformations. If the players all surround it equidistantly, it is equally attracted to all of them and thus remains in place.
The shape when forced into a specific shape, hold the shape for a moment and then cycles through a series of specific shapes. A sphere, a prism, a pyramid, a cube, an unfolded tesseract and a human face. Presenting the shape in one of these states with any other object of a similar configuration causes it to absorb the proffered object and shoot upwards, forming a panel on the ceiling which opens to reveal another room beyond. In the case of the human face configuration, it only absorbs non-organic faces. If one of the players have an artificial face and use it as an offering (intentionally or not), they must make a might defence roll and beat a difficulty of 4 or be pulled up with the shape, rendered blind for 1 hour and be thrown into the next room.
Getting up to the entrance is difficult unless the players use the Cable Projector, as it is almost 20ft off the ground and the heavy gravity make jumping and climbing quite difficult.
The second room is much larger than the first and is filled with pale blue sand. It is baking hot and the sand is hot enough to sting bare skin. Gravity is normal in the room and in a large dune stand three large black pillars.
The blue desert in the room is desolate and the group can feel the moisture in their mouths evaporating away. Strangely, anything they say in the room comes out as a lie or as the opposite of what they mean. As the players explore, they may notice the sand behaves strangely. Unlike normal sand, it seems to become more solid and hardy the more force is applied to it. Walking gently across it causes it to move as normal, but stamping down hard makes it as hard and unyielding as the strongest iron. Equally, it seems immune to damage of any kind and nothing seems to be able to destroy it at all.
The only thing in the room apart from the sand is the three black pillars. On the first pillar is written the word Truth. On the second pillar is the word Is. On the final pillar is the word Suffering. If the group manage to speak a single truth to the pillars, the middle one sinks into the ground and the two outer ones tip towards each other to form a triangle. In the triangle, a door appears, leading to another room.
Alternatively, the players can dig around the base of the pillars. Digging is difficult because the faster they go, the harder the sand becomes in reaction to the force they apply. However, if the dig below the middle pillar enough, it becomes loose and falls over (players must make a speed roll versus a difficulty of 3 or be crushed, moving one step down the damage track). If it falls over, the other two fall into the triangle position and form a door as before.
Alternatively, if the players can destroy any or all of the pillars, the door forms in mid-air alongside any surviving pillars.
The Night Race
This next room is dark, very dark, and from nearby the sound of rumbling approaches. Players that beat a perception task of difficulty 3 can tell the sound is that of stampeding animals - and it is coming this way. It is difficult to see in the darkness, but if the group explores they find the room is like a long, narrow, looping corridor, approximately 2 miles long in circumference. However, they will not be able to discover its length before the stampede is upon them if they travel by foot. The stampede is imminent.
Along the room are several obstacles, such as small, ankle-twisting pits and difficult to push through shrubs. At the opposite side of the room is a panel like before, this one has four black lines inscribed upon it. Moving through the room in the dark without aid is a difficulty 3 speed task. Failing results in the character stumbling, requiring a minute to pick themselves back up.
If the players wait around to find out what the creatures stampeding are, they see in the gloom that the creatures are a mix of four-legged automatons shaped similarly to horses and Brehm. The animals are packed closely together and cover the whole expanse between one wall and the other, forming a solid wave of creatures that can not be easily avoided. The creatures individually are treated as level 2, but collectively the stampede is counted as a level 6 creature that deals 10 points of damage.
The animals are not scared by the group and seem to be in a permanent state of stampede, neither getting tired, nor slowing in their endless circuit around the corridor.
The final room is a large, watery expanse, a vicious whirlpool in a stormy sea sucking everything towards it. In the water are 5 large, black pillars that seem unaffected by the rushing, swirling water. Atop each pillar is a button. When all the buttons are pressed, the foam and vapour obscuring the whirlpools depths fades away to reveal a final portal at the bottom that can be reached by diving from the top of any of the pillars with a speed task of difficulty 2.
The pillars are cold and slippery, but any heat source stronger than the average human body makes the water and slippery coating of the pillars adhesive and tacky, making climbing a level 0 task. Trying to climb the pillars normally is a difficulty 5 task, due to their slippery natures and the howling wind and water.
The group emerges back into the same room they left and Flux is waiting for them behind its desk.
Congratulations, contestants. Not many make it all the way through. We will be analysing your data for future runs for some time. You will be granted your prize upon exiting.
Travelling back into the main chamber, it looks very different, the vines and water pool are gone, instead replaced with the papery strands reaching out from an immense hive suspended in the centre of the room. Insects buzz constantly but are not harmful and the mouth of the stone head is open.
Upon stepping out, the players find themselves stepping back out onto the cold mountaintops from which they left but they find that they all are aware of some knowledge they didn’t have before. There is a location within the Ninth World that holds a great treasure from one of the prior worlds, and now they know where to find it. This treasure is of limitless value, for it is far more than a mere object - it is a survivor, from millions of years past, preserved somewhere in the dark.
The players need only be brave enough to find it.