Wednesday, June 30, 2021

THE SHATTERED LABYRINTHS OF ILLITH VARN (megadungeon summary, overview, and backstory)

 My players are nearly done with this, so I feel like I can do a lot of unveiling.

This is a 400+ room mega-dungeon with multiple levels and sub-levels, built around a direct goal: retrieve the SKOROS ORB, the mysterious artifact used by the evil wizard ILLITH VARN to wage war upon the KINGDOM OF OROSTRANTHY. It is meant for mid- to high-level play: my players started around level 13 or 14, and are now between levels 20 and 22. Each main level has 60-70 rooms and each sub-level has 30-50 rooms, heavily themed around classic Dungeons and Dragons tropes: traps, treasure, exploration, secrets, vivid NPCs, factions, difficult boss fights, and open-ended puzzles and problems. At the same time, a number of factions are vying simultaneously to retrieve the Skoros Orb, including a rival party, THE DEADBOYZ. This campaign has provided us maybe three or four years of play, and my players are nearing the conclusion.

My campaign also featured a lengthy prelude adventure as the party and their caravan traveled to the dungeon, but I don't think I'll discuss that here, as my main interest is in describing the megadungeon and providing the maps and room list.


There is a deep history backstory, but I will start about a hundred years ago. The Kingdom of Orostranthy was having a golden age, ruled by King Gregor and Queen Ursula, who had just after great difficulty borne their first son, Prince Roderick. Think a fairy tale kingdom, enjoying freedom and prosperity, full of knightly orders, kindly political intrigue, and success after success in beating back the monsters on their doorstep. The king's cousin, Illith Varn, a jealous man who felt he had been denied the rights to the throne, sought to secretly assassinate the infant prince, in order to bring himself back into the line of succession. The assassination attempt failed, and King Blood could not bring himself to execute his own cousin, and so exiled him to the Goblin Wastes. 

Illith Varn's jealousy grew, and in his exile increased his already considerable magical talent to incredible levels. He built an army of beastmen and monsters and recruited a number of discontents and former friends to his side. Most crucially, his magic guided him to an ancient complex within a cracked canyon, and in its depths discovered a magic orb, as if it had been waiting for him. He made the complex his headquarters, and from it, waged war on Orostranthy, hoping to overthrow the king and install himself as its wizard ruler. With the power of the Skoros Orb, he was able to carve a path toward the capital. 

His military and magical might were not sufficient against the united power of Orostranthy. His army was scattered and the remnants were driven back into his headquarters. Illith Varn hid himself in the complex's depths as his remaining generals attempted to fight off the armies of Orostranthy, but assassins crept inside and surprised him in his sanctum. They defeated and decapitated him, but in the ensuing chaos the Skoros Orb was lost, and the assassins fled empty handed. The complex was sealed up, and Orostranthy declared victory.

In truth, however, Illith Varn had hatched a contingency plan, in case of his demise. He had carefully studied the orb and determined that its nature was three-part: it held a physical body and two souls, one of which belonged to Hell, and one of which belonged to the Astral Plane. In secret, he discovered a suitable sanctum in the Astral Plane, and made contact with suitable allies in Hell, and prepared a spell tying his life-force to the Skoros Orb: if he were to die, the Skoros Orb would split. Its Hell Soul would be caught by his allies in Hell, and its Astral Soul would be deposited in his secret sanctum, along with his own soul, to prevent him from passing entirely to the afterlife. In this way, he planned to have his remaining generals gather the pieces of the Skoros Orb and use its power to resurrect him, so he could continue his mad plan.

This did not work out either. His remaining generals--VEXX THE ARCHER, MALAGON OF THE CRUELEST EYE, KAVIEL THE STRANGE, and SER SENEDAR THE WHITE-- became dead-locked in their final schemes. The physical body of the Skoros Orb was found by chance by a vampire queen and jealously guarded in her sunken castle, and the souls of the Skoros Orb remained deposited in their extradimensional vaults. The soul of Illith Varn, trapped in the timeless Astral Plane, turned insane, while his headless body and his bodiless head took on an un-life of their own, and became terrors of the deep.

And nearly a hundred years later, restless, the Skoros Orb has revealed itself again. It has appeared in the dreams and magical scrying methods of dozens of entities across the land, and one by one they converge upon the SHATTERED LABYRINTHS OF ILLITH VARN, to descend into its depths, and vye to retrieve the ultimate prize...


