Out of the Box D&D Encounters, series 2, #45 “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
Out of the Box introduction
Different players have different playstyles. this can be a challenge for a Dungeon Master who might be attempting to engage conflicting styles of play at the same time. Failure to do so can lead to player disengagement and boredom. It’s always a risk and tends to be on the mind of many DMs. Therefore this encounter will combine two aspects of the roleplaying game experience. The intention behind this is to get all of the players cooperating in some degree.
Inspiration for this sort of encounter comes by way of nostalgia. I can remember sitting with my stepson while he played a particular video game. This game featured a little boy who had a faerie companion. I remembered this while watching a newer gameplay involving a father and son combo resolving problems. There were situations that combined puzzle solving and combat, and they required a little thinking instead of just button mashing. “Button mashing” could be equated with “murder-hobo-ism,” if you like.
When challenges like this are combined or somehow interlocked, then both the puzzle solving intellectuals can work with those eager for combat. Those preferring roleplaying might be left out of this sort of challenge, but there will be ample opportunities at another time.
To set this sort of encounter up, I would prefer a dungeon or other enclosed setting to control the atmosphere a little better and keep the characters focused. It also make justifying such an encounter easier.
Furthermore, we need to make the puzzle at least a two-part problem itself. Otherwise a character might just fall into a solution by accident. Something as simple as “throw this switch” or “recite this poem” are fine, but do not possess the necessary means to hold a group at bay for long so combat can become a reality. That’s why the puzzle has to be something a little more complex.
Mind you, it should not be so complex as to waylay the group for an extended period of time. It should be something a denizen of where this problem exists and who knows the solution could complete the puzzle in moments and avoid combat. However, a stranger to this place might run into an issue.
The puzzle will involve an action and an order. In other words, certain actions must be done in a certain order. The number of choices will be limited to avoid spending too long doing this puzzle, but it will also trigger a combat encounter when done incorrectly.
Next, we’ll add a thematic beastie. The method of introduction of this creature needs to be tied to the room, and perhaps even the puzzle. It should be introduced in such a way as to remove the simple action of “locking a door so it can’t get in.” It needs to be appropriately dramatic, so we’ll introduce an atypical method of entry into the room if the puzzle isn’t solved correctly.
All that will be left is the solution to the puzzle and either the safe passage out of the room or the demise of the participants. That’s up to the players to decide.
Forsaken (see below. Quantity determined by actions above)
Possible magic weapon spell
The door before the party has the typical iron bound wooden planks, but bears no standard latch. It does, however, possess a circular iron plate or fixture on the face of the door in its dead center, approximately 8 inches in diameter. The fixture has an indentation like a medium sized right hand print. This indentation sinks in perhaps a quarter of an inch at most.
Equidistant around the outside of this indentation are three symbols. One looks like a series of three upward facing triangles connected at the bottom, each one being of a different height. Another looks like three small isosceles triangles facing inward at common point. Yet another looks like a teardrop, but the round bottom of the teardrop has jagged teeth or points. Currently, the symbol with three triangles facing inward toward each other is at the top.
The door is locked. If the characters try to force open the door, they must succeed on a DC 25 Strength check. If the characters would like to try an unlock it, then a successful DC 10 Intelligence (Investigation) check reveals there are no other apparent latches, keyholes, or other unlocking devices on the door. If a character places their right palm in the indentation and presses forward, they will note the circular plate will turn clockwise or counter clockwise. What happens next depends on how they turn it.
If they push and turn it until the three upward triangles are at the top, then the challenge in the room will issue a burning forsaken first. If they turn it until the jagged teardrop is at the top, a sickened forsaken will be the first to challenge them. If they turn the dial all the way around so the three inward facing triangles are at the top, a frozen forsaken will challenge them first. The next monsters to challenge them will based on the next two in order clockwise. Therefore the order of challenge is cold/fire/poison, poison/fire/cold, or fire/cold/poison…to simplify the names a bit. This order is set and cannot be changed after the adventurers enter the room.
After they have pushed the dial, turned it until one of the symbols is at the top, and then released the dial, the door will open easily.
Inside the doorway, the room is a significant size. The room is 50 ft. in diameter and the door sits in the middle of the west wall. The circular walls go 10 ft. straight up, then create a domed roof above that is easily 20 ft. above the center of the room. The room contains several objects of interest. There is a large stone statue, perhaps 15 ft. tall depicting a god of war. A character can identify the god with a successful DC 10 Intelligence (Religion) check. At the statue’s feet are three pathetic figures depicted in stone. One lay upon the floor in a fetal position, wrapped in a blanket with a look of despair. Another is on his knees with his hands raised to the air. He faces away from the god of war. Stone flames lick up his body and his face is that of agony. A third figure reclines, and his hands clutch a bottle or flask. His eyes are open and his mouth agape. His expression is blank. All three smaller statues are medium sized and appear human.
