Dungeon Design: Pyramid of the Magician

I keep saying this, if you want good inspiration for your D&D setting, you can’t beat the real world.

Here’s a case in point:

The mayan city of Uxmal is one of the greatest archeological site of the Yucatan peninsula. Among several other restored structure on the site, the so-called Pyramid of the Magician (that’s not what it was called back in the days) is at the center and the most impressive.

The Pyramid of the Magician, or the House of the dwarf as it is also called, is so named because according to local folklore it was built in only one day, ( as a challenge from the gods in one version) enabling the enigmatic being (surely a magician or a err dwarf because who else could succeed!) who managed that feat to become the ruler of Uxmal.

(the complete story is of course a lot more intricate than this!)

It has a distinctive architecture as it is somewhat round (for a pyramid), has five levels and is about 100 feet tall.

And here’s where it gets particularly interesting… Archeologists have found out that the pyramid has been built in FIVE successive phases – one temple per phase – the earliest is only partially exposed as a result of more recent superimposed constructions.

(So, local folklore got it all wrong, but still a cool story worth stealing for a game!)

Now, we can safely guess that a new building phase was othen motivated by the will of a ruler to outshine previous ones, establishing his own importance in the eyes of his contemporaries. Sometimes the earlier temple kept his original purpose, sometimes it was refurbished into something different. If it was a new dynasty say, what did it do with the tomb or worshipping altar, of a previous one? Sealed it off in indifference? Or (as D&D stuff now) use its deceased occupant as an angry undead guardian!

A few more random thoughts:

  • The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal is one structure among at least a dozen BIG structures. So following this, it could be part of a whole site to explore – Dwellers of the Forbidden City style- not just a single dungeon.
  • False doors and false stairways seemed like a staple of these mayan pyramids. Add some clever traps and here we go.
  • There’s several entrances all over the place, some a lot more grandiose than others. One was through a elaborate serpent’s mouth.
  • Mayan art do love its serpents. Jaguars too.
  • Masks friese are impressive.
  • Stela are everywhere and have a lot of useful information engraved over them
  • The old TSR adventure The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan is the closest thing to this. It has a lot of nice features, many inspired by mesoamerican culture, but it was designed as a tournament play module and is accordingly very limited in what it tries to accomplish. Still, we had a lot of fun as a group when I ran it.

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