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.
Bit of Fluff
The party (for whatever reason you think interesting) is drawn/led/ordered/surprised by/to an old, worn and beaten and half-collapsed cottage in the middle of perfectly nowhere.
The surrounding forests are old, trees standing a hundred feet high or more. Overgrown. Pure wild. The sort of place that makes a wood elf concerned and a druid orgasmic. A place that hasn’t seen the footsteps of a living intelligent creature in millenia.
And in the middle of it–trees growing half around it and old moss sagging the ancient timbers, etc.–a cottage. The cottage is not magic. But something is inside.
Clearly (Passive Perception 15, from outside) it is a one or two room simple cabin of an old style. It is worn. The walls are half-rotted. The wind can blow through it. There appears to be a figure, a half-desicated body, propped up on the floor inside (cabin no more than 15ft on a side, maybe 20ft). It is holding something dearly, while laying in a position that appears nearly fetal.
Keep careful note about who goes into the cabin and who stays outside of it. This is going to be important. Who is inside. Who is outside.
The item it holds is magical.
The body is, however, not dead. It is an old, old, impossibly old gnome. The progeny, generations removed, of an Ulitharid that came to its people with promises and horrors generations before he was born. In his blood runs the ichor of a powerful psionic monster. And this place used to be his home. He was a farmer–his fields, once wide and open, have become this great dense wooded forgotten place. It’s been centuries. The only thing keeping him alive is what’s in his arms. The moment he’s rolled over or touched or even closely approached, his enhanced and mad mind takes over (though his body does nothing at all, frail and small and dry as it is). The thing in his arms (the size of a small melon) glows pure, hateful white.
(back to that in a second)
The party makes Int Saves, DC20 (this should be very VERY hard). Note who succeeded. Note that we Save first, don’t tell them why yet.
Anyone who succeeds gets Inspiration–because they sort of understand this, intuitively and are smart and learned enough to most ably adapt for now.
The party stands, changed, in a mirror of the forest they were in… but instead of green, the place is dark and fallen. Great mossy trees replaced by jutting irregular lichenous dry reefs of bone and squiggly things. The ground is soft and seems to (Passive Perception 10) have a heartbeat. The air smells warm and seems to have alternating hints of an almost antiseptic smell interchanged occasionally by a truly rotted fruit smell.
The sky is a dark, blank purple–almost black. The party stands in the light, in this dark place. Don’t tell them why unless someone asks. Lights shine down on them from the trees like beams, soft and white, from many angles. Passive Perception 20, Monkey-like and bird-like creatures in trees–dark and shifting shapes–blink bright beams of light through their eyes. It’s not harmful, but they’re in these myriad of spotlights all around because animals/creatures are watching them. It will be the case that this is true for most of their time here. When it goes dark-dark, it’s because nothing is watching them–that should be its own brand of scary.
The PC’s find themselves changed. Give them their new character sheet–that you have ahead of time ready to go.
What the Hell?
So, here’s the conceit for this: I wanted to reverse and turn inside out another dungeon idea. This time, it started with me trying to figure out how to make “traps” that aren’t related to Dex. Like “Int traps” or “Charisma traps”. My problem was that while it wasn’t impossible to imagine a puzzle or a verbal/social ambush–it wasn’t clicking until I thought about changing the whole character sheet to reflect it.
So, the PC’s have been drawn into the same mindscape that the gnomish farmer is. He’s been there centuries. They just arrived. He wasn’t an evil man, originally. But life in this brutal unreality, for eons, and the things that live inside it have changed him through and through. He knows he doesn’t want to leave. He can’t let the players leave–because they might change something in the “Shadow World” he’s long forgotten the particulars of but understands can end this one.
He’s given up on life in the Shadow World (the real world), he’s a king and a conqueror and a legend here… there he was a farmer. And he would most surely just die. The PC’s going back… there’s every risk they would disrupt this delicate balance.
The PC’s are in a mindscape. I want to flip their characters inside out.
So, in this, I’m thinking that WIS is CON. so their new character sheet is still them, but them as a creature made of mind-stuff in a mind-space rather than a physical space. Their new character sheet changes their Con for the Wis and vice versa. It changes their Int for Str. It changes their Dex for Cha.
So, the character that was
Str 16 Dex 15 Con 14 Int 12 Wis 11 Cha 10
Str 12 Dex 10 Con 11 Int 16 Wis 14 Cha 15
They’re abilities in the real world just transfer differently in this space. They still exist, they just mean different things (clearly, you can take liberties with this, but its a fair shot this is close pending how you split the hairs of what is analogous to what; this is where I’m most comfortable though).
Their race should stay the same–unless they’re a half-something or have other reasons to have racial identity issues. This is for RP purposes, though it will mess with stats a bit. Take caution on how you change it, but it should be out there. I have a PC in my current game that is a Half-Orc that hates his orcish side… this place? I might drop him into Orc to represent his fears or human to represent his true identification.
Anyhow. Stats. Race. Abilities.
Class is the clever change. Let’s go back to who was in the cabin and out.
Anyone in the cabin should be moved into a class (in this world) that primaries or lends itself to a good primary of ranged stuff. Anyone outside the cabin should be moved into a class that lends itself to melee stuff. Here’s why:
I wanted to preserve a way for magic to exist “here”. I went the route of assuming that most magic is changing the world with powers that effect its reality from sort of outside of it. It’s supernatural.
