Tuesday, August 9, 2016

"The Library of Skulls" - Escape from the Hollow Earth, Chapter 4

Professor Overdrive looked at Jack Flash with a mischievous grin. He picked up all four crystals and rearranged them into a random pattern. The room flashed and began to spin. Everyone was overcome by spasms of pain before falling to the floor. The room went dark.

The room spun blindly for nearly a minute. It eventually slowed its spin. The dark walls of the rotunda were replaced by a grassy field and gloomy grey skies. They were surrounded by the massive stone menhirs of Stonehenge.

Before anyone could speak the scene began to spin again. The colors of the four crystals flashed randomly, each cycling through red, green, yellow, and blue. The spinning stopped and they were standing atop a flat stone circle inside a cave. It was dark outside the cave mouth and snowing.

The crystals flashed different colors and the room began to spin again. They were transported to a flat stone circle atop the ruins of a step pyramid somewhere in a jungle. It was dawn.

Next they were transported to a flat desert plain. They were standing inside a ring made of small stacked stones. More stones were arranged in lines and pattered stretching from horizon to horizon. It was cold and dry. The sky behind a nearby mountain range glowed with the soft indirect light of pre-dawn.

They were then transported to a stone platform surrounded by ancient Egyptian ruins half-buried in sand. It was mid-afternoon.

They next found themselves standing atop a mound of dirt and piled rocks in the desert of the American southwest. It was late at night and the moon shone overhead.

Next they were standing on a stone platform surrounded by a desert of dark red sand. The sky was yellow and the air thin.

Soon they were on a flat stone circle on a desert of light grey sand. The sky was black but the land was illuminated by the sun. The blue-white disk of Earth hung in the dark sky.

Overdrive removed the glowing crystals from the matrix table. The room spun one final time and deposited them back within the rotunda where they started. They were disoriented, weak, and confused. Several members of the expedition were wretching and coughing while they grabbed the sides of the matrix table for stability.

Jack Flash stood up straightened his coat, "Right. Well, what else can we find here?"

(cue theme music)


Noted scholar and literary historian Cedric Justice,
along with his manservant Panda,
has embarked upon an expedition to
the North Pole to find the fabled island
known as Ultima Thule.

With him are four famous associates
of the world reknown Hyperion Society - 
Bodak Danger, the Welshman with fists of stone!
Jack Flash, myserious and ageless Englishman!
Hiroshima Overdrive, Japanese inventor and adventurer!
Edith Odinsdottir, beautiful Icelandic psychic and occultist!

They have found themselves stranded in 
a mysterious inside-out world of perpetual noontime
filled with deadly jungles, giant dinosaurs, and savage beast-men.

With the help of native guide Utuk,
the expedition has trekked across the jungle
in search of ancient ruins that might lead
to the secret of Amrita - the Elixir of Eternal Life.

They eventually arrived at a temple at the base of a waterfall
filled with mystery and danger! 

The team left the matrix chamber and returned to the central rotunda. There were two other metal trapezoids set into the walls to the left and the right across from each other. They chose the trapezoid to the left. Jack Flash touched the door and caused a diamond-shaped opening to appear.

The doorway opened into a long corridor. The corridor was at least fifty feet tall and the doorway was located at the top near the ceiling. The floor appeared to be flooded with water. No exit could be seen on the far side.

Jack Flash tentatively stepped into the open space beyond and a section of floor rose to meet his feet. Additional sections of floor rose in front of him to form a stairway that led into the dark water below.

Jack turned and winked at his comrades before diving head first into the water.

Hiroshima Overdrive reached into his bag and removed a face-mask connected to a hose. He attached the hose to a metal bottle of compressed air. He donned the face-mask and secured the bottle of air to his belt and followed the immortal aesthete into the watery gloom.

They could just make out a smaller corridor at the base of the far wall. The smaller corridor was completely submerged by water and was completely dark. Hiroshima produced a flare gun and fired it down the corridor. The flare ricocheted off the wall and disappeared around a corner to the right.

Overdrive and Flash swam down the corridor and turned the corner. The passage continued a hundred feet before it opened into a chamber, twenty feet wide and sixty feet long. The far end was covered in rubble from a ceiling collapse which flooded the chamber with water from the lake above. Dim light filtered through the fissure in the ceiling. Aquatic mosses, plants, and grasses clung to debris.

The flare created a mass of bubble which ran to the ceiling and disappeared out the fissure. Its pulsating red light illuminated six metal trapezoids inset into the left and right walls of the chamber.

Jack Flash
Jack Flash, still holding his breath, touched the first metal trapezoid on the right. A diamond-shaped aperture appeared. Air bubbles poured forth as water rushed in to fill the room. Jack and Hiroshima were pulled in with the current and the room soon filled with water.

The room was a sepulcher, ten feet wide and twenty feet long. It was dominated by a large rectangular sarcophagus. The head of the sarcophagus was a statue of an Atlantean in a stiff formal pose.

