A Quick Overview of The Keys of Heraka-at

A-Z 2014 QThe Keys of Heraka-at is an adventure that allows the PCs to learn the truth of the fall of the Donnerkonig, and to potentially become the new Donnerkonig.

This adventure takes place in and around a large stone outcrop near Heraka-at, the capital of Sturmhame. The adventure site as a whole is intended to guide the Donnerkonig heirs to their immediate tasks

Locations on the Map

Here I describe the major areas in this adventure location. Each is to be a significant area of interest and might be a ‘single room’ or ‘group of rooms’. I won’t fully flesh these out yet, I aim only to get a feel for the key elements and their relative location. Specific threats and non-critical rewards are similarly not done yet.

Any windows mentioned are expected to be primarily for light and fresh air, but are probably hard to see, being generally deep-set between ledges providing shelter from vision from below and some slight shelter from rain from above. As might be expected, rain and wind are not major problems here, though.

The Last Donnerkonig, or rather his ghost, is obviously very interested in the Donnerkonig returning, because this will lay him to rest. He will observe but not interfere with or assist explorers overtly. If he does so the new Donnerkonig may not have the strength or ability to hold their position, ultimately leading to their failure.


The Aerie is located high in the outcropping and is full of nooks and crannies suitable as nesting areas. The floor is crusted with guano. The Interior Stairway is fairly easy to find, as is the route to Lightning Peak, since those are where most of the fresh air blows in (pushing stench toward the Library). In particularly windy conditions the Aerie can have airborne particles of guano that can sting the eyes.


A small cave complex between the Pool of Aeshtua and the River-Swept Cave. I don’t know what’s here, but I suspect it’s not really related to the primary adventure. The entrance on one or both sides is probably kind of hard to get at (cracks or small eroded tunnel high on the wall in the darkness?). There are four sub elements here, so despite being a two-edge node I feel like this deserves to be a hard-won location. Almost certainly an alternate path in or out (sinkhole or similar from the outside?).

TODO: check geography, not sure how well this works. On the other hand, players probably won’t balk at it.


This is the primary expected entrance to the outcrop. Forecourt in front of large stone doors, entrance area leading to Hall of Faded Kings, and so on.

TODO: Expand on detail, obviously.

The Hall of Faded Kings

This great hall is lined with paintings and frescoes showing great acts of the Donnerkonig over the centuries they ruled, from the mighty acts that established their power, through acts during their reign, and even the diminishing acts during their decline.

The Great Hall of Faded Kings is fairly high within the outcrop. During the day, light is admitted through holes high in the wall that face outside. These holes are mostly about four or five feet across and open to the weather, but the artwork is sheltered from direct effect — weathered and worn, but still can be seen and understood. There are exits near critical images that can ultimately lead to the special location for each treasure, plus others. Each of the treasures is to be highlighted, along with an indication of their abilities. There are probably indications of the related Donnerkonig Palaces, and perhaps hints of their origin (which is more or less where they can be found now), but the primary purpose is to reveal their identity.

A gentle breeze carrying the faint odor of distant guano can be felt coming from ‘F’.

Interior Staircase

A spiral staircase climbs the inside of the Pinnacle of the Wind. This is quite a breezy passage, with wind generally blowing down from the top of the Pinnacle down to the Aerie. Exposed flames are likely to be blown out, even lanterns stand a chance of blowing out in the gusty wind. Reading (such as scrolls or books) is likely to be difficult. The stairs have no railing but are sound, but also sort of narrow (single file). There are windows enough to provide enough light to navigate, at least during daylight hours, but they are small and generally located away from the stairs.

Walls may have carvings and the like providing information. Or may not.

TODO: look up ‘wind rules’. Almost certainly want some kind of aerial encounter. Probably not stirges, stirges are overdone.

