Thursday, November 19, 2020

Three situations

 BELL TRAP


A big metal bell sitting on the ground in the middle of a room, inscribed with obviously magical dwarven runes which say something like "DANGER! KEEP OUT! NO ONE ALLOWED!" If it senses any movement in the room (with magic blindsight, so invisibility or silence doesn't work), it gongs, automatically dealing a large amount of damage to anyone in the room and in the hallways up to the turns, and inflicting deafness if they fail their save. The bell then has a lingering tone that lasts for a minute, during which it cannot gong. After one minute, it resets.

This distracted my players for about two hours and and inflicted a humongous amount of damage.

BLOOD SHAFT







This one's a little more complicated. Both of these maps are vertical maps, you're looking at a side view. Each square is ten feet, and the rooms are square from the top down, so the top shaft is 30' square and 160' high and the bottom shaft is 50' square and about 25' high. Red squares are doorways. 

Players start in the bottom room.  A red carpet runs along the floor, up the wall, and to the doorway in the ceiling. Blood drips down in a steady rain through the square opening and soaks into the spongy, porous ground, which grows weird pink flowers. The vertical shaft above is smooth stone wall except for the red carpet, which continues to run up the wall to the closed door. The shaft is completely filled with this blood, which is dripping from innumerable small cracks in the ceiling. The dripping blood acts as an anti-magic field--it suppresses anything magical it drips on, cancelling spells, magic items, summoned monsters, and so on, and no spells can be cast into the area of the dripping blood, including teleportation. The blood can be cleaned off an item with an action, as long as it's outside the dripping area. It takes a little longer to clean a whole person, I'd say maybe a minute, unless they can think of something else. The antimagic blood loses its properties after ten minutes.

At the very top of the shaft is a metal guard box. Arrow slits are set in the bottom of the guard box in a square pattern, which can be opened and closed with a simple sliding mechanism. The sides of the guard box are open doorways, though the players probably can't see that from the bottom of the shaft. Inside the guard box are four low level vampires with crossbows and swords. They also have with them four giant spike balls attached to chains, which they can use an action to shove out the guard box, dealing a large amount of damage to anyone in a line underneath them. They can then use a winch to draw the spike ball back up over a minute, or release the chain with a release mechanism, causing the chain to drop to the floor.

This entertained my players for about a session and a half. They were really stumped for a while, but thought to smoke out the vampires by building a fire at the bottom of the shaft, using the smoke for cover, and hauled in a reverse gravity boulder to drop upwards onto the guard box, breaking the arrow slits. From there it was a pretty simple brawl, until they found the very next room where four elite vampire knights camped, but we won't get into that here.

BLOOD RAVE


Oh yeah this one's pretty fun. 

Blood soaked room. This room is filled with sleeping, quiescent vampires, naked and slick, wet with black blood that’s slowly dried into clotted mud. There are over a hundred of them, these are the sleeping reservoir of Queen Tetranoska’s nobility. Every few days they awaken, screaming and shrieking, and begin churning against each other, their eyes open and the clots crack, and the reservoir in the ceiling cracks open, blood comes spraying down, and the vampires, screaming in ecstasy, perform an ecstatic dance of incredible violence for two to four hours, and then turn back to their slumber.


This room is filled with 128 fully statted vampires. However they are sleeping, so their passive perception is 9. If they awaken, it takes them two rounds to shake off sleep, and then 1d4+2 will come searching for the source of the sound. If they’re all awakened into blood lust, then they’ll come surging as a nightmare mass of starved and violent vampires. They only have enough energy to chase for 1d4 minutes, after which they’ll begin to slow and stumble, give up the chase, and return to room 16.


If engaged during a blood rage, they’ll be at full power! and run freely through the entire castle for 2-4 hours.


Scattered on the floor are severed body parts, pulped guts, mashed eyes, and some jewelry worth 3000 gp.


My players did manage to encounter the vampires during a blood rave, and did have to run through the castle ahead of 128 screaming maniac vampires.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Intractibility

So I was playing around in Assassin's Creed Valhallha, I was craving a big medieval open world to roam around in and this one is getting good reviews. Never played an Assassin's Creed game before, they seem bad. 

I speedrun through the tutorial area (too much snow, too many mountains) and come to England, it's really big, the map is vibrant and inviting, there's treasure everywhere, cool towers and ruins, and a lot of hackneyed side quests and boring fully voice-acted cutscenes. This is fine. I realize that I need some more resources to upgrade my town, and the solo quests I've been doing haven't been cutting it. Now the game introduced the concept of raiding to me when I got to England, basically me and all my homies get on a boat and go kill monks and take their stuff, and the game suggested it's a good way to get town upgrades. It's pretty fun but a little clumsy, I just want to explore by myself. 

So I find a monastery. The game is stealth focused, there's a whole stealth upgrade tree, and the monastery is keyed as a "distrust" area, meaning I won't be attacked on sight as long as I'm careful. Maybe I can sneak in and find the golden treasures marked on my map without a raid. 

I quickly find a secret entrance by the river, sneak in, kill the unsuspecting guard with a new sneak attack, and find a new ability book in a crypt. Nice. I climb out of this crypt and find myself in a well populated monastery, there's monks and guards everywhere, but they don't seem to notice or care that I just broke through a locked door. That's fine.

After pinging my search vision tool, I can see the treasures are inside a couple well-guarded buildings. I stalk around the outside of these buildings and find a stained glass window. I remember shooting arrows at windows early on to break in to some buildings, these guards seem pretty credulous so I'll give it a try. The glass shatters, revealing iron bars on the inside preventing my passage.

Okay... so that won't work. That's fine. I circle around to the front door. There's a prompt that says "Force open." Okay, I'll give it a try. My dude then braces against the door with one shoulder and gestures to his comrades WHO AREN'T EVEN THERE and says, "Hey, give me a hand with this." He's leaning there, openly preparing to break down the door, and nobody nearby says or does anything.

I teleported all the way back to my town, grabbed my warriors, sailed our sailboat all the way back through the canals to the monastery, and did the scenario like I was supposed to. It was easy and I didn't have to think for a second about how to succeed.

So that's intractibility.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

 The more open world games I play the more I respect and love this game. On my first play through, when it was released, I was disappointed -- no classic Zelda style dungeons, no massive and epic Zelda style bosses, no triforce, no Ganon as a character, little story-line, few villages, all the things I loved weren't here. I wanted something like Link to the Past in 3d, and got this strange exploration wandering ramble game instead. I smashed through it in about a week, went "Huh," and parted ways. I liked it but was disappointed.

After an additional play-through on master mode, and yet another play-through on normal, and many tries at 3d open-world adventure games (Witcher 3, Dragon Age Inquisition, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, probably others) I can confidently say I adore this game, it's really one of the best, and I have no idea how they pulled it off. It's so good. All those other games simply can't compete, this game is tactile, patient, beautiful, respects the player, respects freedom, and respects PLAY as a concept for its own sake.

FREEDOM AND TRACTABILITY

These are two related concepts. A game that allows freedom of play is improved by posing scenarios and problems that are tractable. In Zelda, this freedom is provided to the player right off the bat, and then increased in ever increasing doses, until the full scope of the game is shown. The player is able to wander anywhere they like, so long as they are willing to endure or solve the many problems the world poses them. And as for the problems, nearly every problem is an environmental puzzle that can be solved from any number of different directions, and can be influenced and chipped away at by the player's many tools, depending on which of them they prefer to use. 

This is truly unique. So many games have a feeling of flatness to them, a sense that the world is made to be approached from one direction of the other. Zelda's willingness to accommodate player ingenuity lets the world be a true exploration. You're never just filling in the blanks. At every moment in the game--literally almost every moment--the player is given the freedom to choose how to move and what to do.

Even combat embraces this. Areas of monsters are bounded but open, they live in vertical tiered areas that give them advantages you can overcome with your many powers, they're surrounded by cliffs and exploding barrels, the grass can burn, lightning can strike and be manipulated, oftentimes you're greatly outnumbered but even this can be exploited with your bombs and wands and spin attacks and rune spells.

This is helped by the game's difficulty. Death happens quickly if you get hit by a powerful monster or fall in a swamp. Even on my third play-through, I find myself dissuaded by areas of higher difficulty. Towers of black moblins, lynels, guardian walkers, and so on, are too much for my measly six hearts one upgrade armor. By knowing the penalty for carelessness, the player is allowed freedom to avoid or mitigate these problems however they like. Climb a mountain to get around it, drink a stealth potion to sneak, drop rocks from above, pick them off with bombs from afar, or whatever. The game never pulls its punches.

My friend Nick, who introduced me to this concept of tractability in games, has this to say on the issue:

"If you've ever played a video game and been frustrated the hero can't try to climb over a fence, you've experienced intractability. A tractable world rewards you for paying attention to what the dm describes. 'Oh wait, i remember there was a big delicious looking ham with a big poker fork jabbed into it two rooms back. I'll bet we could use it to prop this door open." So when the world is tractable, you're rewarded for paying attention to the world, and you're rewarded for being thoughtful and imaginative about how to engage with it, and combine different pieces of it.

