This article originally appeared in Pyramid #16
To run this adventure, you'll need the GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Horror. GURPS Magic and Bestiary might also be useful. With a little work on the part of the GM, it can be run as a GURPS Horror adventure in any time period, or a horror adventure in a fantasy setting such as GURPS Conan (where it would be best set somewhere off the coasts of either the Black Kingdoms or Vendhya) or GURPS Fantasy. It could also be used in a historical campaign with a fantastic tone, anywhere in tropical waters.
Introduction The adventure begins with the characters on a sea voyage, in a tropical area. They are blown by a storm to an uncharted island; the author had Polynesia vaguely in mind while writing, but the island could just as well be somewhere in the less-explored reaches of the Caribbean or the Indian Ocean. They find the remains of a ship that was blown there many years before, and meet the ancient evil that destroyed its crew - the last priest of a fantastic temple, now a hideous undead creature devoted to destroying all who trespass on the island.
The GM is advised to read through this adventure carefully before attempting to run it. It is not written in a sequential order, because events will depend very much on the PCs' actions. The first few sections, The Storm, The Island, The Eliza and The Temple, cover the journey to the island and the things they can find there; the final section, The Guardian, describes the island's lone inhabitant, and how it will react to the presence of trespassers. The adventure consists almost entirely of the Guardian's actions and the PCs' reactions, so the GM should read this section carefully and be prepared to make all the Guardian's tactical decisions on the fly, in response to whatever the adventurers do.
The Storm The group's ship is caught in a terrible storm, and driven before the wind for two days and two nights. The sky is too dark and overcast to tell the time of day, and neither sun nor stars can be seen until the storm abates on the third morning.
A storm at sea can be a terrifying experience. In addition to the considerable damage to the ship (according to GURPS Swashbucklers, p. 76, 1dx10% damage to all ship systems), crewmen are also very much at risk. Huge waves can wash the strongest mariner overboard, while breaking masts and falling tackle are another hazard, and one by no means restricted to the age of sail.
A wooden pulley-block from a sailing ship could weigh several pounds, and one falling from any height could maim or kill; swinging booms and snapping cables were common shipboard hazards right up to the mid-20th century.
The GM must decide how to handle the storm. It could be played out in its full, terrifying majesty, or reduced to a couple of dice rolls for NPC losses and PC injury, or simply referred to as an event in the past, with the adventure starting once the storm abates and the characters can pay attention to where they are.
If the GM wishes to use dice rolls to determine PC injuries from the storm, each character should make a survival roll, using this method adapted from the GURPS mass combat rules. Take the average of a character's DX score and Seamanship skill, rounding down. Advantages like Alertness and Combat Reflexes will help characters foresee and avoid some of the dangers, and modify the roll as normal. Then consult the following table:
Modified DX/Seamanship Roll Result Made by 5 or more Unhurt Made by 1-4 1 hit damage Made exactly 2 hits damage Missed by 1-2 1d+1 damage Missed by 3-4 2 wounds, each 1d damage Missed by 5-6 2 wounds, each 2d damage Missed by 7+ or crit. failure 3 wounds, each 2d damage
The third morning sees Our Heroes washed up on the shores of a small island, which does not appear on any of the ship's charts. By some miracle, the crippled ship sails right through a gap in the reef which surrounds a calm, clear lagoon on one side of the island, and beaches itself in soft, black volcanic sand. It needs repairs, and the radio, if any, is smashed. The storm is on the wane, and within a few hours the sky is clear and the winds calm. As the PCs and their fellow voyagers take stock of their new surroundings, they notice another vessel in the lagoon. It is an old hulk, apparently abandoned and rotting at anchor.
The IslandThe island on which the castaways find themselves is dominated by a volcano at one end. It slopes steeply down to the sea on three sides, but on the fourth a more gentle slope supports dense jungle, running down to the sandy lagoon where the two vessels are sheltered.
The lagoon itself is broad and shallow, fringed by coral reefs and a wide beach of black volcanic sand. A little way behind the beach is a small clearing, now largely reclaimed by the forest, in which a few makeshift wooden crosses mark a dozen or so graves. Many of the graves seem to have been dug open some time ago, though there are no disturbed bones or other remains in the clearing.
The forest is extremely dense, and harbors several species of dangerous wildlife. Use the following encounter table when PCs are about in the forest, rolling once for every half hour of exploration:
2D6 roll Encounter 2-5 No encounter 6 Snake 7-8 Poisonous spider 9-11 Poisonous plant 12 Track (encountered only once,
no encounter thereafter)
The GM should use discretion when rolling encounters; ideally, the track should be discovered after 2-3 hours of searching.
