Bone Crusher

“The river Styx is dark and slow, here. At the shore you see dozens of torches illuminating a serene harbor between heavy stone columns and broad stairs leading up to a bronze portal made for giants. As you come closer you recognize an ominous cephalopod relief.”

Theme: bronze and brass illuminated by fire, meat and bones as raw material, brains, star gate

Some random prisoners to get you started:
Motherbrain by Ndege Diamond, on Flickr

Tonnhotz is the head of the mind eaters and operator of the bone crusher. He knows that the tributary of meat and bones is alimented by all the dead creatures being burried beneath mud avalanches, crushed by earthquakes or falling into the deep shafts of earth. He is here to harness the residual energy. Similarly, he can use prisoners to make zombies and to power his spells. He will not relinquish them unless he fears for his life.

Beldilabdineb is head of the free tribe in the ship bowels; his deceased father was a navigator on this ship and passed on some rudimentary knowledge to his progeny. Here is a suggested list of tasks to accomplish in order to put this ship back into working conditions. Tailor this list to your needs.
Ether Whale by Alex Schroeder, on Flickr


  1. the brass harbor gate leads into a huge cavern with a stair zig-zagging up five floors at the far end; 300 zombies (HD 2; AC 9; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 6) stand between you and the airlock leading into the earth ship at the top of the stairs; the zombies will attack any intruders they can see and reach
  2. inside the earth ship, there is a huge hangar with a planar gate leading into a segment of the astral sea trapped down here in this hell hole; it looks like a brass porthole 30 ft. across with a huge toothy ether whale silently trying to push through a wall of flesh into the room; moving though the gate is easy, fighting the ether whale on the other side is not (HD 20; AC 4; Atk 1 bite (4d6); MV 21 fly; grab on a natural 20 and deal automatic damage every round)
  3. the brain room contains the mother brain the size of a small house in a liquid behind a blue glass wall; it assaults weaker minds and tries to control them (save vs. spells or be dominated if 8 HD or less or be slowed otherwise); possibly encounter the tentacle sorcerer Tonnhotz here if he is forewarned (HD 13; AC 9; Atk 1 main gauche (1d6); MV 12; in melee, a hit lets Tonnhotz wrap his tentacles around the opponents’ head and crush it in two rounds; victims may fight normally for two rounds but cannot retreat; invasive telepathy allows Tonnhotz to locate enemies and to communicate with them; it also allows him to read their thoughts against their will unless they save vs. spells; tentacle blast at will requires anybody within 60 ft. to save vs. petrification or be stunned for a round); stunned opponents are attacked by two black tentacle cats guarding him at all times (HD 5; AC 7; Atk 4 claws (1d6 each), 2 tentacles (1d6 each) and 1 bite (1d6); MV 15; surprise on ⅚); damaging the mother brain is possible but will result in breaking the glass wall—without magic aid characters need to save vs. death every round or drown in the warm sludge (HD 15; AC 9; MV 0; at will psychic lash deals an automatic 3d6 headache every round to targets within 100 ft.; telepathic conversation is difficult but possible: -2 to reaction rolls); killing the mother brain will allow the ether whale to break through the planar gate; dominating the mother brain is necessary to take over the ship, see below
  4. the bone crusher itself is a huge hall with a multiplexing arrival gate at the far end; it is not possible to leave via this gate; a constant mass of meat and bones and mud pours through it and drives the turbines and cog wheels of the blood engines; there are several melancholy zombies watching over the mess (they don’t fight); disrupting this meat influx somehow (any reasonably involved and plausible plan players make should work) will result in a dimming of all the lights and complete power loss in four hours (stale air, darkness)
  5. the deep bowels of the ship are flooded with a foot of blood and poisoned water seeping in through cracks everywhere (save vs. poison once per day or have a sentient telepathic silver hagfish grow in your bowels within a week, die of gut rot within another four weeks); a part of the former fish head slave crew has formed a free tribe with 21 members living down here (HD 3; AC 7; Atk 1 spear (1d6); MV 9; amphibious) under the leadership of Beldilabdineb (HD 5; AC 7; Atk 1 spear (1d6); MV 9; amphibious; water kiss of healing 5✕/day, mass invisibility 3✕/day, favor of Shabriri 1✕/day, a water demon that can strike like a big wave for 7d6 or invisibly carry 7 people along water ways); Beldilabdineb can tell the party how to gain control of the ship, see below; Beldilabdineb also knows about the titans of the earth and how to appease them (the ritual required for the earth blood pool near the Spider City)
  6. the private quarters of the captain is where Tonnhotz rests; the walls are covered in art nouveau brass reliefs and the floor has various elaborate trap doors leading to dark, water filled tanks. One of these is of just the right size and temperature to act as the captain’s regeneration tank. When the lid is closed anybody that drinks blood will instantly be transported to the pocket dimension of angry tentacles
  7. the pocket dimension of angry tentacles is a dark, water-filled world inhabited by a deep kraken, a monstrous creature grown to unnatural size in this pocket dimension (HD 12; AC 8; Atk 8 tentacles (1d6); MV 6 swim; when hit by two tentacles, save vs. paralysis or be grappled and suffer an automatic 2d6/round until released). There are also 24 smaller carnivorous fish (HD 2; AC 8; Atk 1 bite (1d6); MV 9) and large kelp forests, rock caves, strange spires rising up to the upper reaches of the pocket dimension (when fighting under water, only stabbing weapons like daggers, short swords, spears, tridents and the like may be used). On the highest needle there is a small flat area, maybe twenty feet across, where Tonnhotz likes to meditate. This is where he placed the helm to his marooned ship. The small area here is covered by a permanent anti-magic effect. There is but little warning: The area is also covered by a permanent silence effect thirty feet across. In other words, approaching characters talking to each other as they approach will notice the silence before their water-breathing spells are being cancelled.
Task Cost Time
Defeat Tonnhotz—one ship, one captain, right?
Purge or control the zombies and drive out the negative energies. Unless the ship is hallowed with holy water (which is very expensive down here), the accumulated negative energies will make sure that anybody dying inside the ship will rise as a zombie under the control of the mother brain.50 000 gold1 week
Retrieve the helm which Tonnhotz has stored in the pocket dimension of rage tentacles reachable via his personal regenerator tank (see above).
Dominate the mother brain—controlling the water and nutrient supply of the mother brain allows a captain to retrain it, buying the ingredients from traveling merchants and hellish bazaars. This requires regular access to the harbor market in the Prison of Dis100 000 gold4 weeks
Rebuild the ship using experiments and expensive rare materials with the help of Beldilabdineb’s tribe. This requires regular access to the harbor market in the Prison of Dis500 000 gold4 weeks
Alternatively rebuild the ship with engineers and supply material from the Fortress Dam of Ix; this would require a violent assault, the kidnapping of experts and robbing the required material; it would also attract two panzer ships on a punitive mission.4 weeks