When the world is intractable, when the answer is "no, there's nothing you can pick up in the opulent dining room" or "no, you can't pull the curtains loose, they're stuck" or "no, there's no way to knock over the throne even though you have that scroll of 'knock over chair'" it punishes you for paying attention, or for thinking creatively, because you've wasted your own and everyone else's time by trying to do something other than hitting the orc with your axe. Because the energy you spent figuring out how to build a trap out of living room furniture could have been spent on looking at your phone, or just saying "sure, i'll look at that" about whatever the dm points you to. If you tell me it's a crudely constructed raft, don't be mad if i try to saw through the ropes holding it together while the villain is giving his speech

The things players think of to do to your perfect dollhouse world will almost always be dissonant with what you imagined, if what you imagined was a specific kind of story."

LACK OF INTERRUPTIONS

Accompanying this is a wonderful lack of cut-scenes. So many of these fully voiced open-world games feel like a stutter-stop slow-motion tv show. You're wandering, you're exploring, and then you meet a guy who wants to tell you about a quest, and the game turns into very low quality tv. And sometimes these strings of cut scenes last forever. I end up clicking through all the dialogue as fast as i can to get to the gameplay, as these games go on usually the story gets more and more muddled.

So not only are you able to go wherever the fuck you want, but also the game gives you very few interruptions.

Not to mention the tendency in these big AAA open world games to have the "interact vision." In Witcher its Witcher Vision, in Dragon Age its the L3 search scan, in Horizon its the I don't even remember what it's called, but you press a button and it highlights what you need to look at. It turns from a game of freedom into a game of treading the path the game has made for you. Press X to examine the campfire and hear a voiceover say something terse like "Coals are cold, they must have moved on", press X to examine the belongings and hear the voice say, "Blood on the cloth, but its not theirs..." etc etc. It's tedious, and more importantly there's not really anything for the PLAYER to do with this information.

In Zelda, when the game provides the player information, the vast majority of the information is useful and relevant. And what information is not useful or relevant, is beautiful, funny, strange, moving, and always, always brief. You can move on if you want.

IMMEDIACY

Every moment is immediate, your contact with the world and its contents are tactile and direct. You stand on a hill and see a distant landmark, you can immediately strike out for it, your vision reaches all the way across the map, the delay in starting your journey can be none if you want. The controls are quick and responsive, your paraglider snaps out very quickly, Link turns on a dime, his attacks are clean and executed immediately, and you can always tell where he is, somehow. He spins and twirls, he snaps to attention, he hops, he doesn't have the range of movement of Mario but there is still that feeling of smoothness and never having any doubt what he's doing or where he is. Maps open and close with no delay, your magic powers are conjured as fast as you can think them. When you select your weapons and tools, the game is paused or so slowed down as to be nearly paused, paradoxically this makes the game more immediate, there's no fumbling or needing to ready your tools before a fight, everything is at your fingertips the moment you need them.

Gathering resources too. You see a mushroom, it has its glinting spark to denote its status as resource, and as soon as you press the button it moves into your inventory, there is a little tune that plays to let you know it worked. So many of these open world games struggle with this. Some of them, you have to click to open containers, even herbs out in the world, and then move through a little menu to gather the item, even if it's just one item. Zelda avoids containers completely--the only containers in the world are chests, which are their own reward, beautiful little objects that click open, they always give you something pretty good. Everything else is just out in the world to grab. Weapons are lying on logs, propped in places where monsters can quickly grab them, or displayed for you. Sometimes items are hidden inside crates, but these are mostly inconsequential and rare enough that they are little bonuses: an apple that gets roasted by your bomb, an arrow or two, just a bonus really. 

Ambling over the landscape also has that sense of immediacy, I don't know how they capture it. You have a sense that you're really there, moving over the contours of the hills, drenched in rain, the clap of thunder. I guess it's an accumulation of concrete details. The grass parting as you move through it, insects and wildlife darting away from you, the sound of Link's footsteps (I read in an interview that they considered Link footsteps one of the most important sounds in the game, always present and always giving you information about where you are). If you need to get up a cliff, there's no delay in climbing it, vertical movement is just as natural as walking, if a little bit slower. Maybe part of it is the movement of the weather and the movement of the days, there is always movement around you, but there is always a sense of stillness, that you are at the center of something very huge and still and alive, and you are the main actor. It's remarkable.

PLAYER CHOICE AND DESIRE, AND CONNECTION TO SELF

Similar to player freedom. I find that this game works best when I'm connected to my own desires, and encourages me to be connected to myself. Do I want to go THIS direction or THAT direction? It feels like the game wants me to be present, wants me to play the game in the way that I want to play, and wants me to enjoy it. The more present I am with this game, the more pleasurable it is. Many games either ignore this element, or go in the opposite direction. They either guide the player at every moment, or create hard guard-rails to prevent us from moving to the wrong place, or like many games these days, try to hook us into cycles of addiction and gambling, like in Blizzard's games, or other games of chance, like the very excellent and recent Hades, which I loved but found I needed to fight against the impulse or repetition and gambling. There is none of that here, it is a relief.

MORE ON THE DETAILS

There are so many of them, the character models and creatures, the items are so detailed, so carefully rendered. I'm always finding new details. You get the sense that this place has a real history, however, there is also a feeling that this was created by interested, compassionate artists. 

The characters themselves are a little strange and a little credulous, and quite varied. They want specific things, they are on specific missions, they seem to think and have opinions about themselves and the plight they're in, their world and each other. They're quite afraid of things that give you no pause. To Link, monsters are mostly speedbumps or puzzles, but to the people they are terrors. 

The world is full of so many details. Ruined columns, places, garrisons, villages that seem to have history. There's a good chance that someone you meet will comment on these places. I should note that there is not the level of detail in a Dark Souls game, those game builds its world with a level of concrete detail unmatched. I think Zelda is trying to build a somewhat less idiosyncratic world, more of a puzzlebox to crawl through than a harsh and menacing baroque dungeon. 

The landscape itself is varied, it contains a level of detail I have trouble understanding. Its contours are obviously deliberate, it moves to obscure and to suddenly open up, its folds contain secret chests and places (not to mention the shrines), it relaxes and then thrusts upwards into menace. And it's always inviting, even when there are obstacles (cliffs, heat, ice, lava) there is always the invitation to overcome them. 

LETS SEE WHAT ELSE

Hyrule Castle is one of the best open world dungeons ever executed. It embraces Zelda's open world design--it's inviting, large, dangerous, you can approach it from any angle at any time, it's full of secrets, details, and treasure, and you can use any number of your resources and tools to solve it. It has a variety of bosses and unique treasures, and a fascinating vertical design: the point is to get to the top.

The more involved and difficult quests are very fun, especially because there are only a few of them. Stumbling across puzzles out in the world is a surprise, and a good break from the core exploration.

What story there is, is fairly surprising. Zelda's misgivings and doubt are fairly compelling, surprisingly dark for the game you're playing. They don't quite manage to overcome the simplicity of the game world and the lack of detail about Ganon and the Calamity, but they're good, and even better than that, they're brief, and can be avoided or skipped if you don't feel like it.

A FEW QUIBBLES

The Shrines are pretty good but they are too short, for the most part. They don't satisfy my craving for complicated indoor place, for dungeons. I like finding them and stumbling across them but they are brief. They are supposed to be brief of course, and not to be too interrupting. But they are an interruption: the lengthy little cutscenes that play every time you enter and finish a shrine, I skip them every time because they are always the same. Also, every time I find a combat trial, I am disappointed. I've already done this! I don't need to be tested again. If you're giving me a combat trial, give me something new: a difficult string of enemies, a difficult combat situation, even a new boss. Fighting the same robot over and over with very small variations gets old.

Not the mention the Korok Seeds. They are fun to complete, varied enough that it doesn't get really old, easy enough that you don't have to struggle, that I'm never irritated. But... they don't serve enough of a purpose. Expanding inventory is a coveted power, but every time I find a Korok Seed I feel a twinge of disappointment. What else could it be instead? Dark Souls has shown that it could be a strange piece of loot, a new strange weapon, or a scrap of information about the world, or a spell. Ghost of Tsushima has shown us that it could be new customization options. I know the game wants to keep it simple, nevertheless that Korok Seeds have that sense of just filling in the blanks that the rest of the game manages to avoid.

While the sneaking is lots of fun, the stealth missions are trash. The sneaking in Zelda works when there is a soft fail-state -- being found means you have to fight. When failing at sneaking turns into a flat game over, like it does in a couple missions, the game gets bogged down, it turns boring and frustrating. I hate those missions. Luckily, there are very few of them.

The Divine Beast dungeons really seem out of step with the rest of the game, to be honest. Here, the lack of variety in monsters and environments begin to show. They're made of the same material ("stone?") which strips you of one of your core powers--climbing; they all have the same robot monsters and eye-bats and slime and moblins and so on that the rest of the game has, and most egregious, they all have the same boss. Granted the boss' different forms and powers are varied, nevertheless it is the same creature, a personality-less elemental without a face, but bearing Ganon's signature shock of red hair, now so far removed of Ocarina of Time that it's stripped of its meaning. They are fun puzzle boxes, but have more of the feeling of needing to go through the motions to solve the puzzles than the rest of the game. I do like that you need to prepare for them like you do for the rest of the game: must ready potions and food and arrows, and if you run out or aren't prepared, it's going to be an uphill battle or you'll have to leave and come back.

