Fame and Other Problems

As discussed last month, I draw heavily from film and television for inspiration when planning an RPG session. I like to think about how a scenario that forms a challenge for a single character can be expanded to a whole group, how a villain’s motivations and ethics can be used to create drama, and how to turn exciting setpieces into dramatic encounters that challenge my players both in terms of tactics, and in terms of roleplaying.

This month I’m drawing my inspiration from the 1990 film Misery (trailer here) starring James Caan and (oscar winner) Kathy Bates. I haven’t read the book, so sue me (but I did watch Castle Rock season 2)! I am fascinated by the idea of an antagonist who is so madly in love and obsessed with the protagonist that they are willing to do despicable and evil things to be close to them. Annie Wilkes forms the inspiration for the villain of this short adventure: a devious and obsessive hag, because really, who doesn’t love a good hag?

**NOTE** – Remember that I’m kind of loose with my prep, and I don’t know what sort of game you are playing. This adventure is system agnostic, I suggest some example spells, effects or monsters that could fit into the scenario, but I recommend you balance the encounters to suit the system and power level of your player characters.

Adventure Background

This adventure best fits into an existing campaign where you are familiar with the players and their characters. With player characters that have shared history, traumas and victories, Deirdre Toothrattle’s tortuous plans become much more personalized and visceral. Deirdre Toothrattle is an ancient evil hag with an obsessive and compulsive personality, driven to devour knowledge about – and the souls of – individuals she considers intriguing and heroic. 

Over the millenia that Deirdre has stalked prey on the material plane, she has captured hundreds of victims, plucking them from the world and trapping them on her personal demiplane of dread. All of them end up dead, their souls consumed by this evil creature. You might consider including references in Deirdre’s house to past victims and even past campaigns your group has played. Deirdre likely watched the development of those other heroes and either eventually passed them by as uninteresting and tasteless, or stalked and killed them after the old campaign ended. For an interesting one-shot, you could have players dredge up old character sheets to revisit a hero they once played as, seeing how their retirement is panning out.

Adventure Breakdown

The adventure begins with the player characters arriving in town (any town – come on I can’t do everything for you). Among the regular rigamarole of restocking supplies and visiting taverns, they meet a young woman named Deirdre. Deirdre’s bubbliness, sweet nature, huge turtle shell rimmed spectacles and disheveled pigtails belie her true evil identity. Deirdre does everything she can to make friends with the party, ingratiating herself cunningly to become another trusted nobody. Despite her low status and lack of funds, Deirdre might offer to buy the party a round of drinks or dinner, hoping the party will share adventuring stories. 

The party should gradually come to understand that Deirdre is a superfan that knows way too much about them. The more of the details in the list below that are roleplayed in character rather than just told, the more impactful the realization will become. Over the course of their interaction the following details should come out:

  • Deirdre carries a huge haversack brimming with books, pamphlets, wanted posters and other assorted publications, all of which pertain to the party and their adventures
  • Deirdre knows intimate details about each party member, and may even be able to reveal or poke at secrets from their backstories or individual adventures
  • Deirdre interrupts player characters when they get to “the good part” of their stories, finishing off the tale for them
  • Deirdre attempts to get each Player Character’s autograph in her scrapbook. Observant PCs may notice other famous names of adventurers from days long past, many of whom dropped off the face of the earth once they retired. 

If the PCs become suspicious, aggressive or ask too many questions of Deidre, she simply makes up an excuse to leave, and disappears once around a corner (effectively casting a quickened, silenced plane shift or teleport). 

Whatever the PCs decide to do, they find that no one in town knows who Deidre is, and any villagers who may have interacted with her in the presence of the PCs find that they have no memory of the strange girl. You may want to introduce several villagers as interesting NPCs (the butcher, the smith, the tavern keeper, the mayor, etc) as they can be used later in one of Deidre’s reenactments as hapless mind-controlled victims. That night, wherever the PCs lay down to rest, regardless of the watches they set, they all fall into a deep slumber, and awaken in Deidre’s cottage.

