There sure are a lot of mysterious floating monoliths in the Ninth World and you can bet your dice that players will want to break into one sooner rather than later.
During our character creation session, one of the players stated his (custom) initial link to the starting adventure: “I am looking for some kind of code for automation.” I ruled it as a worthy goal to pursue, nodded in confirmation and forgot about it.
Two sessions in, he activates a cypher giving him a connection to the Datasphere, and asks for the location of the code.
And the Datasphere answered.
At that point, I told my players that the location would be available next session, as I needed time to prepare. Here is how I did it.
I knew from the start that the code was inside a monolith. It had to be. I checked the map and there was one available relatively near their location, tucked into the slopes of the Black Riage, west of the Ausren Woods.
Figuring out how to represent the code was dead easy - a plan seed. I opened up the Destiny PDF and looked up installation plans about automation.
..If provided with a plan… and all the requisite iotum… it will create the desired object…taking only half the time that crafting the object would normally require…
I was totally clueless about what might be inside the thing. Ideas - zero. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the Ruin Mapping Engine from the Jade Colossus book.
I wanted the monolith to be a huge, imposing, fear-inducing, chills down your spine sight, hundreds of stories high and floating ominously in the darks of the Black Riage.
What I didn’t want was to map it out completely. I wanted a quick series of rooms so the players could grab the seed and get out. They could always return later and delve deeper if they were up for it.
I started rolling on the Ruin Engine tables, got some rooms, corridors, interstitials and a couple of weird things that sparked my own imagination engine.
The first roll gave me a room with a time anomaly inside, where you would get a strong sense of deja vu and always end up in the same place from where you started. An interesting mini-puzzle. The second roll gave me a room with some mirror panels that reflect backward in time.
At that moment I had a theme for my monolith. It was a Time Monolith. Or at least that part of it was. I disregarded some weird none time-related rolls and reskinned the remaining rooms to follow the time theme.
One of the rolls was an interstitial space with various random sized pyramids lying around. With that idea in mind, I created a room past it that had a huge upside-down pyramid held afloat by several beams of light. Inside the pyramid was the plan seed, and the idea was for the players to disrupt the beams so that the pyramid would smash down (but not on them) and reveal the seed.
Now I had two themes: pyramids and time. They sort of go together and I was happy with the pyramid part. I had some difficult terrain (the interstitial space), a puzzle, and the loot. For the time theme, I had some difficult terrain (the anomaly room), a puzzle (the mirror panels), but I was missing loot.
I opened up the Technology Compendium and under Chapter 5 looked for “Time Devices”. The first entry is a level 10 cypher called Reset, a perfect prize for my Time Monolith delvers.
With all that in place I adjusted the layout of my map to take advantage of the vertical axis so the whole thing wound through parts of 3 floors somewhere in the middle of the monolith.
The last thing to do was to decide on monsters. With my “keep it simple” philosophy, I knew that I wanted only one monster type that somehow fits in. I spent some time reading through the Ninth World Bestiary 2, and in the end settled on using the Dal. They are dimensional telepathic beings, not quite time-related, but I had one character who Commands Mental Powers and one who Steps into the Outside, so it seemed very fitting and I was curious to see what kind of interactions and situations would emerge from their eventual clash. I was not disappointed!
Here is how the prep sheet looked at some point. It shows both the horizontal and vertical layouts.
It turned out to be difficult finding just the right monolith image, but in the end, I presented my players with this: Monolith
The mere sight of the monolith instilled fear into the hearts of my group. Some were definitely not happy going in but soldiered on and supported their fellow player’s side quest.
Time shenanigans were successfully weird and the theme worked out quite well.
Dals proved to be a challenging enough encounter for Tier 1 players. As I predicted the encounter was memorable and involved telepathy and dimension hopping and our “I’m looking for code” player nearly died. He rolled a 1 on the Dal’s special attack and got dimension snatched with 0 Might points left.
The Loot turned out to be a great choice, plus they managed to scavenge some additional materials.
They expected many more rooms and more delving time. I failed to include descriptions of additional pathways in my exposition. I should’ve said something along the lines of “You see potential pathways leading deeper into the structure that you could open up given time and resources”.
To spice it all up I had a surprise waiting for them when they came out. Remember that time anomaly?