Excerpts 08/03/2005


Explorer's Handbook Excerpt
By David Noonan, Rich Burlew, Frank Brunner



The Explorer's Handbook showcases the multi-continental aspect of the Eberron setting. The chapter on travel discusses instantaneous and played-out travel and provides deck plans for airships, the lightning rail, and galleons, plus other methods of conveyance. A chapter on Explorer's Essentials offers information on travel papers, preassembled equipment kits, how to join the Wayfarers' Foundation, and more. This handbook will encourage you to explore the entire world rather than remain fixed in one region. The excerpts below include information about the book itself, travel, the airship, the windwright captain prestige class, and the Khyber dragonshard cavern.

Khyber Dragonshard Cavern

Beneath the surface of Eberron lies Khyber, a subterranean realm of evil and madness. Few right-minded people would venture into this horrible land of aberrations and fiends were it not for the tantalizing promise of Khyber dragonshards. These crystals are perhaps the only good ever to come out of Khyber, and more than a few adventurers have been lured to their doom in search of them. The demand for Khyber shards is at an all-time high, needed as they are for the construction of the increasingly popular elemental vessels -- as is the body count of those who have tried and failed to retrieve them.

A sample dragonshard cavern (a chamber in which the crystals grow naturally) is presented here. This particular cavern is the lair of a beholder who calls himself Xaejil, and who uses the dragonshards as bait to bring prey to his doorstep.

Lands: Khyber dragonshards occur throughout the underground realm, often growing in and around natural flows of underground magma. Even ordinary caves can unexpectedly begin to grow dragonshard crystals, though, so careful prospectors literally leave no stone unturned. The presence of dragonshard caverns is usually known to the creatures that live nearby, though few are willing to share that information. Most would rather hoard the shards themselves -- or at the very least deny them to those from the lands above.

The dragonshard cavern presented here is not that deep into Khyber (a day or two beneath the surface at most), and lies within a week's travel of a fairly large city such as Sharn or Korth.

Getting There: Finding a dragonshard cavern usually requires luck or foreknowledge on the part of the prospector. No amount of experience can accurately predict where one might be found, though searching for sources of geothermal heat is often a good start. House Tharashk finders often rely on harvesting shards from existing caverns (since they do eventually grow anew, like any other crystal) or extracting the location of previously unknown deposits from the creatures of Khyber. Many of the house's more violent half-orcs prefer the latter method.

Knowledge of this particular cavern can be gained fairly easily. Whenever Xaejil destroys a band of adventurers, he chooses one of them to enchant with his charm monster eye ray rather than kill outright. He gives this lone survivor one of his Khyber dragonshards and sends him or her back to the nearby city to spread word of a rich vein of Khyber shards nearby. The charmed adventurer spreads his tale, including specific directions, until the effect's fourteen-day duration runs out. By the time the survivor comes to his senses, chances are one or more new groups of explorers will have already left in search of the cavern.

Appearance: Dragonshard caverns have no standard appearance except for the eerie beauty of the shards themselves, jutting from the walls in multifaceted splendor. Dragonshard deposits might range from two or three shards clustered in a corner to caverns filled with literally thousands of the gleaming crystals. Xaejil's cavern is filled with dozens of shards, many of them small. A river of magma flows through the area, seemingly feeding the crystals as they grow.

FEATURES OF THE DRAGONSHARD CAVERN

The cavern claimed by the beholder Xaejil is essentially an elaborate trap, designed to lure adventurers to their deaths. While the dragonshard prizes are real enough, the level of danger in acquiring them will likely be a surprise.

1. Choker Lookouts: Approaching Xaejil's cavern means passing this unobtrusive niche where two chokers (Monster Manual page 34) hide. Both are loyal to Xaejil, and avoid attacking any intelligent creatures that enter the tunnel. Once any group of significant size has passed, one darts into a small hidden tunnel (Search DC 20 if specifically looked for) and runs to warn the beholder. If the chokers are spotted instead, they call out to warn their master and attempt to flee.

2. Statue Cavern: This entry cavern is filled with statues -- creatures that Xaejil has turned to stone in the past. The frozen figures of adventurers and other Khyber inhabitants can be seen, all arranged to the beholder's aesthetic taste. While this cavern is much like a trophy room, it serves another purpose.

Xaejil knows that medusas are common in Khyber, and he hopes that he can convince adventurers that they should close their eyes or use a mirror to proceed -- neither of which will be of any use against the beholder's eye rays.

Most of the statues in the cavern tell the same tale if restored to life: they were lured with stories about the cavern's trove of Khyber shards. Several might even insist on a portion of the dragonshard bounty should Xaejil be defeated. The orange glow of the magma river in the dragonshard cavern can be seen in this room, illuminating it fully.

3. Dragonshard Cavern: This massive cavern is the source of the dragonshards that power Xaejil's rumors. The growing crystals brightly reflect the red-orange light of the river of magma that flows through most of the cavern. A natural stone formation that forms a bridge to the crystal deposits is only 5 feet wide (Xaejil actually narrowed it using his disintegrate eye ray), forcing most creatures to cross single file. The magma deals 20d6 points of fire damage every round to anyone who falls in, plus 1d6 points of fire damage per round for 1d3 rounds after exposure ceases.

