This is an OSR Secret Santa entry for Galactic Nomad, owner of the blog Demogorgonia.
The prompt was: something with dinosaurs: dinosaur mounts, dinosaur races, were-dinosaurs, robot-dinosaur monsters, a triceratops god, etc. Whatever you can come up with that has dinosaurs. Feel free to combine with other tropes.
Without further fanfare, then!
The Rift Unending
Red light wanders along strips of flowstone, sourceless and ambient. Had it a sound, it would be heart beats, pulsing gently. The light evokes comfort and danger, riding the edge just so. The cavern ceiling above you isn’t illuminated so much as suggested, with the red tips of stalactites looking more like dull stars than like jagged cones of limestone.
Squinting, you can make out cave walls at the far edge of your vision. They fall, sheer, to the mist-shrouded jungle far below.
This far beneath the surface of the earth, you wouldn’t expect plant life, much less an entire jungle full of it, but the depths of the earth hide mysteries that sneer at mortal thought. Enormous winged reptiles cut lazily through the mists below, and distant roars suggest terrible monsters veiled from your perception.
This is the Rift Unending, adopted from Dungeon Crawl Classics #91: Journey to the Center of Aereth. The art below is from Doug Kovacs and Peter Mullen, both illustrators for DCC.
FACTIONS OF THE RIFT
- Men of the Three-Horned Face
Triceratops-men. Mute but talk through frill speech – their frill-scales contain chromatophores that pulse in a visual language of colors and patterns. Their vocabulary is vast, easily matching the breadth of Classical Arabic. Despite living primitive lives, they have words for everything, and their color-language is adaptive enough that creating new words when they encounter a new concept is immediately intuitive to them.
- The Ambermind
A sapient flowing mass of sap that petrifies creatures in amber so as to enslave them as amber golems. The Ambermind is effectively a super-organism, and dominates vast stretches of the Rift. Its sap-form tends to hide within nooks and crevices or in the hollows of dead plant matter, while the golems patrol in clear view.
- Ginkgo Dryads
Pacifist and genuinely kind tree spirits who welcome travelers to the Rift – they speak most languages decently as a result of their interest in the world outside the Rift. While the dyrads have a policy of neutrality with respect to faction warfare, they are happy to assist adventurers. They believe, if nothing else, that adventurers bring change to the Rift, and they view change as an engine of good.
- Sky Kings
Sapient alanqa pterosaurs who have taken over the Kem Kem Beds, a trio of vegetation-free plateau in the Rift. The Sky Kings communicate with a bugle-yodel-chirp of a language, obscenely loud. For all their vocalizations, their language is highly primitive with only the most basic vocabulary needed to coordinate hunting and mating. It’s likely that most great apes and simians are more intelligent than the Sky Kings, for all that the Sky Kings have at least a rudimentary language. The Sky Kings are partially magical – their wings still allow them to fly even if punctured due to the wind magic inherent to their blood, which makes them terrifying predators.
- Clubtail Clan
A group of ankylosaurus-men with club tails that they shed every month. Both their tails and their shed tails make great weapons. Almost all of the clubtail clan is enslaved by the Men of the Three-Horned Face or the Ambermind…less than twenty remain free, engaging in guerrilla warfare against the Men of the Three-Horned Face – they speak a guttural language with comparable vocabulary to most humans.
- The Acrid
Mud elementals that have seeped into the jungle from other cave systems, all Acrid are composed of highly sulfuric mud with caustic properties. The Acrid wish to purify themselves of their acidity, thereby becoming closer to Elemental Earth. However, they are comically indecisive philosophers and despite much debate have not yet figured out how to do this. Baking themselves into clay elementals has not occurred to any of them.
RUMORS OF THE RIFT (roll 1d6 if the party speaks to a drow, myconid, etc…)
- The Ambermind is not an existential threat to the Rift. It is actually the ecological manager, killing those who thrive in order to keep the balance. Nobody knows why it keeps this balance, but it is currently supporting the Clubtail Clan.
- Gold golems are murderous. Mud golems are friendly…but remain vigilant: their touch is caustic and dissolves both metal and flesh.
