Epic Dungeon in the Playground
The island of Atroxia lay miles away from any mainland, and was only about half a mile in diameter. It was untouched by man for thousands of years, having never seen intelligent life, and very little life in general. But, with expansion being what it is, eventually the island was discovered, and a small colony was built on it. There were a few years when they lived in harmony with the land, and the land gifted them with greatly fertile soil, perfect for crops. But there came a time when this would end. One of the villagers living there discovered something. While digging, he found a vein of adamantine. He decided to dig a bit more, to make himself a nice profit. What he discovered was startling. There was not just a small supply, but what could only be described as a motherload. He naturally told the other villagers, and soon there was great interest over the island. Such a great source of adamantine naturally would cause a lot of interest, and soon others came to exploit the land. Eventually a great castle was built over the old, smaller village, where there was a furnace and the entrance to a great mine. This did not please the land. Unfortunately for the people living on him, Atroxia did not appreciate being violated in such a manner. A Genius Loci is a rare phenomenon, where an entire section of land is alive. An even rarer case is when a Genius Loci has true sentience, and not just a primal instinct based upon its thrall. It is usually a malignant being, but Atroxia was initially generous. He cared for his settlers, and they lived in harmony with each other. But when he was being outright attacked, he had had enough. He started a war against the people living on him. While Atroxia was a powerful creature, the people would not go down without a fight, and even such a great being can be killed by many. But Atroxia’s death revealed another startling secret. He floated. Kept afloat by action, Atroxia was only an island from his own will. But upon his death, this effect ended, and the entire island sank, taking everyone aboard with it. Desperate sailors tried to sail away, but the entire island sinking caused such a powerful suction that boats were swept in beneath the water, and crushed as the waves closed in around them. This is all that written history knows, and as far as they are aware it was a tragic end to the whole situation. It is a shame that this was not the case. A Genius Loci is a living being, and like all living beings can be brought back from the dead. This also implies, however, that it can be brought into undeath, which is exactly what happened. Qual’sakh, an ancient elven lich, using his greatest reserves of strength, called forth the most powerful undead minion that could be created, and turned to reside in Atroxia’s castle. He kept it beneath the waves, a prison for all those he wishes to bring back, and a spawning ground for his dark armies. Here, he waited. Recently the sea town of Apperwealth has been experiencing mysterious disappearances, mangled bodies left out in the open, and shadowy figures late at night. The residents think it may be a curse, descending upon them at night. People who have been vigilant enough to wait and watch have noticed only a fine mist, capturing all who stay inside of it. It has called for someone to investigate and remove the cause of the problem.
Levels 1-3 will be intrigue and mystery, discovering the true nature behind the mist, what causes it, and how to stop it. The answers to these are, respectively, a cover for the night minions of Qual’Sakh, a spell which is being called by the creatures, and defeating Qual’Sakh. They may find this out through a variety of means, to be determined at dungeon creation. They may also rack up some bonus xp by finding a temporary protection for the town. 4-8 will be about travelling to Atroxia, and manipulating their way past all of the defensive magic, illusions, and guardians. Part of the challenge is finding out how to get there and not need air; as well as actually finding out where it is. This will all be very cruel to the players, including things such as water elementals which are effectively invisible, and illusions that make a dire shark look like a haddock. 9-12 will be the infiltration of the town, being careful not to gain the ire of enemies, and especially not Qual’Sakh himself. They will need to make encounters with undead quick, and disable traps if necessary. There could be a system here which causes more and more enemies to come if combat takes to long or if you do things which are generally alerting. Lots of potential. 13-18 will be where stealth goes out of the window, as the players have now reached the castle and will be fighting their way through the place as quickly as possible. Lots of combat, with various difficulties involved. Also water based puzzles. In fact, this is the main ground for all of the various puzzles which have been made out of context, which will be slightly modified to fit. 19-22 will be entering the mines inside the castle, and finding the way to Qual’Sakh, who is waiting with a need to see his new minions. This will be almost puzzleless, with maybe the odd exception coming through (Indiana Jones style, perhaps?). The main point will be the very long confrontation with Qual’Sakh, who uses lots of minions, tactical retreat, and the occasional mindscrew. After that will be the escape. Metroid Prime/Halo style, system overload, Atroxia is now dead again and will shortly collapse, killing everyone who doesn’t get out in time. As much fun as it would be to fight Atroxia at this point, a Genius Loci is CR 30. Although perhaps the undeadification has weakened him, and so he is a manageable difficulty. I don’t know.
Levels 1-3 will be, as I said, highly based on puzzles, roleplay, and mystery. Expect there to be no hack ‘n slash. Maybe only 3 fights for the whole 3 levels. They will be fairly short though, so at least the 8 Cha 8 Int Barbarian doesn’t have to cry. 4-8 will be mostly dungeon crawling techniques applied in new and interesting ways through the water, with what combat there is being puzzles by themselves. You’ll need the strength to take them out, but the brains to figure out how. And yes, we want more illusions. This is designed to be cruel, and kill players at a decent rate. 9-12 will be a stealth mission, but with mechanics in place so that only one person must be stealthed. This is where the horror comes in, or at least fear; as players grow to become paranoid, wondering whether there is someone behind them, but not daring to look in case the patrol in front notices the movement. Players will be scared for their IC lives, and it should not be too hard for them to lose it if they act rashly. But play it cool, take time to think, and you could make it past without any deaths. 13-18 will contain all of the left over puzzles that people wanted to put in to other dungeons, modified to fit an aquatic setting. It will contain interesting custom monsters, various templated beasts, and challenges. In short, this will effectively be the level where we dump in all ideas, appropriate or not, then make them appropriate, stir them in a pot, and create a dungeon. 19-22 will be about 70/30 with hack ‘n slash and puzzles. Horror is hard to keep up here, as well as difficulty, so players should instead be pushed to their limits, and kept against an active (Albeit slow) assault against them. Things like MMM and Rope Trick assure that the players can get their rest, and a good bit of stealth works too. The fight against Qual’Sakh will be a long one, taking up almost a whole level itself, as the old lich is one for trickery, stealth and hiding behind minions. This should be a hunt, and the players should feel like they’re on one. The escape could be easy with a simple teleport, so there should be some reason why that is invalid. Chances are good that Qual’Sakh would keep the entire place Dimensionally Locked, so that they need to escape Atroxia first.