I hoped for more classic Zelda dungeons, and I think they could be completed in a style more in line with Hyrule Castle. Giant lightning struck towers, swamp filled skulls, I don't know what else. A 3d literalization of the promise made by Link to the Past. You don't need to strip Link of the power to climb if the dungeons take place indoors underground, this is the power of dungeons! They could even use and exploit his climbing, I have to do this in Dungeons and Dragons because I know my players can and will climb anything. I get around this with bottomless pits, damaging slime, spike pits, vertical shafts, areas of antimagic, they could have got really creative with this. Hyrule Castle shows that they could have, and I wish they had.

Ganon's lack of personality does seem like a drawback. Hyrule's decline feels sudden and meaningless. What exactly is this ancient evil that it's grappling with? It doesn't have the marks of tragedy or evil, instead the Calamity feels just like something really bad that happened, like a war, or a virus maybe, except war has human meaning built in by the motivations of the people in power, and virus as we have learned has meaning by how humans respond to something truly alien and inhuman. I've always enjoyed Ganon as a person, someone with feelings and desires, and his various depictions in the games, particularly Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, have been a lot of fun. Here, they try to split the difference by depicting Ganon as a prophesied force, but still give him a name and a monstrous face. A game without a villain seems a little reduced. And his form as a robot spider demon is pretty absurd. Why does he take this form? What on earth is going on here? He's pretty fun to fight, I guess, but more silly than truly menacing, like Pennywise's giant spider-clown form. Did he inhabit some piece of machinery that Zelda was working on? Is he another Divine Beast? These details are never filled in. Ganon never does anything -- his victory is complete, so he is a static entity, and the only remaining threat is Zelda's death, which is like, she's been fine for a hundred years, it seems like she can handle a few more years.

Plus there's a lack of concretization to the drama alluded to. We're told early on that Zelda is in Hyrule castle, "battling" Ganon, or keeping him under control. But when you finally get there, there's no struggle really happening. There's no, like, crystal that she's contained in, or Zelda standing in front of a magic seal, or fighting him with her triforce mark, or whatever it could be. What exactly is she trying to accomplish, again, the whole time you're playing the game? Ganon has already won, the bomb went off and everyone died. The time pressure is not convincing. You fight Ganon's minibosses in his throne room, and then you fight his spider form in the dungeons, and then Zelda appears, or something? It doesn't make sense.

BUT WITH ALL THAT

The game is so relaxing, so beautiful, so big and beautiful, so immediate, so detailed, the music so good, the characters so full of personality, the landscape so varied and full of secrets, that simply playing this game is a joy. All you need to do is log in, point yourself in the direction you find most appealing, and you'll find adventure. I don't know any game that manages to capture this feeling of boundless exploration, of an entire world at your fingertips to explore, and to execute it honestly. After countless hours playing this game I'm still finding new secrets and new places and new details, and I'm still enjoying re-exploring the places I've completed twice before simply by virtue of how pleasurable it is to just play. Simply an exceptional game, one of the true best.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

On scrying

 I like scrying a lot. When my players scry on an NPC, it's a great chance to show them some aspect of the characters that I want them to know, but that it wouldn't make sense for them to learn just through interacting with the characters. I usually don't give up big secrets when my players successfully scry. I prefer to leave that up to piecing together clues. But I do like to give hints and clues towards secrets, and information on the social lay of the land for the character they scry on.

Here's a few examples:

PRINCE ABION PELIOTH, PSYCHIC VAMPIRE PRINCE

PART ONE

Abion had the players go on a quest to the Astral Plane, and his psychic powers let him know that they had captured the Skoros Orb, which he wanted. He ambushed the players in his throne room and they escaped, but Abion and his minions didn't tell the players why they did that. I want the players to understand their enemies' motivations, but sometimes it just doesn't make sense for them to scream "I'm betraying you for this reason!" So after they escaped, they scryed on him, and I made up a short scene of Abion on in his throne-room, dressing down his mindflayer vizier for failing to capture the players, and saying something like, "They have the Skoros Orb!! It called to me in the darkness!! I must have it!!" and for good measure, threw in, "No one must know of this, especially my mother......." That way the players have insight into not only why they were kidnapped, but get a little piece of political terrain revealed to them. 

PART TWO

After the players killed Abion's mother, the Queen, and escaped again, they scryed on Abion to see what was up. I had already decided that in case of the Queen's death, Abion would be first in line for the throne, but that his older sister Ordelia considers herself more capable and deserving. I personally don't think this is very relevant to the players at this point, but they wanted to know what was happening, so I made up a scene in the Queen's throne-room: the throne-room is filled with a sea of the Queen's blood (still pouring from her severed neck) while vampire servants try to bail out the tower, and Ordelia and Abion are verbally fencing before the throne. Abion says something like, "When I'm crowned in the morning, finally I'll be able to lead this kingdom to true greatness" and Ordelia says something arch like, "Will you brother? Be careful you do not stumble along the way" or whatever. Again, this is to show the players the immediate after-effects of their actions (tower filled with blood), as well as what will happen if the players don't intervene (Abion crowned king, Ordelia attempting subterfuge to stop him).

THE DEADBOYZ

The players have been scrying on their rival party consistently throughout the campaign, after getting their hands on one of their water bottles. This has typically not turned up very good information -- I want finding the Deadboyz to be pretty tough to find. Once I gave the players a view of an upcoming room where the Deadboyz were making camp: a frozen lake with a barbed wire fence crossing it. This gave them something to look forward to as they explored the dungeon.

Later, I was able to show them a truly bizarre scene: the Deadboyz' rogue cooking a meal in an idyllic cabin, natural sunshine coming through the windows, when their antipaladin enters, covered head to toe in blood and holding a severed head. In the game, they had made camp inside a magic painting which was inside a magic mirror, but at this point the players had no idea what to do with this information. The result is that when the players DID find the magic painting inside the magic mirror, they had a truly excellent a-HA moment as they understood what they had seen.

NO OTHER EXAMPLES SPRING TO MIND

But it's always a good opportunity when the players manage to scry. I don't have to give everything away, but I can give away some very helpful and interesting information, and come up with details to illuminate the characters.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dragon story

 In a glimmering cave filled with carved heads, a big lizard with a hot belly is draped around a stalagmite. His belly is red, his eyes are red, and he can breathe fire, and his wings are draped. They are resting on him like folded tarps, trailing a little bit in the dust on the ground. There is a cage hanging from the ceiling by a silver thread, the cage twists left for a while and then right for a while. Inside it is a small dog, the dragon's fair friend, who the dragon does not allow to leave.

There are also red markings on the floor and the walls in the shape of men, or people, marching every which way. They carry spears and shields, they are coming to slay the dragon. He does not fear the markings.

There is no way in or out except a small hole in the ceiling, which the dragon can crawl up to on the walls, his wings hanging limply down like clothes on a hanger, as his rigid claws grasp the stalactites and striations in the cave walls and allow him to climb up to the hole. Up there can be seen the many stars embedded in the flint sky, it is always dark when the dragon goes out of the hole.

The carved heads are of very old men with broad faces and no hair. They are all scowling. No one knows who put them there. They are gazing every which way. Some of them are a little bit bigger than the others. They are not carved from the stalagmites. The carved heads were brought in a long time ago and left there in a deliberate pattern, as if this was an art gallery. Although the hole in the ceiling is too small to fit the heads through, and there is no other way in or out.

When the dragon crawls out of the hole he emerges in a conifer forest. The smell is of sweet wind and wood branches. He climbs then up a tree that he knows well, the tree is sturdy and old and its branches are well placed for his claws. Have you ever seen an alligator climbing a tree? You would think it impossible. But he is able to stretch and grasp nimbly, though not swiftly. And he comes through the pine branches to grip the top of the tree and up there to take a moment to gain his balance, the tree moving left and right underneath it, and the forest all spread out in all directions, dark and running over the mountains underneath the night sky, and a warm breeze coming opposite the direction where the dragon wants to go. He lets his wings trail out behind him and then catch the wind, his wings that are at first like crumpled cloth and then like sails, which the dragon tucks and maneuvers to better catch the wind. They are arrayed behind him, much bigger than the dragon, and thin, and the dragon lets himself get caught by the wind, and carried into the sky.

Up into the twinkling sky. Where there are mounded and sparkling white clouds. And far below it there is the dark forest, now just a dark patch in a crumpled and dark landscape. Crumpled like a blanket on a bed, crossed with a single shining river, and there a patch of sparks, which are the windows of houses, not all asleep at this hour of the night. The dragon allows his wings to carry him, through strips and tatters of cold cloud. He twists his long neck to look behind him and below him, checking for whether he is being followed, though he could not say what would follow him. The silver thread of the river shined on the black landscape, curving in slow turns as if a boy had been ambling over the hills with a downturned teapot, allowing the water to fall where he happened to stroll. 

When below him the dragon could see, far below him now, the houses of the small village, built in a flat place in the land and bordered by square fields of different shades of black, he flexed his wings so they could not catch wind and allowed him to fall, and land on a house, which broke under his weight, so that he landed in a pile of roofing and part way on a broken wooden wall of a house, the sound of which he did not really register, only noticing that he was now where he meant to be. A person was under his red belly and he moved aside and put his leg on the person and crushed it to death. Then the dragon parted his lips and allowed the fire to drift from his open mouth. It drifted like a slow fog, moving about him like a glimmering yellow fog, but where it touched house, sprang up into a cunning fire, and made him warm.

