In a carefully concealed cliffside monastery, an ancient sect of warrior monks studied the Way of the Serpent. The beautifully sculpted monastery was designed by the cult’s founder Anguin the Tunneler to blend into the hanging spires of rock that overlook the dark blue waters of the Seven Corded Lake.
Through careful meditation, prayer and training, these monks sought perfection of their mind, spirits and body. During especially important rituals the monks used various snake venoms to induce hallucinogenic states that would allow them to transcend and learn more about themselves and the cosmos.
While the cult itself seems to have fallen to the ravages of time and its former adherents scattered to the four winds, their powerful magics and teachings still lay undiscovered within the mysterious monastery.
Below, you’ll find descriptions of four magical masks used by the cult to bring their spirits closer to the aspect of the serpent, as well as a dangerous encounter to challenge your PCs.
Each of the four masks are powerful magical items that could be found anywhere in your world, but should be linked overtly to the Way of the Serpent. A successful skill check to recall lore of the world or knowledge of cults and religions would inform the player characters that the masks are ritualistic items used by the cult to attain spiritual power. Each Mask is inert, lacking its powers until all four masks are collected, brought to Anguin’s temple at the Seven Corded Lake and empowered by conducting the Ritual of the Four Bites. Conferring with sages or experts on the topic could provide adventurers with the surmised location of more of the set, or directions to the Seven Corded Lake itself.
This bronze mask is designed to mimic the beautiful visage of a full-lipped woman with a jewel studded tiara across her brow. A carved snake emerges from the bottom of each eyelid, wrapping around the cheeks of the mask, like a surreal and gruesome trail left by a tear.
This mask has 3 charges. While wearing the mask, you can expend 1 charge and use the mask to create one potion of greater healing, potion of resistance, or potion of poison. If unused after 24 hours, the potions transmute to harmless salt water. You may expend 3 charges to exhale a burst of poisonous liquid in a 30 foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 42 (12d6) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The mask regains all expended charges at dawn. This item requires attunement.
This silver mask is carved in the image of a swirling and squirming swarm of tiny snakes frozen in time. Hundreds of tiny carved eyes and tongues are visible among the scaled bodies. The mask has no holes for eyes, nose or mouth.
While wearing this mask, you have a swim speed of 30 feet. In addition, once per day you can transform into a swarm of snakes (see below) for 1 hour. You revert to your normal form if reduced to 0 hitpoints. This item requires attunement.
This gold mask is modelled to look like a sleeve of scales that fits across the wearer’s eyes. Each scale is enamelled with a deep and shimmering green that reflects the room around it. Two 6 inch long fangs hang from the mask, dangling in front of the wearer’s cheeks like windchimes.
This mask has 3 charges. While wearing the mask, you can expend 1 charge and use the mask to cast haste or protection from poison targeting yourself. You can expend 2 charges to cast freedom of movement targeting yourself. In addition, your unarmed and natural attacks are considered magical and deal poison damage in addition to their other damage types. The mask regains all expended charges at dawn. This item requires attunement.
Meticulously and lovingly carved from a wooden burl, this mask resembles a coiled cobra. When picked up, it comes to life, slithering up to coil around the wearer’s neck, covering their chin and mouth like a scarf.
This mask has 5 charges. While wearing the mask, you can expend 1 charge and use the mask to cast dissonant whispers or sleep, You can expend 2 charges to cast crown of madness (instead of a crown of thorns, a twisting snake wraps around the target’s neck), enthrall or hold person. You can expend 3 charges to give yourself advantage on persuasion and deception ability checks for 1 hour. At the end of the hour, you become mute until the mask regains all of its charges. The mask regains all expended charges at dawn. This item requires attunement.
The Four Bites
In creating both the temple of the Serpent and the four Serpent Masks, Anguin the Tunneler intended to forge a means to truly test himself and his disciples both in their ability and in their resolve. While each of the four masks are powerful on their own, together they contain a dark and secret power that when gathered in the meditation hall of the temple, will awaken Anguin’s test.
Combining the Masks
Throughout the temple, explorers should encounter references to the Ritual of the Four Bites. This mysterious ritual is said to be a true test of a disciple’s understanding of the power of the serpent. Murals depict disciples donning the masks, preparing for the ritual, and entering the meditation chamber alone. No depictions are made of the actual ritual, and the only confirmed survivor of the test is Anguin himself.
The meditation chamber of the temple is entered from the South, wherein is found a very large rectangular room with four terraces that ascend to the East and West. The ground level is covered in plush carpet that squishes wetly as it is walked across. Each terrace has long cold incense braziers and musty prayer mats adorned with the images of coiling serpents. The North side of the room has immense open windows that look out at the lake below as well as a large central dais with a huge gold sculpture. The sculpture, carved from a massive slab of stone and gilt with gold leaf, depicts the dwarf Anguin tunnelling from a subterranean city, encountering a massive serpent and following it, learning from its wisdom and continuing his journey skyward to found the temple. There are four round cavities in the sculpture sized for each of the Serpent Masks.
Upon fitting the masks into the sculpture, rumbling is heard and the Southern doors slam shut, magically locking closed. A thin, yellow liquid begins to pour from the windowsills on the North wall, obscuring the view outside and cascading into the room forming a poisonous pool that begins to quickly fill the ground level of the terraced chamber.
Begin tracking initiative: on initiative count 10 of round 1, the pool is spreading from the windows and covers the area up to the bottom of the dais. On round 2, the central path is filled with ankle deep poison. On round 4, the first level terrace is covered to ankle depth. On round 6, the second is covered, 8 the third, and on round 10, all four levels of the terraces are submerged. On round 12, the room is filled to the ceiling. The door and windows are magical barriers that prevent exit and keep the poisoned water from flowing out of the room until the test is complete. Any creature that ends its turn touching the poisoned water takes 2d6 poison damage and becomes poisoned until it leaves the water.
On initiative count 20 of round 2, the serpent creature known only as The Four Bites forms. Four ghostly green tendrils emerge from the sculpture, lifting the masks from their place and come together at the front of the dais to form a huge amalgam of serpentine bodies and faces. The Four Bites fights until dead, focusing on characters that appear sickly and weak first. Once the second phase of the battle starts, The Four Bites separate and each form focuses on a different character. Once all four of the serpents are killed, their bodies dissolve into the poisonous water, the doors unlock and the poison water drains from the room, leaving the now empowered Masks behind.
Aside from the obvious power that the Masks impart to player characters who choose to use them, you may choose to further reward players for defeating The Four Bites. Choose a serpent themed ability or boon that would suit each PC as a reward. Some suggestions for these rewards include:
- A martial arts stance that enables a monk’s unarmed attacks to mimic the speed and ferocity of the snake, dealing piercing or poison damage, or paralysing or poisoning a target for a short period of time
- A magical snake familiar or companion
- The ability to summon spectral serpents to frighten or unnerve opponents, granting fear or cause fear as an innate spell once per day.
- A Boon of Perfect Health (DMG p. 232)
- The ability to polymorph oneself into a serpent, gaining the relevant abilities and powers of an appropriately levelled snake.