Getting some love today in Vestitas: Riddles and tech heresy. Tech heresy was originally planned to be as big a feature as the regular kind so that people who play as hereteks or Mechanicus adepts don’t feel like they’ve got nothing to do, but I’ve wound up not really offering any techno toys even though I’ve had occasional techno villains or death traps. We’re fixing that today. Fresh from the Dark Age of Technology, a logic puzzle and the three Men of Iron who kill the people who fail it.
Summary: A forlorn temple to some forgotten pre-Emperor cult stands amidst the hills of the northeast. It contains a hidden cache of Age of Technology wealth, but unlocking the cache requires the approval of three ancient Men of Iron who now disguise themselves as statues.
Discovery: Though the hills in this hex are covered in jungle, the temple stands atop one of them and reaches up above the canopy, clearly visible for several kilometers despite the vine overgrowth.
Exploration: The temple has a large, central chamber covered in a dome with faded murals depicting three deities of earth, sky, and water triumphing over evil. Of the pews, prayer books, and other accoutrements of the main chamber, nothing remains. Only the statues of the three gods in the middle. Likewise, there are many chambers off the main one, but none of them contain anything anymore. The library’s books and shelves have rotted away to nothing. The office’s cabinets exist only as bits of rust fused to the ground, and the rest not at all. The acolytes’ dormitories are just a row of small rooms, completely empty except for dust and natural detritus. Weeds grow up through cracks in the side chambers, and vines through the walls have covered many of them in greenery. The main chamber’s walls are likewise half-reclaimed by nature, but the floor is noticeably less so. Vines occasionally snake across the main chamber’s floor, but no weeds poke up from below (because the vault is below, and thus there is no soil underneath for weeds to grow from).
An inscription upon an altar in the center of the chamber is still readable, carved as it is into the hyper-durable Dark Age alloy of the altar. The inscription requires a Difficult(-10) Techna-Lingua check to decipher, and reads “knowledge tames even the strongest forces of nature. Give to each that which conquers and even the gods will submit. They are jealous of their knowledge, yet the cunning shall pry it from them regardless. One always speaks ozo, one always speaks ulu, one tells both and neither as he pleases. Three questions may be asked, and each answered: Ozo or ulu. Those who show weakness shall be destroyed. Those who who come with worship shall receive protection, yet shall be servants of the gods forever. Those who make the gods submit shall take divine power for themselves.” If the players ask what ‘ozo’ or ‘ulu’ mean, confirm that the structure of this labyrinth guard style riddle is a clear reference to ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but they don’t appear to be real words of the language, but rather made up words. It’s impossible to tell from the inscription whether “ozo” means yes and “ulu” means no or if it’s vice-versa.
In the altar are three tokens, fitting almost perfectly into three triangular depressions, one with a small picture of a mountain, one with a picture of waves, and one with a picture of a cloud. Arrows carved into the altar between the three token slots show earth overcoming water, water overcoming sky, and sky overcoming earth (if you are interested, the justification for this is that earth bounds water with riverbanks and shores, the sky bounds the earth with horizons, and water conquers the sky with rainfall). The relationship is clearly depicted, unlike which statue is tied to which element, so feel free to remind players that earth beats water, water beats sky, and sky beats earth whenever they lose track.
One of the statues carries a scythe, wears a heavy cloak, and has a grinning skull for a head, though the rest of his body is depicted as an Apollyonic physique. This is the mercurial Lord of Sea. Any character who asks a direct question to him will get a random answer. Rolling dice will make it clear this one is answering randomly, so instead just pick a random answer. You don’t need to worry about true randomness. Across only three questions, it’s unlikely to make a difference.
Another of the statues is a plump, grinning woman with a set of scales in one hand. This is the cheerful but mischievous Lord of Earth. Any character who asks a direct question to her will always get a false answer. “Ulu” means yes and “ozo” means no, so the Lord of Earth will answer “ozo” when the answer is yes and “ulu” when the answer is no.
The final statue is of a disproportionately tall and slender creature whose entire face is occupied by a single giant eye. This is the merciless but strictly honorable Lord of Sky. Any character who asks a direct question to him will always get a true answer. “Ulu” means yes and “ozo” means no, so the Lord of Sky will answer “ulu” when the answer is yes and “ozo” when the answer is no.
There is no indication on any of the statues which one governs which element, nor whether they tell the truth, lie, or answer randomly. They will collectively answer three yes-or-no questions from any group who enters. A single statue can answer all three questions or may answer none at all, so long as the total number of questions asked of all statues is three. Once three questions have been asked and answered, the statues will ignore all further questions.