Snake encounters are with a single poisonous snake; treat as a rattlesnake (p. B143) for game stats. Snakes will glide away into the forest unless surprised, cornered or controlled by the Guardian; a random encounter assumes that the snake is at bay, and will rear warningly, attacking in response to any sudden move.
Poisonous spider encounters are with a single spider, which drops out of a tree onto a randomly-selected victim or climbs up an arm or leg. The spider is 3-4 inches across, and has 1 point in every stat. Its bite cannot penetrate anything thicker than light cloth, and does no damage in itself. However, it is venomous: treat its venom as caustic tar (p. B132 sidebar).
Poisonous plant encounters are at the GM's discretion. The plant could be a densely-growing vine whose sap acts just like caustic tar (see p. B132 sidebar), or it could be something from GURPS Fantasy Bestiary, such as Bloodvine, Drop Weed, Puff Weed or Tangle Weed.
Track encounters are with the trail used by the Guardian to travel between the lagoon and the temple. A successful Tracking roll is necessary to spot the trail. Once the trail has been discovered, any further track encounters rolled are treated as no encounter.
The ElizaA small sailing ship of 17th-century design, the hulk looks as though it has been anchored in the lagoon for many years. Algae has begun to climb up the anchor-cable from water level, and the timbers are cracked and spotted with mold. In a campaign set before the mid-19th century, a successful Seamanship roll will reveal that the hulk is in a worse state than the PCs' vessel, though it might be used as a source of materials for repairs.
Hailing the ship will bring no response; she can be boarded from a boat drawn alongside, or characters can swim out to her and climb the anchor cable. The open window of the captain's cabin can be seen from the water if anyone rows or swims around the aft end of the ship.
Main Deck and Poop Deck
The decks are clear apart from occasional patches of mold. There is not even the normal clutter that might be expected aboard a working ship. The ship's cockboat is intact, apart from a large hole in the bottom. Characters looking down over the ship's stern from the poop deck will notice that the window to the captain's cabin has been broken, and hangs almost off its hinges.
The door from the main deck to the saloon is bolted on the inside, but can be broken down. It has DR 2 and 15 Hit Points. The saloon is deserted. Its furnishings are still in good condition, apart from the occasional spot of mold. A cutlass locker at the rear of the saloon stands empty. A stairway leads down to the companionway.
This area is completely deserted. A stairway leads up to the saloon, and doors lead out to the gun-deck and the two aft cabins. The door to the gun-deck shows signs of having been torn off its hinges; the door to the spare cabin is closed but unlocked.
The door to the captain's cabin is bolted on the inside and barricaded with furniture; it counts as having DR 6 and 120 Hit Points. Anyone who saw the open window from the poop deck but still persists in trying to batter the door down may be permitted an IQ roll to work out that the open window probably belongs to this cabin, and may offer an easier way in.
The cabin is furnished with a bunk and a desk. Beneath the open window at the rear of the cabin sprawls a withered corpse, with a pistol in one hand and a large, ragged hole in its chest (a Fright Check would be appropriate here). A successful Surgery skill roll will establish that the heart is missing, apparently torn from the captain's body by some powerful animal, possibly prompting an additional Fright Check.
Under the bunk is an iron strongbox, which is lightly coated with rust but still sound. The key is in the captain's waistcoat pocket, but the lock can be picked or the box can be forced open. It has DR 6, and 15 Hit Points will be enough to break it open; 30 will destroy it completely, and severely damage the ship's log. In this event, the GM might like to tear the log into tiny pieces, and make the players try to fit it back together. In addition to the ship's log, the chest contains two small sacks of silver (GM's discretion on their value, probably not more than $1,000), representing the ship's paychest for the voyage.
A wooden sea-chest stands at the foot of the bunk. It is not locked, and contains the captain's spare clothes and a few other personal effects of no value. The style of the clothes confirms the impression that the ship has been lying here for many years.
According to the log, the Eliza set sail from Falmouth in 1643. The last few entries, relating to the island, read as follows:
March 17th. The storm abated on the third day. Land sighted to larboard. Put in for repairs and fresh victuals.
March 18th. Fixed the stars by night. We lie in uncharted waters, but are hopeful of finding our course. A foraging party sent forth at first light, and needful repairs made to the ship. The foraging party did not return by nightfall.
The same night. Attacked by night. Twelve lost. Some talk of the foraging party. Crew grows restless. Resolved to set forth at first light, though I am loth to abandon our foragers for the sake of wild talk.
The same night, later. We have suffered a further attack. God grant my eyes lied.
March 19th. Four of us remain, and are too few to crew the ship. The cockboat is holed. I have set the others to build a raft, but we are surely trapped in this infernal place.
The same night. All are now dead. I hear them on deck. I am in God's hands.
This cabin is similarly furnished to the captain's cabin, but appears not to have been used.