Millennia ago, a continent spanning empire known only as Uldru arose. They grew to dominance and then fell apart, leaving the continent covered in ruins. What few know but many suspect is that they achieved their power through magical cunning. Emperor Haxus' six-hundred and sixty-six wizards saw in their scrying glasses the possibility of creating an artifact capable of granting the wish of whoever held it, and advised him to construct a great temple to Sefve, the White Goddess of Violence, and use its architecture itself to cast a mighty spell and imprison the malign SKYCANCER within a magic orb, concentrating its horrific power into a single point. Four princesses and four hundred forty-four virgins were sacrificed in the depths of the temple to consecrate the ritual, but soon after, something happened the emperor did not expect: while excavating their temple, they found another temple, deep underground, empty and abandoned, and dedicated to an unknown god.

Through dreams and portents, Demogorgon made himself known to the emperor, and promised greater power, and the pursuit of the Skoros Orb was abandoned, as the ritual governing its creation would take many years to come to fruition. The empty temple to Demogorgon was once again filled with priests and high mass was conducted, and the cult of Demogorgon grew. Worship of the White Goddess of Violence was abandoned in the highest ranks all across Uldru, to be replaced with worship of Demogorgon. With his power, the kingdom of Uldru grew to its greatest heights. 

At some point during this period, Uldru crossed the ocean and waged war upon the pharaohs of the Psychodesert, and bore the Black Pyramid of the Grinning Pharaoh across the seas as a war trophy.

Upon death, every soul of the kingdom of Uldru was consigned to Hell. Long afterward, the Skoros Orb successfully accreted in the depths of Sefve's great temple, but no one was present to gather it. The Temple to Sefve was abandoned until Illith Varn discovered it much, much later.


Demogorgon, one of the great gods of Hell and self-proclaimed ruler of reality (this claim is disputed), decided to join Hell and Reality together in unity, just as his two heads, Hethradiah and Aameul, are joined. He bade his adherents construct him a temple dedicated to his left head, Hethradiah, far from Castle Satan (Hell's center of civilization), and there to make contact with the proto-civilizations stirring in Reality. This was long before the time of Uldru, and long before most relevant geographical and geological formulations occurred. The human proto-civilizations heeded the call of the mysterious beings they saw in their dreams. They constructed a grand temple to a god called Aameul, and build a great archway within the temple, and bathed it in sacrificial blood and magic materials, and their prayers were answered: the way to Hell opened.

Hell then marched through and performed a total genocide on the surrounding land. Demons slaughtered everyone for miles around. Hell and Reality intermingled. The Dead marched under the living sun. A reigning demon lord was crowned to rule Reality, who reported directly to the Archbishop of Hethradiah in Hell, who incidentally was named Gorgrudoch. (For personal reasons, Demogorgon prefers not to be named, and at some point decided to strike his name from the record, instead preferring to be referred to only by the names of his heads) 

This continued for a really long time, but as all things change, so too does the power of Hell. The invasion was eventually beaten back by the surrounding powers, and gate to Hell closed, and the temple to Aameul in Reality burned. But they could not tear it down entirely, and over the years, it became buried by the passage of mountains, to be hidden deep underground like a poison geode. The Archbishop Gorgrudoch in Hell retired, passing his title to the Archbishop Aggreal, formerly of the Council of Satan.

A long time passed. The Kingdom of Visigardia, a human kingdom, found itself saddled with an unusual curse: its bloodthirsty and cruel monarch, developed a taste for blood, as well as a distinct distaste for sunlight, and discovered that he was immortal and invincible, and could share this power with those who drank his blood. They had a good run for a few generations, but eventually the power landed on a particularly brutal father-daughter pair: King Alexander Draculesti Pelioth and Princess Tetranoska Vorgunel Pelioth. They and their family blotted out the sun and turned to mass slaughter. Eventually the king died of plague and the new Queen Tetranoska and her remaining family ate everyone in their kingdom, and when the neighboring powers came with vampire hunters to kill them, sank their castle with magic deep within the earth, and upside down, to be as far from the sun as possible. By coincidence, this was not far from the empty Temple of Aameul.

Some time later, the Purple Archdragon Terrifex came from the West and declared a barren mountain range his territory. He slew the Titan Iat who dwelled there and burrowed deep underground with all the titan's wealth. By coincidence (?), this was near to the Blood Queen's Turned Castle. 

Then all the stuff with Uldru and Demogorgon happened, and all these characters suddenly found themselves wary neighbors.