The Cottage

Deidre’s cottage is a logic-defying non-Euclidean palace, built to her whim and fancy in order to entrap and entertain her meals – err, I mean guests. The player characters awaken in the guest bedrooms and are for the most part free to explore the building. Several rooms have doors that lead to rooms with different gravity, alternate climates, or other strange environments. Feel free to add rooms as you choose. For the purposes of interpreting the map, any door that links to a trapdoor in another room means that gravity has changed. Describe PCs having to climb around the door into the next room, finding that what should be a wall is now the floor, ceiling, etc. Windows in Deidre’s Cottage all lead to a swirling cosmic nether that extends forever. Player characters could conceivably crawl out a window onto the exterior of the building and climb around to various outer windows. If PCs attempt to escape by floating or flying out into the void, they float for 2d4 hours until Deidre realizes they are gone, at which point she rides her broom out to retrieve them, towing them back with a ball of spider-silk yarn. 

A1. The Guestroom

This lavishly appointed dorm room contains down feather pillows and plush bunk beds for characters to get a good night’s rest. The deeper the sleep, the easier it is to get into nightmare mode, after all! Each bed has a small gift wrapped package – a present for each of the characters – containing a stuffed animal that Deirdre thought would suit that character’s personality. The walls are plaster with a faint texture that reminds the characters of being amongst the trees and plants out in nature. A successful nature check identifies the plant texture as being very reminiscent of poison ivy. Windows in this room look out into the starry expanse of space, swirling stars and nebulae float beyond. The ground – or the lack of it – is not visible from these windows, as the roof of the story below blocks the view. A door on the west wall leads to…

A2. The Hallway

The hall is paneled with a rich coloured wood and elegant framing in a tudor style. Paintings hang between each door, each a delicately painted oil on panel of one of the player characters sitting arm in arm, laughing or smiling with a very pleased and bashful Deirdre in her human form.

The door to A3 has a brass plaque with cartoon silhouettes of a humanoid in pants, a humanoid in a dress, and a many tentacled creature with a human head.

A3. The Washcloset

A bathroom. It locks from the inside with a simple sliding deadbolt. There is a large washbasin in the corner for bathing. The faucet above it is sparkling clean, but does not work (it’s pipes are clogged by a creature in the sewers in A10.

A4. The Dining Hall

A square room with appealing wood accents and a polished hardwood floor. Windows gaze out into the swirling nether. It is apparent from these windows that there is no ground outside. Oddly, no other part of the building is visible through these windows, even though some of them face towards what should be the adjoining hallway. A long table with a crisp white tablecloth runs the length center of the room. Doilies sit beneath every plate and centerpiece. Close inspection reveals that the patterns in the doilies spell out the characters’ names. The centerpieces are bright green arrangements of poison ivy.

Ratfolk servants scurry in and out of a trap door in the floor of the NE corner. They fastidiously clean any mess the characters leave behind, and bring any food or drink the players ask for.

A5. The Reading Den

A large semicircular room with massive bay windows gazing out into space. A cozy fireplace against the far wall crackles with a warm glow. There is a writing desk facing some of the windows – the pages upon it are from Deirdre’s latest fanfiction about the party. A reading chair sits facing the fireplace, with a side table bearing a stack of books and a glass full of red wine. 

Deirdre has prepared this room for her official introduction to the party. Presently an animated mannequin version of her human form is here, pretending to read and drink wine. Deirdre’s familiar, a black cat named Josiphur, languishes atop a bookshelf, watching the proceedings with disinterest. The Deirdre-like welcomes the player characters, ensures they’ve been made comfortable, and tells them why they’ve been kidnapped.

“I’m so delighted to have you all here! As you know I’ve been following your exploits for such a long time! When I ran into you in town I just knew that fate was throwing us together, and it was meant to be! I hope it’s not too forward of me, but I have prepared some special activities for your time here. We’re going to have so much fun! Do you remember the ball at Count Fishly’s? When [insert character’s name] was killed by the Trolls of Spinspawk Drain? Oh, and surely we can all reminisce fondly over the Battle of the Brethren, now that it’s over!” The Deirdre-like claps her hands in giddy excitement, tittering and spinning about the room, slashing an invisible sword, dancing awkwardly and miming taking an arrow to the heart and swooning. “I’ve arranged to replay all your old adventures! It will be ever so fun!”

If the players balk, threaten or get aggressive, the doll suddenly drops dead, limp on the floor. Deirdre suddenly appears – in her hag form – outside the window, peering in and scowling. She chastises the party for being so mean to such a big fan, screeches and nags at them for a while before walking off into the blank cosmos in a huff, disappearing out of view.

The room is vacant upon future visits, save for Josiphur, who uses the room regularly for naps.

