THIS IS PART OF A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR BUILDING OUT A LESS-THAN-COMMON ADVENTURE WHERE YOU CAN PUT YOUR OWN DUNGEON OR NPCS–THINGS THAT TEST THE PLAYERS AND PC’S ABILITY TO THINK DIFFERENTLY. THESE WILL BE REVISED IN FUTURE POSTS WITH INCREASINGLY DETAILED MECHANICS AND SHAPED FOR MORE SPECIFIC PLAY. TAKE WHAT YOU LIKE, LET ME KNOW HOW IT WENT.
This works best when there’s a game with a lot of already established story. I’d run it at 10th level or later. Where lots of NPC’s and PC’s and places and history are understood and taken for granted. Really, this is what you do to an established game, where “established” means “everyone is immersed and natural all the time”.
People need backgrounds and a whole litany of “stuff” to draw from that’s hard-coded into the game. The place they were born, their family, their friends, their life in adventure, the NPC’s they love and hate, their Patrons and Gods and successes and failures and monsters and battles and places, oh my.
So, how to start?
I think it works best if a Patron is trotted out for this one. Gods are… fine, I guess? But, I see gods and goddesses as being wholly interested in the world as it is. They want to change it, rule more of it, be more influential in it… even maybe kill off large parts of it… but they are on the council, so to speak, like a Greek God where this is the only world they get. The Gods, in my mind, are best used as being interested in the universe as a responsibility (even the chaotic evil gods who want it to burn for their pleasure still want it to exist for it to be burned).
Patrons, though, I like patrons to be otherworldly and significantly less interested (and NOT interested) in the larger survival or success of the world. Fiends are loyal to their Hells and this world is just a resource. Arch-Fey are on another plane of existence that crisscrossed this world here and there, but for the most part there are “other worlds than this”. Great Old Ones are dimensionally so alien that they probably don’t even realize a world exists at all.
So, an Arch-Fey is my pick. They’ve seen the skein of the world and are unhappy with it. Its weak and boring. And with an icy laugh in some unseen tower overlooking a fey-landscape beyond the ken of mortals… the whole of reality is tumbled and brought cascading into itself. Because Patrons shouldn’t be “weaker” than gods. Only different. And what proves that better than reshaping existence for a moment?
Maybe this is triggered off of a longer story or dungeon… like the twist at the end that launches a new adventure. Maybe its just “wake up one day”. Maybe its a telegraphed plot of happening you clue the PC’s into for weeks (and many sessions).
I’d introduce it as a direct conflict brought about by the Cleric or Warlock of the party… this Arch-Fey is NOT the Warlock’s Patron, but is at war with them. Or this Arch-Fey is specifically doing this to injure the Cleric’s deity.
Either way… build it up. And take the ride:
So, what’s the gimmick?
Rewind the clock on the game to the first day. Time itself. Take it back to the months or years ago everyone started level 1. That’s when the game takes place.
But, even farther back than that–have the Arch-Fey pluck (rip out) one strand of fate from before the PC’s were ever born. Some long-ago thing of consequence. Maybe, if in the case of a Warlock plot, it was the first time the PC’s Patron raised a Warlock, centuries ago–one of its greatest that paved the way for its influence in this world. If the Cleric plot, it was the fabled day that the gods ruined the Arch-Fey’s attempt at ascension to the godhead. Centuries of planning and the Cleric’s deity led the gods to reject the mad Arch-Fey’s attempt to directly influence things in this world. Resent.
Spur an alternate history of how the world would be different (and be cruel with it). What if the Arch-Fey had NOT lost all or failed or been surpassed “back then”. A few centuries later, how could the world be worse?
In that roll-up of time, take liberties with the nations and places of the world. The PC’s themselves. Re-engineer a dystopia.
Let’s take Phandelver as a base to work from:
Instead of a mining colony and dwarves in pursuit of re-igniting the power of the Wave Echo Cave and the Forge.. it was never lost. It became the seat of power for a Warlock of the Arch-Fey and he used and improved on it. Same map (maybe some additional mine shafts and whatnot) and turn into a mad palace for a mad Warlock.
The Spectator? Still crazy, but a beloved pet.
Sildar? A bandit with one-eye leading some goblin raiders on skirmishes against the agents of the Arch-Fey in the surrounding lands. The goblins and bugbears allies (for generations) of the men and dwarves surviving against the destruction and perversion of the world. None of them know anything about a world other than this.
Thundertree is a thriving port city (yes, port city… the ocean itself flooded inland after a cataclysmic event and Neverwinter is a ruin under the waves occupied by a race of sea elves or something–with their own history). The Green Dragon’s corpse is splayed out and opened to the skies in a crucifixion–has been for ages and years–because the agents of the Fey brook no other great beings in their domain.
War. Pestilence. Madness. Oppression.
All the NPC’s they’ve fought–reshuffle them as either allies or more scary villains. All the dungeons they’ve been through? Repurpose and reinvent. You have centuries to change them. The orcs they cleared out of the mountain passes at level 3? Now that “dungeon crawl” is about storming a xenophobic gnome citadel–with major themes and areas similar (maybe even names, so the gnomish captain is the same name as that orcish chief from before).
And re-write the entire PC’s history. All of it.
The people they “knew” often still exist and recognize them, but the PC’s are replacing their “other selves”–and their “other selves” are extraordinary perversions of what they were.
Maybe the townmaster pays his bribe to your Wizard in a surprising turn of events that they learn has been that the Wizard in this “timeline” had been a charlatan and a greedy evil bastard. He held villages hostage against his magic and extorted money out of them.
Maybe the Paladin has an entire cult dedicated to following him in his quest to Revenge himself on the Arch-Fey’s greatest enemy… all news to the Paladin.
The Rogue is stepping into the shoes of his “other self” who betrayed the Thieves Guild of Bet Kalamar and they have a 100,000 gp bounty on his head.
Take them on a choose your own adventure of interacting with the old places they already interacted with, but now a dark and twisted version of all of them. All leading up to taking the fight to that Arch Fey (or, if not 18th level or so, maybe his Avatar in this world that keeps this illusion going).
Once defeated… back to normal. But, now more than ever, mindful of the power of Great Beings.
Challenges for the Party
I think this is a great way to reintroduce monsters and specific random battles that were cool.
That one random encounter they had at 2nd level with those wolves that one time that wrecked them?
Bring those wolves back–and more slaveringly–and let your higher level party just take joy in owning them.
If Phandelver… imagine bringing a hardcore, barbarian version of Glass-Staff? Because you can do whatever you want. Or the Redbrands, but now they’re all halflings and have a darker agenda.
Even traps, themselves, get more fun. Have NPC’s all over, with and against the party… make commentary with them. Really sell, though NPC language, how the PC’s are bucking the world and expectations.
Example: That trap in that castle they once went to? With the pit? Great opportunity to not just let them sidestep it by knowing it’s there, but if you have at least one or two NPC’s along for the ride, they get to RP through how they KNOW its there.
Leave some things the same, or similar enough for these reactions. Like them fighting that evil wizard, but now he’s eviler and more wizardy… but has the same foil they learned about originally. Maybe they talk about his fiendish master and he’s all shocked because HOW DID THEY KNOW THAT?