- A beautiful princess, daughter of the Goddess of Nature, was teleported into the Rift so that she might hide from her jealous, less beautiful sisters. This goddess became the first Ginkgo Dryad, and her sap-blood was so divine that when she died, her spirit lived on in her sap-blood, producing the life that permeates the Rift
(GM chooses if this is True or False)
- The Rift is actually a passage to the Abyss, or perhaps to the Nine Hells.
- When the ground tremors, it is a portent of doom; the Rift is cursed to one day cave in, leaving nothing behind.
(False, this is a baobab-bird becoming a baobab somewhere)
- Quicksand pits near the plateaus are prey-traps laid by the Sky Kings.
(False – the pits do exist but the Sky Kings are dumb and get caught in them too and are thus scared of them)
RANDOM ENCOUNTERS (roll d12)
- One player saves or suffers a large amount of got-stepped-on damage. Play this video clip. Explain to your players if necessary that the creature is not in fact a stegosaurus.
- An ankylosaurus-child is singing a song, but is interrupted by a philosoraptor going “yee”. Play this video clip. Players may moan. Whatever they do next, support them within the fiction. They, uh, deserve it.
- 1d6+1 philosoraptors emerge from the foliage discussing the trolley problem, though they replace the trolley with a stampeding sauropod in their pontifications. They will demand a party member (pick someone who hasn’t participated this session) to settle their debate. Regardless of the reply at least 1 philosoraptor will act as if it was very wise.
(STATS: as velociraptor but prone to Socratic Dialogue)
- 1d4 amber-covered wild triceratops approach. All but 1 will fight to the death as amber golems, but the final survivor can be saved.
(STATS: as triceratops but +1 to AC and gains health from electricity)
- The top of a triceratops head is sinking into an amber pit, moaning in terror and flailing uselessly. You decide if it’s a peaceful triceratops-man, a chief slaver among the triceratops-men, or just a wild triceratops.
- A flock of 3d20 baobab-birds fly by, with nd6 of them splitting off to harass the party. n represents the number of party members who don’t react to the flock by hiding.
(STATS: as any bird, but can instantaneously sprout into a baobab underneath a character while other birds attack the now stranded character)
- All players save or become stuck to the ground. Upon close inspection, the “ground” is a well-camouflaged tendril of a giant carnivorous sundew. Each tendril extends nearly a quarter of a mile, and they begin to curl inward to digest the caught players.
(STATS: as iron chain, but anything that hits it sticks and cannot be used after that single hit. Hopefully your players have enough things to hit it to break the tendril.)
- A Tyrannosaurus Rex emerges from the foliage. Its flanks are battered from obvious club wounds, and the trail of destruction it left in the jungle will lead players back to the guerilla camp of free ankylosaurus-men.
- 1d6+2 velociraptors emerge from the foliage and attack immediately. They coordinate as a pack to take out anyone already injured, and attempt to drag that target away so they can take chunks out of them (even a few bites will do). Otherwise, they will prefer to stalk or flee rather than fight.
- A flock of archaeopteryx fly by, but note which players have shiny items. For each shiny item, 1d4 archaeopteryx will veer away from the flock to steal it, or, failing that, maim the player in question for daring to keep it from them.
- Try to get the players into a tree. You can say there’s delicious-looking fruit growing there, you can say a magic item is lodged up there, whatever. Then, when a player climbs a tree, have a large sauropod lift them out of the tree, confused that they are not delicious foliage. This encounter is entirely peaceful and not meant to hurt anybody. Convey that the sauropod is a gentle giant by whatever means you have at your disposal.
- Affronted by intruders, a group of 1d8 Sky Kings flies out of the mist to grab the players. The Sky Kings plan to fly out of the mists to drop the players off at the cave mouth where they came from if they don’t struggle, but will drop them to their deaths if they do. If players fight off the Sky Kings, they will begin to crudely plot against the players.
Special. Whenever you roll an encounter you already rolled before, use this instead: an underground magma tube ruptures and lava streams out from a vent near the players, killing all flora and fauna as it bursts out. Roll percentile dice to see what percent of the Rift will be wiped out by this lava before it hardens to stone. Each time this result happens, keep track of the cumulative percentage of the Rift destroyed.
A Bit of Background
The Rift is called unending because the inhabitants believe the world ends if they leave from it. This is actually somewhat reasonable from their perspective. They are so adapted to the environment (both ecologically and magically) that leaving would likely result in death by starvation or magical dissonance.