Flash and Overdrive exerted strenuous effort to remove the lid from the sarcophagus. Doing so flooded the interior and ruined the mummified remains within. The remains appeared to be of a seven-foot-tall human with an elongated head. The mummy was clutching a two-foot long glowing green crystal inlaid with intricate metallic tracery. A golden disk the size of a serving plate was placed on top of the mummy's head. The pair took the golden disk and the green crystal back to their companions. Jack Flash gasped for air as he emerged from the water.

Hiroshima Overdrive and Jack Flash returned to the crypt, this time with Utuk the guide, and explored the second sepulcher. Hiroshima shared his underwater breathing apparatus with his two companions as they worked to remove the lid from the second sarcophagus. They found another mummy like the first but this one was buried only with the golden disk over its face. Utuk was greatly perturbed by the remains so, unable to hold their breath much longer even with the occasional help of the breathing device, the trio returned.
Utuk the Guide

Jack Flash took Hiroshima's breathing apparatus and returned to the third sepulcher. He had gained entrance and was about to remove the lid of the sarcophagus when he was attacked from behind by an anaconda!

Jack Flash barely had enough time to draw his sword cane before he was entwined in deadly combat with the serpent. The creature wrapped its coils around Flash while the immortal repeatedly slashed and cut. Jack grabbed the anaconda's head and stabbed it with his sword, killing it!

Upon opening the third sarcophagus Jack found only an additional gold disk which he gathered and returned to the others.

Jack became worried about additional threats lurking within the crypt so the party left the remaining three tombs unopened and returned to the main rotunda. The team rested while Hiroshima waterproofed each of the flashlights.

GM Notes - Underwater Fighting
Every round spent underwater required a difficulty 2 Athletics check. A failure resulted in a number of Non-Lethal damage equal to the missed difficulty. The number of dice you rolled would decrease by 1 each round. Hiroshima's breathing apparatus allowed you breathe normally that round and reset the number of dice subtracted but that's all you got to do that round.

Fighting underwater imposed -1 dice difficulty. 

After a short rest the team crossed the rotunda and entered the aperture on the far trapezoid. The short corridor beyond opened into a marble chamber, twenty feet wide and sixty feet long. The chamber was dark and the far half was covered in rubble and debris from a ceiling collapse. A tunnel disappeared into the rock above the ceiling.

Sitting on six stone plinths on the left and right wall of the chamber were six elongated skulls made of crystal.

The team closely inspected the room before entering. Edith could see that the rubble was slowly rising and falling as if breathing. Some great beast the size of an elephant was slumbering under the rubble.

Jack Flash carefully entered the room.
Jack Flash and Utuk climb the pile of rubble

There was a loud snort and the sound of tumbling rubble as a massive creature emerged from under the debris. It was indeed the size of an elephant. It stood upright on two stocky rear legs but looked as if it moved about on all fours like a bear. Its arms and legs ended in giant claws like those of a mole. The creature was indisputably reptilian. A single large rhinoceros-like horn grew from its nose. It possessed two elephant-like ears that resembled primitive bat-wings. It roared at the intrusion into its lair. Hiroshima Overdrive, having experience confronting a beast of this type, called out, "Look out! It's a barugon!"
Jack Flash immediately ran underneath the creature and stabbed it with his sword-cane. The beast responded by retreating and biting at Jack Flash.

Utuk ran forward and pierced it with his spear. The barugon turned its attention to the native guide, goring him in the shoulder with its mighty horn.

Hiroshima Overdrive charged up his electric rifle for twelve seconds before unleashing the electricity from its capacitor. The electric arc did little to the prehistoric creature.

Jack and Utuk continued to harry the gargantuan creature while Hiroshima tried to throw a lasso around its head. Hiroshima's lasso succeeded only in capturing the creature's horn and slipped off easily. Jack followed up with a sword-thrust into the barugon's chest which pierced its heart and succeeded in killing it. 

The massive body of the barugon lay bleeding amid the rubble. Cedric Justice rushed forward to inspect the crystal skulls. He was grabbed and restrained by the others.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded Cedric.

Jack Flash explained, "Whoa whoa whoa! Just a moment. We know very little about these things. They are probably telepathic in nature. It's best if Miss Odinsdottir check them out first."

Mister Justice reluctantly agreed.

Edith stepped forward. She approached one of the crystal skulls. She closed her eyes and stretched out her hand. She touched the skull.

The skull responded with memories and knowledge. It did not communicate directly. It had no personality or consciousness. It simply contained the knowledge and memories of a long dead Atlantean. Conveniently, the nature of the Atlantean Ur-Language allowed Edith to understand its meaning without knowing the language itself.

