The Cult of Z’ol-Iku

Haicheng region PNG image

In this Scarlet Heroes adventure the thief Gong Trond attempts to reduce the Heat that he earned in the previous urban adventure in which he killed Cheng Detlef, a wealthy heir and a villainous sorcerer, along with many members of his gang.

Trond is a third level thief with the following traits:

  • Ruin Explorer: 4
  • Great Stealth: 3
  • Friend to the Black Sapphire Tong: 1
  • Resist the Red Tide: 1

This dungeon adventure is set in a palace where Trond has the chance to rescue the captives of a cult. I am using the guidelines for Dungeons with Alarms in the Scarlet Heroes rulebook. Using The Crimson Pandect from Sine Nomine Publishing I roll to randomly generate the deity venerated by the cult. The deity is aquatic, tentacular and deceitful. These traits seem to describe a Lovecraftian monster, so I think up an appropriate name and appearance for the deity.

The Bronze Horse inn

Trond returns to The Bronze Horse inn where he pays for lunch for himself and Adalric Wulf. Kobayashi Nobu has left the inn to get some fresh air now that Cheng Detlef’s gang is no more.

Money: 28 gp and 9 sp

Nobu returns to the inn out of breath. He says that guards of the city watch are approaching the inn, most likely to arrest Trond.

Trond leaves the inn quickly taking his backpack with him. The guards have almost reached the inn and Trond runs off down the street away from them. He changes direction, heading down a side street which leads to the wealthier area of West Haicheng.

A dilapidated palace

He follows a wall, on the other side of which he can see the trees of a garden. He is now out of sight of the guards but he can hear them gaining on him. He quickly scrambles over the wall and into the garden. He hears the footsteps of the guards running past down the street.

He peers out from behind the cover of a dense clump of bushes. The palace that he sees is not the Cheng palace, but a smaller building and quite dilapidated. Curious, he moves stealthily through the garden towards the palace.

Locations: 20

Inhabitants: cultists of Z’ol-Iku

Threat: 3

Favoured colours of interior rooms: greens and floral shade



Treasure: one tenth of the C-type trove appropriate to the place (lair of Powerful Cult Leader).

On a garden path near the palace he finds a discarded Imperial wall scroll of great artistry depicting Fa Chia, the Yellow God of law and integrity, accompanied by a wingless yellow dragon. The scroll has clearly been thrown out quite recently and has not been damaged by the weather. It seems strange that such a great work of art should be found discarded outside a dwelling. Perhaps the residents have very little regard for the Nine Immortals.

The scroll is worth 40 gp.

First turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Leaving the garden he enters a paved courtyard. There is still no sign of any of the inhabitants of the palace.

Second turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Are there dogs in the kennel? No.

Crossing the courtyard he enters a wooden kennel where there is a row of pens for keeping the mastiffs used to guard the palace, but the pens are vacant.

Third turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Encounter: five hit dice worth of Minions and Elites – two HD 1 cultists and one HD 3 cultist. The HD 3 cultist has two special abilities – (1) he is armoured with plate armour, (2) which is encrusted with green garnets and green chalcedony gemstones.

These cultists are neutrals who may or may not cooperate with the cult leader.

Are there horses in the stables? Yes there are four horses present.

A door in the west wall of the kennel leads into the stable. There are two men and a woman here who are saddling three of the four horses in the stable. One of the men, an Imperial man, carries a sword and is wearing a magnificent suit of plate armour which is encrusted with jewels – green garnets and green chalcedony gemstones. The other two wear leather armour and carry short swords.

The cultists regard Trond with grudging agreement. Oracular word: duty.

The man in the suit of plate armour is grudgingly courteous and asks Trond what is his business in the palace. When Trond doesn’t reply straight away he asks him if he has come to join the cult of Z’ol-Iku, the Immense One of the Deep. Trond replies that he has and the man directs him to a door in the northwest corner. The three cultists finish saddling their horses and ride out into the courtyard, leaving the palace on some errand.

Fourth turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none

Servants’ rooms

Encounter: eight hit dice worth of Minions and Elites – five HD 1 cultists and one HD 3 cultist.

