Welcome to the fourth of the Lethal Lairs finalists, which are presented in no particular order. Our esteemed judges have enjoyed going through each of the entries for this contest, and now you can read each of the five they chose as finalists! After we present all five — unedited — you’ll have a chance to vote for your favorite. Thanks go to both our entrants and our judges for their work! And now, finalist Zac Corbin presents you with “The Red Cliff of Akhal” — enjoy!
These bandits raid caravans travelling the trade routes near the Red Cliff of Akhal, a lone tower of russet-colored rock rising hundreds of feet above a vast salt flat. The raiders are led by a pair of orphaned twins, Najib and Zobeida, whose tribe was put to the sword 8 years ago by the Claws of Bastet. The twins were in the wastes participating in The Trial of Jadara when the priests came and slaughtered the Abn Awaa Tribe. After the massacre, they survivrd in the desert wastes, all the while nursing a burning hatred for the people of Bastet.
Najib and Zobeida, now 15, have gathered a motley group of followers and continue in the traditions of the Abn Awaa Tribe, which they have begun to call themselves.
The Red Cliff of Akhal is actually an asteroid that crashed into a small, primordial sea. When discovered by ancient desert tribes, the spire became a sacred shrine to the sky god, Akhal, before it was mysteriously abandoned centuries ago. Legends say the cultists awakened something within the rock that drove them to madness, slaughtering each other in the process. The spire is now used as a landmark along a popular trade route near the city of Bastet.
Intrigued by the legends and full of adolescent bravado, Najib and Zobeida dared to traverse the salt flat and explore the Red Cliff. Inside they found ancient bones, the ruins of the shrine, and surprisingly, a small cistern. The new Abn Awaa Tribe quickly moved into the monolith and began their raiding. The twins were drawn deeper into the mysteries of the ancient Cult of Akhal. They discovered hidden chambers deep within the spire containing strange devices and writings in languages unknown in the Southlands. Eventually, they found a tomb containing a column of glowing, red crystal inside of which a humanoid figure was entrapped.
Much to their surprise, the figure was alive and began to speak with them, revealing many secrets both arcane and martial. Akhal, as the being soon became known, inspired even more daring raids and loyalty. The twins began calling themselves the Fangs of Akhal and the rest of the tribe soon followed their leaders’ devotion and a new Cult of Akhal was born.
Many caravan masters beseeched the Priests of Bastet to do something about this new threat to the region. It did not take long for them to send the Claws against the Abn Awaa. The opposing forces met upon the wastes several leagues from the Red Cliff of Akhal. A fierce storm served to shroud the battle, but when it was concluded not one of the Claws remained alive. Since that day the raiders have pillaged without challenge. The Priests of Bastet still nurse their wound, searching for a way to deal with the thorn in their paws.
The raiders of the Red Cliff typically only seek out caravans containing supplies necessary for survival or those which contain cargo that is precious to the Fangs or Akhal himself. These items are usually rather esoteric in nature and of little monetary value but are required for the ritual that will free Akhal from his prison.
General Notes: The stonework is serviceable. The stairways connecting rooms are cramped, imposing disadvantage on any attacks with weapons larger than a dagger. Crude carvings and paintings of snakes are present throughout.
Unless specified, all of the rooms are naturally lit.
When the word raider appears, you could use bandits, cultists, or scouts. Akhal, Najib, and Zobeida have their stats described at the end of this document. All monster statistics can be found in the D&D 5E Monster Manual.
- Entrance and Stable: The tribes’ horses and camels are kept here when not being used on raids. There are usually 3-6 (1d4+2) raiders present at any given time.
- Commons (torchlight): Numerous carpets, pillows, and cook pots are strewn about this room. 5-10 (2d4+2) raiders
- Cistern: A shallow pool of slightly metallic tasting water is located here. It is mysteriously fed from below.
- Sleeping Quarters (torchlight): Several sleeping furs, pallets, and even a few beds and hammocks haphazardly fill this room. 5-10 (2d4+2) raiders
- Gnoll Quarters: The gnolls of the tribe have taken this room for their own. A ladder leads 20’ up to area 6. 2-5 (1d4+1) of them are present.