Crystal Skull

  • "The Healer" was the chief physician of a metropolis known as "the-City-by-the-Sea". The Healer used the energy of the glowing green crystals to provide succor to the ill and injured. 
  • "The Engineer" designed the-City-by-the-Sea. One of the Engineer's greatest achievements was the towering dome of the Great Temple. From the Engineer, Edith learned of the use of the pylons to power the matrix tables. The matrix tables served many functions. They controlled the weather, environment, lighting, gravity, and other variables within the Inner World. They were also used to open inter-dimensional portals which could used to traverse great distances. She also learned of the function of the golden matrix guardians and the use of the gate-key. 
  • "The Historian" recounted the tale of the Atlanteans: the founding and rise of their civilization in ancient times on the second, third, fourth, and fifth worlds of the solar system; their construction of the massive hollow satellite known as the Inner World; the diaspora in the face of a cataclysmic comet; the creation of their new civilization within and their final retreat from the Outer World. 
  • "The Biologist" was responsible for maintaining the ecosystem of the Inner World in the area surrounding the-City-by-the-Sea. From the biologist, she learned that many of the creatures the expedition had encountered since their arrival had evolved beyond what was introduced to the Inner World in ages past. 
  • "The Surveyor" was responsible for maintaining the topography of the land masses surrounding the-City-by-the-Sea. From the Surveyor, Edith learned of the general layout of the Inner World, its continents, and its major cities at the height of Atlanean power.
  • "The Leader" ruled the-City-by-the-Sea. His memories described Atlantean society, their use of slave castes, and the use of flying disks as means of transportation. From the Leader Edith learned of the capital city of Atlantis located on an island far out to sea. Edith learned that the portals were used only for traveling between the Inner World and destinations in the Outer World, including locations on Earth, Venus, Mars, and a mysterious fifth planet that was not Jupiter. Travel within the Inner World was conducted via flying disk. She also learned that treasure vaults existed beneath the Great Temple in the-City-by-the Sea. 

Edith Odinsdottir

Edith explained what she had learned to her comrades. Cedric insisted on being able to commune personally with the skulls but was once again admonished.

Satisfied that the complex under the waterfall was secure the team split up to perform various tasks.

Jack Flash used Overdrive's breathing apparatus to explore the remaining crypts. He found additional golden disks, which Edith explained were used to identify the deceased, and an Atlantean artifact called the Lodestone - a device which Edith had previously encountered while being held hostage by Doctor Vortex.

Professor Overdrive stripped apart his electric rifle in order to utilize components to construct an additional underwater breathing device.

Edith spent time communing with the crystal skull of the Healer, learning how to use the Atlantean healing crystal.

Utuk butchered what he could of the massive barugon carcass. He saved some for meat but removed the rest to the lake outside which was fed to the gigantic crocodiles and other dinosaurs.

The team then rested and slept before continuing again.

Professor Overdrive continued working on the new breathing device while Edith communed with the skull of the Surveyor. She utilized the memories of the Surveyor to construct a map of the Inner World. Jack Flash continued his careful explorations of the underwater crypts.

After resting and sleeping one more time, Professor Overdrive attempted to commune with one of the crystal skulls. He learned that telepathic ability was not a prerequisite as everyone assumed. He spent the day communing with the Engineer, learning Atlantean chemistry, alchemy, and material science. Meanwhile Edith communed with the Administrator. While everyone was otherwise occupied, Cedric seized his opportunity to commune with the crystal skull of the Historian.

Hiroshima Overdrive

The team rested and slept a third time. Afterwards, they prepared to leave the waterfall complex. Before they left, Edith returned to the room with the matrix table. There she communed with the Guardians. She learned that matrix table cannot open a portal without the gate-key. The gate-key was taken from the entrance rotunda and could not function until it was restored.

The team then prepared to journey back to Tree Village. They gathered up their equipment and made to leave the complex. As they exited they were met by dozens of humanoid reptile men with bows and arrows standing on the far side of the broken causeway.


When HEX players get distracted.

GM Notes - The Inner World and the History of Atlantis
The cosmology of my "Hollow Earth" is obviously different from that given in the Hollow Earth Expedition source books.

Here's what my players have learned about the Atlanteans (our name for them, not theirs) so far:

Atlantis was a powerful technologically advanced empire that maintained cities on Earth, Venus, Mars, and a not-Jupiter fifth planet for millions of years. They were ancient astronauts and were possibly alien in origin, I haven't decided yet. 

They traveled between the planets using inter-dimensional portals controlled from matrix tables located below metallic pylons.

They foresaw the coming of a rogue planetoid which would result in a planetary collision with the fifth planet. The resulting collision would spread massive asteroids and chunks of planet throughout the solar system. These chunks would change the orbits of Venus and Mars and would cause mass extinctions on Earth. The Atlanteans created a vast planet-sized Inner World to serve as their refuge. They populated the Inner World with life forms and rebuilt their society there.

The Inner World has one of three possible origins:

  • An extra-dimensional space 
  • A planet-sized Dyson sphere
  • The hollowed-out interior of a planetary body in the Solar system
There they continued to exist for millions of years, only occasionally visiting the Outer World in their flying disks. 

There are locations on Earth that serve as extra-dimensional one-way portals to the Inner World. Some portals are semi-permanent, others are fleeting. Some, such as the Bermuda Triangle, are famous. Others are located at the bottom of caves, in the deep jungle, or on the ocean floor.

Also, the Inner World is also the source for dinosaur kaiju like Godzilla, Gamera, Rodan, Barugon, and others. Expect to see more of them.