September 27, 2012

Exotic Temple Adventures


Hello all! Just got back from a photo tour of Malaysia that was worth every single penny.  Great company, great post-shoot critiquing, and most of all great photo ops.  The shot above is of the Hindu shrine at the Batu Caves, in the Gombak hills north of Kuala Lumpur.


Seeing this enormous shrine and the plethora of Hindu pilgrims thronging it, I started thinking about the role temples have in our adventures.  The place is majestic. The art is awesome. The devotion of the pilgrims is heartfelt and deep.


The thought of anyone vandalizing any part of this shrine is definitely disturbing to me, though I’m not a Hindu.  Yet all too often that’s what temples exist for in FRPG adventures: Steal that idol! Rifle the treasure vaults! Take out the Evil High Priest™ in a big honking battle with massive collateral damage!  Fun? Definitely. But a rather one-dimensional representation that can be expanded.  Adventures that pay respect to our cultural inspirations. So, what else might we be able to do with temple settings in FRPGs?

A) The temple is a remote place of pilgrimage that offers tangible spiritual/magical benefits to those who can get there, and make their way to the hidden innermost sanctum. This encourages exploration of the temple without despoiling it.

Nor would such a mission be boringly free of the danger we gamers vicariously crave. Saw the stairs in the first photo? That’s only the second set, another and much higher set lies without.  Now imagine if the temple were long-abandoned, and the ways inside crumbling from disuse.  Loose stones and moss-slick surfaces can be as dangerous as man-made traps. 

The Batu Cave shrine lies in a cave and sinkhole complex; the sinkhole’s opening to the sky is where my light is coming from in the pic below. What if, in a similar fantasy shrine, the only entrance left open was one you had to rope yourself down through the skylight?


Temples in the wilderness like this can also be inhabited by surprisingly dangerous forms of wildlife.  During our shoot, we saw a wild monkey – sacred to Hanuman – throw a half-eaten coconut down the stairs, almost hitting a pilgrim. An accidental ‘attack’ that could have injured, even killed, had the pilgrim lost her footing and fallen down the stairs. And because they’re sacred animals, you can’t just deal with them by shooing them away or attacking them!

B) Recover and reconsecrate a lost shrine.  A slightly altered version of the first plot seed, this one requires our adventurers to escort a priest or other holy person to the temple, past all the dangers in the way, and make sure that the reconsecration is in order. 

Perhaps a lost artifact or idol must be returned, or a sacred ritual performed free of interruption (lest disaster follow), or hostile forces want to prevent it from happening.  Heck, the villains could be a rival adventuring party that wants to steal and sell the McGuffin being taken to the temple by our heroes!

To make the adventure even more exciting and challenging, what if you put on some time pressure? 

C) Remember Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger? (Pssst, if you don’t want to admit your age just don’t say anything!) One whole sequence was devoted to the search for the sage Melanthius, who lived in an isolated island lair that was reminiscent of a wilderness shrine. 

Your adventurers may need to find such a shrine to learn something important there: a new spell or means to break an enchantment, the secret vulnerability of an otherwise invincible monster, etc. etc. And once at the shrine, they have to convince the resident sages there that they’re worthy of being taught! Pendragon-style tests of virtue and tenacity may be called for, perhaps a few requiring combat, but mostly not.

D) The PCs need to escort a party of pilgrims to the shrine. On reaching the shrine, however, they find that they and the shrine are in danger from some outside force – an invading army, a monster, a demon infestation, etc. etc. The temple becomes their temporary castle, and our heroes must make cunning use of every defensive feature they can find – without committing any form of sacrilege!

E) Turn the usual temple adventure premise upside-down: instead of going to a temple to rob it, our heroes are going to the temple to prevent its being robbed of some precious, holy artifact.  They have to get to the temple in time, figure out the thieves’ most likely modus operandii and find ways to block them – or failing that, catch them before they can disappear!

You could even pull a trick on your players, and have the temple’s treasure be something very different from what they expect; what if it’s not some idol or jewel, but rather the temple’s sweeper-boy, who’s actually the King’s long-lost son?

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head for temple adventures that don’t require you to trash the place. I’m sure you can come up with more, lots more! +5 Karma if you do! :-)

(Oh yeah, and this I believe is my first post where I actually managed to combine my love for photography and travel with my love for gaming! Woot!)


  1. What if, in a similar fantasy shrine, the only entrance left open was one you had to rope yourself down through the skylight?

    Your wish has been granted! I had the same vision when creating The Sacrifice Pit:

  2. Good stuff! I visited this exact temple a year ago this month. The monkeys are definitely memorable, and--to add another plot twist--one tried to steal my friend's Diet Pepsi. Imagine if these critters you can't harm stole an essential artifact (sacred Diet Pepsi?) and scampered up the cliff face. They have teeth and claws!


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