Thereupon the dragon moved from the house into the streets of the village. Street lamps and a fountain were there in the village. There was screams of the people who screamed at the sight of him. And the fire drifted from his mouth and spread across the dusty earth like ghosts, and took up post in the houses, and burned them. If he happened to see a person, he would let the fire catch them, so that they would die. He stepped into the fountain with one foot and let the fountain burn up into steam. The steam went up around him and surrounded his body and then was also burned away by the fire, leaving him standing in an empty square.

This is how it went for a time. The dragon crawling down narrow streets and over stone walls and into the burning sides of broken houses. Many people were burned up and died. Some men came with bows and stood at a fair distance, at an intersection beside a street sign on which a little flame danced, and they sent arrows at the dragon, but the arrows could not pierce his scales. For he looked like a lizard, but is dense and hard as the densest metal at the center of the earth. The dragon opened his mouth and sent his fire onto the men, who screamed and died.

When the village was fairly burnt up and destroyed from the river to its outer walls, where the dark fields spread out into low hills lit up by the yellow light of the fires, the dragon made his way to the river, and dipped his mouth into the water, and drank it up. The cold river water, heavy with thick river stink, reeds, black algae, water hopping insects, tadpoles, fish, frogs, herons and egrets, and all other river things, reversed course at the power of the dragon's drinking, and were drawn up into the dragon's belly, leaving a trench of bad smelling mud. 

The dragon, his red belly now swollen tight like a red balloon, went then to the village church, and climbed up the walls of the church, just as he had in his cavern, and up the roof of the church up to its high steeple, where was affixed a metal cross. The dragon then broke the cross from the roof with his claws and held it, and opened his wings again, and let himself be lifted into the air. Below him was the remains of the destroyed village, burned and crushed, belching columns of black smoke, and crossed with the deep trench of what used to be its river. The dragon did not look at this.

He let himself drift a ways away from the village and dropped the church cross into a patch of trees, and then stirred his wings, and flapped them like a bird flaps his wings, propelling himself through the night air, now sinuous as a snake over the crumpled landscape no longer split by the silver river, and came through the air to his conifer forest, where he dropped to the tree that he knew, and to the forest ground covered in boulders and branches, and folded his wings, and found the crack in the earth where his cavern was, and crawled head-first down into the crack. He could barely fit into the crack because be was so swollen with the river, and spent a long time easing his way through the crack, his swollen red belly scraping on the outcrops of stalactites, but shortly made his way into his cave filled with carved heads and red markings and his cage held by a silver thread with his dog in it. He sent his tongue into the cage of the dog and touched the dog's head, and the dog shivered, because it was cold in its cage. 

Thereupon the dragon laid himself down in the hollow where he had begun the night and did not sleep and kept his eyes open, and digested the river, and thought no thoughts at all.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

THE MANY PATTERNED HALLS

 The wizards of Kizaad, obsessed with the secrets of the universe, found a secret place beyond the borders of our world, which seemed at once ancient and ageless, and divined that at its center outpoured a power greater than any source in our world. Hoping to bring their academies renown, they established a school within the halls of this place, but were quickly devoured by the shifting walls, and became ageless ghosts, trapped in time, unable to escape the boundaries of their strange new plane. 

In more recent times, the mad wizard ILLITH VARN divined its proximity, entered, and with his great power penetrated into its innermost sanctum, where he worked a spell to turn the plane into his own phylactery, so that upon his death, his soul and his most treasured possession, the SKOROS ORB, would return to this sanctum instead of departing to the afterlife. There he rests now, waiting for the time when he can return to his body, and bring about a new reign of terror.

I present to you...

THE MANY PATTERNED HALLS

This is a medium-sized dungeon written for high level adventurers used to dungeon crawling. It is meant to confound many of standard dungeon crawling tricks, particularly the reliability of "clearing" a dungeon. Completing the dungeon requires the players to solve a simple puzzle, made more challenging by the dungeon's central gimmick. At its center is a classic video game style multi-phase boss fight, meant to be attempted several times if the challenge is too difficult when encountered.

WHAT IS THIS PLACE?

This is within the ASTRAL PLANE, a place between places, a realm that connects all realms, thought of as a higher reality, largely desolate, some small outposts and strongholds are secreted here, but there is little to rule over. A lightning struck island, a floating canister, an atom bomb going off forever. Two civilizations once fought a war here, the gith and the githyanki, but they destroyed each other, and what they didn’t destroy the astral sea has taken. It is lonely, psycheledic, and strange. Those who find their way here have trouble finding their way out. Time passes strangely on the astral plane, and the beings that dwell here are not right.

The exact nature of the Many Patterned Halls is unclear. It is a dwelling place for spirits. It looks built, but its true nature is something else. It has been found many times over the eons and added onto, and each time the Halls have folded these additions and denizens into its nature. 

THE CENTRAL GIMMICK

Each time the players overcome the challenges of a room and pass through it, its contents will change. The exact timeframe of this change should be up to the DM: somewhere between 2 to 10 minutes. This is meant to feel at once arbitrary and hostile. The players should get the sense of a slowly escalating danger, and of a space that is itself somehow alive in an unfamiliar way, and wants them dead, or taken.

As a result, each room has three to four keyed contents. Cycle through them one after the other, or use them at will. They are meant to be variations on a theme. If the players exhaust the results, write more on the same theme, or simply randomize them. The halls aren't meant to be infinite really, just much larger than at first glance.

Secondly, interdimensional and planar transportation within the halls should be impossible. The shifting nature of the halls makes teleporting impossible. If anything attempts to teleport within the dungeon in a way that they would pass through a wall, the spell fails. The teleporter appears in a random room, having aged d100 days, sets their hitpoints at 10d10 below their maximum, and receives d10x100 XP. The bonus XP only happens once. If the players try to exploit this, roll a d6. On a 2-5, the result is threatening, and on a 6, actively hostile in an unexpected way.

If the players attempt to use magic or items to pass the planar boundary, through a Plane Shift spell or some kind of communication, the spell fails. 

If the players try to knock down a wall, or knock a hole in a wall, a shifting, shining void can be found beyond. Entering the light which the void produces causes 4d10 damage.

Thirdly, Regardless of how long they spend in there, when they leave, one hour and one minute has passed. 

GETTING INTO THE MANY PATTERNED HALLS

I made the entrance a collection of golden coffins, located in the Tomb of Illith Varn. You crawl inside and pull the cover over you and it magically whisks you to room 1, where you appear in a pile of dilapidated wooden coffins. If you leave the room and come back, the coffins are simply gone, thereby trapping you in the halls. 

If you want to go a little easier on your players, just have the coffins stick around, or make a more stable type of entrance. A door or a portal or something.

GETTING OUT OF THE MANY PATTERNED HALLS

If the players are stranded, as I ran it, there are two options: take the exit in room 15, or solve the brazier puzzle, thereby unlocking planar travel. I wrote these ideas with the understanding that my players know Plane Shift and Teleport -- if they're able to get back to reality, they'll be able to Teleport back home. If your players don't know these spells, maybe give them another option for escape. Have a portal or door open when they solve the brazier puzzle.

RANDOM USELESS JUNK

When the players come to a dead-end, there should be an object or small puzzle of no consequence. This should seem like an offering to the players, or maybe an attempt to communicate. Usually I make everything in a dungeon matter, be interesting, or be useful. This is meant to be disturbing in its uselessness. Go through them in order, or roll randomly, it doesn't really make a difference.

A. A narrow, dark closet full of overcoats. In one’s pocket is a locket. The face in the locket is corroded. The silver is worth 200gp.

B. A plague doctor mask. 

C. A notebook of medical supplies.

D. shoes with wooden heels

E. 13 copper pieces. One is attached to a string that leads into the wall. If you pull the string it unzips a door. Inside the door is a closet full of boxes and clothes.

F. a white glove. In the index finger is a rock.

G. A bowl of room temperature chili

H. A book of entertaining children’s stories, which quickly grow boring

I. A live cricket, which if followed, can find a crack in the walls of the nearest room which extradimensionally connects to another room in the Halls. These rooms are now functionally adjacent if the players can find a way to break down the wall.

J. d3+1 crimson worms

K. rock candy

L. a stack of dinner glasses in a pyramid

M. a partially dissolved corpse hanging in the air, eyes open, if it sees you, it screams

N. a parasol, does not protect from the radiation

O. a broken teacup

P. an embroidered pillow with a pastoral scene

Q. a broken hand-mirror

R. A wedding ring worth 50 gp


If you need more, keep going along these lines. 


THE ROOMS





1. ENTRANCE.


The bottom floor of a fine old house. A pile of coffins. A piano. Peeling wallpaper, mold. The sound of windchimes.


You emerge from a pile of old wooden coffins. Dusty. The pile is unstable, lopsided. 


An old green brass brazier on a stand in the middle of the room. The black fire from room 10 can light it.


A note nailed to the floor, written by an old explorer to orient himself. “This is the northwestern room of the halls. The upper landing is southwards facing. That way has been corrupted. The safest way to the school is the left path then, but the parlors there have become confused. Better to lay down in the graves.”


