By Jeff Quick
Dragon Turtle Portal
About four miles inland from the shore of the Chultan peninsula, an ornate well serves as a water source and religious center for two separate cultures living in the area.
A clump of lizardfolk tribes lives around the well in close proximity to one another. The tribes are separate, but occupy the same approximate area peacefully. The reason for this peaceful co-existence is the well, which provides all the tribes with a steady flow of clean, drinkable water.
The well is nearly 10 feet in diameter and its aboveground opening looks like a dragon turtle's open mouth erupting from the ground. The well has been here longer than any lizardfolk individual remembers, although their legends say it was dug by a dragon turtle that walked the land in the shape of a lizardfolk explorer. Everywhere the dragon turtle went on land, she needed a place to swim, so she dug wells to slake her thirst. The legend might even be true, for similar wells follow an underground river for dozens of miles inland.
The tribes believe that the dragon turtle was an avatar of their god, Semuanya, and that the wells are holy sites. They're not too holy to use, of course, but those who draw water from the well must pay proper homage first by whispering prayers as they approach. Oddly, the water from these wells acts as holy water against undead, though the lizardfolk rarely have opportunity to use it this way.
When the native lizardfolk shamans feel a need to appease or appeal to Semuanya, they toss someone into the well. Sometimes the sacrifice is an outsider who violated a taboo, and sometimes it is a specially prepared sacrifice from within one of the tribes. Either way, the shamans believe that these sacrifices keep the water clean and pure. The sacrifices have nothing to do with the water, but since it continues to arrive by the bucketful, the lizardfolk believe the sacrifices are working, and continue them regularly.
Instead of damming up the well with bodies, the sacrifices fall into a portal 140 feet below, just above the water's surface. The portal is a creature-only portal, leaving a subject's belongings to fall into the water and be carried out to sea. (In a few cases, items have been lodged in the silt at the bottom of the well, and a few trinkets of gold or magic probably await the person who can find and retrieve them.)
Creatures who travel through the portal are teleported to an underwater cave about 20 miles off shore to the south and west of Chult and 400 feet below the water's surface. Most creatures that travel through the portal die from drowning before the local predators have a chance to find them. Still, sharks and other carnivores poke into the cave for an occasional meal.
Rite of Passage
This would be all merely interesting, if a few tribes of locathahs in ocean didn't also have their own rituals and superstitions surrounding the well. According to the locathahs, the dragon turtle was an avatar of their god, Eadro. Eadro wanted young locathahs to follow in her avatar's footsteps, walk inland, leap into the well, and then swim back out to prove their worth as adult tribe members.
As a result, every year perhaps a half a dozen locathahs leave the water and take a pilgrimage to find the dragon turtle well in the heart of lizardfolk territory. Carrying only a spear, they follow only vague guidelines given to them by their tribe's cleric. Adults do not speak about their experiences, leaving each young locathah to face the walk alone.
The locathahs and the lizardfolk interact only in regard to the well, but in their cross purposes here, they are bitter foes. When the lizardfolk spot a locathah in their territory, they rally the entire tribe to intercept the intruder. The locathah attempts to escape by heading for the well. If the locathah makes it to the well, he or she leaps in, and is teleported back out to the sea. If the lizardfolk capture a locathah, they bind the stranger and throw him or her into the well to appease their goddess. Though antagonistic, the relationship is mutually beneficial for both societies.
Meanwhile, the true origin of the portal remains a mystery. Perhaps the portal was truly placed there by one or more primitive gods. Perhaps there's an even stranger reason for its existence.
How to Incorporate the Dragon Turtle Portal Into Your Champaign
- The characters are asked to look into the series of dragon turtle wells and find out how they were created. This takes them into territory that could be quite rough. Do they ever find out the true story behind the wells, or do they find themselves fighting battle after battle instead? Will one of them end up in the well?
- A sage, diviner, or someone who appears wise announces to the PCs that to solve their current difficulty (whatever it is), they must first determine what lies at the bottom of a dragon turtle well. Perhaps the key to their current problem involves an item that was on someone who fell victim to the lizardfolk. If so, will the PCs figure this out without dying? (You may wish to hint at an "airless" challenge ahead, too.)