Panzer ships are the armored steam boats used by the captains in the service of Tonnhotz. There are several of them; two are described below. If both of them have made an appearance, feel free to add your own. Note that if you want them to sail to the Prison of Dis in order to trade, the captain will need some sort of magic horn in order to bypass the Styx whale.

It is possible to take hold of a ship. This requires a crew of ten to operate the machines, somebody with a nautic background to navigate the river and somebody with an engineering background to control the ship.

  1. the brass panzer ship Warburg arrives from the Prison of Dis carrying a treasure of 40’000 gp and 153 slaves in recompense for sorcerous services rendered; it is operated by a crew of forty headless zombies (HD 1; AC 8; Atk 2 claws (1d6 each); MV 3) and defended by forty hungry ghoul archers (HD 2; AC 8; Atk 1 bow (1d6); MV 12); the captain is the merchant sorcerer Belchion (HD 9; AC 4; Atk 1 rapier (1d6); MV 12; storm blast stops any advance by creatures of ogre size or smaller; slams flying creatures against the floor or ship for 2d6; bolts of lightning against up to three opponents at the same time for 6d6 each, save vs. spells for half) who is in turn protected by two brass golems (HD 11; AC 3; Atk 2 fists (2d6); MV 3; immune to magic; healed by fire magic; can only be hit by magic weapons); treasure: the horn of pressure (when blown, every creature within 150 ft. with a heart to feel, ears to hear and eyes to see except for the person blowing the horn must save vs. death or be temporarily blinded by their bulging eyes; when blown again, any creature that failed the previous save must save again or faint; when blown a third time, any creature that failed the previous save must save one last time or die from cardiac arrest—the undead and golems are immune, obviously); bracers of armor +4 with the snake sigils of Set; ring of the forked tongue (wearer will grow a forked tongue and is able to see invisible, living creatures)
  2. the black iron panzer ship Zykanthor brings the devil captain Helicantus (HD 12; AC 0; Atk 1 electric eel sword (2d6, two handed with a pommel showing an eel head, victims must save vs. paralysis or be stunned one round; the sword also forces the wielder to attack the stunned opponent the next round—possibly triggering another save); MV 3; teleport at will, immune to spells of level 3 and lower) with a host of 120 armored mord men (HD 3; AC 2; Atk 1 sword (1d6) or 1 short bow (1d6); MV 3) and five siege trolls (HD 7; AC 4; Atk 2 iron gauntlets (2d6 each); MV 6) to fight; without intervention the siege will proceed as follows: gate breached on the second day by side tunnels, flaming rivers of oil being poured through the breach by the defenders killing a siege troll, maiming three others, and killing about 40 men, the third day Helicantus keeps to his ships and looks for a way to sabotage the defenses (and will pay 10 000 gold to anybody who manages to do this), without help by the players his attempt will fail on the fourth day and he will cut his losses and leave; treasure: 4 scrolls of blasting (used for structural damage and breach the gate); 20 scrolls of flaming death (explosions dealing 6d6 fire damage to anybody within 20 ft.); 20 scrolls of fiery arrows (enchants 50 arrows to deal an extra 1d6 of fire damage); pay for the mord men: 12 000 gold in a coffer protected by a poison needle

If you need a third party, feel free to have orcs on air sharks arrive on the scene throwing flasks containing green slime (see Shark Den for more info about the orcs)