Mountain Sanctuary (Dark Sun) | New 3rd-Level Adventure for Fifth Edition (Saturday Crew Spoilers)

The adventure Mountain Sanctuary appeared in issue #8 of Dungeon Magazine. Originally designed for 1st Edition AD&D, I’ve since updated it for Fifth Edition and placed it in my current Dark Sun campaign setting.

Many of the monsters listed here originally appeared in the 1st edition fiend folio. I’ve since updated the creatures for Fifth Edition in the supplementary article, Tiny Terrors.

Adventure Background

The information that follows may be discovered from a variety of sources such as divination spells, rumors, legends, and research.

Arham, a powerful and infamous preserver illusionist, is best known for exploits in the northern Tablelands (with a little in the Hinterlands), but his origins are to be found to the south by the Altaruk Mountains. His parents were of vastly different heritages–his mother was the daughter of a nomadic desert elf chieftain, his father a rugged trapper from the mountains. their paths crossed during the frequent conflicts between city-states in the Tablelands.

They relocated in Altaruk, the prosperous trade town connecting the two halves of the Tablelands. Arham was born and raised there, with all of the experiences and problems attendant on freeman life in a city slum. Prejudice against his half-elf ancestry, clear evidence of which was in his eyes and ever-so-slightly pointed ears contributed to an overwhelmingly negative environment. Arham grew up to be vicious, distrustful of others, and always seeking power and control.

One old man, however, took pity on the young pariah. The man also saw potential in the lad – an aptitude for the arcane. Arham’s schooling in the arts of illusion began at this point. The young man quickly absorbed what he was taught and made good use of it. He allied himself with a band of rough, young thieves, using his illusions to distract victims while his companions relieved them of their valuables.

Adventuring provided an additional occupation. The nearby mountains held many opportunities, and there he found his father’s legacy of mountain wisdom most valuable. While others used their resources to spearhead civilization’s drive into the wilderness, Arham found it more profitable to join with the indigenous races. He knew several humanoid languages and learned more as he led the counterattack on human settlements. As a result, he gained the staunch support of the humanoids, plus considerable wealth. With these assets, he was able to construct a collection of refugees throughout the wilderness.

The antipathy of his fellow humans was another acquisition. He returned to Altaruk from time to time, often associating with his former compatriots of the light-fingered variety. On one such occasion, he had the misfortune of being caught. The actual offense was minor, but (quite accurate) rumors linked Arham to the raids on homesteads near Altaruk. Because the rumors could not be substantiated, Arham received a relatively light sentence: to be forever exiled from Atlaruk and any lands within 5 miles of the trade town.

His wilderness sanctuaries proved quite useful at this point. After continuing his activities with the humanoids for some time, Arham moved on to new urban activities in the north, associating himself with the Black Sand Raiders. He continued his policy of establishing good personal relations with humanoid groups and establishing sanctuaries in the wilderness. From that point, Arham’s story becomes part of another tale.

This adventure concerns one of Arham’s earlier dens, a mountain sanctuary that he constructed with the help of sligs. After moving north, Arham had little use for this hideout. Groups of snyads and pesties discovered the sanctuary and made it into their own residence. Other small creatures now live there as well. Apart from these diminutive denizens — and a brie visit by Arham’s son, Grakhirt – the sanctuary has been untouched for the past five decades or so.

Adventure Hooks

There are at least two ways to utilize this short adventure. First, the discovery of a treasure map is a great way of bringing characters to the sanctuary. Second, this might simply be used as an encounter to live up an otherwise drab journey across a mountain range. Inventive GMs are certain to dream up other ways of using the Mountain Sanctuary in their campaigns.


The Sanctuary

Read or paraphrase the following to the players:

[su_note note_color=”#ffffff”]

Traveling a path along a steep mountainside, you find the area ahead obstructed by rubble. Evidently, there has been a rockslide of large proportions, since much more rubble as well as larger rocks and boulders, law below the path. With your route blocked, you find yourselves obliged to remove the debris. to your surprise, the excavation reveals a passage entering the mountain.


A dwarf or any other character familiar with stone and construction will notice that the passage did not occur naturally. Also, the passage’s entrance was once concealed. The camouflaged portal was destroyed by the heavier boulders that accompanied the rubble in the rockslides down the mountain’s face.