These cultists are grudgingly submissive to the cult leader.

Hidden treasure: standard treasure trove for the encounter (H2).

He enters a corridor painted in a fading blue similar to that of the blue orchids in the garden outside. The corridor is lined with doors which presumably lead to small rooms for the servants of the palace.

One cultist is on guard while the others are in their rooms. The cultist flatly rejects Trond.

A man wearing leather armour and armed with a sword is on guard duty. He tells Trond to go back the way he came. Trond offers him a bribe of five gold pieces.

Does the guard let Trond go through? No.

The guard says that he will have the five gold pieces, but that Trond may still not enter the palace. Trond draws his sword. The man bangs on a gong and five other men enter the corridor from their rooms with their swords ready. Most are dressed in leather armour but one is wearing a chain hauberk.

The alarm has not been raised by the combat. The guards of the city watch are still unaware that Trond is in the palace.

Trond kills all of the cultists except one, an Eirengarder who turned on his fellow cultists during the battle.

Does the Eirengarder join forces with Trond? No, but… disease.

Trond sees that the Eirengarder is very pale. He suddenly stumbles against Trond, wracked by a fit of coughing.

The difficulty of the Constitution saving throw not to catch the disease is 14. Trond fails the saving throw. He will come down with the disease after the adventure and must make another Constitution saving throw then.

Trond tends the wound that he received from one of the cultists.

Hit points: 11

Fifth turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none

The Eirengarder goes into one of the rooms and lifts up a loose floorboard, taking a few gold pieces that were hidden there. He leaves the palace. Trond goes through the door at the end of the corridor.

Sixth turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Encounter: eight hit dice worth of Minions and Elites – two HD 1 cultists and two HD 3 cultists.

These cultists are hostile towards the cult leader. I roll them as Unfriendly NPCs with a +2 modifier as Trond has done work for them killing the previous group of cultists. The cultists are persuadable.

He enters a pantry filled with sacks of rice, small barrels of sea salt, jars of honey and other food containers. There are four cultists here who appear to have heard the combat that took place in the corridor, but they do not regard Trond with hostility.

One of the cultists, an Imperial man, tells Trond that the palace contains a shrine dedicated to the worship of the monstrous deity Z’ol-Iku, the Immense One of the Deep. This deity deceives his followers, promising them power and wealth in exchange for human sacrifice. But those who sacrifice to Z’ol-Iku do not realise that eventually he will take over their minds and cause them to cast themselves into the sea as their final and personal sacrifice to him. He himself wants to leave the cult but fears retribution from the sorcerer who leads it, daifu Tang Guotin whose palace this is.

Trond asks him if there are any prisoners intended for sacrifice in the palace. He replies that there are, and that they will be taken out to sea in a junk and sacrificed to Z’ol-Iku when the time is right. Trond says that he is being hunted by the city watch because he set free two men who had been unjustly imprisoned by Cheng Detlef and his allies; if he were to be able to destroy this cult and free the prisoners then the authorities might be willing to pardon him. The Imperial man disagrees, saying that Trond cannot defeat Tang Guotin. He tells Trond to leave the palace and give himself up to the city guard rather than face the sorcerer.

Trond must make a Charisma check of 13 to persuade the man to let him through. Trond fails the check.

Do the cultists attack Trond to prevent him going further into the palace? No, but… the Imperial man is wrong in assuming that Tang Guotin does not know of his disloyalty.

Trond heads towards a door in the southeast corner. He hears a strangled cry behind him and turns to see the Imperial man fall to the ground as if suddenly struck down by sorcery. The other cultists go to his aid but he is dead.

Seventh turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Hazard: lethal trap or environmental quality – save or perish.

Beyond the door steps lead down into a moldy cellar. Trond is exploring the room when a thick white mist starts to fill the air. He feels a pit open beneath his feet, a magical trap. He jumps away from the pit and tries to escape the room but another pit starts to open beneath him and he can hardly see his feet now.

