Monday, May 13, 2024

Monster Overhaul Test Drive: Prison of Dreams

The Old King once joked that he never dreamed the wild dreams of sleep, only the waking dreams of dominion. That was a lie. He dreamed like any other man. In one of his dreams he was a flying sphere covered with eyes, which hated all that saw and feared conspiracies. He dreamed it again, and again. Then the dream woke up, believing itself to be the real thing.

The Prison of Dreams is a magical research facility built to contain the Beholder spawned from the Old King's dreams. He tried killing it and it just reappeared a couple years later. As long as it was trapped in the dungeon his dreams were free of it and it couldn't respawn.

The Old King is now the Hanged King. The King's Dream is still sealed in the Prison, for now.

The Prison of Dreams lies in the Cursed Mountains. These enormous peaks were entombed beneath an ice sheet until an unknown magical fire event melted enough to expose the tallest one. It looks like an evil triangle sticking out of the featureless plain of ice.

A herd of eleven Perytons nest in the spire. They tear the hearts out of humans and humanoids and use them in a ritual that powers the seal preventing the Beholder from escaping. Per their agreement with the Old King they were supposed to get regular shipments of captives. He's dead and the Commonwealth isn't respecting old arrangements, forcing them to hunt far and wide for living prey.

The Peryton spire has two entrances almost a thousand feet above the ice field. Both lead into a central chamber with an always burning bronze furnace-idol of Bloodfeast. This straightforward God of sacrifice-for-power was suppressed under the Monarchy for the same reasons as Wild Magic, but clandestinely indulged by the King's inner circle. Tossing hearts into the maw for incineration powers the seal. It also heats the adjacent tunnels, which lead to a sleeping den and a storage area where the Perytons hoard coins and equipment from people they kill.
Travelers crossing the ice sheet to reach the spire will probably be attacked by the Perytons, who break off the offensive once they extract someone's heart. 
A clamor of five Harpies roost in the spire above the Peryton nest, ignoring the wind and the freezing cold. The flying stags won't attack the Harpies because it would contradict their laws of hospitality. The Harpies believe the Hanged King's death frees the Perytons from their oath. They want to blackmail the so-called "civilized" races of the world, threatening to release the King's Dream unless fed hearts and treasure.

The Perytons have thusfar resisted the Harpies' entreaties because they believe themselves honorbound to uphold the pact, even absent any possibility that the deceased Monarch will hold up his end of the bargain. That will change. If they run themselves ragged and die then they can't honor the agreement.

The entrance to the Prison is a triangular hole at the base of the mountain, geometrically perfect. The floor is ice. Seven iron skinned Dracospawn guard the entrance, the rest of the guards at ground level deserted long ago. The lizardmen were transformed with dragon blood and magically programmed to revere the King. The conditioning has weakened since his death, they can be bribed with tasty ferrous metals. Intruders who refuse to feed the guards are sprayed with metal shavings and chopped to bits. They let a group of Goblins in a couple days ago.

The tunnel narrows in height and width until terminating in a doorframe, the triangular door long ripped off its hinges and discarded. It opens up into a large conical room. In the center is a metal gibbet with a pulley system, rope dangling into a stone demon maw carved into the floor. The rope terminates in a shimmering bronze pool that reflects the room.

At the opposite side of the chamber from the door is a circular table, two hemispherical halves around an iron pillar in the middle that terminates in an open hand. It's sized perfectly to hold a crystal ball but there isn't one there.

This is the point of no return. Anything which touches the surface is sucked down into the Prison. Nothing which enters the maw can leave until the Beholder is killed or the furnace altar of Bloodfeast burns out completely.

The seal holding the Prison shut is a cylinder of divine magic from which nothing can escape. No teleportation, no disintegration or passwall or stoneshape. Antimagic has no effect, only powers which completely negate the influence of the divine allow egress. The interior walls of the seal look like polished bronze, warm to the touch.

Those who enter through the maw are spat out of the ceiling of the central shaft. There's a landing platform but one of the support struts is damaged, tilting it dangerously. There's no rope dangling from the ceiling, characters entering had better grab onto something fast as they slide down the sloped platform. Else they fall all the way down the central shaft.