[su_note note_color=”#fafafa”]

Wandering Monsters

Wandering monsters may be found in the dungeon complex. Every 10 minutes that the characters are in the complex, roll a d20. On a roll of 18 or higher an encounter occurs. Roll a 1d6 and consult the Wandering Monsters table

Wandering Monsters

d6 Encounter
1 1d2 cave crickets
2 2d6 giant centipedes
3 1d4 mites
4 1d6 giant rats
5 1d20 swarms of rats
6 1d2 snyads

The Offensive

The residents of the sanctuary will prepare and execute an offensive to drive off the intruders. The monsters will begin to plan their strike as soon as they are alerted ot the party’s presence. The monsters are fairly brave in defending their homes but are far from suicidal. The offensive is likely to become a major melee, but as the monsters sustain casualties there will be an abundance of deserters. They can be expected to regroup, however, and ambush the party from time to time with guerilla-like tactics. The idea is to keep the characters paranoid; they won’t know how many of the creatures are left, and the little buggers will pop out of a secret passage and attack whenever a character lets down his or her guard.

Dungeon Encounter Key

1 – Mountainside Passage

he first portion of the passageway is crudely hewn from the mountainside. Small piles of loose stones are scattered about. The quality of craftsmanship improves as one travels further into the sanctuary.

2 – Small Entrances

These little tunnels (2 1/2′ high, 1 1/2′ wide) are concealed behind piles of loose stones. Because there are similar piles all along the passage, these will not seem unusual to the characters. Unless the characters are actively searching the corridor, the tunnels are noticed by any characters with a passive Perception of 16 or better.

3 – Workshop

Arham used this workshop for making and repairing things. Most of the room’s items are neatly placed in the southwest corner. A workbench stands there with two sawhorses beside it. Also on the wall is a hooded lantern made of bone and glass. It is not lit and is empty of fuel. Assorted carpentry tools lie on the workbench and hang on the walls. Sawdust and small scraps of wood litter the floor. In the northeastern corner of the room is a large, sturdy, stone chest.

Trap. The chest is locked and trapped; the trigger mechanism is a small lever set in the floor beneath the chest. If the chest is moved or violently disturbed, a ceiling block slides open to dump a small vat of acid in front of the chest. Any creature standing in the square must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw, taking 10 (4d4) acid damage on a failed saving throw, of half as much on a success. Creatures standing within 5 feet of the square must also make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw, or take 5 (2d4) acid damage on a failed saving throw, or no damage on a success.

Detecting the trap requires a successful DC 10 Intelligence (Investigation) check. If a character succeeds this check by 5 or more, they can figure out how to disarm it, too, requiring no roll to do so. A successful DC 13 Dexterity check using proficiency in thieves’ tools unlocks the chest.

Treasure. The chest is not very full, and what is there consists of bottle, vials, and flasks. There are two glass vials of murky water, one of holy water, and four vials of acid. All seven vials appear identical.

A small green bottle contains an ingestive poison, a watery green liquid smelling of pine needles. A creature that imbibes the poison must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 1 minute. A creature that fails its saving throw by 5 or more falls unconscious for 1 hour or until the poison is cured.

Another flask holds a what used to be a strong glue, but has since bonded with its container and is no useless. There are also three potions of diminution inside the chest. The potions are incredibly valuable in the open market if the characters can determine their origin.

4 – Dining Room

In the center of this room is an oak table surrounded by four chairs. Arham dined here and occasionally entertained humanoid leaders whom he sought to influence. There is nothing of significance in this room. A mildewy curtain of blue cloth divides this area from the adjacent kitchen.

5 – Kitchen

In the kitchen’s northwest corner is a fountain of briskly running water. The water comes from an underground stream that surfaces farther down the mountainside. A stone projection from the wall, carved into the shape of a horse’s head, delivers the water from its mouth. The liquid then falls into a stone basin, also hewn from the rock. A stone grill covers the 3″ wide drain. The grill can be removed, revealing a steel knife wedged between the sides of the drain. Any characters attempting to dislodge or retrieve the knife must make a successful DC 12 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check or the knife will slip from his or her grasp and be carried down into the stream – lost for all practical purposes.

The table by the curtain was for food preparation. Wooden ladles, bone knives, and an obsidian meat cleaver are on it, as well as sever small jars of decaying herbs and spices.