I got the idea for this trap from the Adventure Tags section of the Scarlet Heroes rulebook, specifically the Disorienting Layout tag. Although the tags are not intended for solo play I find them a good source of inspiration for solo adventures.

The difficulty of the saving throw to escape the cellar is 15. Trond fails the saving throw and must Defy Death (3d4). He takes 2 points of damage and the attempt is successful.

Hit points: 9

He succeeds in reaching another flight of steps leading out of the cellar.

Eighth turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none


Feature: a noncombatant inhabitant of the dungeon. The motive of the inhabitant is to scout the site for an outside power.

He enters a storeroom full of crates, barrels and stacks of furniture; a welcome scene of normality after the deadly sorcery of the cellar. There is a young Imperial woman in the room, dressed in the yellow robes of a priestess of Fa Chia. Trond greets her and says that he is not a cultist, and she hesitantly introduces herself as Sister Huian of the Five Pinnacle Pagoda. Abbot Nianzu of the Pagoda sent her to the palace to investigate rumours of a cult. She has just entered the building through a door which leads to the garden. Her clerical powers are limited and she came to the palace to investigate rather than to fight cultists.

Trond tells her of his discovery of the cult of Z’ol-Iku in the palace, and how the cult sorcerer Tang Guotin killed a disloyal cultist with sorcery. He warns her about the sorcerous trap in the cellar, and advises her to leave the palace and return to Abbot Nianzu with the information he has given her. He will continue to explore the palace to free any prisoners taken for sacrifice by the cultists. He also tells her that he had to flee the city watch after killing Cheng Detlef and his allies. Sister Huian replies that she knows that Cheng Detlef was an enemy of Magistrate Hao Ying. If Trond manages to defeat Tang Guotin then he must come to the Five Pinnacle Pagoda so that Abbot Nianzu can speak to Hao Ying on his behalf.

Sister Huian casts the spell the Blessing of Gentle Fortune so that Trond has the favour of Fa Chia when fighting the cultists. Then she returns to the garden.

Ninth turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: nine hit dice worth of Minions and Elites – three HD 1 cultists and two HD 3 cultists.

These cultists are willingly obedient to Tang Guotin. I decide that Tang Guotin has now become aware of Trond by means of his sorcery and that the cultists will attack Trond straight away.

Trond is about to leave the storeroom through a door in the opposite wall when five cultists enter the room through the door with swords drawn. The cultists advance to attack.

Trond kills all of the cultists and tends his wounds.

Hit points: 5

The alarm has been raised. Guards of the city watch heard the combat and have entered the palace garden.

Tenth turn elapsed

City watch encounter: six hit dice worth of guards with urban Soldier statistics but armed with polearms for 1d10 damage.

Trond hears the sound of footsteps approaching up the garden path towards the storeroom door. He moves quickly towards the door in the opposite wall as six guards of the city watch armed with ji polearms enter the storeroom.

The difficulty of the check to evade the city watch guards is 11. Trond succeeds on the check.

He evades the guards and slips through the door into the next room.


Encounter: unusual foe – Man of Clay and Jade.

Hidden treasure: wrought iron stool worth 60 gp.

He enters a scullery. An artificial man of clay with pieces of green jade embedded in his body is scrubbing clothes in a wooden tub. The Man of Clay and Jade carries a sword but he has not yet seen Trond and is absorbed in his task.

Eleventh turn elapsed

The difficulty of the check to evade the city watch guards is 12. Trond succeeds on the check and also escapes the notice of the Man of Clay and Jade.

Check for wandering inhabitants: none

He stealthily makes his way across the room and through the door in the opposite wall.

Shrine of Z’ol-Iku

Hidden treasure: one tenth of the C-type trove appropriate to the place (lair of Powerful Cult Leader).

He enters a room which may have once served as a storeroom but is now a shrine to Z’ol-Iku. There is a stone altar near the north wall, upon which he finds the remains of a mastiff that was sacrificed to the deity. He remembers that there were no dogs in the palace kennel.