The Last Donnerkonig

This is the crypt of the last Donnerkonig, the Betrayer. His ghost can often be found here, to be laid to rest by the return of the Donnerkonig. He is willing to speak with those who approach him peacefully, providing some guidance and suggestions to consider carefully the information they find in the Keys of Hereka-at (treat something like speak with dead — he wants those who follow to succeed, but they must do so on their own merits, he cannot direct them).

TODO: Not sure how I want this to go. I’m thinking advisor rather than director. The information needed should be available via the other locations in this adventure. May be a GM-saver if something is missed.


This was originally intended to be a library, but over time the elements have largely had their way with the exposed written materials. Fragmentary references to history and events of the time of the Donnerkonig may be found here. These are often somewhat contradictory, or at least presenting a differing interpretation, of common knowledge. Should identify ‘knowledge locations’ in the Shrouded Fen.

TODO: The subelements may be secured and better-sheltered references. I don’t know their nature yet.

TODO: The path to The Last Donnerkonig’s crypt should probably be hidden, it’s discovery a reward of clever play (or bloody-minded determination, knowing my players).

Lightning Peak

The top of the outcrop hosts a recessed stony area. Where the Pinnacle of the Wind has obelisks and is open to the wind, the top of the outcrop is a storm-blasted barren. The Pinnacle has runes carved in the obelisks, Lightning Peak has only the jagged image of a trident, the tines point directly to Storm Mountain in the distance. Storm Mountain is where the Trident of Lightning is to be found.

TODO: Really simple area, should I look to complicate things? Lightning prone in stormy times, windy without cover at others (near the edge, might be prone to be blown off?).

Pinnacle Base

The base of the Pinnacle of Wind is anchored to the stone of the outcrop. It is possible, but perhaps difficult, to climb to the top of the Pinnacle, but partway up are ‘windows’ similar to those in the Great Hall that become evident and accessible, and provide exterior access to the Aerie. There is a short drop (ten feet?) to the floor, but even so it may be easier than continuing up the outside of the Pinnacle.

TODO: feels like it needs something dangerous or informative.

Pinnacle of Wind

A tall spire of stone, growing from the side of the outcrop, the top is covered with obelisks carved with runes describing two routes to the Pillars of the Sky, location of the Horn of Gales. One route involves going to the Spire of the Bronze Sorceress (whose help may be enlisted), the other is through the Grey Canyon (which has changed since this location was prepared — must remember to describe clearly, and how the Canyon clearly does not match, so players can realize something’s not right).

The pinnacle is a difficult climb from the Pinnacle Base, but it can be done. Easier would be to go up the inside via ‘I’.

The Pool of Aeshtua

This 15-foot wide pool of fresh water is formed of the carved coils of an immense stone serpent, with the head and ‘upper’ body looming above it. When a suitable offering is made [hinted at in a picture in the Hall of Faded Kings, fairly easily known to those with religious or local knowledge] the eyes will brighten and Aeshtua’s voice can be heard, providing directions to her grotto and the Ring of Waves. Aeshtua is here in spirit, theft of her offerings without need will be noticed and remembered.

Offerings sink to the bottom of the 20-foot deep pool, and 15 feet below the surface of the pool a short underwater tunnel leads to the Swimming Hole. There is some slight turbulence to the water as the water outside flows past and refreshes the water here, but it does not particularly hinder swimming.

The Pool of Aeshtua is in a cave low in the complex, close to normal ground level.

River-Swept Cave

The river has undercut part of the outcrop and exposed an eroded limestone cave. The cave — or the outside, depending where you start — can be reached by diving down about five feet below the outer shell of the outcrop. There is also a narrow crack that allows light in, but this is hard to reach from the river because of the current. It is, however, wide enough to admit a climber or swimmer (having no ‘floor’ to stand on). This cave is reminiscent of the Sea-Swept Vault containing the Crown of Rain, and the stalagmites are, upon examination (local knowledge, geography) a serviceable map. The outcrop and the location of the Sea-Swept Vault are both marked.

