I wanted to talk about a couple of the things I built for my Titanswrath event game that took place over the weekend. My bigger Titanswrath posts won’t have room for this kind of detail, and I’m proud of what I came up with – with thanks to the help of a fellow DM and friend of mine.
So in Titanswrath, Pt. 2 (publishing Nov. 8), I talk about Nirlok’s Fane – the location to which the Day 1 adventurers will travel in order to conduct a deal with the goddess of undeath and disease, Kasal.
Nirlok’s Fane was built as a temple to honor his goddess, Mahluq – the goddess of monsters, who is also Kasal’s sister. Nirlok was a powerful evil wizard, and champion of Mahluq, who spread her vile creations throughout the land. As the wizard neared death, Mahluq begged her sister to help repay Nirlok’s loyalty by letting him continue to live and serve her. Kasal granted Nirlok the gift of undeath and turned him into a mummy.
However, this curse was not a welcome one. Nirlok grew bitter and angry with Kasal for doing this to him, for forcing him to watch in a perpetual state of decay as his once-grand temple slowly crumbled around him over time.
That was just a fun bit of backstory for you. Now let’s talk about puzzles and traps.
I used Kerzit’s Fane, which I found online, as my template for Nirlok’s temple. I had nowhere near the time enough to create my own place for this event game, and Kerzit’s Fane had the look-and-feel I was going for. It was slightly too large, so I colored over it and made it a bit smaller, and a lot more direct in terms of where the party would go.
So that’s how it turned out. Basically, players would be entering via the northern hallway “87,” and needed to reach area “94” at the top-left.
Area 83 – “Nirlok’s Court”
The walls of this room depict images from the Many Gods War of ancient times, mainly of the goddess Mahluq creating, unleashing, and commanding horrific aberrations and monstrosities. Among those depicted are chimeras, ankhegs, manticores, and chuul. A portion of one wall’s color deepens to blackness, over which the only things visible are one large eye surrounded by several, smaller eyes.
The area of the southeastern diagonal wall, just south of the door leading to area 85, is where the dark painting of the many eyes is found. This painting is, indeed, meant to depict a beholder in shadow. The main eye in the painting in fact does emit a cone of anti-magic, but only for ten feet.
The northeastern end of this room is a mess of fallen masonry and caved-in earth. In front of that stands a throne of carved black metal, the back of which rises to a height of thirteen feet. Seated on this throne is a gaunt figure draped in deep red wizard robes. Its face is rotted, missing both eyes and many of its teeth, and its decayed body is wrapped in yellowed bandages. Two pinpoints of green light glow brightly within its empty eye sockets. With a sickening cracking noise, its head turns and rises to look you over.
“Welcome, intruders, to my temple. I kindly invite you to remain here forever. If you wish to leave, however, you must correctly solve this riddle: Large as a mountain, small as a pea, endlessly floating in a waterless sea.”
The decaying figure is Nirlok, the mummy lord. He will fight to defend himself, should the adventurers choose to do so, but would rather them solve his riddle and move on. He cares not for the thrill of battle or of killing would-be heroes any longer. He wishes to remain within his great creation as it eventually falls to ruin.
The answer to his riddle is (highlight to read): an asteroid. My players almost gave me “star” as an answer, which I may have accepted. But my wife got the riddle correct. She’s good at those.
With the correct answer given, Nirlok unlocks the other doors to Area 83, and turns to sand and disappears. There is a hidden treasure in this room, too. If players score a high enough Intelligence (Investigation) check while searching the paintings on the walls (DC 17), they will find an easily missed depiction of Kasal hidden among the other figures. Behind Kasal’s face is a hidden compartment in the wall containing a spell scroll of raise dead. When this particular scroll is used, even by an experienced caster, there is a 5% chance that the target creature returns as an undead zombie.
Area 75 – “The Blinding Silence”
The circular room in the center of the map serves as the final gateway for the players in order to get through to the altar. I wanted to create a much tougher puzzle encounter, which had multiple layers that they had to overcome.
I researched a lot of options online, and found one that was interesting enough to present a challenge – with some modifications of my own, and some help from my DM friend.
This circular room is 25 feet in diameter and 20 feet high. There are two magically locked doors in the western side. The room is lit by seven magical torches evenly spaced along the walls. Set fifteen feet up and into the wall between the two western doors is a stone relief carved into the shape of a woman’s face, mouth agape as if in the middle of an angry shout.
When a creature reaches either of the western doors, the eastern door slams shut, and a slab of stone slides over it, sealing the room. Nirlok’s voice echoes into the room, even if he was defeated in a previous room.
“To pass, create that which is so fragile, to utter its name would break it.”
I’m going to give away the answer to this riddle without hiding it, like I did above, because the rest of the room’s encounter is based around the players solving the riddle.
The answer is silence. My players got it pretty fast. One of my brand-new players, in fact. So they all sat there in silence for several seconds. I actually watched them, expectantly, and counted in my head as my players sat there without speaking. Then I had them make a Wisdom (Perception) check. Super simple DC. This allowed them to realize that the torches were still flickering, making noise.
The wizard of the group used control water to snuff the torches. But that’s when the fun begins in this room.
As soon as the last torch is extinguished, the room falls into magical darkness, meaning none of the adventurers can see (unless they have truesight, which none of them did). They also hear a single door open, followed by the sounds of footfalls around them, and of a very strange clicking and clacking of hard objects cracking into each other.
Four hook horrors have been released from a secret door in the northern wall of the room (DC 30 Investigation check to find). They use their echolocation and their weird “hook horror” language to find and attack the party in the darkness.
