I've been in this hobby a long time & still turn to the older classics including B4 The Lost City which was written by Tom Moldvay and illustrated by Jim Holloway. Parts of this module are literally a blank canvas for the dungeon master to write up their own dungeons & adventure locations. I'm fine with that aspect of the module which was originally designed with novice dungeon masters in mind. I'm fine with this as a design conceit for B4 as an adventure. When I was a boy reading Edgar Rice Burroughs & H. Rider Haggard I always pulled out B4. Pouring through Pulp resources one reaches a point where the reader crosses the gauntlet from adventure magazine fare into literature.
But last night I was talking with friends about Tom Moldvay's The Lost City & one of the lesser known H. Rider Haggard novels Ayesha, the Return of She. The novel picks up right after the events of Africa chronicled in She.
The second novel Ayesha, the Return of She has everything to do with B4 & also a classic original Dungeons & Dragons monster that is seldom used today. So let's get some of the details out of the way;
"Ayesha, the Return of She is a gothic-fantasy novel by English Victorian author H. Rider Haggard, published in 1905, as a sequel to She. It was serialised in the Windsor Magazine issues 120 (December 1904) to 130 (October 1905), illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen.
It was published by Newcastle Publishing Company as the fourteenth volume of the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library series in October 1977."Let's press on into the heart of the novel's plot via the abridged wiki entry;
"In the book's prologue, the book's anonymous "Editor" receives a parcel. Opening it, he finds a letter from Horace Holly, with an enclosed manuscript containing a second memoir about She. There is also a second letter, from Holly's doctor, to whom Holly has entrusted his letter and manuscript, along with a wooden box, which contains an ancient sistrum. The doctor recounts how, when attending Holly in his last hours, he arrived at the house to find that Holly had risen from his deathbed and made his way to a local ring of ancient standing stones. Following him, the doctor glimpsed a manifestation that appears to Holly, but as the vision vanished, Holly had let out a happy cry and died.
When the narrative of Holly's manuscript begins, nearly twenty years have passed since their first adventure in Africa, but he and his ward Leo Vincey are convinced that Ayesha did not die. Following their dreams, they wander for years through Asia, eventually coming to "Thibet" (as it is spelled in the book). Taking refuge over winter in a remote lamasery, they meet the old Abbot Kou-En, who claims to recall a past-life encounter with a witch queen from the time of Alexander the Great. The Abbot tries to dissuade them from going on and warns them that, however beautiful, nothing is immortal, even if the Queen was born centuries ago in Ancient Egypt or remembers it from a past life. He believes the Queen is holding on to the distractions of life, which will lead them away from Enlightenment and peace, whether she is a demon, a fallen angel, or only a dream.
Despite the Abbot's warning, Leo is compelled to press on and Holly will not abandon his adopted son. When spring breaks, they travel out into the uncharted region beyond the monastery; after a perilous journey and many narrow escapes, they arrive in the city of Kaloon, which is ruled by the evil Khan Rassen and his imperious wife, the Khania Atene, who claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great's ancient Hellenist generals. The people of Kaloon live under an uneasy truce with the people who serve the Hesea, the Priestess of Hes, who dwells on the Mountain, a huge volcano that dominates the region, at the summit of which is a massive natural rock formation in the shape of an ankh. Atene declares her love for Leo, but the jealous and dissolute Rassen (who has been driven mad by the sorcery of Atene and her uncle, the wizard Simbri) wants to kill them."
Strange lamaseries, weird abbots, ancient prophecies, & terrible wizards as well as lost cities?! Yes we're in deep Appendix N drenched waters here. But it gets better when the city of Kaloon takes center stage & we're moved to the next lost fragment of a long forgotten empire;
"Atene's rival, the mysterious Hesea, orders Atene to send Leo and Holly to her, or risk breaking their peace treaty. Atene vows to kill Leo, rather than let him go, but with the help of Rassen, they escape the city. However they soon realise that Rassen has betrayed them and is hunting them with his monstrous Death-Hounds. They make a dash to the foot of the mountain, where they are caught by Rassen, but after a desperate struggle they manage to kill the Khan and his hounds."
Death hounds?! Adventurer reversals, complications, & the unexpected death of one of the minor villains?! Yeah this book was written in 1905 but it could be a typical old school Saturday night play session report.