At the back of the fireplace is inscribed very delicately the words “She knows you better than you know yourselves, and while all heroes have a beginning and end, the stuff in the middle is always the best part.” The secret door hidden here only opens when the secret password is uttered: the middle names of each Player Character listed in any order. 

If Josiphur notices the characters attempting to force their way in, he stretches out, yawns and says “That’ll never work. In a way, she wants you to get in, but you have to play the game. That’s just how it is, or my name isn’t Josphiur Middlename McGuire!” He then jumps down off the bookshelf, but instead of landing on the floor, phases through it and disappears.

A6. Deirdre’s Room

Deirdre’s room is a macabre and grotesque shrine to the PC’s. Drawings of the adventurers in various states of dismemberment, hundreds of methods of death and torture are pinned across the walls like wallpaper. Ichor drips beneath the pages, coating the walls and floor in an icky grey-violet ooze. Tendrils, like veins, pulse beneath the ooze. Basically, it’s really gross and creepy. In the center of the room, balanced precariously on the razor sharp tip of a 4 foot long porcupine spine, is a jagged black stone resembling a chunk of flint the size of a fist. Attempting to grab the stone from its resting place triggers a bevy of massive porcupine spines to shoot up from the floor, impaling anyone within 5 feet of the stone for a massive amount of damage and persistent bleeding until the spines are removed with a medicine check and the victim receives magical healing.

The black rock is Deidre’s Heartstone, and destroying it with the Unlocking Chime undoes the magic of Deirdre’s Cottage, serves to significantly reduce her power, making it possible for the PCs to confront her head on, and begins the destruction of the demi-plane (see “The Final Battle”).

A7. The Stairs

These stairs descend from the Hallway down to the Green Room. They are exceedingly steep, creaky, and dusty. Paintings hang on the wall here of past heroes that have succumbed to Deirdre’s reenactments.

A8. The Kitchen

A small pod of ratfolk scurry about the room, mixing, kneading, tasting and baking up a storm. They are making the base for an assortment of pastries. The ratfolk are loathe to give away too many details to the characters, but if they have already spoke to Deidre in the Reading Den, the ratfolk will be willing to let them know that Deidre prefers to have her adventurers ground up and added to tarts and strudels. “Sort of a sweet and savoury combination.”

A9. The Library

Lit by a massive glass skylight above, the library is cozy and warm, with carefully placed oil lamps placed at regular intervals along bookshelves and tables. A comfortable reading chair and footrest sit at the center of the room. Rows and niches of bookshelves, all neatly organized, cover each wall. One volume sits open on the table. It is a chronicle of the player characters’ time together. The last few pages are blank, and the most recent event is the meeting of Deidre in town.

The books in this room all contain extensive information about the player characters; their histories, families, political impacts, discoveries, likes and dislikes, lovers, allegiances, enemies and so on. Likely, the PCs could discover something about themselves if they spent the time necessary to read every tome. Some of the books here are from the character’s futures and contain puzzling yet tantalizing information about events yet to come. Reading about the future is a mind-bending and mind boggling task, the words swim on the page or are written in secret esoteric languages. It requires a successful Wisdom save to get so much as an inkling about the future, whereupon characters can get similar information to casting spells like contact other plane, augury, or commune. Rolling a natural 20 or critical success on the save can give characters a similar effect to the 5E spell Foresight if you choose.

There is a secret door behind a bookshelf at the back of the room that leads to an alchemical workshop. Here the PCs can find three potions of slumber, four potions of healing, a large catnip plant, and the materials and components required to manufacture a variety of mind altering narcotics or sedatives. Deirdre’s journal sits on the table, containing a few pages of notes on each player character, including their weight and calculations for how much slumber potion would be required to be effective on them. Inspection reveals: that one character (at random) is listed as “DECEASED – must capture before the City of Lost Hopes adventure,” all the characters middle names are written in pink ink (with hearts dotting the i’s), and that special note is taken if they are afraid of (or adore) cats. 

A10. The Green Room

This otherwise well appointed sitting room is mind bogglingly green. Everything from the upholstery to the wall paper is an irritating shade of lime green. A plush couch. A table of snacks. Green. Everything is green. The trapdoor on the west leads to the stairs, anyone going through the door experiences an odd stomach lurch as suddenly the gravity changes on them, leaving them standing on what should be the wall, but is definitely the floor. The trapdoor to the north leads to the Kitchen, which is somehow upside down when one looks through the door, but right side up once you go through, and vice versa. The southwest door leads to the Ballroom, the south east door to the Sewers. Both doors on the east open to ladders that descend down into the Playroom, each depositing a climber into a different end of the ruined city within.

