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D&D: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan

7 Minute Read
Mar 21 2017

This week, we explore a Legendary Hidden Temple…

With Tales from the Yawning Portal only a few weeks away from a general release, I thought it would be fun to take a look back through the original modules that it comprises. There are seven all in all, with everything from 3rd Edition favorites to legends like the Tomb of Horrors. So submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I present to you the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan


The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is an adventure for 5th-7th level players that takes them through some ruins found in the distant Amedio Jungle, near the abandoned city of Tamoachan. The adventure originally began with players escaping pursuit and becoming lost in the jungle and then falling into the ruins, swallowed by darkness. From their rough landing, players are given a simple objective: escape the buried shrine and make their way to the safety of the surface.

However in order to do that, they’ll have to make their way through a trap-filled temple filled with fiendish foes, including two forgotten Demigods, a giant crab and more. Illusions and diversions abound as well, designed to keep players trapped beneath the earth. But, heroes that are clever, lucky, and capable might manage to make their way out of the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan and once again see the light of day.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan has 54 rooms, and is populated with a variety of monsters and traps. There are more traps and puzzles than combat encounters in this module–if you have players who prefer solving puzzles to slinging swords, this module will suit them nicely. There are numerous sections where the goal is figuring out how to move forward, rather than defeating some guardian And hilariously, there are many places where the whole purpose of the rooms seems to exist to waste the time and energy of the players. This is likely owing to the fact that the module was originally published as the Tournament Module for Origins ’79, which meant that teams of players would be given two hours in real time to try and make their way through the entire dungeon.

There was even a scoring system.


The number of points awarded for bringing a snack to the GM is discretionary.

It’s an interesting relic of a different time. You can kind of get an idea of the adventure’s intent from the way points were awarded. Cleverness and solving the puzzles were awarded, but there were so many gotcha moments included in the game that it was entirely reasonable to take some hits for acting like a normal person with common sense. For instance, players aren’t really rewarded for finding loot–rather they’re rewarded for making what the designers felt the “correct” decisions were. Or as the module puts it:

“Originally designed for tournament play, The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is a test of the skill and common sense of players. Therefore, many of the encounters will not bother a party who do or do not take certain actions. Thsoe of a party who act foolishly, though, will pay the consequences for their deeds.”

The “common sense” in question here is really more like suspicion bordering on paranoia and suspecting that everything could be a concealed trap (heaven forbid you actually trigger one) or that every creature you encounter is lying to you. And people wonder why Adventurers are thought of as Murder Hobos. Take a look at room 34, for instance:

Did you spot the hidden trap there? Well. If you were thinking those warrior statues. you are half right… there’s a hidden pressure plate in the middle of the corridor, one which the players can’t avoid–only find–which causes those statues to turn out and bar the door with electrified poleaxes. Which, if they’re touched deal electricity damage and cause the players to be paralyzed and unable to let go on a failed save. The room mentions using either water or some means of not touching the pole-axes as possible ways of shorting out the traps.

Now you might be thinking, oh hey, this room is guarded by a pretty serious trap–it must be to protect something, right? Nope. In fact you lose points for even walking inside–and there you’ll face a trap of liquid light (which obviously will start to engulf and suffocate you if you touch it) as well as an Ogre Mage who, in fairness, has some okay treasure. But as far as I can tell, the module doesn’t care if you get treasure.


Adventuring in the Shrine

Actually the module doesn’t care about a lot of things. Which is a shame, because it has a lot of history to it. The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan was the first module to introduce the Olman to the world of Greyhawk. The Olman are a Mesoamerican analogue society drawing heavily from the Aztecs but also there’s some Mayan and Incan iconography sprinkled throughout. Many of the rooms are decorated with figures and statues and murals that depict scenes from the culture.

Adventurers who explore might be rewarded with intricate details about the Olman society’s creation myths, or find the remains of a team that played pelota–which means ball, and is this module’s answer to the whole, “oh hey these guys lost a ball game and are dead.” Naturally players are given a chance to play (risking themselves in the process). Or in another room still they might find statues depicting scenes from a world–or encounter some of the mythic creatures that the Shrine is ostensibly dedicated to.

Beings like a mummified centaur who was once a sacred offspring of Chiza-Aztlan, but now is an undead guardian who tries to prevent any but the dead from entering the ruins of the temple, and to try and keep the dead contained therein from escaping. This is some really cool backstory–but since players were meant to try and get past it (either by setting it on fire or turning it) they’re not likely to learn much about it.

Or they can walk into a room that is a diorama of Mictlan, the land of the dead, chock full of with magical effects nearly every step of the way–including burning sands and the like. Or walk through the chapel of Kukulkan where they encounter a hidden Couatl that charges them with a riddle and has them pass a trial that rewards successful characters with magic items and the services of a shadowy Death Servant, which sounds creepy, but is basically an extra life. Once, and once only, when that character would suffer a fatal blow, the death servant (which has unbeknownst to the characters merged with their shadows) will materialize and push the character out of harm’s way.

That’s one of the things I’m most interested to see in Tales from the Yawning Portal. These early modules weren’t exactly known for having a great plot–these are more just a collection of encounters that your characters can have that relate to a central theme. But 5th Edition is all about finding a story–or at least adding a little bit more detail to the world. Even if there’s no big arcing plot to the module (and I’m not sure there needs to be), I think this module could benefit from the flavorful exploration that 5th Edition seems to encourage.

After all there are times the module basically punishes characters for thinking that something looks cool and trying to learn more about it. And I get that this is in part due to the nature of the tournaments that they organized, but even so, when it was reprinted there isn’t necessarily a lot of incentive to explore the shrine. Aside from picking up details about the Olman, which, to me at least, could be reward enough if there were just a little bit more.


In Conclusion

Despite all that though, the module is still fantastic. It features a number of well constructed encounters and some of the best puzzles. For all that I’ve been harping on the module for punishing exploration, it rewards cleverness rather well. As mentioned earlier, if your players like puzzles and problem solving, this is the perfect module for them. You can’t really fault a module that presents a riddle that requires something of each member of a (pregenerated) party.

Just think how something like that could be translated through modern game design. Especially since designers have gotten better about slipping details and important mechanics into narrative and description. I think this one is a great candidate for keeping players engaged throughout.

All in all, this is a pretty good module, and there’s a reason it ranks on many peoples’ top ten lists. It’s definitely worth checking out if you can get your hands on a copy–if not, then you’ll have to wait and see what shape it takes once the Yawning Portal opens up…

Finally, a dungeon where it’s appropriate to encounter Red Jaguars, Blue Barracudas, Green Monkeys, Orange Iguanas, Purple Parrots, and Silver Snakes…

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