Maybe about five hundred years ago, in the lofty Mountains of Hunger, a ruthless Witch Queen faced rebellion at the hands of her subjects. Queen Jupiter Volaris, the self proclaimed Sky Witch, was overthrown. After her humiliating defeat, she packed up her fortress and flew it into the sky, never to be seen again, except for an occasional raid upon the surface world. Many years passed. Upon learning that the Skoros Orb had been found again in the Canyons of Pain and Misfortune, she determined to find it for herself and restore herself to power. She entered the Shattered Labyrinths and was quickly caught by General Malagon of the Cruellest Eye, leaving her fortress abandoned in the sky above the canyons. 

These wary factions are now dead-locked in a cold war. Queen Tetranoska possesses the physical body of the Skoros Orb, but does not understand why its power is diminished. The Hell Gate in the Temple of Aameul has reopened, and though the Archbishop Aggreal has sent his dead scouts and assassins to seek the other components of the Skoros Orb, he cannot penetrate the Turned Castle, and his scouts do not return from the Astral Plane. Kaviel the Strange and Ser Senedar scheme to steal the Skoros Orb from Queen Tetranoska, and Kaviel has embedded himself in the Queen's courts, but she is too paranoid and powerful for him to make a successful move. General Malagon of the Cruellest Eye has managed to create a small headquarters for himself, guarded by elementals and an insane biomechanist and trained crane-men, but no longer has interest in Illith Varn or the Skoros Orb or really even life itself, and instead plans to find a means to exit Reality for good. And the Black Pyramid of the Grinning Pharaoh sleeps undisturbed, though none are aware that the pharaoh lives on within, and his Golden Dragon, sealed inside by the armies of Uldru, has been awake inside these long millennia.

That's it for now. Got it? :)


Pretty much none of the above. Provide them only with the legend of Illith Varn, though no one really knows the powers of the Skoros Orb, except that it is said to be mighty, and to be able to grant wishes. As lay-people, they would probably know that "A mad wizard once made war upon the kingdom, but he failed and was beheaded in his own headquarters. His orb was lost, but it is said to have been found again! Many now seek it." His generals are not common knowledge, though a historian would know their identities. Illith Varn's relation to the king is not common knowledge, as it is distasteful.

The three part nature of the Skoros Orb is another strict secret, only to be begun to be hinted at as the players near coming into possession of whatever piece they happen to pursue first. Each holder of the Skoros Orb knows its power is broken or diminished, but very select few know why. However, if the players complete an optional and very difficult challenge on the first floor, they will be rewarded this knowledge early.

Uldru and their war on the Psychodesert is common knowledge to the educated, but no one knows they worshipped Demogorgon. The name of Demogorgon is strictly secret, and should never be mentioned (I accidentally had a NPC reveal it a little too early, but I think it worked out)--in fact, it's possible the emperor himself did not know who he worshipped. Historians would know of the White Goddess Sefve.

Illith Varn knew about the Skycancer, though in his pride he did not imagine its influence could be corrupting, and was not very curious about its nature or provenance. A keen observer might note that Illith Varn’s wish was granted, though in a corrupted form: Orostranthy’s war with Varn led to its ultimate decline, despite Varn’s death. The Skycancer’s nature is known only to the Emperor Haxus, and even his understanding is incomplete, like what a common person might know about hurricanes. Therefore, this is another strict secret, only to be revealed much later, and at the appropriate time.

The existence of Visigardia is lost to history entirely.

The existence of a Purple Dragon is known to specialists in legend, though his name is not known, and his location is not known. The Titan Iat is maybe known to locals as a legend. The existence of a Golden Dragon is known only to specialized historians, and all records state the Golden Dragon was slain in the war with Uldru. For maximum horror and surprise, the Golden Dragon should only be revealed when the players first gaze upon it, ideally at the moment of its release.

The Psychodesert still exists in common knowledge and the Great Pharaohs as well, though a legendary Grinning Pharaoh is a little bit lost to time. Historians and archaeologists would have heard of him, and I set it up so that the PCs traveled with such a fellow in their caravan.

The existence of Hell is about as widely believed in as it is here in the real world. The existence of demons gives the belief some credit, though in fact, most demons do not originate from Hell, and are instead malicious spirits or monsters or creatures that are called "demons" out of ignorance. All of that about Castle Satan and so on is not known in reality, except to those very unlucky few who have been to Hell and returned alive. Hell's brief reign in reality is a dim memory, a proto-nightmare remembered by some very unlucky few. For the purposes of my game, I made some small references to Hell and established it as another plane of existence, but that's it. Then, to gently encourage my players to overcome their fear and explore this terrifying new plane, I supplied them some exposition before they stepped through the Hellgate. You may decide not to do this, and let them discover for themselves what lies on the other side.