PLOT HOOKS (roll d4)
- The Men of the Three-Horned Face believe that the Ambermind is an existential threat to the Rift, and have developed a spell to forcibly harden the sap into unloving, non-magical amber. They hope to use it to destroy the Ambermind, but their race is not magically potent and cannot cast the spell they have invented. They seek your help.
- The cavern races (drow, myconids, etc…) seek dinosaur bones and teeth to make jewelry for their royal family. This jewelry is for some grand event – a wedding, a journey to the surface, some other such nonsense. You are one of the adventurers hired to harvest materials.
- An amber golem leaves the Rift long enough to scrawl a mysterious message on the wall asking for players to rescue the Amber Empress, the First Dryad, the Sap Princess. It then crumbles before their eyes. Whether this is sincere or a ploy is your choice as GM.
- Just buy DCC Issue 91 and drop the Rift Unending into that module – in the module, the Rift is just something you have to cross – your goal isn’t in the Rift, but rather to get across to the other side by catching a (non-sapient) pterosaur. But this gives you some additional detail should players fall into the jungle.
- Any amber that you manage to get off of the Ambermind will be useful for crafting. You can make brooches that help ward you against charm/fear/possession effects, or you can make a ring that augments your own charm/domination spells when you cast them with said ring. It will take some sort of overworld artificer to make such artifacts, though. You won’t be able to do it any time soon.
- There are shamans among the Men of the Three-Horned Face, and among their many accoutrements (largely for show) are bone chalices. If one fills the chalice to the brim with blood and imbibes it, the drinker gains the ability to transform into a were-triceratops. One wonders if these rituals were how the Men of the Three-Horned Face first came to be…
- The Acrid corrode any material that players give to them, but if the players withdraw an item before it fully disintegrates, their newly corroded weapon or armor has an additional property – it marks them as a friend to all earth elementals, who will recognize the corrosion as a mark of their Acrid brethren.
- Enterprising players may seek to create gliders out of the wing membranes of the Sky Kings. If you wish to punish them for their cruel thinking, you may have these membranes be magical in nature, so that when artificial wings are made of them, they always plunge the user into a dive, causing them to fall even faster than normal. If your campaign is the sort where such creative butchering is encouraged, however, reward your players – say that the membranes are magical in nature, so that artificial wings grant flight, not merely gliding.
Devil’s In the Details
FOOD OF THE RIFT
None of the factions in the Rift use fire to cook their food, though they may know of it from past adventurers. Everyone except for the Sky Kings is vegetarian anyway. Thus, cooking isn’t really a thing, as much as arrangement is. Salads of fruit, bark, cycad leaves, farmed mushrooms, and the like make up the meals of most Rift inhabitants, and freshly killed whatever-the-fuck makes up the meals of the Sky Kings.
Note that if players consume a salad with bark inside, they should take damage. Eating bark is not fun, even if the bark is artfully arranged so as to not look like bark.
ART OF THE RIFT
Oral traditions are the primary records of the Rift inhabitants, and as a result oration and poetry are the primary forms of art. If you wish to have the inhabitants drum on the floor and on trees as this oration happens, you may, but be aware that players may see this as a “rap battle” and you may lose any intended gravitas.
The poetry of the Men of the Three-Horned Face looks like their faces are strobing so most adventurers won’t appreciate it. But theirs is the most delicate art of all. After all, they have ankylosaurus-slaves to do a lot of their labor – they’ve got the most time to spend on poetry.
BELIEFS OF THE RIFT
You may notice I’ve proposed some belief systems above. The philosoraptors seem concerned with ethics despite not otherwise really having a society, the Men of the Three-Horned Face believe in supremacy enough to enslave the Ankylosaurs, the Ambermind is very much into some sort of aggressive ecosystem balancing act, the Ginkgo Dryads are Switzerland, and the Acrid are something like comic relief because the moment a player bakes them in a primitive oven they will be endlessly grateful.
These are hard to take seriously, so don’t. Change what doesn’t work for you and keep what works for you.
2 thoughts on “Secret Santicorn: The Rift Unending”
This is excellent.
Dripping with flavor. Thanks for writing this up!