- Balcony Room: Two archways lead out onto a railed balcony. The statues here are of humans with disturbingly serpentine features. They will animate to repel intruders (treat as animated armor). 1 gnoll is usually here.
- Lookout post: An archway leads out onto a natural ledge. 1 raider is here.
- Najib’s Room (candlelight): The door is locked. This small room is rather lavishly furnished with carpets and pillows. Two female slaves are kept here at all times. A small coffer containing gold and gems is hidden beneath a loose stone tile.
- Columned Hall: Six columns carved as winding snakes line this hall. Two 10’ wide unpaned windows look out over the salt flat between them. The opposite wall is adorned with a faded mural depicting a great serpent devouring the world. Alien words are carved into the stone wall below it. A rich rug lines the center of the room. 3-6 (1d4+2) giant snakes are hidden (wrapped around the columns) here awaiting to ambush intruders. A secret door leads to a spiraling passageway that slopes down into darkness.
- Akhal’s Temple: An altar of red crystal rests on a dais in this room. The two statues here depicting coiled serpents are in fact gargoyles (no flight however). This room is literally littered with normal snakes. Here is where the Fangs lead the cult in dark ceremonies.
- Lookout Post: same as 7.
- Akhal’s Tomb (pulsing, red glow): A column of red crystal dominates this room. A large humanoid figure whose lower extremities disappear into the floor can be made out inside the crystal. Zobeida can be found here 75% of the time working on the details of the ritual. Depending on your group’s level and how the story has progress thus far, she, Najib and several cultists can be in the midst of finishing the ritual to release Akhal from his prison. Zobeida has turned 12a into her sleeping quarters. There are carpets, pillows, leftover food dishes, etc. present. 12b is a prison cell holding 6 prisoners that are held here when not being used by the rest of the tribe. The key to the wooden gate is located 12c. Several crates and bags containing the odd items needed for the ritual are neatly piled in 12c. 2 locked chests containing the tribe’s loot are also here.
- Fukayna, a Priest of Bastet of middle rank, is looking to make a name for herself. She approaches the PC’s disguised as a fortune teller while they roam the Endless Bazaar, spinning them a fortune of how they are destined to “Slay the Jackal (Abn Awaa)” that “Declawed the Paws of the Great Cat.” She speaks of “Great Fortune, Fabulous Wealth, and Untold Glories” to be had.
- Listening to the stories told by survivors of raids by the Abn Awaa Tribe, a young scholar, Azmera Tariku Motuma, has linked the raiders with the ancient Cult of Akhal. He would like to interview the Fangs of Akhal as part of the research that he is conducting. Azmera is willing to pay handsomely for the PC’s services as bodyguards, but insists on friendly negotiations. He is a rather naïve fellow no adventuring experience, but is determined to go through with his plan with or without the group’s help.
A group of 20 mounted Abn Awaa raiders and gnolls led by Najib or Zobeida is usually out on patrol.
Akhal: use Yuan-ti Abomination, but add telepathy 30 ft. He has deranged from his captivity, believing he is actually a deity. He is still dedicated to world domination though.
Najib: use Yuan-ti Malison (Type I) with the following changes:
- Armor Class 14 (studded leather)
- Under Multiattack, add “If Najib has two scimitars drawn, he can make a third melee attack”
Zobeida: use Yuan-ti Pureblood with the following changes:
- Armor Class 14 (studded leather)
- Hit Points 55 (10d8 + 10)
- DEX 15 (+2), CON 13 (+1), CHA 16 (+3)
- Challenge 3 (700 xp)
- Add Zobeida cast spells as a 5th-level Warlock. Her spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). All of her spells are cast using a 3rd level spell slot. She knows the following spells:
Cantrips (at will): eldritch blast, minor illusion, poison spray
Spells (2 slots): dispel magic, hex, hypnotic pattern, invisibility, misty step, tasha’s hideous laughter
- Replace Multiattack with “ Zobeida makes two melee attacks or one melee attack and one spell attack using a cantrip.”
- Replace Scimitar with “ Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage.”