Anguish And Rancor; and Two Cubes Are Better Than One…

This begins a new series at Many-Sided Dice about traps and making interesting ones. We’ll dial in on a running format in the coming weeks.

The Flaypit

Odom stood quietly as Squick spit down the hole, eyes closed and waiting for the—ah, there. Maybe only twenty feet deep. One of the deeper ones he’d seen.

The half-orc glanced sideways at the smaller man. Clearly, the gesture was unsettling.

“Did you have to spit on him? Was that really necessary?”, Odom’s voice was calm and only a touch troubled. If the others had seen it, hell if just Raka had seen Squick do it, there’d be a fair brawl at minimum. Disrespectful and whatnot.

Squick pulled a bit of snuff from a small tin and horked it, eyes watering and lined face full of sarcasm.

“Sayin’ goodbye my way. He’d never survive pullin’ him out. He’d starve before we cleared the way down”, the old dungeon delver drawled on angrily, “If you want to do something useful, have Raka just kill him quick. Let’s keep moving.”

History: The main body of the Courts of Agony, the faith keeping to the oldest ways of the Flaymaster and the Lords of the Exquisite Shraed, were a popular group of particularly horrifying priests that lied, cheated, and stole their way into the service of many of the worst criminals and monsters of the Second Age.

They insisted that death was the province of the weak (putting them at fierce odds with both the Necromancers and the followers of the Goddess of the Final Night, mistress of death itself). Instead, they believed power (and indeed pleasure) was found in the ruination of the flesh, not its destruction.

With their contacts, many manses and secret places were tainted with both architecture and iconography of thei beliefs. Their designs were meant to bring the maximum amount of horrorful suffering possible, with minimal loss of life. The War of Bones raged for forty years, killing off all of their line.

Flaypits were popular as both ritualistic centerpieces and, in more deeply serious and private places, truly dire traps for the unwary Champion.

System: Most often covered by crude stonework, there will be a hole cut into the floor–no more than three feet in diameter. It will be between 5 and 25 feet deep, The stonework itself is made to be found (Passive Perception 10) and is trapped with a divine bane of Suggestion–which auto-succeeds–that the individual who touches the stonework feels a tugging compulsion to move onto the next room/door/hallway.

That is all the bane of Suggestion does (Religion check DC 14 to know what a bane of Suggestion is and how it works, upon seeing the effect happen to anyone including one’s self). The compulsion is easily ignored, like a stray thought or song one can’t get out of one’s head for a few minutes.

Removing the stonework is also easy with proper tools (Mason’s tools DC 10), much harder with improvised tools (crowbars, picks, etc., Athletics check DC 16), and extremely hard with no real tools at all (Athletics check DC 22). However, once removed, the recessed shaft (5-25ft. deep, a few feet in diameter) is visible and accessible, and at the bottom of it is a dusty and slightly tattered book in a pile of heavy stones with strange writing on it. One cannot read it without getting closer (less than arm’s length) and it is heavily weighed down with the small boulders preventing a Mage Hand removal. If anyone chooses to use a Detect Magic, they sense the entire pit is full of Conjuration and illusion auras.

Climbing down into the pit is, ultimately, the whole purpose of the trap. One willinginly submitting to the pit. Upon climibing down, one finds that any attempt to climb out is met with vicious barbs and barely visible quivering rending knives and chains whipping out and brutally cutting into their flesh. With any attempt to climb out, a storm of conjured, half-visible shards of the Realm of Anguish attack, severing any non-magical rope, wood, or metal and inclicting a random roll on the Lingering Injuries table in the DMB. After the result is determined, the victim may elect to take 1 exhaustion instead and finds themselves still at the bottom of the pit, recovering from the pain.

Any attempt to magically teleport the victim out must pass a Charisma check DC 18 or fail. On a failure, the victim suffers the effects of trying to climb out as the victim has partially entered a piece of a different plane in climbing down to begin with and any spell must overcome that.

Any Arcane check to determine the magical properties of the trap will yield the above mechanics. A knowledge History check DC 17 and one can learn key facts about the Courts of Agony and their history.

In truth, once one has suffered 6 exhaustion, the trap disables itself. It isn’t designed to kill–that was the Courts’ whole ethos–only cause horrific pain and suffering. On the 6th exhaustion, the victim finds all their wounds and lingering injuries and exhaustion are all gone and they may freely climb back out.

Making the Trap Easier/Harder:

  • Placement – The better hidden the stonework seems to be, the more likely the party will fall for it all. This is a trap to be avoided, but can eat up lots of party time and even resources. If they notice the odd statue or floorstones, they’re digging their own hole. If they ignore the suggestion, they digging it deeper. If the whole thing is out in the open more obviously, they’ll be suspicious.
  • Trigger – As the trigger is self-imposed, there isn’t a lot to do to make it more or less sensitive.
  • Combat – Definitely, this is a trap that is made more dramatic by surrounding combat. The stuck PC will go through more and more insane attempts to get out and more and more pain and trouble with a combat going on around/above them. It will take them out of the combat for very possibly the entire thing (as they may not want to risk “dying” and choose to just stay put).

The Psi-Torrent

It didn’t take much to turn Kurt around. He stalked the long hallway, being very certain of himself in this old and entirely lifeless place. He’d filled two bolesacks full of goodies and he couldn’t wait to see what else was down here. All was rosie right until he got to the end of the long, polished hall.