Clearly the River-Swept Cave must be low in the outcrop, to be near the water.

TODO: what kind of marking makes sense here? how might the PCs recognize the ‘map’ for what it is? Perhaps it is more evident when viewed from the ‘dry side’, coming from the Hall of Faded Kings?

TODO: I really should research these caves better, this doesn’t seem quite right to me.


A long-unused but still-consecrated shrine to the gods of the Heraka-at and the Donnerkonig.

TODO: I have no detail about what this looks like yet, but presumably has much to do with storms and the sea.

Swimming Hole

A small river passing the outcrop has something of a pool here, sheltered by some stone jutting into the river. The water cycles here, enough to freshen the water in the Pool of Aeshtua (accessible by a short underwater tunnel). Some small treasures, offerings to Aeshtua that were swept out by chance (or rejected by Aeshtua) rest among the sand and stone at the bottom of this pool.

Links to Other Adventures

In Next Steps in the Sandbox: Developing Donnerkonig Heirs I identified links between this adventure and others in the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign.

  • Grotto of Aeshtua, Serpent of the Water: via the Pool of Aeshtua.
  • Horned Abbot of the Grey Canyon: via the Pinnacle of Wind, but imprecisely, information is out of date. The Grey Canyon has been changed by external events relating to the Rift of Ravoshtu, Singer of the Abyss. I don’t know yet exactly what this means, but especially because the players are going to get no-longer-accurate information I need to make sure they can realize in time that this is so, so they have the option of backing out before it gets too bad.
  • Sea-Swept Vault: via the River-Swept Cave.
  • Shrouded Fen: via the Library.
  • Spire of the Bronze Sorceress: also via the Pinnacle of Wind. Much more current here, perhaps does not mention that she may be enlisted to help. I may want to think about that a bit more.
  • Storm Mountain: via Lightning Peak.

The Hall of Faded Kings also provides some hints, but not as specific detail. I might still bury some references in the Library as well, but I don’t know.

I think connectivity is satisfied.

Closing Comments

Still a way to go, but now it’s mostly detailed development. I’m pretty happy with most of the high-level view I have. I don’t yet know what kind of challenges and threats might be involved here. Possibly some puzzles or traps, or maybe simply hazards, dangerous conditions or situations to be cautious of. There are a few things that are likely only reachable by potentially-dangerous activity (climbing, swimming underwater). I know most players will want some combat, at least part of the time, so I expect I’ll have some. I don’t want to overload it, but it also is probably not a ‘civilized dungeon’. Incidental monsters, I expect. There might be some constructs or the like, but limited undead.

Likely combat-oriented locations include the Pinnacle Base, Interior Stairway, the Caves, possibly the Swimming Hole or River-Swept Cave, and the Aerie. The key locations (marked in gold) deserve some special attention.

It’s coming together. Still work to be done, but it’s coming.

Keys of Heraka-at Locations
Keys of Heraka-at Locations


  1. The River-swept Vault’s map could work like this:
    The location of the outcrop is marked by a cut aquamarine embedded in the rock with a silver surround. The Sea-swept Vault is marked by a similar, larger, aquamarine with a more elaborate silver border. The symbol of the Rain is present on this one. A delicate line of silver marks out a route between them, and certain stalagmites are inlaid with patterns of silver rings (landmarks).

  2. The Shrine is a circular chamber entered from the far end of the Hall of Faded Kings. It has no roof and is completely open to the elements. At equal intervals around the walls are embedded bronze icons of the symbols of Lightning, Rain, Wind, and Waves. In the centre of the room is a cubic altar carved from granite, with bronze upper detail. At each corner of the altar is an elegantly-formed lampstand (long extinguished).

    The lampstands are magical: once lit, they cannot be put out by weather conditions or immersion in water. They can be snuffed deliberately.

  3. Pingback: Refining the Keys of Herka-at | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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