The Reenactments

Deirdre has prepared three special rooms for her guests, each a “reenactment” of a famous adventure the party has gone on in the past. You should adapt the scenarios and the non-player characters in them to fit in with your existing campaign so that your players recognize what is going on for them. If none of these fit, well, I’m just one guy, the important thing is that I tried.

B. The Ballroom

The door opens to a huge and opulent ballroom. Multiple crystal chandeliers hang from the lofty giltwork ceiling, casting brilliant starlight throughout, as a crowd of dancers twirl across a raised dance floor. Past the dance floor, a dozen or so tables are set up, with merry making nobility milling about between them, sharing drinks and food with each other. Suddenly there is a crackle and buzz, then a loud whine (like a microphone feedback loop). The crowd flinches, the dancers stop and everyone looks up to the stage, awkwardly staring at the adventurers. Deidre’s voice rings loud through the room:

“Nothing could match the drama and tension of Count Fishly Comptrike’s birthday party! An assassin in the midst of the guests, the party without a clue! It truly seemed like old Fishly was going to be taken, his greatest fears laid bare before the whole zoo of nobility in attendance! The heroes literally saved him in the nick of time!”

As Deidre’s voice fades, the crowd, now white faced and near panic, crushes in towards the adventurers, demanding answers and clarity on what to do. It seems that the attendees are kidnapped townsfolk from all over the country. They have no idea how they got here, and are quite panic-stricken. All of them awoke in this room, dressed in noble finery, ball gowns and a wide variety of house sigils that they’ve never seen before. One of these people have a large golden fish embroidered all over their clothing and an oversized crown. The prospect of being assassinated has brought them to tears and they refused to move from the corner of the room.

As the players begin investigating the room and looking for a way out, they find that the doors have disappeared and the windows are locked shut. Deidre’s voice chimes in over the din once again:

“Look you really just have to set the scene you guys. It’s supposed to be a PARTY. People are having fun! We can’t get on with it until we’re all in character.”

In order to advance the scene, the players have to convince the party goers to actually start having fun, or at least pretend to be celebrating. They may decide to play music, entertain, inspire or threaten the crowd into revelry however they choose. Run this as a skill challenge, where three successful skill checks of moderate difficulty must be made before three failures. If the players fail in their attempts to get the partygoers back in the mood, Deidre’s voice pipes back in: 

“You’re doing it ALL WRONG! This is getting so boring! Why don’t you just do what you did before? It’s like I have to do everything!”

Then, with a few screams of agony and terror, several partygoers whose sigils feature a proud black bear begin to morph, turning into ravenously hungry bears. Calming the bears or defeating them ends the reenactment. One of the bears wears a collar with a jingly bell – it resonates with powerful magic and is an Unlocking chime (see appendix).

If the players are successful in getting everyone back into a celebratory mood, dancing, talking, eating and drinking, then the assassin strikes. A dark shadow descends from the ceiling, coalescing into an inky black Chimera which begins to run roughshod through the room, attempting to find and kill Count Fishly. It is not opposed to using it’s breath weapon indiscriminately, burning up furniture, bystanders and whatever else gets in it’s way. Upon defeat, the chimera melts back into shadow, disappearing, leaving behind the Unlocking Chime as well as a shadowy black cloak – the Serpent Shawl (see appendix).

Finding the Unlocking Chime makes an impression on Josiphur the cat, who appears in the rafters of the room. He meows, stretches and calls down “Now that is just what the doctor ordered, the key to Deidre’s heart.” He then pulls a Cheshire cat and disappears.

C. The Sewers

Sludge and filthy water flow freely through these dank and pitch black tunnels. Upon entering, the characters hear Deirdre’s cackling laugh and her voice echoing through the tunnels:

“This is one of my favourites! Stuck in the tunnels below the City of Lost Hopes, the heroes battled against unseen enemies in the dark! So sad though, that they lost one of their own, ripped in two by vicious subterranean beasts!”