In accordance with ancient custom, Atene comes to the mountain temple for the funeral of Rassen. The Hesea now declares that she is indeed the reincarnation of Ayesha, and that Atene is the reincarnation of her ancient rival, Amenartas. To the horror of Leo and Holly, Ayesha reveals she has been reborn into the body of a wizened old crone, her beauty gone. Atene challenges Ayesha, but Leo declares his love for Ayesha, regardless of the form in which she appears. With his choice, the mysterious life-force within the volcano reaches out and engulfs her – when it clears, her former beauty and majesty has been restored."
Ayesha is a vessel of a much earlier & very powerful divine power but while its the power of the gods its not benign power. Power corrupts & the power of the Pillar of Life's fire is one that corrupts while granting immortality & ancient forbidden wisdom as seen in She.
But where did the pillar of life come from?! How does this relate to the inner workings of a forbidden knowledge of a world even sorcerers & wizards can barely comprehend.
"While waiting out the winter, Ayesha writes her memories (which are the basis for the fourth book in the series, Wisdom's Daughter). Ayesha shows Holly and Leo how she commands mortals, spirits, and demons. She questions Holly at length about the modern world and expounds to him her plan that, once united with Leo, they will rule the world, conquering the existing Empires by flooding the world's gold supply with her alchemy. Appalled, Holly fears that Ayesha may succeed."
Holly is right to fear & Ayesha is a witch queen straight out of the lost world conventions that H. Rider Haggard created. The power of Ayesha is the power of the gods of Olympus & their creations who came before mankind ever walked upright. The titans have been in original Dungeons & Dragons wood grain box from 1974 - '76. "The titan was introduced in the earliest edition of the game, appearing in the Dungeons & Dragons "white box" set (1974), the Greyhawk supplement (1975), and the Eldritch Wizardry supplement."The power of the Ayesha is the power of the Proto Hellenistic gods that was inherited by the titans. Those perfect beings who were the first beings to walk the Earth before mankind.
"In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy role-playing game, a titan is an enormous, powerful, and godly outsider. Though titans are supposedly of both chaotic good and chaotic evil alignments, the majority of them seem to be good. In appearance, a good titan resembles an enormous (25 feet tall) humanoid, with perfect beauty and strength. They are hardy and muscular, but nonetheless extremely handsome/beautiful. Every aspect of them (teeth, hair, etc.) is also perfect. Based on the Titans of the Greek and Roman pantheons, they dress themselves in traditional Greek garb such as togas and loincloths. They also dress themselves in rare and valuable jewellery to make themselves seem even more overpowering and beautiful." A perfect being with an inferiority complex & divine power a bit beyond a lich?! What could go wrong?! The titans were alien & utterly perfect so the gods banished them from the Earth to allow mankind to flourish. But they were far too valuable a military force to destroy. Their artifacts, relics, weapons, artifacts, & cities are still scattered across the Earth both above, below, & scattered across the planes. Their power was the power of the divine & never meant for the likes of mankind.
Ayesha commits suicide once her own power over takes the very man she loves. Alexander the Great & his generals tried to recreate the empire of the Titans. They almost succeeded but once you cross the forbidden line into the realm of the gods chaotic power things don't go well. And what does all of this have to do with B4 The Lost City?! Well just about everything?! Because scattered in the dungeons & rooms of the The Lost City there are still silent sites of their power. But these are still guarded & we get a good look at one such guardian in the 1963 Ray Harryhausen film Jason & The Argonauts.
Was it the power of the gods & titans that drove the peoples & factions of B4 The Lost City mad?!? PC's are treading in the footsteps of the servants of the gods, their encountering the degenerate remains of their servants when a wandering monster crosses their path. B4 The Lost City has far more to it then at first it seems. There could well be much more in store for players once certain doors & tombs are uncovered.
So does B4 The Lost City have a forgotten temple that contains a flame of the sacred Pillar of Life??! In my own games yes & it has powers similar too the temple of the four elements from Sinbad & the Eye of the Tiger by Ray Harryhausen. But only with the right combination of occult elements will it choose to grant its terrible form of immortality. But tomorrow we'll explore the terrible cost of this of immortality on the blog.