Suddenly he has a vision of an enormous spherical being, floating deep under the sea and covered with mouths, eye stalks and tentacles. He sees how huge Z’ol-Iku is when a human figure drifts down towards him and is snatched and devoured. The deity is larger than the largest whale or giant squid.

He shakes his head to banish the vision, and searches the shrine.

The difficult of the check to locate the hidden treasure is 13. Trond fails the check. He may not use the Blessing of Gentle Fortune as he is not fighting cultists.

Twelfth turn elapsed. The difficulty of the check to evade the city watch guards is 13. Trond succeeds on the check.

Check for wandering inhabitants: none

He leaves the shrine through a door in the northwest corner.


Encounter: three hit dice worth of Minions and six hit dice worth of Elites, Mages or Boss enemies – Tang Guotin, one HD 3 cultist and three HD 1 cultists. Tang Guotin can cast five spells including Seven Small Thunders and Withering Defilement of Flesh. He also has three special abilities granted by Z’ol-Iku – (1) he can turn invisible but cannot attack or cast spells while invisible, (2) he can vanish, teleporting once per round for twice his normal movement, and (3) he can choke with his invisible grasp; victim must save or take 3d6 damage.

Hazard: any Feature is trapped; save or take 3d6 damage.

Feature: an object stolen by the dungeon inhabitants – an elaborate lighting apparatus, possibly still working. I decide that this is a magical Lantern of Fa Chia which has been stolen by the cultists from a shrine. The lantern normally provides undying light to adventurers exploring dark and evil places, but as it is now a Hazard it has been spitefully altered by Tang Guotin to explode when handled by anyone other than him.

He enters a kitchen where there is an unlit fireplace with an iron spit, two heavy wooden tables, pots and pans hanging from a ceiling, and huge barrels of rice. The dim natural light in the room is supplanted by an intense magical glow coming from a golden lantern hanging on the wall over the fireplace. The sorcerer Tang Guotin is here accompanied by four other cultists. He wears a blue and green robe decorated with images of tentacles. The sorcerer directs the cultists to attack Trond.

Trond kills Tang Guotin and one of the cultists, but he is badly wounded by the remaining cultists and taken prisoner. His armour, weapons and equipment are taken, but his wounds are treated before he is locked in a vault as he is intended as a sacrifice to Z’ol-Iku.


Trond recovers on the mean straw mattress in the vault, drinking the stale water and eating the cold rice porridge that the cultists have given him.

Hit points: 5

The vault has a door of wooden reinforced with iron. He decides to try to break it down by kicking at it’s most vulnerable parts.

The difficulty of the check to break down the door is 15. Trond fails to break down the door even though he uses up his advantage of the Blessing of Gentle Fortune. He must Defy Death (3d6) to escape. He takes 4 points of damage and the attempt is successful.

Hit points: 1

What does the advantage gained by him Defying Death relate to? Oracular word: fury. I decide that a furious cultist turns on the others and frees Trond.

He does not succeed in breaking the door. But he hears shouts and the sound of fighting coming from outside the vault. After the noise has subsided a cultist opens the door. Trond gets ready to fight but the cultist hands him a short sword and tells him to flee from the palace.


Leaving the vault he finds himself at the foot of a stairwell. The cultist has already left by another door. There are bodies of cultists lying around and he takes the leather armour from one of them. He heads up the stairs to the upper floor of the palace.

First turn elapsed

Check for wandering inhabitants: none

The difficulty of the check to evade the city watch guards is 14. Trond fails the check.

As he is heading up the stairs the six city watch guards enter the room below. Their sergeant calls out to Trond to halt. Being in no state to fight, and unwilling to antagonise the city watch any further, Trond returns down the stairs and gives himself up.

He tells the guards about what he has discovered in the palace, his encounter with Sister Huian, and his killing of the cult sorcerer Tang Guotin.

I decide that the guards certainly found the shrine of Z’ol-Iku. But did they gain any insight of the evil of the cult as Trond did? No, but… there is a twist to the relationship between the people in the situation. Oracular word: experience.