SECOND TIME


The bottom floor of a fine old house. 


The coffins are gone, meaning there is no way out.


The note says is the same.


THIRD TIME


The building has rotted completely, the walls are covered in mold in long lines and spatters. Water damage. 


The piano has fallen apart.


Where the coffins were, piles of rotting wood. 


2. LAMP.


A fine, wall-papered parlor. Filled wall to wall with empty glass cupboards. On a small table in the middle of the room is an oil lamp. It emits hissing static. It seems to be hissing in a pre-determined pattern. Careful study determines that this is a language. If the language is understood or studied, the lamp is saying, “A wave of death / will sweep across you / beware its impact / the land is buckling under it / kingdoms have fallen into the pit / many will die”


East and south doors are through glass cupboards, they must be found through careful checking.


SECOND TIME


The lamp is unlit now and quiet. If lit, a young man appears sitting in a chair. He has a few books in front of him, he is reading a book and making notes in a journal. The books and the man are are no-clip, you can pass through them like ghosts and he can't perceive or communicate with you. 


His journal writes, “The black fire that burns at the four corners of the house seems to be blocking something. Verelok says he has perceived the presence of other rooms in this house, but out of sight, or maybe behind the walls, and that the fire is keeping them locked. He has proposed an experiment to extinguish them and allow us to roam this house’s halls fully. A dangerous proposition. Will we accept?”


THIRD TIME


The lamp is fountaining silent fire. It deals 2d10 psychic damage per round to all within 20’ as you’re overwhelmed with the sense impressions of the lamp-being—DANGER! A WAVE OF DEATH WILL SWEEP ACROSS YOU! etc.. The fire can be extinguished by normal means.


3. TAR TILE.


Wooden parquet tiling. White walls have pencil markings on them. Height markings, where someone grew. The moment weight is set on the parquet tiling they buckle and sink, thick black tar comes bubbling up, it emits a terrible smell. Make a Dex save DC 18 or be restrained by the tar, and a Con save DC 18 or be incapacitated by the terrible smell, which fills 50’ radius. At the end of every round restrained, sink 1d4 feet. After submerged, begin to suffocate.


SECOND TIME


A bog of black tar. A tar covered skeleton floats in the tar. 


THIRD TIME


Tar is now leaking under the door. Listening makes the room beyond sound solid. If the door is opened, hot black tar comes pour out. Dex DC 18 or be restrained and take 5d6 damage per round until free.


4. BASILISK CAT.


 Broken marble statues. Some on plinths. Tall, gnawed barricades of twisted statues.


Intact marble statues among the rubble:

A beheaded man in fine robes (The King)

A boy with one leg on crutches, holding a ball (The Son)

A court jester balancing on his hands (The Fool)

A moon (The moon)


A huge white cat lives here. Its paws don’t touch the floor. When it senses enemy, it opens its mouth way too big, there is a dripping skull inside, brilliant light beams shoot out, petrifying everything they touch.


CR 16

AC 22 HP 260

Immune to poison

2 Bites (range 10) +15 4d8+8 plus 4d8 poison damage plus Con DC 17 or poisoned, and grabbed

Stone gaze: If a creature starts its turn within 60’ of the basilisk, and they can see each other, make a Con DC 17 or do the basilisk turn to stone thing. They can avert their eyes at the start of their turn instead.


SECOND TIME


Bathed in moonlight from an unknown source. Safe to pass.


THIRD TIME


The marble is ground to dust by the passage of time.


5. STATUE GALLERY.


 A long, long, black and white chamber, with statues on plinths.


No matter which way you enter, there appear to be no exits, and the room seems very very long. This is because it is actually very long and ill-lit, but it is true to dimensions.


There are also four missing marble plinths. They are labelled. Each one that is placed causes a door to appear. The doors can also be opened from the other side.


“The King”

“The Son”

“The Fool”

“The Moon”


SECOND TIME


Statues in the center are now:


A. A man with a massive third leg growing out of his groin.

“The Mutant”

B. A man with a spiral hole in his stomach.

“The Spiral”

C. A pregnant woman.

“The Mother”

D. A sad woman.

“The Widow”

E. A man injecting himself with a needle.

“The Doctor”


6. VOID.


 The ceiling is shattered. The sky is a pulsing, radiant void. Clouds of purple, blue, and crimson stream past, way too fast. A screaming wind is blowing, it’s hard to hear.


A green brass brazier on a stand takes the black fire from room 11.


If you climb up and look out the hole in the ceiling, you’re looking into a void, you can see no buildings or ground.


On entry and at start of each round the radiation damage from the sky deals 4d10 radiation damage.


The flashing lights throw the shadows of floating men along the floor. 

10 CR2 shadow-men. They are blind but not deaf.


HP 75 AC 13

Invisible. Blind. Perceive anyone within 15’ at DC 18. Flight 40. Silent.

Slashing claws and human-shaped bites

1 attack +13 1d8+4 (magical)


SECOND TIME


A dead black void outside. No light. 


THIRD TIME


A smoldering, unnatural rock has fallen from the sky. It bleeds psychedelic colors, its edges form into curlicues. It deals d20 poison damage every round to everything within 30’. The colors leach into you, you now deal d20 damage every round to everything within 30’. The sky is a calm dark void, filled with streaks of chill nebulas. 


7. MEDICAL EQUIPMENT.


 Old patterned wallpaper, peeling. Mold on the floorboards. 


A room of medical equipment. Tables. Scalpels. In a glass jar filled with sanitizing alcohol is a rough gem worth 2,500 gp. If you’re loud, the worms from 8 come investigate.


SECOND TIME


An old stone hallway. Arched windows look outside. If you look outside, you’re looking down the side of a vast stone castle, a dark and lightless void. You can see a landing 100’ below with another doorway. This will lead into a random room. This doorway will be stable until the room shifts again.


THIRD TIME


Same as the first time. A badly wounded man is unconscious on a table. Blood has soaked through his bandages, he will die in an hour. He has bad bite marks on his side, he is covered in animal wounds.


If saved, his name is Cruel Mote, a doctor of Kizaad. He can give a coherent account of what happened here.


“I’ve become separated from my compatriots. I was savaged by invisible spirits, and they said they would return with supplies. I’m sure they left me here to die. I should return to Kizaad. There is an exit hatch through the lyceum, if you escort me, I can offer you a reward from my house.”


He studies medical biology, the humors, the eighteen ghosts that inhabit a man’s body, anatomy, and fortune telling. He will be confused by the layout.


“Yes, we found a way to ascend to the astral plane, and study the teachings of the higher spirits that dwell here. When these halls were discovered, we established our lyceum and staked out a safe boundary. But then our communications with the lyceum began to fail. I entered with my compatriots, and found it destroyed, and after a brief exploration, we became lost, and set upon by spirits.”


8. CRIMSON WORMS.


More old medical equipment. Broken glass. The wallpaper has peeled away in long folds, revealing more wallpaper underneath. 


Squirming crimson worms. They have long, toothed proboscises that can attack suddenly from 20’ away. These things are native to the astral plane, they drop from the crimson planet that comes near every once in a while. Due to the time compression in the Many Patterned Halls, they respawn constantly.


3 CR 5 crimson worms

Blindsight 60’

HP 120 AC 15

Bite +8 (Range 20) 3d10+8 and DC 16 Strength save as they start to swallow you, bite damage is automatic as long as you’re grabbed, escape is a DC 16 Strength check as an action

or SPRAY ACIDIC WEBBING (5/6) in 30’ cone, DC 19 Dex save or 3d10 acid damage and restrained. The acid damage recurs at the end of each round you’re restrained. Takes a DC 19 Strength check to break free.


SECOND TIME


Bright crimson light shining through the floorboards. For ten minutes, the Many Patterned Halls is affected by low gravity, jump distance is tripled. 3 CR 5 crimson worms again, except they are flying. From now on, any crimson worms encountered have a fly speed of 40.


THIRD TIME


Dark, messy. Medical equipment. A doctor with a ravaged and scarred face is crouched on the floor rummaging in the chest cavity of a cadaver. The cadaver is one of the players!! He can’t talk through his disgusting scarred mouth, he can only grunt.


9. BLOOD.


 A long marble gallery streaked with blood, leading to 17.


SECOND TIME


A shining, pristine marble gallery. A man in a white robe stands, surveying the room. If approached or spoken too, he blows away, as if in a wind.


THIRD TIME


Same as the first time, but no blood.


10. CAT BED.


 Velvet wallpaper and carpeting. An old bar. Jars of old liquor are still good. The cat’s bed is filled with old blankets. An old coin purse filled with astral gold, a shining silvery metal, worth 10x the normal amount of gold. 375 pieces. Pressed with a strange human-like face, the face of a gith.


SECOND TIME


Bathed in moonlight from an unknown source.


THIRD TIME


A stone room of an old castle. Windows look out onto a starry sky. The stars are below as well. There is no facade of a building outside the windows, just a window in air. 


11. BRAZIER ROOM.


 Big stone doors leading north into the Many Patterned Halls’ interior sanctum. If the four braziers at the four corners of the dungeon aren't simultaneously lit by the black fire that burns in the fireplace in this room, the door will not open, and lead no where.


The doors have this carved on them


This room is stable.


