Strongholds of Undeath Portals
By Ramon Arjona
The Temple in the Forbidden Jungle
The second of Zzarka's strongholds is located deep in the Jungles of Chult. The jungle here is nearly impenetrable. If characters aren't killed by wild beasts or carnivorous plants, they'll almost certainly succumb to one of the many tropical diseases that are endemic to the region. Once again, the location benefits Zzarka because of her undead nature. She is immune to the area's many contagions, and none of the jungle's many predators are enticed by her long-dead flesh. She has even performed experiments on some of the jungle's disease-causing agents and has created more deadly strains of illness to deter the curious.
Wooden totems carved with grimacing, skeletal faces form a boundary around an area of deep jungle approximately five square miles in size. Natives of Chult know to avoid this part of the jungle, and they never speak of it to outsiders. If pressed on the issue, a native makes signs to ward off evil and mumbles about the "little things" before trying to extract themselves from the conversation. Most Chultean natives would rather fight to the death than be forced to enter the Forbidden Jungle.
Any mortal who is brave or foolish enough to cross the boundary begins to suffer the effects of Zzarka's disease right away. Each hour, they must make a Fortitude save (DC 30) or be affected by a horrible, inhaled, extraordinary disease called cacklefire. The disease combines the effect of cackle fever (DMG page 292) with that of mindfire, resulting in 1d4 points of temporary Intelligence damage and 1d6 points of temporary Wisdom damage. The onset of symptoms rapidly follows infection: Cacklefire has an incubation period of 1d6 hours. Characters continue to take damage until they are cured or until they reach 0 points in either Intelligence or Wisdom. Because of the constant exposure to the contagion, characters cannot make a saving throw to recover from cacklefire while within the bounds of the forbidden jungle.
Characters who succumb to cacklefire frequently sit stupefied and laugh uncontrollably, making them easy prey for the carnivorous plants and animals in the forbidden jungle. These creatures include dinosaurs, dire jaguars, and assassin vines. If the many jungle predators don't finish the characters off, the "little things" probably will.
One of Zzarka's more successful experiments, the "little things" are all that remains of a tribe of wild halflings. Using powerful necromantic magic of her own devising, Zzarka twisted these poor beings into undead mockeries of themselves. They are now a unique variety of zombie that possesses surprising speed, agility, and animal cunning.
The "little things'" favorite strategy is to lurk in the trees and underbrush and then attack already weakened characters with their blowguns. Once a group has been reduced to a manageable state, the small undead horrors overwhelm the hapless mortals with their numbers. Then, once the slaughter is complete, the little things dismember their victims' bodies and carry the pieces back to Zzarka's temple in the middle of the forbidden jungle.
|Hit Dice:||1d12 (6 hp)|
|AC:||AC 14 (+1 size, +3 Dex), touch 14, flat-footed 11|
|Attacks:||Slam +1 melee or blowgun +4 ranged|
|Damage:||Slam 1d4, blowgun 1d2 plus poison|
|Face/Reach:||5 ft. by 5 ft./5 ft.|
|Special Attacks:||Undead traits|
|Special Qualities:||Fort +0, Ref +3, Will +1|
|Saves:||Str 11, Dex 16, Con --, Int 8, Wis 8, Cha 5|
|Skills:||Climb +10, Hide +11, Move Silently +13, Search +3, Spot +9, Tumble +7|
|Organization:||Solitary, pair, or band (3-12)|
|Alignment:||Always chaotic evil|
Enhanced undead created by the necromancer Zzarka Tuzarr, the "little things" are found only in the jungle surrounding her temple. Their creator ordered them to stay within the boundary markers of the Forbidden Jungle and kill all humanoids that enter the area. They have proven very effective at this task. They attack intruders from the trees and underbrush with their blowguns, which have a range of 20 feet. The darts do 1d2 points of damage by themselves and are coated with deathblade poison. Once characters are sufficiently weakened, the "little things" swarm over them and finish them off.