If the King's Dream dies, the seal becomes inert bronze with no magic properties.

The King's Dream endlessly pursues a horde of Mutants around this level of the dungeon, reshaping their bodies, petrifying and unfreezing them, making them fear and love him.
Central Shaft
At the top of the shaft is the Seal. Below that is the tilted platform, dangerously sloped. The shaft is 50 feet tall. At the 25 foot mark are four openings in the wall which lead into the chambers of The Circuit, illuminated by a floating orb of Perpetual Light in the center of the shaft.
The Circuit
These rooms once served a purpose in the prison complex. When the King's Dream escaped containment he resculpted everything with Stoneshape, Stone to Flesh, Petrification and Polymorph. The rooms are now a mix of rock, leather and slowly decaying organic matter. As he passes through, the Beholder changes the shape and material of everything around him. The subjects reflect whatever he's thinking about.
Roll a D20 and a D12 for each room. Roll again when the Beholder passes through. The D20 determines the theme.
  1. Room sculpted like an aul - a fortified mountain village with narrow crevices and firing loops.
  2. A bristling forest of enormous cholla cactus, skeletons dangling from the spines.
  3. Thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, ammonite fossils the size of houses.
  4. The faces of the Four Adventurers tessellated endlessly, eyes scratched out.
  5. Fractal Iron Hand gauntlets emerging from every surface.
  6. A doll's theater, sloped with numerous tiny faceless statues pointed at a tiny stage.
  7. Endless library shelves with sculpted books.
  8. Perfectly spherical and featureless.
  9. Weapons bristling from every surface, an impaled figure like a wound man in the center.
  10. One wall is taken up by a statue of a blindfolded, naked woman with a trishula and scroll case.
  11. Heaped statues of the Old King, all smashed to pieces.
  12. Claustrophobic chamber, like the inside of a containment urn.
  13. Mock jungle with a corroded altar of Leper Heart, God of mutants and aberrations.
  14. A nest of endless webs and parasitic spiders.
  15. Halflings at a table piled high with food, laughing mouths distorted in a sneer.
  16. Men in coats of chain and helms, enormously tall and wielding wicked weapons.
  17. The room is an inverted beholder, giant eye and eyestalks looking inward.
  18. Columnated ruins of the Ancient Empire, where man was master of all he surveyed.
  19. Walls gouged randomly as if in a blind rage.
  20. A woman, face blurred as though the sculptor had forgotten it.
The D12 determines the material.
  1. Marble
  2. Limestone
  3. Basalt
  4. Shale
  5. Leather
  6. Fresh flesh
  7. Rotting flesh
  8. Bark
  9. Plant fiber
  10. Bone
  11. Chitin
  12. Glass
Individual Mutants may hide in these rooms from the Beholder. Valuable trinkets can be found embedded in the walls and floors where the Tyrant reshaped the material around them. Small chance the Goblins from the floor below make an appearance to steal things.


Though the main shaft leads down to the second level of the dungeon, the King's Dream rarely descends to explore this level. He's a clean-freak and the lower levels are "contaminated" by the failure of the biowaste reclamation system.

The chambers of the lower levels are infested with Grues, anyone wandering down here without a light source is destined to be eaten. It keeps the mutants from fleeing here to escape the Beholder. The Grues don't bother the patrolling Mummies in their endless procession, or the Sun Dogs who make their own light.
Central Shaft
At the bottom of the 50 foot shaft, the collapsed ruin of the spiral staircase that once led up to the ceiling sits atop the wreckage of the containment urn that held the Beholder. In the corner against the wall are the remains of two adventurers: a Dwarf and a Cave Elf, bones smashed from a great fall. Their corpses have been picked over, indicating activity on the lower level.

Control Room
This chamber is full of broken mirrors, tables of singed parchment and mysterious valves fused in place. The last entry in the logbook is dated ten minutes before the Hanged King died, noting a dangerous amount of activity within the containment vessel.