The Khyber dragonshard crystals grow exclusively on the wall farthest from the entrance; Xaejil regularly prunes any that grow too close to the tunnel. Mining a small dragonshard is not difficult -- a DC 20 Profession (miner) check can extract one undamaged in 1 hour. Any magic that manipulates the stone around a shard, such as stone shape, can also be used to extract one. Extracting a greater shard takes 8 hours and a DC 25 Profession (miner) check. Failing either check by 10 or more ruins the shard.

Khyber Dragonshard (small): Length 6 in.; Thickness 2 in.; hardness 10; hp 30; Market Price 750 gp (average).

Khyber Dragonshard (greater): Length 12 in.; Thickness 6 in.; hardness 10; hp 90; Market Price 5,000 gp (average).

At any given time, characters can find 1d6+4 small dragonshards and 1d6-4 greater shards (of the type suitable for creating an elemental vessel; see page 27). It takes about a year for a small dragonshard to grow into a greater one. Most crystals are harvested before they ever grow to that size, and so the greater crystals remain rare.

A series of stalactites obscures a 10-foot-diameter ceiling tunnel (Spot DC 27 to notice). It is in this tunnel that Xaejil hides if he has received warning of intruders from the chokers (or if he has heard them for himself). He expects adventurers to eventually cross the room, either using the stone bridge or by flying. If possible, he waits until at least one adventurer is halfway across the bridge so that he can take advantage of a separated party.

He will sometimes use his charm monster eye ray from hiding, knowing that it causes no effects visible to his target's allies. He actually prefers it if his prey scatters across the room, because it allows him to bring more of his eyes into play. Once he feels he has the advantage, he will strike, using as many of his eye rays as possible. He will use the antimagic cone of his central eye on any character using a fly spell or other magical means to cross the magma river, sending targets plummeting to a fiery doom.

4. Lair: At the end of the tunnel in the cavern's ceiling lies Xaejil's true lair, where his treasure lies. Among the items, there might be messages from his daelkyr masters. He largely ignores their directives, though, and probably knows nothing about their current schemes.

XAEJIL, BEHOLDER CR 13
LE Large aberration
Init +6; Senses all-around vision, darkvision 60 ft., Listen 18+, Spot +22
Languages Beholder, Common, Dwarven, Elven, Gnome
AC 26, touch 11, fl at-footed 24 hp 93 (11 HD)
Fort +9, Ref +5, Will +11
Speed 5 ft. (1 square); fly 20 ft. (good)
Ranged eye rays +9 touch and
Melee bite +2 (2d4)
Space 10 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Base Atk +8; Grp +12
Atk Options Flyby Attack
Special Actions eye rays (CL 13th; charm monster, charm person, disintegrate, fear, finger of death, flesh to stone, inflict moderate wounds, sleep, slow, telekinesis), antimagic cone
Abilities Str 10, Dex 14, Con 18, Int 17, Wis 15, Cha 15
Feats Alertness[B], Flyby Attack, Great Fortitude, Improved Initiative, Iron Will
Skills Hide +12, Knowledge (arcana) +17, Search +21, Survival +2 (+4 following tracks)

ADVENTURE IDEAS

-- The PCs hear of a nearby cave laden with Khyber dragonshards and decide to investigate. Once there, they discover that the gnome who told them of the cavern was actually a doppelganger, who waits there for them along with the rest of its group (5 dopplegangers, EL 8)

-- An adventurer who was lured in by Xaejil is looking for help to destroy the beast. Her husband (a fellow adventurer) was turned to stone by the aberration. She knows if she defeats the beholder, he can be saved.

WAYFINDER FOUNDATION TRAVEL TIP

HOW TO SURVIVE A VOLCANIC ERUPTION

The increase in demand for shards from the Dragon Below has resulted in more and more Wayfinder members daring the reaches of Khyber on prospecting missions. Since these shards are often found in and around volcanoes and other natural magma flows, we present this guide to not being burned to a cinder.

  • Mind the ashes first. While the glowing underground river of magma flowing toward you is certainly alarming, keep in mind that you will be dead before it arrives if you do not protect yourself from the massive clouds of ash produced in an eruption. While it would be best to have a breath mask of some kind, even just putting a damp scarf over your mouth can increase your survival time.

    If you are in a group that contains a warforged, homunculus, or other nonbreathing creature, rely on them to lead you away from the worst of the ash.

  • Avoid the magma at all costs. Do NOT rely on standard magical protections against heat or fire. Molten rock can easily overwhelm all but the most powerful protection spells. More than one explorer has thought himself proofed against the magma's intense heat, only to find his abjurations expired within seconds and his body consumed by fire shortly thereafter.

  • If you are on the mountain itself, move quickly but carefully down and off it. The side of an erupting volcano is highly unstable and prone to rockslides, in addition to the dangers of aboveground lava flows catching up with you. If you have access to flying magic, now is the time to use it.

  • Once away from the volcano, find the highest ground you can. Lava will flow to the lowest point, although keep in mind that flows of over 60 feet in height have been recorded. It is much better to find a safe place to wait out the worst of the eruption (which can take days) than to risk flying through the ash-filled skies and over molten ground. Be careful if you use an extradimensional space to hide from the lava flow; the duration of the spell might not be sufficient, dumping you into the lava when it expires.

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