Three low and wide braziers of wrought iron circle the statuary, approximately 5 ft. in diameter each and 5 ft. feet away from the statue. They are equidistant from each other. Hanging 10 ft. above each brazier, suspended by a short chain connected to the ceiling, is a bell of wrought iron. Each bell is an unusual elliptical shape, like a large melon, and are easily 2 ft. tall each and probably 18 inches in diameter with a large opening in the bottom. Each bell has a symbol upon it. One looks like a series of three upward facing triangles connected at the bottom, each one being of a different height. Another looks like three small isosceles triangles facing inward at common point. And another looks like a teardrop, but the round bottom of the teardrop has jagged teeth or points. Players may recognize the symbols match the ones on the door on their own. If not, a successful DC 12 Intelligence check will allow them to remember.
An examination of the room will reveal the following:
A successful DC 10 Intelligence (History) or mason’s tools check reveals this entire carving is easily a masterwork. The figures are carved with very lifelike qualities.
A successful DC 10 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Perception) check will allow a person to notice each brazier faces directly out from one of the pathetic statues at the feet of the god of war.
Looking at each bell, the fetal wrapped figure is facing the brazier and bell with the three inward facing triangles. The reclining figure faces the bell and brazier with the jagged teardrop, and the kneeling figure faces the bell and brazier with the three upward triangles. The god of war faces the door to the room. Allow the players to figure these things out through examination.
What happens next depends on if a bell is struck, and the position the device on the door was when the door was unlocked.
If the characters strike the bells (with a ranged weapon, stones, long polearms, etc.) in the order of the symbols on the door, starting with the symbol at the top and going clockwise, then the god of war statue will emanate a golden yellow glow. All characters in the room at that time will receive the benefits of a magic weapon spell that lasts 8 hours. This benefit can and will only ever occur once.
Otherwise, if they strike the wrong bell, then whatever the first forsaken (as indicated by the dial on the door) will appear in the brazier in a mist of smoke, cold fog, or foul smelling gas (depending on the forsaken summoned at the time). For example, if the symbol on the door indicates a burning forsaken will be summoned first, then striking the bells in order of fire/cold/poison will cause the benefit to occur. If the bells are struck in any other order, the burning forsaken will appear first, regardless of the bell struck. If they restart the cycle, so long as it is in the right order, nothing will happen until they complete the cycle, which will cast the spell (unless they have already done so, in which case, nothing happens).
Unless the characters strike the right bells in the right cycle, they will then summon the forsaken as indicated by that bell. In the example listed above, if they need to strike the bell as fire/cold/poison, and strike the poison bell, they will still summon the burning forsaken first. But, if they strike the poison bell again, it will summon the sickened forsaken. They will need to hit the bells in the right order without a mistake. They can always leave, however, as the door does not lock behind them.
Players can be there own worst enemies. They can keep trying to solve this, and get themselves overwhelmed in short order. They could hit multiple bells at the same time. If the DM feels this is a real possibility, or it is already in play, they may opt to have each forsaken only appear once, or only have the first forsaken show up and that’s it. It’s their call. This encounter could be relatively easy based on the level of the participants, or very difficult if the characters involved are chaotic and trigger happy. Note your players’ style and how they may react before setting up this encounter.
It is said in many warrior cultures there is a special place in the lower planes for those who betray their fellows in battle, or those who died suffering great cowardice in the face of battle. These lost souls risk becoming forsaken, forever wandering the worlds suffering the eternal demise they may have inflicted on their fellows. Those who ran from the face of conflict to perish in flames, freeze to death, or die to poisons and strong drink might rise again after death. This undead state leaves them resentful and violent, forever punishing the living for the choices they either made or failed to make when alive themselves.
By their hand, their fate is chosen.
The forsaken all bear the cause of their demise upon their person. Those who perished in flames or trapped allies in a burning home will themselves eternally burn. Those who died to exposure running from just combat, or who pushed allies into frozen waters might well themselves never stop shivering in judgement. Those who poisoned their allies or loved ones, or poisoned themselves to escape justice might, once forsaken, forever feel the sickening blight of poison.
Resentful. The forsaken, having failed to rise to their duty, also still fail to take responsibility. They wander the world punishing the living for the crime of not being forsaken. The forsaken have a special hate for cowards, as they see themselves in the fearful.
Redemption is Fleeting. Many forsaken simply travel the lands breeding destruction in their wake. However, a very few seek to be forgiven. Only the blood relative of one they betrayed can forgive the forsaken, and this forgiveness must be willing and genuine. Only then will the body of the forsaken wither to ashes and the spirit will pass on.
The rarity of both the desire for forgiveness, as well as the existence and willingness of a relative of the original victims makes this even truly one in perhaps a century.
If it occurs, however, the passing of the forsaken into forgiven is said to be wondrous to behold.
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