This secret room is full of faintly glowing fungus. Nine Troglodytes stand around a table, staring into a preserved Giant's Eye which shows the Beholder's progress around the dungeon, the Goblins' hideout in the Library and anything else interesting happening inside the Prison of Dreams. Also on the table is a containment bottle with a red stopper, holding a Sphere of Annihilation to wipe out the dungeon in the event the King's Dream finds a way to escape. A Decanter of Endless water keeps the mushrooms hydrated.
Robin Carpenter
The entrance to this chamber is obviously trapped, with a wooden pole holding up a lethal amount of stone. Squeezing past is easy for Goblins, hard for anyone larger. Collapsing it blocks the door but opens a hole in the ceiling to the Circuit above.
The Goblins are encamped here in the library, venturing out to raid the rest of the dungeon. The trap on the door doubles as their escape tunnel if cornered.
The books in the library are mostly reference volumes. The most important book is A TACKSONOMIE OF BEHOWLDERS AND THERE KYNDE, a compendium compiled by licensed mages from the College of Wands. It contains much useful trivia about Eye Tyrants, including how they can be distracted with  images of the thing that dreamed them into existence.
A maintenance access, storage and breakroom. The shelves are full of broken bottles and seared scrolls. A card game lies abandoned on the table. Indentations and rings in the dust indicate objects have been recently removed from the chamber.

Power Station
Two broken vessels sit hooked up to a system of tubes, like alembics hooked up to a hookah pipe. The walls are spackled with fragments of burst crystal. The gems are valuable but handling them attracts the Sun Dogs, who think the robbers are here to play with them.

The wall to the west is cracked open. An ancient cave is visible on the other side.
A shrine of Enlightenment, God of inspiration and secret knowledge. The enormous lantern altar painfully sears anyone who comes within line of sight, dealing damage with only a few rounds of exposure. Prolonged searing reduces maximum HP but transfers points from other stats to Intelligence.

This cave was accidentally enclosed in the Seal by the architects of the Prison of Dreams. It was a burial cave where an autochthonous tribe left the Mummies. The copper weapons used to dispatch them as sacrifices are still littered on the floor.  
Most of the grave goods are worthless due to water damage. The potions sealed with frozen suet are still good - they were supposed to serve as libations for the dead men in the afterlife.
This was a breakroom and rest area for the researchers and guards. The floor is covered in thick magical effluent seeping from the passage to the west. Spend too long in here and the radiation confuses and enfeebles you. A set of stairs goes right up into the ceiling, where the stone has been resculpted to cover the hole.
The Crystal Ball from the entrance at surface level here, abandoned in the muck on the floor. It's a hardy quartz thing that survived the fall without damage. The Sun Dogs like to roll it around on the floor.
Waste Reclamation
This room siphoned dangerous waste out of the containment urn that held the Beholder. The Otyugh in charge of reprocessing the effluent is dead, skeletonized. The outflow of magical waste is all over the floor. The radiation is strong enough that short exposure is enough to induce chronic teleportitis, berserkitis and polymorphitis. A dozen gold bars and a Sword of Protection are lost in the sludge, formerly used to soak up the harmful energies.

The south wall is an illusion, behind which is a secret door of thick metal.


These malformed explorers have the shape and texture of mushy potatoes, but are immune to divine magic. That means they can leave the Prison whenever they want, which is why they came to rob it. They're tooling around in their improvised hideout on the second level because they're scared of the Beholder, periodically sneaking out to steal stuff off the Mummies.

There are five Goblin adventurers. Their leader Bootblack the Rogue fidgets and hops and plays the fool when she interacts with strangers, sizing up threats and treasure. The gang has a sack of beetle bombs, a Ring of Fire Resistance and a Wand of Paralysis they pilfered from the first level, and a couple looted spell scrolls they can't read.
The King's Dream is a Beholder. His skin is blue-purple. The spikes and ridges atop his head are a dull bronze and suggest a crown. He has the Old King's intelligence but none of his impulse control, constantly distracted and thrown off course before he can see any "plan" to completion. He wants to escape and to kill the King so that he can be master of all he surveys, when he remembers the outside world exists. When he doesn't, he assumes the Mutants are his subjects and the Prison his kingdom, to resculpt with a thought using his superpowers.
Tell him the King is already dead and he'll assume it's a trick.
The Dream's big eye casts Polymorph in a cone, twisting creatures into Mutants. His eyes shoot the following rays and his keen intelligence lets him make the best tactical use of each.
  1. Charm
  2. Paralysis
  3. Fear
  4. Stone to Flesh
  5. Flesh to Stone
  6. Stoneshape 
  7. Telekinesis
  8. Disintegration
  9. Death
  10. Antimagic
His favorite combat tactic is to fly out of reach of most attacks and spam his eyes until the target is crippled, fled or dead. He sends the Mutants to flush targets out of tight spaces rather than pursue them, but quickly loses interest in things that leave his line of sight.

