Literary encounters: Trapped in a treasure chamber

KSM-26

Adventurers in general are not that good at planing ahead. In their treasure hunting they might draw some designs regarding how to get there but they all to often forget to ponder how to get back again. Getting to the treasure is fine, but rather pointless if you can’t get it and yourself back home again.

All to many adventurers have realized that you can’t eat diamonds and that there are walls that even a an ass laden with gold can’t cross. Often they realize this all to late.Not letting your players get away with bad planing and pointing out that treasures can’t be eaten and generally don’t fly home by themselves is a good way to present your campaign world as a living breathing place. A place where  adventurers, confident in their victory, can be trapped forever with the treasures the have found.

To illustrate my point I have chosen an excerpt from near the end of H. Rider Haggards classic adventure story King Solomon’s Mines. Here be spoilers.

Alan Quatermain, great white hunter extraordinaire, and his two british employers Sir Henry and Good, has at last reached the fabled mines of king Solomon and it’s treasure chamber. They are accompanied by two native women. The ancient evil crone Gagool, who they have pressured into guiding them into the mines,  and Foulata, who is in love with Good. The women are both killed as Gagool successfully traps the white men in the treasure chamber.  Gagool is crushed by the huge stone door and Foulata dies of a stab wound received by Gagool. Thus the gentlemen are left alone, without having to ponder the straining possibility of an interracial romance…


“I mean that you will soon be in a position to join her. Man, don’t you see that we are buried alive?”

Until Sir Henry uttered these words I do not think that the full horror of what had happened had come home to us, preoccupied as we were with the sight of poor Foulata’s end. But now we understood. The ponderous mass of rock had closed, probably for ever, for the only brain which knew its secret was crushed to powder beneath its weight. This was a door that none could hope to force with anything short of dynamite in large quantities. And we were on the wrong side!

For a few minutes we stood horrified, there over the corpse of Foulata. All the manhood seemed to have gone out of us. The first shock of this idea of the slow and miserable end that awaited us was overpowering. We saw it all now; that fiend Gagool had planned this snare for us from the first.

It would have been just the jest that her evil mind would have rejoiced in, the idea of the three white men, whom, for some reason of her own, she had always hated, slowly perishing of thirst and hunger in the company of the treasure they had coveted. Now I saw the point of that sneer of hers about eating and drinking the diamonds. Probably somebody had tried to serve the poor old Dom in the same way, when he abandoned the skin full of jewels.

“This will never do,” said Sir Henry hoarsely; “the lamp will soon go out. Let us see if we can’t find the spring that works the rock.”

We sprang forward with desperate energy, and, standing in a bloody ooze, began to feel up and down the door and the sides of the passage. But no knob or spring could we discover.

“Depend on it,” I said, “it does not work from the inside; if it did Gagool would not have risked trying to crawl underneath the stone. It was the knowledge of this that made her try to escape at all hazards, curse her.”

“At all events,” said Sir Henry, with a hard little laugh, “retribution was swift; hers was almost as awful an end as ours is likely to be. We can do nothing with the door; let us go back to the treasure room.”

We turned and went, and as we passed it I perceived by the unfinished wall across the passage the basket of food which poor Foulata had carried. I took it up, and brought it with me to the accursed treasure chamber that was to be our grave. Then we returned and reverently bore in Foulata’s corpse, laying it on the floor by the boxes of coin.

Next we seated ourselves, leaning our backs against the three stone chests which contained the priceless treasure.

“Let us divide the food,” said Sir Henry, “so as to make it last as long as possible.” Accordingly we did so. It would, we reckoned, make four infinitesimally small meals for each of us, enough, say, to support life for a couple of days. Besides the “biltong,” or dried game-flesh, there were two gourds of water, each of which held not more than a quart.

“Now,” said Sir Henry grimly, “let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.”

We each ate a small portion of the “biltong,” and drank a sip of water. Needless to say, we had but little appetite, though we were sadly in need of food, and felt better after swallowing it. Then we got up and made a systematic examination of the walls of our prison-house, in the faint hope of finding some means of exit, sounding them and the floor carefully.

There was none. It was not probable that there would be any to a treasure chamber.

The lamp began to burn dim. The fat was nearly exhausted.

“Quatermain,” said Sir Henry, “what is the time—your watch goes?”

I drew it out, and looked at it. It was six o’clock; we had entered the cave at eleven.

“Infadoos will miss us,” I suggested. “If we do not return tonight he will search for us in the morning, Curtis.”

“He may search in vain. He does not know the secret of the door, nor even where it is. No living person knew it yesterday, except Gagool. Today no one knows it. Even if he found the door he could not break it down. All the Kukuana army could not break through five feet of living rock. My friends, I see nothing for it but to bow ourselves to the will of the Almighty. The search for treasure has brought many to a bad end; we shall go to swell their number.”

The lamp grew dimmer yet.

Presently it flared up and showed the whole scene in strong relief, the great mass of white tusks, the boxes of gold, the corpse of the poor Foulata stretched before them, the goat-skin full of treasure, the dim glimmer of the diamonds, and the wild, wan faces of us three white men seated there awaiting death by starvation.

Then the flame sank and expired.

(http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/King_Solomon%27s_Mines/Chapter_XVII)

This episode learns us that forcing an old spiteful witch to guide you in a dungeon that she knows very well should be avoided. Especially if you have fought on the other side in a civil war that deposed her as the power behind the throne. And if you can’t be successful without her guidance you should never ever let her out of your sight, and it is a very bad idea to step into places where she doesn’t enter first.

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