Four green braziers arrayed in front of the doors, two to each side. When their corresponding braziers at the four corners of the halls are lit with the black fire from the fireplace, the door becomes unlocked. When the doors are opened, the Many Patterned Halls stabilizes into its current form, all becomes quiet, as if the place is listening.


A fireplace on the south wall has black fire. It makes a crackling and unnatural sound. This is the source of the Many Patterned Halls’ power, it has the ability to stabilize the structure and open the way to the center. However, it has two main rules: as soon as the fire is taken from the fireplace, it will begin to burn lower, and it will burn out in exactly ten minutes, even if brought to a brazier. If all four braziers are lit within ten minutes, they stabilize. Second, it cannot tolerate teleportation. As soon as it is teleported, the teleporter gets shuffled according to teleportation rules and the fire goes out.


12. CORPSE.


 A dead adventurer on old carpet. He has 50’ of rope, a potion of healing (2d8+6), a hooded lantern, and a shortsword.


SECOND TIME


He’s alive! His name is Vagrasi. He wandered in here from a dungeon in the Swamp of Monsters. He’s separated from his friends. He’s a little panicked, but confident he can find his way out of here. He’s friendly, and a third level thief.


THIRD TIME


An alligator.


13. ZEREGON THE THIEF.


He looks like this


Zeregon the Thief is a spirit from deeper in the astral plane, foolishly summoned by the wizards in 14 to assist with their domination of this place. Its whole thing is simply to steal souls and eat them. It once belonged to a great civilization, but was lost to them long ago. It speaks the Astral Language, but is overcome by ravenous anger. 


It has a number of little glass lamps. Inside each one is a flame, and dangling over the flame is a teeny tiny person. Each one is a soul it has procured.


CR 19 Demon: Zeregon the Thief (huge)

HP 350 AC 19 

Demon resistances: Immune to fire and poison; resistant to cold and lightning, and nonmagic weapons

Magic resistance: Advantage on saves against spells and magic effects

Truesight 120’

Str 8 (14) Dex 2 Con 6 (12) Int 5 Wis 3 (9) Cha 6 (12)

2 Snakebites Range 15 +14 3d8+8 plus 3d8 poison damage

AND

Lower torso gaze USED (5/6): Cone 60’ DC 18 Con save or paralyzed (save end of each round to recover)

Upper torso gaze USED (5/6): Cone 60’ DC 19 Con save or combust, take 8d8 fire damage (save end of each round to recover)

AND

Demonic powers: Anyone touched by demon causes all missiles within 100’ to seek them until demon is slain

OR

Can target a 0hp person within 30’, sacrifice attacks to steal their soul, causing one of the lamps on the wall to light up and their little image to appear in it.

OR

Teleport 120’

ALSO

He can adjust his size at will to any size.


HIS SOULS:


If the lamps are simply broken, the souls will be freed, they are dimly material, they flicker in a breeze, a strong wind will kill them. If exposed to the astral sky, they’ll be instantly whisked away. They need a living body, if invited in they will struggle to control it.


LADY YEREGETH, from Solemn Cry, an older noblewoman obsessed with astral projection

BAD ACTOR, an assassin from the Temple of Elemental Evil

FRIGOLACH, an opposing professor of Magnodius, who hates him, and helped penetrate into the astral plane from Kizaad

A DOG NAMED BLACKIE

CAMBERLINE, a beautiful young woman, a duke’s daughter from hundreds of years ago


This room is stable! His mighty will has forced the Many Patterned Halls to his will.  


14. MOTH ANGEL.





 A room filled with desks, all knocked over and fucked up.


A piece of paper face up on the ground. It says:


“Imagine an apple passing through a sheet of paper. First the stem, then the body of the apple, then the core and seeds, then the base. I believe this place is as an apple, and the reality we reside on is the sheet of paper. If the apple is positioned so that only the stem is passing through, we will be only to see a fraction of its true shape. The room at the center of the halls is not only at the center of the square, but also within the core of the apple. Entering it means the apple must pause its passage. To do this, I propose —“ the paper is torn beneath this point.


A chalkboard behind the moth spirit, containing the equation which has trapped the moth angel. If the equation is erased, the moth spirit can be freed. It will simply disappear.


A green big brazier, for room 11. It is of Kizaad make.


A spirit of the astral plane, like a moth angel, surveying the school. Drawn to this place, a curious traveler, caught in a protective circle left over at the school. She cannot communicate with the living without causing harm, every word she speaks cuts like a sword.


MOTH SPIRIT CR 17

HP 315 AC 19

Saves Con 12, Wis 11, Cha 12

Move 120 but trapped

Resistant to magic

Resistant to radiant and nonmagic weapons

Immune to charm, exhaustion, fright

The moth spirit cannot be lied to

Truesight 120’, passive perception 21

It sends its tendrils as whips. It has range 20’

3 attacks +10 8d8 and: Str DC 19 or knock back 1d4x10’ or grab

If it speaks, all within 60’ take 1d8 damage no save, if it’s a full sentence (as an action) it’s 12d8 damage in range 120. If you can’t hear the words, you’re immune.


SECOND TIME


Immaterial, glowing green ghosts examine the moth spirit. It’s struggling and screaming (dealing full damage every round), they are applying a tool to it, they are immune to its screams. The ghosts will attack you if they see you.


7 CR 3 Ghosts

Resistant to all damage

Immune to radiant, poison

Immune to charm, exhaustion, grapple, paralyze, petrify, poison, prone, restrain

Can move through walls and objects as if it were difficult terrain

+8 2d8+3 electric damage

The ghost with the tool you have to make a DC 18 Con save or be paralyzed


THIRD TIME


Plants have overgrown this room. The moth angel, exhausted and ancient, is still here. It can barely speak.


If the moth spirit is freed in all three iterations, it is truly free! And it will help you in gratitude.


15. EXIT.


 A locked port-hole that produces a planeshift when opened. It’s a big metal port-hole with a circle handle that can be opened, above it says EXIT.


It takes at least two people to open, and sucks everyone within the room back into reality, it dumps them into DOOMED KIZAAD, an ancient, overgrown city, filled with fog and mist, when the mist parts, sun comes piercing down. A great calamity has occurred here, there is a palace visible in the distance split in two. You appear before a ruined school. There’s skeletons everywhere.


16. CLAY GUYS.





Knocked over bookshelves. The books are partly melted into the floor, like the floor has grown over them.


These guys are kind of melded into the wall. The wallpaper around them is filled with a sort of many-colored bloom, but they looked bleached. They’re happily moaning. If they see you (Perception 18) they’ll peel off and try to grab you, they’re going to happily force themselves into your body. 


BLEACH MEN — CR 6

HP 190 AC 16 — floppy and defenseless, but the clay-like flesh that forms their body is disgusting and resilient

2 attacks +8 5d10 damage and grabbed, it’s a tough grab: their grapple is +20

First they just grab you and they’re really way too tight, then they’re forcing themselves into your mouth and eyes (this they have to do with a successful grapple), on a success they’re able to deal automatic damage and the opponent is restrained, if they reduce an opponent to 0 they enter the target body and steal your color


SECOND TIME


The books are all intact. They are treatises on alien biology. On a shelf in a jar is a tiny many-colored mushroom. If the mushroom escapes, it’ll spread and overtake the world at an exponential rate, becoming a new crisis.


THIRD TIME


The room is blocked off by multicolored, bizarre fungus.


17. CANNIBAL WIZARDS.


Chairs with straps, a saw.


 3 previous inhabitants of lecture hall, eating an explorer. Guys with the tops of their heads chopped off, and there’s fire burning there. Former lecture masters. Their burning, cannibal eyes. They eat brains to get knowledge.


Surrounded by bloody skeletons. Add cannibal wizards to random encounter table.


They have spells.


CR 6 Cannibal Wizards

HP 155 AC 14

DC 16 Spells (At will)

Psychic Fireball, Slow, Evard’s Black Tentacles

Or one attack +10 FLAME BITE 1d4+8d6 fire damage


SECOND TIME


A bottomless pit splits the room.


THIRD TIME


The remaining cannibal wizard’s burning head has turned into a black hole. 


CR 14 Cannibal Wizard

HP 155 AC 14

Immune to ranged attacks, because they just get sucked into his head.

DC 18 Spells (at will)

Psychic Fireball, Slow, Evard’s Black Tentacles

Everything gets pulled towards the black hole at speed 30 each round, and also must Con save DC 18 or take 5d8 force damage. If you touch his head, you’re restrained as you start getting sucked in, and take double damage each round. On 0, you’re sucked inside.


18. RUST MONSTER.





 This room is filled with glowing blue slime. An astral rust monster is slurping it up. It has a glowing tail. If it sees you, it flashes its tail, blinding you.


Astral Rust Monster CR 13

HP 270 AC 16

TAIL FLASH (5/6) Bonus action: all in 60’ must Con DC 18 or be blinded (save to end)

Two bites +8 6d8+16

or CORRODE METAL (2 attacks): Dex DC 18 or a piece of metal is corroded into glowing blue slime. This even affects magic weapons. They take a cumulative -1 to attack or AC.

Weapons that damage the rust monster also take this damage.


SECOND TIME


A big metal statue of Moloch, transported from Kizaad. It’s filled with Kizaad gold that's spilling out its mouth, 2500 gp worth.


