Strongholds of Undeath Portals
By Ramon Arjona
The Portal of Failed Experiments
Zzarka needed a portal close to her home in Thay, and so she created several. Two of them were located in her tower and are described above. A third, however, she created a short distance away from her tower on the shores of Lake Thalambar. The sole purpose of this portal was to provide the lich with a quick avenue of escape should she ever need to depart from Thay quickly. Unlike the two portals hidden in her Tower, nothing valuable to Zzarka is at the other side of this portal. Should her enemies attempt to pursue her through the portal, she will have lost nothing -- because they will find nothing on the other side but their own annihilation.
Like Zzarka's other portals, this one is keyed to allow only undead spellcasters to activate it. Once the portal is opened, it remains open for 1 round. Anyone who touches the portal during this time is transported from the shores of Lake Thalambar to a location somewhere near the Sword Coast. This is not immediately obvious because the being so transported finds him or herself in a lightless cavern, miles underground, with no obvious means of exit. Furthermore the being now learns, if it did not learn this before through an analyze portal spell, that the portal is one-way. Nothing can activate it from this side.
This, of course, was part of Zzarka's escape plan. Should anyone succeed in following her into the portal, they are trapped in the unfamiliar cavern complex. They then have to deal with the numerous fungi, slimes, oozes, undead, and constructs that Zzarka had dumped into the cavern over the years. These include an enormously large black pudding, several mummies, a few dozen crawling claws, and a nightcrawler. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the cavern complex.
Advanced Black Pudding: CR 9; Gargantuan ooze; HD 20d10+150; hp 290; Init -5; Spd 20 ft., climb 20 ft.; AC 5, touch 1, flat-footed 5; Atk +18 melee (2d8+10 plus 2d8 acid, slam); Face/Reach 10 ft. x 20 ft./10 ft.; SA Acid, constrict 2d8+4 plus 2d8 acid, improved grab; SQ Blindsight 60 ft., ooze traits, split; AL N; SV Fort +12, Ref +1, Will +1; Str 25, Dex 1, Con 23, Int --, Wis 1, Cha 1.
Skills and Feats: Climb +15, Hide -17.
Acid (Ex): The advanced black pudding secretes a digestive acid that dissolves organic material and metal quickly. Any melee hit deals acid damage. The pudding's acidic touch deals 50 points of damage per round to wood or metal objects. The opponent's armor and clothing dissolve and become useless immediately unless they succeed at a Reflex save (DC 26). The acid can dissolve stone, dealing 20 points of damage per round of contact.
Constrict (Ex): The advanced black pudding can crush a grabbed opponent, dealing slam and acid damage with each successful grapple check. The opponent's clothing and armor suffer a -4 penalty on Reflex saves against the acid.
Improved Grab (Ex): If the advanced black pudding hits a creature that is at least one size category smaller than itself with its slam attack, it deals normal damage and attempts to start a grapple (grapple bonus +34) as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. If it gets a hold, it can also constrict with the same attack. Thereafter, the advanced black pudding has the option to conduct the grapple normally, or simply use its pseudopod to hold the opponent. Each successful grapple check it makes during successive rounds automatically deals slam and acid damage in addition to constriction damage.
Blindsight (Ex): An advanced black pudding is blind, but its entire body is a primitive sensory organ that can ascertain prey by scent and vibration within 60 feet. Invisibility and darkness are irrelevant, though the pudding still can't discern ethereal beings. The black pudding usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of its blindsight ability.
Ooze Traits: The advanced black pudding is immune to poison, sleep, paralysis, stunning, polymorphing, and mind-affecting effects and is not subject to critical hits or flanking. The pudding is blind.
Split (Ex): Weapons deal no damage to a black pudding. Instead, the creature splits into two identical puddings, each with half the original's hit points (round down). A pudding with only 1 hit point cannot be further split.
Mummies: hp 42; see Monster Manual, page 138.
Crawling Claws: hp 5; see Monsters of Faerûn, page 29.
Nightcrawlers: hp 162, see Monster Manual, page 141.
Zzarka also planted numerous traps, both magical and mundane, throughout the cavern complex. These traps are designed to confound and confuse any being who tries to pursue her, causing them to lose their way in the mazelike tunnels. Few of the traps are immediately fatal since Zzarka expected that the many creatures in the caves are sufficiently lethal to any who choose to threaten her. Some suspect that the creatures were too deadly, and Zzarka finally met her end at the hands (or tentacles or pseudopods) of one of her more dismal mistakes.
Also scattered throughout the cave are several magical points of egress that function either as a shadow walk or teleport without error spell. These areas are the only means of escape Zzarka provided from her cave of failed experiments, and only she knows their location.
How to Incorporate the Portal of Failed Experiments Into Your Campaign
- Another one of Zzarka's lieutenants, the vampire cleric known as Keheb Re, has been trapped in the cavern complex for five hundred years. Instead of dying, as Zzarka planned for him to do, he has thrived in the brutal underground environment. Now, having gone quiet insane after his long captivity, Keheb has finally found a way out -- and he is taking with him some of the most horrible and twisted creations he could gather from the caves. He intends to find Zzarka and visit his revenge on her. The fact that she is nowhere to be found, however, presents an obstacle to him. The PCs must deal with what happens when the insane vampire turns his army of abominations against the people of Faerûn.
- The PCs come close to destroying a vampire called Torin Zsan. Just as they are about to deliver the killing blow, he activates the portal and escapes through it. If the PCs follow, they soon find Torin -- half devoured by the black pudding and badly injured by the nightshade. While Torin is still technically "alive," the PCs have the more immediate problem of survival when faced with Zzarka's failed experiments. They may even rescue Torin and attempt to enlist his aid in escaping this chamber of horrors. Torin will do anything to survive -- even pretend that he knows the way out when in fact he is as ignorant as the PCs in this matter.
- The PCs learn where an ancient lich's repository of knowledge is kept. In finding the repository, they also find the portal. Should they attempt to enter it, rather than destroy it, they learn that some things are best left undisturbed. Of course, should they choose this particular course of action, there is still the small problem of finding a spellcasting undead willing to open the portal for the PCs!