None outside of the few tribes unfortunate enough to dwell near the Forbidden Jungle know of these undead creatures. These tribes dare not speak of them, and they call them only the "little things." Outsiders who enter the Forbidden Jungle and encounter these small horrors almost never return.
Undead Traits: A little thing is immune to poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, disease, death, effects, necromantic effects, mind-affecting effects, and any effect requiring a Fortitude save unless it also works on objects. The creature is not subject to critical hits, subdual damage, ability damage, ability drain, or energy drain. Negative energy heals it, and it is not at risk of death from massive damage but is destroyed at 0 hit points or less. A little thing has darkvision (60-foot range). A little thing cannot be raised, and resurrection works only if it is willing.
Skills: A little thing receives a +6 racial bonus on Climb, Move Silently, and Spot checks.
The temple itself is a sandstone pyramid in a small clearing, and it stands approximately 40 feet tall. A single corridor leads from the front of the pyramid into a central chamber, though four stained glass windows featuring fighting dragons and warriors provide colorful light to the interior of the pyramid. The walls of this chamber shine and sparkle softly during the day with gold and semiprecious jewels. The placement of the stained glass windows is within 10 feet of the ground, and they are angled in such a way that their light plays over a tremendous gold altar. Placed in the center of the altar is a small box made of ebony, with silver hinges and tiny sapphires inlaid in arcane patterns on the lid. This is a replica of Zzarka's phylactery, and it is meant to draw the attention of any adventurers powerful or lucky enough to get this far.
Characters are not exposed to the cacklefire infection while inside the temple. The "little things" do not pursue characters into the temple, but they may wait for up to 3 hours in the brush outside. A character who touches the replica phylactery suffers the effect of a disintegrate spell cast by an 18th-level wizard. The character, if still alive, and the rest of the group also have to contend with the four stained glass golems that leap out of the windows created for them (see Stained Glass Golem). Two of the golems are human warriors (one male in green-tinted armor, one female in golden armor), and the other two are dragons (one red, one blue). Characters also find their sole point of egress, the corridor through which they entered and the windows, blocked by several walls of force.
Stained Glass Golems (4): hp 66; see Stained Glass Golem.
Zzarka's actual phylactery, when present in the temple, is stored in a secret compartment beneath the altar.
Assuming a party makes it through the jungle, into the temple, and past the golems, they can attempt to loot the temple's treasure. The jewels embedded in the temple walls are worth 4,500 gp. The golden walls themselves consist of steel with gold leaf upon it.
Killing the golems and looting the temple does not dispel the presence of the cacklefire contagion, and it does not dispel the little things, either. These creatures attack the characters on their way out of the jungle just as they did on the way in.
The portal that leads to the Forbidden Jungle is hidden in a graveyard in the city of Westgate, on the Dragon Coast. It, like the portal described in an earlier installment, is keyed to allow only undead spellcasters to activate it. In addition to this, the Westgate portal functions only at night. This portal opens in the thick jungle a few hundred yards away from the Temple. It is a pleasant stroll for the undead, but a potentially deadly one for mortals.
How to Incorporate the Temple in the Forbidden Jungle Into Your Champaign
- The characters are part of an expedition organized by an herbalist from Waterdeep, who hopes to find rare plants within the Forbidden Jungle. He brings various ointments and potions that he says will help against the disease that poisons the air in the jungle.
- A series of unexplained deaths occur in Westgate. People under heavy guard or in seemingly secure rooms are perishing from a strange "wasting sickness." Wizards seem particularly vulnerable. In truth, Lars Blackspike has taken one of the "little things" out of the jungle and is using it to assassinate enemies his other undead minions could not reach.
- Rumors of a temple full of treasure guarded by carnivorous plants and terrible dragons reach the characters. Besides the great riches the temple holds, there is an even greater reward for those able to find it: Within its very walls is the secret of eternal life.