The far wall was a smooth and blemishless silvery steel. Mithral? Something else? He didn’t know. Applying all his skill and knowledge, he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. So, in proper greedy fashion, he turned to find another passage.

And seeping, dripping, oozing from the metallic surface and filling the whole height and width of the space was an enormous translucent thing, filled with bones and the scraps of old treasure. As it crept closer, glowing lightly, Kurt backed off. It was slow. He was not. Turning on a heel, he skipped and jogged his way down the passage.

Only to see a near twin of the first creature coming slowly along. And stuck between the two, he grabbed a shovel and cursed a blue storm.

History: The wild and unpredictable magic of the Faen worlds is a horror show of misery and elation. Their greatest beings, the Arch-fey that control those realms, are beautiful and alien, inscrutible and unpredictable. They are not human, and their machinations are almost timeless.

One of their emmissaries, styling herself the Mistress Radiant, employed a cult of fanatics to conduct a broad genocide of the royal families of the world in the time before the Mallean Dynasty. Her minions infiltrated courts and laid assassinations and traps for the courtly.

Hundreds died. And in these more modern times, some of their works can still be found in old estates and tombs. Mad snares and conjurations long lost to time and memory, waiting for victims. And somewhere, the Fey laugh.

The Psi-Torrent was her favorite trick, and was responsible for the as yet unsolved mystery of the death of Kabori III a century ago.

System: A Psi-Torrent is a smooth plate of Savial, a soft and unearthly metal made from arcane experiments of the Arch-Fey on oozes and slimes in the realms of Fae. when taken and worked into a flat and smooth surface (most often a wall) it reacts with any intelligent mind that comes near it (less distance than it’s own width; so a 10ft wide hall with this metal plate at the end taking up the whole space of it is triggered at less than 10ft and a 20ft wide hall is triggered at less than 20ft.) and brings forth the image of a Gelatinous Cube, as large as the wall of smooth silvery metal is, seeping forward and creeping slowly, full of body parts and shiny bits. A magpie’s hoard of greed.

Treat this seeping projection as a Phantasmal Force and note that it can be attacked, it can appear to take damage (and the DM is encourages to describe any attacks against it as blowing shallow holes into its gelatinous surface and how an attack might crush a skull floating inside of it), and make special note of any desirous thing the PC that triggered it might want and have an approximation of it in the cube–its reading minds and playing on fears. If they are desirous of a special key in the dungeon, or magical scrolls, they might see the glint of a silvery key somewhere inside it or an oiled scrollcase only partially eaten through with acid.

Roll for Initiative and use the stats for a Gelatinous Cube, but with infinite HP and no attack (only the engulfing effect), as tall and wide as the chamber it is in, and appropriately deep (the dimensions of a cube, but possibly very VERY large). It does damage as a Phantasmal Force would (1d6 Psychic Damage) instead of the normal acid damage. Please note, ask and confirm Resistances and Immunities the party has first, and only confirm the total amount of damage they take (call the damage Acid, even though its Psychic; apply resistances appropriately). For the Psychic resistant or immune PC’s, this “acid damage” will seem evidently wrong. For the Acid resistant or immune PC’s, this “acid” damage will seem clearly wrong. All others will not notice.

Should the triggering individual retreat from the wall and “Cube”, a second one seeps out of the other end of the chamber between any cracks and gaps, filling the space. They should be trapped between two “Cubes” moving slowly together. Any attempts to grab things from inside the cube fail automatically and appear to dissolve on touch.

Should any PC (not player) voice confusion about taking too much or too little damage from the “Acid” (due to resistances to the actual or imagined type not adding up), allow them an Investigation roll as an action on their next turn against a DC of 16 (advantaged if they have had dealings with Arch-fey or are a Warlock).

Any damage done to the Savial wall will entirely ruin the illusion. Any successful Investigation will entirely ruin the illusion. The trap is designed to frighten and scare people away or watch them press on until their mind is broken and shattered. Anyone trapped between the oozes may take some “Acid” damage pushing and swimming through to the other side and escape, eventually (assuming they don’t take too much damage). If there are no minds within 60ft of the Phantasmal Forces, they vanish, though the trap is not disarmed.

Making the Trap Easier/Harder:

  • Position – The easiest way to deploy this trap is by putting it in a small and narrow long hall, that will give the cubes a smaller size (easier to push through) and give anyone between them more time to figure things out. The harder way is to put it in a large and tall hallway (mine was 35ft by 35ft by 35 ft, enormous), it ups the fear and danger of pushing through it and it makes the party less confused about how it isn’t dying (assuming larger = more HP).
  • Trigger – One can make the trap easier by keeping the trigger wall very visible, harder by obfuscating or hiding it a bit (behind a tapestry, for instance). Seeing an alien, smooth metallic wall should tell people something special is happening. Not directly seeing it would confuse the party and make it harder to think about what might be going on.
  • Combat – The trap itself creates a combat round situation. Tossing in any distracting effects or creatures will draw the party’s attention away from the Cubes and the trap itself is easier to see through after every seemingly ineffective attack. Also, other combatants tend to draw intelligent characters away from using their actions for “figuring things out” (like rolling Arcane to know more about Gelatinous Cubes and seeing these are all wrong).
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