Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Nightmare Key

 Back in 2017ish the kind folks who were organizing thelo D&D organized play for MagFest 2018 asked me to get in on their writing circle.  They wanted to produce a trilogy of DDAL adventures - I think it was a tier one and a two-part tier two - and since I'd just been through some of that process and am a super nice guy I was invited.

It was an interesting process.  Lots of throwing ideas around; most of mine didn't stick.  They (I say 'they', but as I recall it was mostly one guy of forceful personality) didn't like my log flume chase gimmick, they didn't looove my adventure proposal.  It's okay, we're all adults.  As my home schedule got crazy, I had the wisdom to bow out of the writing circle at an early date, so that's what I did - wished 'em luck and looked forward to seeing what they came up with.

As it turns out, they went with...well, not only none of the stuff I had suggested, but seemingly none of the other stuff that came up in those discussions.  The whole thing slid to 2020 (ie prepped in 2019 probably) and was spearheaded by different people.  Anyway, you can see what they ended up producing here - a trilogy centered on the 'Magic & Gold Festival' in Thentia.  I say 'trilogy' but you can't play them in sequence, as they're a tier one, a tier two, and a tier three.  This was a common setup for con-created DDAL content at the time.  I don't know the author well at all but I did play with him at least once; I remember him being a very detail-oriented and thorough DM.  As you might imagine, I'm tempted to run some of this content, just to see.  You can also take a look at the CCC that was created for BFGCon around the same time; the adventures aren't linked to the MAGFest ones (I don't think), but there are overlapping creators there.

Anyway, I came across my adventure proposal from all of this and figured it was worth sharing as a curiosity.  I reproduce the text of the proposal below without commentary.  There are definitely things in this I still like - maybe it needs completion in a non-DDAL, non-5e format.


A DDAL CCC wonderment for Tier Two characters

Prepared for MagFest 2018

Written by Erik Jensen

Original blurb

The second adventure will be a tier 2 adventure and will have the heroes investigating reports of increased monstrous activity in the outlying regions of of the city.  As the demons seal weakens, evil humanoids are drawn to the demonic power, though they don't know where the tomb is hidden.  Aided by the Riders of Thentia, the players drive back the evil creatures and discover the location of the sought after tomb with the help of the trickster.


When barbarous minotaurs foolishly assault the outskirts of Thentia - a robustly-defended city with a disproportionate population of wizards - surely there must be a reason.  The vile yak-folk, Varsha, has been guided by dark visions to use a magic item known as the Nightmare Key - also called the Treasure of Tarmin in antiquity - to open a sealed demonic prison and harvest the knowledge within.  To that end, she has served as vizier to the minotaur chieftain, convincing him that the Key, once held by his minotaur ancestors, will open a pathway to the Endless Maze.

The minotaurs throw themselves at the Thentian defenses with heavy losses, mere pawns in Varsha’s game; but the yak-folk gets her hands on the Nightmare Key, and finds access to the sealed tomb beneath a wizard’s guildhall, where heroes will have one last chance to stop her getting access to the tomb.

Thankfully the heroes aren’t alone - a marid called Noor is also working against the sinister yak-woman and the demonic presence.  In recent weeks Noor has guided other heroes to frustrate Varsha’s plans around Thentia and to stave off the return of whatever sleeps within the tomb.


Varsha, a yak-folk.  Seeks to locate the seal and either release what’s inside, or learn from it.

Naz of the Cracked Horn, a minotaur chieftain.  Manipulated into attacking Thentia.

Noor, a marid.  Working to stop Varsha and the potential return of the slumberer.


1   DDAL boilerplate.  Thentia boilerplate.

2   Introduction: the Treasure of Tarmin

3   Minotaur Incursion.  PCs witness, and assist in rebuffing, an attack by minotaurs in a Thentian market; a mysterious woman (the marid, Noor) is sighted.  (COMBAT)

This scene is intended for the adventure to start in media res, dropping right into the action.  Minotaur raiders should not be a difficult combat at Tier Two, which is by design.

4.  Scene of the Crime.  Learning from the Riders that there were several simultaneous minor minotaur attacks, the PCs are called to the location of one such battle - the home of a wizard, where it seems the minotaurs have stolen something of significance.  A clue to their goals? (INTERACTION/INVESTIGATION)

5.  Once More Into the Breach.  A second wave of probing minotaur attacks on the outskirts of Thentia finds the PCs aided by a mysterious woman - the trickster marid, Noor - who of course has her own goals, and knows more about what’s going on… (COMBAT / INTERACTION)

The wide boulevards of Thentia make for an interesting battlespace - if this is set up right we’ll have a very nice set-piece combat with PCs chasing minotaurs in chariots, leaping from one chariot to another etc.  It is in this scene that the PCs may acquire the scenario’s magic item, taken from the minotaur chieftain.  Also a possibility that the PCs may make “peace” with the minotaur chieftain and convince him of Varsha’s treachery (poss story award here?).

6.  Unwelcome.  Varsha, the villain of the piece, penetrates an old wizardly guildhall in order to learn the location of the sealed tomb.  PCs pursue but are harrowed and slowed by the defenses of the guildhall as they make their way underground to the caves containing the tomb.  (EXPLORATION)


7. Death in the Sea Caves.  Confronting the yak-folk Varsha in the sea caves, the PCs face off with her enslaved dao and other minions.  The dao smashes through rubble-filled apertures, letting the tide crash in.  The final battle involves preventing Varsha from using the Nightmare Key (Treasure of Tarmin) to gain access to the sealed tomb, all while the cave is rapidly filling with water -- it’s a race to the top of a subterranean step-pyramid before time runs out and the chamber fills!  (Good thing the PCs maybe know a certain marid…)  (COMBAT)

At the conclusion, either the PCs have defeated Varsha and control the Nightmare Key (and thus the option to pass into the dream-realm within the tomb), or she has escaped into the sealed tomb and they may chase after her (depending on table continuity; should work either way).  In some plays the PCs may feel they have no choice but to enter the strange realm of the tomb if they don’t want to drown.

MAGFest being first and foremost a video game convention, I was fixated on doing something related to the AD&D Intellivision releases.

No comments:

Post a Comment