A fire pit, over which is a stone cauldron of foul-smelling water, is in the southwest corner. A smoke vent is in the ceiling above the pit. This was a crucial part of the ventilation system; hot air and smoke would rise to the surface through this vent, and fresh air would be drawn down through the vent in the bedroom (area 8). Ashes and cinders lie beneath the cauldron. Within them can be found 3 pp, 8 ep, and a platinum earring set with peridot (worth 25 gp total; its mate is in the giant rats’ nest, area 10). Beneath the ashes is a loose stone that functions as a trap door;  it leads to the mites’ lair (area 13).

6 – Lavatory

The fixtures in this room are a toilet (in the southwest corner) and a bathtub (along the north wall). The toilet empties into the underground stream past the point from which the water flows into the kitchen (room 5), as does the bathtub’s drain. Water for the tub was taken from the spring in the kitchen and was heated over the fire pit. Lying on the floor beside the tub is a pile of rotting, moldy towels and washcloths. Concealed behind the tub is a small tunnel entrance. There is nothing of value in the room.

7 – Storage

This room was used primarily for the storage of foodstuffs, although some timber (for use in the workshop) is also to be found. Most of the food has been taken away and eaten by the snyads, mites, rats, and the room’s current residents. What remains is fairly decayed and entirely unfit for consumption.

Nothing of value to the adventurers is to be found here.

Encounter. Living in the room, having made their nests in the sacks of rotting grain piled by the north wall, are six spectramice. Anyone looking around the room will observe an albino mouse or two coming out to see the visitors and squeak at them. The mice are hostile only if they are attacked or if their homes are disturbed (for example, if the characters begin to prod with weapons or search through the grain sacks).

In such a situation, the mice attempt to create a phantasmal killer against the first person to disturb them and follow with other illusions (or biting) as appropriate. In designing illusions, the GM should keep in mind the experiences that these mice would have had. For example, they would not create a dragon because they have never seen one. On the other hand, illusions of such monsters as mites, giant rats, giant centipedes, and cave crickets would be quite logical and appropriate.

8 – Bedroom

The door to this room is open. Cobwebs cover most of the chamber. Along the southern wall is a bed in poor condition, having a large amount of mold (not of the monstrous type) on its covers and assorted boring insects infesting its wood.

Three things are under the bed: a trapdoor leading to the mites’ den (area 13) and two giant wolf spiders. The huge spiders are patiently waiting for their dinner — presumed to be the next mite that ventures out of the trapdoor. When the adventurers enter the room, however, the spiders will instead attempt to make them their next victims.

Treasure. Several other items and features of interest to the party can be discovered if the cobwebs are cleared away. In the northwest corner of the room is a small, circular table with a brass lamp sitting upon it. The lamp is bejeweled with five blue gems (azurite, blue quartz, a jasper, a spinel, and turquoise) and is worth 60 gp. Lying on the floor by the table is a rusty dagger with runes inscribed upon the blade, reading “Arham” in the common tongue. The dagger is nonmagical. Hanging on the north wall is a tapestry depicting Arham on the trail outside, viewing the mountains. The tapestry is enchanted to make the image of Arham appear in three dimensions; it quite literally stands out from the rest of the picture. The tapestry is worth 70 gp. It is 6′ high, 10′ long, and weighs 55 lbs.

Secret Door. Concealed behind the tapestry is an entrance to the tunnels inhabited by snyads and giant rats (see areas 10-12). A small air vent leading to the surface is located in the ceiling in the room’s northeast corner. Nearby, on the east wall, is a secret door leading to Arham’s study. Finding the secret door requires a DC 16 Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) check.

9. Secret Study

Located 10 feet down the secret passage from the bedroom, this chamber was Arham’s study. The north and east walls are covered with bookshelves that reach to the ceiling. Most of the shelves are barren and dusty. A few scattered titles, however, were left when the illusionist moved on: a treatise on weather patterns of the sea of silt, a manual detailing the construction of silt ships, an astronomy handbook of constellations, several volumes on humanoid anatomy and physiology (belgoi, slig, gith), and four more texts on whatever topics the GM can dream up. Each book is worth 2 gp to a collector.