The existence of an Astral Plane is known to wizards, but it is unlike the classic Forgotten Realms Astral Plane in many ways. They might know it as a plane of chaos, a great sea that connects many places together, where little is stable, and many spirits and places of power can be found. The closeness of the Astral Plane may be felt by very keen psychics and savants, though they will likely not be able to explain precisely what it is they feel. As it is a foreign concept with no analog to reality, it might be nice to have an NPC introduce the place directly before they step inside.

The history of the Sky Witch might be known to a historian, though it's mostly treated as legend. It would not be immediately obvious to anyone that the floating castle would be hers, though a historian squinting through a telescope might be reminded of such a legend. Would she really still be alive...?


Here is the level list.











Now I'll describe the main and sub-levels, as well as some of the essential story beats contained within.


The Canyons of Pain and Misfortune. They are full of vividly colored fog, which emanates from the broken gates of the labyrinths. The canyon floor is strewn with weaponry and skeletons. A trickle of slime emerges from a crack. Far, far above, a shining fortress is hovering in the sky.

Connections to: Level One. The Flying Fortress of the Sky Witch.


A ruined wizardly headquarters, and the site of a final, brutal battle. Some final soldiers of Illith Varn's armies remain miraculously alive, preserved by the power of the Skoros Orb. The White Chapel to Sefve, where the White Priest Lobis yet sleeps. A river of slime flows through this level.


OROSTRANTHIAN ELF MECHA: A golem built around the flesh of a mutant elf, used by Orostranthy to break down the gates of the labyrinths, and prevent others from entering.

OROSTRANTHIAN WAR GOLEMS: Seven war golems, deployed for the same purpose.

GENERAL VEXX: The first of Illith Varn's four generals, driven to insanity from grief. He wields a bow.

CONNECTIONS TO: Level Two, The Tower of Slime


Once the quarters of the builders of this ancient complex, now flooded with a river of slime running upwards from its depths. Insectile creatures from another dimension, and bizarre constructs. Poison gas and instant death. 


THE SLAAD TRIUMVIRATE: A trio of slaad who have opened a portal to the PLANE OF SLIME from the stomach of a mutilated and tortured unicorn, which yet lives.

CONNECTION TO: The Pit of Terrifex, The Purple Dragon


Deeper underground. Older parts of Sefve's temple, less disturbed. The Headquarters of Malagon of the Cruellest Eye, a well-guarded base, where the Sky Witch is kept captive. The Biorecombination Lab, an extremely hostile area filled with toxic crystal gas and recombinated mutants. The passage to the Black Pyramid of the Grinning Pharaoh.


GENERAL MALAGON OF THE CRUELLEST EYE. A powerful wizard, who specializes in disintegration.

ILKEN WART, THE BIORECOMBINATOR: An insane guy in a gimp suit with Doc Ock arms, who is also a powerful wizard.

Connections to: The Black Pyramid. Level Three. The Flying Fortress of the Sky Witch.


At first, a silent tomb. The armies of the Grinning Pharaoh are dead. All paths lead to the treasure chamber of the Golden Dragon. Then, noise and screaming. Noise marines, sonic weaponry, flashing lights, a lethal disco floor. 


THE GOLDEN DRAGON. A small dragon, all of shining gold, but with the equivalent stats of an ancient dragon, but maybe a little worse. After release, he pursues the PCs throughout the dungeon, setting traps and ambushes, until successfully beaten back, after which he can be challenged within his lair.

THE GRINNING PHARAOH: As my players have declined to challenge the Grinning Pharaoh thus far, I can say no more, except that he sits upon a giant throne which screams and shoots lasers.


A fanciful fairy-tale fortress full of spirits and ensorcelled demons. An enchanted princess and a captured prince. A very annoying jester, Ptim Parie, who disrupts magic cast in his presence. An arrogant green dragon, Corvenon, who is the son of a poison star. Darkened magical gardens, elves who have been doing the same dance for centuries, and an unstoppable Spirit of the West.




Flooded with water, a swamp. Mosquitoes. The site of the summoning ritual which conjured the Skoros Orb, A Demon of Song, formed from the sorrow of one of the sacrifices. Then, a snowy forest. The Headless Body of Illith Varn. The party of Kaviel the Strange, who has not come back. The Temple of Aameul, and the Hellgate. The Golden Tomb of Illith Varn, and Illith Varn's severed head, and peaceful Ser Senedar the White, who holds vigil. The Seat of the Skoros Orb, where it was found, and where it can be recombined.