Confrontation: The podium of each statue has a slot for a token. If the token of the element it overcomes is inserted (i.e. earth token into the Lord of Sky’s podium, sea token into the Lord of Earth’s podium, sky token into the Lord of Sea’s podium), the statue animates and attacks. If the token of the element it matches is inserted (i.e. sky token into the Lord of Sky’s podium, earth token into the Lord of Earth’s podium, sea token into the Lord of Sea’s podium), the statue will animate and defend the party from other statues or any other hostile creatures in the temple, but will not leave the temple grounds, nor unlock the treasure vault beneath the altar. If the token of the element it succumbs to is inserted (i.e. water token into the Lord of Sky’s podium, sky token into the Lord of Earth’s podium, earth token into the Lord of Sea’s podium), a loud grinding can be heard from below as one of the three locks on the vault underneath slides open. There is no visible effect on the chamber above, but if all three locks slide open, the altar and a circle of floor around it about two meters in radius will sink about a foot into the ground and will now act as a lift, taking anyone who steps on it into the chamber below.
Once a token of one sort has been placed into a statue, it will be locked in place by a powerful magnet. Even if the characters manage to pry it out somehow, other statues will refuse to recognize that token, and the statue whose podium the token was pried from will refuse to accept others. In fact, if the group leaves, the statues will reset the puzzle by placing the tokens back on the altar, but will still refuse to accept any token but the ones the group originally placed in them until a group with at least one new person arrives, at which point they will accept new answers (so long as the group in question has at least one person who was never part of any group that attempted the puzzle, it counts as a new group). If a group that has already attempted the puzzle enters the temple again, the statues will react to that group according to whatever tokens that group inserted into the statues, regardless of how many other groups have inserted other tokens in the meantime.
Groups that have lost members do not count as new groups. If someone enters the temple who has been a part of multiple previous groups but is now on their own, they are treated as a member of whatever group they last tried to solve the puzzle with. For example, if a character enters with Group A and gets the statues to attack, then later enters with Group B and gets them to protect them but not enter the vault, and then later enters again with Group C, who does not place any tokens into any podiums but instead leaves without attempting the puzzle, upon returning alone, the character will be treated as a member of Group B, the last group to actually attempt the puzzle.
The vault floor is made of thick and powerful Dark Age material. It has AP32, and at least ten points of damage will be required to make a hole big enough for an Average(4) creature to fit through. An additional 5 points (for 15 total) will be needed if any Hulking(5) creatures, including the statues, are to fit through. Any attempt to damage the floor, however, shall awaken all three statues, who will attack immediately, no matter what tokens have or haven’t been placed in their podiums. The statues will also refuse to answer any more questions once the temple has been attacked, no matter how many they had left to answer.
Podiums for destroyed statues will no longer respond at all to any group. The statue, being destroyed, can neither attack nor defend them, nor will the lock on the vault chamber be released. If a statue is destroyed while its lock is still engaged, the only way into the vault is brute force.
Rewards: If the characters manage to get the statues to defend them, the temple can be a valuable base of operations, as it has space for plenty of supplies and three powerful guardians who will kill anyone who attacks the characters – even if they were only attacking the characters because the characters attacked them first.
The real prize, however, is getting into the vault. The vault contains a database of Dark Age knowledge, including a partial STC which contains data for small scale but very advanced medical and manufacturing technologies. Anyone who studies here can buy advances in Medicae, Tech Use, Common Lore (Tech), and Trade (Technomat) up to Veteran(+30) level and in Forbidden Lore (Archaeotech) up to Proficient(+20) level. You must spend at least two hours studying the STC in the vault (or wherever the STC is now, if you’ve hauled it up and loaded it into a truck to move somewhere else) to get these benefits, which does mean that once you’ve gone around accumulating a bunch of XP you’ll want to hike back to the STC for a study trip. The thing is inconveniently located and that’s a worthwhile reason to go to the trouble of moving it into a personal hideout someplace centrally located like Brandt’s Landing.
In addition to helping with study, the STC can be used to construct an advanced medlab or for a local plasma weapon manufacturing plant. Creating either requires making a Rare(-20) requisition check for parts and an Ordinary(+10) Tech Use check to assemble them. If the Tech Use check is made from memory rather than working directly out of the STC, the difficulty is Hard(-20) instead. Once assembled, the medlab grants a +30 bonus to all Medicae checks, and can be packed up into a trio of containers about the size of a gretchin for relatively easy transport. Packing up the medlab takes an hour, as does setting it back up again, and obviously it does not provide its bonus while packed up. The portable plasma weapon production requires parts for each weapon made, but these parts are Rare(-20), and the plasma workshop will automatically assemble those parts into a Very Rare(-30) plasma pistol or rifle. Like the medlab, the plasma workshop can be packed into three roughly gretchin-size containers in an hour, and subsequently unpacked in the same amount of time. Each container, whether for medlab or for plasma workshop, weighs fifty kg.