This cabin contains three bunks and three sea chests. It seems to have been the scene of a struggle; the furnishings are broken and clothes and other debris are scattered throughout the cabin and onto the gun deck. There are extensive bloodstains on the walls, floor and bedding, now brown with age.
This cabin was evidently used as a storeroom. The rope and canvas here is mostly in good condition, and might be used to repair the PCs' ship in an age-of-sail adventure.
The guns and tackle are so thoroughly rotted and rusted as to be completely useless without major repairs. There are several kegs of powder on the gun deck, all soaked and useless. At the GM's option, a character with the advantage of Extra- ordinary Luck might find a usable keg of powder (or, more likely, a small amount of dry powder at the heart of a keg where the damp has not yet penetrated), if some time is spent specifically looking for it.
Hold The hold is hip-deep in water, which has completely spoiled the few kegs and boxes of supplies that are stored there. Some float on the surface of the water, while others lie on the bottom out of sight, and could be hazardous to clumsy searchers or to anyone not moving cautiously.
The TempleThe track winds through the jungle and climbs around the volcano at the far end of the island. The mountainside is steep and precipitous, and progress off the track will be difficult. The track opens out into a broad rock-hewn platform in front of the temple.
Like the platform in front of it, the temple is hewn out of the black rock of the volcano's side. The many pillars of the facade are weirdly carved with fantastic designs, and beyond them all is darkness.
This artificial cavern serves as an antechamber to the temple. Its ceiling, lost to sight in the darkness, is now home to several thousand small bats - a fact borne out by the deep layer of guano on the floor, which adds +1 to the cost of all movement and imposes a -2 penalty to all attacks (see sidebar, p. B107). Any sudden flare of light or loud noise will panic the bats, and they will fill the cavern for 5 minutes, tripling all movement and hand-to-hand attack penalties and making missile fire impossible. One or two torches will not be bright enough to panic the bats, but any bright light will be; talking will not panic the bats, but gunshots will.
A cruel GM might note that the guano on the floor of bat caves is normally home to a wide range of snakes, rats, bugs and spiders, which live on the guano itself, each other, and any sick or dying bat which drops down from the roof. The smell is overpowering, and the sight of so many unsavory creatures crawling, scuttling and slithering around might impose a serious penalty on Fright Checks for anyone with an appropriate phobia, quite apart from being highly unsanitary. The whole chamber counts as an infected area (see p. B134).
These chambers contain treasures offered up at the temple while it was still in use. Each chamber is sealed by a stone door, fantastically-carved and massive but cunningly counterbalanced. Up to four characters may co-operate in trying to open a door - their chance of success is a percentage equal to the sum of their ST scores.
Each door is fitted with a trap, which fires a spread of four sharpened-bamboo darts across the doorway from a hidden mechanism. The traps are cunningly hidden among the carvings on the doors, requiring a successful roll of Traps-4 to spot them; the penalty does not apply after the first trap has been discovered, and the traps can easily be neutralized by blocking the holes from which the darts fire. The traps are old, and may not fire; each dart fires only on a 8 or less on three dice. Cruel GMs might like to roll a chance of a malfunctioned trap firing late, each time an intruder crosses the threshold (this should be a low chance at best: 6 or less on three dice). Each dart hits on a 9 or less, striking a randomly-determined character in the doorway, and they are too small and fast-moving to be dodged. The darts cause 1d-2 damage in themselves; they were once coated with a poisonous resin, which has dried out over the centuries. Each dart that causes damage has a small (6 or less on three dice) chance of having some effective venom left, which will have the same effects as caustic tar (p. B132 sidebar).
Inside the treasure chambers are great heaps of offerings. Not all may be valuable in the players' eyes: many offerings consist of brightly-colored feathers, items of carved wood and worked shell, ritually-sacrificed small animals, and so on. If the explorers decide to ransack the treasure chambers thoroughly, each will be able to find objects with a total value of $1dxIQ.
The inner chamber and the broad passage which leads to it are lined with a succession of shallow niches, each containing a dried and withered corpse - the remains of generations of priests who have served the temple. Some are still intact, preserved by the unusually dry air in the temple complex, and stand up in their niches, secured with bark rope and propped up on elaborately-carved war clubs. Others have crumbled into small piles of dust and bones. Strangely, the bugs and rats from the outer chamber seem never to have disturbed these corpses, and the GM might like to impose Fright Checks at this discovery.
A stone altar stands in the middle of the inner chamber, carved with the same fantastic designs as the doors to the treasure chambers. Directly above the altar, high in the chamber's ceiling, a small aperture allows a thin beam of sunlight into the chamber. On the altar are several objects which will be recognized as human hearts on a successful Surgery skill roll. Most are dried and leathery, having come from the crew of the Eliza; however, if the Guardian has killed any of the PCs' group, there will be an appropriate number of fresh, moist hearts upon the altar, and more Fright Checks may be required as the significance of this sinks in.