THE DEMON OF SONG: A crimson demon whose song enchants all who hear it, surrounded by fey demons. 

THE BODY OF ILLITH VARN: His neck stump spews cursed blood and he shoots lightning and death spells from his outstretched finger-tips.

DEACONS OF AAMEUL: A group of dead priests from Hell, armed with cunning daggers, soul magic, and ambush.

THE HEAD OF ILLITH VARN: A classic Demilich, except he's not a skull, and won't attack on sight. Soul sucking powers, corrosive vision, 9th level spells, and instant death attacks. Chatty, but has a magic mushroom growing out of his head that the players might want.



An upside-down castle sinking into a pool of blood. Inside, an ancient decadent family of vampires might have fun meeting intruders for the first time in centuries. A psychic vampire prince schemes to steal power from the Blood Queen, who hides in a tower filled with anti-magic blood, along with the Skoros Orb. Only her three most trusted family members have the key to get in. A secret path in the basement to Terrifex's pit.


KAVIEL THE STRANGE and THE BLOOD QUEEN, TETRANOSKA: Kaviel may seek to steal the Skoros Orb from the Blood Queen at the very moment the players do, as he understands she is more powerful than he is. Kaviel: a powerful swordsman, wielding powerful elemental magic. Tetranoska: a more powerful swords-woman, who can also command blood, as well as the physical shell of the Skoros Orb.

Connections to: The Pit of Terrifex, The Purple Dragon. Level Three.


A series of bottomless pits, filled with invisible force webs, in which are suspended the weaponry and regalia of the Titan Iat. Terrifex sleeps in the titan's electric crown, and his skull are nearby. He may talk if you're very nice. Past him, a series of dwarf warrens, of the proto-dwarfs who originally opposed the invasion of Hell. A Holy Avenger spear, but a little less powerful than the classic type.

BOSS: TERRIFEX, THE PURPLE DRAGON: If the players fight him, they're fucked.

Connections to: The Turned Castle of the Blood Queen. The Tower of Slime.


Entrance can be found through Illith Varn's Golden Tomb. A shifting, hostile, extradimensional hellscape that traps the players. Incoherent spirits and lost souls. A simple puzzle made complicated by the shifting terrain. At the center, the Soul of Illith Varn, gone insane from eternity trapped inside, and the Astral Soul of the Skoros Orb.

BOSS: ILLITH VARN (SOUL): A classic video-gamey multi-phase boss fight, with adds and a final form and everything, wielding the Astral Soul of the Skoros Orb.

Connection back to: Level Three. Also a back exit to Reality, far away in the Merelunds.


A multi-floor complex, built into the upper spine of a gigantic hell leviathan. First, a dangerous exploration around the Nave of Hethradiah, where mass is actively conducted by the Archbishop Aggreal. Then, a long puzzle in the lower levels to complete the Pilgrimage of Voyceps Moth and meet the Archbishop Gorgrudoch, who can provide passage to the secret Chapel of Demogorgon, where the Skoros Orb is kept.


DEACONS OF HETHRADIAH: The mirror image of the Deacons of Aameul, except instead of dead guys, it's horrible fire-throwing demons. They wander the upper section of the cathedral when they're not in mass, posing a pretty severe threat until they're disposed of.

MYSANDER AND DYDAX: The bodyguards of Archbishop Aggreal. Platonically bonded life partners who are also ancient and powerful warrriors. The guard the Occult Screen behind which Aggreal conducts the Red Mass--if defeated, Aggreal retreats to safety.

THE ARCHBISHOP AGGREAL: A two-headed bishop with a lot of magic spells and gaze attacks. Meant to trick the players into thinking they've won.

THE SKOROS ORB BEHOLDER: A spontaneously formed aberration, attracted by the orb's magic, and grown into it, allows Demogorgon to gaze into reality. A lot of weird eye-stalks and anti-magic fields, wielding the Hell Soul of the Skoros Orb as a weapon. A surprise boss after Aggreal is defeated. 


Well we will just have to find out!


  1. Will you be publishing this? Sounds d-d-d-dope!

  2. can confirm we first reached the shattered labyrinths in september 2018, and it looks like we've played about 130 sessions there. terrified to learn what happens when we combine the three pieces of the skoros orb.