Spending any extended amount of time in the sludge water forces a save against filth fever. A secret door at C1 is very hard to spot, and a troll waits on the other side, watching through a peephole for intruders to pass around the next corner before emerging and stalking them. Another troll lies in wait at C2, watching for a majority of the party to move past before ambushing the rearmost adventurer in a pincer attack with its mate. The troll’s nest is in C3, where they have gathered some mementos of past victims (I would customize this treasure to include something small but interesting for each player – the likely remnants of a previous adventuring party). A hungry ooze creature lies in wait in C4, having corroded and tainted most of the pipes that serve water up to the rest of the house. A secret door at C5 leads to a balcony overlooking the Ballroom.

D. The Playroom

As the characters descend the ladder, the proportions of the playroom change, the ladder seems to dwindle to nothing beneath them, and the journey begins to stretch on until their arms and legs are sore from climbing. They look up and see the trap door above them seems miles away and tiny, much smaller than they remember. Upon arriving on the floor, the player characters are a diminutive 2 inches in height (or smaller for small creatures). The toys and dioramas around them now tower over them, gaily coloured and strewn about like after a child’s birthday party. Deidre’s voice echoes through the room:

“When I was just a girl I’d read the stories about you and imagine what it must be like to be such a hero! I would reenact the Battle of the Gilded Crystal over and over, each time imagining myself in the shoes of another major player in the battle. You know, as fun as it was to act like you, there was always a certain appeal to acting like the Dread Wizard Gobbleplom. The book about it was so riveting! There he was, his magically mind controlled army on one side, forced to cut down their brothers and sisters defending the ruined city. The heroes, racing between, trying to destroy the crystal before it was too late! I once almost bit off my own tongue from the tension!”

At that moment, war cries sound from all directions, as tiny toy soldiers begin to charge at each other from all directions. Amongst the army, the characters may recognize real living creatures among the melee: other kidnapping victims from the tavern where the first met Deirdre! 

Allow for four rounds of a grand melee, where no one knows which toys or townsfolk are on which side. Murderous townsfolk can be roused from the mind control by casting Dispel Magic, Remove Curse or knocking them unconscious. At the top of the fifth round, Josiphur the black cat, still full sized, charges into the ruin, tossing toys and diorama pieces everywhere with a yowl and a hiss. Treat Josiphur as a Gargantuan large cat, a sort of mini boss. Josiphur, like any house cat, just wants to play with the game pieces and maybe kill or eat something mouse-sized. He retreats when reduced to 25% of his hit points or lower, disappearing magically once he reaches the wall of the room. 

In the ruins of the toy battleground, the characters can find an assortment of oddities and knickknacks that Deirdre has used as set dressing, some of which ended up in the pile accidentally. This includes a magical plastic cocktail-sword named Cuba Libre (see Appendix).

The Final Battle

Assuming the player characters survive the various challenges laid out throughout the cottage, an invisible Deidre begins to shut off rooms, turning out the lights and locking doors up once players have exited them. She begins to hem them into just one area that she thinks will make for a climactic last stand before she finishes them all off for dinner. Unless the player’s have gained access to her secret bedroom and destroyed the heartstone, Deidre regenerates a hefty amount of HP at the beginning of her turn each round (I’ll leave the amount up to you). 

If the players complete the challenges and destroy the heartstone, the cottage’s magic is disrupted and the building begins to rip itself apart, along with the demiplane around it. Deidre loses access to her regenerative abilities and must now combat the players head on while the building disintegrates around them. The climax should feature player characters scrambling from floating platform to floating platform, chasing down the hag as she zips back and forth on her magic broom, slinging spells and clawing out in rage.

I feel like that would be fun. What do you think?


Magic Items:

Cuba Libre

  • A green plastic rapier, with a sticky, gooey substance coating the blade. Deals 1d6 acid damage on a successful hit. Once per day it can be activated to spray a sticky spray of brown fluid in a 30 foot cone. The user decides if everyone in the area is subjected to the spell entangle or the spell confusion. The save DC for either effect is 16.

The Serpent Shawl

  • A black billowy shawl with a faint snake print pattern that only shows in bright light. Provides a +2 bonus to stealth checks to avoid being seen in dim or dark conditions. Once per day, allows an attuned wearer to transform into a venomous snake, of a length equivalent to the wearer’s height.

Unlocking Chime

  • A cluster of three tiny bells at the end of a metal rod. Three times per day it can be struck against a locked door or chest to unlock the mechanism. When struck, one bell turns brown and rusty, shrivels and falls off. 1d3 bells regrow the next dawn (to a maximum of three). If struck against Deidre’s heartstone it destroys the stone and triggers the destruction of the entire demiplane.