In the northern part of the room is a cushioned chair that, despite its age and thick covering of dust, is in quite good condition. A small wooden table holding a bejeweled goblet and a blank parchment scroll is in front of the chair. The goblet, set with six banded agates, is worth 8 gp. Against the south wall is Arham’s mahogany desk. An oil lamp is on top of it, along with several feather pens, an inkwell, and five sheets of blank parchment. The desk has four drawers: one contains more blank parchment (37 sheets) and three empty ivory scroll tubes, another holds bottles of colored inks (black, white, red, blue, and yellow), the third is empty, and the last drawer holds a large book. This is Arham’s third-level spellbook. It contains the following wizard spells: alarm, color spray, disguise self, illusory image, invisibility, magic mouth, major image, mirror image, phantom steed, silence, silent image, and sleep.

10 – Giant Rat Nest

This chamber is the lair of the sanctuary’s giant rats. 1d8 of the rodents can be found here when the PCs arrive.

Treasure. An assortment of shiny objects collected by the rats is gathered here. Most items are worthless (broken glass, for example), but the valuable things are 9 gp, 8 sp, 40 cp, three gems worth 4 gp each (a carnelian, a citrine, and a zircon), and a single platinum earring set with a small peridot (worth 25 gp total; its mate is in the kitchen, area 5).

11 – Snyad Den

1d6 + 1 snyads can be found here Even if confronted in their lair, the pesties will flee rather than fight, escaping outside to the mountains if it proves necessary and possible. The GM may allow a biting attack (for 1 piercing damage) for snyads who are cornered by PCs.

Treasure. Each snyad carries 3-24 cp. Any item stolen from the characters by snyads will be found here 90% of the time; otherwise, the item in question was in the possession of a pestie who fled the sanctuary.

12 – Tiny Trap

This is a simple covered pit trap, of a size appropriate to the creatures who roam the small passages. The bones of the little beings (snyads, a couple of mites, and some rats) litter the floor of the 3′-wide, 5′-deep pit. Also in the trap, alive, is an osquip The osquip is engaged in burrowing its way out, but it will quickly stop to attack anyone who drops in. It arrived here recently, after taking the wrong passage in its search for a repast of rat or pestie.

Treasure. Among the bones and litter are 1 gp, 22 sp, 14 cp, and a small aquamarine (worth 21 gp).

13 – Mite Den

The mites, renowned for their use of traps and snares, naturally have their lair protected by such devices.

East Entrance. This is a manually operated trap; it is set off by the cutting of a cord inside the lair. One end of this cord is fastened to the floor, and the other goes into the ceiling where it holds up a heavy, obsidian blade. Cutting the cord allows the blade to fall and, in doing so, cut several wires which suspend a heavy stone block over the passageway from the east. Each person in the passageway must succeed on a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw. If successful, the character jumps out of the way. Otherwise, a character takes 10 (3d6) bludgeoning damage from the stone and is pinned. A pinned character is restrained and prone. Another character can use their action to lift the stone enough with a successful DC 19 Strength check. A pinned character takes 1d4 bludgeoning damage at the start of his or her turn each round they are trapped.

Be certain to note whether the player desires his character to jump forward or back, as the store will completely block the corridor and may separate characters who jump in opposite directions.

Although the trap helps the mites by Wandering Monsters blocking the party’s progress and perhaps by wounding or killing a PC, it also eliminates one of their escape routes. Therefore, after triggering the trap, the mites abandon their lair. If it seems that the party remains strong, the mites exit their tunnels by way of the trap door in the fire pit of the kitchen (room 5) and flee the sanctuary. If they are led to believe that they still have a reasonable chance of defeating the characters, they will engage in melee in the tunnels.

West Entrance. A strong silk filament is stretched across the west entrance. Noticing the filament requires a passive Perception score of 15 or better. If tripped, a small poisoned dart flies out of the wall on either side of the passage. Have both darts make an attack roll with +5 to hit. On a hit, the target takes 1d4 piercing damage and must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned, the target acts as if under the effects of a slow spell (although the poison itself is not magical).

Treasure. The mites’ treasure hoard is also to be found here, kept in small sacks. It consists of 189 cp, 24 sp, 1 gp, and a gold-plated silver brooch set with five amber stones, worth 5 gp.

Credits: The original adventure was written by John Nephew. The artwork was by C. Bradford Gorby with cartography by Diesel. Dave Hamrick did the 5e conversion.

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