[Direct from my zine-formatted rewrite/draft.]
What Came Before
This issue of Beneath the Sea of Dust depicts what lies below the map from issue 1. In that issue explorers would have discovered the Sun Spire, a strange faceted tower that lies in the Sea of Dust. Beneath it they might have run into an incursion of lava worms as well as the remains of a mysterious cult of three-armed, blue, not-quite-dead priests and their otherworldly prisoners.
There are several “in-roads” to this level that would allow characters to explore the contents of this issue first. However, be aware that they might easily find their way out as well, leaving you in need of other issues of BSD or having to make it up on your own.
Level 2 The City of the Conservator
0201 A Wall of Iron
This cavern is connected to levels above (0127) and below by a roughly round shaft, dug by a tribe of lava worms and the living-engines they warp to suit their needs. Two exploratory tunnels were dug sideways in this area, the one to the south is blocked with rubble. The north tunnel, however, ends in a formidable looking iron wall with no door. If one listens closely to it, sounds will be heard from the other side on rare occasions – rumbling carts, whistling, maybe even dwarves talking.
This door connects to a “deep road” constructed and kept, but rarely used. by a community of dwarves. They sealed off the cavern after lava worms dug into their tunnel. Anyone breaking through to the road will see tracks leading (in a perfectly straight line) off into the darkness on both sides. Dwarf road wardens working in pairs sometimes come through on a handcar to assess any damage. They will not make repairs, but rather report back the need for them.
GM Notes: this is also a possible way into BSD. Dwarves could hire players to deal with the lava worms. The way down will lead to a future lava-filled level of some sort. If you want to curtail travel that way, just have it end in a lake of lava for now.
0202 The Sand Pit
A spiral iron staircase leading up to 0119 ends in a circular iron grate, allowing any sand from opening the hatch above to pass through. The grate is divided into four sections that can easily be removed to reveal a 30’ deep conical pit. The sloping sides of the pit are covered in small bits of debris: a partially-buried helmet, an axe, and a curl of leather that might be the top of a boot.
At the bottom of the pit, sharp eyes might be able to detect two thin “sticks” sticking up through the bottom point of the inverted cone of sand. They resemble a dead bush, but they are in fact the mandibles of a Giant Ant Lion.
Giant Ant Lion: AC 17, HD 3, Attack +3 pincers (3d6) or Special, Move 120’(40’) or Burrow 60’(20’), SA 3, Morale 9, Neutral, XP 65, NA 1, TT C. Special: sand blast targets one character on the side of the pit (or one leaning over it). A DEX check is required to avoid sliding to the bottom and suffer an immediate +5 pincer attack. Those who are hit by the pincer attack take an automatic 2d6 crushing damage as the ant lion slams them back and forth against the walls of the pit. Kill the ant lion or make a STR check to break free.
0203 The Huts
There is no light source in this cavern. Even without light one can tell it is huge because of the echoes. The walls are clammy and slick. The Ceiling is filled with a slowly roiling mist that obscures everything except the occasional stalactite tip. Clusters of five-sided, stacked stone huts with figured tapestries for doors house Bird People. Their wings have atrophied into quiet, fluttering capes and they use hand signals for language (they make no noise at all) and create abstract drawings on the cave walls. The drawings depict the bird folk and their huts alongside three-armed humanoids, one of whom wears a horned helmet.
Many of the huts are empty. The bird people await the return of the Custodian, but many no longer believe in him, or if they do they think he has left them as he has not appeared for decades.
0204 The Gathering Space
Stone pillar-shaped constructs contain a hollow on one side with a basin and a downward facing cone. They will dispense a grayish-purple glob that sustains a person for a day (see 0115). The tinkling of a fountain heard can be heard throughout the area. Its slender tower of five tiers dribbles clear, cold water into a ten-foot diameter, two-foot deep pool. Around the fountain is a well-worn circle in the stone, as if the bird-folk have marched around it for centuries.
If visitors rekindle the belief in the Custodian, the bird people will do their slow, ritualistic dance around the fountain. If they wait long enough, the “Hopeful One” (0205) will appear and perform the dance alone.
Two cyclopean bronze doors are covered in a bas-relief, depicting the three-armed beings walking out (toward the viewer) through a portal filled with stars. Within this carved portal, a pair of stars loom larger than the rest and are of obvious importance. The doors have no handles, locks, hinges, or even any visible cracks. They open outward and must be pushed open from the inside.
GM Notes: I saw a player once use the spell floating disc to open doors like this. They cast it forward/on the other side of the door, and walked backwards. Clever, that.
0205 The Hut of the Hopeful
An uncharacteristically upbeat bird person lives here. They have an ornamental, curved dagger tucked into their belt (NEVER to be used in violence). They also carry a hollow horn-like object of shell in one hand. This is a magical Ear Trumpet that they use to listen through he door to hear the breathing of the Conservator. Thus they are the last true believer. Even so, they haven’t thought to coax others into listening along with them. The bird people, in general, lack imagination.
0206 Hall of the Conservator
A three-armed blue humanoid sits immobile on a large throne of emerald. They wear a massive helm with ornamental horns or vanes sticking out of the sides. The throne seems to be either carved from an unbelievably large gem or perhaps somehow constructed of fused emeralds. A large and intricate clock (?) with exotic hands and numerals occupies the back of the throne. The throne’s worth is unimaginable, but it would take a feat of engineering to get it out of this place and across the Sea of Dust to civilization.
The person on the throne is The Conservator, a member of the priesthood. The Conservator’s job is to wake up the other priests when the stars align to open the gate (see 0207). Sadly, they have either missed the alarm or the alarm has failed to sound, for the time of the gate is at hand. Once the doors are opened, the Conservator will come to life in d8+2 turns. At first they will be sluggish and confused. (Turn 1: they speak gibberish in an unknown language with an intent but erratic gaze. Turn 2: they stand up and speak sense, but in the unknown language. Turn 3: they try other languages, or become violent, depending on player actions.)
Behind the throne is an illusory section of wall that is in actuality a doorway.
0207 Star Portal
A carpet on the floor woven with strange glyphs can be deciphered by a wizard with Read Magic or an intelligent thief. If so, the runes tell of a people from the stars in search of knowledge. A glittering curtain of gold light occupies a large frame in front of the far wall. This is the Star Gate. It is not currently open; if someone walks through it they will simply run into the back wall. However, it will open soon! Every time explorers return to this room (assuming some hours since the last visit) roll a d8. On an 8 they find the portal open or witness it open. It turns from sparking, swirling gold to a field of stars.
What happens when they step through?
GM Notes: This is the start of another campaign – perhaps one obsessed with planar travel and politics. It will not be detailed in BSD. If someone steps through the open portal and you don’t feel like launching a whole new world, have them appear again in the place they last called home (or failing that the city of their birth). This could serve as an easy way out – back to a city base for the campaign.