If the Guardian has not already been destroyed, it will be hiding in this chamber when the PCs enter. It is identical to the other well-preserved priestly corpses, and is indistinguishable from them unless it moves.
The GuardianThe Guardian is the last priest of the long-dead cult which carved the temple out of the rock of the volcano and conducted their terrible rituals there. He - or rather, it - continues to serve the temple after death.
Weight: 120 lbs.
Damage: 1d+1 cr
Advantages and Disadvantages
Because of its unnatural state of existence and its dry, leathery skin, the Guardian takes only 1 point of damage from any impaling attack and from any ball-type firearm such as a musket or pistol. A shot-firing weapon, such as a blunderbuss or swivel gun, will do half normal damage. Crushing and cutting weapons will do normal damage.
The Guardian is harmed by sunlight (1d per 5 minutes of exposure), and will hide in the temple during the day, indistinguishable from the other corpses. It may become active during the day if it sees fit (for example, if the PCs come in and start trashing the place), but will not venture out of the inner chamber, and will try to avoid the shaft of sunlight which falls on and around the altar during the day. If sunlight falls upon the Guardian's skin at any time, the dried and leathery hide will smoke briefly and the Guardian will leap back out of the light - a big clue to observant mortals!
The Guardian has the following spells: Beast-Soother, Beast Summoning , Insect Control (from GURPS Magic : just like Reptile Control, but with insects), Spider Control (a modified version of Insect Control), Reptile Control, Mammal Control, Fear, Zombie (see GURPS Horror, p. 64).
The Guardian's version of the Zombie spell costs only 2 points per body, and may be used at a distance of up to 10 yards. However, the Zombies it creates only last until the next dawn. The bodies cannot be re-used.
The Guardian is armed with a carved wooden war club, decorated with a shell inlay and studded with obsidian blades. The club does sw+2 crushing damage, has a reach of 1, and weighs around 6 pounds. It also has an obsidian knife, which counts as a dagger if used in combat; the Guardian will not use this knife as a weapon, as it is a sacred object to the dead priest's cult, and is used for removing hearts for sacrifice.
Motivation and Tactics
The Guardian has two motives in this adventure. The first is to collect the hearts of anyone who comes to the island, so that they can be offered up in sacrifice to the dark gods of the temple. The second motive - which is no less compelling - is to protect the temple from robbery and desecration, and avenge any act of impiety that takes place there. Both motives can be elegantly combined by simply wiping out the PCs and everyone with them.
The GM should take the Guardian's high intelligence, special powers and knowledge of the island into account while running this adventure. It will not show itself unless victory is assured, and will certainly not engage in suicide attacks. Instead, it will remain hidden in the darkness and the jungle, relying on its special powers to provide it with troops. It will try to weaken the PCs and their companions, picking off a victim here and there to wear down the trespassers' numbers, get more hearts for sacrifice, and animate the corpses for an attack. A typical attack will begin with a few snakes sneaking aboard the PCs' vessel or into their camp and biting whoever they can. Those who die as a result can then be animated as zombies, and ordered to remain inactive until told otherwise. When there are half-a-dozen or so zombies, the Guardian will send in waves of snakes, spiders and rats as interference, and order all the zombies to rise up simultaneously and attack.
Two or three night attacks of this kind, backed up with constant hit-and-run attacks from venomous spiders and snakes, should weaken the intruders (and work on their nerves) to the point where another assault could completely wipe them out. Only then will the Guardian show itself and take a direct hand in the proceedings. In the first or second attack, the Guardian will make sure that the vessel is sufficiently damaged to prevent anyone from escaping.
These cat-and-mouse tactics are far more appropriate to a horror adventure than the stand-up fights common in action-adventure stories, and they also play the monster to the best effect. If the castaways cannot fathom what is behind the mysterious occurrences, or see only a shadowy movement in the undergrowth before the zombies or snakes strike, they are likely to experience genuine fear rather than the adrenaline rush of combat. The GM should play the whole adventure for the maximum horror effect, and be ready to impose Fright Checks as the nerves of the PCs and their companions become more and more frayed. As the attacks continue, companion NPCs should run screaming into the night on at least one occasion, to return with glassy eyes, stiff limbs and large, ragged holes in their chests.
Weight: 120-160 lbs.
Damage: 1d+1 cr
GURPS Horror has detailed rules for zombies. The zombies will not be able to use firearms, since the Guardian, who controls them, doesn't know how firearms work. They may use muskets and pistols as clubs, however. Fright Checks are definitely in order when PCs (and NPCs) see the dead bodies of their former comrades coming to attack them!
Article publication date: December 1, 1995
Copyright © 1995 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to email@example.com.