THIRD TIME


The slime is falling from the sky like a glitchy computer program, a rust monster is stuck clipped into the ceiling, another identical rust monster is floating and trying to drink the slime.


19. TREE OF MEN.





 Tree filled with men. The tree branches are undulating slowly, the men watch you.


If encountered, they will ask a single question in a cacophony of indecipherable voices. If you try to pass without answering the question, they’ll issue a horrible command.


THE QUESTION


1. “WHAT IS THE NATURE OF MAN’S SOUL?”

2. “WHAT DOES A DEAD MAN FEAR?”

3. “CAN A MAN EVER BE TRULY SELFLESS?”

4. “WHAT IS THE WAY TO VIRTUE?”

5. “CAN ONE EVER KNOW ONES SELF?”

6. “HOW DOES POWER TRANSMIT?”


THE COMMAND (Wisdom DC 18 to resist)


1. “EAT YOUR OWN HAND”

2. “CLIMB INTO THE SKY”

3. “CHOP OFF YOUR FEET”

4. “THROW YOUR BELONGINGS INTO THE VOID”

5. “JOIN US”

6. “LEAVE YOUR FRIENDS”


After encountering this room, the tree of men enters the random encounter table. If encountered, the tree will appear in an adjacent room, growing from the floor as if it has always been there.


SECOND TIME


An empty tree.


20. SKULL NEBULA.





 Another outside area, the ceiling falling in. The skull nebula visible overhead, shining hideous radiation into the room. 


Walking into the radiation deals 4d10 damage per round.


SECOND TIME


The skull nebula is closer. Increase damage to 10d10 per round.


THIRD TIME


Skull nebula is right there! Its gravity sucks stuff up through the sky now. If you get sucked up, you’re able to see the rip in space where the Many Patterned halls lives.


21. PROFESSOR MAGDOCIUS.





 Filled with ancient Gith statues. A green brazier.


Also here is a single survivor of the school, Professor Magdocius, who has degenerated into a crouched filthy man, who speaks English.


(About the statues) “These are the ancients who warred across the astral sea! They slew each other.”

“We followed the signs of the wizards of Kizaad! Yes, we ventured even into doomed Kizaad, and there found the signs that led us here! At the center, a nexus of great power, a sanctum of power even! Hidden by the black flame. I cannot light it.”


Magdocius knows some defensive spells (at will, but cant cast the same one twice in a row)


POWER WORD PAIN (Affects target 100 hp or less)

MAJOR IMAGE

HARM


A few collapsed shells of hollow people. East door is barricaded.


SECOND TIME:


Magdocius is not there. Just the silent visage of the great titan statues.


THIRD TIME:


Magdocius has declared himself king of the Many Patterned Halls. He recognizes the players, from years ago. He is greatly angered by their long absence, and greets them as traitors.


22. FLIES.





A horrible buzzing fly coming out of what appears to be a person but is in fact just its shell. The room is covered in clinging cannibal flies.


 16 FLIES CR 1 HP 65 AC 16 Attack +10 2d8+6


SECOND TIME: 


The 16 people are back alive, they are desperately hungry, they’ve been wandering the halls for ages. They are refugees of the Gith--they jumped overboard one of their ships, and landed in the Many Patterned Halls. But the Gith are long dead....? They do not know.


THIRD TIME:


A single fly monster.


23 SAFE.


Counterweight trap from Last of Us 1. Trip wire is laid across the door, walking across it traps your leg and rips you into the air and rings a bunch of bells, counterweight in the middle of the room is a safe. A simple perception check AFTER opening the door can easily find this.


The safe cannot be opened. 


SECOND TIME


The safe is upside on the ceiling, held with no restraints. It cannot be opened.


THIRD TIME


The safe is on the floor. When you enter, the dial begins to spin, clicking through the combination lock. In two rounds, it opens, and a blowing wind begins to suck you in. Make a DC 18 Strength save or be knocked prone pulled 2d6x10 feet toward the safe. If you’re pulled into it, you fall into a random room and take 2d6 falling damage. There’s now a pile of skeletons in the room, as well as 100pp.


24 HOSTILE FURNITURE.


A room filled with dark wood antiques. The floor is a simple illusion, there is actually a 200’ pit filled with piles of old antiques, but the antiques that "float" atop are safe to jump on. Save to recover if you just step on the floor without thinking is DC 19 Dex, otherwise you fall 200' into pitch darkness onto a pile of furniture..


SECOND TIME:


The ground is gone. The antiques are now spinning in place really really fast, like a horrible hostile Mario level. If you try to fly through, they’ll animate and fly at you, each one attacking at +12 for 2d10 damage, for a total of 20d10 damage.


THIRD TIME: 


It looks like the first time, except the ground is real. If you walk through, halfway through the ceiling falls on you like a smothering, muscular blanket and tries to suffocate you. Run it as a cloaker.


25. GENTLEMAN.





 A strange gentleman, barely holding himself together, he's melting kind of, he stands in a room filled with junk and antiques. He can talk, but nothing he says makes any sense. He’s sort of falling apart. 


SECOND TIME


This same gentleman, but much more put together, except his eyes have fallen out of his sockets, which are all droppy and shriveled. “Wouldn’t you know it, I’ve misplaced my glasses! Do you think I’ve left them around here? Gosh darn it! Well, it wouldn’t do to crawl around on my hands and knees, would it?”


His name? “Why but that’s just not important right now! Where on earth are my glasses?”


If you get down on your hands and knees, suddenly everything gets really really big and dizzying. You’re shrunk to the size of a mouse, basically. The man goes, “Oh! I think I hear them!” and starts groping for you, at a +10 (at disadvantage). If he hits you, he does 18d10 crushing damage.


THIRD TIME


The man sleeps in a chair, all put together now. If you wake him, he will say, “The red moon has come tonight! Best hide from its bloody presence” and disappear.


From now on, the skies outside are crimson red, and a bright planet can be seen. In ten days it is big enough for its contours to be seen. Crawling worms slide over its surface. It will drop new crimson worms into the halls.


26. ILLITH VARN.


 The core of the Many Patterned Halls. It has been hollowed out, the energy is depleted. But Illith Varn sent his soul and the Astral Soul of the Skoros Orb to this place, and for the long and infinite eternity that he has been trapped here, his spirit has been entwined into greater and greater depredations. He attempted to manufacture himself a body, but has been unable.


When the door is opened, first there is a swirling blue fog. It fills the perimeter of the room. It takes two rounds of travel to enter the interior of the room. If you try to leave, it takes two rounds of travel to exit. Illith Varn will not follow you out of the room, in fact, he is unable to leave, as he is dead.


A grand old ballroom, dilapidated. Chairs and rubble strewn across the floor. Illith Varn crouches off-center, gazing into the Skoros Orb. It is an orb made of blue crystal the size of a watermelon, blue light shines from within it like light reflecting off water.


The illusion Illith Varn has crafted to comfort himself

In appearance, a handsome middle-aged man

If Truesight is used, the illusion is pierced, it can be seen that you are walking on corpses, and instead of a ceiling, there is a broken, darkened sky, and in the distance, are the shattered remnants of a fortress.


Illith Varn wants to return to reality, but does not know he cannot. If he enters reality he will be immediately brought to the afterlife. But if he can salvage the other two pieces of the Skoros Orb, he may be able to use them. He wields the Skoros Orb.


“Kaviel, oh Kaviel . . . finally, you have returned . . . I cannot find the way back . . . “


“Tell me of Orostranthy . . . I cannot see its dappled towers . . . the sun striking Solemn Cry . . . or was that but a dream I had?”


“Father, I have died . . .”


He is too insane to converse with. 


When he is engaged, regardless of initiative, the Skoros Orb sinks into the floor, it can be seen glowing blue beneath, a dim outline that shines like a strange sun whenever he taps its power.


Everything he does is casting a spell. It can all be counterspelled.


Total HP 468 AC 19

Attack +14 DPR 150 DC 20

Immune: Charm, Fright, Exhaustion, Poison, Prone, Grapple, Petrify, Restrain — he’s a ghost! 

Resistant to non-magic weapons

Legendary saves x3 (If he fails a saving throw, he can choose to succeed instead)

Special: Illith Varn can concentrate on two spells at once

Saves

Str +5 Dex +7 Con +6 (+13) Int +10 (+17) Wis +8 (+15) Cha +8 (+15)


PHASE ONE: 180 HP AC 19

Speed 40 (Fly)

Immune: Charm, Fright, Exhaustion, Poison, Prone, Grapple, Petrify, Restrain

Resistant to non-magic weapons

On engage: Cast Globe of Invulnerability and Mirror Image

Reactions (1/turn): Counterspell, Absorb Elements, Shield

At 90hp, a contingency triggers, casting Invulnerability on him, as written.