The Dream hates images of the Old King and images of nooses. He destroys them on sight before targeting anything else.
The builders of the Prison accidentally cored out an ancient burial cave when they installed the Seal. The chamber held ice mummies from the people who inhabited the region before it was devoured by the creeping ice sheet. The undead were kept out of the dungeon by walling them up, but the masonry has collapsed.

There are six mummies, frozen things slowly decaying in the warm air of the Prison. They wander around the bottom floor of the dungeon in a fog of delusions. They believe they are in a glorious afterlife and embrace anyone they encounter as friends or lovers (giving them mummy rot). They flee from the Sun Dogs, fear of fire breaking through the layer of unreality cloaking their minds.

Each Mummy wears a piece of gold jewelry and a handful of semiprecious stones.

The Mutants are a mix of guards, researchers, test subjects and adventurers, endlessly reshaped by the Dream's polymorphic powers. Their psyches are profoundly damaged by repeat transformation and by repeat exposure to the Beholder's Fear and Charm rays. They move as a herd and do whatever the Beholder says when he orders it, otherwise they flee and hide. Strong leadership could rally them against the Tyrant.

There are 110 Mutants in the dungeon. They are humanoids with their bodies smeared and twisted like a Francis Bacon painting, constantly changed by the Beholder. Some can speak, many can walk. Maybe one in ten has a useful piece of loot, though they no longer remember how to use magic items.
The Sun Dogs were imprisoned to provide energy for the facility, but escaped when the King's Dream broke containment. They went up to play with the Dream, but retreated when he zapped them with his antimagic and disintegration rays. Now they stick to the bottom floor, chasing Grues around the shadows.

Yellow Star is friendly and naive. White Dwarf is aloof and usually ignores him, but instantly and viciously attacks anything that threatens him. Both love to chase the Grues that infest the second level. Both will follow a new owner who feeds them fire and lightning.

The Troglodytes are monks of an ancient order that builds and maintains superweapons. They were immured in the Prison with instructions to destroy everything if the King's Dream looked like it would break containment.

There are nine Troglodytes, big-headed cave creatures with sucking toothless maws. They live off fungus and are never bored thanks to an innate sense of jamais vu. They derive great entertainment from watching the dungeon inhabitants chase each other around. They are very intelligent in matters of physics and engineering and utterly helpless in everything else. They explain their mission to anyone who enters their secret chamber, since their deterrent is useless if nobody knows about it.

Their weapon is a Sphere of Annihilation in a containment bottle. If the big red cork is removed, the sphere expands until it occupies all space inside the Seal, then dissipates. The Dream is running riot but they haven't set the weapon off because there's still no way for him to breach the Seal. If they learned the Perytons were having trouble feeding the Bloodfeast furnace, they'd trigger it and kill everyone. They'd also set the bomb off if someone tried to rob or kill them.
Kev Walker

I used the Monster Manual Overhaul to create the nucleus of this area. I rolled
  • 2d6 Troglodytes
  • 2d6 Perytons and 2d6 Harpies hatching conspiracy
  • A Horde of 110 mutants pursued by an Eye Tyrant (beholder)
  • 2 Sun Dogs bullying a Grue
  • 2d6 patrolling Dracospawn
  • Another Grue
  • A procession of 2d6 Mummies and 1d6 Goblins looking to loot them 

1 comment:

  1. Nice stuff, terribly inventive. Hope to see more in the future.