The “fireball” cast here in this un-world should still happen, but should be the PC’s other (real) selves struggling in a half-dream state there to fight back this whole experience. So the “fireball” is someone flailing out in the real world and striking the gnome or the boards of the floor or anything in “the supernatural” world above this un-world such that it affects this world itself.
When the PC’s other real self drags itself half-blind and unseeingly over and tries to stand up (and fails), that’s why the PC in this mind-space can cast Fly perhaps. It doesn’t have to be perfectly analogous… the fighter drawing his sword in the real world (again, concussed and half-comatose) and whapping the gnome to knock them out of this is why the “wizard” that he is in the unworld can blow trees to smithereens with his flame strike or whatever.
Resolve their “mind-self” class against proximity to help drive the reality of how they can do magic “here” and against their stats for full effectiveness.
Those far away from the gnome and/or folks like the Wizard in the real party should end up as proper armored melee fighters or the like. Or strange clerics with touch spells empowered in the un-world by some divine thing that may not even be real–but works.
Find that balance. Give people an “opposite” character that’s their character just messed with. New dimension of play. And keep the level much lower than their Real level. Half rounded up or just a few levels. Because it’s easier to play a class you may not be familiar with (whatever you end up with) that’s much lower level than possessed of all the options at a higher one.
In short, this lesson in mapping it all out taught me that sometimes… if you can’t make a “charisma trap”, it’s not about the trap but about the entirely of the universe around the trap.
So, What kind of Challenges?
The rest of this kind of writes itself, honestly.
Once your elvish wizard is now an elvish fighter with a huge damn greatsword and their intellect means they’re this honking badass image of themselves (though so smart in the real world that they can’t resolve what they know versus how this metaphysic works, they’re more impaired than the more stupid by this) and your Half-Orc Barbarian is now some strange Orcish Shaman Sorceror and your human Warlock is now a Rogue. Etc.
…now, through the alien, metaphorically-drive world of the mind-gods and this gnomish farmer.
When the “Rogue” disables that snare trap? They’re actually (in the real world) a Warlock shouting distractions at this gnomish creature and the evil around them.
When the “Fighter” hits the dark slavering beast in the woods? They’re actually a Wizard blasting a cantrip at a rotted floorboard.
So, the monsters in this place should borrow heavily from versions of mindflayers and illithids and other extranormal creatures. If you want a bear? Make it a gigantic, black bear with scales that belches a poisonous cloud of pure bright red droplets of blood.
Litter the forest with wild, haunting, and unyielding encounters with beasts and the like. Crude traps, like those set by kobolds. Unsettle them with how it seems their being here is sensed. The world itself is trying to purge them.
Give them a short dungeon of opposite weird play.
Lead them to a great, dark city built into the chitenous back of a beast the several miles wide and long. Like a great ginormous beetle. People /live/ in this city. Dark weird creatures that do not speak the langauge–because they’re not “real” and their language isn’t real. It’s the made-up, non-language of the mind of this ignorant gnomish farmer.
Scenes where these drow/gnome like creatures, well dressed in whites and dark blues and blacks, are all conversing in babble like it makes sense. Going about their lives. Trading brightly colored slugs like their coins for strange goods that make no sense.
The palace at the top of the hill in the city is the “dungeon”.
The gnomish farmer is a great giant of some kind here. Like a big, skeletal Hill Giant with golden armor and consorts. Barely recognizable (Perception 20) from his real body.
He will do whatever it takes to stay.
Palace guards lock down the castle. Siege warfare or sneaking to get in. Sorties sent out to attack the PC’s and keep them away from the walls and gates. This gnome can sense everything in his little unworld. They can try to sneak in, but it should be clear they’re subconsciously perceived. When they sneak around climb a wall, there are people on the wall. It’s not on purpose, it’s the unconscious protecting itself.
The PCs will have to figure out how to siege a castle and then run in and murder/slaughter the crap out of things.
Guards. Elite Guards. All overly noblely attired. The imaginings of an ignorant farmer on what castles and guards and kings and whatnot should be. Paint the picture in bright primary colors (dark ones, though).
This whole unworld should unsettle the crap out of your party’s real Cleric (his god does not exist here and the Ranger is now casting divine spells like a cleric in this place for no reason at all). Your party’s Paladin should want to destroy this whole place. Your Druid should have to hold himself back (make him a Barbarian in this place) from truly losing his shit.
Make every turn an unpredictable tiny horror.
Anyhow, once they kill the gnome/giant in an epic battle of magics that give them glimpses into the real world as it’s happening (flashes of actually doing things to “fight back” or “snap out of it”), the world goes normal. Con checks, DC lower for those that took less damage inside and higher for those that took more… puking, headaches, wretched heaving.
The body dies softly. Nothing dramatic, no explosions or rapid decay… just a brief rattle. Passing out of this life.
The item is a magic item that only does one things, and we saw what it is. It’s a glass ball, maybe 6″ across and smooth and white.
Immortality for the bearer, never die. But, you “live” consciously in that place. That’s it.
Any PC that wants to attune to it after a day can. It does nothing else. No roll. No save. If you attune (choice) and activate, you lose your character to this. Your mind cannot come back, your body will only hang on to near death forever. You can be a king or a god over there… and you can do it for eternity… but no coming back.
The ball is (virtually) indestructible. Doubtlessly evil. The PCs must choose what to even do with the damn thing.
As a story reward–no treasure, obviously–they get XP, sure…. but maybe let something come back with them. An ability point to their real world lowest stat (which was their highest “over there”), as they experienced it.