The adventurers are free to fight back, but any time something in the room besides the hook horrors makes any kind of noise, the stone relief carving in the wall fires a version of the fire bolt cantrip out of its open mouth at the source – +4 to hit, doing 9 (2d8) fire damage on a hit. The fun part is the light cast from this stone carving does penetrate the magical darkness and offers a brief, terrifying glimpse of the room around them. The carving has AC 25, 25 HP.
My wife, again being very clever, grabbed one of her torches and purposefully made a sound so that she could get the carving to light her torch with its seemingly magical flame. I allowed this to work, giving the players a source of light by which they could see.
Once the hook horrors are defeated, and the party falls silent again for a time, the two western doors open, allowing them a passage out of the room.
Area 86 – The Hall of Monstrosities
A slight misnomer, because this room also contains aberrations. But that’s neither here nor there. What I want to talk about is the “final” room of the temple, the last challenge before players make their escape.
This square, 60 x 60 x 60 room (exaggerated from the drawing) contains five black crystal orbs on 4 foot high cylindrical pedestals made of polished and carved onyx. When a creature approaches the northwestern door for the first time, a secondary wall slides across it, and a wall of stone appears along the southern passage leading back to area 85, sealing the room shut.
Even if Nirlok was defeated, his voice echoes within the room:
“You haven’t had a proper stay until you’ve met one of The Mother of Monsters’ children. Choose one, and you may pass.”
Nirlok, of course, is referring to the various creations of Mahluq, and how the party must choose one to face before they can leave.
Each orb glows slightly as Nirlok says a riddle alluding to the creature it belongs to:
Orb 1: “The lightning made serpentine.”
Orb 2: “The venomous tyrant.”
Orb 3: “The isolated evil.”
Orb 4: “The offspring of the Spawning Stone.”
Orb 5: “The horrifying unknown.”
The next orb that is touched by a creature causes all the orbs and their pedestals to descend into the floor and disappear (nothing happens with the orbs until after Nirlok speaks). Then the following occurs:
Orb 1. A storm front of clouds billows out from the center of the ceiling, roiling over itself as it fills the space above you. The sound of thunder rips the air as flashes of light illuminate the dark clouds. Eight large bolts of lightning suddenly strike the ground in succession, over and over again. The lightning begins to take shape, forming a huge snake-like creature with a dozen legs, a long, whip-like tail, and two curved horns atop its flat head. It roars at you as small sparks of electricity spit out of its gaping jaws.
Orb 2. You hear a faint drip. Followed by another. Then more and more. The drip steadily becomes a steady pour as you see three small streams of a dark, sickly green liquid pour from a mass of condensation on the ceiling. They splash into their own puddles, then pool on the floor. The pools start to glow from within, a brighter green that leaves you with a queasy feeling. The streams feed the pools until they grow to about 15 feet in diameter. With a splash, huge snake heads burst out from within the pools. Their black and blue bodies rise out of the pool and slam down onto the floor in heaps, each easily measuring 35 feet. Their necks flatten as they hiss.
Orb 3. A tiny pinprick of white light appears where the orb once stood. Then, suddenly, a booming tear echoes within the chamber as space itself is ripped open, and a large portal appears in place of the white light. Beyond the spinning, churning, pulsing edges lies an inky darkness. Then, the darkness bulges outward, toward you, and then tears with a splattering of slime. The shape that comes through is large, and round, with many slender arms moving around it. As the first shape clears the portal, a second pushes through, and the portal blinks out of existence. Each of the bulbous, bloated shapes opens its one, large eye…and then their ten other eyes…
Orb 4. The room grows still, and nothing seems to happen for a moment. Then, the ground begins to tremble, a slight breeze drifts across the room, and you think you hear the sound of a gently flowing stream not too far away. The temperature suddenly spikes as a jet of flame billows through the air out of nowhere, luckily missing each of you. A gale blasts through the room in another direction, and the sound of the stream becomes the sound of a tidal wave crashing down. You all instinctively take cover, but nothing comes. The room becomes quiet again – still and normal. Looking around, you suddenly notice something else in the room with you: three young children, two boys and a girl, between ages 6 and 8. They’re clutching each other’s dirty white dressing gowns, and crying, obviously frightened and looking around at the foreign surroundings. (If the characters fall for the ruse and come closer, the children transform into the vicious death slaadi)
Orb 5. A circle of dim light appears in each of the four corners of the room, of a diameter of 10 feet. The circles begin to brighten, and a heat fills the surrounding area. The light becomes brighter and brighter, forcing you to shield your eyes as bits of energy start to sear off of the circles and float up into the air like embers from a fire. A horrible screeching sound fills the room as the lights become absolutely blinding, causing all of you to close and cover your eyes by whatever means necessary. Then the lights suddenly fade out, and the sound dies away. Steam fills the air where the lights once were, floating up and around four dark figures, standing where the circles once flared. The light-blindness begins to fade as these figures seem to wait for a second, and then move toward you. They are taller than an average human, and wear dark armor with cloaks that billow out behind them. Something strange moves through the air in front of their faces, something writhing and twitching.
I was so excited for this room. I really wanted the players to choose the beholders or the mind flayers – those are my favorite D&D monsters, and I’ve wanted to see them in action for some time now.
And if they chose the mind flayers? Well that would’ve kicked off something really cool for the eventual campaign later down the line. Unfortunately, we ran out of time on the day, and we never made it to this room.
Those were the main encounter rooms and puzzles in the Nirlok’s Fane location that I built on top of the existing Kerzit’s Fane map. I was really proud of what I created, and I do believe my players had fun running through it.
My biggest regret is that they never met the gelatinous cube that was roaming around.
Until next time – Well Met!