MULTI-CAST:


Cast attack spell:


Ice-block (A 30’ cube of ice deals 8d8 cold damage inside it, acts as an ice wall, but deals no damage when walked through)

Hex (berserk brand, no save, when affected by Illith Varn’s spells, take an extra 6d12 necrotic damage, aim to target this target at least twice a round while affected)

Spray lasers (10 attacks +14, d10+2 radiant damage each)

Horrid wilting (8d8 necrotic damage in 30’ cube, Con save DC 20)

Firestorm (as written)


and cast status effect spell:


1. Stop (Recharge 4/5/6) (DC 20 Wisdom save, Fail means paralyzed until end of next turn, on success slowed instead)

2. Azakabar’s (Recharge 5/6) -- See below

3. Any other non-damaging wizard spell of 8th level or lower (Each separate spell has a recharge of 6) (Globe of Invulnerability, Dispel Magic, Mirror Image, Dispel Magic, Walls, Disintegrate not targeting a creature, Dimension Door, Teleport, Antimagic Shield, etc)


Bonus Actions (Recharge 5/6): Misty Step


Legendary Actions (3/turn, at the end of a player's turn):


1. Prismatic Ray (once per turn): 300 range, +14 4d10 damage (1. fire 2. acid 3. lightning 4. poison 5. cold 6. force, target makes DC 16 Con save, on failure, petrified until start of next turn 7. radiant, target make DC 16 con save, on failure, blinded until start of next turn 8. roll twice)

2. Magic Missile (three targets) 3d4+1 damage 

3. Chain Spark (once per turn) — one target, DC 20 Dexterity save or 3d8 damage, then chain to another target in 30’, save, and continue indefinitely (cannot target same target twice)

4. Teleport 40’, all within 20’ must Wis DC 16 or be slowed until end of next turn


Reaction (1/round, three times total): Counterspell


When he dies, his soul falls into the floor, and the illusion is broken. At the start of his next round, the corpse mass surges up, his unfinished incubated body emerges. He animates 4 corpses to start.


PHASE TWO: 



HIS TRUE FORM

They’re standing on a pile of corpses which look like Illith Varn. I suppose there are other corpses underneath that aren’t Illith Varn. The other wizards and explorers which entered the sanctum. Illith Varn’s main clone is in a mass of corpses, which peel apart and reveal a giant-sized Illith Varn with fucked up melted facial features. When he casts a spell, it's the giant corpse that casts spells. When he attacks, the corpses and tendrils which comprise his shell attack. When the Skoros Orb casts a spell, you can see it glowing from deep within the corpse mound, and all the corpses cast the spell at the same time.


CR 19

MAIN BODY — 20’ tall

HP 288 AC 19

Move 40

Immune: Charm, Fright, Exhaustion, Poison, Prone, Petrify


(If the players happen to decide to try to fly around and do strafing attacks, I don't know. I'd say make him power up and do quadruple damage or something until they get back on the platform.)


ACTIONS:


Two attacks, 15’ range, +1 for each corpse that has died: +14 4d6+1 and Str DC 20 or: grab, push 1d4x10’, or knock prone

OR ranged attack, spray bloody body parts +14 8d6+2 plus 1 for each 2 corpses that have died

OR Conjure 1d4 Simulacra — the corpses which protrude from his corpse shell fall to the floor and can act independently


and cast spell:


DISASTER (one-time only) -- See below

OR AZAKABAR’S (5/6) -- See below

OR ALMAGEST (5/6) DC 20 Con save for half, Affects one half the room for 4d8+40 radiant/force damage

OR Any other non-damaging wizard spell of 8th level or lower (Each separate spell has a recharge of 6) (Globe of Invulnerability, Dispel Magic, Mirror Image, Dispel Magic, Walls, Disintegrate not targeting a creature, Dimension Door, Teleport, Antimagic Shield, etc)



LEGENDARY ACTIONS


1: One corpse casts a spell, or melee attacks for 4d6 damage (1 action) 14

1: Vomit poison (2 actions) 90’ cone, Dex DC 20 or 3d10 acid damage, and take damage again if you end turn in it

2: Move (2 actions): Move 40’ and all corpses move 20’


CORPSES

AC 19 HP 40 Move 30

Advantage on saving throws against magic

Each one can cast a single spell on its turn with range 60:

1. DC 20 Dex 4d6 force damage and all within 10’ Wis save or Speed reduced to 10 (14)

2. +14 attack 4d6 poison damage and all within 10’ Con save or Poison (14)

3. DC 20 Wis 4d6 psychic damage and all within 10’ Wis save or Charmed (14)

4. DC 20 Con 4d6 thunder damage and all within 10’ Wis save or Silence (14)


If a corpse is killed, it immediately deals 40 damage to the main body.


If Illith Varn is defeated, his body slumps to the ground. The Skoros Orb continues to glow from within the corpse pile. It has to be dug up.


When held, it grants the holder three powerful spells, which are always prepared, but must be cast using the holder's spell slots. It acts as a spell focus, and once per day without using a spell slot can cast a special version of Fog Cloud, which produces a deep blue colored fog with a radius of one mile.


NEW SPELLS:


DISASTER


9th-level transmutation

Range: 1000 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous


Disaster produces an irrevocable disaster. The natural tendency of man-made objects to fall to ruin is tapped, annihilating everything the caster can see. Any number of non-magical objects within range, which the caster can see, are instantly destroyed. Weapons and armor are rendered unusable. Glass shatters. Metal fissures and collapses. Stonework crumbles into rubble, as if it had aged 500 years. 


Up to twenty medium-sized buildings within range of the caster’s choice are caused to instantly collapse. A creature within half the distance of a structure’s height must make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 5d6 bludgeoning damage, is knocked prone, and is buried in the rubble, requiring a DC 20 Strength (Athletics) check as an action to escape. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and doesn’t fall prone or become buried. 


A colossal building, along the lines of a multi-story castle, palace, or temple may be targeted, but instead of collapsing entirely it will be severely damaged in a way according to the DM’s discretion, along the lines of the table below. A building reinforced by magic will be unaffected by this spell.


If the caster is underground or inside, the disaster becomes dangerous to use. Disaster may be used to target walls and supporting stonework, causing an intentional collapse of any room within sight. If walls or supporting stonework are targeted in this way, a wider collapse has a 50% chance of occurring. If this occurs, all creatures within the spell’s area must make a Dexterity saving throw or take 5d6 bludgeoning damage and become buried in rubble, as above. For each room within the targeted area, roll on the following table:


1. One wall partially collapsed. This opens 1d4 openings into adjacent rooms and creates difficult terrain along either side of the wall for 1d4x5’ in each direction.

2. One wall completely collapsed. This opens a clear path into adjacent rooms and creates difficult terrain along the entire length of the wall for 1d4x5’ in each direction.

3. 1d4 walls partially collapsed, as above.

4. 1d4 walls completely collapsed, as above.

5. Room partially collapsed. Entire room is filled with rubble and becomes difficult terrain. 50% chance of clear opening to any rooms above.

6. Room entirely collapsed. The room is rendered impassable. 50% chance of clear opening to any room above.

7. Ceiling collapses in 20’ radius, creating difficult terrain in that radius. Clear opening to any room above. If no room above, then the collapse becomes an impassable pile of rubble.

8. Room is SAFE. 


AZAKABAR'S


6th-level Transmutation

Casting time: 1 action

Range: 60 feet

Components: V, M (Skoros Orb)

Duration: 1 minute, by Concentration


An area of effect spell with hideous side-effects, affecting all creatures in a 20’ radius area. They must make a Constitution saving throw or suffer from 2 to 5 effects, occurring simultaneously, but which must be dispelled or removed as separate spell effects.


Roll 1d4+1 times, rerolling any repeats:

1. Switch bodies: Everyone affected has their mind transferred to another random creature affected by the spell. They gain the physical statistics, hit points, armor class, and attacks of their new body, while maintaining their own mental statistics, proficiency bonuses, class abilities, and spells. If only one creature is affected by the spell, they are unaffected by this effect.

2. Shrink: As the reduce spell. Target decreases its size one category, has disadvantage on Strength checks and saving throws, and weapon attacks deal 1d4 less damage.

3. Sleep: As the spell. Each affected creature falls unconscious until the spell ends, the sleeper takes damage, or someone uses an action to shake or slap the sleeper awake. Undead and creatures immune to being charmed aren’t affected.

4. Turn to abomination: Affected creature is transformed into a hideous abomination. The transformation lasts until the target drops to 0 hitpoints or dies. The abomination is a fleshy, weak, slow-moving creature resembling a fucked walrus. It has 70 hit points, AC 9, Movement 15, Str 8, Con 12, Dex 8, and the mental ability scores of the original creature. It cannot hold, grasp, or manipulate objects, except clumsily with its mouth. It may attack at +6 for 1d6+1 damage.

5. Blind: As the condition. Creature cannot see. Attack rolls against the creature have advantage, and the creature’s attack rolls have disadvantage.

6. Necrosis: Any healing from a spell or magic effect instead causes equal damage to the creature.

7. Silenced: Affected creature produces no sound. It cannot speak. Casting a spell that includes a verbal component is impossible.

8. Stunned: Affected creature is stunned for one round.


SECRET


3rd-level divination

Casting time: 1 action

Range: Self

Components: M (The Skoros Orb)

Duration: Instantaneous


Draws a secret from the place where it is cast. The secret takes the form of a bird of insect, which contains the secret written on its wings. Such a secret is something that is known by only one other person, or known by no one. If there is no secret in the immediate room, the secret will concern something closely nearby, at the DM's discretion.


If you're the DM and you're at a loss, roll a d6:


1. Something directly and immediately useful

2-5. Something a little obtuse, but applicable and useful

6. Something completely out of left field