The sergeant said that they did not encounter Sister Huian. They found a shrine with the remains of a dog on it, but there was nothing to suggest that it was the place of worship for an evil cult. Daifu Tang Guotin is a respected man and he may do with his own dogs as he pleases and sacrifice them to some obscure deity if he so desires. They did not find Tang Guotin’s body, and the sergeant believes that Trond is simply plundering the palace and killing all who stand in his way, as he did when he broke into the Cheng palace.

Then one of the other guards speaks, saying that he believes Trond. He comes from the village of Lingshui on the coast southwest of Haicheng. A few years ago several people disappeared from the village. They were found to have been taken captive by the cultists who had taken over the fishing hamlet of Xiao Maowu, which is southwest of Lingshui beyond a mangrove swamp. The militia of Lingshui fought the cultists, killing most of them and capturing a few who claimed to be mere servants of the others.

The captured cultists led the militia to their shrine, which was miles inland from Xiao Maowu and hidden in a glade of Shou Swamp. The shrine consisted only of a stone altar without an image, the same as the altar in this palace. On the altar they found the remains of a young boy from Lingshui. One of the captured cultists said that Z’ol-Iku, the deity that they worshiped, was so abominable that he could not be represented by any image.

Now having the support of the guard, Trond tries to convince the sergeant to accompany him up to the upper floor of the palace so that the remnants of the cult can be destroyed.

The difficulty of the check to persuade the sergeant is 11. Trond fails the check.

The Prison in East Haicheng

The sergeant says that he is not convinced that Tang Guotin is a cultist of Z’ol-Iku. Trond gives himself up. His sword is taken and he is put in manacles. The guards take him out of the palace and over the Lanbaoshi Bridge to the prison in the slum district of East Haicheng, where he is chained to the wall of a cell.

He considers that he will most likely be enslaved by the city as punishment for the killing of Cheng Detlef and for his other deeds of the past few days. He hopes that Sister Huian has spoken to Abbot Nianzu of the Five Pinnacle Pagoda about her encounter with him.

Due to his weakened condition, the Constitution saving throw to overcome the disease that Trond caught from the Eirengarder has now increased to 15. Trond fails the saving throw.

Sister Huian has spoken to Abbot Nianzu. Trond’s Heat score has decreased by 2 points.

Haicheng: 6 Heat

A roll of 10 on a 1d10 means that the Heat is no longer a problem for Trond, but I decide that he still has to do something to reduce it.

To add to his woes, he is now suffering the symptoms of the disease that he caught from the Eirengarder cultist in the Tang palace. He is feverish and coughing uncontrollably.

The Five Pinnacle Pagoda

After he has been in the cell for three whole days, he is woken the following morning by the guard thumping on the door. The door opens and the guard enters followed by an Eshkanti man in a chain hauberk, who introduces himself as Matta al-Rasheed, the temple guard chief of the Five Pinnacle Pagoda. Trond is put in manacles again and unchained from the wall. The temple guards take him to a temple building outside the Five Pinnacle Pagoda, where he is put in a sickroom to recover.

Sister Huian and a priest named Brother Shan come to treat him with medicine and clerical magic. He is now free of the disease that he caught from the Eirengarder.

Hit points: 11

After he has recovered he is visited by Abbot Nianzu. The abbot tells him that he ordered a small detachment of temple guards to attack the Tang palace. The temple knight Vigthorn Garborg led the attack and they killed several cultists. But Vigthorn himself was then killed and they were forced to retreat.

Abbot Nianzu says that he has spoken with Magistrate Hao Ying about the matter of Trond’s killings of Cheng Detlef and his allies. Hao Ying knew that Cheng Detlef was one her most powerful enemies, and she was not surprised by the knowledge of his crimes or sorry to hear of his demise. Nevertheless, Hao Ying feels that Trond’s mayhem has become something of a concern for her. She wants him to return to the Tang palace and deal with the remaining cultists.

Trond agrees to do this, even though it is clear that the authorities would prefer that he come to a grisly end in the palace and so no longer be a nuisance for them. He reminds himself that he still hasn’t managed to acquire any of Tang Guotin’s treasure.

Trond receives one experience point for his adventure.

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